Passage of Prop. 8 reveals rift between denominations


Three days after California narrowly passed Proposition 8, the statewide ban on same-sex marriage, congregants of Beth Chayim Chadashim gathered in their Pico Boulevard sanctuary for a Friday night Shabbat service marked by solidarity and grief.

“This week of all weeks we need Shabbat,” Rabbi Lisa Edwards told members of the predominantly gay and lesbian synagogue, as many clutched prayer books and one another’s hands.

In the tumultuous first week after voters approved the controversial ballot measure that would cast the legality of 18,000 marriages into doubt and halt further unions, supporters rejoiced and opponents took to the streets in emotional protests across the state.

Jewish voices had joined both sides of the bitter and costly Proposition 8 debate leading up to Election Day. Reform and Conservative leaders largely condemned the stripping of civil rights from a fellow minority population, while Orthodox officials praised constitutional protection for the biblical definition of marriage.

The ideological rift has sharpened tensions between traditional and progressive sects in Los Angeles and raised the question of how Jews, as a people, should respond.

“We Jews have been the brunt of a lot of discrimination throughout our history,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector at American Jewish University (AJU). “To vote now that another group should be discriminated against is not at all respectful of what freedom has meant for us as Jews.”

Minority rights carry special resonance for the Jewish nation, said many Proposition 8 critics — especially in light of the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht last week.

“Jews understand what it means to eliminate rights — that’s what happened to us in Germany,” said Rabbi Denise Eger, spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood.

An overwhelming 78 percent of Jewish voters in Los Angeles opposed the same-sex marriage ban, while just 8 percent supported it, according to an exit poll by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. In the weeks before the election, more than 250 rabbis — a majority in the state — joined a coalition of progressive Jewish organizations opposing Proposition 8.

Eger, who has performed 50 wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples since a California Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage on June 16, said the separation of church and state has been a critical tenet of mainstream Judaism in the United States.

“This issue is not about religion — it is about civil rights,” she said. “This is about the separation of synagogue and state. As long as marriage is a civil issue, the Torah has nothing to say about it.”

But that’s not how many in the Orthodox community see it. Rabbi Elazar Muskin, leader of Young Israel of Century City, said the ban on same-sex marriage does not amount to a removal of rights, because the traditional definition of marriage never extended to homosexual couples.

“We’re not talking about rights; we’re talking about the sanctity of marriage,” Muskin said. “It’s a traditional moral, Jewish perspective that marriage is between a husband and a wife. It’s basic to the Bible — it’s as ancient as man.”

Muskin said he supports domestic partnerships for same-sex couples but believes allowing them to wed would send a sacred institution down a slippery slope toward other behaviors the Bible deems immoral.

“[Gays and lesbians] should have the same government benefits that anyone has,” he said. “The issue is the definition of marriage and how we’re going to impart that to the next generation. What about incestuous marriage — are we then going to permit that?”

Advertisements sponsored by the Rabbinical Council of California and the Orthodox Union have called heterosexual marriage “a central pillar of our faith” that is “crucial for the sake of our families, for our children and our society.”

But social justice is also a central pillar of Jewish faith, said Joel Kushner, director of the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

“This goes against everything we believe in. We were strangers in Egypt — we should treat others fairly because we know what it’s like being a stranger,” said Kushner, who married his partner in a civil ceremony last month. “There is a perception that it’s only the religious right who has something to say about this. Progressive people of faith also know what the Bible says, and we support marriage equality.”

In 1992, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism passed a national resolution calling for full civil equality for gays and lesbians, the AJU’s Dorff said. He called the Orthodox movement’s support of the same-sex marriage ban “a mistake.”

Clergy members who don’t believe in marriage for gay and lesbian couples would not have been forced to officiate at their wedding ceremonies if Proposition 8 was defeated, he said. The Supreme Court’s ruling this spring handed that decision from the state to religious leaders.

“Now what we’ve done is enshrine hatred and discrimination and bigotry into the California state Constitution,” said Eger of Kol Ami. “This was an issue of the judiciary, and it was wrong [for it] to be placed on the ballot in the first place.”

The question of what’s next was on everyone’s minds the night of Nov. 7 at Beth Chayim Chadashim, where at least 44 couples have tied the knot since June.

After a Shabbat service suffused with sadness and reflection, Edwards invited an attorney from Lambda Legal to discuss the legal action gay rights supporters are taking against Proposition 8. Lambda Legal, along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, filed one of three lawsuits challenging the ballot measure the morning after its passage.

The lawsuits argue that the gay marriage ban was too drastic an alteration of the state Constitution to be called an amendment and would actually constitute an illegal revision. Constitutional revisions must first pass the Legislature before going to the voters.

