Monday, March 29, 2010

Memo from Turner Music Monday

Great classic from the Stones...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

From the Instruction of Kheti to Merikare

Trying to do some of my own research based on Cassuto's book.

Interesting fragment - notion of subduing the water monster, man being the image of god, god breathing life into man...

hymn to the creator-god (P130 - P138)

284 Well tended is mankind - the cattle of the god : (P130-131)
285 he made sky and earth for their sake,
286 he subdued the water monster,
287 he made breath for their noses to live.
288 They are his images, who came from his body.
289 He shines in the sky for their sake.
290 He made for them plants and cattle,
291 fowl and fish to feed them.
292 He slew his foes, reduced his children,
293 when they thought of making rebellion.
294 He makes daylight for their sake,
295 he sails by to see them.
296 He has built his shrine around them,
297 when they weep he hears.

Umberto Cassuto - Documentary Hypothesis - Lecture 1

In Lecture 1, Cassuto lays out his case - to analyze the Documentary Hypothesis as of that point in time and to evaluate its soundness.

He goes through a very brief history of the DH, focusing specifically on the similarity between the ideas of decomposing the Bible into multiple source and the parallel theory of Homeric analysis, focusing on the Illiad and the Odyssey. He tries to make the case that there was a particular bias at this time to view certain works as composites.

He then makes a broad and somewhat bold statement for an ordained rabbi in his time:

"We must approach this task [a study of the validity of the DH, and hence composite authorship] with complete objectivity marred by no bias - either towards the views of one school or the opinions of another. We must be prepared, from the outset, to accept the outcome of our inquiry, be it what it may, and feel no anxiety in regard to the honor and sanctity of the Torah."

In the blogosphere, we have seen many cases where "rational" Modern Orthodox Jews have been backed up against the wall, and had to state, even in the presence of incontrovertible evidence, should this evidence ever be presented, they would choose to believe "irrationally". Therefore, if Cassuto is being honest in his position, this seems quite a powerful statement.

On the other hand, we know that Cassuto was giving these lectures after he had made up his mind, after years of research, about his opinion on Torah authorship. So, bedieved, his position is not very brave.

As a final point, Cassuto states that he will focus only on the narratives in Genesis to analyse how the DH holds up because according to him, this is where the crux of the DH is hinged upon. I am not knowledgeable enough to determine whether this is a valid restriction, so I will trust for now that it is.

Umberto Cassuto - The Documentary Hypothesis - Introduction

These are my notes as I read the book...

The introduction is written by Joshua A Berman, an Orthodox Rabbi and lecturer at Bar-Ilan.

The introduction begins by talking about Thomas Kuhn and his concept of "paradigm shift". Kuhn argues that scientists are constrained by a prevailing paradigm to restrict their hypotheses to those which are conformant to the paradigm. Those who try to think outside the box are excluded and looked down upon. Evidence of outcomes which do not fit the paradigm are viewed skeptically and explained away as outliers or errors. However, at some point the evidence becomes too overwhelming to explain away and so the paradigm shifts.

Berman argues (somewhat convincingly) that the same has occurred in Biblical Criticism where anything which does not presuppose a DH is rejected prima fascie. He then presents Cassuto as one who is at the forefront of the new paradigm shift, which sees the Torah as a coherent document and not as a redacted conglomerate of multiple disparate sources. This is a little peculiar as Cassuto died in 1951 and the introduction was written in 2005. Surely, had he been at the forefront of this paradigm shift, the shift would have occurred by now?

One thing which struck me as very odd about this notion, is that, of course, Cassuto's position is the traditional position that had been prevalent for as far back as we can go in history. So, while it is true that it is a paradigm shift from the DH proponents, it is primarily a shift back to the classical view.

It is possible that I misunderstood Berman's point. He does seem to imply that Cassuto himself, though a rabbi, did not argue for Mosaic authorship. Nor did he necessarily exclude the possibility that the Torah may have been based on preexisting documents, in the same way that Shakespeare had based many of his plays on existing stories and plot lines, yet we would not say that Shakespeare redacted them. According to Berman, Cassuto makes the point that the DH both ignores the complex thematic and documentary structure within the Torah and that the distinctions the DH makes when it tries to separate out the "sources" are fallacious and based on both preconceived ideology and lack of understanding.

With respect to ideology, Berman (not sure if making his own point or echoing Cassuto) makes very valid points that in many ways, the 19th and early 20th centuries were very big on defining an ideology and especially identifying trends and then molding your thought process accordingly. It was not enough for Wellhausen to post multiple sources, but he also had to identify them with various stages of Israelite development. Wellhausen is labeled a historicist and a romanticist. I'll have to read up on these and their relationship to early Biblical Scholarship.

The introduction was well written. Now onto the first chapter.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bloody Jack Music Monday

Great video from 1968 - Serge Gainsbourg doing "Bloody Jack" or as the French pronounce it - Blue-dee Zheck. I've been thinking a bit about Serge lately - especially his "Les Sucettes" video with France Gall. I can see how the French anti-semites would go nuts. Here's this guy who looks like a cartoon from Der Stürmer leering at pure, blond, virginal 19 year old girl named "France"!!! (the symbolism!!!), who is, (unwittingly?), singing his song full of double entendres about fellatio that she doesn't understand!!! Sacre bleu! Quelle horreur!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Defragment your Torah for better performance

Monday, March 15, 2010


Exactly at 5:00 p.m., Abramovic appeared on the stage nude, then sat down on a chair for a while, and switched on a metronome. We can only hear the sound of the metronome, tick-tock, echoing slowly into space. Ten minutes later, Abramovic opened a one-liter bottle of honey, which she started to eat slowly by putting a spoon in and out of the bottle. Her licking the spoon many times was especially sexual.

