Kosher Queers

14 — Va'eira: Enough Frogs to Overwhelm Our Oppressors

January 23, 2020 Jaz Twersky and Lulav Arnow
Kosher Queers
14 — Va'eira: Enough Frogs to Overwhelm Our Oppressors
Chapters
Kosher Queers
14 — Va'eira: Enough Frogs to Overwhelm Our Oppressors
Jan 23, 2020
Jaz Twersky and Lulav Arnow

This week, we are joined by long-time friend of the pod Nora Chernov, with whom we discuss embarrassing fandoms, uncircumcised lips, and literal sorcery. We also get some of those good good listener emails, and so get to share a Noach conspiracy theory. 

Full transcript available here

Nora reads some different translations than us, including the JPS Tanakh and the Alter Bible translation. You can read Ethan's full textual breakdown of Noah as a trans man here. The book recommendation we received was for Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings. You can find Nora on Twitter @NoraChernov.

Content notes: This episode contains discussions of slavery and human suffering from natural/divinely created disasters.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at [email protected], follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Ezra Faust. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union. 

Support the show (http://patreon.com/kosherqueers)

Show Notes Transcript

This week, we are joined by long-time friend of the pod Nora Chernov, with whom we discuss embarrassing fandoms, uncircumcised lips, and literal sorcery. We also get some of those good good listener emails, and so get to share a Noach conspiracy theory. 

Full transcript available here

Nora reads some different translations than us, including the JPS Tanakh and the Alter Bible translation. You can read Ethan's full textual breakdown of Noah as a trans man here. The book recommendation we received was for Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings. You can find Nora on Twitter @NoraChernov.

Content notes: This episode contains discussions of slavery and human suffering from natural/divinely created disasters.

Support us on Patreon! Send us questions or comments at [email protected], follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers, and like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers. Our music is by the band Brivele. This week, our audio was edited by Ezra Faust. Our logo is by Lior Gross, and we are not endorsed by or affiliated with the Orthodox Union. 

Support the show (http://patreon.com/kosherqueers)

Lulav: Welcome to Kosher Queers, a podcast with at least two Jews and generally more than three opinions! Each week we bring you queer takes on Torah. They’re Jaz —

Jaz: And she’s Lulav.

Lulav: And she's Nora! And today we’re gonna talk about Va'eira.

[Brivele intro music]

Jaz: I am really excited that Nora's with us this week. Nora Chernov is a trans Jewish educator and community builder who loves getting lost in the texts, ideas, and practices of our tradition. She graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2017 where she also served as the solo professional for Jewish Student Life for two years after graduating. Nora relocated to Philadelphia in the fall of 2019 and currently works for ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal. She is known for having strong opinions on Jewish text, podcasts, politics, and tabletop role playing games. (Lulav chuckles) Nora, your bio notes that you moved the fall of 2019, but it doesn't note that we met - also in the fall of 2019 - two weeks before you moved, which was delightful. We met at jail support for the Tisha B'Av protest, which was fantastic. What a good way to meet a person

Nora: Yeah, it was really quite lovely. It was a great experience and then I slept for like a day and a half afterwards.

Jaz: Oh yeah.

Lulav: So Nora, you're in roughly the same physical location as our audio editor, Ezra, right?

Nora: Ezra and I were at shul and sat next to each other last night.

Lulav: Good, I'm so glad.

Nora: Yeah, no, Ezra has become a very dear friend as well, so yes, very proximate.

Lulav: Cool. Next week's guest, Khesed, also sits pretty close to me at shul, so I'm glad that we're bringing shul buddies on.

Jaz: (chuckles) It's great. Alright, Lulav, how long do you want for your summary this week?

Lulav: I'm going to say 50 seconds.

Jaz: Okay.

Lulav: And hopefully not be struck down by my hubris.

Jaz: Okay. It looks short. I feel like we can aspire to it. (Lulav giggles) Alright, ready, set, go!

02:43 

Lulav: Last time on Sh'mot: We had a covenant, and the Being God will see it through. Moshe is Levi's great-grandson, apparently. The game is rigged, but our intrepid hero starts it off by playing with the big boys. First plague — the river of life becomes a river of blood. Second plague — Aharon joins the shenanigans with anurakinesis, and we're unbindingly promised a holiday by Pharaoh. The brothers make gnats & flies (except in Goshen), and Pharaoh makes a prayer closet. Cow plagues, human plagues, and weather plagues get us temporary and empty promises. Done!

Jaz: That was so fast. You had 13 seconds left. You probably could have done it in 30 seconds. 

Lulav: Amazing. 

Nora: That was impressive. 

Lulav: Yeah, there's a lot of formulaic stuff happening and I think this is also shorter than a lot of the parashot around it. 

Jaz: Mm. 

Nora: And see, I would get so lost and just like, why is the formula slightly off though right now, that I would never be able to do a quick summary like that. 

Lulav: (laughs) That's very fair. I did condense all of the three plagues into one. 

Jaz: Yeah. It is interesting that we only get three of them, but — 

Nora: Well, we get the first seven? 

Lulav: We get six. 

Nora: Six. 

Lulav: Six? 

Jaz: Yes. But we do not get the last three of them. Anyway, are we ready to dive into the beginning of it? 

Lulav: I would lurve to. 

Jaz: Okay, first G-d speaks to Moses and introduces Xirself, and says, "I appeared to your forefathers as El Shaddai but you're the one who gets my full and real name," and this is, I believe, the first time we get the yod-hay-vav-hay as a name. And then G-d says, "I've heard that the Israelites are moaning and in bondage and I'm going to free you through miracles, and you'll know that it was me who did it and you'll get out of this land," but the Israelites were kind of crushed about it. Their spirits were not able to be raised by Moshe telling them what's going to happen. 

