Jewish Poems and Other Writings

Poems and prose I never thought I would write, connected with a religion I was born into and never thought I would become not only interested in but sometimes fanatical about–although I hope I am now more passionate than fanatical. However, my Jewish interests continue to develop in unexpected directions, from German and Austrian writers like Stefan Zweig and Lion Feuchtwanger, to planning trips to Brazil to try to find the grave of a great-uncle and to Portugal to learn about Portuguese Jews. The organization here is somewhat though not entirely  random.

Coiling the Serpent–an a-to-z miscellany of poetry/prose.

Here I Seek You: Jewish Poems for Shabbat, Holy Days, and Everydays–a print collection of liturgical poems that can accompany the prayer service or be read or recited on their own.

Here I Seek You: Jewish Poems for Shabbat, Holy Days, and Everydaysa .pdf version of the printed book published in 2016 showing the poems in the context of the prayers.

A Workshop on Tishah b’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish year, and its special
poetry, called kinot (singular, kinah). Click here for a sample kinah (plural, kinot).

www.medievalhebrewpoetry.org–my web site containing translations of poetry by different translators, “imaginessays” on the writers, photographs, a bibliography, links, and other information. Following is a link to the just the imaginessays–
essays that take liberties!

Medieval Hebrew Poets–Essays + Conversation–writings about Abraham Ibn Ezra, Yehudah Halevi, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Moses Ibn Ezra, and Samuel Hanagid.

Everything Is Music–a recently discovered text from the Zohar, the Book of Radiance, this time explaining the mysteries of reincarnation, resurrection, and immortality. Click on Angels in Love to read the story referred to in this text.

The Forlorn Young Woman–a recently discovered fragment of the Zohar, the Book of Radiance, dealing with, among other things, the feminine presence of God, why the Torah seems to start off by asserting there were many gods at the Creation, and how to correctly interpret other apparent multiplicities.

The Forlorn Young Woman: Analysis, Interpretation, and Commentary–extensive explication of the recently discovered fragment of the Zohar, the Book of Radiance.

The Orchard: The Zohar on Talmud Tractate Hagigah 14b–a newly discovered and edited chapter of the Zohar (the Book of Radiance, or Splendor) that comments on the famous and somewhat enigmatic passage in the Babylonian Talmud in which four rabbis ascend to Paradise.

Addendum to Tikkunei Zohar–a newly discovered fragment of a seminal kabbalistic text.

The Wonderful Cholent: A Story of Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Volozhin–a Pursimspiel for 2017. You also can read this on the web site of the Boulder Jewish News, thanks to the BJN publishers, David and Cheryl Fellows.

