Disability and Divine Power: Reading Julia Watts Belser (December 21, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, 136 Magazine Street, Cambridge, MA  – December 21, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

Banner for event has a painting of an ecstatic person in red, possibly flaming, dress whirling in a blue wheel chair. Caption is
“Ezekiel’s vision split open my own imagination. Hearing those words chanted, I felt a jolt of recognition, an intimate familiarity. I thought: God has wheels!”
from “God on Wheels—Disability and Jewish Feminist Theology”
by Julia Watts Belser in Tikkun 2014
Illustration from the article: “Whirlwheel” by Olivia Wise. [end of caption]

Article can be found here via subscription or access through a library:  http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/god-on-wheels

Join us for an introduction by Penina Weinberg to the work of Julia Watts Belser on disability studies, and a relevant Talmud text study with Ruach HaYam member Ariel Cohen. Many of us wish for and hope for a world that will be accessible to all, and accepting of all. But there is much more. As Belser writes: “I fear that by conceptualizing disability primarily as an access problem to be solved, we fail to invite in the vibrant, transgressive potential of disability culture: of a ‘crip’ sensibility that celebrates disability as a way of life, a radically different way of moving through the world.” The notion of celebrating a vibrant and transrgessive culture will be familiar to queer Jews who wish to participate in celebration, not just tolerance.

Julia Watts Belser, whose work we will read, is an Associate Professor of Jewish Studies in the Theology Department at Georgetown University, with expertise in rabbinic literature and Jewish feminist ethics, with a focus on gender, sexuality, and disability studies. She is the author of Power, Ethics and Ecology in Jewish Late Antiquity: Rabbinic Responses to Drought and Disaster (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem (Oxford UniversityBar Press, 2017).

Barb Ariel Cohen is the Chief Scientific Officer of Arex Life Sciences, a biotech startup enabling physicians to more successfully treat male infertility. Ariel has been studying for the past 20 years with her rebbe Rabbi Alan Ullman, including a small private study group which he took to Israel.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and webmaster at her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

Gendered in the image of God: The first human (August 17, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, 136 Magazine Street, Cambridge, MA  – August 17, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

In speaking of the creation, the Kabbalists call the first human du-partzufin, a Greek term meaning two visages, ie two faces on one body, not two bodies. They describe the divine and human each as bi-sexual. They say that both genders are present in all humans and that this is the image of the divine.
What does that actually mean? How does non-binary fit into this idea?
We will read from Genesis and from the Kabbalists in an effort to see the biblical story of the creation in a new light, and to make greater sense of our own gender journeys.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and webmaster at her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

Women’s Voices in the Talmud (July 13, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop @ Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
July 31, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Jonah P

We’re very excited to have guest teacher Jonah P back for a second year! Don’t miss this opportunity!

The Talmud was the project of hundreds of male rabbis over many generations. When and where do women’s voices appear? Who are the female characters who elbow their way into the stories and legal cases? What wisdom did they leave us with? In this session, we will listen to these women’s voices and attempt to understand how their experiences influenced the legal system of their day and shaped the wisdom of the Talmud.

This will be a text learning session which is open to any learning background and friendly to beginners (English translations provided for everything).

About the facilitator: Jonah P. has been reveling in the intersection of queer/trans and Judaism since becoming active in the Boston Jewish community in 2011. He recently completed a year of learning at Yeshivat Hadar and is currently learning in Jerusalem.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Sex of the Soul: Gendered in the Image of God (June 22, 2017)

The text which we will look at after reviewing the place of Mopsik’s work in the history of the Kabbalah is here:       Mopsik Sex of the Soul pp 46-52

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
June 22, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

We will dip one toenail into Charles Mopsik’s book: Sex of the Soul: The Vicissitudes of Sexual Difference in the Kabbalah. Mopsik was a modern scholar of Kabbalah. With him we will re-visit the creation of humans in the image of God and explore what it means, according to the kabbalists, for the soul to be both male and female in every human. This will not be a study in depth, but will open a tiny peep hole into an amazing world of thought. Mopsik warns us that we cannot pull this knowledge into modern reality, but it will illuminate our own thinking on the questions of gender.