Lulav: Jaz, when you say moaning and in bondage, this is the safe-for-work and profoundly evil kind, right? 

Jaz: (laughs) Uh huh. 

Nora: My G-d. 

Lulav: Okay cool, just checking. 

Jaz: Love that combination, both safe for work and profoundly evil. That seems like the fine way that we organized priorities. Anyway. (laughs) 

Nora: Okay. In a totally different way, I have some questions about what's going on here. (all laugh) 

Lulav: Yes please. 

Nora: So, a couple things. One, you mentioned about the different names for G-d we get, which is really interesting to me, mostly because it means that I hate reading English translations of Torah going forward from this point, because translating the Tetragrammaton as "Lord" is like, the thing that makes me want to run out a building screaming sometimes (Lulav laughs and Jaz makes emphatic noise of agreement) even though there's like, a lot of really good reasoning for actually going into that, right, and who’s authoring and codifying when from a historical perspective; it still is like, “Okay but I bump off this a lot”. 

Lulav: So Nora, in my short summary, I said "the Being G-d." Do you feel — like, does that make you want to scream or just kind of like, moan, or what are you thinking? 

Nora: No, I'm into that! That's fine. It's really just like — sometimes I have a bone to pick with Priestly voices in Torah 

Jaz: Yeah. 

Lulav: Very fair. 

Nora: And we're really in Priestly voice territory. (Lulav chuckles) 

Jaz: It's true. 

Nora: That complexity is part of why I like Torah study, of being able to be angry with it is the best part of Torah in my opinion. But also, it's a little bit frustrating. And then the other thing that you mentioned, with Moses trying to, like, tell the Israelites, "it's fine and G-d's here" and it not working — there's some interesting translation going on there. And there was a footnote in one of the various translations that I read that references the Rashi about this, because the word for soul and spirit is the same as the word for breath, right, they share a root?

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Right. 

Nora: And then it was like, it's both a metaphysical bondage has made it so that they are so beaten down that they can't see hope and also there physically isn't the energy to follow this idea. 

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: Mmm.

Nora: Right? Like, there is no breath left because bondage has drained them of it.

Jaz: Hmm.

Nora: And then is this also where we get Moses saying I can't talk to people, or does that come a little bit later?

Lulav: I believe that was last chapter. 

Jaz: We have both. We had a lot of it last chapter but so yes, right after this they wouldn't listen to him and then G-d says this time, "okay, go and tell Pharaoh" and Moshe says to G-d, "Okay but the Israelites didn't listen to me, and why would Pharaoh then listen to me?" and then does say "yes, me, who gets tongue-tied." 

Nora: So that's fascinating. 

Jaz: Yeah? 

Nora: Because that's not what the Hebrew says. 

Jaz: Ooh, what does the Hebrew say? 

Nora: The Hebrew says, "of uncircumcised lips"

Jaz: What?! 

Lulav: Yes! I love that. Can you read that real quick?  

Nora: Yeah, give me one second. The JPS translated it as "But Moses appealed to the Lord, saying, 'The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!" But the Hebrew is, "Va-ani aral s'fataim" which is "and me, with uncircumcised lips" or "uncircumcised language." 

Jaz: Mm. 

Nora: Which I think is interpreted both to be a physical impediment of some sort but also there's notes about a ritual purity of speech and I think this is something that we see a lot from Moses in particular that differentiates him from the other figures that we follow in Bereishit: that Moses is actually really plagued by doubt a lot of the time. We see it again and again, right, that Moses doesn't see himself as actually capable in their way and that phrase of uncircumcised lips to me is such a "I'm not prepared to do this" that is a really fascinating pivot from these very intensive patriarchs who are also, like, the ones who are in charge of everything, right. 

Lulav: Yeah. 

Nora: Like, we're not dealing with the house of Yitzchak anymore, right. It is b'nei Yisrael. It is the children of Israel. It's all of them and as much as Moses has that higher status from them in a bunch of different ways, he doesn't have it implicitly. He doesn't implicitly have that power and he doesn't see himself as able to carry this message either. 

Lulav: So the reason that I asked you about the Hebrew is — is that called the Amidah, where we pray "adonai, s'fatai tiftach?"

Nora: Yeah, it's at the end of the Amidah. 

Jaz: Mm hmm.

Lulav: Okay. What's the latter half? "Ufi yagid tehilatechah?" 

Jaz: Yes. 

Nora: Yes. 

Lulav: Okay, there's a tune, where it's (sings) "Adonai, s'fatai tiftach / Ufi yagid tehilatechah," 

Jaz: Mm hmm. 

Lulav: And then it does it in English, "Adonai, open up my mouth that my words may declare your praise," I think? 

Jaz: Mhm. Yeah. 

Lulav: But like, whenever we do that tune I say, "circumcise my lips that my mouth may declare your praise" because it's etymologically related to what Moshe says here, like, “how then shall Pharaoh listen to me, I am uncircumcised of lips”.

Jaz: Huh. Yeah. Yeah, yeah yeah. 

Lulav: Yeah I just really like the whole thing about, like, cutting the covenant — yeah. 

Jaz: That's super cool. Alright, can we keep going? 

09:22 

Lulav: Yee.

Nora: Yeah.

Jaz: Our next bit, Moshe says that to G-d, who doesn’t even dignify this with a response really, but instead gives more instructions, and then we go immediately into a genealogy right in the middle here (Lulav chuckles) and it mostly appears to be the genealogy for Moshe and Aharon — where they come from.

Lulav: Mmh-hmm.

