Thursday, February 27, 2014

Notes from a Backsliding Jew: When Your Childhood Rabbi Calls You a "Kofer Ba'Eekar," or Denier of the Essence


            “If you become a Conservative rabbi,” said Rabbi N, leaning back against the pillows of his sofa, “you will be a kofer ba’eekar—a Denier of the Essence [of Torah and God].”
            This was not the way the evening had been supposed to go. Ostensibly, I had come to Rabbi N’s apartment for premarital counseling—all was in place; I was marrying a beautiful Jewish girl; we were to be married in a temple with a Glatt Kosher catering hall attached (or, contrariwise, a catering hall with a Glatt Kosher temple attached) in Brooklyn. Our parents were footing the bill, and there was the rub: for, instead of one of my friendly, amenable AJR rabbi-professors conducting the ceremony, we were to be married by my Childhood Rabbi, the formidable and uncompromising Rabbi N.
            As I had outgrown, outpaced, and outlearned the Orthodoxy of my youth, so had I left Rabbi N behind: but there he was before me, unchanged and unbending as ever. Any suggestion or proposal we made to him regarding the marriage ceremony, any innovation or personalization—I will say this for him: he listened carefully; he even nodded once or twice, before saying, “No.”
            Finally, knowing full well my plans to attend a non-Orthodox rabbinical school, the Academy for Jewish Religion (although, in point of fact, there have been Orthodox rabbis at AJR, both as teachers and graduates), he took the opportunity to let me know his opinion of my deserting the Orthodox camp. I might as well have been joining a different faith, as far as Rabbi N was concerned. And, truthfully, I was not surprised: it was just that I had never expected to be called such by such a bitter label: it was like a curse, and bore the anathema of a curse.
            As I say, I was not surprised. During the 1960s, my high school years, there had been whispers, in class and outside, of the Conservatives. We boys knew nothing of Them personally, but we knew, even if we did not fully understand, the Threat they posed to our right little, tight little Island of Orthodoxy, there in Washington Heights, or in Teaneck, NJ, or my own little enclave of the Lower East Side—where, rumor had it, a small group of pioneering Jews had gone so far as to attempt to establish a Conservative congregation of their own. They had quietly approached a local Jewish landlord and asked to rent space in one of his properties to establish such a congregation.
            When the Lower East Side Orthodox rabbis got wind of this heretical development, they wasted no time: they immediately contacted the Jewish property owner, discreetly and directly, informing him that, if he proceeded to deal with “that Conservative group,” he, his family, and their businesses would be thoroughly blackballed and shunned by all the “decent and loyal” Orthodox neighbors and friends; they would have to pull up stakes and move elsewhere, perhaps under an assumed name. The plan died a-borning, and was never again attempted. Indeed, the failure to establish a non-Orthodox alternative to the various synagogues and shtieblach (little brownstone shuls) in the neighborhood probably hastened its demise as a religious Jewish enclave: younger, less traditional Jewish families hesitated to move to the Lower East Side, knowing that the closest Conservative, let alone Reform, temples were only as close as Greenwich Village.
            My own encounter with Conservatism consisted of two events: in the early 1960s, New York newspapers were filled with the news of a near-tragedy: a fire at the (Conservative) Jewish Theological Seminary was successfully doused by the swift action of several fire companies, but the resultant moisture threatened the Rare Jewish Books Collection held in their library. Jewish students from all over the city hastened to JTS to assist in putting blotting paper and other absorbent material between the pages of the books.
            It was a great surprise—a shock, really—when Yeshiva University students answered the summons, and joined Conservative, Reform, and secular Jewish students in assuring the rescue of the rare books and manuscripts; supposedly, one of the higher-ups on the YU rabbinical faculty gave them some sort of dispensation to assist.
            But this was a small thing for me, personally. What happened in my sophomore year of high school was not life-changing, but certainly opened my eyes. I was assigned some sort of Hebrew research paper that required me to visit the JTS Library. I remember feeling a certain amount of trepidation prior to my journey—this was, after all, the seat of Conservative Judaism in America, and I was a loyal, young, and highly impressionable Orthodox Jew. I wore no payess (side curls) and my tsitsit (ritual fringes) did not show through between my shirt and slacks, but I certainly davened three times daily, and the food I ate was strictly kosher. How would I fare in the Satan’s Den I had been led to believe was the Jewish Theological Seminary? Even the name “Seminary” sounded ominous, while the more familiar word, “Yeshiva,” sounded homey and comforting.
            Nothing daunted, I took the subway—even the IRT seemed strange, and the station names and numbers were different—YU was a stop on the IND line. Though a native New Yorker, the subway was always a trial for me, with my non-existent sense of direction.
            Leaving the subway, I set out in an eastern direction. I truly did not know what to expect. As I came ‘round the corner and beheld the main JTS building, I was, frankly, disappointed. I don’t really know what I had been expecting—a Gnostic Dragon? The Whore of Babylon? But the Main Center, a tall red-brick tower with a granite entrance, was bland beyond my expectations. There did not even seem to be a Jewish Star, the familiar six-sided Mogen David, in sight.
            Sighing, I pushed open the metal front door: here again was strangely-familiar blandness. An ancient book was displayed in a showcase. A large, modernistic chandelier hung from the ceiling. The interior did not even have that exotic red-stone-and-coppery-brass-Scheherezade-Ali-Baba-tone that my own, personal Yeshiva lobby did. Shaking my head in disbelief, I mounted the stairs; a middle-aged secretary with an odd resemblance to a YU secretary—did Jewish women administrators come in only one size, shape, and style?—directed me to the Library. I did my research, returned to the books on the shelves, sneaked a few, furtive glances at the other students in the library—they appeared boringly ordinary; not a sorcerer or heretic among them—gathered my papers and pens, and left.
            Years later, when I was uncertain what Sort of Jew I Wanted to Become, and knew only that I no longer wished to be Orthodox, I found the encouragement, warmth, and strong support of Rabbi Stephen Leon and—yeebadel baChaim—Rabbi Dr. Robert Aronowitz—so, so crucial to me, at that crossroads in my life, and welcoming beyond measure. I had had enough of Unreasoning Authority, meaningless forms to fill out, sitting on benches in waiting rooms, and visiting megatemples throughout New York City. I did know that, in spite of myself, YU had given me an excellent education, for which I am forever grateful, but I also knew that, as a scholar, a sensitive spirit, and a Jew, I could no longer, in good conscience, be Orthodox. I was too full of questions, and tired of the answers the Rabbis of my past had been giving me: “We do this because—because Jews have always done this!”
            I knew then, and still know today, that Judaism is the product of many hands and minds, that there are anthropological as well as religious, cultural, superstitious, Talmudic, sociological, soteriological, and other reasons for how, and why, we do things. I like to say that I became a rabbi because I was asking questions and I wasn’t getting answers—and, somewhere along the road to seeking answers, I found that I had become a rabbi. Another aspect of my search has been my contrarian nature—in Jewish circles, I found an English literary aspect; in English classes, I would offer a Jewish insight. I like to believe that I strive to live the YU motto, “Torah oo’Mada”—Torah and Secular Learning, with no contradictions. And I love to teach; God, how I love it. Just stand me up and point me, and I will teach. (In honor of my wife, in memory of my mother a’h; as well as my sister and my sister-in-law; we are all, all teachers.)
            But there I was, on Rabbi N’s tufted and luxurious couch, being told that I denied the Essence—of what? God? Torah? It might be that I denied God’s giving the entire Torah (except the last few verses, which speak of Moses’s death, and no prophet, not even one as great as Moshe Rabeinu, who spoke with God panim el panim, face-to-face, can, or should, know the date of his own death—that would be altogether too depressing, and, certainly, Moses already had enough to be depressed about), but a small portion of my brain still accepted that—no.
            What disturbed me was being judged by Rabbi N. Judaism has no Inquisition. Judaism has no Set of Absolute Beliefs. Yes, Maimonides came up with the “13 Principles,” but I like to say that, on any given day, I can disagree with six or eight or even thirteen of them, and that does not make me any less of a Jew.
            What did I say to Rabbi N’s—accusation? Assessment?
            I was able to look at it in context. Orthodox rabbis, I understood in the 1960s, disliked and suspected Conservative rabbis worse than they did the Reform. While the Reform were beyond the Pale—no kippote while davening, no tallitote (excuse me, talleisim), many English readings, and so on—the Conservative rabbis davened, preached, learned, and usually practiced like the Orthodox; it was just that “they let their congregations get away with murder”—that is, driving on Shabbos, eating tuna in trafe restaurants, and the like. Yes, indeed: as if the rabbi could stop them….
            In other words, Rabbi N was accusing me, not of personally becoming a backslider, but of Joining the Enemy. Backsliding was a charge, but not the Main Charge.
            So: what did I do? I thanked him. He did go on to perform the ceremony at our wedding: the only one who enjoyed it was my father a’h, who was able to preen before his shul cronies (“My wedding, my rabbi”—his exact words—I still love him, but that was not his finest hour). Ah, what one does for family….