The California attorney general has said the marriages performed since June would be upheld, but some expect a legal battle on that front, too.

Robin Tyler, whose highly publicized Jewish wedding ceremony with Diane Olson was the first same-sex marriage performed in L.A. County, also filed suit against Proposition 8 through attorney Gloria Allred.

“I don’t want to be on the freedom train alone,” said Tyler, 66, of North Hills. “It’s about everyone else and future generations not being treated like second-class citizens. I’m hopeful that the Supreme Court will understand that this was an improper proposition.”

If not, she said, marriage equality advocates will bring a proposition to the ballot again in another four years.

However, critics fear their actions undermine the majority of California voters.

“The people filing these lawsuits seem to feel that the popular vote is of little importance in the face of what they see as a civil rights issue,” said Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, who is based in Hancock Park. “Society has spoken, and most people want marriage to be defined the way the Bible defines it.”

That leaves people like Karen Wilson with lowered expectations for her wedding day.

Wilson had been planning to wed Caroline Bernard, her partner of 22 years, next August. The Westside couple still plans to go ahead with a religious ceremony but is setting aside their hopes of obtaining a marriage license.

“We’re feeling very betrayed and shocked,” said Wilson, 56, a doctoral candidate at UCLA. “Our ideal — our dream — was to have a religious ceremony that is also legal. But we’re not calling anything off.”

The families and friends of gay and lesbian couples aren’t backing down either, according to Steve Krantz, founder of the nonprofit Jews for Marriage Equality and regional director of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Krantz wants to continue to educate rabbis across the state about marriage equality. He has two sons — one gay, one straight.

“I love them both,” said Krantz of Sherman Oaks. “I want them both to have equal rights, and I want to dance at both of their weddings.”

Right the Wrongs


Last January, I breathed a sigh of relief. The new domestic partnership law went into effect in the state of California, giving senior citizen and same-gender couples a range of state rights nearly equal to the rights given married couples in California.

In so doing, California became second only to Massachusetts in seeking to extend the civil rights of its residents, and many members of the Los Angeles Jewish community, myself included, knew we finally had the legal protections in place that are so critically important to the security of our families.

Then, last week, the California attorney general approved petition language for a ballot measure that would amend the California Constitution to repeal and permanently ban those vital new protections. The brief and frightening summary of the proposed measure, which will easily garner the nearly 1 million signatures required to put it on the ballot in 2006, calls to amend:

“The California Constitution to provide that only marriage between one man and one woman is valid or recognized in California, whether contracted in this state or elsewhere. Voids and restricts registered domestic partner rights and obligations, for certain same-sex and heterosexual couples, in areas such as: ownership and transfer of property, inheritance, adoption, medical decisions, child custody and child support, health and death benefits, insurance benefits, hospital visitation, employment benefits, and recovery for wrongful death other tort remedies.”

In this week’s Torah portion, God and Moses modify the inheritance rights they had recently given to Zelophehad’s daughters — Mahla, Tirzah, Hoglah, Milcah and Noa — who, having no brothers, petitioned successfully to inherit their father’s property (“And God said to Moses, ‘Zelophehad’s daughters speak right.'” Numbers 27:7).

This week, at the end of the Book of Numbers, the uncles of these women complain that if their brother’s daughters were to marry outside their tribe, then the tribe would lose the legacy that belongs to it.

This time Moses speaks for God, saying, “The tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks right,” and he amends the earlier law by requiring Zelophehad’s daughters to marry into the family of their father’s tribe. They do so, marrying their uncles’ sons, and in so doing ironically pass along their inheritance to the families who would have inherited it originally if the sisters had not spoken up.

Whatever the biblical base for it, most Jews these days don’t expect to enter arranged marriages. With interfaith marriage rates continuing to grow, fewer and fewer Jews are observing any Jewish constraints on their freedom to marry, and would be rightly outraged if any state or federal government tried to interfere with their legal and civil right to marry.

Even American Jews who favor Jewish marriage over interfaith would not likely deny any interfaith couple the civil right to marry. And yet, the people proposing or supporting this new constitutional amendment would make certain that thousands of their peers never have such rights and, moreover, would strip them of important civil rights already duly conferred by California law. Like the brothers of Zelophehad, they stand for their privilege, and willingly put restrictions on the lives of other people.

What motivates a drive to amend a constitution now dedicated to fairness and equality into one that recreates a true second-class citizenry? How do these proponents benefit? Just as race laws did in America, such proposals galvanize emotionally motivated and fear-based voters into a firm voter base for leaders with other economic and power agendas. We need only look at the long history of anti-Semitism to remind ourselves that we’ve seen all this before.

