Sunday, 30 September 2012

chag samech

because of the 2 day chag, and my inability to have too much planned and prepared in advance, the drawings for brachot 61 and 62 will both be posted on tuesday evening.

chag samech - may there be stars not rainclouds over our succot tonight



brachot 60

blessing for every stage of life, and pre-life
from waking to sleeping, and all the bodily stuff in-between.

but life doesn't always unfold and untangle neatly.
 - bless God anyway?

(blessings on different stages of fetus development, entering different places for the body - bathhouse, toliet, blood-letting, and order of blessing when waking. bless on the bad & good in life, all part of a divine plan. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

brachot 59

blessings on the thunder, lightning, earthquakes - all the kicks and fractures God gives the skies & the voids in the constellations.

(for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Friday, 28 September 2012

brachot 58

the blessings on all the weird and wonderful things in the world.
including the diversity of people who secretly fit together to make the world as weird and as wonderful as it is.

and despite how weird and wonderful we are, we can be reduced to a pile of bones with a withering glance.

(amongst the discussions for blessings over seeing 600,000 people, kings, sages, etc there are 3 stories of punishment by death. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Thursday, 27 September 2012

brachot 57

the good omens that appear in dreams at night


the things that are good for the body during the waking hours

(for english translation of this talmud page see here)

brachot 56

say the right verse or pay the interpreter,
either way, it's the mouth that determines if those dream omens are for good or bad

(for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

brachot 55

until the letter is read, don't know if the dream is from the angels or the demons.

but not everything that stands in the shadows is something to fear - depending on your heart, they could bring wisdom and insight.

(apologies to Goya. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

- it says on this page that it is better to have a bad dream, as that can inspire reflection and remorse. or is a way of receiving punishment in this world. so this yom kippur, fast well and wish you not-such sweet dreams

brachot 54

X marks the spot
acknowledge the good and the bad
the places of miracles and tragedies
no chaos here, deserts and seas, all mapped, all noted,
even the sea monsters have their place in the order over the uncertainty.

(this page deals with saying blessings for bad as well as good, places of miracles & tragedies, individual and communal. all part of an order and not random chaos. reminiscent of ancient maps with 'here be sea monsters' in the corners. imposing order on the chaos and uncertainty of the world. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Monday, 24 September 2012

brachot 53

when making the blessing of distinction and difference
the eye must be able to differentiate between 2 objects that can be seen

and know the origin of the scent that cannot be seen

after all. those sweet spices could have been used by the witches.

(for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Sunday, 23 September 2012

brachot 52

one cup of wine - many uses

dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai on the order of blessings

and the contagion of impurity

Friday, 21 September 2012

brachot 51

the ambiguous benefits of asparagus wine.

& the destructive consequences of not serving wine to the lady of the house.

brachot 50

at the end of the meal, some things need to be diluted.

the sub-divisions into threes in order to bless

and the wine that can only be blessed when combined with water

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

brachot 49

olive or egg

what is the minimum one needs to eat to join the majority?

is bigger always better?

brachot 48

the blessing of the torah are linked to the blessings for food.

both are given
both sustain

brachot 47

in answering a blessing, need to be precise pronouncing each of the three letters of amen.

but when issuing invitations to bless, don't need to be too precise, all sorts can be added to two to make a zimmun of three.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

shana tova

because of the two-day rosh hashana, I will be posting tomorrow's daf (brachot 47) on tuesday night.

have a sweet new year


brachot 46

despite the reclining, mealtimes are not relaxing & informal, but there is a strict hierarchy to hand-washing, reclining and leading.

and leading is not something one volunteers for.

(amongst the discussion about the order of who does what, there is one story of R. Zeira recovering from illness passing up leading the blessings. and a student trembles when told to wash his hands, in the fear that he has done something terribly wrong. for english translation of this talmud page, see here)

Saturday, 15 September 2012

brachot 45

one can invite two to praise together. but not one hundred women.    

Friday, 14 September 2012

brachot 44

the fruit that is so sweet it can drive the rabbis insane, sweat profusely, make their hair fall out, and yet they will want to eat more and more and more....

and the simple small whole salted fish that will restore the soul

(discussion about salty food, led to a description of drug-like sweet figs. In a separate discussion about the blessing on vegetables, list of food that can harm or heal the body. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Thursday, 13 September 2012

brachot 43

the sweet scent of a scholar who goes out at night alone with his torch.

just him and his shadow can chase the demons away.

(discussion about the blessing over scent. Rav Zutra bar Toviya said that Rav said: the young men of Israel will emit a sweet smell. he also said that if someone goes out at night with a torch it is like 2 people and therefore not vulnerable to demons. later in the daf it is noted that it is unfitting for Torah scholars to go out perfumed, or alone at night... for risk of appearing homosexual and promiscuous. for english translation of this talmud page, see here and apologies to jean-paul gautlier)

brachot 42

when is it all over?

when everything is cleared up and away
or, when one washes ones hands of the whole busines...

but it is never really over, over

there's always the chance of one more for the road

(discussion about what signifies the end of a meal, clearing tables away, washing hands, oiling on hands. and about wine drunk after the meal. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

brachot 41

there is to be a measured considered approach to the order in which we eat our food.


food gives us measurements to order and place parameters on the stuff of impurity, forbidden actions, and death.

(discussion about the order in which food is to be eaten. the order follows the verse in Deut 8:8. the verse is also used as the Torah basis for various measurements. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Monday, 10 September 2012

brachot 40

3 categories of 3 types of food.

some foods are good for the body

some foods are only good for the body in small doses. Too much of them can harm the body.

