Archive for April, 2009

Sheep art

Amazing! I’m speechless… or maybe sheepless.

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Today is Yom HaZikaron (memorial day) which is held the day before independence day – Yom HaAtzmaut.

Much has been written about this almost impossible juxtaposition of grief next to rejoicing. The idea is that in order to rejoice we need to remember those who enabled our independence. A very beautiful idea and one that focuses the whole country on a day of national, often very sentimental, mourning. Everyone knows someone who has a close relative who has died in our never ending war from independence to this day. Thus the public mourning focuses not on the achievements and the heroism, but on the personal loss and tragedy of our best young men and women who we send to defend us.

Most people work half day (except those who attend memorial ceremonies in the morning). I have the whole day off work, so I am making good use of the free time. The first thing I did this morning was to do my country a good turn and I collected up plastic bottles left on the badly kept path and undeveloped land next to our home. Five minutes work and I came back with a large bag bursting full of bottles.

I made a resolution that when I go out walking at nights (another resolution I am trying to keep to), I will collect up at least once a week discarded bottles.

The number of discarded bottles on the edges of undeveloped plots and under bushes on the side of the road never ceases to amaze me. Who drinks all these 1.5 liter bottles? Some of the ones around the park next to our house are left every night by kids who smoke nargilas there. We have a big problem with garbage in the park and although the city sends someone once a week to clean up, there is a lot of mess there.

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2009_04280001-400What you see here is progress of yesterday evening. From a blank canvas to this took about two hours, maybe a bit less.

I started with a phthalo blue underpaint wash (which you can see poking through the shady bit of the path at the bottom). I then started from the top down. Soon I realized this was not going to get me where I wanted to go (too regimented) and I started just blocking in color over the whole canvas.

Build it up and this is what came out. It is not finished yet, but the challenge now is not to lose the spontaneity of the picture when I add in finer, more careful detail.

My palette was sap and olive greens, burnt umber, ultramarine blue, titanium white and oxide black.

I must say I was pretty amazed at what came out. It’s that feeling of the painting flowing sub-consciously from my fingers, working instinctively and not really knowing how I got there. It is now about half a year since I last picked up a brush and I was not expecting this.

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I am currently reading a book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks – “To Heal a Fractured World, The Ethics of Responsibility“. I enjoy very much Rabbi Sacks’ writing as he is a big rationalist a thoughtful philosopher and a great writer.

I read a passage yesterday in chapter 8 which is about darkei shalom (ways of peace) which is Judaism’s framework for doing good to people who are outside the covenantal community. He is discussing why we do not recite a berakha (blessing) before doing mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro (commands relating to interpersonal behavior). He discusses first the option that it is because the mitzva require two to do it (the giver and the receiver) and therefor no single person can recite a blessing. He reject this and goes on to discuss a more fundamental difference between mitzvot bein adam la-makom and bein adam le-haveiro. He writes the following:

There is an obvious difference between the two types of command. In the case of commands between us and God, what matters is is the act and the intention with which it was performed… Intention gives the act the characteristic essential to a religious deed in Judaism, namely that it is a response to a command of God. For an act to be holy, it must be designated and dedicated as holy… In that minimalistic sense, intent is necessary.

An act between us and another human being however has a different character. What matters is not the act but the result… The point of the command is its effect on th world, on the other person, not the transaction in the soul between the agent and God….An intention defines the nature of an act, but here what matters is not the act but its outcome.Kantian or Kierkergaardian purity of will is irrelevant. We are not commanded to give to the poor primarily for the salvation of our souls, but for the sake of the poor.

His conclusion is that mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro are not blind decrees but universal rules of conduct, who “cause blessing” rather than needing a blessing and whose purpose is primarily in their effect.

My problem with this is a contradiction with the answer to the basic qusetion of why the world is imperfect. This he relates to in chapter 6 where he discusses tikkun olam (mending the world). The world is imperfect in order to give us a purpose of trying to mend it and get to the perfection by ourselves. If the world was perfect (like if we had no free will) then it would have no purpose because God doesn’t need robots. If the purpose of mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro was just their effect then God would have done it himself.

I would hold that while what he says is true, it is only one side. We are given mitzvot bein adam le-haveiro in order that we will do then and in perfecting the world also perfect ourselves. If I do a good deed and it is undermined in some way so that it’s effect isn’t full, it still has value in that it has changed me. Under this explanation the reason we don’t make a berakha is slightly more subtle. If I am doing an act that is supposed to refine me, then the last thing I want to do is to stand back a second and concentrate on my kavannot (intentions) and proudly proclaim “blessed is God who commanded me to do x”. Firstly, I may have second thoughts if I think about it too much, but more importantly it will promote a smug self-conscious satisfaction that destroys all the personal effect that the act will have on me.

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It is reported today in YNet that the vaad hatzniyus has been posting signs on shops round Meah Shearim requiring women to be dressed according their private dress code.

Shop keepers who tried to refuse were warned that if they didn’t hang the signs they would be boycotted. The general haredi public would of course follow the boycott for fear of their wives and daughters getting verbally abused and their children thrown out of school.

We already have this in the Ramat Beit Shemesh shopping precinct, only thankfully the boycott cannot be enforced outside of RBS Bet, so those who didn’t hang the signs go about theior business as usual.

Where is the police? How are these Taleban thugs allowed to continue to get away with this blatantly illegal threatening behavior?

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