Are Diamonds Really a Girl’s Best Friend? The Story of Arle de León, A Medieval Spanish-Jewish Wise Woman–the untold story of a remarkable, unforgettable, and unique woman whose light illuminated all corners of the European Dark Ages and whose brilliant mind tackled and solved some of the most unsolvable problems in Jewish scholarship. You also can read a somewhat older though not that much different version (trust me just this one time, I beg of you) of this on the web site of the Boulder Jewish News, thanks to David and Cheryl Fellows, the BJN publishers. To read last year’s Purimspiel, click on The Wonderful Cholent here or the links in the previous document, just above. But remember, this year’s story is definitely, emphatically, NOT a Purimspiel, whatever you may think. I am referring you to the real Purimspiel in case you didn’t read it last year or, if you did, may have forgotten some of the details and so, horror of horrors, might be totally, utterly lost reading this year’s story, which I am sorry to remind you so soon is NOT a Purimspiel, even if it sounds like one, and if you aren’t sure, you can read them both at the same time and see for yourself the difference and not just take my word for it. This work is dedicated to the memory of my late father, Bernard Rasof (1918-2017), an engineering professor who also was a poet specializing in playfully humorous verse. And by the way, he collected crank letters sent to CalTech, where he earned his PhD, and to UCLA, where he taught for a while. And, now, whatever you are thinking, crank letters, although they sometimes sound like Purimspiels, are meant to be taken seriously, even if the authors sound like–I will leave the rest of this sentence and thought to you, a discerning reader who can tell a faux Purimspiel from a real one and also a crank letter from a Purimspiel, faux or real, and a serious person from a misguided moron. Got that? In case you are confused, regardless of the business about Purimspiels, what you are reading at this very moment (these very words) is most definitely NOT a Purimspiel, even though you might be tempted to think otherwise. It also is not a crank letter, whatever you may think, since it was not written by a misguided moron–misguided, maybe (like most of the rest of humanity, other than you, of course), and sometimes a moron, yes, especially when it comes to love. But I will leave the decision of who’s who, who’s what, and what’s what to you, the highly intelligent, discerning reader–after all, you are able to read, even if your tv is on in the background or perhaps, God forbid, even the foreground–so that you can decide on your own. God help you if you can’t get through this sentence, which I got lost in too, so if you had a hard time, don’t feel too bad. This kind of sentence has a name, which I forgot, and was popular in England several hundred years ago in the writings of people Like Henry Fielding, who as you may recall wrote Tom Jones, which has nothing to do with anything here or, for that matter, anything anywhere. What it is, though, I will leave to you to decide. And by “it” I refer to the whole of life–the whole megillah of existence, if you will–not just Purimspiels, non-Purimspiels, crank letters, and misguided explanations. Good night. Oh–one more thing, if you don’t mind: Let all of this go or else you mostly definitely will need extra sessions with your shrink the morrow, even if you don’t think you will. Yes, “shrink” rhymes with “think,” even though it wasn’t intended, and like everything you have just read, has nothing to do with anything worth knowing or remembering, or just plain-old knowing or remembering, and since your memory may be flagging, it’s probably a good thing–about the remembering, that is, not the knowing–since there’s nothing here worth remembering anyway. Now, where was I? Saying “Good Night,” I think, having just reread the above ten times. So, “Good Night.”

Souls in the Garden: Poems About Jewish Spaina manuscript that I hope will be published as a printed book in Spring or Summer 2019.

The Kamah Sukkah: The Definitive, Complete, Only Five-Worlds Guide to Sex in the Sukkah–a thought-to-be-lost manuscript translated by the late (very late, actually) Anonymous Botch (or possibly Anonymous Blotch, since scholars aren’t sure). This interesting text, which I recently found in a crumpled old shoebox in front of a Chabad House somewhere in Israel, or maybe in Boulder, Coloarao, where you may or may not live or want to live—I can’t really remember—is so outré that some of you discerning readers might think it originally was meant as a Purimspiel (if you know what that is)—and indeed it might or might not have been meant that way. Whatever the case, you may be shocked to learn it indeed is Jewish, shocked not just because of its somewhat risqué content but because it has to do with Sukkot, our Fall festival, even though I am presenting it to you around the time of Purim, our Spring festival. This text— a spiel, or perhaps not—is entitled The Kamah Sukkah and seems inspired by the famous (or infamous) Hindu book The Kama Sutra, a love-and-sex manual aimed at the Indian (from India) in need of guidance in such affairs. Try not to be confused by what I’m saying and what you may read (if you decide to take the plunge, so to speak, even if you don’t speak), will you, since the deep and weighty matters embedded in this ancient text are esoteric and as such intended only for the select few . . . like yourself . . . and deep and weighty matters must be presented in such a way as to discourage misuse by individuals who might be associated with the dark forces of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. Therefore while reading this text, in order to inoculate yourself against such forces, be sure to read the text while leaning toward the right, the yetzer tov, the good inclination, whatever you might remember from the Passover seder, which for some reason seems to have the opposite instructions. Just be sure to lean the correct way during Passover, which is just around the corner, and to know which way that is, defer to your rabbi or, if you don’ have one, to your inner rabbi, if you know what I mean, or if you don’ have an inner rabbi, or even if you don’t know, or don’t know what a rabbi is.