            And I am happy to say that I have had, thank God and Israel, a lively, rewarding, and educational career as a rabbi. One lives; one learns. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Good Temple Priests Go Bad: Corruption in High Places--I Samuel 2:12-4:5


 Shiloh, Ephraim Tribal Hill-Country, 11th Century BCE—
Call me Azanya; no, you will not read about me in any of your holy scrolls or parchments. I am no great warrior; I did not kill any Philistines with a donkey’s jawbone, as did that braggart, Samson—though he paid dearly for his dalliance with that double-dealing wench, Delilah—lost both eyes, and his life, to boot, in tearing down the roof of that Pagan Temple of Dagon; still, we’ll never miss that raucous mob of drunken Philistine bravos he took with him, down to Sheol, the Afterlife of Everlasting Silence.
            I am, if not a Kohen-Priest, at least a Levite slavey. I was, I thought, an athlete in my youth, and delighted in climbing up tall trees and onto the roofs of buildings, and jumping down. I was a foolish daredevil, as most young boys are, and, one day, chose to climb to the top of the tree overlooking this same Ohel Mo’ed-Tent-of-Meeting; this holy place, the one I sweep out daily—ironic, no?—and so, after watching the Holy Priests conduct their business, grew bored. I sought to jump the distance from the Terebinth-Tree to the ground, but I misjudged, and snapped my tibia. Since then, I walk with a limp.
            On the day of my bar-mitzvah, I stood before the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest, Lord Eli himself, and thought to hide my limp from his sharp eyes—sharper then, than now: poor man! The years have blinded him, in oh, so many ways—but he saw then that I could not walk a straight and narrow line without limping—God paying me back for all those mindless, daring leaps I made in childish days. And so, being “damanged,” I could not be a priest: God wants only the “perfect” to serve Him—it’s in the Torah; you can look it up. Instead, I clean: I scrub the walls of the Sacred Shrine; I haul the ashes of the burnt-out offerings; I clean the incense-leavings from the the Lesser Altar, and do all sorts of filthy work. I’m happy, though, to be of service to my Lord, my God.
            Old Eli’s getting on; he’s fat and lazy, but still kind to me, remembering my earlier ambitions to be a Serving-Priest, to stand between the People and the Lord, and cause their offerings to smoke and rise before Him: a “sweet savour,” as it’s called. Instead, I stand in the shadows, unworthy to draw near, during the Sacred Service, the Avodah—but from the shadows, I can see how Eli’s years of service, and his sons, in whom he places such trust, such pride—are hardly fit to follow in his shoes. Chophni and Pinchas—how often does it seem, that sons of great men do not measure up? I watch in silence, from the Shrine’s far corners, as these two cheat and chisel the innocent worshipers who come to make their offerings at the Shrine.
            There is a cauldron, always at the boil, in which the meat-portions for the priests and their families are prepared. It is well-known which parts are meant for them, and which for God. It hurts my heart, and makes me grind my teeth, when these two sleazy customers come forth, long fork in hand, and stir amid the portions in the pot, picking and choosing, not the parts they should get, but others, more lean, more choice, which they gather up, lips smacking, and hide away. I hear that, sometimes, they take their portions from the raw carcass, even more forbidden! Worse: they take bribes, and favor the wealthy over the poor, in allowing folks to make their offerings, and, still worse: I see them try to fondle, and assault, the single women who come, all innocence, to pour their pure hearts here, before the Lord. O God! What shall be their punishment, and when?
            Whom shall I tell? There is another priest—a young man, Samuel, who always greets me cheerfully; a light of God seems to radiate from his face. Eli loves him, as well, although he hopes his own boys will improve—he turns a blind eye to their stratagems.
I tease the youth: “Well, young Sammy, will you be High Priest one day?”
He looks down shyly, and replies, “I will serve our God in any way our God may wish!” 
As if he shares a secret only he and God must know. I wonder: priest? Prophet? More than that? It hurts my head; I cannot think beyond, but still—
…There’s a rumor our troops must go out soon, to fight the Philistines. I don’t like what I hear—our men have swords made only of soft bronze, while our enemies’ blacksmiths have fashioned something new, a super-metal, called iron, which can cut bronze through and through. Still, God is on our side—at least, I hope and pray. If all else fails, Chophni and Pinchas, as High-Priests-Elect, can carry the Holy Ark onto the field, and rally our warriors. That, they’ll do, and God speed our victory! I worry, though….
           

