Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ellul, the Month of the Storm God

Here we are in Ellul, the month when we try to convince God to judge us favorably for the coming year. I thought I’d post a few questions about this month I’ve never found decent answers for.

1) I’ll start with my oldest question. In first grade at the beginning of the year I learned that we blow shofer every day during Ellul, except the day before Rosh HaShanah. On Erev Rosh HaShanah we don’t blow the shofer in order to confuse the Satan. Apparently by blowing the shofer we have warned him that Rosh HaShanah is coming, and he has been preparing his case against us. When we stop for a day he thinks he has missed Rosh HaShanah and is confused, which ruins his prosecution of us.

How does this work year after year? Maybe the first time we did this the Satan would be confused, but the hundredth? The thousandth? This is the same being who we are always being warned is super-clever, who is able to lead us astray while making us think that we are being pious, then going to the Heavenly Court with perfect arguments against us. Is he really so dense that after three and a half millennia he hasn’t figured this out?

And once he does figure it out, omitting shofer on Erev Rosh HaShanah is a heads-up that tomorrow is the big day. Kind of counter-productive.

2) I understand that being judged can inspire one to try to better himself. And I can understand that being more careful than usual for a limited time (a month) is easier than doing the same thing indefinitely. But what do people think they gain by adopting extra-pious practices just for Elul? Do they think that God will be fooled into thinking they are better than they really are? Or is it supposed to work like a bribe? “Hey God, I’ll do a little something extra for You, and come Rosh HaShanah You do a little something extra for me.” *Wink*

3) Perhaps the least serious, but the one I find the most annoying, are the cute vorts that darshan the name of the month of Ellul. It is undisputed that we adopted the names we use for the months from the Babylonians. The Babylonians named their months after their gods. So anyone who makes a drasha from the name “Ellul” is finding deeper Jewish meaning in the name of a Babylonian god. I know that most of these vorts are just meant to be cute, but it smacks of historical revisionism to try to find hidden Jewish meaning in the name of a pagan god. Especially since so much of Judaism is designed to be specifically anti-pagan.

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A quick Google search turns up a Babylonian god named Enlil, who was a weather god. Wikipedia says that it was “sometimes rendered in translations as Ellil in later Akkadian, Hittite, and Canaanite literature.” I don’t know if this is actually where we get Ellul, but seems to be a good possibility. So let’s all try to be better servants of God during this month of the God of Storms.

18 comments:

  1. Please remember my special Elul request to Jewish skeptics:

    No prostitutes or cocaine the entire month.

    Thank you!

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  2. al pi halacha, i dont think that those 2 things are assur.

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  3. "al pi halacha, i dont think that those 2 things are assur."

    Instead of prostitutes, just snag a few pilagshim, like our forefather Abraham!
    For cocaine, you can burn the "incense" just like our ancestors in the beis hamikdash!
    Aderabah v'aderabah--if you want to serve hashem, prostitutes and cocaine seems like the only way to do so!

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  4. The use of methods to confuse, frighten or trick supernatural entities in a way that wouldn't work on any being of minimal intelligence is not unique to Judaism. Many different societies have holidays that involve some form of frightening faces to scare away bad spirits. Similarly, some societies made burial mounds with an extra false entrance to trick spirits.

    It hasn't ever been very clear to me whether in any of these cases the people think that the entities are this stupid or whether the people in question understand full well the silly nature of the behavior.

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  5. Joshua, you're right, there are a lot of holidays / rituals, especially in pagan religions, which are cyclic. The same thing is done year after year to frighten / trick / otherwise get rid of evil spirits. But I think that the belief is that the spirits in question are uniquely vulnerable to this sort of thing.

    That may be the case here, too, (and probably was, once) but it certainly wasn’t presented that way to me in yeshiva.

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  6. I think that the idea of an annual renewel ritual may be a positive thing for people's psychological health, and maybe gives them a good feeling.

    At the same time, if the stated purpose, tshuva, is measured, it's hard to imagine that the Jewish people have changed because of Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur. I'm judging from myself, the people around me, and my sense of the public and Jewish community as a whole. Does anybody think that they are getting "better" year after year?