“Clearly it is out of the question to draw a direct lesson from these classic texts and apply them to modern reality… Nevertheless, even though there is no way of equating them, the parallels are thought-provoking and can guide attempts to find solutions to the problems raised… The religious recognition and acceptance of polymorphism in human sexual identity, bisexuality, the acknowledgement of a gulf between external gender and ontological real gender, the existence of parents who are basically of the same gender, and a complex economy of desire differing vastly from so-called natural instinct, all demonstrate the flexibility of kabbalistic mystical belief as it attempted to grapple with the infinite variety of human existence.”

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

Pre-Shavuot Shabbat and Potluck Lunch and Learn: RUTH (May 20, 2017)

Join Ruach HaYam on March 20, 2017, for a Saturday morning Shabbat service followed by potluck lunch and learn on Ruth.   Get ready for Shavuot! Arrive at 9:30am to schmooze and help set up. Service will begin at 10am.

For the potluck please bring veggie/dairy food and your ideas on Ruth.

We worship without a mechitza, and with acoustic music only. We have our own siddur. Our services and study sessions are warm, meaningful, collaborative, lead to deepening of friendships, and are simply fabulous.

Saul and the Necromancer of Endor (April 20, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
April 20, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

King Saul’s visit to the necromancer of Endor (1 Kings 28) introduces us to man who is at the end of his political life but hoping for saving words from beyond the grave. Saul hopes the necromancer will bring up the ghost of Samuel to help him. We will look at what drives Saul politically to seek out the necromancer, and at how the woman’s wizardry bypasses the traditional authority structure. Ruach HaYam member Sarah Pasternak will lead us in a discussion of Saul’s struggle with his own mortality and forthcoming irrelevance (with the regime change to David). This story has power politics, confrontation with mortality, and the story of a woman who defies the king’s decree.

It turns out that the Kabbalist Hayyim Vital, writing at the end of the 16th century, discussed the women diviners of his day in great detail, some of whom commanded respect and obedience from great rabbis of the day. The modern scholar J.H. Chajes sums up his essay about Vital and the diviners thus: “Their authority was not based on their scholarship or communal post… Their commanding voices were heard because they were benign witches, expert diviners, vivid dreamers, acute dream interpreters, and socially conscious prophets.” In our class, along with examining Saul’s motivations, we will ponder Chajes’ study in conjunction with the comments of Rabbi Geela Rayzel Raphael quoted on the event banner.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

Ki Tisa as a Song of Longing (Mar 16, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
March 16, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

Parashat Ki Tisa is a Song of both longing and danger. First, the longing. Previous to our parsha, Moses has gone up to the top of Mount Sinai, entering the cloud of God’s presence, to remain with God for 40 days (Ex 24:18). While Moses is up on Mount Sinai encountering the Divine, the children of Israel wait expectantly at the foot of Mount Sinai for Moses to return with God’s prescription for a holy life.

Now the period of time is coming to an end and the people are restless, “for this Moshe, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” (Ex 32.1 Everett Fox translation). They go to Aaron, brother of Moses, and say to him, “Make us a god who will go before us!” (Ex 32.1 Everett Fox translation). There follows the well-known story of the creation of the golden calf from the gold rings of the people, and of the people eating, drinking, and dancing wildly around their creation.

I would like to read the creation of the golden calf as the story of people who are yearning for God’s presence, and who do the best they can in their circumstances to fill that longing. But there is a problem with this reading, and that is where the danger comes it. Although Moses successfully pleads with God not to destroy the people entirely (Ex. 32:31-34), nevertheless God sends a plague upon the people (Ex. 32:35). Moses himself orders the Levites to assassinate 3,000 of the Israelites. (Ex. 32:26-28). If the people were expressing longing for God, how do we understand a world in which they can be punished for doing so?

We can illuminate the Exodus text by following the ancient rabbinic tradition of reading Torah intertextually with Song of Songs. But fair warning, the Song illuminates the danger as well as the longing.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

Tziporah and the Awesome Fusion of Aaron and Moses (Feb 16, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
February 16, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

There is a mysterious and awe-filled encounter between YHVH and Moses, as Moses returns from Midian to Egypt to undertake the deliverence of the Hebrew slaves from Pharaoh (Exodus 4:24-27). It appears that YHVH seeks to kill Moses and that Moses’ wife Tziporah, a Midianite priestess with overtones of Osiris, performs a magical and life-saving circumcision. Immediately afterwords, YHVH sends Aaron from Egpyt to join Moses in the wilderness. Aaron meets Moses and kisses him. From now on, Aaron will “speak Hebrew” for Moses. Moses is both Hebrew and Egyptian and stuggles to come to terms with his existence as a hybrid being. Tziporah’s magical/priestly ritual forms a crucible for Moses, enabling him to essentially fuse with Aaron.

