A Few of My Favorite Posts from Past 10 years

Recent Posts

Milk, Symbol of Sivan

x-posted at PunkTorah.org It’s traditional to eat dairy on Shavuot, which begins the first week of Sivan.  Because of this, we’re going to explore dairy for the month of Sivan. Let’s start with the separation of milk and meat in the Torah.  What it actually says is “don’t boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (לֹא-תְבַשֵּׁל גְּדִי, בַּחֲלֵב אִמּוֹ). This prohibition is found tthree times in the Torah: Ex 23:19,  Ex 34: 26 and Deut 14:21, which means — seriously, don’t freaking do this we’re not kidding around!!!   Most likely this was a prohibition on mixing life and death; milk being the source of life and death being meat, very literally in this case the meat of the kid goat. It was also, according to the Encyclopeida of Jewish Symbols, a common ancient pagan practice to give an offering of a kid boiled it it’s mother’s milk as part of religoius rites.  This is also a good reason that it was prohibited in ancient Jewish practice. Like so many things in Jewish tradition walls upon walls were built up to ensure we don’t accidentally make this mistake. So let’s play out this idea of dairy and milk as a potent symbol of life.  The name of one of the rivers in Eden was Hiddekel, which may have been a derivation of the Akkadian word for “Milky Way.”  Mother’s milk is our first food and the first food of all mammals. The tradition of eating dairy products on Shavuot seems incongruous, but I think the simplest answer is from our agricultural heritage.  This month would be when traditional cultures would begin milking cattle, goats, and sheep for the summer.  Jessica Prentice, in her book Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, points out that this is the time known as the Milk Moon for just this reason.  In The Rosh Hodesh Table: Foods at the New Moon by Judith Solomon, it’s pointed out that Chalav, the Hebrew word for cheese, has the numerical...

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Ask: Incense for Home Ritual

I received an email asking me about the use of incense for  Rosh Chodesh.  Normally, I would just reply to the email but the woman must have mis-entered her address when she filled out the contact form.   I figured if I post this to the site there was a chance she might see it. Question: I am looking for information on incense or smudging as part of early Jewish home or tribal life. Want to make it a part of Rosh Chodesh meetup but some might be skeptical. ~ D. Answer: Incense was definitely part of early Judaism.  The only records we have are what’s in the Torah as part of the Temple practice, but that does not relate to home use of incense.   Judaism has a long history of using aromatic spices in ritual.  If you look at the Havdalah ritual with spices, honestly — who is to say they weren’t burned at some point. It stands to reason that incense was used in homes, at least for its scent. And there are also many herbal practices that are documented in ancient Judaism. More commonly documented was anointing, which certainly provides a foundation for tinctures.   In Jeremiah, he rails against women offering cakes to the Queen of Heaven and burning offerings to her, which means that women were probably doing this as common practice. The question is whether or not you wish to reclaim this as a practice, or if Jeremiah’s denouncing of it turns you away. I have found some interesting resources to hopefully give you some guidance, but in the end – it’s really giong to be up to you if you find it “legit.” Even if some are skeptical, you may be able to introduce it. You may want to avoid using Hindu or Buddhist incense, as it it usually dedicated to a specific deity, and could be particularly objectionable to some. This seemed to be the most useful thing I dug up, and it’s from a source I really...

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Barley, Symbol of Iyyar

I’m not sure there can be a more potent symbol of the month of Iyyar than barley (שְׂעֹרָה).

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Haggadah – Symbol of Nisan

  OMG-D! It’s almost time for Passover! With Nisan upon us, preparations for our annual journey out of Mitzrayim begin in earnest.  Whether you take a traditional or modern approach, believe in G!d(dess) or not — Passover is a holiday pretty much all Jews can connect to.  There are so many things we could explore as the symbol of Nisan, but here at PeelaPom.com we’re going to explore the Haggadah as the ritual object of Nisan.  Over at PunkTorah, look for my article on Chametz as a the symbol of Nisan. “More than any other single ceremonial object or document, the Haggadah exemplifies the continuous evolution of the Jewish symbolic tradition.” ~ The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Patkin Teutsch (pg 66) One could argue that the haggadah is a compilation of symbols, but it in itself is a true expression of how one engages with Judaism.  For some, it’s the same each year.  You use the haggadah your parents used, cook what your parents used, and what you look forward to is the traditions being repeated.  But for so many, Passover is a chance to really make a personal and outward facing statement about what Judaism is to you, personally, by your choices in which haggadah you use. There are dozens and dozens of haggadot to choose from, which may be overwhelming for some.  What I think is amazing, is now how many people I know who in some way craft their own.  For most people it’s a cut and paste experience, where they take a sections from different haggadot to form their perfect (or close as they can) experience.  The first person I ever knew who did this was my sister, who is not the religious one in the family (That’s me, in case you were wondering).  The first time I saw one of my sister’s photocopied DIY haggadot, it blew me away.  It never occurred to me that you could do that in Judaism.  Even the parts...

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Hamantaschen: Symbol of Adar

Yes, it’s Adar and I decided to go exactly where you expected me to this month — Purim and Hamantaschen. But as opposed to doing a history of the fabled, and delicious, Purim cookie — I’m going to explore some of the mythic and ritual opportunities these humble cookies offer us.

