You are currently browsing the archives for the Literature and Arts category.

Archives

Subscribe

Subscribe

Subscribe to receive new posts:


 

Upcoming events

There are no events to display

Thoughts

. . . unfortunately there are no data for the Very Beginning. . . . Only God knows what happened at the Very Beginning (and so far She hasn't let on).
-Leon Lederman

Archive for the ‘Literature and Arts’ Category

When a Jewdroid Walks into Shul (Part 1)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016 @ 10:09 AM
posted by Roger Price

 

 

 

Credit: Jewish Museum Berlin

In a short story written expressly for inclusion in a groundbreaking anthology of Jewish science fiction and fantasy, Wandering Stars (Jewish Lights, 1974), the British writer William Tenn imagined a future galaxy populated with Jews who, consistent with their ancestors’ history, traveled far and wide in search of a better life. Among these Jews, or at least creatures who claimed to be Jews, was a certain group of small, brown pillow shaped beings covered with grey spots out of which protruded tentacles. Residents of the fourth planet in the Rigel star system (Rigel being a star in the Orion constellation as seen from Earth), they claimed to be Jewish by descent from a community of Orthodox Jews who lived in and around Paramus, New Jersey. Their non-human appearance was the result, they said, of natural relationships, over time, with the native inhabitants of their new planet. In Tenn’s tale, the Bulbas, as they were known, traveled to Venus in the year 2859 C.E. in order to participate in the First Interstellar Neo-Zionist Convention which was convened for the purpose of discussing a renewed claim to Israel, an area on Earth then free of all Jews. The question presented was whether the Bulbas could be accredited as Jews.

While set some eight centuries in the future, Tenn’s story asked age old questions about the nature of Jewishness. And if the context of the story seems far ahead of our times, the reality is that the pace of discovery regarding potential life on other planets continues to accelerate. After all, the existence of the first exoplanet, that is, a planet that is outside of our solar system and orbits its own host star, was not confirmed until 1995. Today we have identified over 3,300 such planets. The first exoplanet in a habitable zone was not found until 2010. Today we know of at least 49 such planets.  In 2014, the first Earth sized exoplanet in a habitable zone was discovered.  Within the past couple of months, we have found a potentially habitable exoplanet in the star system closest to Earth, that of Proxima Centauri.

At a distance of just over 4.2 light years from Earth, though, Proxima Centauri is still almost 25 trillion miles away. NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, traveling over 36,000 miles per hour, would still need over 78,000 years to reach it. Obviously Earth bound readers of this essay will not be alive when the first probe to Proxima Centauri reports its findings. But dramatic advances in technology are raising the issue of Jewishness in yet another context. If the claim of the geographically distant Bulbas, who did not resemble our species in the slightest, was challenging, how will we consider the Jewishness of an android, a robot designed to look like us, and programmed with considerable intelligence, artificial though it may be?  read more

Is This Really the Torah God Gave Moses at Sinai? (Part II)

Sunday, January 4, 2015 @ 02:01 PM
posted by Roger Price

The idea that 3300 years ago, at Sinai, God gave Moses a Torah identical to the Torah we have today is a powerful concept, one that still resonates. But is it probable, even plausible?

Previously, to explore this idea, we have taken the text of the Torah as we have it today and looked at issues of content, language and script. We have already found that the Torah we have not only makes no claim as to its original content, but that internal evidence from the Tanakh strongly suggests that whatever Moses may have written and conveyed at the end of his life was limited in scope. Moreover, external evidence from archeological and other sources indicates that Moses’s sefer haTorah was not written in either the language or the script that a contemporary Torah is. In this post, we look at the transmission of a presumed original Torah, focusing on security for the object and textual variations.

