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Talmudic Treasures by Rabbi Ziona Zelazo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The angels among us

              Often, when I minister pastoral care for patients before their upcoming surgery I offer them a small section from the bedtime Sh’ma prayer;

In the name of Adonai
the God of Israel:
May the angel Michael be at my right,
and the angel Gabriel
'strength of God'. be at my left;
and in front of me the angel Uriel,
and behind me the angel Raphael
'healer of God'
and above my head
the Sh'khinah.

          Patients tell me that they feel comforted by this prayer and share that it gives them the opportunity to visualize a connection with the divine. The skeptics may ask; “where are these four angels? I really cannot see them.”

·       When Abraham was sitting outside of his tent after his circumcision and the three visitors came to his tent, he did not know they were angels. The Gemara in Baba Matzia 86b asks; “Who were the three men”?
The Gemara answers; “Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Michael came to bring the tidings to Sarah [of Isaac's birth]; Raphael, to heal Abraham and Gabriel, to overturn Sodom”.

 The Gemara continues; “But is it not written “And there came the two angels to Sodom at evening” (Gen. 19:1)? The answer; Michael accompanied him [Gabriel] to rescue Lot”.

          Although Lot calls them angels, the people who wanted to hurt the angels referred to them as People; “And they called out to Lot; where are these people who came to you at the night”? (GEN. 19:5)

·       When Jacob was wrestling until dawn with an unknown man, Jacob did not know he was dealing with an angel. The Gemara in Chulin 91b describes the scene:

  “... and the man said to Jacob: ‘let me go since the dawn has broken’ (Genesis 32:27). But Jacob said: ‘Are you are thief or a kidnapper that you are afraid of the dawn’? The man said: ‘I am an angel. And from the day I was created my time did not come to sing [to God in the morning service] until now’.

And the Gemara continues; “This supports the teaching of R. Hananel in the name of Rav; three assemblies of ministering angels sing praise each day. One sings “Holy”. Another sings “Holy” and another sings “Holy is the Lord of Hosts”.

          From here, the Gemara explains the Divine mission of this angel is. This, in fact, reflects our liturgy today. In our daily prayers we refer to the songs of praise which the angels sing before God.

          So, we really do not need to look for winged entities in order to be convinced they exist. The Gemara in Yoma 37a tells us that we, as humans, can emulate angels;

“….. And we have learned in a Baraita (an eternal source for the Talmud), that when three [students] walk [with their Master], the Master ought to be in the middle, the greater of two on his right, and the other on his left. And so we find that of the three angels that came to Abraham, Michael was in the middle, Gabriel on his right, and Raphael on his left.

R. Samuel b. Papa explained before R. Adda, that it is meant, he should walk on his right, but a little behind, and not side by side. Did we not learn in a Baraita that he who precedes the Master is rude, and he who walks behind his Master is too ostentatiously humble? He should fall a little back--not precede, and not follow.

          The important item that Rashi adds is that by this composition of walking, the students, walking alongside to their Master protect him, just like the angels as described in the bedtime Sh’ma.

          I think that one way to ‘see’ angels is to look around and watch how people act. Midrash Tanchuma reassures us that there are angels among us. These are created through the deeds of man. When one does a good deed, God gives this person one angel. If one fulfills two good deeds God gives this person two angels, and so on. Many of us are performing good deeds and thus are granted angels. All we need to do is recognize who they are. At difficult times look in people’s eyes and you will find the angel who carries God’s essence. Could your doctors and nurses at the bed side be the angels at time of a health crisis? Could a child who helped your elderly mother be an angel? Or, perhaps, could it be you who carries out a divine mission to help others? 

            Each one of us carries the divine and is an angelic being, but it is not obviously recognized that our own body is a container of angelic energy. It is not easy to realize a world that is beyond the material. It was called by the Baal Shem Tov “seeing the Divine Presence in everything”. This time, we are asked not only to become aware of who is in our community, but also to recognize the spiritual essence that lies behind the external form of people. Perhaps God’s intervention is manifested by each one of us for each one of us through the angelic metaphorical essence. May we be guided by angels that God implanted among us. Let us affirm; “Here, God is sending me an angel and God’s Name is within him or her” and remember that we do not journey alone.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Modesty? What is this all about?