Editor’s Note: Here endeth the Chronicle. To see what happens next, see I Samuel, 4:11-7:16. It is bloody, dramatic, and not for the young. Actions have consequences, as you will see. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

How an Over-Zealous Rabbi Took an Earnest Young Orthodox Jewish Boy &, Armed with the Best Intentions, Turned Him Off from Shabbos Observance


            1967: there I am, a na├»ve, trusting sophomore in my second year at Yeshiva University HS for Boys-Manhattan, ready, willing, and eager to learn about Judaism, in all of its glory. Israel will, in the course of this fateful year, prove and valiantly reinforce its existence against the combined efforts of five neighboring Arab nations which attempt to destroy it, led by the hateful Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and the myopic boy king, Hussein of Jordan—I cannot remember whether Hafez Assad, the Butcher of Damascus, is yet on the throne of that unfortunate nation.
            My rabbi for Sophomore Year is one Rabbi Stanley Shtippelholtz. He is a baal teshuva, a born-again Jew, full of the zealous form of Orthodoxy which makes him at once fervent and yet dangerous to more skeptical types such as I, who have been religious—frum is the operative word—since I became a sentient, questioning Jewish being.
            Rabbi Shtippelholtz is always coming up with brilliant (at least, to him) new schemes to increase our devotion. In this particular instance, he has hit upon a Book Report for each of us to write, using a book from a list he has prepared, from which we will each choose one. This tome will, he believes, inspire us in the same direction he has chosen: Cheerleaders for the Lord.
            In my case, he will be wrong. I am busy with schoolwork: every night, I make my way home, via subway and bus, leaving YUHS at 6:15pm, arriving home by 7:30pm, wolfing down my hurried dinner while my father, anxious for his younger child and only son to succeed in a highly competitive environment (and, worth noting, a school he pays considerably for, out of pocket), grills me: “How was math today? Did Dr. Rapaport work those proofs we discussed? Did you do the Biology exercises? What did the Rabbi do and say?” and so on.
Dinner is an excruciating experience, but the Worst is Yet to Come: Dad will sit alongside me, on a four-legged stool, while I tackle my Math Homework—Geometry: not so difficult as was Algebra, the year before; I can grasp the concepts, they being mainly triangles, parallelograms, and other concrete symbols—but it is still difficult for me.
            Dad will explain the problem softly and patiently, the first time.
            I will not understand it.
            He will repeat it, demonstrating it with paper and pencil.
            I will continue not to understand.
            He will repeat his explanation, changing it not one whit, and losing a bit more of his composure; his voice will rise in volume and exasperation.
            I will continue not to fathom the esoterica of Geometry.
            He will begin to yell, to scream and shout at me.
            I will begin to cry: bitter tears of frustration, fatigue, and ignorance: why must I take Math? Why must I attend such a wretched, competitive school? Why am I so tired, every day?
            This is our nightly ritual; it does not vary, until he and I manage, somehow, to complete the exercises. My Math illiteracy continues to this day.
            The next morning, Rabbi Shtippelholtz, as full of enthusiasm as ever, congratulates us boys on the splendid opportunity and experience upon which we are about to embark. He passes out mimeographed sheets, from which we all inhale deeply before reading. I am careful to note which books appear shorter; this is not an area of study I believe I will enjoy, and am determined to make it as painless as possible.
            One of my best friends, Bob Rothstein, chooses the classic, Herman Wouk’s This is My God. Had I known then that this is a finely written book, a beautiful defense of and apologia for Orthodox Judaism, I might well have chosen to read it and write a report about it; indeed, I might still be Orthodox today, rather than a disgruntled left-wing Conservative. Still, there are no accidents, and we human beings manage to work out God’s plan for ourselves, rough-hew His ways how we will.
            I decide on Isaac Grunfeld’s The Sabbath: A Guide to Its Meaning and Observance. It is short, which cheers me: little do I realize that this tiny tome will repel me from any and all future Sabbath observance, that its nitpicking methodology will convince me that the Sabbath, properly observed, is an exercise best left to anal-retentive zealots of the Rabbi Shtippelholtz sort.
            For, as I gradually discover, the 39 Av Melachote (literally, “Work Categories”) are divided and subdivided into more and more oppressive categories—from “Plowing,” for example, Rabbi Grunfeld (who is no mere ‘rabbi’; he is a head of the London Bet Din, the Jewish Court of Law, if you please) considers a pocket comb to be a First Offender in the War against Proper Observance of Shabbos—for this miscreant, plastic tool is capable of, not only Plowing one’s hair, but also Plucking, Winnowing, and, should it manage to remove even one hair, Reaping.
            This sort of casuistry is too much for me to bear. Reading further into the book’s short, but highly detailed pages and charts, I feel the Walls of Talmud closing in around me; it becomes difficult, almost, to breathe. From the point of my completing the book to the present day, I become able to determine easily what exactly I Am Doing Wrong on Any Given Shabbos, from Carrying a Handkerchief (Carrying even a Feather from a Private to a Public Thoroughfare is Strictly Forbidden) to Sorting Anything, to Tying One’s Shoelace, to Completing a Project (“the Final Hammer-Blow”), and on and on.

            It is the Beginning of the End for My Being Orthodox, and I owe it all to the well-meaning, well-scrubbed and smiling Rabbi Shtippelholtz, and his damned list of books….

