Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Challenges of Translation....

Top of the evening all...

Since finishing seminary too many years ago, I have become more and more reluctant to translate.  The reason is that translation is an art.  Let me give you my favourite example:

It was a dark and stormy night.
I was up late reading a bunch of old books.

That is the translation.  And now for the original:

Once upon a midnight dreary while I pondered weak and weary 
over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

I deeply apologize to Edgar Allan Poe, the author of "The Raven."  In rendering this translation, I destroyed both the rhyme and the metre.  No reader will read on to find out about the noise, or the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.

The translation never left the original language of the poem, and is only separated from the original by only about 130 years.  Furthermore, we can all point to words that have changed meaning in our lifetimes.  A friend's daughter wanted to give a report about donkeys in the Torah not due to any interest in donkeys.  Rather, she wanted to say the word 'ass' in front of her teachers.  'Ass' is a word that has changed meaning in our lifetimes.

With that rather inglorious introduction, I was in Buffalo this week.  I had scheduled to go to see a friend.  It was snowing and nasty out, and I did not want to drive.  The commanding officer wanted to get everyone out a little early in order to avoid the worst of the weather.  I asked if he might also confine us to quarters.  He declined to do that, but said that I could happily use his name in vain if I did not want to go.  "Translate the Torah into Sailor-talk," he said to me.

I went to see my friend.  The driving was not so bad.  The company, as always, was quite good.  I also wrote a tongue-in-cheek translation of the opening verses of Genesis.

In the beginning of the creation of Heaven and earth, when the earth was on limited availability status, and God's spirit was haze gray and underway (fluttered over the water). And God said (conventional power) "light off"/(nuclear) "start the reactor," and thus was the boiler lit off/the reactor started. And God saw that the boiler was lit/the reactor was started, and that was good to go, and God separated between the lit off boiler/started reactor and the darkness. And God called the light 'underway' and the darkness 'in port;' and it was taps, and it was reveille reveille all hands heave out, Day 1 on the Julian calendar. 

This really was intended to be tongue in cheek.  Thinking about it though, even within this silly translation, there is phrasing that one group within a very defined subculture might have a clearer way to understand than another subculture within the same defined group. 

So much for tongue in cheek.  This silly translation brought up a significant issue.  In and of itself, the translation might have been funny.

I heard recently that explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog.  You understand exactly what is happening on the inside, but the frog is dead.

I might have done that here.

I really like "and it was Taps, and it was Reveille..."

Have a good evening.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Je Suis Juif!!

Bon soir mes amis...

We have all been following with rapt attention the recent events in Paris.  The targeted assassination of journalists and the deliberate murder of people for their religious affiliation strikes us at the heart of our consciences.  Having lived our lives in the West, the ideas of freedom of the press and freedom of religion are as much a necessity of life as oxygen.  For Americans, we are very much aware of what the First Amendment says.  It mentions both the freedom of the press and the freedom of religion.  For Canadians, both of these freedoms are the first Fundamental Freedoms spelled out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

After the initial set of events, the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, people all around France, and all around the world for that matter, began wearing shirts and holding signs that said "Je suis Charlie."  Rallies with thousands of people expressing that sentiment took place all around France, and all around the world.  I expect that such a statement is to say that when faced with the choice of the pen or the sword, to side with Charlie is an open statement of the choice of the pen.  I agree with that statement.  In that regard, je suis Charlie aussi.

Please take note: as Jews, while we are decidedly on the side of choosing the pen over the sword (Jewish Law defines handedness by writing), Charlie Hebdo was not our friend.  Jews and Judaism were very much the target of Charlie Hebdo's poison pen.  Trust me when I tell you that this was not a publication I would have bought.

There is another side to this though.  It is a side that is disturbing, to say the least.  What might have been different if the attack on the kosher supermarket had taken place first?  Would the people of France have stood up and said "je suis juif"?  They did not do so after the execution of children at a Jewish school in Toulouse a couple of years ago.  I do not expect that they would have done so now.

Mes amis, je suis juif.  J'aurais ete dans ce marche vendredi matin.  Charlie Hebdo was decidedly not my friend.  The folks at the kosher market were.

Je suis juif.  I am Jewish.  I hope that the people of France realize this identity.  Jews were targeted for being Jewish on Friday morning.  These nice folks who did this do not like Christians or atheists either. I am not at all saying that the French should stand with us or they are against us.  I am saying that we make a gravely wrong assumption when we assume that the line between Jewish and anything else is as significant to the murderers as it is to us.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When We Chose the Rabbinate, and When Our Rabbinates Chose Us....

Top of the evening everyone...

Several months ago, Jennifer and I thought it would be interesting to write on the exact same topic.  We also decided that it would post at the exact same time.  So when you get this entry, go immediately to Jen's entry on the same topic and read hers also.

I have been asked many times over the course of my rabbinate when and how I chose to be a rabbi.  I always give the same answer: "I do not know."  I suppose that I started making the decision in high school, but remain unable to pinpoint the exact time that my decision was made.

During seminary, my concentration was Talmud.  I actively avoided philosophy classes, and took only the history courses I had to take.  One course, Intellectual History, I failed.  I turned in the final paper several times, and apparently kept missing something.  The dean decided to let it go.  I think it is because he was a Navy chaplain when he finished school, and knew that was where I was headed initially.

Since finishing, I have barely cracked open a volume of Talmud.  It is rather upsetting.  On the positive side, I found that I truly enjoy medieval exegesis.  The intelligence, subtlty, and passion of some of the medievals is often quite stunning.  I miss Talmud, usually.  This was the beginning of my rabbinate choosing me.

