Friday, October 28, 2011


Background on how Jews read the Torah/Bible
The Torah is the first five books of the Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The entire Torah is broken into portions (parshiot in Hebrew) and we read one per week in order. When we get to the end, we start over with Genesis. Since we just passed the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), we started over with Parsha Bereishit (Genesis 1:1-6:8). There is a corresponding Haftarah reading (a reading from the other parts of the "Old Testament." These do not necessarily go in order). You can find all the portions and their corresponding Haftarah readings here.

Actual topic
Anyway, we just started over last week. It amazes me just how much stuff is packed into Genesis. In Bereishit, for example, we get two creation stories, the forbidden fruit, Cain and Abel, and then a list of descendants all the way up to Noah. In Torah study last week, we skipped creation and spent almost two hours just talking about Cain and Abel.

This week, in Parsha Noah, we read:

  • the flood,
  • the first vineyard, which was immediately followed by a very drunk, naked Noah in a tent,
  • another long list of descendants as Noah's sons repopulate the world,
  • the Tower of Babel,
  • and more descendants, ending with the introduction of Abram and Sarai (soon to be Abraham and Sarah).
So basically, there is a lot packed into Genesis and, even though it's the same content every year, there's always something new to focus on. This deliberate way of reading the Torah is one of my favorite parts of Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's in a Name?

Origin: Irish
Meaning: Ireland

Origin: Hebrew
Meaning: Exalted, Strong

My name has never really held any meaning for me, not that I don't like it. It does not, as with most Erins, denote an Irish heritage (I'm a mix of mostly German and Portuguese). It's not derived from some old family name. More often than not, I say my name too fast and people hear Ann or Karen instead. My parents just liked the name Erin, so here I am.

Aaron, on the other hand, is a common name for Jewish boys. Biblically, Aaron was Moses' brother, his second in command, and the priest from whom all Kohanim (the Jewish priestly class) descend. Because of this, I find a new layer of explanation attached to my name during introductions in a Jewish context. I have two very recent examples of "the name conversation" to share.

The first was at Rosh Hashanah dinner with my fiance's cousin's cousins (he has a large and convoluted extended family, so just go with it). After they finished figuring out how he was related to someone they were also related to, but not related to them directly, the cousin's cousins turned to me:

One said, "What was your name again?"
"No, Er-in," I enunciated. Then I spelled it out for them, just to be sure.
"Oh. Are you Irish?"
"No, my parents just liked the name Erin."
"It's an unusual Jewish name."
"Yeah, my parents aren't Jewish. I converted."
From everyone, "Oh mazel tov (congratulations)!"

This led to a conversation about why I decided to convert and the differences between Christianity and Judaism, which I won't get into here, but let me just say that a belief in Jesus is not the only difference between the two.

Conversation #2 took place on Yom Kippur between me and the old woman sitting next to me at services:

After sitting next to each other in silence for two hours, she leaned over and said, "You look very young. How old are you?"
"I'm 23."
"I bet people say you look much younger than that."
"Yeah, I usually get 12."
"Oh, you'll appreciate that when you're older."
The age conversation is another one that I have on a regular basis. We were asked to rise as the Torah was taken out of the ark and our conversation ended for a while. Some time later, she leaned over again to ask, "What's your name?"
"No, Er-in."
She spelled out, "A-a-r-o-n?"
"No, spelled E-r-i-n." At this point in the name conversation I always think to myself, Seriously? Aaron with two As is a male name and I am clearly a not a man.
"Oh..." she said. "That's an odd name."