    In one of James Kugel's lectures he noted that RH became associated with repentence only in latter rabbinic times, while in biblical times it seemed to have nothing to do with it.

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  7. According to Karen Armstrong the Yahweh resting on the 7th day is a polemic against the babylonian gods. The babylonian gods were involved in warfare with the forces of chaos so they needed the festivals of the new harvest to renew their energies. But Yahweh the tribal god of Judea could do something else; he could rest on the 7th day to renew his energies.

    Most of the Jewish stories similarly are polemics against other stories. Give it a few centuries and eventually the reason these stories were invented is forgotten as well, and it all becomes mythology wrapped in the history of Judea.

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  8. neat interpretatoin shalmo, can you refer me to a source about those babylonian storm gods?

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  9. Shalmo-- Where did Muslims get their Friday Sabbath? Judaism is a religion more ancient than Islam, and thus carries with it remnants of ancient myths and beliefs. This however, has nothing to do with modern Jewish beliefs which have evolved over time, like all religions. The arguments made against fundamentalist Jewish beliefs can be made against Islam as well.
    But there are secular or modern Islamists, who like many modern Jews, take the humanist ethical messages of Islam as representing the true religion. I'm OK with that.

    I still don't understand what made you switch to Islam. Swapping one set of myths for another? Within Judaism you have everything, including anti-zionists if that's your cup of tea. You don't even have to be an anti-semite to be anti-Israel (although the 2 commonly go together). Chomsky is a rabid anti-zionist but I don't think he's an anti-semite. (althouh some would call him a self-hating Jew).

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  10. Shalmo-- Where did Muslims get their Friday Sabbath? Judaism is a religion more ancient than Islam, and thus carries with it remnants of ancient myths and beliefs. This however, has nothing to do with modern Jewish beliefs which have evolved over time, like all religions. The arguments made against fundamentalist Jewish beliefs can be made against Islam as well.
    But there are secular or modern Islamists, who like many modern Jews, take the humanist ethical messages of Islam as representing the true religion. I'm OK with that.

    I still don't understand what made you switch to Islam. Swapping one set of myths for another? Within Judaism you have everything, including anti-zionists if that's your cup of tea. You don't even have to be an anti-semite to be anti-Israel (although the 2 commonly go together). Chomsky is a rabid anti-zionist but I don't think he's an anti-semite. (althouh some would call him a self-hating Jew).

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  11. Sorry about the double post.

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  12. And Shalmo's wrong. Sabbath evolved from the Babylonian Sappatu.

    "In Akkadian documents there is ample mention of a monthly day of rest that took place on the fifteenth of every month - and which was called Sappatu. In other words, although our Shabbat is the weekly day of rest, commemorating (among other things) creation, the word does have an alternate meaning which is older than Sinai - a monthly day of cessation from labor on the full moon."
    http://www.torah.org/advanced/mikra/5757/bm/dt.60.4.02.html

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  13. DrJ your ability to take threads off topic is astounding.

    I really wish you would stop taking your lessons on Islam from wikipedia and would consult the links I gave you. There is no such thing as a Friday Sabbath in Islam. Sabbath demands you not undertake certain activities on a certain day. But there is no such day of rest in Islam, so a Friday Sabbath in Islam is non-existant

    As for swapping one set of myths for another. Well you see Mohammed is the most well documented individual in human history; so its not myth at all considering the entire library of Alexandria held nothing but data on his life. In fact Mohammed has repeated at the top of every list on the most influential people in human history (http://www.dlmark.net/hundred.htm). So where is the myth in all of this when there are more secular records of this man than the religious ones?

    You are juxtaposing your problems with Judaism onto Islam, despite me on numerous occassions showing you how wrong you are. Didn't you tell me some nonsense about there being a verse in the Quran on Jews behind a tree? When I showed you no such verse exists you weren't even honest enough to admit you were wrong.

    People smarter than you have tried making all sorts of theories on the so-called sources of the Quran and have been refuted each time: http://www.islamic-awareness.org/Quran/Sources/

    Of course its entirely up to you to hold on to these copy-cat conspiracy theories. I don't really care what you believe.

