05 April 2016

Some Favorite Moments from Samuel I, part 2

2:13 “...the servant of the kohen would come while the meat was cooking, and the three-pronged fork would be in his hand.”
Q. I asked my husband, who knows his way around the Mishkan, Have we heard of this fork before? No, he said. All right, I said, why is it called the three-pronged fork, using the definite article, as if we all know what this fork is?
A. In that generation it was an infamous fork. Here comes that three-pronged fork.

2:19 “His mother would make for him a little robe...” – lots of them.
Back in 1:6, Penina would vex Chana by asking her about sewing garments for the children she did not have.
Now she has one and so, say Chazal, it was an especial pleasure for her to sew for him.

2:21 Students tend to forget this: Chana went on to have more children. So nice.

2:23-25 I think the tone of Eli's rebuke is fascinating. Differences of opinion about whether it was the best thing to say or not.

2:26 The Meam Loez cites a story from the Sefer Chasidim about a man who made a point of always carrying small change with him, in order to be able to do a favor for any passersby who needed to change a larger denomination; and, asked about this practice, he would quote this pasuk and say that he, too, wished to find favor “with G-d and also with men”.
I told my students about a time I was walking past Tachana haMerkazit and found urgent need of a safety pin; hailed the first passerby to ask for one; she gave me a funny look like how did you know? and pulled from her knapsack an entire chain of safety pins, kept for the purpose of just such emergencies.
My students suggested that keeping a stash of hair elastics would be another good example. Or being a smiley person.

2:27 The man who has to come give Eli this message, say Chazal, is – Elkana. Oof. He has to go to the shofet of the generation, the role model who is now raising Elkana's son, who has been there for his family all along and participated in that early nes of Chana's having that son, and deliver this message.

2:29, Midrash: not that they literally kicked, but they would point with their feet instead of their fingers, which is not respectful.

What Did Jewish Women Wear in 12th Century Germany?

The answer -- more or less -- to that question.
This post is about clothes.

06 January 2016

More Victorian Jewish Miscellany: hats, secession, and Schone Aussicht

1. In high school, I searched earnestly online for the paintings of Moritz Oppenheim, and found only tiny, blurry reproductions.
Today I searched again and lo! Quite a number of them are on Wikipedia, in extremely high resolution – yay!

You know in vol. VIII, where a man in the train pokes fun at a young woman for having her hair covered? – I always wondered, How could he tell? – because in the pictures of Rav Hirsch's family all the women look (to my untrained eye) perfectly à la mode in their headdresses, such that a stranger would have a hard time telling whether a woman was covering her hair or not – well! here is the answer. You can see in the Oppenheim paintings that those beautiful frothy bonnets are worn over a sort of under-cap, which was not the case in the non-Jewish population.

this young lady is also standing under a tallis, at her chassuna.

2. Q. What did the rabbanim of the time have to say about the US Civil War?
A. IIRC somewhere in Rav Hirsch, after slavery ended in the South, he mentions its end with some relief.
Today I re-found a website that I misplaced years ago, which has --among a great many other curios -- lectures on the subject from American rabbis. Here, for one thing, is R' Illowy's lecture on States' Rights, which apparently pleased the secessionists of New Orleans so much when it was published that they invited him down to become rabbi of that city.


3. Schopenhauer lived in the same building as Rav Hirsch and at the same time, but apparently there is no evidence that the two ever met. I always thought that fascinating, wow, like a particle accelerator gone awry.
Anyway, because Schopenhauer also lived in that (now vanished) house on Schone Aussicht, it is a famous house and there are loads of pictures and a virtual tour of it online – here.

Some Favorite Moments from Samuel I, ch. 1

Occasionally I hit a moment when I just have to sit back and watch the movie. Here are a couple of them, and also some insights that turned up that are satisfying although not as cinematic.

(I'm using Mikraos Gedolos, Meam Loez, Daas Sofrim, the brown sefer entitled Torah SheBaal Peh, and Abarbanel on occasion. Who said what – ask me if you need to know; if I stop to look it up again now I'll never get this published.) Do not take my word for anything.

1:1 “...and his name was Elkana... an Ephratite.”
Q. Why is he called an Ephratite, from the tribe of Ephraim, since he was really a Levi?
A. The answer I always heard is that Ephrati is a generic term for a distinguished person, “a leader among his peers.”
Also, of course, he lived in the territory of Ephraim.
But this year I saw that one of the commentaries – I don't think I made this up – puts the two together: he lived in Ephraim, and he was a leader there. (You may have gathered this from that other Midrash that he used to take different routes up to the Mishkan every year, encouraging as many people as possible to come with him.)
In other words, he was such a great influence on Ephraim – which is what the Leviim were scattered around the country to be – that he is called an Ephrati, as if he were a member of the tribe himself.