Jaz: So we get which tribe they are, but we do get a couple other families, and then we note that they are Levites, and also see their parents. There is Amram, who took to wife his father’s sister, Jocheved, and Amram and Jocheved are their parents. 

Lulav: Not to be confused with Rambam.

Jaz: (Laugh) Uh huh. (Lulav chuckles) And so we get this genealogy and then we’re like, yeah, so, it’s these people. Aharon and Moshe. And then they repeat a little bit of it, saying like, Moshe appealed to G-d, saying, "See, I get tongue-tied," or "I have circumcised lips, how then should Pharaoh listen to me?" and now we get G-d’s reply, which is, it says here, "See, I place you in the role of G-d to Pharaoh with your brother Aharon as your prophet." And then gives more instructions of like, you’ll speak and he’ll speak and Pharaoh won’t listen and there will be many miracles and then, eventually everyone shall know that I’m G-d and you shall leave the land. And then we get their ages when it happened which are eighty and eighty-three respectively.

Lulav: Oh my G-d, I missed that part. (Jaz laughs and then Lulav laughs)

Nora: These old men are about to throw down, also. (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Lulav: So, do we know what word is used for, "See, I have made you like G-d to Pharaoh"?

Nora: It’s "Elohim." 

Lulav: Mmm, mm-hmm.

Jaz: Got it.

Lulav: I’ve made you like a court of gods?

Nora: Elohim is a name for G-d in and of itself.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Mm-hmm.

Jaz: It’s a little bit more… generic’s not quite the right word. You would only use it for G-d, it’s not you would use for like, talking about Egyptian gods-

Lulav: It’s plural, right? It’s like multiple gods as one G-d?

Nora: Yeah, it’s a name for G-d that we see a lot, especially in the creation story. 

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Yeah. I mostly ask because I think this is working in the polytheistic system where Pharaoh is the representative of a bunch of gods, but so is Moshe? Except for the bunch of gods are, like, The One, Being G-d. I don’t know, I just like god names. (Laughs)

Nora: Yeah, no. 

Jaz: Oh yeah.

Nora: I mean, and we’re in the midst of it now, right? (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Yeah, no, it’s a good question. Small note that my translation — to your point earlier, Nora — doesn’t use the word "Lord." We default to the Eternal.

Lulav: Hmm

Jaz: As, as our one, when they’re not just saying G-d.

Nora: That’s lovely! (Lulav chuckles)

Nora: I like my other translations that I have and also am frustrated with them. That’s not true: The Everett Fox's Five Books of Moses will do Y-W-Y-H which is also...

Jaz: Hmm.

Nora: Interesting.

Jaz: That’s nice, also.

Lulav: Y-H-W-H?

Nora: Yes, that would make more sense.

12:40

Lulav: (Laughs) Because it’s yod-hay-vav-hay?

Nora: Y’know, spelling is not one of my gifts, okay.

Lulav: You are so valid. And have many other gifts!

Jaz: So, having been given these instructions, they go out and Moshe instructs Aharon and they cast down the walking staff and it turns into a snake and Pharaoh is like, "well we can do that too" and he summons his sorcerers and magician priests and they also turn staffs into snakes.

Lulav: (Laughs) To be fair, who else would you summon?

Jaz: (Laughs) And then we’re like, okay we can do better and Aharon swallowed the other snakes but Pharaoh still does not respond in any way and this does not count as one of the miracles, apparently?

Lulav: I guess that’s only a plague specifically on the sorcerer priests rather than on, like, (Jaz laughs) the whole of the Egyptians?

Jaz: Yeah, they’re just dunking on the courtiers here. (Lulav laughs)

Nora: You know, if depending on how their magic is working, also, right, it could be like, it’s a whole thing to go and make a new staff that is like, attuned right, it’s a whole —

Jaz: Hmm.

Nora: Yeah.

Lulav: I think that I’m going to add something to my personal haggadah which is, the one dunk and the ten plagues. (All laugh)

Jaz: Ah, okay, and so then G-d is like, "well, Pharaoh’s being stubborn about it; bring the snake-staff and talk to him in the morning when he’s going down to the river," and gets instructions about turning the water into blood. And then both the brothers go and turn the water into blood! Again the magician priests come and are like, "we can do that too!" So they do that and all of the regular Egyptians are suffering because they can’t drink the water and the fish are dying and...it’s a pain in the neck. This first plague happens for seven days and then Moshe goes on G-d’s instructions and is like, "I can do another one, do you want me to do another one?" (Lulav laughs)

Nora: I have a lot of thoughts about this in terms of like, when injustice needs to be overthrown in dramatic ways, right, like: who gets targeted and who suffers and who has to deal with the repercussions, right, ‘cuz the —

Jaz and Lulav: Mmm-Hmm.

Nora: We’ll get there, but there’s some really interesting ideas about separating out that that come up later for me, but also, like, if I was in Hebrew school and they had told me like for like the fifth time that we were learning about the plagues, like, also there’s a wizard fight happening as this is going on — (Lulav giggles delightedly)

Nora: Like, y’know. I was reading Charlie Bone at that point, this is exactly that type, like give it to me, you know.

Jaz: Right! I always forget about the fact that there are magician priests happening, even though that’s so metal!

Nora: Yeah!

Lulav: Wait, Nora how old are you? 

Nora: I’m 24.

Lulav: Okay. Charlie Bone, wild. (Laughter)

Nora: You know, I was not on the train of the other British wizard boy. (Lulav and Jaz laugh)

Nora: Umm, so give me my X-Men who are also really, like, dorky theater kids, right

Lulav: Also, I don’t think we’ve said it on this podcast yet, but Magneto was right, imo. (Jaz laughs) And any time that Magneto is not right, it’s the writers’ fault, not his. (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Nora: Umm, I don’t know that I disagree, so yeah. (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Jaz: I don’t know enough about my X-Men, except that I know that Magneto is Jewish and tragic and villainous and lovely? And that people who seem to have good opinions believe that. (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Nora: Shout out to the time that Magneto and Kitty Pride visit a Holocaust memorial together.