We will do a close reading of the text to uncover interesting implications for queer identity and for identity fusion, transformation, or hybridization. We will look at issues of ethnic as well as gender identity (is Moses really a nursemaid? do all the 5 women who birthed him continue to live within him?). As suggested by Penina’s study partner in preparing this class, Noach Dzmura (thank you Noach for all the great ideas!), the closest modern analogy may well be the cartoon character Steven Universe. Our friend Ezra Rose Greenfield has graciously agreed to give us an introduction to the hybrid/fushion personas of Steven Universe and his friends.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

A True Leader – Moses and the Five Women who Birthed Him (Jan 19, 2017)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
January 19, 2017.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

Join us for a queer look at Moses and the five powerful women of Exodus 1-2 who birthed/midwifed/nurtured the great leader of the Hebrew people. Despite contrary decrees by the powerful Pharaoh of Egypt, the women used their wits to gain power when they lacked authority. They launched Moses as a prophet and leader, and Miriam became a prophet herself. At the end of the book of Exodus, we will see that their efforts led to another quintuplet of women who changed their world: the daughters of Zelophehad – Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah.

As we sit upon the eve of destruction, what can we learn about faith, resistance, persistance, and feminine and non-elite power, by a deep reading of this story?

This class will not discuss current events, but the universal questions which arise in the study will resonate and perhaps be useful. My approach to Torah is not, how can we make this verse or that speak to a current event? Rather, we collectively unpack and seek to understand and own the texts; we bring the text to our selves, and our selves to the texts. Thereby each of us can increase our knowledge of human and divine nature, and with deeper understanding, strengthen our selves for our various forms of life work.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.

Genesis: Creation, Destruction, and Re-Birth (Dec 15, 2016)

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Ruach HaYam Workshop at Congregation Eitz Chayim, Cambridge, MA
December 15, 2016.  See end of post for logistics.

This study is led by Penina Weinberg.

Inherent in the watery story of creation is the deluge – the flood which God will bring to wipe out God’s act of creation. In the first six chapters of the Hebrew Bible, humanity is birthed, drowned and rescued. From “God’s spirit glided over the face of the waters, and God said ‘Let there be light.’” (Gen 1:2-3) to “YHVH regretted having made human beings on earth and was heartsick. So YHVH thought: ‘I will wipe the humans whom I have created from off the face of the earth.’” (Gen 6:6-7) And then – there is Noach: “A righteous man in his generation,” (Gen 6:9) who carries the small family and ark full of animals to dry land and a new future.

We will study Genesis 1-6, six chapters in which the entire Torah is written. We will seek guidance from Aviva Zornberg and the Sefat Emet to understand why God creates this doomed creature. As Zornberg discusses (citing Rashi), creating humans means that wicked beings will emerge, but if humans are not created, how will the righteous (tsaddikim) arise? Along the way, we will consider the gender identity of the human (s) created in the image of the divine.

This class will not discuss current events, but the universal questions which arise in the study will resonate and perhaps be useful. My approach to Torah is not, how can we make this verse or that speak to a current event? Rather, we collectively unpack and seek to understand and own the texts; we bring the text to our selves, and our selves to the texts. Thereby each of us can increase our knowledge of human and divine nature, and with deeper understanding, strengthen our selves for our various forms of life work.

  • Ruach HaYam study sessions provide a queer Jewish look at text, but are open to any learning or faith background and friendly to beginners.
  • Study starts promptly at 7:15 pm. However we open the doors at 6:45 for schmoozing. Feel free to bring your own veggie snack for the early part.
  • A parking consideration is in effect for the three blocks around EC during all regularly scheduled events.  It’s a good idea to put a note in the windshield that you are attending an event at EC.
  • Accessibility information: all gender/accessible bathrooms, entry ramp.

Penina Weinberg is an independent Hebrew bible scholar whose study and teaching focus on the intersection of power, politics and gender in the Hebrew Bible. She has run workshops for Nehirim and Keshet and has been teaching Hebrew bible for 10 years. She has written in Tikkun, founded the group Ruach HaYam and is president emerita and chair of various committees in her synagogue. Penina is a mother and grandmother.