1: What Kind of Name is That?

Hey there! My name is Rabbi Ariana Katz, and you’re listening to the first episode of Thread, a question, and sometimes answers podcast.

I’m coming to you live from the greatest city in America, Baltimore, Maryland, where I have the profound privilege of serving as the founding rabbi of Hinenu: The Baltimore Justice Shtiebl. Hinenu is a new congregation that meets to celebrate our Jewish year--Shabbat and holidays, care for one another through chesed--aka mutual aid, and mobilize for a more just world together. You are so welcome to join us for a service or a class, and learn more at hinenubaltimore.org.

And about who I am! When I’m not dreaming about, singing with, or growing alongside Hinenu, I’m getting to know my new hometown of Baltimore. I live in a house full of books and art with my partner Ever, our dog Rhoda, and cats Burt and Yontif. I’m a white, Ashkenazi, queer femme (all words we’ll explore on Thread!) I love dystopian science fiction, riot grrl, marching bands and klezmer, the ocean and every other body of water, and cooking large portions of complicated food for people I love. I deeply believe in the US Postal Service and have sent mail from the Yosemite National Park Post Office, which was a life hilight.

Before moving to Baltimore I created another podcast called Kaddish, about death and mourning and identity. You can go listen to that at any time, arianakatz.com/kaddish.

If the only thing this podcast accomplishes is to have someone resist saying even one time “I’m a bad Jew…” then it will have been a success. Rule #1: there is no such thing as a bad Jew. Bad people, sure sure and we can talk about apostates and rebels all you like. But, rule #1, no such thing as a bad Jew.

So this podcast is a space for question asking, problematizing, and struggling. I’ll post weekly episodes answering one question at a time, and in the future post interviews, or shiurim (classes in a lecture style) that I teach at Hinenu, and other recordings from the life of the shul and the people I get to learn from. You can submit a question at bit.ly/threadpodcast, or find episode transcripts and more information at arianakatz.com/thread. Your questions make this show possible, so keep ‘em coming! You can get super fancy and record a voice memo to have played on the show--just email it to rabbi@hinenubaltimore.org

Judaism has a lot of KNOWLEDGE. It can feel like you’re drawing from a deep well, full of sweet water that is just waiting for you. It can feel like you have been pushed into the well, you’re drowning, and when you look up, you’re surrounded by faces jeering, who all seem to know what page in the siddur you should be on, and you’re just drowning at the bottom of the well. So instead, when we look at Jewish tradition, ask yourself: what do you already know to be true? What have you learned, what teachers have you had, that have made you feel you can can tap into this deep well, not feel attacked away by it? What inspires you to keep coming back to this well? What do we need to change in how our communities talk about practice and history to have the wealth of information we sit on as a mixed multitude of people feel like an invitation, and opportunity?

I won’t answer a listener-submitted question on this episode, rather share with you about where the name for this podcast comes from:

From the Mishnah, composed in Talmudic Israel (c.190 - c.230 CE). Hagggiah, translating to, Festival Offering, is in the 2nd order of the Mishnah-- Moed, Festivals.

OK, so the text:

הִלְכוֹת שַׁבָּת, חֲגִיגוֹת וְהַמְּעִילוֹת, הֲרֵי הֵם כַּהֲרָרִים הַתְּלוּיִין בְּשַׂעֲרָה, שֶׁהֵן מִקְרָא מֻעָט וַהֲלָכוֹת מְרֻבּוֹת. הַדִּינִין וְהָעֲבוֹדוֹת, הַטָּהֳרוֹת וְהַטֻּמְאוֹת וַעֲרָיוֹת, יֵשׁ לָהֶן עַל מַה שֶּׁיִּסְמֹכוּ. הֵן הֵן גּוּפֵי תּוֹרָה:

Laws concerning shabbat and festival-offering and stealing from holy-designated things, these are like mountains hung from a hair: they have few verses and many laws. Judgment and service and purity and impurity and improper sexual relations, they have plenty to be based on. They themselves are the body of Torah.

Mishnah Hagiga 1:8 comes up and just says it: man, there are a lot of laws, but some are are precariously rooted in textual basis...They are like mountains hanging by a hair! Few verses, but many laws. Is that a condemnation? An invitation?

What a powerful image--that an entire civilization--specifically in Hagiga the laws of Shabbat (!) and festivals and offerings, or the entire Torah, is suspended on something so arguably tenuous, that might snap at any time. What a moment of transparency, for the voice of the text to name that it is, in many ways, a codex of law that extrapolates with great vigor.

When you say in English, “hanging by a thread” we can imagine, as the rabbis did, Mt Sinai itself dangling by the thinnest hair, and somehow managing to stay afloat. Do we see that as a weakness, or a strength of tradition that so much can be supported on so little? Is it a critique, or a strength?

And this show is called Thread because of t’chelet, the blue dye that we are commanded in the text of Bamidbar (Numbers) to wear in our tzitziot, the fringes on the corners of a tallit, a prayer shawl, and to look upon it as a reminder. “Thread,” because these fringes call us back, invite us in, to remember that which we might never have known in this world, but remember the future, and a collective past. Thread, because when we say the shema we gather in the tzitziot on the four corners--reminding us that G!d loves what is on the margins.

And Thread because our stories are stitched together by tradition, by innovation, by historical moves and personal values. Because the threads that weave together Jewish life and practice are varied and beautiful. Because the metaphor just works--as we quilt together the parts of who we are, or who our communities are, or what we know about Jewish tradition, we stitch it together with so much hard work, self knowledge, previous experience.

Thread is in memory of my grandmothers, Claire Singer and Abigail Katz of blessed memories, who like Mishlei לא, Proverbs 31, it says דָּרְשָׁה, צֶמֶר וּפִשְׁתִּים;    וַתַּעַשׂ, בְּחֵפֶץ כַּפֶּיהָ.

She looks for wool and flax, And sets her hand to them with a will.” Your craft, your trade, your threads, were a thing of beauty.

OK so that was a quick first episode, but at the end of each one I’ll recommend a book or article or something related to this for further reading!

This week’s continued reading is “Mountains hanging by a strand? Re-reading mishnah Hagiga 1:8, Journal of Ancient Judaism” by Michal Bar-Asher Siegal.

And also, the Mishnah (Hagigah 1:8).

And also “Whole Wide World” by Shoshanna Jedwab (find her on Spotify!)

OK that’s all for now! You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud. The next episode will be out in a week. Have a question you want to hear me answer? bit.ly/threadpodcast, or arianakatz.com/thread. Be in touch! rabbi@hinenubaltimore.org

Thank you to Elissa Martel for the gorgeous logo, and Laurie Spector of Hothead for our music!

Until I come up with a better sign off, be well, take good care!

Ariana Katz