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On Not Bowling, Yes Eating Pizza, and Building a Sanctuary in the Wilderness: Parshat Vayakhel & Sacred Community


            I don’t bowl; I don’t go to sporting events, or even watch them on TV with a bunch of buddies, dipping Doritos into seven-layer dip while the Dolphins or Heat or Marlins touchdown or dunk or slam it out of the park. I don’t drink, so I don’t nip down to my friendly neighborhood tavern, where Slim or Vinny or Mikey pours me a Tall Cool One or a Dirty Martini (I don’t drink dirty things; my mother taught me well.).
            But I do go to shul.
            “Oh, sure, why not go to shul?” you might say, “I mean, you’re a rabbi.”
            But that’s not the only reason, though it’s a Big One; I’ll admit it.
            I go because, even though we live in a Age of Wonders, where I can call my daughter in another state on my cellphone—I could even call Israel, if I wanted to—where I can learn about anything in an instant, from the Web—where, within five years, I’ll be driving an all-electric car that I won’t even have to steer; where software billionaires will sell me a ticket to vacation on Mars, and where today’s bat mitzvah girl might, some day, find a cure for all the terrible diseases hurting my fellow human beings today—I still get lonely. And I need Community.
            Community isn’t something that goes looking for you; far from it. Many people believe that, if they are just patient enough, the members of a Community will come looking for them, and invite them in. That’s why they stay lonely. Some folks believe that a Community will take the place of a family, and take complete care of them. It won’t.
            A Community—a Spiritual Community—is a group of people who share a sense of Belonging, and who work on that Belonging, in an active sense. It means building a temple—not just maintaining the physical temple—though we do have a beautiful one in our Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach; indeed, it’s one of the most awe-inspiring Holy Places I have ever visited, and you should see it, if you’ve never been. If you live somewhere else, and are reading this online, it means Building a Temple for God, a Place for the Holy One, where folks can rebuild themselves, both in Spirit and Soul.
            This Torah portion, Vayakhel, describes how the Israelites in the Wilderness came together and brought all sorts of wonderful things—precious cloth, goat’s hair, linen; the skins of animals from rams to dugongs (they call them “seals”); gold- and silver-plated poles and panels, besides the Golden Ark of the Covenant which was God’s footstool;  jewels, both precious and semi-precious; and a host of other furniture and vessels, chief among them the Menorah, the sacred candlabra.
            I’m sure that it was amazingly beautiful, and, when the Israelites were done, they had a Dedicatory Service, with dinner, and an entire list of Speakers, Musicians, Poets and Politicians, with Moses and Aaron (did Miriam speak, as well? I hope so) at the top of the list.
            Understand me, though: it was all Material; it was not Spirit. Spirit is what people bring to the Place—that is why another Name for God, one of the Most Important, is Ha-Makom, “The Place.”
Here is a story about another building, even bigger and more magnificent, which none of us, none of Today’s Jews, have ever seen: the Temple of Solomon (1000 BCE), in all of its grandeur and glory:
Solomon, like many monarchs, loved to disguise himself as an Ordinary Person and go out to hobnob with the Common Folk, so that he could better understand what they were thinking. On this occasion, long before the Temple was completed and dedicated, he went to the Temple site, and struck up a conversation with each of three random workers, asking each one what they were doing.
Worker One said, “I’m just cutting stones; that’s what the straw boss told me to do.”
Worker Two said, “Oh, I’m mixing the concrete to hold the building stones in place. What time do we get off for lunch? My wife packed me a chicken-salad on pita; I sure do love that chicken-salad she makes.”
Worker Three, a fella named Maury, said, “I love this job, Mister. I’m working on a place where people will meet God. It’s an honor. Plus, I get to make money to support my wife and kids.”
If we take the story of Solomon a little further, here, we can imagine that the King, still in disguise as a commoner, became friends with Maury, got to meet his wife Shifra and his kids Danny and Ruthy, joined his Thursday Night Poker Game, and shared his beer and pizza.
You see, in these days where Blind Pew is telling us that Synagogues are Falling Apart and the Jews are About to Disappear, we don’t need more Master Plans for Jewish Survival. We need more moments of beer and pizza. Maybe the Israelites muffed the first set of Commandments, but, when they were building the Mishkan/Sanctuary, they had their eye on the Second Set. We’re Jews. Sometimes we fail, but we always succeed, the second time around. Anybody want to finish the pizza?


(From an idea by Master Educator Joel Lurie Grishaver)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Gnostic Nights: A Chat with the Demiurge, God of Evil