This last Torah portion in the Book of Numbers concerns itself largely with the establishment and maintenance of boundaries as the Israelites prepare to move into the land of Canaan after their 40 years in the wilderness. God-given geographic boundaries, inheritance rights, appointment (not election) of leaders, provision for the establishment of sanctuary cities (six cities are needed in order to protect the lives of people who kill unintentionally, lest they be killed by avengers) — all contribute to a rather rigid atmosphere.

For a people who has lived in the wilderness and moved 42 times in 40 years (Rashi on Numbers 33), knowing as they do that Moses — their leader for all 40 years — is about to die, we can perhaps understand the desire (even God feels it) to get everything firmly in place as the Israelites prepare for entry into the Promised Land. But in our day, cui bono — to whose advantage is it to deny or remove (or even propose removing) rights from certain citizens? In our day, what’s our excuse?

Lisa Edwards is rabbi at Beth Chayim Chadashim — House of New Life — in Los Angeles.

Gaza’s Ties to Jewish History


Modern Israeli settlement in the Gaza Strip resumed only after the 1967 Six-Day War, but even with those settlements set to be evacuated, Jewish roots in the sandy strip of land where Egypt, Israel and the Mediterranean Sea meet run deep.

Opinions differ on whether the area was or was not included in the Land of Israel conquered by the ancient Israelites in the Bible.

Samson is the only biblical Israelite noted for having set foot there. In the 17th century, false messiah Shabbatai Zevi gave the area a bad name when he launched his movement from its shores.

After a contentious debate, Israel’s Knesset voted last year to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and evacuate the 9,000 or so Jewish settlers who live in suburban-style communities there, where sprawling green lawns and playgrounds are protected by wire fences and military towers.

The settler population is dwarfed by the 1.3 million Palestinians who live in densely populated Gaza, which is 25 miles long and just 6 miles wide.

During biblical times, Gaza was part of the land promised to the Jews by God but never part of the land actually conquered and inhabited by them, said Nili Wazana, a lecturer on Bible studies and the history of the Jewish people at Hebrew University.

Wazana, who is currently writing a book on the borders of the biblical Land of Israel, said there are contradictory references to Gaza in the Torah. One passage in Judges — often cited by Jewish settlers and their supporters — says the tribe of Judah took control of the area. But other biblical stories contradict this — a pattern typical of the Bible, she said.

“On almost everything, you will find an opinion and an opposite opinion. It was not a homogenous text. It was not written at same time, and there are competing ideologies,” Wazana said.

Most Israelis saw neither historic nor strategic reasons for staying in Gaza. But to Yigal Kamietsky, the rabbi of Gush Katif, the main Jewish settler bloc there, Gaza is an integral part of biblical Israel.

“Gaza is part of the Land of Israel, no less than Tel Aviv and Bnei Brak,” he said. “There is no doubt it is part of the borders.” He said that not only was it considered a mitzvah to settle there, but that “if we were not here, I am not sure the State of Israel would still be there.”

Kamietsky said Jews in the Gaza settlements act as a buffer for those Jews living within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

He added that historically Gaza was often caught in the crossfire of war.

“Always in history, Gaza seemed more problematic,” he said, pointing to the fabled enemies of the Israelites, the seafaring Philistines, who controlled the area in biblical times.

The one period when Jews appeared to have sovereignty over Gaza was during the time of Hasmonean rule, when the Jewish King Yochanan — whose brother was Judah Maccabee — captured the area in 145 C.E.

Haggai Huberman — who has written extensively on the history of Jewish settlement in Gaza over the centuries and is writing a history of the Jews in Gush Katif — says that Jews have lived on and off in Gaza since the time of Roman rule, their settlement following a pattern of expulsion during times of war and conquest and return during more peaceful periods. The remains of an ancient synagogue found in Gaza date to around 508 C.E. Its mosaic floor, unearthed by archeologists, is now displayed in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

There reportedly was a large Jewish community living in the area when Muslims invaded in the seventh century. The Jews were noted for their skills as farmers and for making wine in their vast vineyards.

After the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, some Spanish and Portuguese Jews fled to Gaza. They abandoned the area when Napoleon’s army marched through but later returned.

When the first wave of Zionist settlers arrived in the region at the end of the 19th century, a group of 50 families moved to Gaza City. According to Huberman, they established good relations with local Arabs.

The settlers stayed until they were expelled in 1914 — along with Gaza’s entire Arab population — by the Ottoman Turks during World War I. The Jews returned in 1920. But tensions simmered with Arab and Jewish nationalism on the rise, and the relations with local Arabs began to sour, Huberman said.