Lulav: Yeah.

Nora: It’s —

Jaz: Aww.

Nora: A time.

Jaz: Aww.

Nora: And they do a really great job with it, actually, and comics are good sometimes, as it turns out. 

Jaz: Aww.

Nora: Not often enough, but sometimes. (Jaz laughs)

Lulav: When they’re not written by Nazis! (she laughs, and Jaz sighs) Oh boy.

Jaz: Yeah, well. Okay, anyway, so — wait, I do actually have one question for the two of you and then we can move onto more plagues, but, why do we think blood is first?

Lulav: So, this is a really obvious one? Like, it’s the Nile; it’s a really important thing that affects basically everybody in Egypt? That is my take on that. Nora, do you have anything?

Nora: I actually don’t really, like I think there’s — I think it’s dramatic, I think it’s a really haunting visual, I think it also is kind of...there’s an element to which it’s effective for Moses and Aaron, I think, also. Right? Like,

Jaz: Hmm.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: We don’t know how on board they are at this point, right? Like, they’re more on board than they were, right.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: Like, also, listen to what I tell you and you’ll turn the river into blood, is like okay, yeah, (Lulav chuckles) there might be something here that’s going on. (laughs)

Lulav: Why am I dumping all these phosphates in the water? (Nora laughs) I don’t understand. And then there’s an algal bloom. 

Jaz: (laughs) A what, sorry?

Lulav: Algal bloom. (Jaz laughs)

Lulav: So, in the modern day, you get a lot of farming runoff, where there are phosphates in the water and the phosphates overfeed the algae, which causes them to grow and be, like, red and stinky and take up all the oxygen.

Jaz: Oh, fascinating.

Lulav: And, everything dies, so it’s basically like we’re poisoning water supplies with gigantic things of blood. (Nora laughs)

17:43

Jaz: Okay. Fascinating. So after the blood, then is frogs, and there are frogs all over and it’s very dramatic, right? They enter your palace, your bedchamber and your bed; the houses of your courtiers and your people, and your ovens and your kneading bowls. The frogs shall come up on you and on your people and on all your courtiers. (Lulav chuckles) And then they do, and then Pharaoh is like “Get. Rid. Of. Them.” (Nora and Lulav laugh)

Nora: Are you saying that one morning when Pharaoh awoke in his bed — (Jaz bursts out laughing) there were frogs in his bed (Lulav coughs) and frogs on his head. Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes. Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere?

Jaz: Frogs jumping everywhere, yeah. (laughter)

Lulav: I love this. Is this another like…?

Jaz: Yeah, it’s a children's song (laughter)

Nora: My mother taught Jewish nursery school for over 20 years (Lulav laughs)

Nora: So we still sing that at our Seder.

Jaz: (Singing) Frogs here, frogs there, frogs (Lulav chuckles) were jumping everywhere. (Lulav and Jaz laugh)

Lulav: Wow. OH! I would really like to see a Jewish horror film where they have that song, but it’s like really menacingly sung by —

Nora: Please never at all!

Lulav: Disembodied children.

Jaz: Sto-o-op (laughter)

Lulav: (Laughter)

Jaz: Anyway, the Pharaoh is like, you have to get rid of the frogs, and Moshe’s like, when? And Pharaoh is like, tomorrow!

Lulav: Tomorrow (Lulav and Jaz laugh)

Jaz: Which has very much energy of, “I don’t know that I can say, like, right now,” like, why tomo- anyway.

Lulav: (Laughter) It’s a lot of frogs, my guy. 

Nora: So, one quick thing that I did notice, and I think this came up in the Alter translation. This idea that the Nile, like, affects Pharaoh but doesn’t affect the Pharaoh directly, whereas this is an invasion of royal property and space. In a way that like, okay, now it’s starting to get a little bit personal. 

Jaz and Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Yeah. But the frogs don’t just hop off into the sunset, (Lulav laughs) they die in place and they pile them in big heaps. But Pharaoh still- Pharaoh’s like, “but now the frogs are gone we don’t have any problems any more,” so G-d is like, “uh uh, lice now,” (Lulav laughs) and this is the first one where the magician priests can’t make lice the same way 

Lulav: Oh! And I want to point out Pharaoh is hardening his heart every time that a plague is revoked. He’s just like, “nah, what did we just talk about? I’m not gonna let you do whatever I just said I’d let you do.”

Jaz: Mm hmm. And this one the priests say, "this is the finger of G-d," cuz they can’t do it and if they can’t do it, it’s gotta be G-d. And then there’s insects, and heavy swarms of  insects come.

Nora: So, with the insects, is also the first time that we get a distinct separation of “these plagues are going to happen to you, but not to the Israelites”, which is a really interesting thing of both like, it’s another differentiation between the power that G-d has and the power that like, these magician priests have, but also so much of what our current conception of, like, what holiness will look like in contemporary Jewish practice is built around ideas of separation?

Jaz and Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: And so much of our liturgy, right. And also see the separation of carving out exceptions and carving out spaces where some people are targeted and some others and it’s like —

Jaz: Hmm.

Nora: I am like, a lifelong Reconstructionist, right. Like, chosenness has never — 

Lulav: Hmm.

Nora: been a part of my Judaism and so, it’s interesting there, right, and the separation is being made but it’s not being made between Egypt and B'nai Yisrael but it’s not being made between B'nai Yisrael and the Egyptians who are in power and Joe Schmo Egyptian, right?

