Even Adam Kvetched About the Long Winter Nights!

We all know the story of Hanukkah. But, there is another narrative that many of us don’t know. Last week, Hebrew Seminary faculty member Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub taught us a lesser known story that prominently features Adam.

The better known Hanukkah story is derived from the Babylonia Talmud, Shabbat 21b. The text tells us that the Greeks entered our Temple and defiled all of the oil in the Sanctuary. When the Hasmonean monarchy rose up, defeated the Greeks and entered the Temple they found one remaining vial of oil sealed with the imprimatur of the high priest. This vial, as expected, contained oil for only one day. The Hasmoneans lit the oil and it burned for eight days and nights. The following year an eight day holiday was established for hallel, praise and thanksgiving. This text has given rise to the widely known interpretation that Hanukkah is about the miracle of the oil, defeating oppression and celebrating religious freedom.

Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a tells an alternative Hanukkah story that portrays Hanukkah as Adam’s encounter with the winter solstice (translation from Sefaria.org.)

“ר לפי שראה אדם הראשון יום שמתמעט והולך אמר אוי לי שמא בשביל שסרחתי עולם חשוך בעדי וחוזר לתוהו ובוהו וזו היא מיתה שנקנסה עלי מן השמים עמד וישב ח’ ימים בתענית [ובתפלה]

With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.

We read on:

כיון שראה תקות טבת וראה יום שמאריך והולך אמר מנהגו של עולם הוא הלך ועשה שמונה ימים טובים לשנה האחרת עשאן לאלו ולאלו ימים טובים הוא קבעם לשם שמים והם קבעום לשם עבודת כוכבים

Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed both these eight days on which he had fasted on the previous year, and these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven, but they, the gentiles of later generations, established them for the sake of idol worship.

Our text makes reference to the festivities of later generations because Adam’s two observances resemble the pagan Roman holidays Calenda and Saturnalia. It could be said that the Rabbis use this opportunity to trace these “revisionist” festivals back to Adam who established them for the sake of Heaven, that is giving thanks to God, whereas the Romans established them for the sake of the stars, i.e. idolatry.

While Avodah Zarah 8a doesn’t overtly mention Hanukkah, this text ties Hanukkah to the winter solstice and Adam. Hanukkah then did not begin with the Hasmoneans, it started with Adam. We offer this lesser known Hanukkah story in recognition of the salient symbol here – the gift of increasing light. In many ways this text establishes a universal holiday. We wish you all Ramadanadawalichristmakwaanzukkah!™

 

Summer Semester 2017

HEBREW SEMINARY

Summer Semester 2017

A Purposeful Torah Pause

June 25  –  August 24, 2017

 

Pause with us this summer.
Pause with purpose
to pursue rabbinic ordination or consider it.

 

Rabbi Cantor Rob Jury returns this semester with a practical rabbinics class, Shabbat Liturgy, and Rabbi Daniel Vaisrub is offering a “companion” Talmud class, Ancient & Modern Approaches to Shabbat.

Rabbi Shari Chen is offering a new Practical Rabbinics class: Preparation in Reading & Signing the Torah.  Students will learn how to prepare themselves to read Torah at the Bimah for services.  This will include reading without vowels, translating from Hebrew to English and an introduction to biblical ASL signs.  ASL interpreter Cathy Silvern will instruct the students in key signs for select readings.

The focus of the Torah readings will be Jewish holidays beginning with the High Holidays.  Among the reading will be: Bereshit – Vayeira 22:1; Devarim – Nitzavim 29:9; Devarim – Nitzvin 30:11; Vayikra – Kedoshim 19:1; Vayikra – Emor 23:1.

Rabbi Cantor Michael Davis is offering two new summer courses:

Trope Theory &

the Visualization of Hebrew Grammar through Ancient Hand Signs

You may be familiar with trope as the ancient art of chanting Torah and Haftarah. In fact, there are at least seven different systems of trope within the Eastern European modes alone, the system that is standard in the U.S. Outside of our Ashkenazi tradition there are many other Jewish musical systems, equally varied and ancient.

