Nobody asked me any difficult questions at the Friday night service I was leading, so I got away in good time and was lucky with travel and got home a little before midnight. Admittedly, some of my talking to jack time happened between then and actually going to bed. But I managed to get up slightly under 8 hours later in order to go to the Saturday morning service in my home community, Beth Shalom.
I keep telling people that Beth Shalom are German and therefore much more punctual than a stereotypical Jewish community, but this weekend there was basically no-one there when I arrived five minutes before the start of the service. As I was waiting outside for cjwatson an Israeli woman I'd never met came up and asked me if the building was a synagogue, and whether I could help her to find someone to perform a circumcision. I told her there was probably someone locally but I didn't know the details, and she declined to come into the synagogue and look for a more knowledgeable person.
It turned out to be cow Shabbat, when there are two Torah readings about cows: the golden calf and the red heifer. (The two cow readings don't always go together exactly for complicated calendrical reasons, but this year we had both.) Since I was one of the only people who arrived on time, I was called up for the third section of the Torah reading, which in our case is the extra reading from Numbers as we do the triennial cycle, so it was my job to read the translation. This led to someone (erroneously) assuming that I would have a good knowledge of what I'd just read, so after the service I found myself being quizzed about it! The first question was the meaning of the word heifer, which I could cope with, but that was followed up with a request for an explanation of how the purifying red heifer makes those who handle the sacrifice impure. At least I could report that some of the greatest scholars in Jewish history were also confused by this, and regarded it as an example of why we should always obey God's law even if we can't understand the reasons.
JLK's sermon was really insightful and one of those that leave you feeling slightly pummelled. She started by stating that there are four million children in the UK living in poverty, or just under a third of all British children. She said she'd come back to the point, but actually didn't, she just let it hover there while she talked Torah interpretation. The Israelites were traumatized by their recent slavery, and couldn't really emotionally understand that when Moses left them, he really would come back, because they'd been generations without anybody reliably keeping commitments to them. Like her own granddaughter, who at three was really destabilized by her new sister being born a month prematurely, so that her mother disappeared into hospital unexpectedly; now the older girl has lost the ability to trust that when her mother leaves the room she will in fact come back, or when she needs to pay attention to the baby she still loves the sibling. Here, the golden calf may have been an image of Hathor, the Egyptian mother goddess associated with cows and governing joy and pleasure. Comfort and kindness, in the face of yet another traumatic loss.
At the same time, making the golden calf, however traumatized the children of Israel may have been, was unarguably a completely terrible sin. A betrayal of their brand new commitment to keep the commandments [the reason Moses was away on Mount Sinai was precisely to receive the Tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them]. And therefore a betrayal of their relationship with God. There's a connection here with the woman accused of adultery in Numbers because both the sinful Israelites and the accused woman are made to drink water with ground up stuff in it. Often when God is described as jealous, it's a metaphor about how terrible it is when women are sexual and don't behave like the obedient property of their husbands, but if you look at jealousy on a psychological level, it's really about God being as it were insecure, not able to trust in the faithfulness or the love of the beloved people.
This was about the point where I started holding C's hand extra tightly, as she went on to talk about forgiveness in a relationship context. When there has been betrayal but you still love eachother and want to make the relationship work, you can't just pretend it didn't happen, you have to reestablish trust, and it's painful and hard. The anger of the betrayed party is real, and the trauma and suffering that led to the cheating person's problems are real too, and you can't just handwave them away. Moses pleads for God's forgiveness when God is angry with the people, but Moses himself is also furiously angry and breaks the stone Tablets, God's own writing, when he sees what his people have done.
So, anyway. I wanted to ask more questions after the service (particularly about some allusions to midrash that sounded a bit original sin like) but ended up helping the congregant grapple with the red heifer, and talking to a visitor applying for an academic job in Cambridge, and didn't quite get the chance. jack says that it's not surprising people always expect me to know stuff, because I quite often do, especially about religion, but this weekend contained a surprising amount of, random strangers ask Liv complicated questions.
