Morning worship today went from feeling like Shabbat: The Musical! to Shabbat: The Choral Concert. I really liked some of the choral arrangements that the Biennial Festival Chorus performed; I'm hoping that Liz, my fellow congregant who was in the choir, will save her music so I can peek at it when I get home. I love good choral music, and I've often found that singing it feels worshipful to me...but listening to it usually doesn't, and today was no exception. The Torah reading was neat, though -- there were six Torahs around the room where people could gather for aliyot, and a camera helpfully enlarged one of the scrolls onscreen so we could follow along...
Rabbi Eric Yoffie's Presidential Sermon -- a kind of State of the Union address, where the "union" in question is the Union of Reform Judaism -- lasted for about an hour and contained several interesting points, and I hope they'll publish it online at some point. He got wild applause when he spoke about the need to care for our gay and lesbian teens, and about the Reform movement's struggle to convince the Israeli Supreme Court to treat an Israeli Reform rabbi (who happens to be female) like they treat her Orthodox (and male) counterparts.
After services there were a series of study luncheons; I went to Dream Interpretation from Genesis through the Rabbis, a talk by Rodger Kamenetz (author of eight books, among them my perennial favorite The Jew in the Lotus). I didn't have my computer with me, so I wasn't able to transcribe it, but I jotted a few notes down on paper. It's simplistic, he said, to assert that Judaism is purely a religion of the word; instead, "Judaism is a religion of the struggle between the word and the image, between the interpretation and the dream."
The question at the heart of his talk -- and at the heart of his next book, due next year -- is "what happened to the revelation dream?" There are eleven revelation dreams recounted in Genesis, but who among us today would claim to have had such a thing?
Dreams, the Rabbis said, are 1/60th prophecy. Dreams can "upend the conventional world." Professor Kamenetz spoke about two of the most famous revelatory dreams in Genesis: Joseph's dream about the sheaves of wheat, and Jacob's dream about the ladder to heaven. He talked about the tension between dream and interpretation, and about how dreams evoke anxiety and fear. When Joseph interprets the dreams of others, he calms their fears. (Interestingly, he never interprets his own dreams, though it seems clear that his brothers are able to do so.)
Revelation dreams, Professor Kamenetz said, aren't something we interpret -- instead, they interpret us. Freud said that all dreams reflect the past, but revelation dreams break that mold; they reflect our future.
So who's the culprit in the mystery of the missing revelation dream? The Rabbis (capital-R, e.g. the sages of the Talmudic era) killed the dream. There's a Talmudic story about a rabbi who went to 24 different dream interpreters, and who got 24 different interpretations for his dream -- and all 24 of them came true. For the rabbis of the Talmud, speaking a dream's interpretation made that interpretation true (they phrased this as "Dreams go according to the mouth.")
Professor Kamenetz told a great Talmudic story about a woman going to Rabbi Eliezer to get her dreams interpreted; twice she came to him and said she had dreamed that her ceiling beams split, and both times he foretold that she would bear a son, and both times she did. But the third time she had the dream he wasn't in his study, so his students interpreted the dream for her -- and told her she would bury her husband. She left weeping, and Reb Eliezer saw her in the street and asked his students what they had told her. They told him, and he responded, "You have just killed a man." From this we can see how seriously the Rabbis took dream interpretation.
The Rabbis worried about conflicts between interpretations, and they wanted the Torah to be the top interpreter. They said "a dream uninterpreted is like a letter unopened," and used Torah to interpret (and, by so doing, to determine and change) the meaning of dreams.
Alas, those are all the notes I was able to take; I ran out of scraps of paper at that point, so I just sat and listened. He closed his presentation by saying that the revelation dream survives among mystics -- and by talking about the dream-interpretation work he does now, helping people untangle the (often painful) messages that their dreams hold. (Someone asked him what license he has to do such work; he responded, "None; I'm a poet!" That made me laugh.)
Afterwards I went up to him and shook his hand and thanked him; reading The Jew in the Lotus all those years ago is part of what set me on the path I'm currently on, and it was definitely a life-changing book. I think he appreciated hearing that, though we weren't really able to connect -- too many people were in line to bend his ear. Still, I'm really glad I heard him speak...and I had the added pleasure of running into an old friend at his talk, one of my room-mates from this visit to Elat Chayyim, which added a little light to my day.