    The difference between a muslim fundamentalist and jewish one is that the muslim fundamentalist does not have a holy book that shamelessly makes Nazi literature look good; Genesis itself largely being a scandelous theory on the origin of races. Nor does the muslim fundamentalist have to deal with a religion that claims the world is 6000 years, in fact he can easily accept evolution since the Quran does not have the nonsensical story of Eve being made from a rib of Adam. And there are plenty of hadith that "miraculously" (lol) imply an evolutionary process of creation in islamic cosmology. And of course no nonsense like the countless talmudic laws against gentiles that we have discussed on frum blogs as well. We have the same laws for muslims as we do for non-muslims. etc etc etc etc. I could go on and on all day

    And as for why I chose Islam, well the arguments are what convinced me which are too many to discuss here.

    There is no point in us having this discussion all over again because all you do is copy and paste arguments from christian missionary sponsored anti-islamic websites (not much different than Jews for Jesus), yet when I provide you links refuting them you don't bother reading them. You are as arrogant as JP in that regard. All these sites just rehash the same arguments over and over again, that I more or less have all the argumements as well as their refutations memorized.

    But since I don't really care what you believe, let us dispart this discussion that both of us know is pointless with a surah from the Quran made just for people like you:

    [Shakir 109: al-Kaafiroon (the unbelievers)]

    Say: O unbelievers!
    I do not serve that which you serve,
    Nor do you serve Him Whom I serve:
    Nor am I going to serve that which you serve,
    Nor are you going to serve Him Whom I serve:
    You shall have your religion and I shall have my religion.

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  14. The above surah is an eloquent method of saying:

    to you your way, and to me mine

    to you your religion, to me my religion

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  15. > the entire library of Alexandria held nothing but data on his life

    Um, no. There may have been some writings about him in the library, but if so it was just a tiny part of the library’s collection.

    > where is the myth in all of this when there are more secular records of this man than the religious ones?

    No one is denying Mohamed was a real and historically very influential person. It is specifically the metaphysical claims he made, which were later made even bigger by his followers, that are the “myths.”

    > We have the same laws for muslims as we do for non-muslims.

    Really?! So infidels were never persecuted under muslim law, and Dhimmis aren’t second-class citizens?

    Doesn’t Islam hold that the Jewish and Christian bibles are the word of God, but have been superseded by the last prophet, Mohamed? That, although they may disagree about the details, there is some validity to the other Abrahamic faiths? If so, then Islam has most of the problems of Judaism and Christianity, plus all of its own.

    Believe whatever you like. But don’t distort history and don’t try to paint yourself as more rational than frum Jews.

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  16. Shalmo-- if you live your life according to the sayings of a wise man from 1400 years ago claiming to be a prophet, go ahead. But don't pretend its any more rational than orthodox judaism, by misrepresenting Islam, as G3 pointed out. It the same authority-based dogmatic nonsense.

    As for as the Jew behind the tree bit, you know what I am talking about. So its not in the Quran, it is an oft quoted hadith, which is like your midrash/talmud. If we want we can find much jucier examples in the books of the "peace loving" religion

    http://www.americanthinker.com/2006/07/apocalyptic_muslim_jewhatred.html

    I am beginning to wonder if you started off with your own hatred of Judaism (self hate, if you will), and then found a comfortable and receptive home with that in Islam. And your strong angry protestations only seem to confirm that.

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  17. I take back what I said about the library of Alexandria. It didn’t seem right that it would have anything about Mohammed, so I looked it up. It definitely had nothing about Mohammed for most of its existence, and probably never had anything about him ever. The library was founded around 300 BC. Mohammed was born in 570 CE, almost 900 years later. It was destroyed in a Muslim attack on Alexandria in 642 CE. Mohammed first made his journey to Medina with his followers in 622 CE, and didn’t conquer Mecca until 640 CE. He died in 642, the same year that an Arab army sacked Alexandria and destroyed the great library.

    Shalmo, you can’t just say things because they sound impressive. They have to be true.

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  18. Re: #2- it's just like visiting the dentist, and brushing your teeth that day, even though you haven't brushed in months. Will it help? No, he'll be able to tell that your teeth are rotting and you haven't taken care of them. But you feel like a better person for it.

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