1:3 This is the pasuk (verse) from which we learn that he would take those special routes up to the Mishkan to encourage people to come with him; and it concludes, “and there the two sons of Eli... were kohanim...” – dun dun dun – now we see why that extra encouragement was necessary.

1:6 “And her co-wife would anger her...”
Q. The Medrash tells us what Penina said to get Chana to daven (pray). It bothered me incessantly: in what tone of voice did Penina say this? I tried it over and over and the right tone of voice was just not in my repertoire. So, I called a rav, and asked him; and he read the Midrash, and all of a sudden it made sense. Moral of the story, if you need to know the tone of voice of something in Tanach, call a rabbi.

One theme of this perek seems to be how to get someone to do what you think they should do. Penina tries to get Chana to daven. Elkana tries to get Chana to cheer up. Eli tries to get Chana to sober up. And Chana tries to get Hashem to give her a child. Some are more effective than others. Discuss.

1:8, when Elkana is trying to cheer up Chana, someone says she understood from his words that he had reconciled himself to her childlessness; so she finally saw clearly that if anything was going to happen she was going to have to be the one to daven for it.

All these needlings finally add up to Chana going to daven after all.

1:14, Eli – explains someone – is suggesting that Chana go take a nap and come back later.

1:17, Eli's response to Chana is a play on words. Yiten has two meanings.
Sheila, spelt oddly as it is in this pasuk, also has two meanings: a request, or a child.
You can read Eli's words as a blessing: Hashem should give you the request that you have asked.
Or you can read them as a promise – Eli is having a flash of prophetic insight: Hashem will give you the child which you requested.

1:18, the very next verse, Chana hears Eli's bracha but she also hears the other meaning, the prophecy, and she lights up and the whole way home she can't stop smiling.
At least, that is how I read it; I don't have a source for that.

There is a Midrash – the kind that you read and say What? - that says that until now, Chana looked like a monkey; but after this encounter with Eli she didn't anymore. I think it is the Malbim who explains that what that means is that her intense sorrow was disfiguring; but now that she was happy she looked beautiful again.

The Midrash says Shmuel was a preemie.

Being an Orthodox Jewish Girl in a Non-Jewish School

I was talking to a friend of mine who is in this position at the moment and it reminded me of my own experiences as the same. I thought I'd stick some of our chatter online in case there are teenagers surfing the web and quaero mihi similes.

04 January 2016

“It is but a single step from the profound to the ridiculous.”

I found this line in Rav Hirsch a few months ago and was immensely pleased with it, finding it a clear expression of one of my biggest concerns in extra-curricular education; and I went round quoting it to anything that would stand still long enough.

And I would have kept citing it in the name of Rav Hirsch to every teacher, student, and doorpost, had it not shown up a couple of weeks ago in “an old School-boy's” memoirs of Dr. Arnold's influence at Rugby.


I could not get over the coincidence, and made a mental note to look up what common source Rav Hirsch and the “old School-boy” could possibly have been reading, and promptly forgot all about it...

...Until it showed up again last night in Edith Hamilton.


A guest kindly looked the quotation up for me and reported that the phrase first appeared in a late 18th century French philosophical work, and was subsequently publicized further by Thomas Paine and Napoleon, among others.

I'm going to guess that it was making the rounds of high society drawing-rooms by the mid-19th century. But it is tempting to sit here and speculate about what could have been on Rav Hirsch's reading list.

(...or not, unless the phrase itself is to serve as the single step it speaks of.)

I still like it.

28 December 2015

Historical Sew Fortnightly no 12, Re-do.

I disappeared from the HSF for several months, but now the Hundred Projects have settled down and it is winter break and I sewed something:

I made this doll before and I have just finished its dress and given it a face, by request of Loops, who chose the colors.
I am very pleased with the thought to use a scrap of wool roving as hair; it is nice and fluffy and took seconds to sew on; now, we'll see how long it lasts...!

The ripply neckline results from my turning-and-stitching rather than using bias tape as instructed: a lesson learned.

Now, can one of you experts out there tell me whether this is actually what gauging is supposed to look like – like an obstructed flow of water, and with four rows of visible stitching?

