At Touro Synagogue Saturday, October 29, 2016
by Aaron Ginsburg
On Friday on the way to Newport, as I drove through the rock-cut on Route 24 towards the Sakonnet River Bridge, the sky seemed to be on fire. When I approached the bridge, the clouds had slightly broken up on the horizon just as the sun was setting. It was spectacular…Was it the end of the world, or it’s beginning? It seemed like a scene from this week’s Parsha, Bereshit (In the Beginning).
The Stone Chumash translated the phrase Tohu v’ Vohu as “utterly empty.” When I entered Shul on Saturday the Shul was utterly empty, although this was remedied before we got to the Torah reading.
Rabbi Marc Mandel spoke about books. During Sukkot, we read Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). In Kohelet 12:12 we read “And furthermore, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” The author of Kohelet was having a bad hair day, or was extremely depressed. Alas, there was no Prozac or shock therapy available to snap him out of it.
The Rabbi noted that today’s Parsha referred to a book. “This is the book of the generations of Adam (Bereshit 5:1).”
This brings to mind the Documentary Hypotheses. A lot of effort has gone into the hypotheses, which states that the Torah was written by many hands over many years. From a historical perspective these ideas are very interesting..but it is still our Torah, and we can continue to learn and be inspired by it.
Rabbi Mandel held up a copy of the “Jewish Voice,” which had a front page obituary for Professor Jacob Neusner. Neusner, who taught in many places, wrote 950 books. Cliff Guller calculated that to be one every two weeks if he started at age 20. Perhaps it was a substitute for weight watchers. There was some question about how good Neusner’s books are, and about the validity of his conclusions about Jewish history and religion and the accuracy of his translation of Jewish texts.
By comparison, Isaac Asimov wrote or edited only about 500 books, and wrote a mere 90,000 letters and postcards. Asimov was a polymath. A biochemistry professor at Boston University, he wrote many classic works of science fiction, and mysteries, popular science, and even “Asimov’s Guide to the Bible” and Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare.”
Asimov was born in the shtetl Petrovichi. When Tzar Nicholas I decided to expel the Jews from Russia proper, a wealthy citizen moved the border marker so the town would be inside the Pale of Settlement, enabling the Jewish residents of the shtetl, 50% of the population, to remain in their homes. His first language was Yiddish, and his second language was Brooklynese. I have read far more books by Asimov then by Neusner. What about you?
Our visitors today included two couples from Stamford, Connecticut. It was slightly unclear whether they were coming for the Touro experience or for the cholent, but they stayed for both the service and Kiddish sans cholent. @tourosynagogue