Tuesday, August 7, 2018

First lines: May-June 2018 edition

During May we went on vacation.  Jet lag afforded me the chance to do more reading than usual.  

I’ve included June here because I only read two books both of which I had started reading in May.  I was not able to read more in June because I was too busy objecting to the abuse and kidnapping of children by Trump and his Administration, and taking to task my spineless GOP legislators who are too wimpy to stand up for basic human rights.  Should I post details on the actions I took?

Book 1
Rannoch House
Belgrave Square
London W.1.
Monday, June 6, 1932
The alarm clock woke me this morning at the ungodly hour of eight.  One of my nanny’s favorite sayings was “early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  My father did both and look what happened to him.  He died, penniless, at forty-nine.

Book 2
Imagine a morning in late November. A coming of winter morning more than twenty years ago. Consider the kitchen of a spreading old house in a country town. A great black stove is its main feature; but there is also a big round table and a fireplace with two rocking chairs placed in front of it. Just today the fireplace commenced its seasonal roar.

Book 3
Daniel Mercier went up the stairs at Gare Saint-Lazare as the crowd surged down. Men and women hurried distractedly past him, most clutching briefcases but some with suitcases. In the crush, they could easily have knocked into him but they didn’t. On the contrary, it seemed as though they parted to let him through.

Book 4
This is what you should look for on this 90-degree June morning: The broadcast news interns pairing running shoes with their summer business casual, hovering by the Supreme Court’s public information office.

Book 5
What Possessed Me?
If I hadn’t been naïve and recklessly trusting, would I ever have purchased number 10 Turpentine Lane, a chronic headache masquerading as a charming bungalow?

Book 6
When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.

Book 7
What made Isabel Dalhousie think about chance? It was one of those curious coincidences—an inconsequential one—as when we turn the corner and find ourselves face-to-face with the person we’ve just been thinking about.

* * * * * *

Titles and authors revealed:

Book 1
A Royal Pain, by Rhys Bowen, (#2 in the “Royal Spyness” series).  © 2008 by Janet Quin-Harkin.  Starring an impoverished royal who is often surrounded by murder.  Not as enjoyable as the first one.

Book 2
A Christmas Memory, by Truman Capote. © 1956. Actually three short memoirs.  Excellent writing.  

Book 3
The President’s Hat, by Antoine Laurain.  © 2013. Read for book club.  Quite enjoyable and thought-provoking, even for this second reading. 

Book 4
Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. © 2015.  it was encouraging to read about this courageous woman.

Book 5
On Turpentine Lane, by Elinor Lipman.  © 2017. A great vacation read. Funny.

Book 6
Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy.  1874. This was my second read, but my first read was about 30 years ago, so I didn’t remember at all what happens.  The opening line is one of my favorites of all opening lines.

Book 7
The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, by Alexander McCall Smith (Isabel Dalhousie #5) © 2008.   
Ah, the comfort of well-known characters.  And Scotland.

* * * * * * *

Dear Reader, what have you been reading?  Any comforting books?  Challenging ones?  Books with great writing?

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Rabbit in the headlights

Six thoughts resulting from today’s torah study.

At Torah study this morning, the portion was about vows and oaths.  Through our discussion, we came upon this tidbit from the Talmud involving Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Babylonians who destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BCE, and King Zedekiah, king of the Jews who was taken into exile.

The consequences of not keeping an oath are suggested by the following story involving King Zedekiah and Nebuchadnezzar.*  Zedekiah once saw Nebuchadnezzar eating a live rabbit and was asked to swear that he would not mention it to anyone.  Zedekiah swore but later regretted he had done so.  He had his oath annulled and told others what he had seen Nebuchadnezzar do.  When Nebuchadnezzar found out that people were scorning him, he assembled the Great Sanhedrin and charged Zedekiah with having broken his oath.  Zedekiah replied that the oath had been annulled, whereupon Nebuchadnezzar asked whether an oath can be annulled in the absence of the one concerned by the oath.  When told that the presence of the affected party was necessary, Nebuchadnezzar rebuked the sages of the Sanhedrin for not informing Zedekiah of that.  Nebuchadnezzar then forced the sages to descend from their golden thrones and sit upon the ground in silence.  They were made to cast dust upon their heads and gird themselves with sackcloths.