The pain started around 3 am: a stabbing ache from behind my right eye, like a small demon with a pitchfork: another migraine in the making. I got up as quickly as I could—I had been sleeping soundly, a deep and dreamless slumber; I would have had to rise at 6:30 am, after returning home at 10:30 pm—such is the life of an Rabbi-cum-English professor, God save the mark!—and went downstairs to take my headache-remedy cocktail of choice: Cambia Powder in water, followed by a squirt of Zomig Spray in one nostril. I sat at a kitchen chair, head down, breathing deeply, as the throbbing slowly subsided.
I had put on only one small light over the table: bright lights aggravate the pain, so it took a while before I noticed Him—his greenish-brown tail, like an alligator’s, hung over the back of the couch, scaly, gleaming dully in the halflight, and an odor hung in the air, foul and moist, like three-day-old fish.
            I slowly approached, so as not to frighten him off. But this was no gecko or lizard, come to find shelter beneath my roof. He was bigger, broader, as large as an ox, and the sofa creaked as he turned to face me, redyellow eyes blinking, slavering jaws slowly opening in what I assumed was a smile.
Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly, my half-sleeping mind supplied: a bit of doggerel-poetry from a distant childhood, like a forgotten fear.
There he was: the Demiurge, Yaldabaoth by name, the lesser God of the Gnostic System of the Universe. A massive horn, red with the blood of—how many millions of innocent dead?—projected from the center of his forehead, grey-brown-green, like a rhino’s.
            “Don’t be upset,” he said, smiling: his shiny teeth shone agleam, row upon row, like a shark’s, and I wondered how many lives those teeth had cut short, “I was careful not to drip any blood on the rug.”
            He hawked and spat softly into his claw, and used whatever-it-was to quietly scratch behind his horn, clearing his throat, once again.
            “Baby’s tibia,” he said, “they do get stuck in my throat.”
            “If you’re here, Demiurge,” I said, “who, then, is running the universe?”
            “It runs itself,” he said, “like clockwork. Big, malevolent, uncaring Clock. Tick-tock-tick, Rabbi. I’m only there to keep an eye on things, and make sure that catastrophes fall into place, from time to time. That tsunami in Bora-Bora? That was me. That schoolbus that fell off a cliff in Denver? Me again. The Nobel Prize winner, that French physicist who worked all of her life to attain the Nobel, clutched at her chest (he mimicked the move) and died of a—what? ‘Heart episode?’—while walking up the stairs of the Swedish Academy, everyone applauding for her, just reaching out her hands, could almost touch it?”
He began to laugh, his scales clacking against one another, softly. Big, disgusting, green tears of joy began coursing down his—cheeks? Jaws? I reached him a tissue, from the box; couldn’t have him staining the carpet.
“Thank you,” he gasped, hiccupping as he calmed himself, “I love it when that happens: she had a weak heart—a weak heart, can you fathom this, Rabbi? Just a touch, a little push from me, and it all goes—poof. All of a mortal woman’s earthly hopes and dreams—of fame, of fortune. The well-deserved rewards of a life well-spent, serving humankind. Poof, poof, poof….”
            He took the small bone he had coughed up—the baby’s—and began to pick at his teeth. The air was getting fishy-smelling again. It was a little hard to see; it was closing in, junglelike.
            The Dragon went on: “I love my work—insofar as it’s possible for me to love anything, that is. I’m supposed to be above emotion; that’s what the Monad keeps telling me….”
            “The Monad—the Unmoved Mover,” I said.
            “Not even that,” he said. “The Monad does nothing. He floats. Just floats.Everything floats, Up There.”
            “And he created You,” I said.
            “Right,” he answered, “that’s how it works. A very neat system. One Monad: a Higher God—call him a god, spirit, entity, it doesn’t matter. He is the first, the last, the whole shebang, enchilada, whatever-you-like.”
            “And You do everything else,” I said. The smell was curling around my head; the Cambia-Zomig was having a hard time, fighting off the sense of disgust I was beginning to feel, seeing this Beast in my house, on my couch.
            Is that all there is?I thought, Pray all of your life, do mitzvote, and, in the End, this oversized evil, Cosmic ‘Gator gobbles up all of our work, all our….
            “Yes, and there’s a catch,” he said, as though he had been reading my thoughts. He flipped the bone towards the wall, towards our “Rabbis” collection that we had built up, over the years. They stood silently, little statues of wood, plastic, clay and glass, davening, playing their instruments, always making me smile as they did, no matter how hard life got, giving me hope that there was a world of faith, of order, of tradition that was firm and stable under the rule of the God I both love and fear, the God Who could hold this old world in place, even when everything seemed to be crumbling. Was it all—a fake?
            “A catch?” I asked.
            “Yes: you see, I don’t like you—any of you, you do-gooders, you human beings, moral creatures, any of you—very much. Or at all. You might say—“ and here, the Demiurge fished in one beastly armpit, and took out a small wooden box—“That I hate you, despise you all. What, after all, do you do for Me?”
            “Well, we pray to God. We hope that God will help us.”
            “There is no God,” the dragon grinned, nodding his massive head slowly, “And I am His Substitute.”
            “What if I choose not to believe in You?” I asked, “You are just a—a footnote, in the books about Gnosticism. And Gershom Scholem says—“
            “Scholem can go to—well, he’s not there,” said the dragon, “actually, he’s at the Yeshiva shel Ma’alah, the Heavenly Yeshiva, studying Torah with—well, that’s not important. Not believing in Me is your prerogative, Rabbi,” said the dragon, holding the box before him, as if making an offering, “but I wouldn’t put too much faith into it. After all, where is your God when the chips are down? How much goodness do you think this old world has, anyway? This whole thing, this whole dog-and-pony show you call the Universe—it’s all going to Hell. Do you know, the Iranians hanged a man the other day, just for writing poetry?”
            “Yes, I know,” I said.
            “Well, how does that make you feel?” asked the dragon. He had opened his box by now; I looked: it was a sort of Rolodex, in a mahogany box, all scarred and pitted, and the Dragon was riffling through it: it seemed full of cards—cards with people’s names on them—but it was making a strange noise as he went through them—a sound like crying.
            “Crappy,” I said, “because we have to deal with those people,” I said.
            “Crappy,” repeated the Demiurge, “crappy. And that’s it? What about—what do you call it?—Tikkun Olam, fixing the world? Where do you get off saying that, anyway, Rabbi? And you, you’re just one person! You sit there, and you think you can actually change anything?”
            “I—I—do, I really do,” I stammered.
            He stopped riffling through his cards, put the box down on the coffee table, and stared straight at me; he was no longer smiling. His eyes were large and yellow, with bright-red-veins, as though he were in the habit of staying up late, all the time. He put his clawed hands—claws covered with dried blood and pus—on his scaly knees, and leaned forward, causing the couch to tilt dangerously. He stared directly at me, and I leaned back against my chair. I felt sweat-drops forming on my brow. The air was so thick now, with greengold steamy trails passing beneath the light, and his jaw was very close. His breath smelled like corpses.
            “You worm,” he hissed, and his snakelike tongue flicked out, brushing my cheek, “You toad. What are you capable of doing? Do you know how a serpent crawls on a rock? Or what gives a horse its strength? Were you there when the fountains of the deep opened up and filled the oceans, and the morning stars sang with joy?”
            “How can you—can you—“ I stammered, “how can you quote Job to me? You didn’t write it; it was inspired by my God, the God you say doesn’t exist.”
            The dragon leaned forward: he breathed death and fishbreath into my face. His left claw reached out before I could move, seized a handful of my T-shirt—I remember thinking foolishly that, I hope he doesn’t tear it; it’s my favorite Grateful Dead t-shirt, the one that says, “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been”--and lifted me up, over his head. I looked down, as if from a great height, and saw his rows and rows of shark’s teeth. He shook me gently as he spoke.
            “Listen to me, Rabbi-punk. The world sucks: it’s full of poverty and death and shit and all kinds of suffering. It’s supposed to be that way. The Monad and I, we like it to be that way. And nothing you can do will ever change it. Get used to it.”
            He flicked me back onto the recliner like a feather, like a dust-mote he was tired of. To my surprise, I wasn’t even crying.
            “What if—what if I choose not to believe in you?” I asked.
            “As I said before, that’s your prerogative,” said the dragon, “but that really won’t change things. I have to be going: there’s a polio outbreak in Pakistan I have to be seeing to—“
            “What if I make it that you can’t leave?”
            The Demiurge snorted. “You have no power over Me. I am the Ruler of the earth below and the heavens above. I decree who dies, who gets born with defects. I am the reason that planes fall out of the sky, why bombs kill innocents. Get me: I am the only Thing in this universe that makes sense. If you had any real intelligence, you would fall down and worship Me, but I don’t need your worship; I am self-sufficient; the Monad planned Me that way; it was the last voluntary act He did, before settling back into the Sleep of Aeons. And so it is; so will it ever be.”
            He rose, and shook himself, like a dog, like a boxer entering the ring. A few browngold scales molted off his hide as he took a massive step forward. As he strode heavily to the door, past me, past my books—all those religious tomes that I loved so much, that I had studied from all of my life—I saw that I had just the one chance, the only opportunity to stop him. I squeezed past, scraping my chest and arm painfully on his back-plates, and reached into the bookcase for the Sefer Tehillim, the Book of Psalms.
            “Dirshu Adonai V’uzo—Seek the Lord and His strength,” I read—it was my Pasuk shel Shem, my Name-Verse (everyone has one), beginning and ending with the same letters of my Hebrew Name, Dovid, “Beloved of God,” not that I was feeling all that beloved at that moment, or even vaguely feeling God, in the Presence of so much Evil—as the Demiurge put his hand on the door. To my surprise, the knob glowed red. His claw shook from the heat; he was unable to turn the latch.
            “Arghh—it’s hot!” he snorted, and put his inflamed hand into his mouth: “It burns—O Monad Monad Monad, it burns—“
            “God is my firm tower, my sure sanctuary on the day of danger,” I chanted, in Hebrew and English, and the Demiurge clapped both hands to his ears.
            “Stop, Bless you, Stop!” groaned the Beast, sinking to his colossal knees on the front-door carpet.
We may have to buy a new one, before this is done. If I survive. I thought, foolishly.
All over that massively ugly frame, small yellow sparks were beginning to dance. Smoke began to curl out of his ears.
            I did not stop chanting Psalms; after a few more, I switched to Kohelet-Ecclesiastes, my favorite book of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible: its central lesson is that one may be cynical, but it is forbidden to Give Up on Life.
By that time, blue-gold-red flames were encircling Yaldabaoth the Dragon entirely; strange mystical otherworldly flames, that consumed his fishlike, death-stinking body, until nothing remained, except a small pile of ashen-white flakes that I was able to scoop into my hands—OK, I used a Dustbuster—and dump into the backyard, between the mermaid and the suncatcher, both hanging on our yard fence.
            The sun was rising, as I lay back in the recliner, and closed my eyes, just for a bit. By this time, Kirby, our Shih Tzu, had awakened, and jumped into my lap. I was glad for his chocolate-brown, furry warmth. Until I heard a knock at the door.
            I opened it, to behold an Archangel, clad in mystic samite, white-gold-blue from top to toe, armed with a Sword of Truth, a Buckler of Faith, and a Helmet on which were engraved the words, Kadosh L’Adonai Eloheem—Holy to the Lord God. Seeing the little traces of Dragondust remaining in the front hall, She looked down and nodded to Kirby and me.
            “Did you summon me, Rabbi David?” she asked, in a voice soft, yet commanding, “I am Rachmielah, God’s Archangel of Compassion and Mercy. Do you need my help?”
            “Thanks, I’m good,” I said. I was tired—bone-tired, all of a sudden, and the day just beginning.
            Her eyes were as blue as the lapis lazuli of the High Priest’s breastplate. She smiled; the sun was rising.
            “The challenge, Son of Man,” She said, “is to bring that Goodness into the World.” And vanished.
            I went upstairs to brush my teeth: another Working Day had begun, and I needed coffee….

