Around the World Pic: Jewish Cemetery in Prague

jewish-cemetary-prague1

During my European travels I went to a lot of Jewish sites, a lot of churches, and any Mosque that I was fortunate enough to find. I love going into religious building and locations around the world. One thing that’s always easy enough to find is the Jewish cemetery, because all the Jews are always buried there since the community was only given one small plot of land for such things.

The particular cemetery in the photo I took above is located in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic – and it’s right in the middle of the city.

In this Jewish cemetery, as in others throughout Europe, people were buried one on top of the other, separated by approximately 6-18 inches of dirt. Then their tombstones were places one in front of the other. Why? No space for all the dead people! When you walk around the cemetery this makes for a particularly interesting look as tomb stones many hundreds of years old are leaning on each other and crammed together in ways hardly seen in more ‘modern’ graveyards.

Of additional note is the fact that this cemetery is filled with very important Jewish rabbis and wise men because Prague was a huge Jewish center both as a community and a place of learning. People went to Prague from all over the Jewish world to learn with its scholars and rabbis and to see a place of such renown. People stood at the graves of many of these famous men and prayed.

Care to share your experiences with us about visiting different cemetaries?

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My Best Friend’s Girl, with Dane Cook and Kate Hudson is Great Laughs and Silly Antics

A lot of people think that Dane Cook is childish. I can’t help but agree, though I still think he’s hilarious. And this movie was a testimony to that. I have no doubt that Cook had a hand in writing this movie – points at which they just told him, “insert your material here.”

Having seen Dane Cook live, I felt like I was watching bits of his sketches – not that they seemed to be giving him moments of stand-up comedy mid-film, but that the way he rehearses his own material again and again until he has it perfectly is the way he prepared for this role.

In any case, I laughed a lot. I’m going to tell you a joke from the movie as this blog does concern religion and this is one of the more religious moments from the movie. If you don’t want a joke (not plot related) spoiled, skip down after this paragraph:

A priest and a rabbi are at a wedding. They see a little boy bend over to pick something up, and the priest says, “I’d really like to screw him.” The rabbi asks, “Out of what?”

Also, the pizza restaurant, Cheesus Crust, was a hilarious touch, as was the owner’s reason for why she had created it.

Really – some great moments and consistent laughing fun. Be warned, though, this movie is crazy vulgar and incredibly disgusting – two characteristics I prize highly in funny movies but which you may not enjoy.

I give this a robust 7.5 Chocolate Salty Balls.

Did you like the movie? Do you like Dane Cook? Watch My Best Friend’s Girl again from your very own home!

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Fun with the Bible: Tragedy Strikes – The Terrible Tale of the Ninth of Av

For our first Fun with the Bible Monday, we’re going to discuss the most tragic day on the Jewish calendar: Tisha B’Av, or the 9th of Av. Perhaps this seems sick and sadistic, but as I’ve told every woman I’ve ever loved, take me or leave me. And as it happens, this Sunday does happen to be the dreaded day, Tisha B’Av.

The History

Why so awful? Well, it’s purported to be the day that everything awful happened in Jewish history, beginning with the destruction of the first Jewish Temple, built by Solomon in Jerusalem (for more on this click HERE). This destruction, of course, led to the exile of the people from Judea to Babylon. The day was then extended in the memory of the Jewish people to include the destruction of the second Temple by the Romans, and even other awful days after that.

The rabbis who shaped the Jewish religion said that lots of things happened on the 9th of Av. Are you familiar with the biblical story where Moses led the Israelites to the border of Cana’an and sent spies in to scout out the land? Well, the spies returned to Moses and the people and complained about the land and how hard it would be to conquer it (Numbers 13:32). This badmouthing, the rabbis said, happened on the 9th of Av. In modern times, people have even tried to say that Hitler made his decision to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto on the 9th of Av.

So, in short, the 9th of Av has been turned into the most terrible day of mourning and fasting on the Jewish calendar, and this coming Sunday is that terrible day.

