Daily Briefing: SHAVUOT AND THE BIRTH OF A NATION (May 28,2020)

Traditionally, the holiday of Shavuot is marked by an all-night Torah study session to celebrate the fact we received it on this day. “In Jerusalem, tens of thousands of people finish off the nighttime study session by walking to the Western Wall before dawn and joining the sunrise minyan there. This practice began in 1967. One week before Shavuot of that year, the Israeli army recaptured the Old City in the Six-Day War, and on Shavuot day, the army opened the Western Wall to visitors.  (Source:Wikipedia)

Table of Contents:

Israel and the Diaspora Share a New Song for Shavuot:  Ilana Fodiman Silverman, Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2020

The Book of Ruth: A Story about Famine Offers a Powerful Lesson for a Pandemic:  Mijal Bitton, Forward, May 26, 2020

Shavou’ot (Pentecost) Guide for the Perplexed, 2020:  Yoram Ettinger, The Ettinger Report, May 26, 2020

The Jewish Way, by Irving Greenberg:  David Singer, Commentary Magazine, August 1989


Israel and the Diaspora Share a New Song for Shavuot
Ilana Fodiman Silverman
Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2020

What is more joyous than a parade of new lambs riding through the center of town on tractors adorned with fresh produce and flowers, announcing the bounty of the harvest season? What is more awe inspiring than an energized, citywide all-night event that brings together hundreds of secular and religious Jews to study Torah and to hear to their combined voices in collaborative study, celebrating the holiday of the Giving of the Torah?

Living in Zichron Ya’acov, Israel, is a blessing and one that I particularly appreciate on Shavuot. But when it became clear that Shavuot would be different this year, we at Moed – an organization bringing together secular and religious Israelis to study and act – mourned the plans we had made and asked ourselves “Now what?”

In addition to grappling with the moment-by-moment challenges that COVID-19 pandemic has wrought upon the world, we focused on how best to address the physical, financial, psychological and religious needs of the people around us. As we approached the holiday, we faced the feeling that, without physical connections, the party was simply canceled and we would be sitting at home in a dark and sad reality each of us eating cheesecake all on our own.

So we shelved our planned Shavuot programming as we knew it, licked our wounds and set off to dream. Shir Shavuot was born.

Shir Shavuot summons intergenerational, home-based conversations on the value and the importance of song and singing and later connects the at-home conversations in public forums. The project is guided by a creative offering from the wisdom of Torah, the insight of thinkers and personalities around the world, day-to-day human experience and the voices of those closest to us to actively consider the value of song.

What is meant when the Torah refers to itself as a song? Is a song best sung with uniform voices? What sensations do we experience when “The Song of Angry Men” is sung at the dramatic peak of Les Misérables? Is this the kind of song that you like to just listen to, or do you want to burst out in song yourself? Did you know that people with brain injury and amnesia can still remember songs and music?

Shir Shavuot provides the sparks for productive conversation, which we believe lies at the foundation of the development of our moral character and our connection to our family and to Torah. This active opportunity to learn Torah and ask questions is at the essence of what receiving the Torah is about. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The Book of Ruth: A Story about Famine Offers a Powerful Lesson for a Pandemic
Mijal Bitton
Forward, May 26, 2020

The story of Ruth at the heart of Shavuot has a striking relevance to our global pandemic: it begins with a natural disaster. Human drama is at the heart of the story of Ruth: the love between Ruth and Naomi, the anguish of those who lose it all, Ruth’s commitment to Naomi’s people, and the individual attempts to redeem the name of those who have passed. The pastoral elements of the barley harvest seem simply like a backdrop, like the natural elements needed to tell the story of ancient women and men.

But the scroll of Ruth is defined by a natural disaster that occurs at its beginning and that we sometimes overlook: a famine. Elimelekh and Naomi move their family from Judah to Moab in the wake of a famine. This locates the story of Ruth as the ensuing human drama that follows a natural disaster.

While Ruth does not dwell much on this famine, the Bible – especially Genesis – shows how famines shape the lives of men and women in the ancient world. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob’s children – all of them see their lives upended by the ravages of famines. In the ancient world one dry harvest, one failed crop, could mean the difference between survival or starvation.