Note: Gnosticism is an ancient system of belief which may have heavily influenced both Jewish Kabbalah and Christianity. Briefly, it posits that a Big God, the Monad, the Unmoved Mover, created a Lesser God, the Demiurge, who runs the Universe, but doesn’t like us much. It is possible that this belief led directly to Kabbalistic theories of the relationship between the Ein-Sofe and the Sefirote, or perhaps the Archangel Metatron, as well as the Lurianic Tsimtsum.


References

Kurt Rudolph, Gnosis: The Nature & History of Gnosticism. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1987.

Gerschom Scholem, Kabbalah. Jerusalem: Keter, 1974.

Martin Seymour-Smith, Gnosticism: The Path of Inner Knowledge. NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Night of the Golden Calf: An Eyewitness Testimony--a Parchment-Scrap from the Original Holy Ark

The Testimony of Chur ben Calev oo’Miriam

The following text was translated from a bit of parchment found in the bottom of what purports to be a section of the Holy Ark carried through the Wilderness by the Israelites. It was found during the reign of Pope Hadrian VIII (2023-2039, Common Era), when the search through the Vatican Treasury of Antiquities yielded up the original Table for the Shewbread (minus two legs) and a broken Menorah, thought by scholars to be the original candelabra which was seized by the troops of the Roman General Titus during the Destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. The Holy Ark fragment was delivered to the Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican, the Hon. Chaim Bennet-Shalom, grandson of Naphtali, to honor the 7th Anniversary of the Peace Agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors (including Iran). Negotiations are currently under way to establish the Third Temple alongside the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, with all religious parties having free and equal access to the houses of worship thereon established, under an Israeli-Jordanian trusteeship, with a Joint Religious Supervisory Board consisting of the Muslim Waqf and the Orthodox-Conservative-Reform-Reconstructionist-Israeli Rabbinical Council of the Knesset.