What unifies all these trope traditions is their grammatical function as a set of syntactical markers. Trope is a highly sophisticated system – much more so than English punctuation. It is an essential tool for unpacking the ancient sacred Hebrew of the Tanakh which is often written in succinct prose or poetry. The commentators through the ages have used trope as a means of interpretation through punctuation.

Chironomy, or hand signals, is an ancient way of indicating the musical turns of chanting. Combined with an understanding of the grammar of trope, this is a way of performing the language of the Torah through hand gestures. 

Jewish Peoplehood in Modern Times – A Study of Zionism(s)

A central challenge that faced Judaism in modernity is how to self-define as a people in an open society. One of the solutions to this challenge has been Zionism in its many forms: cultural, political and religious. “Zionism(s)” exist as systems of thinking and being that are separate from either the Israeli or the American Jewish communities. We will study the context, content and implications of various forms of Zionism as well as their reception.

Our main textbooks with be: “The Zionist Idea” ed. Arthur Hertzberg and “The Jew in the Modern World” eds. Paul Mendes-Flohr and Judah Reinharz.

Also, allow us to share a taste of Fall 2017 when Rabbi Goldhamer will be offering two classes:

Sundays 12:00 – 1:30 pm starting October 15th, 2017
Chassidic and Kabbalistic Literature featuring the Baal Shem Tov and Levi Yitzchak Berditchev and including Sefer Degel Machaneh Ephraim and Kedushat Levi.

Students should be familiar with Hebrew.

Rabbi Goldhamer writes: I look forward to teaching this class because even though both teachers, the Baal Shem Tov or Besht and Levi Yitchak Berditchev, lived several hundred years ago they were very involved in the current politics of their time especially as it affected the Jewish community.  Yes, they were very serious scholars but they were all very serious political commentators.  The Besht invited all people, including a cossack or two, to study with him.  And Hebrew Seminary invites you!

Biblical Commentary
Enrollment open to Hebrew Seminary graduates, thesis students and students who have completed their Hebrew language requirements.

Commentators will include Rashi, Ramban, Kedushat Levi, Degel Ephraim, and Maor VaShemesh.

Students will translate biblical commentary from two schools of exegesis: Nigleh-Revealed and Nistar-Hidden.  Students will see that translated texts from the Nistar school are very similar to one another and translated texts from the Nigleh school are very similar to each other.  Nistar commentaries are full of hidden secrets and include metaphorical, remez and sod interpretations.  Nigleh commentaries s are very straightforward.  None-the-less, Nigleh commentary can be quite tricky at times.  Therefore the students’ ability in the different translation styles will constantly be tested.

Students will use the following texts:

Mikraot Gedolot : Meorei HaChassidut (5 vol.)
hard cover (184362)
Mikraot Gedolot – Hamaor : Torah (medium size – 5 vol.)
hard cover – boxed set (18722)

Hebrew Seminary graduates serve in a variety of roles – as pulpit rabbis, educators, chaplains, in public service and serving those with special needs, including the deaf community.  Hebrew Seminary has been an inclusive and egalitarian community for the study and practice of Judaism since our founding in 1992.  Our ordained Rabbis and Jewish educators support underserved Jewish populations.

Hebrew Seminary has the highest commitment to traditional scholarship. This includes Talmud, Bible, Kabbalah and Hebrew, all taught by an outstanding faculty led by our President, Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer.  Hebrew Seminary is all about learning to hear the voice of God in our texts and in each other.  Our program is intensive and inspiring.

HEBREW SEMINARY
A RABBINICAL SCHOOL FOR DEAF & HEARING

4435 W. Oakton, Skokie, IL 60076
847-679-4113 • fax: 847-677-7945
[email protected]hebrewseminary.org