Ran defends the Sanhedrin in its dealing with Zedekiah.  They point out that the rule of annulling an oath only in the presence of the one concerned is not absolute.  In this case it was not really a requirement because Zedekiah was very preoccupied regarding this oath, to the point that it interfered with his religious obligations.  Also, the fact that Zedekiah was the king justified the Sanhedrin in giving him special consideration.  Lastly, he points out that the Sanhedrin’s decision was subject to the royal command of the king of the Jews.

- The Call of the Torah, by Rabbi Elie Munk

*(Nedarim 65a, Eichah Rabbah, 2:10).  I’m not sure, but I think this shows you where to find the original story in the Talmud.


1. When you google “King Nebuchadnezzar eating a live rabbit” here are the top hits.  Veggie Tales is still at the top!  Please click on the image to embiggen.

2.  It is not that easy to type ‘Nebuchadnezzar.’

3. I thought that the Veggie Tales creators used a chocolate bunny as a substitute for the statue of gold (see Daniel 3).  It turns out that the Veggie Tales creators had read this story in Talmud.  As proof, here are the lyrics to The Bunny Song:  

The Bunny, the bunny, whoa, I love the bunny
I don't want my soup or my bread, just the bunny.

I don't want no health food when it's time to feed.
A big bag o' bunnies is all that I need
I don't want no buddies to come out and play
I'll sit on my sofa, eat bunnies all day
I don’t want no pickles, I don’t want no honey,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want a tissue when my nose is runny,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to tell you a joke that is funny,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny
I don’t want to play on a day that is sunny,
I just want a plate and a fork and a bunny

4.     How could anyone even actually eat a live rabbit?  All that fur.  And why is Nebuchadnezzar embarrassed by the word getting out that he did this?  He doesn’t keep kosher.  He seems like a leader who is willing to dish it out but can’t take it.  He is quite fine with mocking and embarrassing others, but if someone dares to mock him, his fragile ego is wounded and he feels unwelcome.  

5.     Several commentators go on to discuss that last sentence of Rabbi Munk's, on whether and how much the king gets to command the assembly (the Sanhedrin) that is passing judgment on the king. Is the highest decision-making body in the land beholden to the person who has appointed them?

6.     It’s also an appropriate passage for today, Bastille Day, and yesterday, when six protesters were arrested for going to my state representative’s house to try to talk to him about legislation for an independent citizen’s commission to draw district lines (i.e. ending gerrymandering).  I and many other constituents have repeatedly requested some, any, communication with him over the past 18 months.  No answer, except that finally, last month he gutted and poisoned the existing legislation.  

Were the protesters justified in taking the extreme action of going to State Rep Turzai’s house to request an audience with His Highness? This brings us to the writing of French Protestant Theodore Beza (1519 – 1605) following the French king’s slaughter of Huguenots.

Beza claimed that all monarchs were created for the sake of their subjects. …. those who wielded their power tyrannically forfeited their right to be obeyed.    Rebellion was the last resort of a cornered people, and Zedekiah was far from finding himself in that situation.  According to Beza, not only had Zedekiah willfully subjected himself to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar had given Zedekiah ample opportunities to honor his sworn obligations.  Citizens were equally obligated to honor oaths under these circumstances.  When subjects rebel against a tyrant, however, they have not violated any pledge.  Rather, it is the tyrant who has done so, and his perjury renders all promises and commitments to him null and void (Beza 1574: 70-71). 
                        -  Chronicles Through the Centuries, by Blaire A. French. © 2016.

Rabbits, beware