            I have just passed through the most horrible night of my life. Scarcely had Rabbi Moses ben Amram, peace be unto him!—left us to climb Mt. Sinai, when the Egyptian rabble—that agglomeration of sorcerers, petty thieves, and outright lunatics whom the evil Pharaoh Ramesses II freed from his prisons and pesthouses and driven out of Egypt when he reluctantly gave us our freedom—began muttering, indeed screaming, that our Leader was gone, and that we had better prepare a better god to follow, for “That Old Man Moses, he is not coming back.” I stood up before them, alone—my best friend and fellow warrior, Joshua ben-Nun, had gone off with Rabbi Moses, and Aaron tried his best to quiet the crowd, but—God bless Aaron, he means well, he always means well—they would not listen to him, even standing there before them, wearing his pure-white, holy priestly robes—Aaron would have had to slay ten cows and six sheep, just to get their attention, and he was in a panic; he could not stir without Moses there to direct him.
            I, therefore, I, Chur, son of Calev, Joshua’s good right arm, and his sister Miriam, fearless leader of the women, stepped forward:
            “Quiet your shouting,” I said to the ringleaders, a pair of troublemakers named Datan and Aviram—I recognized them from the old days in Egypt; they never worked; all they ever did was complain, resulting in the Egyptian taskmasters’ piling on more chores, and increasing the number of sun-dried mud bricks-and-straw we others had to dry, cut out, and carry—“Be silent, and listen to me! We are Israelites; we have a goodly heritage, and we must wait, until He-Who-Is, the Invisible God, shows us His awesome power—“
            Just then, a bolt of lightning split the sky, and thunder rolled above, as though proving my words, how mighty the One True God is, has been, and will ever be. But the mob was muttering, again: Where was Moses? Where was their god?—I ran over to Aaron, and asked him,
            “Father Aaron,” I said, gripping his arm and glancing about as the evildoers drew closer, “What tricks do you have, up your priestly sleeve, to fend off these evildoers? Change a stick into a snake? Cast pebbles skyward and bring them down as angry bees? Or water into wine, even, making them drunk and fall-down-tired? We are desperate, here—“
            “I cannot—cannot do anything, Chur!” said Aaron, and he turned to me, his eyes full of tears—“Make them bring me their gold, their jewels, and I will make them a god—a pretend god, true, but otherwise, they may kill me!”
            “They cannot lay hands on you—back! Back, you scum!” I shouted, standing between Datan and my holy godfather, Aaron, and seizing out my dagger, holding it before me, my hand shaking. “The first man who touches him, will die by my blade!”
            Datan and Aviram, the greasy ringleaders, stopped; Aviram held up his hand, and said, “Perhaps it is, indeed, time, for a sacrifice or two.” He smiled, looked at Datan, who nodded, and pointed at me:
            “Take this one, this noisy dog, this Chur!”
            The rest is blackness—I believe they all fell upon me, beating, kicking: I had learned from Joshua that, if all attack, to cover one’s head and ears with one’s arms; to curl up like a ball, and go soft all over—and think: One-True-God; One-True-God….
            From afar, through the pain, I heard women’s voices: Leave that poor boy alone. Come here, young man, and dance with me—come! Dance before your god! Tambourines. Drums. Was that—a—flute?
            At last, I awoke: I was outside the camp, where they had dropped my body, thinking me dead. I was covered in my own blood: some small cuts, no more, and I swallowed: my nose was bleeding. These Israelites are not killers; they are useless, without Moses or their God to direct them. From afar, I saw a bonfire, roaring into the night, heard singing, and saw dancers—dancers without clothes. Other people were holding hands, and walking away from the fire—what they were doing, I did not wish to think. In the middle of the camp, a bright-gold, small Golden Calf stood, a-gleam, with piles of gold, silver, and jewels around it.
            I heard the thunder, saw the lightning, atop Mt. Sinai. I imagined my teacher, my Moses, standing in the Holy Presence of the One True God, and shook my head sadly at the fools who danced and rose up to play….

            What will happen to them, O’ God?

Friday, February 7, 2014

A Walk in the World with Reb Shmerbel: Lessons from a Small Brown Shih Tzu


Chasid One: What was most important to your Rebbe—his Torah Study, his dveikut, his Cleaving to God, his Tsedakah, his righteous giving of charity, or his Gemilut Chasadim, his Good Deeds in the World?
Chasid Two: What was most important in the World to my Rebbe was—whatever he happened to be doing at the moment. For whatever he was doing, he gave it his most concentrated attention, as though his very life depended on it—even when he was merely tying his shoelaces.

            There are rabbis, and then, there are Rebbes. A Rebbe is any one, human, animal, or inanimate object, that teaches us how to live, how to appreciate what is happening to us while, we are In the Moment; they show us what is really important. When we are in a funk, or rejoicing, they show us a Glimpse of Eternity. They cut through the pettiness, the harsh clanging of our daily lives and offer us a Moment of Soulful Silence, so as to better take stock of, and appreciate, this brief sojourn which we call Life, this passage between the World Before and the World-to-Come.
And so it happened, this Erev Shabbat, this Eve of the Holy Shabbat, when I, with papers to grade (always) and a myriad of other things to do, took Kirby for a walk, so he could Do His Business.
            We all do things for the animals in our lives, these little creatures who share our destiny for a given period; they are great teachers. Kirby is a rescue; we know nothing about his past, though we could divine from his early behaviors that it was painful and difficult. When B and I visited Shih Tzu Rescue in Davie, FL, we witnessed a parade of adoptable Shih Tzus, noble little beasties who had, in some way, been damaged by cruel or neglectful people: there was Sheridan, a dignified young fellow who sat on my lap; he had enchanting blue eyes—can you imagine?—but never made eye contact; he looked clear past me: was he recovering from some form of doggy Post-Traumatic-Stress Disorder? I could not tell, and Sheridan was silent. There was Webster, a strapping, bold fellow who sat confidently on my lap, as brave as any Temple Guardian (Shih Tzu means “Lion Dog,” and that was their original purpose, to protect Chinese Buddhist Temples from Evil Spirits), but, while I stroked his upright throat and deep chest, could feel him growling softly as he looked down at his fellow dogs—and who could take responsibility for an Attack Shih Tzu? There was Courtney, who bounced and leapt, always ready for play, perhaps ideal for a young family, but a bit too hyper for B and me.
            Finally, there was Kirby—his name was Hershel at the time, a homage to his Hershey-Chocolate color, a rarity among the breed. He was a shy little fellow, smaller and lighter than his contemporaries, though he was highly sociable, and joined in happily with the mutual nose- and tush-sniffing that is their style of greeting. But when we lifted him up, he settled down in our laps immediately, as though telling us, “I choose you, and you. The business is done. Give these nice people their money, and let’s all go home to my new house.”
            And so it transpired, a couple of weeks later. We changed his name to Kirby, commemorating either the 1950s vacuum cleaner or the pickle; we’re not sure. But, like most Shih Tzu people, we have adapted our homes and lives to accommodate this little bundle of brown fur, with his quirks and quiddities.
            Kirby is my rebbe, too: he keeps me grounded. I may gaze heavenward at our wide Florida skies when we are out walking together; he is a creature of earth, as brown as its trees and loam, and he is always sniffing for evidence of his co-canines, ready to leave puddled evidence of his Having Been Here: a sort of doggy fame. Watch your step, he says, the World is beautiful, but dangerous. Pay attention!
When noises come from behind a fence, he stands at gaze—not because he is courageous, but because he knows, with Dave (he calls me Dave, and, yes, he knows that he’s adopted) at the other end of the leash, he is protected. When you are out in the World, he is telling me, bring your friends, and Be Careful.
            Kirby, like the unnamed rebbe above, teaches me not to be like the rider who leapt on his horse and rode off in all directions: when you are doing something, give it your fullest attention, whether it be looking for a Place to Poop (we do carry bags, and wish that everyone else did), a corner to salute, or a potential comrade to discuss his People with. He does not “heel”; he tends to wander off, and we are the May Pole in which he tangles the leash. Focus on the Task at Hand, he counsels, to the exclusion of everything else.
            When it is time to return home, Kirby does not mind. It is time for him to tell Beaver of his exploits. Beaver is a favorite toys, a flat rag, really, whom Kirby carries around in his mouth, sounding the squeaker like a small Stutz Bearcat. Beaver is his Best Friend in the World, his Chavruta, the one to whom he communicates his Deepest Doggy Thoughts. Where Kirby is, there must Beaver be. The time I accidentally ran Beaver through the wash with squeaker within was tragic: Beaver no longer squeaked; he squirted, and we traversed the neighborhood pet stores high and low until we could find a Substitute Beaver, which Kirby gravely accepted, with a warning to me not to let it happen again. Acquire thyself a Friend, he says to me silently, one to whom you can tell your deepest thoughts.
After the walk, Kirby must take a nap. He is a Low-Energy Dog, a fact we all celebrate. Shih Tzus do not herd; they are Companion, Non-Sporting Dogs, and if you shoot a duck, they will show no interest in retrieving it for you; they will be on a pillow, back in the Hunting Lodge, probably ensconced before the fire. They rarely fetch, though they love to skid about on carpet or marble floors in search of their favorite toy, and may do this as many as three times before they look at you archly and retire to their bed or pillow. They are the most cat-like dogs I know. Kirby will do his little Doggy-Chasidische Dance, for a treat, and he can Lie Down. Sleeping is another favorite pastime, but he knows that he must leap up at a second’s notice if Mommy gets up. He is a Mommy’s Boy, through and through. Whatsoever thy hand findest itself to do, says Kirby, do thine utmost. Didn’t King Solomon, wisest of men, who spoke the language of men and animals, say that?

