ZERAMIM: AN ONLINE JOURNAL
OF APPLIED JEWISH THOUGHT
VOL. IV: ISSUE 3
SPRING-SUMMER 2020 / 5780
To all in our community of readers and authors:
We hope that you, and your families, friends and colleagues, are well.
While the two main pieces that we are pleased to present in this issue were each conceived well before the emergence of the present pandemic, we suggest, each takes on additional resonance in the current circumstances.
Dr. David Arnow tells the story of how a peculiar 3-word Biblical verse (Genesis 49:18) came to be perceived as having magical power, power that could be harnessed and practically applied in the physical realm, and then, entered into our regular liturgy. This pre-‘modern’ yearning for protection against the invisible forces of destruction might not seem so foreign today. We witness daily the pursuit of safety, seeing that same yearning for protection igniting both an impulse towards magical thinking and the ritualization of knowledge in physical forms, as well as the impulse towards a praxis that cannot produce the same immediate individual-oriented comfort, but because it is dependent on inclusivity and communal safety, retains traction, and produces real progress.
Rabbi Ian Silverman addresses a debate across centuries between Nachmanides (d. 1270 in the Land of Israel) and the Maharal of Prague (d.1609) as to whether it is primarily our actions today, or our beliefs today, which will most affect the destiny of our descendants. Again, this idea of trans-generational impact, that even eight years ago, might have seemed pre-‘modern’, has returned to the cultural dialectic with fresh, often chaotic fervor in our current circumstances. Progress requires collective action, but collective action requires we remove the chaos borne of failure incorporate past thinking that remains relevant, even when applied to an heretofore unimaginable world.
Finally, Richard Claman revisits the Conservative Movement’s 2001 teshuva on the subject of ‘distance’ minyans, and suggests that it might have also addressed a minority opinion that might bring us some comfort today – the statement of R. Yehoshua ben Levi that, for purposes of prayer, ‘even a metal barrier does not interpose between the Jews and their Father in Heaven’ (b.Tal. Pes. 85b). As we pursue and wait for the concrete knowledge that might produce a definitive end to the prevailing crisis, we can and must resist the stasis of inaction, stasis antithetical to maintaining a living Torah, as it only takes one sure foothold to resume the journey forward.
As we continue to observe the Talmud’s teaching, ‘if there is plague in the city, keep your feet inside’ (b.Tal. BK 60b), we hope that continued study will give us continued strength. And we look forward to publishing a similarly diverse variety of investigations in the Fall, following a peaceful and healthy celebration by all of the New Year
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE EXTRAORDINARY CAREER OF GENESIS 49:18
Dr. David Arnow
Rabbi Ian Silverman