The major Jewish presence in Gaza on the eve of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 was a kibbutz called Kfar Darom, set up in 1946. It was evacuated during the war and was among the first places to be resettled by Jews after 1967. Initially inhabited by Israeli soldiers from the Nahal brigade, it soon evolved into one of several civilian settlements established in the 1970s as the settler movement gained strength. Present-day debates over territory mirror those in the Torah, said Wazana of Hebrew University.

“Descriptions of borders reflect different ideologies even back then,” she said. “People have put words in the mouth of God even in biblical times. If you have an ideology, you will find the right words to support it.”

 

Hit Biblical Jackpot at Timna’s Mines


When you ascend the rose red pillars towering over the Arava desert, you hardly expect to look down upon the biblical Mishkan. But that’s exactly what you’ll find replicated at Israel’s picturesque Timna Park just outside Eilat.

Stretching across the desert near the Jordanian border and about 18 miles north of the Gulf of Eilat, Timna once played host to ancient Egyptians, Midianites and Amalekites. Today it welcomes visitors seeking to explore this unique nature reserve.

Timna Park is home to fascinating geological and archaeological finds such as the “mushroom” rock, stone arches and “King Solomon’s Pillars.” It also boasts the world’s oldest copper mines, ruins of work camps, workshops for copper smelting, mining shafts, smelting furnaces and even an Egyptian miners’ temple. In modern times, the now-defunct Israeli Timna Mining Co. operated there.

At the park’s main entrance, you can watch an audio-visual presentation in English. From there it’s a short drive toward the striking sandstone pillars, which are named after King Solomon — although no evidence confirms he ever ran the copper mines here. A Christian group in Germany developed the life-size model of the Mishkan that now stands at the base of the pillars and donated it to the park. Admission to the tent requires a nominal fee in addition to your park admission). If you’re interested in gaining a sense of the dimensions of the ancient tabernacle, it’s well worth it, though you’ll likely find it a bit kitschy.

Following biblical prescripts in Exodus, Chapters 25-30, a sacrificial altar is located in the foreground, complete with a ramp and a decorative minaret. A few feet away is a massive copper-colored washstand where the Kohanim, or high priests, washed before preparing offerings.

The nearby ohel moed, or tent of meeting, also follows biblical designs. Gold-painted cherubim decorate a series of panels that are woven from sky blue, dark red and crimson threads.

Unlike the original, this modern version of the Mishkan boasts a small generator to provide climate control for two plastic mannequins. One is dressed as a Kohen in his priestly attire and the other as his Levite assistant. There are also gold-painted models of the menorah, incense altar, bread and various utensils as described in the Torah. A cloth partition separates the main chamber from the smaller Holy of Holies, where a gold-painted model of the ark is decorated with two cherubim facing each other.

We were led through the exhibit by a Christian volunteer from the Southern United States, which made our experience a bit surreal.

Later we climbed the stairs cut into the massive pillars and took in the spectacular view of the tabernacle, the surrounding mountains and the huge desert plain. As we followed an easy footpath, we noticed Egyptian carvings in the flat walled surface of the mountain. And as we continued down another staircase, we arrived at the Miners Sanctuary of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of mining. Founded during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I (1318-1304 B.C.E.), this pagan temple served members of Egyptian mining expeditions and their local co-workers.

From there we drove a small distance to the “mushroom” rock. A combination of erosive forces of water and wind created this unusual pillar with a huge boulder resting atop it. The surrounding area is filled with ruins of copper mines, as well as small kernels of naturally occurring minerals. Sifting through the dirt, it’s easy to find real pieces of copper that have become oxidized with a pretty green patina.

Archaeologists who excavated Timna from 1959 to 1990 discovered that mining continued there from the late Neolithic period through the Middle Ages. Its heyday occurred during the reign of the pharaohs of the 14th-12th centuries B.C.E.

As the Egyptians lost control of the region in the middle of the 12th century B.C.E., they abandoned the Timna mines and the Hathor temple. Midianites remained there briefly, removing Egyptian imagery from the sanctuary in order to make it their own. Archaeologists discovered beautifully decorated Midianite pottery, metal jewelry and a copper snake with a gilded head reminiscent of the serpent described in Numbers 21:9.

Scholars believe the evidence of Timna’s sophisticated Midianite culture lends credence to the biblical narrative of the meeting of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, a high priest of Midian as mentioned in Exodus 18.

These are just a few of Timna’s highlights. Swimmers will want to visit the lovely man-made lake. The visitors’ center attracts guests of all ages.

And hikers will enjoy the abundant trails, camping privileges and expansive tranquility.

Timna Park is usually open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in summer and until 5 p.m. in winter. Even in spring, temperatures can be quite extreme, so remember to time your visit to avoid the blistering midday sun.

