American Jewish World Service does important work, so when a site they built for educators and learners to access Jewish sourcetexts on social justice and other important activities disappeared overnight due to what appeared to be a domain registration lapse, I was motivated to write an essay on how organizations can appreciate their websites as more than “proprietary and Copyrighted marketing assets to better leverage their brand.” eJewishPhilanthropy, a well-read blog popular among Jewish professionals published it this morning. Here’s a snippet:
All Internet resources should be considered ephemeral resources by the unstable nature of the medium that is their technological base. Digital archivists know this. It’s why backups are so critical. Open-source advocates know this too. For creative work to remain useful (and not merely backed-up), underlying code and the content it serves need to be shared in a way that might attract their redistribution and reuse.
That way, [...]
Last year, I was interviewed by Alan Jacobs for the Atlantic Magazine on the potential and promise of an open source Judaism. There I summarized the issue at hand,
The essential problem is how to keep a collaborative project like Judaism culturally vital, in an age when the creative work of participants in the project — prayers, translations, commentaries, songs, etc. — are immediately restricted from creative reuse by “All Rights Reserved” copyright. The fact is that broad creative engagement in collaborative projects isn’t only limited by technological forces: these can be and have been overcome. They are limited by legal forces that assume creatives have only a proprietary interest in their work.
This year I was privileged to write an essay for the Sova Project, a project that is considering the structures and processes of a sustainable society through the lens of biblical, prophetic, and rabbinic [...]
A Midrash of the Jews of Yemen dating from the 13th century provides the following explanation for the mystery of the four-branched shin. There is one “head” for each of the following facets: cogitation, imagination, memory, and estimation.[ref]paraphrasing Midrash haBeur, translated in Yemenite Midrash: Philosophical Commentaries on the Torah, edited by Y. Tzvi Langermann, p. 242.[/ref] Additionally, the midrash provides the following astrological explanation for the three and the four branched shin appearing together on the tefillin shel rosh: together their seven heads make up the seven visible wandering stars (i.e., the planets), whose celestial powers in Jewish cosmology must have one root in the mind of G!d. [...]
Over at the Open Siddur Project, I was looking for a way that users sharing their work could automatically select between any of the three free/libre compatible licenses offered by the Creative Commons. Well known among free-culture activists, not all Creative Commons licenses are “free” according to the Free Software Foundation’s definition of free. Our project only offers users a choice of the three licenses which are compatible with one another and are agreeable with the FSF definition, namely, the Creative Commons Attribution license (CC-BY), the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA), and the Creative Commons Zero, a Public Domain dedication (CC0).
Our site, opensiddur.org, currently uses WordPress as our Content Management System. WordPress has something like a bazillion third-party plugins, which is nice enough but often hard to locate. I went about seeking out a plugin that might suffice. Having the freedom to tweak or improve software is [...]
Kudos to Nigel Savage for making public his reply to Ben Dreyfus and others concerning Ḥazon’s orthography of ט״וּ בִּשְׁבַט as Tu B’Shvat rather than Tu biShvat. Given the seriousness of the environmental and food justice issues that Tu biShvat gives voice to, it’s important to recognize that this earnest if seemingly comical debate isn’t really about romanization of Hebrew anymore. It’s a question about Siaḥ (שִׂיחַ — discourse), the roles of Jewish education, and the goals of Jewish educators.
Nigel Savage and Ben Dreyfus’s holy debate reminds me of the kind of Talmudic argument where two or more mitzvot are set in conflict with one another.
On the one hand, there’s the import of our mission: stalling or reversing global climate change in the face of massive indifference and well-healed opposition using our religious tools, rituals, and celebrations as an important medium to for expanding environmental awareness (meanwhile also [...]
Petru Moldovan writes, “Idel notices that in “Ghet ha-Îemot,” Abulafia had used for the first time the gematria combination: Elohim = ha-Teva. To Abulafia, Elohim is the act of Creation, and not its agent, as this name is the same with nature, and the gematria combination should not be understood as a simple linguistic pun, but as a way of considering the identity of nature with the divine, just as Maimonides had suggested it in the “Guide.” [...]
Jeff Anshalem writes, “On Shabbat Ḥol Hamoed Sukkot we read of the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai, seemingly a strange choice for Sukkot, but the Maor VeShamesh explains what’s common to both: unity. Unity between us, symbolized by the joining together of the Four Species (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12), evokes unity between us and G!d.” [...]
Image: “Mann mit Kalb” (1963) by Gabriele Waldert (License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)
One of the most delightful things I learned about Judaism growing up was that rabbinic Judaism had not one, but four new year holidays (according to the Mishnah Seder Moed 1:1). There’s the well known and widely celebrated Rosh Hashanah La’Olam — for the World — an annual commitment to maintaining and sustaining creation through the beneficial work of our activities, and through repairing ourselves and our manifold relationships within the work of creation. (This occurs on Rosh Ḥodesh Tishrei.) There’s the fairly obscure Rosh Hashana La’Melakhim — for Kings — an annual commitment to our calendar founded upon a society of justice. (This occurs on Rosh Ḥodesh Nissan.)
I was overjoyed to learn we had a new year day for trees — TREES! — they had their own special day — Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot (on Rosh [...]
While working on some curriculum for the Teva Learning Alliance this summer, I was introduced to the Tseno Ureno, an amazing medieval commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Yaakov ben Yitsḥak Ashkenazi (1550-1625). Here’s Rabbi Yaakov Ashkenazi on Deuteronomy 20:19 — כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה. This is the verse from which the mitzvah of bal tashḥit is derived and directly gives voice to the Jewish value of Lo Tashḥit — not destroying. He writes,
“[The Torah compares humans to trees] because, like humans, trees have the power to grow. And as humans have children, so trees bear fruit. And when a human is hurt, cries of pain are heard throughout the world, so when a tree is chopped down, its cries are heard throughout the world.” from Tseno Ur’eno (258b).
Here’s the passage from the Tseno Ureno in it’s original Yiddish in the old mashkit font.
Image: Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) mycelium growing in a petri dish on coffee grounds by Tobi Kellner (License: CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported)
I want to share one of the most beautiful Jewish ecology quotes I learned while reading through the curricular material while teaching at Teva Learning Center in (now Teva Learning Alliance) in the fall of 2010. The quote:
The whole world of humans, animals, fish, and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air, and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny.
It was so beautiful I wanted to do some fact-checking to determine if this was a literal or a more creative translation and also to understand its context. Some detective work was in order. The source on the sheet I found it said it was from Tanna Debe Eliyahu, an early [...]