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Right.

Nora: Which, like, I feel multiple ways about. I think that if your society is built off the oppression of others —

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: I think that everybody is responsible for it, regardless of their status in society, right?

Lulav: Oh, fair, yes.

Nora: And also, not everybody has the power to be making that change.  

Jaz: Right, and we talked about in one of the previous episodes, Joseph gets to consolidate a lot of power in the hands of authority and so the Egyptian people...I mean, yes, this one is years later, but we have no reason to believe that the Egyptian economy has changed drastically since then? And so the set up is: most people are serfs.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: Who can sort of only live on government controlled areas and like with government controlled food supplies, and all of those different types of things; and then you have the Israelites who are below that, but it is not like most people are doing great. Just the ruling class —

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: and the priests. Okay. So Pharaoh says, ”Go sacrifice, but do it inside the land,” and Moshe says, “We can’t; we have to go far away to do it,” and Pharaoh says, "well, you can go, but not very far. And, get rid of the insects when you do." (Nora and Lulav laugh)

Nora: If you don’t mind.

Jaz: (Laughter) Yeah.

Lulav: Also I would like to apologize, there are in fact seven plagues in this parsha, it’s just that I forgot that there was a difference between gnats/mosquitoes/lice, and flies.

22:40

Jaz: Hmm. Yeah. Also, okay, this is a really small side note, but there is a note here: Moshe asks G-d and G-d gets rid of the insects, and the next line is, but Pharaoh became stubborn this time also and would not let the people go.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: So my family does a lot of singing on Passover too, and this reminded me, in particular, of a song that we do every year, that’s called “The Five Constipated Men”.

Nora: Yep, uh-huh. (Lulav chuckles)

Jaz: Which includes Pharaoh among them — he’s, I don’t know, number four or whatever, because he would not let them go

Nora: Yep. Truly, it’s a special song in the Ashkenazi canon. 

Jaz: Alright, so, then livestock! All of them - horses and donkeys and camels and cattle and sheep - get really sick. And again there’s this distinctioNora: the livestock of the Israelites and the livestock of the Egyptians, and which ones die. And we have a specific time, it happens the next day and Pharaoh looks into it and finds out that that’s the case and that happens to the animals. And then, G-d asks Moshe and Aharon to help out with the next plague. "Each of you take handfuls of soot and throw it up towards the sky and it will become a dust all over the land of Egypt." And everybody — both humans and animals — get boils

Lulav: Yeah.

Nora: Truly the most dramatic pocket sand of all time. 

Lulav: (Giggles) And the boils are so bad that the magicians can’t show up. 

Jaz: Yeah. Not only can they not help, they’re like really laid up in bed.

Lulav: Mm hmm. I can’t tell if this is like, when I don’t want to go to a meeting and I’m just like “(melodramatically) Oh, I am ill.” (Nora chuckles) Or, if it’s like, when I have a really bad migraine or, like, the flu and I’m like “(sickly) Oh, I am ill.”

Nora: My instinct is that it’s meant to be the second one, but there’s a part of me that loves the first of just like, these magician priests were like, ‘He’s not gonna get it’. Like, I like the idea of the magician priests realizing like, oh G-d’s got our number like, we’re not going to win this one. 

Lulav: And also, they spent four generations or whatever and, like, the previous time, just having allotments from the state for being priests? And so they’re used to not having to try very hard.

Nora: (Laughter) We will have a conversation around the rigors of religious leadership offline. (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Jaz: I like that this requires human help, for no obvious reason, and also that it is like, hey, did you know that if you put lots of bad things into the air that people are surrounded with it will cause them to have bad reactions to it? Hint at our entire ecosystem. 

Lulav: Yeah...like we had algal blooms before, and now we’ve got, like, heavy particulate matter in the air? Okay.

Jaz: Yeah, and G-d says, "You have to tell Pharaoh, ‘I’ve sent you some plagues and I could do worse. And you’re continuing to do bad things to my people so it’s only gonna get worse for you from here on out’," and says, "here’s what the next one’s gonna be" and warns them to like, bring everybody inside to protect them from the hail. 

Lulav: Oh yeah, this is one where the officials of Pharaoh can be protected from it. So like the ones who, quote, “Feared the word of the LORD”, end quote, hurried their slaves and livestock off to a secure place. 

Jaz: Right. Nora, did you have thoughts about this one?

Nora: I think like, sometimes when I look at the plagues, like, very quickly, I’m like “oh it’s hail, like, you know it’s bad, duh duh duh duh,” but like, it is like —

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: such catastrophic weather that is like very real —

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: especially in like contemporary climate anxiety and also, I feel so conflicted about the plagues generally, right, of the need of an expression of power towards liberation, right; the fact than it feels in some ways that G-d has artificially ups the...the drama and the violence in order to show G-d’s own power? Which is like, iffy for me in a bunch of ways? But also, there’s something so evocative of it that works for me.

Jaz: Hmm.

Nora: This way in which, like, the world revolts against injustice.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Nora: Especially cuz it’s like, “hail that Egypt has never seen since it became a country”, like is explicitly used as some phrasing in this. This is a difference of...kind, that there needs to be upheaval in order for a better status quo to emerge. But it also (Jaz hums contemplatively) still doesn’t care about the everyday Egyptians, so, it’s difficult.

Jaz: Although this one sort of does, a little bit, right? In that, like, there is a warning this time.

27:02 

Nora: True.