The challenge: no. 12, Re-do. Let's call this a re-do of the earlier challenge "Out of My Comfort Zone". It is my first attempt at gauging. It is my first attempt at a 19th-c. dress, with the dropped sleeves and double darts and hook-and-eye closures.

Fabric: I thought this would be a quick test of a pattern for use by students, so... polycotton scraps *ducks and runs for cover*

Pattern: Great Auntie Maude's Favorite Doll, sold here.

Year: somewhere in 1840-1865 -- I'm going to guess I hit around 1860

Notions: three hooks-and-eyes

How historically accurate is it? The pattern is ultra-accurate. Ms. Clark says to paint on the hair and features. I didn't make the underpinnings or perfect the fit as instructed, the fabric is a blend, and I have my doubts about the visible machine-stitched hem.

Total cost: all from stash.

Is it suitable for beginners? I actually think making full-size baby clothing is easier. But working in miniature is quickly rewarding.

07 December 2015

Kate Henderson and "A Meeting of the School Trustees"

I have always been fond of this painting of an 1880's schoolmarm, making her case to the Board of Trustees.

A Meeting of the Board of Trustees, by Robert Henderson

It looks like she wants something that they are disinclined to grant her.

The subject of the image (though not the actual artist's model) is a teacher from PEI named Kate Henderson.
That's about all the information readily available about this painting.

So it was a very pleasant surprise to me to find that someone has taken this painting I like so much and dramatized it:
One-minute film

But what is the real story behind the painting? -- I couldn't find it.
this week, Loops asked me to bring her some children's library books on "how to teach," and in one of them I espied suddenly the name "Kate Henderson".

Here's the story.
One of Kate Henderson's responsibilities in Pine Creek School, PEI was to teach Bible. She found that the children were merely reading aloud, not grasping the content; so she set them to acting out the stories.
This went over very well with the children, and when they came home they told their parents all about how they got to play Pretend in school with Bible stories.
The parents opined that this was sacrilegious; and issued a call: Fire the teacher!
The members of the Board -- the shopkeeper, the miller, the doctor, and the minister -- met and summoned Miss Henderson to defend herself. In the end, they suspended her for a week.
The minister had his doubts about the issue of sacrilege involved, noted that the children had seemed unusually interested in his sermon that week, and that Sunday he got up, asked some children to act out a Bible story, and preached on the subject of new ways of understanding the text.
Miss Henderson was reinstated and everyone lived happily ever after, the end.

03 December 2015

A Pre-Raphaelite Painting of Unknown Jews

This image is cropped from a painting by the pre-Raphaelite artist William Holman Hunt. According to the (unreliable) book I found it in, Hunt began painting it in 1854 on a visit to the Land of Israel, but made slow progress because he wanted Jewish models for his Pharisees and “the local rabbi” ruled that sitting for such a painting was not permitted, so no one was willing to model. (Can we think about that for a moment – a pre-Raphaelite painter wants models and no one is willing to participate.)

“The local rabbi” eventually reversed his ruling; the book is fuzzy on the details but implies that the reversal was due to Hunt's claiming the final picture would not be religious. (If this is accurate, then Hunt lied egregiously.)
I am curious who “the local rabbi” was, and what the psak really was, and whether any of these anonymous 19th century Jews of Eretz Yisrael are identifiable.

Hunt, I am sure, took a fair degree of artistic license; and when he exhibited the completed painting in 1860 it was with a bitterly anti-Semitic commentary. But I am intrigued that – to whatever degree – his painting has preserved these Jews' faces for us.

15 October 2015

Sing us a Thing, Piano Man

I always liked this post of Schneeblog's, maybe because I remember as a middle schooler being shocked that anyone could prefer the third Harry Potter book (which is all plot twist) to the first (which is all Things). I like Things. There are noble abstracts and linguistic thickets and essential errands and all sorts of wonderful verbs in the world but at the end of a long day of negligible weather and negligible phone calls I find the concept I want to curl up with is pretty Things.

This, I think, is part of why women subscribe to catalogs.

I wrote recently here about the question of how not to get carried away with “Torah im Cool Stuff”.

Of course, if you pursue Things long enough, you discover on your own that the proportions are off and the story is not solid enough: that the novel that is your life has to have a theme and a protagonist, also.