The most obvious consequence for biblical famines is that of involuntary migration. Our patriarchs and matriarchs move to Egypt and to Gerar to beg for sustenance, to barter for bread. While the need to find food to survive prompts their departure, their journeys also describe the dangerous position of vulnerable migrants, of refugees from famine who are desperate for sustenance and at the mercy of people who see them as foreigners. Abram and Sarai’s journey depicts this sharply. They migrate to Egypt to beg for bread and know it is likely they will face the predatory reach of powerful Egyptian men who will try to exploit them.

Jacob’s sons encounter similar dynamics. Their families are hungry due to famine in Canaan and so they journey to nearby Egypt, which has food aplenty. The Egyptian Viceroy (secretly, their brother Joseph) toys with them, falsely accusing them of theft. Their plight might be unique to their own family drama, but it represents the power that food-wealthy societies have over desperate and vulnerable men and women.

These biblical narratives affirm one of the most significant theories in famine studies: that starvation is not a function of scarcity, but rather a function of how societies distribute food. Economist and philosopher Amartya Sen’s groundbreaking work, Poverty and Famines (1981), rejected the longstanding paradigm which examined famines in terms of food availability decline. Sen argued that famine-related starvation occurs when individuals do not have access to enough food. Sen’s theory explains the perversity that modern hunger represents: there is enough food in our world to feed everyone, but not every person or society has access to food. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

Shavou’ot (Pentecost) Guide for the Perplexed, 2020
Yoram Ettinger
The Ettinger Report, May 26, 2020

1. Impact on the formation of the US

The holiday of Shavou’ot (Pentecost) commemorates the legacy of Moses – the Exodus, the Ten Commandments and the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) -which had a significant impact on the key values and achievements of the Early Pilgrims and the Founding Fathers: the US Revolution, Federalist Papers, US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, etc.

2. The Liberty Bell

Shavou’ot is the holiday of liberty/Exodus, as highlighted by the Biblical concept of Jubilee – the cornerstone of Biblical liberty – which is inscribed on the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty upon the earth and unto all the inhabitants thereof (Leviticus 25:10).” The Liberty Bell was installed in Philadelphia in 1752, 50 years following William Penn’s Charter of Privileges, inspiring the 50 States in the union. The Biblical Jubilee is commemorated every 50 years, releasing slaves and returning land property to the original proprietors. Shavou’ot is celebrated 50 days following Passover, and Pentecost – a derivative of the Greek word for 50 – is celebrated 50 days following Easter.  According to Judaism, there are 50 gates of wisdom, studied during the 50 days between Passover and Shavou’ot.

The Scroll of Ruth. Honor thy mother in-law…

Shavou’ot spotlights the Scroll of Ruth, the first of the five Biblical scrolls, which are studied during five Jewish holidays: Ruth (Shavou’ot), Song of Songs (Passover), Ecclesiastes (Sukkot/Tabernacles), Book of Lamentations (the Ninth day of Av), Esther (Purim). Ruth was a Moabite Princess, the great grandmother of King David, the son of Jesse and the grandson of Ovad, who was the son of Ruth.

Ruth was a role model of loyalty to her Jewish mother in-law (“Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d”), humility, gratitude, responsibility, reliability, respect of the fellow human beings, faith and optimism. According to the Bible, Ruth, the daughter-in-law, was better than seven sons. Ruth stuck by her mother-in-law, Naomi, during Naomi’s roughest time, when the latter lost her husband, Elimelech (a President of the Tribe of Judah), two sons and property. Just like Job, Naomi bounced back from the lowest ebb of ordeal to fulfilled hope.  Job and Naomi went through family, economic and social calamities, lost their spouses, children and financial assets; both retained confidence in G-d and reconstructed their families; both became symbols of conviction over convenience, faith-driven patience and endurance.
The legacy of Ruth reflects the central role played by Biblical women, joining the Matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel; Miriam, the older sister of Moses; Deborah the Prophetess, Judge and military leader; Hannah, the mother of Samuel the Prophet; Queen Esther, etc. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