Fun with the Bible

But here’s where Fun with the Bible comes in. If we look in the Bible, it doesn’t actually say that the original tragic event reputed to have occurred on the 9th of Av – the destruction of the Temple – really happened then!

First, turn to II Kings 25:8, the book that tells the story of the kings of Israel and Judah and ends with the destruction and exile. And the fifth month is Av. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month … Nebuchadnezzar … burned the house of the Lord.” (Don’t worry, I didn’t omit anything that changes what this means, so…) What!?! The seventh of Av? Suspicious, no?

Now turn to Jeremiah 52:12-13, a book by one of the great Israelite prophets alive and prophecying at the time of Jerusalem’s capture and destruction. It reads, “In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month…he burned the house of the Lord.” I’m sorry – did everyone hear that. Jeremiah said it was the 10th of Av, and the writer of the book of Kings (maybe we’ll get into who that was another time) said it was the 7th of Av. Huh!?

So what happened here? Basically, there was an inconsistency between two equally valid texts, both agreed to have been written with divine inspiration (again, an issue for another time), and those people who commented on the texts and read and thought about them (eventually, the rabbis) had to do something about it. So what did they do? Rather than give precedence to either text, they effectively took an average and said, the actual date of the Temple’s destruction must be somewhere in between the two accounts. Lo and behold, the 9th of Av it is. Therefore, it is this day that Jews spend mourning, fasting and crying, and claiming that other terrible things happened on to compact the day’s sadness.

The Point

Now, why did I share this?

To undermine the integrity of the Bible? To cast doubt on faith or on the Jewish religion? No (though perhaps those are unintended bonuses). I did this, among other reasons, to point out the importance of reading the Bible for ourselves and not taking the word of other people for what it says.

The Bible is a fascinating and spectacular book. I dare say it’s my favorite book (and note, I’m not religious at all). It is incredibly long, written by numerous people over the course of 1000+ years, has every kind of story and writing imaginable (poetry, prose, tragedy, comedy, romance, social/political intrigue, every stratum of society included, sex, drugs, rock and roll, etc., etc.). In the meantime, it opens up a world of fascinating history (what may or may not be historically accurate is a discussion for another day), reveals the mindset, attitudes and worldviews of countless people, times and places and so much more. All that and it’s the most highly revered text by two world religions (Christianity and Judaism) and respected by Islam as well. And there are so many more reasons to love this book.

Recommendation

However, people manipulate the Bible every second of every day, striving to use it for their own purposes and designs. Now, I don’t have any problem with people reading the Bible and interpreting it after their theological fashion. I mean, hey, that’s religion for you and it’s part of the book’s beauty. However, that should remind us that the Bible can be made to say anything, and nearly any opinion can be plumbed from its cavernous depths. For that reason, we need to be careful and we need to read it ourselves. I encourage everyone to go get him or herself a copy of the Bible (the editions that have the most accurate translations are the Jewish Publication Society Edition and the New Revised Standard Version) and start reading from the beginning.

You’ll be amazed at what’s in there and at what’s not in there that people may have told you was – case in point, that the Temple was destroyed on the 9th of Av. Well, maybe no one told you that one but you’ll be surprised nonetheless. It’s a fascinating and wonderful book.

On Fun with the Bible days, we will look at some idea, theme, section or passage of the Bible and learn about it from a historical-critical perspective. That is, as scholars investigate it. We will leave our religious biases aside (though I do invite you to discuss your religion’s perspective on any particular theme or passage in the comments of the post) and try to learn about the Bible for what the Bible says (and we’ll add what archaeologists and historians have discovered as well). Then we’ll see how what we’ve discussed can be maintained as relevant today. Whether religious or secular I think you’ll have something to learn if you join me every Monday for Fun with the Bible. And generally posts won’t be as long as today’s.

I encourage you to send me your questions about the Bible or to recommend your favorite passages or themes for discussion. Email them to me at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com or just post them as comments. If you start reading the Bible on your own, I would be delighted to help you along with any places you get stuck or have questions about terms or anything else at all.

And remember, always read for yourself!

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