Art Installation

translation into Chinuk Wawa:

Mitlite nika tumtum siah kimta sun-get-up, pe mitlite nika siah-siah kopa klip-sun.
Howkwutl nika mukmuk, pe howkwutl mukmuk chaco tsee?
Howkwutl nika mamook huihui nawitka, pe
Tsiyon kow Pil lope, pe nika kow Arav lope?
Klah mahsh konaway kloshe Sfarad, kahkwa
Hyas ticky nanitch polallie kokshut Hyas-Tyee-wawa-Home.

Chinuk Wawa, or 'the Chinook jargon,' evolved in the course of the 19th century as a means of communication between the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest and the "Bostons" who began to move to the area.
It is a characteristic, more or less dying, language of the end of the West of this novel continent.

02 June 2015

Experiments in Teaching Medieval Jewish History, part IV: early medieval Ashkenaz (up to c. 1230)

For this unit, I relied heavily on sources I found in R' Binyamin Sendler's The Chosen Path. Below I include only sources I found without the help of his excellent textbook (some of which he also includes). I didn't give all of these to my class.
As usual, I haven't inspected the sites I link to here; they are provided merely as a convenience. 

-A description of the education of a knight. I was tempted to use passages from The Once and Future King, but those are extremely funny and I wanted something more solemn.
-If they didn't all know how to play chess I would have taught them.
-We don't know the identity of the “King Charles” who invited the Jews to Ashkenaz to start a yeshiva. Still, I gave them the paragraphs from Einhard's Life of Charlemagne about Charlemagne's appearance and how he was “tolerant of foreigners” (paragraphs 21-23).
-The story of how Waterbury, CT wound up with a yeshiva parallels this episode nicely.
-The rather bizarre story of Charlemagne and the mouse.
-Piyut by R' Moshe ben Kalonymus.
-A list of "Occupations of the Jews" from Israel Abrahams (who, alas, grows less reliable each time I check his sources)
-The charter inviting Jews to the new city of Speyer
-The takanos of Rabbeinu Gershom
-Rn. Bussel's explanation of how to learn Rashi
-Letter from Mainz to the Jews of France warning them of the impending first Crusade
-The first paragraph of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales tells you a little something about the mindset of the Crusaders
-Kinna – kumi l'chi. This is an unusual kinna in that it is not about the devastation wreaked by the Crusaders but about the fact that they were going to Eretz Yisrael and we were not.
-Rashi's kinna about the People's Crusade
-Rachel and Her Children (very graphic) – also from the People's Crusade
-Many of the kinnos we say on Tisha b'Av are about the Crusades -- e.g. no. 25, also from the People's Crusade.
-Rashi's teshuva about the forced converts
-Christian account of William of Norwich
-The Forced Conversion of the Jews of Regensburg - 1137
-Kinna by R' Ephraim of Regensburg (Elokai b'cha achavek).
-Kinna for Blois by Baruch of Magenza.
-Sefer haYashar by Rabbeinu Tam. I didn't go through the whole sefer to get a sense of it and pick the most suitable piece; I just grabbed something, and that something was the fifth midda in the sixth shaar: what is atzlus, what causes it, what to do about it. This went over well.
-Tosafos Bava Metzia 70b – about why nowadays (i.e. in the times of Tosafos) so many of us are engaged in money-lending.
-There is also a Tosafos somewhere about marrying off one's daughters young due to the upheaval of the times.
-Tosafos on Sukka 45a: jousting as chasuna shtick. background information
-Jousting shu"t; I haven't read it closely recently but will note here anyway that standard practice was that if you lost a tournament you forfeited your armor and horse to the victor.
- Sefer Hasidim – paras. 94 (about knights), 135 (about the power of a wife's influence), 136 (about how books got copied), 149 (in which he invokes the queen coming to visit as a mashal for Shabbos - it means more when you realize that the queen was very real), 200 (about women cross-dressing for protection while traveling), 220 (about pretending to be non-Jews for protection while traveling), 702-703 (more about how women may protect themselves, e.g. dressing as nuns). One of these days I should get around to posting translations of these paragraphs. Let me know if you want any of them sooner.
-The Rokeach's hesped for his wife Dulce and his daughters Bellet and Chana. I haven't found the original text. If you can find it for me I'll be extremely grateful.
-Epitaph for Urania of Worms
- Ki hineh kachomer, in the Yom Kippur machzor, was composed, I think, in 13th-c. France. (In Portland we use the niggun of Acheinu for it.)
- Rav Hirsch's essays on Iyar are largely about the time of the Crusades. I gave the girls the third, to put the massacres of this unit in perspective.