You’ll appreciate having a car to explore this massive park, although it’s not necessary for travelers in strong physical condition.

Guided tours are available. Camping is permitted by prior arrangement only. When you enter the park, you can rent a personal audio guide, fill souvenir bottles with colored sand and watch an audio-visual demonstration of ancient copper production.

For more information and to reserve a campsite visit timna-park.co.il. The writer’s trip was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

 

Kershaw Museum Plans Ethiopian Show


Timed to coincide with the Bowers Museum’s “Queen of Sheba” exhibit, the Kershaw Museum at Temple Beth El is organizing its own sampler exhibit of artworks by Jewish Ethiopians and Yemenites, who believe themselves to be the queen’s descendants.

The museum is seeking to borrow examples of Ethiopian and Yemenite art or artifacts from local collectors for possible exhibition, beginning Oct. 14. Descriptions and photos of the items should be submitted before Aug. 1 to Irene Breisacher, a volunteer at the Aliso Viejo synagogue, who is helping organize the exhibit.

“A lot of people went to Israel when the country was new and bought Yemenite art, but they didn’t tell you it was Yemenite,” said the museum’s director and founder, Norma Kershaw. “Ancient or modern, whatever people have” would be welcomed.

Typical works are silver Bible covers with fine filigree work. Ethiopian folk art is evident throughout Israel, produced by resettled Ethiopian Jews, who fled religious persecution and deteriorating economic conditions in their homeland en mass beginning in 1984.

Kershaw, who previously created exhibits on Chanukah and Israeli art with examples borrowed locally, hopes to fill three exhibit cases with at least 100 items. One person has offered Ethiopian costumes.

The exhibit’s logo is likely to be a pillow cover featuring King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which Kershaw obtained recently in Los Angeles from an importer promoting modern folk art by Ethiopian Israelis.

The Bowers’ Sheba exhibit will open Oct. 17 and will feature 100 treasures, some from the first century, chosen from the vast collections of the British Museum.

As part of an archeology trip to Yemen in 1985, Kershaw said she looked without success for scientific evidence to support the biblical legend. According to legend, Sheba ruled an ancient kingdom that prospered as a trading crossroads between Jerusalem and the Roman Empire; she was seduced and married to King Solomon around 950 B.C.E.

Potential lenders should contact Irene Briesacher at
(949) 837-1005 or by e-mail, irene@fea.net before Aug. 1.

The Sound


Jazz icon Dave Brubeck says he wanted to construct a musical bridge between Jews and blacks in composing "The Gates of Justice," a 50-minute oratorio celebrating the joint civil rights struggles of the two partners.

A new CD recording of "The Gates of Justice," will be released on Jan. 20, the day after the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The oratorio, featuring the Brubeck Trio, soloists and chorus, is based on biblical and Hebrew liturgical texts, Negro spirituals, quotations from Hillel’s writings and King’s speeches, with additional lyrics by Brubeck’s wife, Iola. It is scored for chorus, jazz trio, tenor and baritone.

Release of the record was announced by the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, which has launched an ambitious project to record the entire range of Jewish musical expression in America over the past 350 years.

During the next two years, 50 CDs with more than 600 first-time or newly recorded works of sacred and secular music will be released and distributed.

Brubeck composed "Gates of Justice" in 1969, when the bond that Jews and blacks had forged during the civil rights struggle were fraying and distrust between the two groups was rising.

To construct a bridge of brotherhood, Brubeck used "a complex of musical styles [jazz, rock, spirituals, traditional]…. Overlaying music from the Beatles, Chopin, Israeli, Mexican and Russian folksongs, Simon & Garfunkel, improvised jazz and rock, I wrote a collage of sounds for the climactic section, ‘The Lord Is Good.’"

Released on the Naxos American Classics label, the recording features the voices of bass baritone Kevin Deas, tenor Cantor Alberto Mizrahi and the Baltimore Choral Arts Society and Brass Ensemble, under conductor Russell Gloyd.

The Milken Archive is also releasing the recorded works of Bruce Adolphe on Jan. 20, which includes "Ladino Songs of Love and Suffering," excerpts from the opera "Mikhoels the Wise" and "Out of the Whirlwind," an oratorio on the Holocaust.

"The Gates of Justice" and other CDs in the series are priced at between $6.99-$7.99 each and can be ordered through www.milkenarchive.org, various online retailers and record stores carrying the Naxos Classics label.

Balance With ‘One Foot’


Has a question or statement about Israel ever caught you so off guard and tongue-tied that you wished you could just reach into your back pocket to pull out an answer? Well, now you can.

Dr. Mitchell G. Bard, author and executive director of the American-Israel Cooperative Enterprise, has written a pocket-size guide to the Middle East.