In light of what happened in Beth Shemesh, when Ultra-Orthodox men made an innocent 8 years old girl an outcast, I have been very upset. Why is it the woman who is blamed for the uncontrolled sexual desires of men. Why does a little girl become a sex object in the eyes of men who are constantly trying their best to demoralize Jewish women and dis-empower women?

A timely Op-Ed in the NY Times a few days ago makes some good points. While Orthodox men today claim that controlled sexuality in men is women's solely responsibility, the Talmud teaches the opposite. The men should be responsible for their own actions and how they interact with women.

Read this article below:
Op-Ed Contributor

Lechery, Immodesty and the Talmud

By DOV LINZER  January 19, 2012

IS it possible for a religious demand for modesty to be about anything other than men controlling women’s bodies? From recent events in Israel, it would certainly seem that it is not.
Jennifer Uman
Last month, an innocent, modestly dressed 8-year-old girl, Naama Margolese, living in Beit Shemesh, described being spat on and vilified by religious extremists — all men — who believed that she did not dress modestly enough while walking past them to the religious school she attends. And more and more, public buses in Israel are enforcing gender segregation imposed by ultra-Orthodox riders in and near their neighborhoods. Woe to the girl or woman who refuses to move to the back of the bus.
This is part of a larger battle being waged in Israel between the ultra-Orthodox and the rest of Israeli society over women’s place in society, over their very right to have a visible presence and to participate in the public sphere.

What is behind these deeply disturbing events? We are told that they arise from a religious concern about modesty, that women must be covered and sequestered so that men do not have improper sexual thoughts. It seems, then, that a religious tenet that begins with men’s sexual thoughts ends with men controlling women’s bodies.
This is not a problem unique to Judaism. But the Talmud, the basis for Jewish law, offers a perhaps surprising answer: It places the responsibility for controlling men’s licentious thoughts about women squarely on the men.

Put more plainly, the Talmud says: It’s your problem, sir; not hers.
The ultra-Orthodox men in Israel who are exerting control over women claim that they are honoring women. In effect they are saying: We do not treat women as sex objects as you in Western society do. Our women are about more than their bodies, and that is why their bodies must be fully covered.

In fact, though, their actions objectify and hyper-sexualize women. Think about it: By saying that all women must hide their bodies, they are saying that every woman is an object who can stir a man’s sexual thoughts. Thus, every woman who passes their field of vision is sized up on the basis of how much of her body is covered. She is not seen as a complete person, only as a potential inducement to sin.

Of course, once you judge a female human being only through a man’s sexualized imagination, you can turn even a modest 8-year-old girl into a seductress and a prostitute.

At heart, we are talking about a blame-the-victim mentality. It shifts the responsibility of managing a man’s sexual urges from himself to every woman he may or may not encounter. It is a cousin to the mentality behind the claim, “She was asking for it.”
So the responsibility is now on the women. To protect men from their sexual thoughts, women must remove their femininity from their public presence, ridding themselves of even the smallest evidence of their own sexuality.

All of this is done in the name of the Torah and Jewish law.
But it’s actually a complete perversion. The Talmud, the foundation of Jewish law, acknowledges that men can be sexually aroused by women and is indeed concerned with sexual thoughts and activity outside of marriage. But it does not tell women that men’s sexual urges are their responsibility. Rather, both the Talmud and the later codes of Jewish law make that demand of men.

It is forbidden for a man to gaze sexually at a woman, whether beautiful or ugly, married or unmarried, says the Talmud. Later Talmudic rabbis extended this ban even to “her smallest finger” and “her brightly colored clothing — even if they are drying on the wall.”

To make these the woman’s responsibility is to demand that Jewish women cover their hands, and that they not dry their clothes in public. No one has ever said this. At least not yet.

The Talmud tells the religious man, in effect: If you have a problem, you deal with it. It is the male gaze — the way men look at women — that needs to be desexualized, not women in public. The power to make sure men don’t see women as objects of sexual gratification lies within men’s — and only men’s — control.

Jewish tradition teaches men and women alike that they should be modest in their dress. But modesty is not defined by, or even primarily about, how much of one’s body is covered. It is about comportment and behavior. It is about recognizing that one need not be the center of attention. It is about embodying the prophet Micah’s call for modesty: learning “to walk humbly with your God.”

Eight-year-old Naama could teach her attackers a thing or two about modesty.

Dov Linzer, an Orthodox rabbi, is the dean of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.
 A version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 20, 2012, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Lechery, Immodesty And the Talmud.