It is an odd book—the original Kama Sutra, that is, not our Kamah Sukkah, which, when you ponder the matter at length, is not especially odd, given the oddities surrounding us in today’s crazy world, if you know what I mean—it’s an odd book to emerge from a culture that seems, to this day, oddly puritanical, but that’s water under the bridge, and not the kind of bridge that may be holding your teeth in place. The naive reader will of course ask: What could such a book offer me, a modern, liberated Jew who knows everything about such matters, beginning with the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply? I could answer that question very quickly and easily but decided not to, for reasons I can’t remember. Oh, before I forget: Sukkah can also be spelled Succah, but Kama and Kamah can never be spelled Comma or, God forbid, Calma or Calmah, but whatever your preferences or however deviant you are or aren’t, the meaning of the text you are about to read—if you decide to read it—won’t change. I can assure you of that, but frankly, not of a whole lot else. And one more thing, for the mystical numerological types among you—which probably includes you, especially if you first came across this text in the Boulder Jewish News, the official or perhaps unofficial organ of the Boulder, Colorado, Jewish community, which comprises primarily mystical numerological types like yourself. Yes, I repeated “mystical numerological types” for emphasis, which as the Bible experts among you know is a biblical feature, although that has nothing do with this introduction, which also has nothing to do with introducing this year’s text, whether or not it really is a Purimspiel, which I said already and probably will say again, for emphasis.

Moving right along: In case you are not familiar with Purimspiels or non-Purimspiels, I will refer you to the real McCoy, so to speak, even though the real McCoy is not Jewish and doesn’t speak any more, having been silenced long ago. . . .

Oh, sorry to interrupt: If you read the intro to Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, just above–assuming you read these in order, if you read them at all, or if you even can read–you might be thinking after you read this intro that you are in some sort of deja-vu space, since the two intros are so similar, in fact often identical. And you might be asking yourself why bother reading the same thing twice and also wondering why the idiot author didn’t make them different or even just make one shorter and refer you to the longer version. If your memory isn’t so hot, these questions probably won’t arise, but if your memory is still sharp, they probably will arise, like bubbles in a pool used to train deep-sea divers, in which case that sharp memory of yours just might puncture some of those bubbles, creating a problem, if you get my drift. However, that said, I am going to go ahead with what I was saying before I so rudely interrupted your train of thought with this lengthy interruption, which I decided is easier to write than revising the actual intros would be. Oh, in case you don’t know, “intro” is short for “introduction,” and I’m sure you know what that is.  Oh, one more thing: If I can unscatter my brain I might decide it is more elegant and literarily satisfying to do the revisions I just said I decided not to do now, necessitating this long excuse for being lazy and unfocused–in short, a Purimschlemiel, to coin a word, since most people write it as two words–which I hope you will forgive me for, even if the time of year to forgive most likely is not happening at the moment, meaning you most likely will have to wait for another opportunity, in case you are the type of person who is always in a state of forgiveness or, God forbid, you have a lousy memory and don’t really care about the repetition or didn’t notice the repetition until I pointed it out to you or perhaps because some mysterious dark energy surrounded you, making you forget everything you just did, which I hope is not the case, since that is not a very good place to me, literally or figuratively. Okay, then, here we go.

Whoah, Nellie–sorry again to interrupt the narrative flow. If you don’t need to compare, just skip ahead–actually, behind, to the title above–to the actual text. I should have said this earlier, I know, and so sorry, but again, I’m just not functioning too well at the moment, so I hope you have it in you to forgive me for extenuating circumstances beyond our control.

Okay, now I’m ready, but for what, I can’t quite remember  Oh, yes, now I do, lucky you. I was going to refer you to a real Purimspiel, so that you can compare what you now are reading with the Real McCoy, and I will now do that, so move your hand to your mouse or whatever you use to click links and click here on The Wonderful Cholent. But remember, this year’s story–the Kamah Sukkah, in case you forgot–may or may not be a Purimspiel, whatever you or I or anyone else may think. I am referring you to the real Purimspiel in case you didn’t read it last year or, if you did, may have forgotten some of the details and so, horror of horrors, might be totally, utterly lost reading this year’s story, which I am sorry to remind you so soon may or may not be a Purimspiel, even if it sounds like one, and if you aren’t sure, you can try to read them both at the same time and see for yourself the difference and not just take my word for it. And, if you don’t know what a Purimspiel is, God help you, and if you do know what it is, God help you. And if you don’t know Who or What God is, so help me, God, you are in trouble, so help me, God, and no Purimspiel or non-Purimspiel, however authentic, can help, even if you don’t know what a Purimspiel or non-Purimspiel is, or, God help you, what Purim is, for that matter.