The Jewish Way,

by Irving Greenberg
David Singer
Commentary Magazine, August 1989

The Leap of Action

Can the Orthodox religious tradition speak to contemporary Jews? The answer, of course, is yes, provided they are willing to listen. Irving Greenberg’s new book, focusing on “Judaism as it expresses itself in the Jewish holidays,” is a strikingly original attempt to create just such a dialogue.
Generally speaking, English-language books on the Jewish holidays fall into one of three categories. First there are scholarly works, like Theodor Gaster’s Festivals of the Jewish Year, which draw upon the findings of modern historical research and the comparative study of religions. These books have a limited appeal, and in any case are not written with the intent of providing religious inspiration and guidance. A second genre is exemplified in Arthur Waskow’s Seasons of Our Joy, a book which tendentiously builds upon its discussion of the Jewish holidays to promote a pet cause—in this case, radical politics and the countercultural ethos. Here again—once the reader understands what is going on—the appeal is a limited one. Finally there is the substantial number of “how-to” volumes produced under various denominational auspices. These books reach larger audiences of already committed Jews, providing them with valuable guidance on the nuts and bolts of holiday observance. Two successful models of this type are Peter Knobel’s Gates of the Seasons (Reform) and the relevant sections of Hayim H. Donin’s To Be a Jew (Orthodox).

The Jewish Way serves up a heavy dollop of “how-to” guidance, but its overall aim is much more ambitious. Greenberg seeks to lay bare Judaism’s “underlying structures of meaning—the understanding of the world, the direction of history, the values of life” that find their “classic expression” in the Jewish holidays. It is these “deep structures” that Greenberg wishes to convey to contemporary Jews, in order to help “release [their] creative imagination for religious living.”

For Greenberg, The Jewish Way is a natural extension of work in which he has been engaged for years as the director of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. Although his name is also prominently associated with efforts on behalf of Jewish religious unity, Greenberg’s primary labor has been directed toward increasing the literacy and commitment of Jewish leadership cadres. The fact that he has a Ph.D. from Harvard gives him entry to the largely secularized Jewish audience that he wishes to address; the fact that his own Orthodoxy has been significantly shaped by exposure to modern thought makes him appreciative of the existential situation in which that audience finds itself. In short, Greenberg is very well placed to carry forward the hoped-for dialogue between Jewish tradition and the contemporary sensibility. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]

For Further Reference:

For Shavuot: Book of Ruth Recreated 100 Years Ago:  Lenny Ben-David, Arutz Sheva, Jan. 6, 2014 — The Jewish holiday of Shavuot – Pentecost is celebrated this week.  The holiday has several traditional names: Shavuot, the festival of weeks, marking seven weeks after Passover; Chag Hakatzir, the festival of reaping grains; and Chag Habikkurim, the festival of first fruits.  Shavuot, according to Jewish tradition, is the day the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  It is also believed to be the day of King David’s birth and death.

A Tale of Two Women – A Shavuot Shiur by Rabbi Sacks: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, YouTube, June 8, 2016 — To launch the new Koren-Sacks Shavuot machzor, Rabbi Sacks delivered a keynote shiur in London on 7 June 2016 to a packed room in Finchley United Synagogue.

Sacred Time Ep 11: Shavuot – The Treasure from Sinai Rabbi Meir Soloveichik:  YouTube, June 6, 2019 — On Shavuot, Jews celebrate receiving the Torah at Sinai. With all its commandments, the Torah is the source of Jews’ most profound joy. But how can law, so complex and didactic, be a source of joy and inspiration that leads to an encounter with God?

Demand for Dairy Products Skyrockets Leading Up to Shavuot Holiday Tzvi Joffre, Jerusalem Post, May 27, 2020 — Demand for dairy products skyrocketed in the days and weeks leading up to the Shavuot holiday in 2019, with consumers stocking up on white cheese and whipping cream.

WATCH: The Holiday of Shavuot in Just 60 Seconds!:  United With Israel, June 5, 2019 — Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, when the Jewish people accepted the divine commandments of God.

This week’s French-language briefing is titled

 Communique: Israël à l’heure du déconfinement (mai 28,2020)

Because of Shavuot, which is celebrated Friday and Saturday, the briefing will not be circulated tomorrow,  Fri. May 29th.  The briefing will return on Monday.

        The CIJR wishes all our friends and supporters a Chag Sameach!