Titled "On One Foot," the resource is the brainchild of Los Angeles movie producer Tom Barad, who contacted Bard after observing the extreme anti-Israel sentiment last year on his son’s campus, UC Berkeley, and his niece’s campus, University of Colorado.

"I knew that kids were leaning on bars at parties and sitting in their dorm rooms and hearing people make claims and accuse Israel of certain misdeeds that they were completely unprepared to defend," Barad said. "I had a concept of a product they could pull out of their pocket at a moment’s notice and have three simple responses."

"On One Foot" is a more concise version of Bard’s previous book "Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict." Divided into eight sections, such as "Refugees," "Human Rights" and "Disputed Territories and Settlements," it includes various "myths" about the conflict, followed by his succinct factual and historical responses that dispute the myths.

Additionally, each section is introduced by a biblical passage — an element that Barad felt was an essential addition to the text.

"I felt it was important that at least laced into ‘On One Foot’ there would be something that would touch our tradition … a continued expression about why we’re in this struggle to begin with," Barad said. "How can you deal with your relationship to Israel if you’re completely ignoring your relationship to your religious heritage?"

The book’s title, "On One Foot," refers to the talmudic story of Hillel the Elder who is confronted by a man demanding to learn Torah. He wants the knowledge fast and demands to have it "while standing on one foot." Hillel responds, "What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Torah, all of it; the rest is commentary."

Bard further explains in the introduction of the book: "In our hyperspeed world, we, too, need to get some fast learning, often while we are on one foot, struggling for balance, seeking the truth."

Due to its brief nature, Bard recommends that "On One Foot" should be read as a reference guide. "It’s not necessarily the final word, but at least it is a brief word on the topic," Bard said. "I encourage everyone to do more in-depth research."

To order a copy of "On One Foot" ($10), call (310) 364-0909 or e-mail ononefoot@earthlink.net. Discounts are available for bulk orders and for organizations.

Keys to the ‘Kingdom’


"The ideals that form the moral compass of Western civilization, the belief that every human being has value, the belief that no one is above the law, the belief that how each of us treats our fellow human beings matters — these were all the gifts of the Jews."

So declares Carl Byker, producer-director of "Kingdom of David: The Saga of the Israelites," who has devoted four film hours to trace how a tiny, insignificant tribe exerted such an enormous impact on the history and moral outlook of the rest of the world.

"Kingdom of David" is an ambitious undertaking. It combines a history of the Israelites from the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C.E. to the Roman conquest of the first century C.E., together with a parallel track on the evolution of the Jewish religion and of its written and oral law.

The film balances drama with instruction by using actors to recreate the daily life and bloody battles of half a millennium, alternating with the commentary of noted scholars.

And bloody battles they were — by and against a succession of conquerors, from the Babylonians, Assyrians and Persians to the Greeks and Romans. The slaughter, often triggered by desperate Jewish revolts, left the Jews again and again at the edge of extinction, only to recreate themselves and rise again.

To its credit, the miniseries presents both the traditional biblical version of Jewish history, counterpointed by the findings of archaeologists and modern scholarship.

The latter proposes, for instance, that instead of the exodus from Egypt, the Israelites were natives of the land of Canaan, and lower-class natives at that. One scholar observes that by conceiving stories to define their identity, "It is as if the stories created the people, rather than the other way around."

Local scholars are prominent among the commentators, including Rabbis Elliot Dorff, Perry Netter and David Wolpe, author Jonathan Kirsch and professor Ziony Zevit.

Among the narrators are Keith David and actors Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Rene Auberjonois and F. Murray Abraham.

"Kingdom of David" may not represent the very deepest interpretation and analysis, but it is an accessible and lively survey of the genesis of our heritage.

The two-part miniseries will air at 9 p.m. on May 14 and 21 on KCET.

Dead Sea Scrolls Visit Santa Ana


An Iron Age stone fragment that bears the first known reference outside the Bible to King David will be among the works shown in October during "The Holy Land: David Roberts, Dead Sea Scrolls, House of David Inscription" at the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana. It will be a first for a U.S. institution.

The broken monument, or stele, is known as the House of David Inscription and is one of the most important artifacts in Israel. The ninth century B.C.E. fragment is a source of continuing controversy because it provides historical corroboration of a figure that some biblical scholars had argued was a mere legend. After 25 year toiling over an excavation in Dan, an ancient city of upper Galilee, an Israeli archaeologist spotted the ancient writing on a reused building stone used in a foundation wall in 1993. Since the finding, some skeptics have claimed the inscription a forgery.