Jaz: Like, we have a: the plagues are only going to get worse, and this time there is a warning of “you should all go inside.” (Lulav chuckles) And the ppl who listen and do go inside, it regards those ppl as safe. Like, it says they are brought in to safety. And I guess we don't know, when it says they brought their slaves and livestock indoors, we're not clear — or, at least I'm not clear, I don't know whether either of you did research on this particular point — whether “slaves” is supposed to be all Israelites; whether that's supposed to include Egyptians as well; who's being at risk there. 

Lulav: That's a good question.

Nora: I did not look into that but it is worth doing some deeper reading.

Jaz: Yeah. We’ll have to check it out. And then Pharaoh, after the hail, says “I was wrong and my people were wrong, and we really need the hail to stop,” and Moshe says “so I'll go and I'll ask G-d and the thunder and hail will stop, but I don't know if you're really truly respectful enough — and, like, a lot of the foodstuffs have been ruined but yeah, I don't know if you're there yet”.

Lulav: Including flax, which is used to make linen. So like, the linen crop for the year was destroyed.

Jaz: Mm hmm. But, there’s some that are still around. It says, like, the wheat is still there because — well, it didn't ripen yet so it wasn't destroyed.

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And Pharoah still, right after this, hardens his heart again, and that is the end of the parsha.

Nora: Yeah.

Jaz: Oof. Closing thoughts or questions before we move on to the rating?

28:31

Nora: I mean, we're in it.

Lulav: We're in it! I love how this entire parsha is pretty much contained in, like, two scenes and a song from Prince of Egypt. Like, this is a big part of the story.

Jaz: Yeah! And a long period of time. Like, (Lulav chuckles) it doesn't happen in a week.

Lulav: Like months, right?

Jaz: Yeah.

Nora: This is a parsha that I actually haven’t gone terribly deep on in the past? When I was working at RIT, I would often do a weekly drash, but this always happens during the winter break, so students weren't around so we didn't talk about it, so I didn't have a — a reason to go back and look at it very deep?

Lulav: Oh no.

Nora: And it's really — there's so much going on that is kind of great storytelling for all of its other flaws — potentially, theologically — and all of the difficulties that I think it raises up, right? Like, the question of why we hold on to what we hold on to is always very interesting to me and like… this is a very evocative narrative of, (Jaz hums appreciatively) like, the world revolting, right, against injustice. And it's...it’s cool.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: Yeah.

Lulav: Uh, I was going to do a rating?

Jaz: Great! Okay, sure.

Lulav: This is a toughie, so do you want it to be Nora or Jaz?

Jaz: (overlapping) I'll take it. I —  I — 

Nora: (overlapping) I'm not a coward, I can handle an unbound scale. (Jaz laughs)

Lulav: You're not a coward! Yes! Beautiful. Okay. So, there are two axes here: one is size of hail, and two is number of hailstones. So like, ranging from little piddly ball bearings to like, I dunno, a cantaloupe or something, and from, like, the occasional “plink plonk” to just like, constant hailing, what would you rate this chapter, Nora?

Nora: I think I would give this… probably about like, golf-ball-sized?

Lulav: Okay.

Nora: But, like, in a Rochester storm.

Lulav: So I've never been to Rochester, New York. You're going to have to elaborate a little bit for me.

Nora: It is a… lovely city that is also a frozen place that tries to slowly kill all of its residents.

Lulav: Yes, okay.

Nora: (laughs) So, uh, about that...

Lulav: (laughs) That is what I’ve heard.

Nora: There's a lot going on the entire time. It's notable, right? But it's not, like, huge impact each piece. It's kind of the continual...there’s so much going on that I feel its, really, strength comes from...

Jaz: Ooh. From the repetition of it.

Nora: And the ways that those formulas start to change.

Jaz: In some ways...and the intensification. Yeah.

Lulav: I think that’s my favorite type of hail, property damage aside. Just like, golf balls and a lot of them over time.

Jaz: Fighting back against the powers that be; not with dynamite but just with hailstones.

Lulav: (laughs) Who's next, who’s next!

Jaz: I think Nora's next, cuz you answered that one!

Nora: Sure, so I guess this is going to Jaz then?

Jaz: Yeah.

Nora: Okay. So one thing that we didn't dig into is this little bit of funkiness that happens with the words “sfardeia” and “sfardim”, for frogs, which my mother, when I was five years old, made me write a midrash about.

Jaz: Tell us, tell us!

Nora: Oh. Well, so, it's actually incorrect, because there isn't really a significant difference in the pluralizing, but, long story short, five-year-old Nora thought it was one big frog that exploded into thousands of smaller frogs? (Lulav and Jaz gasp)

Lulav: I love that!

Jaz: Yes!

Nora: Which is great and like, an adorable story about me, and so much worse with the end bit of how that plague ends, of just like, frog corpses stacked on top of each other. (Nora and Jaz laugh)

Lulav: Yeah

Nora: All of this to say, out of an incalculable number of frogs, how many frogs would you rate this parsha?

Jaz: Oh, so I got the open-ended scale! Okay, we're just doing difficult scales around all week.

Nora: I wasn't going to come here and not do that. Like... (laughs, and then Lulav and Jaz join in)

Jaz: I feel like I've been hit with one of those, like, John Green "what size is your infinity" questions?

Lulav: Okay. (Jaz laughs) You know that the field of abstract mathematics exists, right? (Nora laughs and Lulav laughs) You know that John Green didn't invent that?

Jaz: I —

Lulav: He was just pretentious about it. I say, as somebody with one of the limited-edition Fault in Our Stars audiobooks.

Jaz: Ha! (Lulav laughs)

Nora: I’m not going to say my signed copy isn't on my bookshelf right now, so. (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Jaz: Great. Okay, I...

Nora: Look, we were all 16 once, okay! (Jaz and Lulav laugh)

Jaz: I've been in more embarrassing fandoms.