Securing the transmission of the originally inscribed text

Let’s start with the medium of Moses’s inscription of the sefer haTorah that our Torah says Moses wrote just before he died (see Deut. 31:9, 24-26) and the security afforded the resulting work. Our Torah does not say precisely whether Moses chiseled the words into stone, wrote them with a stylus in wet clay or used a quill on parchment or papyrus.  If the entire Torah as we know it was inscribed on stone or clay tablets, there must have been many of them to include almost 80,000 words containing over 300,000 letters. If one or more scrolls were used, the material involved must have been sizable as well. In any event, it is certainly hard to imagine the 120 year old Moses chiseling, pressing or writing that much text as he was about to die.  read more

The Lessons of the Bible Code

Monday, October 6, 2014 @ 03:10 PM
posted by Roger Price

Let’s start at the very beginning. It is, as Oscar Hammerstein once wrote, a very good place to start. Let’s go to the biblical book of Genesis, or, more specifically, to the Hebrew text of it, known as B’reishit, and look at the first four verses.  Let’s start with the first word in the first verse, b’reishit. The last letter of b’reishit is the Hebrew letter tav. Now let’s look for the letter which is fifty letters away from that tav. Let’s repeat that process two more times, each time skipping forty-nine letters and seeking the next letter that is fifty letters away from the one we just found.  If you count carefully, when you reach the third letter in the second word of the fifth verse in B’reishit, the four Hebrew letters you find in this sequence are tav, vav, resh and hey. Together, in that order, they spell Torah, the first five books of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.

Congratulations! You have just uncovered a hidden Bible code, one formed by an equidistant letter sequence, or ELS. Skeptics can repeat the exercise, and get the same result, as the beginning of the next book in the Hebrew Bible, the book of Exodus, known in Hebrew as Sh’mot.  Find the first tav in the first verse of Sh’mot (it’s at the end of the second word) and the next three letters each 50 letters apart. Again, if you are careful, you should find the sequence tav, vav, resh and hey, or Torah.

Too simple? A mere coincidence, you say? Wait, there’s more. read more

Isaac Asimov, Two Foundations and the Jews

Friday, June 21, 2013 @ 09:06 AM
posted by Roger Price

 

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the renowned 20th century philosopher, understood that gaining “control of the world of space” is one of the main tasks of humankind.  The result of the conquest of space is “technical civilization.” But, Heschel argued, “(l)ife goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.” For Heschel, time, not space, “is the heart of existence.” (See Heschel, The SabbathIts Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar, Straus and Young 1951) at 3.)

Judaism, according to Heschel, “teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year.” (Id. at 8.)  Recognizing that a different sensitivity is involved in creating holiness in time, rather than space, he urged that we cultivate that sensitivity in order to achieve the goal of being, rather than having.

If Abraham saw Judaism as a religion of time, Isaac did not. Isaac Asimov, the renowned 20th century writer, had a rather cramped view of religion. Born into an orthodox Jewish family in Russia, he came to America in 1923 as a young child. As he related in his third autobiography (no misprint), however, his parents never made “any effort” to teach any religion to him, even to have him participate in a bar mitzvah ceremony. (Asimov, I. Asimov: A Memoir (Doubleday 1994) at 12.) Not surprisingly, throughout his adult life, Asimov was strictly non-observant with respect to any known religious practice. At the same time, Isaac Asimov never changed his name as did others to hide his Jewishness, always acknowledged that he was Jewish and seems to have absorbed some Jewish values if not Jewish practices or sense of peoplehood. (See Id. at 13, 15-18, 322.) read more

Let My People Know, Let My People Think: Why it Matters that the Bible is Fiction

Sunday, March 31, 2013 @ 12:03 PM
posted by Roger Price

In recent years, in certain circles, it has become fashionable to assert that the Bible is fiction, or that at least key segments of it are fictional. The assertion emanates from two camps. In one of these camps are those who have been described as new or militant atheists. Looking to recent developments primarily in cosmology and archeology, folks like Richard Dawkins, Victor Stenger, Samuel Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens have created more than a cottage industry in their efforts to debunk the Bible.