Since then, other things have come up on my radar, 'forcing' to the surface the concerns of this rabbi.  At my first pulpit, I had a person with a significant alcohol problem.  This was a person with a PhD, whom I could not ask to lead a responsive reading.  I did not know what to do.  Looking back on it, I also believe that this person was an abused spouse, possibly physically, certainly emotionally.  I have learned much about alcohol and about spouse abuse since then.

One result of this is that I never drink at public synagogue events.  Another result of this is that I think synagogues should be dry.

Anyway, several women have confided such secrets of abuse to me during my rabbinate.  As such, this is now one of my concerns.  It chose me.  I did not choose it.

The Navy has made me travel a fair amount.  Jennifer thinks I am crazy.  I only take one room key at hotels.  She always knows the name of the hotel, my room number, and the phone number immediately.  I avoid even the appearance of indiscretion.  Such indiscretion is very much a type of abuse.

And I am firmly of the belief that myths should be destroyed.  God does not have a finger hovering over the divine 'smite' button just because I might say Kaddish while my parents are still alive.  There are other customs that have such silliness as their basis.  While I do not necessarily believe in tossing such customs, your Judaism should be intellectually healthy as well as spiritually healthy.  It is not enough to keep a tradition.  Tradition is wonderful, but Tevye, the quintessential traditionalist from "Fiddler," cites the Good Book incorrectly every time.  Be Tevye in your attachment to tradition.  But do not at all be Tevye in your understanding of it.

Another matter that has become prominent in my rabbinic thought is that of the cost of Jewish living. This is particularly the most pronounced and annoying in the area of kashrut.  I get that kosher food is more expensive, especially when dealing with meat.  That is okay, I suppose.  Still, I do not support dramatically increasing costs for unnecessary and irrelevant stringencies, either on a personal level, or especially on a communal level.  If you have the financial wherewithal to spend more money on a stringency, stop and ask yourself instead whether a charity might be able to use that extra money.  If you have the financial wherewithal to spend more money on a stringency and you do not wish to give the extra to a charity, fine.  Just keep it a personal stringency.  Your stringency should not bankrupt others.  On a greater note, many people will use piety (knowingly or unknowingly) as a means of masking other psychological concerns, such as OCD.  Piety is wonderful.  Make sure it is piety and not pathology.

These have been my concerns over the years: abuse, alcohol, intellectual maturity, and the cost of Jewish living.  There are others.  My colleagues have their concerns.  I suspect though that their concerns are not so much matters that these rabbis chose.  Rather, like mine, they are matters that chose the rabbi.

Have a good evening everyone.


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Now Just Another Minute....

Top of the evening everyone...

Several weeks ago, Jennifer wrote a blog entry entitled Weird Things Couples Fight About.  The title says everything about the subject matter.  That blog entry got over 40 hits.

I am confused.  I thought that you, our loyal readers, should hear the other side of that story.  So I wrote Now Just a Minute in respectful but amusing response.  It got all of eight hits.

I fully respect that couples disagree.  It seems though that our loyal readers should be willing to read both sides of the story.  There are 32 hits missing from mine.

Have a lovely evening everyone.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Bounced Cheques...

Hi all...

Every year, I am required to do on-line trainings for the Navy.  I did several of them today.

One of the courses was on computer security.  As a short exercise, I had to look at five sheets of 'paper' and decide which could go to recycling and which had to go to the shredder.  One of the sheets of paper was a bank statement.  Obviously, that goes to the shredder.

The character who takes us through this on-line course is none other than Uncle Sam.  For you Canadians out there, he is this grandfatherly symbol of the United States.

I have done this course before.  It has not really been updated over the last couple of years.

This year, I looked closely at the bank statement.  The owner of the account was Uncle Sam.  His address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.  Again, for you Canadians out there, this is the address of the White House.

The bank statement started off with a balance of $0.55, and took in approximately $1450 in deposits over the month.  Cheques and withdrawals totaled approximately $1515.

I am forced to conclude that the White House is overdrawn.

I have been chuckling about this all day.

Did you all know that banking problems can affect my security clearance?  They can also affect any potential to deploy.  The reason is that those folks with banking problems are more susceptible to bribery than are those who manage to keep their finances in order.

I am still chuckling.


Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Note...

Top of the evening everyone...

My congregation receives an e-mail from me every Friday morning.  Its primary purpose is to convey information about the goings-on over the next several weeks.  I have started adding a link to a youtube video from the world of Jewish music.  This is not as easy as you might think.

Usually, I look to the Jewish calendar or to the weekly Torah portion.  If there is music I know based on one of those two things, I will grab that.  The yahrtzeit for Debbie Friedman comes in the beginning of the month of Shevat, usually around the end of January or beginning of February.  At that week, the musical choice is always one of her compositions.  At Veterans/Remembrance Day, I always pick a version of "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"  It is based on a Yiddish lullaby.  One of the people asking for a dime is a soldier.

If someone is going to be in concert in Israel, I will often put up a link to that person's music, in the hopes that someone will buy me a ticket.

Here is the interesting thing.  I may have a bit of a closed mind in certain ways.  If you were to go back and listen to all of the pieces that I have put up there, I have assiduously avoided two things.  I have avoided music with Ashkenazi pronunciation.  Part of the message that I wish to convey in what I think the Jewish world should hear is that the correct pronunciation of Hebrew should be used at all times.

I also avoid music from people who will not sing in a mixed group.  There is a difference between liturgical music and other music.  While I can respect the position of not hearing a woman's voice in a liturgical setting, I will give it no countenance in any other setting.  It is not the mindset I wish to create.  It is not the mindset I wish to promote.

This part of my weekly e-mail has on occasion taken a substantial amount of time to get right.

Have a good evening everyone.