Lulav: I was 21. (All laugh) 

Jaz: Okay, I was at least a teenager. Um, I would say, out of an incalculable number of frogs, I would give this...yeah, a “several palace courtyards full” of frogs. Living ones. (Lulav laughs)

Nora: By area, or by volume?

Jaz: By volume. They're just all there, squirming and alive, and I would do that because I think that this- look, there's not a lot of narrative but there is a lot of pathos and power to it, and I...both struggle with and really resonate with the idea of the plagues, and they’re so visceral and, like...such powerful symbolism, and I like the fact that you’re overwhelming them by just bringing more, like, life into it, so I like the idea of: the rating is “enough frogs to overwhelm our oppressors”, you know what I mean?

Lulav: Good.

Nora: Sorry, excuse me as I change my Twitter display name.

Jaz: (laughs) Great.

Lulav: I'm going to have the paired Twitter display name, which is “🐸a countable infinity of frogs🌴”.

Jaz: Great. (laughs)

Lulav: Currently it's "✡ even if our enemies are the gods themselves 🌴" because I've been playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Sorry for all the digressions.

Nora: But to shout out, my current display name is “My Rashi, My Rambam, and Me”. (Lulav laughs)

Jaz: Yeah, I love it. So good. So that's mine. Okay. And, Lulav, out of —

Lulav: Hurt me.

Jaz: I was just going to go so simple! Out of one river full of blood, how much blood would you rate this parsha?

Lulav: Okay, I love that. I would rate this parsha — hmm. Wow. You gave me one of the, like, plagues that I'm the most conflicted about. 

Jaz: Ooh.

Lulav: Is it algae, is it blood? Also, poisoning water supplies is not the best. Anyway, point is, I would say seven megatons of phytoplankton and ten gallons of blood, because there are a couple of real good nuggets in here where we get kind of the like...interplay of ppl that we've come to expect from the Yosef story? But mostly, it's a lot of algae. And, I love it, but it is kind of repetitive.

Nora: Y’know, I will say literary criticism are not my field, but there’s some Joseph Cotten Campbell stuff going on here also. (Lulav laughs) Just kind of derivative. (Lulav laughs harder)

Lulav: Good. I'm so glad.

35:25

Jaz: So there's more to say about this, maybe when we finish the plagues, but I do just want to say — because that's what this parsha is all about — that I have really conflicted feelings about the plagues in several directions and that I really wrestle with as a thing that lots of social justice spaces around Passover are like, “here are 10 modern plagues” and then they list like 10 bad things that are happening in the world related to a particular subject. And I don't like it, because, like, sometimes...last year I went to one and they were like, “here are 10 plagues related to immigration,” and they listed 10 bad things that are happening to immigrants? And I don't appreciate it bc I think it implicitly frames immigrants as our enemies and aggressors, since that is the context in which we have plagues. And that, like, I really appreciate that we acknowledge the plagues as really bad things, um, that we like don’t take joy in the bad things that happen to other people.

Lulav: Yeah.

Jaz: But I do think we do have to keep them in the context of like: they were necessary for us to get free, and not like — and a tool that we used and that we are therefore morally responsible for, also? And have to grapple with?

Lulav: Mm hmm.

Jaz: And not like a "and here are bad things that are happening in the world that we don't like," you know; like, that's a different — that’s a different thing. I'm getting off my soapbox now. (Lulav chuckles) We are moving into Continuity Corner and I just want to highlight — my friend, Danna Creager, the other day texted me and said, “I was reading a book and it was a George R R Martin book and he made up a reason for how Cain can take a wife which shouldn't make sense because there's no other people around yet.”

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: Do you want to guess what the fictional explanation was?

Lulav: So Nora can't see the document and I want her to guess. (Lulav laughs)

Nora: Sorry, so this is going back to how Cain is able to have kids?

Lulav: Uh huh. (muffled giggling from Jaz)

Nora: So what's funny is this was my b'nei mitzvah parsha.

Jaz: What!

Nora: Literally this was the maftir. This is what I read, was Cain's lineage.

Jaz: Okay.

Nora: I hated it.

Jaz: Okay.

Nora: Because I was like, why do I have the most boring part of all the beginning of Bereishit? (Lulav laughs and there's a pause)

Jaz: I'm waiting with such bated breath.

Nora: I mean... this is a George R R Martin thing?

Jaz: It sure is. (Lulav giggles)

Nora: Um... someone did a murder, again, and then bad politics — I don't know. I'm trying so hard now. Dragons! There, I'm going with dragons. Final answer.

Jaz: You were, honestly? Pretty close. His answer was vampires? They're vampires. (All laugh)

Nora: Um, shout out to the improv game I once played where Cain was portrayed as the longest-living international assassin. (Jaz scoffs & Lulav laughs)

Jaz: That's great. Also because Danna sent it to me, I looked it up more and apparently there's like a little bit of a history? Like there's some other video game, maybe like “White Wolf”, I don't really know —

Nora: Yes! Yes. There's —

Lulav and Nora, overlapping: Vampire the Masquerade.

Jaz: But anyway, also calls Vampires Canaanites or something to that effect? [🌴: “Cainites”, apparently!] Or like —

Nora: Yeah, Cain's the first vampire in that universe.

Jaz: Yeah, so. There's that.

Nora: That's amazing. I love that. That's all so great.

Jaz: So but I have two other things that I wanted to say in our Continuity Corner. We have started to get listener mail from people who I don't know personally, which I am thrilled and delighted about. Really happy to have gotten stuff from, like, friends like Danna, but I also am super excited to have things from listeners~. And this one was from Ethan, who wrote in with what they called “a Noach conspiracy theory”, (Lulav chuckles) which is just a great midrash about how Noah is a trans man.