            “Focus, Dave, Focus!” Kirby tells me. His Hebrew name is Shmerbel ben Berbel, which I interpret as “Guardian of God in the World, son of Little Bear of God.” He is more Teddy than Grizzly, but he is also dedicated to protecting His People, which is an admirable Jewish trait. I am proud to call him one of my Rebbeim.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Torah Portion Tetzaveh: The High Priest--Bread that Never Staled, Tithing, & a Breastplate Ouija Board. Are Rabbis Mediators Between Jews & God?



            In the midst of the Israelites’ building the Mishkan, the sacred dwelling-place for God during their wilderness sojourn, this parsha/Torah reading has God giving instructions to Moses regarding the attire of the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol. What was his function? He was intermediary between God and the people, charged with preparing a strict regimen of offerings, not all of them burnt. These included the lechem ha-panim, or the “showbread,” twelve loaves of which lay on the altar-table during the entire week (amazingly retaining their freshness, long before chemical additives were even invented), to be eaten by the Levites that Shabbat. Various oil- and grain-offerings, in addition to the firstlings of the flock and herd, were also dedicated to God.
When studying these offerings, we must never forget that they were not meant for God alone: the Mishkan, and its successor, the Bet Ha-Mikdash/Holy Temple, were also the source of sustenance for the lesser priests, their wives and children—indeed, the entire tribe of Levi, forbidden by God to engage in any occupation save caring for the temple and its accoutrements. When an Israelite girl married a priest or Levite, she and her subsequent offspring could eat only of the hekdesh, the meats, vegetables, and fruits dedicated to God, of which the Levites claimed ten percent. Many modern-day churches continue this tradition by requiring their better-off members to “tithe,” or donate 10% of their incomes, while we Jews make do with a system of dues-paying memberships. A rabbinical school professor once told me, years ago, “The Torah is always right. If temples tithed their members, not a congregation in this country would be running a deficit!”
            The High Priest was also the people’s shaman, charged in the Book of Leviticus with examining any boil, lesion, or skin infection which might break out amidst the people. In an age long before hydrocortisone was available, the only “cure” he could offer was to quarantine the sufferers for a week, after which the skin disease would have done one of two things: either heal, or not. If the patient recovered, he was to bring a thanksgiving offering. If not, well….
            Finally, the High Priest was a sort of low-level prophet, guardian of the Urim v’Tumim, translated as “Signs and Wonders.” These were the twelve jewels which adorned his breastplate, and which, according to legend, were capable of answering “yes” or “no” queries. If the answer was “yes,” the stones would light up. (The jewels survive to this day on the seal of Yale University, whose president from 1778 to 1795, the Rev. Ezra Stiles, required freshmen to study the Hebrew language in order to study the Bible in its original, unlike Harvard, where only upperclassmen were tasked with Semitic studies. Indeed, Rev. Stiles’s high esteem for Hebrew led him to befriend Rabbi Raphael Karigal [1732-1777], a representative of the Hebron, Israel, Jewish community, during the latter’s visit to Newport, RI, in 1773.)
            Jews must understand that there is no connection between today’s rabbis and cantors and the kohanim/priests of ages ago. Rabbis are teachers, cantors sing (and may teach, as well). They are not intermediaries; every Jew prays directly to God. Nonetheless, old beliefs die hard, and many Chasidic Jews, for example, believe that their rebbe has God by the sleeve; there are stories, and even jokes, about this.

The office of High Priest has passed into the mists of Jewish history, although there have been isolated whispers calling for its restoration: when the State of Israel was declared in 1948, and again following the triumphant Six-Day War of 1967, a small but hopeful coterie of kohanim (those Jews through whom the priestly line has been passed) in yeshivote/rabbinical schools worldwide, began studying the laws of offerings, certain that Messiah would soon come, the Holy Temple would be raised, and their services needed once again. Alas, Messiah tarries still, but Jewish eschatological hopes will never die.