The basalt stone is engraved with 13 lines of square Aramaic letters, a Semitic language also known as Old Hebrew, that are clear and unmistakable. It refers to a "king of Israel" and a king of the House of David. Archaeologists surmise this probably was a victory stele erected to commemorate a military victory of the king of Damascus over these two ancient enemies.

"Exhibiting it will settle the debate for many doubting Thomases," said Eric M. Meyers, a professor of Judaic studies and a biblical archaeologist at Duke University, who is one of the speakers featured during the Bowers’ exhibit which begins Oct. 6 and runs through Jan. 9, 2002.

"The artifact has its own integrity," Meyers said, though translation of the broken inscription remains a subject of interpretation by scholars.

The relic, along with two of the better-known Dead Sea Scrolls and a portion of a collection of rare original lithographs of biblical landscapes sketched in 1838 by Scottish-born artist David Roberts, are on loan from the Israel Museum. "We decided to participate in this exhibition, as we participate in other projects, as we believe it is important to share our treasures," said Silvia Rozenberg, the Israel Museum’s chief curator of archaeology.

Ran Boynter, who organized the exhibit’s blend of antiquities with "modern" lithography, sought the artifacts to provide a historic anchor for what had been expected to be the exhibit’s primary focus: one of the world’s best-preserved sets of Roberts’ hand-tinted lithographs. (Unfortunately, only 50 of the collection’s 123 prints will be on display. The Bowers lacks adequate exhibition space to display them all.)

The collection in its entirety was first exhibited in 1996 by the Duke University Museum of Arts, which acquired the set from St. Luke’s Gallery in Washington, D.C. Since then, the exhibition has traveled to New York’s American Bible Society.

The Roberts’ scenes follow the biblical account of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. They include depictions of every important historical site along the route, from the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre to an overview of Jerusalem. Even the caves in Qumran, on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea, are depicted a full century before the ruins were excavated and the scrolls discovered there between 1947 and 1956. The scrolls were all determined to have been written from 200 B.C.E. to 68 C.E. by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that was at odds with the religious establishment in Jerusalem.

When published in 1840s London, Roberts’ illustrations of monuments, architecture and people of Egypt and the Holy Land were hugely popular. In its day, the work provided the public with its first glimpse of biblical scenes and places known in name only. Today, Roberts’ work is sought after by collectors and is widely sold throughout the Middle East. Its interpretive perspective, though, is somewhat controversial by contemporary standards. While Roberts could distill the majestic sweep of landscapes, he also reveals an Anglo-European bias by negatively depicting the indigent population of Jews and Arabs, Meyers said.

The Bowers Museum is at 2002 North Main St. in Santa Ana. Exhibit tickets are: $12 for adults; $9 for seniors 62+ and students; $7 for children 5-18; and free for children under 5. Call (877) 250-8999 for more information.

Elijah


As the seder evening proceeds, my son wants to know one thing: "When will Elijah get here?"

From earliest childhood, he captures our imagination. We wait for him and wonder about him. We invite Elijah the prophet to visit us at our seder table, drink from his cup, and then move on, to visit the next seder, down the street or across the world.

But who is this magical, mysterious visitor — and what is he doing at our seder?

The biblical Elijah was a defender of God, a champion of monotheism who battled monarchs and religious leaders for the sake of God’s name. But it is his death — more than his life — that intrigues. The story, as told in the biblical book of Kings, tells us that Elijah does not pass away in the normal sense; instead, he is somehow "taken" by God, swooped up into heaven "in a whirlwind." After that, there is no mention of Elijah again until the very last words of the very last prophet, Malachi, which will be chanted in synagogues this Shabbat. That text tells us that Elijah will come and "reconcile parents with children and children with their parents" (Malachi 3:24).

The unifier of generations. The reconciler of parents and children. With such a near-impossible task in his portfolio, Elijah becomes something more than mortal, something larger than life. The prophet who will accomplish the miracle of warming the hearts of the generations to each other becomes endowed with even more qualities, with a range of universal to very personal implications. The figure of Elijah transforms into an invitation — to ultimate redemption, to peace and reconciliation in this pained world.

He is seen as the front-runner of the Messiah, the one who will announce that better days are coming for all of us. But his powers are not limited to that vast application. In talmudic literature, we see a figure who appears, inexplicably, in all variety of situations: a synagogue, a study hall, a rabbinic discussion. Always, Elijah acts as a wise man, a counselor to the rabbis, a dispenser of special insights.

But Elijah’s mysterious appearances do not stop there. Throughout our literature and lore, the prophet has been known to show up even in unlearned circles, in the streets, homes and businesses of the common man. Stories abound, granting him numerous cameo roles as mystery guest, miracle worker, guardian angel, agent of God. For thousands of years, mortals have encountered Elijah, realizing only after the fact that the quiet visitor, the beggar at the door, the magical man — often lining up help for the poor and suffering — was Elijah himself.