& some foods that could have caused the original harm, which made the human body vulnerable and mortal.

(for english translation of this talmud page see here)

(apologises for the picture quality. I am away, so using a camera not scanner. If you are in NYC, I have an exhibition at the Laurie M. Tisch gallery at the JCC Manhattan, the opening is on the 13th Sept, feel free to come by and say hi)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

brachot 39

beetroot is good for the eyes
the heart
and the intestines.

but saying brachot in front of bar Kappara can be fatal.

(discussion about which food to eat first is illustrated with 2 students in front of bar Kappara. One blesses and the other ridicules him. bar Kappara rebukes both. and they are dead within the year. for english translation on this full talmud page see here)

Saturday, 8 September 2012

brachot 38

when does something change into something new?

as the honey drips from the date, the dough becomes bread and the vegetables lose their taste,

was the coming out of Egypt something new, or a reassuring repeat of the past?

(in the middle of the discussion of how the different states of food require different brachot, a discussion about God promising to bring the people out of Egypt being a reminder of the past. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Friday, 7 September 2012

embodied prayers

Rabbi Deborah Silver serves as the Assistant Rabbi at Adat Ari El, Valley Village, California.  In previous lives she was both a lawyer and a legal studies teacher.  She remains a member of New North London Synagogue and an enthusiastic participant in Limmud (both virtually and actually, depending on location).

What an exhausting business it is, to pray.

The four dapim spanning 31-34 of this massechet are strewn with physical examples of extreme, high-risk interactions with God.  Hannah, whose words shatter her into fragments.  The exploding fist of Moshe and the potentially fatal fire in his bones.  The scorpion, the kicking cattle, the pearl hiding inside it all.  

Jacqueline, I consider you exposed a deep truth when you observed as we studied that ‘the body is all over this massechet’.  I agree: and I think these four dapim illustrate a new departure for its authors.  Finding it impossible to get around the more embarrassing aspects of our physicality as set out on preceding dapim, it seems they resolve, instead, to explore the power and passion the body can offer when directed in prayer.  The phrase
 להטיח דברים כלפי מעלה
used of both Hannah and Moshe, seems to sum it all up: instead of being trapped by their filth (the root tvh means ‘to smear with mud’) they pick it up and hurl it upwards in the form of human speech.  The silent alef becomes the audible groan of the ayin.  Rabbi Akiva behaves in synagogue: but at home, at the end of his prayers, we find him in the opposite corner to where he began, worn out by his bending and stretching.

There are two lessons for us, I think.  The first is that to be human is, unavoidably, to be physical.  We are bodies: real, distracting, sometimes inconveniently exuding bodies.  While Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai might like to think of himself as - as you put it - ‘a disembodied head,’ and while our own heads might find that an attractive prospect, we can’t really expect to be leaving our bodies any time soon.  The word nefesh, so often used for ‘soul’, is also an energy carried by the blood.  What would happen, I wonder, if we were occasionally to embrace our physicality, to let our bodies lead us in prayer?  What if we were to tune in deeply to the beating of our hearts, our sweat, our tears, to see if they, too, are a message to God?  

Risky?  Yes.  But don’t these pages teach us that prayer is a risky business?

The second is that prayer - real prayer - isn’t for sissies.  As we pick up our mahzorim once again this coming week, I wonder if these models can revive our own prayers.  As we creak to our knees and lay ourselves out on the floor, I wonder if we will also feel the fire in our bones, the ice in the blood, the shattering audacity of Hannah, as we once more explore the region between darkness and light?

brachot 37

when many small crumbs can come together to form something formidable
that can even overpower a prince.

(many individual bits of bread crumbs can be gathered together and considered 'bread', even though individually each crumb is smaller than an olive. & during discussion about the appropriate blessing for different types of grain, R. Akiva chose to follow the Rabbis not Rabban Gamliel, replying to Rabban Gamliel's rebuke, that he was following his ruling that in a dispute between the many and the individual, the law follows the majority opinion. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Thursday, 6 September 2012

brachot 36

is everything edible from a tree called fruit?
& what about the inedible fruit?

does the fruit need the flower to survive? (pomegranate)

or can the flowers and buds be eaten be eaten on their own? (caperberry)

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

brachot 35

benefitting from the fruit that spring from the world, are we good enough for another hand to do our work, leaving us to the world of letters?

or should we have hands-on knowledge about where our food really comes from.

(discussion about blessings said before food, and learning the difference between different types of food and, leads into a debate about the balance between work and study. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

brachot 34

praying with the lips is precarious.
make a mistake and you could be replaced.
but, for the person you are praying for
it could be fatal.

Monday, 3 September 2012

brachot 33

fear of the scorpion that would definitely kill
fear of heaven that is the only thing in your control

and the pearl of wisdom to know difference

(for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Sunday, 2 September 2012

brachot 32

in the shadow of the golden calf, prayer becomes a defiant protest from the fiery bones that shake the stars.
and even the heavens have to concede defeat

(discussion about Moshe's prayer after the sin of the Golden Calf for God to forgive and not destroy the people. The letter alef in el 'to' becomes an ayin, a confrontational 'al'. for english translation of this talmud page see here)

Saturday, 1 September 2012

brachot 31

complete joy is to be shattered
and from the shattered sad places, comes hope for future joy...

Hannah prayed

and from her silent lips, from her defiant heart, she refused to accept her breasts would never nurse and that her body was broken and shattered.


(for english translation of this talmud page see here)