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Sunday surprise, what can happen to music

Monday, May 13th, 2019

[ by Charles Cameron — Aretha to rabbinic wisdom via N’Orleans — five versions of the one great song — with a Mother’s Day greeting to all Marthas and all Marys ]
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Consider this song as sung by the awesome Aretha Franklin:

Here’s the story of Mary and Martha, as John’s Gospel tells it [John 40: 38-42]:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

You might say that Martha is the mother of service, and Mary the mother of devotion: they are equally celebrated in the church, yet Mary has the better part.

Wonderful, then, to encounter the same song as played and sung by N’Orleans’ own Theresa Andersson:

That’s the extraordinary creative re-creation I was wanting to share with you.

**

The Parting of the Waters [Exodus 14: 21-29]:

And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. And the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea upon the dry ground: and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

And the Egyptians pursued, and went in after them to the midst of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen. And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the Lord looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians, And took off their chariot wheels, that they drave them heavily: so that the Egyptians said, Let us flee from the face of Israel; for the Lord fighteth for them against the Egyptians.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea.

And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them. But the children of Israel walked upon dry land in the midst of the sea; and the waters were a wall unto them on their right hand, and on their left.

Wait: there’s a curious — and beautiful — counterpoint to this story in rabbinic lore:

The Talmud teaches us that on the night that the Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea, the first true moment of freedom for the Jews fleeing Egypt, God refused to hear the angels sing their prayers, and said “my creations are drowning in the sea, and you will sing songs?”

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Appendix:

We could also take — if you have time to join me — another path through that song.

The Fisk Jubilee Singers:

Mary’s there, but no Martha. That’s the earliest recording of the song that survives.

Then there’s The Swan Silvertones:

Mary don’t you weep — Martha don’t have to moan — it’s been decided that Mary of the song — who might be the sister of Moses — is, or is also, Mary the sister of Martha..

And let’s close with Take-6:

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Sources:

  • Jerry Zolten, “Oh Mary Don’t You Weep”–The Swan Silvertones (1959)
  • Wikipedia, Mary Don’t You Weep
  • Art & Theology, “Oh Mary, Don’t You Weep”: Death, Resurrection, and the New Exodus
  • Talmud for today?

    Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — two brief surface readings in Talmud, with a request for deeper understanding ]
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    As someone brought up with more of a focus on the Beatitudes than the Torah (I know, a huge question with many potential shades of answer opens up when I say that), I was not familiar with this Talmudic aphorism until the drone strikes that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and shortly thereafter his son Abdulrahman brought it to my attention:

    Ha-Ba le-Horgekha Hashkem le-Horgo is a teaching of increasing popularity among Israelis. Taken from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72:1, its most precise translation is: ‘If someone comes to kill you, get up early to kill him first.’

    I imagine it also has relevance to the (presumed) Israeli targeted killing of (eg) Imad Mughniyah..

    **

    Yesterday I came across a second such Talmudic phrase, based on Genesis 50:

    The sages derived a principle from this text. Mutar le-shanot mipnei ha-shalom: “It is permitted to tell an untruth (literally, “to change” the facts) for the sake of peace.” A white lie is permitted in Jewish law.

    This aphorism may be of interest to bear in mind in the context of Israeli peace negotiations — but more directly (and literally) “it is permitted to change the facts” carries a sidelong resemblance to the concepts of alt-facts & faux news currently infesting our politicians and media…

    Sources:

  • Jewish Quarterly, Kill him first
  • Rabbi Sacks, When is it Permitted to Tell a Lie?
  • ^^

    Knowing the Talmud to be deeper and richer than my own understanding by many orders of magnitude, I’d like to invite commentary on these or other aspects of Talmudic thought that may play, directly or indirectly, into national security issues.

    Religions clash over Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary

    Thursday, August 4th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — not that that should be news.. also Egypt, Israel, Saudi ]
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    Tablet DQ 600 Jerusalem bomb & covenant

    The bomber described in the upper panel, above, has a somewhat strained notion of revenge, it seems to me, though no doubt it makes sense to him. And you can tell that the button ad in the lower panel is from a Christian Messianic rather than a Jewish site, because it includes the spelling “God” rather than “HaShem” or “G*d”. And do those who have put the ad together truly suggest that God, G*d, HaShem has literally signed the covenant you’d be signing if you pressed the button?

    Muslims, with some history behind them, claim the Noble Sanctuary / Al-Aqsa as their third holiest site. Jews, with some history behind them, claim the Temple Mount – the same plateau — as their holiest site. Gershom Gorenberg in his book, The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount terms it “the most contested piece of real-estate on earth”.

    **

    Here’s an intriguing suggestion from Henry Siegman, The Truth About Jewish and Muslim Claims to Jerusalem, writing in the NYT back in 2000 CE —

    When the sages of the Talmud had irreconcilable differences over a point of theology or law, they decided to defer a decision to the Messiah, when he comes. It is a legal fiction referred to in the Talmud as teiku. Teiku isthe only solution to the issue of sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holiest site.

    Of course, that wouldn’t stop the current violence, nor solve the blockages in negotiations, nor hasten the coming of the messiah — but we can dream, can’t we?

    And PM Netanyahu of Israel recently greeted the visiting Egyptian foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry… while a Saudi general, Anwar Eshki, visited Israel with a posse of businessmen to talk up the Saudi peace Initiative.

    Véra Nabokov, preemptive strikes, and the Talmud

    Friday, May 20th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — i personally am better acquainted with “innocent until proven guilty”, but.. ]
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    Contemplating this:

    in light of the Talmud:

    Obviously if Véra Nabokov intended to protect her husband, she intended to shoot his would-be assassin right before the assassination attempt, not right after it.

    **

    If Someone Comes to Kill You, Rise Up and Kill Him First:

    Several days before the horror of September 11, 2001, Israel’s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres spoke to Conservative rabbis in an international conference call. Responding to a concern expressed about Israel’s policy of preemptive targeted killings of suspected terrorist leaders and the inevitable collateral damage, Mr. Peres defended the practice, citing an oft-quoted rabbinic legal dictum, “Im ba l’hargekha, hashkem l’hargo,” “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him (first).” The uproar last July by Israel-bashers and, more credibly, by the Israeli Jewish public after the Israeli army bombed a Gaza apartment building, inadvertently killing fourteen civilians, including nine children, along with arch-terrorist Salah Shehada, again focused attention on the issue of collateral damage in the implementation of “Im ba l’hargekha.”

    File under preemptive strikes, targeted killings, drones, Abdulrahman Al-Aulaqi, etc.

    Strange empathy

    Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — is empathy really so very strange these days? ]
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    When I saw this in one of my feeds this morning ..

    strange empathy at Qaddafi death

    I was strongly reminded of a remark I’ve mentioned before, found in the Talmud, Megillah 10b.

    R. Johanan is responding to the question “does the Holy One, blessed be He, rejoice in the downfall of the wicked” and his response references the drowning of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea — “For the horses of Pharaoh went with his chariots and his horsemen into the sea, and the LORD brought back the waters of the sea upon them” (Exodus 15.19) — as they pursued the people of Israel escaping on their way to the promised land:

    The angels of heaven wanted to sing the usual song, and the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them: My creatures are drowning in the sea, and you want to sing songs!

    I have, of course, cherry-picked this particular comment from 6,200 complex pages of Talmud, and while I’m not competent (British understatement) to offer you a rich context for this remark, I can at least offer you R. Elazar’s response:

    He Himself does not rejoice, but He makes others rejoice.


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