But scientist and skeptics are not alone in their contention that the Bible is fiction. In another other camp are scholars of the Bible, including notable rabbis. For instance, during Passover week a dozen years ago, Conservative Rabbi and prolific author David Wolpe set off a firestorm when he spoke to his Los Angeles congregation about the lack of hard evidence for the Exodus story. According to a writer for the Los Angeles Times, after reviewing revolutionary discoveries in then current archeology, Rabbi Wolpe told them:  “The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” (A subsequent summary of Wolpe’s thinking may readily be found on the Internet in a piece he authored called Did the Exodus Really Happen? (“Did It?”).) read more

Science and Judaism: Biblical Numbers, Mathematics and Attributed Patriarchal Ages

Sunday, January 22, 2012 @ 01:01 PM
posted by Roger Price

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit: Roger Price

The Hebrew Bible is filled with numbers. There are different kinds of numbers — cardinals and ordinals, integers and fractions, even primes. And they are everywhere in the Torah text.

There are numbers for days. (See, e.g., Gen. 1:5, 8, 13.)

There are numbers for life spans. (See, e.g., Gen. 5:5, 8, 11.)

There are numbers for populations, i.e., census numbers.  (See, e.g., Ex. 1:5, 12:37; Num. 1:46, 2:32.)

There are numbers for the measurement of quantities. (See, e.g., Ex. 16:22, 36, 29:40.)

And for sizes. (See, e.g., Gen. 6:15.)

There are numbers for the duration of events. (See, e.g., Ex. 12:40, 24:18.)

There are numbers for a host of seemingly mundane things, such as the number of visitors and the number of palm trees. (See, e.g., Gen. 18:2; Ex. 15:27.) read more

The Wise Scientists of Chicago Debate About the Latke and the Hamantash

Sunday, November 20, 2011 @ 08:11 PM
posted by Roger Price

What is it about latkes and hamantashen anyhow? What makes these two foods different from all other foods? Which food is better and which best represents the values and aspirations of the Jewish people?

Since 1946, these and related questions have occupied some of the greatest minds of the Western hemisphere. In that time, world renowned scholars have gathered annually under the auspices of the University of Chicago Hillel to debate the merits of the latke and the hamantash.

As often happens when scholarly pursuits become intense, everybody wants to get into the act, and imitations of the Chicago debates have been attempted at other institutions. But in all these years, no one quite does it like the Maroons, with grand entrances, flowing academic robes and standing room audiences in excess of 1,000 at venerable Mandel Hall. read more

The Wise Scientists of Chelm and the Setting of the Sun

Sunday, November 13, 2011 @ 06:11 PM
posted by Roger Price

 

NASA's Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope aboard ESA's SOHO spacecraft took this image of a huge, handle-shaped prominence in 1999. Prominences are huge clouds of relatively cool dense plasma suspended in the Sun's hot, thin corona.

 

Credit: ESA/NASA/SOHO (Published 2/17/2011)*

Some time ago, in the Old Country village of Chelm, the wise men were studying Torah. It was Shabbat B’reishit, or, as it was known in Chelm, Shabbes Breshis. The men — and it was just men — were focused on Chapter 1, Verses 14-18, where it is written that on the fourth day of the first biblical week God made two big lights, the Sun and the Moon, and set them in the expanse of the sky. They were trying to figure out how there could have been an evening and a morning on each of the three prior days without the Sun. read more

Sutton Foster and Three Jewish Guys

Friday, September 9, 2011 @ 10:09 AM
posted by Roger Price

              Albert Einstein was a Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist, a dreamer and a thinker.  Einstein was born in Germany, and moved to America in 1933, affiliating with Princeton University. He died in 1955.

               Aaron Zeitlin was a writer, a playwright and a poet. He was a leading figure in the world of Yiddish literature in the twentieth century (CE). He came to the America in 1939, taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and died in 1973.

                Sutton Foster is a Tony award winning actress, a singer and a dancer. Foster was born in the state of Georgia about a year and a half after Zeitlin died. She also has ties to New York City, but is very much alive. read more

Sportin’ Life Was Right, But What About That Tune

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 @ 09:07 AM
posted by Roger Price

George Gershwin

When Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout reviews a show, theater goers should pay attention.  And when the review is about a show that is mounted as rarely as is Porgy and Bess, special attention is in order. See, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304066504576343503771181980.html So it was that I attended the Court Theatre production of Porgy, the last stage work of George and Ira Gershwin.
read more