Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yummy Chicken and Last Week of Ulpan

Alan made this delicious chicken dish for shabbat (and also a meat stew and also a lentil soup). The chicken recipe was adapted from the latest recipe featured by the NY Times' "Minimalist" and featured lots of ginger. Its flavors and textures created a wonderful balance of comfort and excitement --a rare combo in a foodstuff. I'm looking forward to bringing some to school for lunch tomorrow.

I'm starting my last week of ulpan and I can definitely tell that this opportunity for intensive Hebrew learning has served me well. Several times almost every day I come across words, constructions, and turns of phrase that would have left me baffled six weeks ago. There is still an endless amount to learn, but this has definitely been a good jump start.

Tomorrow my friend and classmate Daniel and I will make a presentation (in Hebrew!) in our text class (a mini-course within the larger ulpan that has meets three times a week). The text course has focused on modern Israeli literature and helped solidify my sense that such literature --while usually marked with the designation "secular"/חילוני is in fact a site where "non-religious" authors are asking and wrestling with questions of ultimate meaning. As such it is, for me personally and in my rabbinate, a vital source of Torah that could too easily be overlooked. I'm hoping to spend a significant part of my learning energies this year focusing on acquiring the skills needed to continue tapping this resource.

Daniel and I are presenting on a book called "Tanach Achshav"/תנ"ך עכשיו (which badly but accurately translates to "The Hebrew Bible Currently") written by Meir Shalev. He's best known as a novelist, but he wrote תנ"ך עכשיו before having written any novels. It is described as פרשנות חילונית/"parshanut chilonit"/secular biblical interpretation (which in Hebrew sounds like an even stronger oxymoron). We're focusing on a chapter about how men are called up for army duty and Shalev moves between Deuteronomy's instructions for the draft, stories about King Saul at war, and what all of this means for soldiers and commanders today. Shalev's treatment of תנ"ך/Tanach/Hebrew Bible is different than anything I've ever read before. He treats the Hebrew Bible as a literary whole (jumping between Deuteronomy and Judges, for example, with no distinction in how each book is treated) and he clearly views it as being much more relevant to modern life than any rabbinic writings or interpretations. Both of these tendencies seem very in line with what little I've learned about the use of Hebrew Bible in "secular" Israeli culture. It's odd to be presenting (and blogging) about such a topic when I feel so very new to it (already anticipating that this post will feel like "juvenalia" if I look back at it at the end of the year), but here we are.

Shalev just came out with a new volume of פרשנות חילונית/"secular interpretation" --which I've already added to my growing collection of books in Modern Hebrew-- in which he takes as his topic Biblical "firsts." For example, the opening chapter (which I slogged through a bit of today) deals with the fact that the first appearance of the verb "love" in Tanakh is when Abraham is told to take the son he loves and offer him up as a burnt offering.

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