After eating honey for approximately ten minutes, the artist opened a wine bottle, and drank it slowly while staring in the direction of a spectator. Then, she picked up a razor on the table, and cut her stomach slowly and carefully, by tracing the outline of a star that was already written on her stomach. Meanwhile, a sound of a metronome counts the passing time slowly.

Blood dripped from her stomach slowly. Abramovic wore old combat boots placed on the stage, after having wiped up the blood with a white napkin, and put on an army cap, and picked up a stick. A red star was placed on this army cap, and the stick which curved slightly gave me an impression that the stick was like a Kalashnikov gun. (Abramovic herself told me that the shoes and the stick were originally used for the performance “The Lovers - Great Wall Walk” in 1988, and after the performance, the length of the stick shortened 15cm. The cap is from her mother which she wore during the Serbs’ partisan war against Nazi Germany.)

After Abramovic stood rigidly for a while, a Russian song sung by a female voice was played from a speaker. The song was a quite sad folk song that sang about history of Slavic tragedy.

The surprising thing is that as soon as this song was played, Abramovic started to weep very bitterly. The situation of a nude woman bleeding from the abdomen crying on the stage, was quite bizarre.

After the song had finished, Abramovic took off her shoes, and lay on an ice bed, arranged in the shape of a cross. After five minutes on the ice bed, she began whipping her body, silently.

Basically, Abramovic repeated this performance for seven hours. Approximately three hours into the performance, after wiping the blood from the star-shaped cut, she opened the white handkerchief. Then, we could realize that this handkerchief has lines as on a flag, and she tied this line to the edge of the stick. When the Russian song was played, Abramovic lifted a stick, and waved the white handkerchief which is dyed by blood. Did she "surrender" to anything? In this point, Abramovic was not crying anymore, but even had a slight smile.

Around 11 p.m., Abramovic got up from the ice bed, and she began quivering. The quivering persisted. Because her body temperature had decreased, her body kept shaking. I could not look at her anymore. In the original performance in 1975, one of the spectators, who could not look at her anymore, jumped into and terminated a performance; this time, spectators were saying, "Please, please stop," or “You do not have to do it more" again and again. However, Abramovic did not quit the performance.

This is a description of a performance art piece by Marina Abramovic. When I first read about her in the New Yorker, I had my typical Russian, down to earth attitude - "Another crazy person". Yet the more I read, the more I had this niggling feeling inside that some of the ideas in the article about her were quite amazing...

How about when she set up an exhibit where the only entry was through a narrow passageway where she and her lover stood naked on each side and each person walking through the doorway needed to decide which way he or she was going to face?

Or how about when she and her partner decided to split up. They started walking towards one another from the opposite ends of the Great Wall of China, meeting up after months of walking and thousands of miles, to say goodbye...

Which left me in a conundrum - what is the line between artistic and plain nuts? Is there one?

Leadbelly Music Monday

Later covered by Kurt Cobain...

Sunday, March 14, 2010


It was probably six months ago that I came across a translation of eyewitness accounts of the pogrom which killed most of my paternal grandfather's family in 1919. It was then that I learned that the Jews of the town had formed an armed militia to protect themselves against the marauding bands - in Yiddish they called it Zelbshuts (self help)

This weekend, as often happens to me, I randomly came upon a website which documented the deaths from spotted typhus among the Mennonites in the Ukraine.

Mennonites in the Ukraine?? Of course I had to learn more about this. It turns out that after Catherine the Great defeated the Turks, in the late 18th century, she invited Germans to come to Russia and settle in the newly acquired lands. Among those who accepted her invitations were Mennonites from Prussia and other northern European lands.

The Mennonite colonies prospered and all went well until the unrest of the early 20th century. The prosperous Mennonite farmers were targeted by both Communists and the anarchist bands of Nestor Makhno. Facing extinction, the Mennonites begrudgingly abandoned their pacifist religious beliefs and with the help of the retreating German forces in the Ukraine formed a Selbstchutz, an armed self-defense force.

It is hard to say whether ultimately these militias did more bad than good. Much like the Jews, the Mennonites really could not hold out against the onslaught of the murderous bandits, and the reprisals of the angry mobs, angered by resistance from their victims may have been worse than if they had not fought back. On the other hand, the pogromschiks were intent on killing, raping and pillaging, so it was probably a lose-lose situation altogether.

The Mennonites survived the violence of the Civil War, but they were decimated by Stalin's collectivization drives. Many Mennonites wound up killed or exiled as part of the struggle against the Kulaks.

Monday, March 08, 2010

It's still Music Monday

Craziest video you'd ever seen!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Purim vs Carnival

So, I wish I had some time to really understand Bakhtin, but for now, I'll just put some ideas out there.

The notion of the Mardi Gras carnival is very different from the medieval Carnivals. In the former, it is basically a spectacle. But the original, medieval Carnival, based on the Feast of Fools, and the Feast of Asses, is a creative act, and also the opportunity to have the voices of the powerless and the weak be heard. In some ways it is also an opportunity for the powerful to be sobered by the reality that life is final and that the wheel of Fortune can bring you down at any time. Hence the notion of kings becoming beggars for a day, and peasants being elected Pope, etc...

In some ways, you'd think that Purim should be closer to the medieval Carnival. After all the theme of Purim festivities is "v'nahafoch hu", so you'd think there would be an inversion of normal, a world upside down, but it seems to me that this theme is downplayed, and certainly not pushed as far as the medieval Carnivals. Specifically, it feels like underneath the spectacle, there is not the desire to give voice to the downtrodden and the weak in Jewish society, nor is there any kind of challenge to the authority of the Rabbis. Just revelry and drunkedness.

Rachmaninoff - Prelude in C sharp Minor.

Such a melancholy piece - classic Rachmaninoff.