And people who actually know me, too. cjwatson and I had a very pleasant lunch at a Chinese place called @72 on Regent Street, in spite of slight kashrut fail because "rice with pickled cabbage" turns out to include pork and shellfish, but the rest of the dishes were a lot more interesting than the default anglo-Chinese fare. We detoured home via the Haymakers for tasty cider and squeezing in a bit more talking. Judith's response to being told we're leaving for church in a few minutes is to start getting ready, but Andreas' was to get involved in a game involving land and sea animals, and he needed my advice on how to classify edge cases like penguins. Also I was required to play the role of the wind to help keep said penguins cool... But anyway we made it to church only a couple of minutes late, and I felt silly for saying that my shul starts punctually, when at two minutes past 6 the church was completely full and the service well under way.
Their Gospel reading was this story about Jesus' interaction with a Samaritan woman, completely new to me. So the priest was explaining about Jews and Samaritans, not in much detail, he was focusing on explaining the actual story. So of course I got asked about what the deal was with Samaritans, and tried my best to explain. Which required diverting into reassurance that I do not consider Christians in any way equivalent to Samaritans.
Just for the maximum contrast, Ghoti and I went straight from church to her friend's metal gig. The band, Lower Than Bones, were playing a charity gig in a fairly poky little pub, Corner House. It was almost a time travelling experience, this hot, crowded, incredibly loud pub full of metal fans of all ages. In the middle of it we heard of the death of Chuck Berry, because it's not actually the 80s but rather 2017 where news travels instantly, even to the middle of a gig. Lower Than Bones mostly did covers, but a few of their original songs which are very much traditional metal of a sort I get on well with. We bounced and headbanged and danced to Creeping death, of all things, and left for home a little after midnight, pleasantly tired and filled up with the atavistic sensory experience of that kind of live act.
That added up to quite a lot of cycling, a couple of miles to synagogue, and a bit of a detour back to Arbury via Regent Street and the Haymakers, a mile to church and a mile back, and then all the way over to Newmarket Road for the gig and back, I think close to three miles each way. I'm pretty sure that's the most cycling I've ever done in one day, and it felt quite manageable, though certainly I was tired by the time I fell into bed at about 1 am.
So I spent most of Sunday sleeping, but I did wake up enough to go to the cinema to see Beauty and the Beast with jack, the OSOs and their younger children. If you know that it's a live action remake of the classic Disney cartoon, you know pretty much all there is to know about it; they've really changed very little. The CGI animated furniture was a lot less cute than the hand-animated originals, whereas I thought the CGI Beast worked a lot better than his cartoon equivalent. I am not sure about Emma Watson's casting as Belle; I mean, she's great, and I'm all in favour of how she's moving on from her childhood-defining role as Hermione, but somehow she didn't quite work as the lead in B&tB. As a kid I loved Belle-the-bookworm, because of course I did, but Watson's version seems not so much an outsider as a snob, who thinks she's better than everybody else because she's clever, because she was born in Paris and they're just provincial. Though on the positive side the development of her relationship with the Beast seemed more real, and less just magical true love.
Also, I absolutely share the annoyance that's been all over the internet about Disney making a grand announcement that they're so progressive for making LeFou gay. And not just gay, but "the first" gay character, which means that by voice-of-god they're declaring the obviously bi Lumière straight. Plus, there's absolutely masses of explicit opposite sex snogging, whereas with LeFou the script just hammers you over the head with the fact that LeFou's feelings for Gaston are definitely unrequited. They could have done nothing with the original cartoon and it would have been better representation, because a modern audience would much more easily see the interactions between Lumière and Cogsworth and villain Gaston and sidekick LeFou as potentially romantic. There was absolutely no call to camp up LeFou or make a point of how Lumière is definitely definitely straight.
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