Now, where was I? Since I can’t quite remember, I will just move on along to the next thought that comes into my head, which as it turns out is the same thought that came into my head last year or maybe the year before. Just imagine yourself rummaging in your freezer for the cholent you cooked last year or maybe the year and defrosting it for your guests on Shabbat. Guests that could be human beings like yourself (I assume) or additional souls of the kind described in rabbinic literature and (lucky you!) just above in The Wonderful Cholent (see above), who join us on Shabbat and, after not eating human food for a week while they sojourned in the next world, are so hungry that leftovers taste heavenly, especially leftover cholent, and most especially leftover cholent of the magical kind, which undoubtedly is the kind served in your household.

This year’s labor of love, which as I said I found totally by accident (even though I was on the lookout that day for long-lost manuscripts like this one), is dedicated to the memory of my late father, Bernard Rasof (1918-2017), an engineering professor who also was a poet specializing in playfully humorous verse. And by the way, he collected crank letters sent to CalTech, where he earned his PhD, and to UCLA, where he taught for a while. And, now, whatever you are thinking, crank letters, although they sometimes sound like Purimspiels, are meant to be taken seriously, even if the authors sound like—I will leave the rest of this sentence and thought to you, a discerning reader who can tell a faux Purimspiel from a real one and also a crank letter from a Purimspiel, faux or real, and a serious person from a misguided moron. Got that? In case you are confused, regardless of the business about Purimspiels, what you are reading at this very moment (these very words) is only the introduction to what may or may not be a Purimspiel, even though you might be tempted to think otherwise. It also is not a crank letter, whatever you may think, since it was not written by a misguided moron—misguided, maybe (like most of the rest of humanity, other than you, of course), and sometimes a moron, yes, especially when it comes to love, which is probably why the long-lost manuscript of The Kamah Sukkah caught my eye. But I will leave the decision of who’s who, who’s what, and what’s what to you, the highly intelligent, discerning reader—after all, you are able to read, even if your tv is on in the background or perhaps, God forbid, even the foreground—so that you can decide on your own. God help you if you can’t get through this sentence, which I got lost in too, so if you had a hard time, don’t feel too bad. This kind of sentence has a name, which I forgot, and was popular in England several hundred years ago in the writings of people like Henry Fielding, who as you may recall wrote Tom Jones, which has nothing to do with anything here or, for that matter, anything anywhere. What it is, though, I will leave to you to decide. And by “it” I refer to the whole of life—the whole megillahof existence, if you will—not just Purimspiels, non-Purimspiels, crank letters, and misguided explanations. Oh—one more thing, if you don’t mind: Let all of this go or else you most definitely will need extra sessions with your shrink the morrow, or maybe even two-morrows, even if you don’t think you will. Yes, “shrink” rhymes with “think,” even though it wasn’t intended, and like everything you have just read, has nothing to do with anything worth knowing or remembering, or just plain-old knowing or remembering, and since your memory may be flagging, it’s probably a good thing—about the remembering, that is, not the knowing—since there’s nothing here worth remembering anyway. Now, where was I? Since I really don’t remember, I will step out of the way and let you ease your way into this year’s maybe-or-maybe-not Purimspiel.

Oh, one more thing: I should have said right away that if you have read the intro to Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend you can just skip a lot of the intro to The Kamah Sukkah.  In case it’s not too late, you can do that if you prefer, even though you would be missing some important differences, most notably the information specific to The Kamah Sukkah as well as a lot of other stuff I have now forgotten. Goodnight  . . and good luck!

A True Legend of Father Jean and Rav Henri: From the Book of True Legends–edited and translated in honor of the birthday of Jonathan Dash.