He is a richly textured and multidimensional character. Bringer of the Messiah and guardian of orphans. Many parts of a complex whole. But what’s he doing at our seder?

Jewish tradition imbues Elijah with the job of heralding the ultimate, worldly redemption. And Passover night, with all its sights, sounds, words and images, is a celebration of redemption. But there is even another reason for Elijah’s nocturnal visitation.

In the Talmud, when there are matters of debate that cannot be solved by mortals, Elijah is invoked: the Rabbis declare "Teiku," an acronym for words which mean "Elijah will someday come and resolve all difficulties and problems." Through Elijah, stalemates will end. Impossible questions will be answered. And the darkest recesses will be illuminated.

On Pesach, the night of redemption also is a night of questions. From "Ma Nishtana" through the song "Echad Mi Yodeia," the act of questioning, of pointing out problems and inconsistencies, defines the seder ritual. Questioning and redemption are two sides of the same coin. A sense of Israelite redemption can be experienced only through a process of rigorous asking, through hours of seeking.

"Where is he?" my son wants to know. "When is Elijah coming?" Perhaps he is here already, happy to fulfill his many tasks as long as we seek him with our questions.

Jewish Law Cited in Death Penalty Case


A man who will argue before the U.S. Supreme Court next year that his planned execution in Florida’s electric chair constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” can point to a 2,000-year-old Jewish law when he pleads his case.

A friend-of-the court brief filed last week in the Supreme Court by the National Jewish Commission on Law and Public Affairs, which advocates the position of the Orthodox community, and the American Section of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, backs Anthony Bryan’s position.

In citing only Jewish law and excluding any reference to previous Supreme Court decisions, the brief is believed to mark a first for America’s highest court.

The brief, written by the father-daughter team of Nathan and Alyza Lewin and reviewed by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon, delves into the biblical and talmudic texts relating to execution in Jewish law.

The brief does not address the legality of the death penalty itself, but it does refer to the same Jewish text that an interfaith group has used to justify abolishing the penalty.

Alyza Lewin said her father, who has argued 27 cases before the Supreme Court, decided to write the brief because he thought the court — especially Jewish justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer and Justice Antonin Scalia, who has expressed interest in talmudic law in the past — would find it interesting as they consider the case.

The brief supports Bryan’s contention that execution in an electric chair violates the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment.

It concludes that the Sanhedrin, or High Court, during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem rarely imposed the death penalty. However, when a death sentence was imposed, the rabbis said the execution must be done in a painless and quick manner with as little disfigurement as possible.

That apparently has not been the case with Florida’s electric chair, which is known as “Ol’ Sparky.”

During two executions in the 1990s,smoke and flames erupted from the headpieces worn by two convicted killers, and the smell of burning flesh reportedly filled the execution chamber, according to a Web site maintained by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism that details Supreme Court cases.

The last time the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether or not electrocution could be used as a method of punishment was in 1890.

In that case, the court ruled that the state of New York could use the electric chair instead of hanging death row inmates.

Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders have cited Jewish text — including the same passage the Lewins used — in their recently launched drive to abolish the death penalty.

Leaders of the National Jewish/Catholic Consultation, which is co-sponsored by the Reform and Conservative movements’ National Council of Synagogues and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, said they “acknowledge the theoretical possibility of a justifiable death penalty, since the scriptures mandate it for certain offenses.”

However, they concluded that the “the arguments offered in defense of the death penalty are less than persuasive in the face of the overwhelming mandate in both Jewish and Catholic traditions to respect the sanctity of human life.”

The group’s statement on the death penalty cites a passage of commentary from chapter 1, verse 10 of Mishnah Makkot that shows the rabbis were clearly uncomfortable with the death penalty.

“A Sanhedrin that puts one person to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: Or even once in 70 years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiba say: Had we been the Sanhedrin, none would ever have been put to death.”

However, the next sentence in that passage, which is not cited in the consultation’s statement but is noted in the Lewins’ brief, quotes Rabbi Simon ben Gamliel as saying, “Such an attitude would increase bloodshed in Israel,” signaling that he thought the death penalty was a good deterrent.

Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, acknowledged the statement by Rabbi Gamliel, saying “Halachah is ambivalent about the death penalty.”

“The sages really wrested with the application of the death penalty,” Pelavin said, adding that they wanted it to be imposed fairly.

The Jewish and Catholic leaders in their joint statement opposing the death penalty argue that the death penalty is not imposed fairly in the United States, saying that “suspiciously high percentages of those on death row are poor or people of color.”