There are lots of horrific texts about the devastation the Crusaders wreaked on the kehillos of Ashkenaz, which I didn't give my class because I don't want to wear out such texts before the girls are old enough to understand tragedy when they see it.
And there are many disgusting little tracts containing the accusations of the libels at Norwich, Blois, etc., which I didn't share either because the idea of giving the girls tabloids to read, even medieval tabloids, is just too disturbing.
The libels got to be such a trope that images of them were popular engravings on walking sticks, like a medieval Hello Kitty.
(Hello Kitty was the analogy I told the class; but I have since noticed that even in our own times, it is considered laudable by people on our block to demonstrate their neighborly holiday spirit come Halloween by hanging skeletons in nooses in the trees in their yard.)

28 May 2015

Floor Wax Min HaTorah Minayin? An Experiment in Teaching Sefer Yishaya

My boarding-housemates and I used to play a game we called Min HaTorah Minayin. The sink is leaking? A leak min haTorah minayin, where do we find a leak in the Torah? (I found the leak, in parshas Noach). We're waxing the floor? Floor wax min haTorah minayin? That one stumped us. Floor wax min haTorah minayin?

Maybe a month later, as I was looking up a reference in Tanach, the page fell open to a verse in which Iyov (Job) reminisces about the days when he had his steps buttered.
I found it! I found it! Floor wax min haTorah!

Silly; but from that discovery I began to read more of the page, and really fell in love with the book of Iyov for the first time.
I thought my students might have a similar experience, so one day when we needed some space between units, I gave them a...

Sefer Yishaya (Isaiah) Scavenger Hunt

Can you find...

Something dripping?
A spice?
Glue or riveting?
Sargon, king of Assyria?
A piece of furniture?
A contractor's tools?
A song by Chizkiyahu (Hezekiah)?
An insect?
A very personal description of the navi?
A musical instrument?
A line from Lecha Dodi?
A long list of jewelry?
An agricultural tool?
A horse?
An extremely unusual name for a child?
A curtain?
A tail?
The shiras hakerem? (a song about a vineyard)
Daylight savings?
The Leviathan?
A list of ten animals in two consecutive psukim (verses)?
A mountain?
The land Rus came from?
A tear in something?
Something wearing out?
A pasuk from Aleinu?
A wall?
An island?
Rosh Chodesh?
A chasan and kallah (bride and groom)?
A color?
Something bubbling?
100 years?
A paved street?
A rodent?
Three kinds of birds? (not necessarily in the same verse)
The moon?
A word or phrase repeated?
Beis Yaakov lechu v'nelcha b'or Hashem?
Yotzer or uvorei choshech oseh shalom uvorei ra?
A song lyric?
A textile or textile fibre?
The defeat of an army?
A hill?
An alcoholic beverage?
Something that makes you, personally, happy?
The capitol of Syria?
Something (not a person) singing?
A mashal of childbirth?
Shaavtem mayim b'sason mimayenei hayeshua?
A reptile?
A night watchman?
Five kinds of trees? (not necessarily in the same verse)
Nachamu nachamu ami?
A pasuk from davening?
The name Yishayahu (Isaiah)?

I decided to err on the side of light and fun, but they didn't relate to it as expected; so if I were to do this again I would get heavier and have them look for certain messages and themes and ideas and feelings, with just a sprinkling of interesting superficialities.

However, it worked for an adult who came in as I was drawing up the list – he thought that this cutesy list looked like a good time, pulled out a navi to help me find objects, and got thoroughly sidetracked into just reading the navi: “Oh, this is beautiful! Ooh, I have to learn more Navi. Oh, wow, you have to read this.” – which is the reaction I was hoping for in my students. So I guess superficial scavenger hunts are better for adults.

What did R' Zacuto Change about the Astrolabe?

I haven't gotten to the library yet. Meanwhile, I can't figure this out.
Everyone knows he did something brilliant to the astrolabe but if you look it up online every website says it was something else.
He was the first to make an iron astrolabe. No, he was the first to make a copper astrolabe. No, he was the first to make a mariner's astrolabe. No, he was the first to make a spherical astrolabe.
Astrolabes are beautiful things and I would love to be able to walk into class with one and say, “This is a Zacuto astrolabe, and here is how you use it.” But what was it?

Taking the average, it appears that he was the first to make the mariner's astrolabe out of metal instead of wood, thus preventing it from warping.
I hope to post some final answer to the question, as well as a useful application of the mariner's astrolabe for the use of high school students. Check back.