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Guest Voice: Asher Responds to Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith

Question for Guest Voices Series 1,  from Ketzirah: RamBam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimomedes created his 13 Principles of Judaism in the late 12th or early 13th Century CE.  For the Orthodox, these are the defining principles of Jewish faith.  For those of us not Orthodox it opens a question.  What do you believe and how does it relate to traditional Judaism?  Write your Principles of Faith, no more than 13 concepts, that define Judaism as you understand it. You can respond directly to RamBam’s 13 Principles point-for-point, or use this as a jumping off point like I did. —————— When Ketzirah posed to me the question “what do you believe in” I felt the task would be quite daunting and my answers very ambiguous. However, using this as an exercise to explore my higher self was quite beneficial because I’ve never taken inventory of my beliefs nor have I dived into the precipice of apologetics as a Jew. This experience has been enlightening and I plan on trying this exercise with several of my clients. Ketzirah guided me to structure my beliefs around Rambam’s Thirteen Principles. I went to several websites that offered their interpretation of the Rambam’s Thirteen Principles to gain a better understanding of them. At first glance I felt like I wanted to scrap them all-together. Then I realized that instead of commenting on his principles from my point of view I would try re-interpreting each principle and re-writing it has how I understood them. What’s more is that instead of relying on someone else’s interpretation to guide me I decided to follow my heart and see where it would lead me. I’ve combined several of the principles into a single thought but I’ve included the number of which principle my thoughts were referencing. Principles 1-4 & 10: Everything is Energy. I believe in the existence of a Source of all that has been manifested. I believe that everything we call reality including ourselves is all a thought or will in the mind of this Source. Without the Source continually willing us into being we would not exist. I...

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Cups, the Symbol of Shevat

Shevat generally aligns with the months of January/February on the secular calendar The month of Shevat, and Tu b’Shevat are our chance to rebalance ourselves and our energy before the season of real growing begins. ~ from Shevat 5769 I bet you expected this month’s symbol to be all about trees and planting of trees — but that’s so easy to find (and I’ll be writing about that for PunkTorah)! Here at Peeling a Pomegranate we’re going to talk about drinking and drinking vessels! How did I get to cups (כוסות) and the drinking of wine as the practice which symbolizes the month of Shevat. It was an easier leap than you might think. While the Tu B’Shevat seder may not be as ancient a practice as the Passover Seder, it has grown and grown in awareness and popularity. While both also have four cups of wine, the Tu b’Shevat seder is even more focused around the drinking of these cups than Passover is. It also aligns well with the astrological sign of the month, the bucket or vessel. So cups is our object for the month and the act of blessing and drinking a cup of wine, is our action. Cups, symbolically across many cultures, are seen as receptive, feminine symbols.  Their shape alone makes this an obvious association, and the word is actually feminine in Hebrew (cup = כּוֹס, cups = כֹסוֹת). Cups seem, understandably, to also take on the association of whatever they are holding.   In Judaism they have a strong association with life and celebration, because those are the most common associations of wine in Judaism.  In Tarot they are associated with emotions, and in European heraldry they are closely associated with fertility and of course Communion and the Holy Grail.  In Judaism we also immediately associate them with the Sabbath, Passover, Elijah, Miriam, and often Joseph (Gen 44:2, goblet = גְּבִיעִי). They are also, in Jewish tradition, symbols of good or bad fortune (i.e. “my cup runneth over”). Judaism...

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Guest Voice: Aron Responds to Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith

Question for Guest Voices  Series 1,  from Ketzirah: RamBam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimomedes created his 13 Principles of Judaism in the late 12th or early 13th Century CE.  For the Orthodox, these are the defining principles of Jewish faith.  For those of us not Orthodox it opens a question.  What do you believe and how does it relate to traditional Judaism?  Write your Principles of Faith, no more than 13 concepts, that define Judaism as you understand it. You can respond directly to RamBam’s 13 Principles point-for-point, or use this as a jumping off point like I did. —————– Interestingly enough, although I reject most of  Rambam’s 13 principles, what I do agree with on some level is his notion of unity. That’s the heart of my own principles of life, although I have come to them intellectually as well as intuitively. From this I conclude much like Hillel, they not doing what is hateful to others allows us to discover our ethics. Being sensitive to the harm caused by ourselves and others allows us to be better people. This is a result of living in a world that’s interconnected. When we deny that connection, either intellectually, emotionally or spirituality we shut ourselves off.  I believe at this point that we become most likely to cause great harm to the other beings in the world. I don’t believe this requires some external authority to conclude, but something we can recognize as mature adults. On the other hand, I do recognize these core principles of Classic Judaism and how Rambam must assert that to argue its values, but I have a tough time asserting faith in most of these statements beyond being cultural contexts. My own cultural context comes out of the value of using the scientific method as a tool for evaluating the the world as well as its own limitations. I approach the Torah and many of its principles as mythology in a positive sense of it, as stories Jews tell each other as a way to understand the past and future, even if we come to our own conclusions otherwise...

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Why Hanukkah is Important

Light your menorah with pride. Think about what re-dedicating yourself to Judaism means to you. And I mean you, not what someone else tells you it means. We are a tribe, and think in “we” but sometimes we have to think what “we” means to “me.”

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Candles: Symbol of Tevet

When you look at the themes surrounding Tevet it’s all about vision,clear sight, and breaking through darkness. With this in mind, we turn to the practice of lighting candles in Judaism for our Tevet focus.

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