Lulav: Oh, okay. I thought this was going like, “Bigger Noah” directions where there are actually two Noachim (Jaz laughs) and one of them is just slightly taller. (Jaz laughs again)

39:31

Jaz: No, but there's this verse, right, chapter 5 verse 29 that is, in English, “This shall relieve us from our wrongdoings, and from the toil of our hands; from the ground that G-d cursed,” and Ethan looked at it and was like, “Hmmmm. Well, who named Noah? How would they know that he would be able to do this? And, like, what did he do?” and Ethan was like, “Well, they couldn't know all of those things about him if he was being named at birth, so he must have been named later and gotten this name later and you know who gets named later? That's us. That's us! And, um…(Lulav chuckles) actually, I'm going to link people, I think, to this whole thing?

Lulav: Good.

Jaz: Cuz it's great. But also, there is this addition here that usually we hear more about people’s wives when they have children, like, at least a little bit, but we don’t for Noah’s wife — just this (Lulav hums like Yoda) verse that says, “Noah begot three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth,” and then when we were exchanging verses about it I appreciated this bit that reinterprets it as: the reason his wife's name isn't mentioned isn't because of misogyny, but just because, like, she didn't give birth to them so she's not relevant to the begotting part.

Lulav: Okay.

Jaz: Their explanation is that he gave birth to them, yes.

Lulav: So show of hands, who thinks that Noah's wife was a cute trans girl? (Jaz giggles) What do you think?

Jaz: I'm down.

Lulav: I like the T4T angle. (laughs)

Nora: I'm very much, like, a queer who reads lots of Torah, but not someone who finds queer takes on Torah often. That was delightful.

Lulav: Aww.

Jaz: Mm. I wrote back and I was like, “This is really fun; I have a quibble with one line of it, which is: before we get the line that says, like, ‘and he called his name “Noah”’, which is where you based the ‘him being named later in life’ bit, the line before that says, ‘When Lamech had lived 182 years, he begot a son,’ which contextually suggests that Lamech named Noah?” and I was like, “So...but I like your reasoning for why it's later in life, like I think that that makes sense and tracks. Ergo, Noah is a trans man but his dad is really supportive and helps name him later in life.”

Lulav: Good. Also he could have been like, here's a list of three names I like; choose your favorite.

Jaz: Yeah! Anyway, so, that was really fun and also Ethan noted that, re: the interetation about the wife, that Ethan works with a chevruta who is a queer cis woman and so that it helps them to learn with her because, like, they come at it from slightly different angles and she gets to pick up on stuff like that that sort of highlight more of the perspective of specifically some of the women in text.

Lulav: Yay.

Jaz: Yeah. That was really cool! Anyway, Lulav, your piece?

Lulav: Number two in the mailbox, or I guess number three if we include the vampires thing, is: we were talking about how fatness used to be viewed as generally speaking a very good thing and now it's a little more mixed? And my friend Hauke, who you may recognize from sharing the characterization of Enkidu in the epic of Gilgamesh, sent me a link to a book, which is Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings. And, they haven't read it personally, but it was very heartily recommended to them and just based on the thesis, which is that a lot of the American — and maybe not-American, I don't know — take on fatness being bad comes from fear of Black people and like, denigration of them? So yeah, that's just a potential source for anybody who wanted to do more reading on that.

Jaz: Great. I mean, not great that it's like that, but —

Lulav: No, horrible in fact.

Jaz: But we'll link to it. Okay, and then, one more thing we got was from Callum who wrote in and said that he had, when he was younger, an English translation of this book called Sefer haYashar, which I don't know if either of you had ever heard of before, but I had never heard of before?

Lulav: Oh yeah, the book of... the Yashar.

Jaz: Is that a no, you've never heard of it before?

Lulav: No, (Jaz laughs) never, sorry. I am constitutionally unable to admit when I don't know a thing. (Jaz laughs and Lulav laughs) I'm working on it.

Jaz: Um...anyway, and it includes a bunch of midrash and I appreciated this because Callum was like, "I'm realizing from your podcast that I literally had forgotten how little narrative there is in the actual Torah compared to the midrash." (Lulav laughs) Which is great. Anyway, Callum was like, “I often get the urge to interrupt with some midrashim that I remember, so I'm just sending them in”. And so, in Mikeitz, there's a midrash that Yaakov explicitly told the 10 sons to split up and enter the city at 10 gates, and a guard on the wall noticed that they had split up and watched them regather together once they had entered the city — to explain why Yosef had reason to accuse them of being spies.

Lulav: Mmm.

Jaz: Also, to add to the melodrama in this parsha and next, every time Yosef has to have a small cry, it's made explicit that he just walks out of the room mid-conversation to go to his bedroom and cry, and then just walks back in like nothing happened. (Lulav laughs desperately)

Nora: Uh, as the youth would say, big mood? (Jaz laughs)

Lulav: “Hey, uh, Yosef, where'd you just go?” “I've been right here the entire time, what are you talking about? (sniffle)” (Jaz laughs)

Jaz: Um...yeah. Also there's one more from the next parsha that said Yosef asked Binyamin to come sit with him during the meal since they both had, quote, “no other brother”, and they had a conversation about what happened to Binyamin's brother, since he's like, “my one whole brother or whatever was lost” — even though I am not endorsing this method of being like “my real brother is my biological full sibling”...anyway, but so Binyamin was known for being a skilled astrologer; he brought out a map of the stars and asked him if the stars could find his lost brother, which inevitably led to Binyamin reading in the stars that Yosef was in the same room as him. Which is just very sweet! Oh yeah, and then they’re arguing — Yosef and Yehuda get into this whole thing over whether he could keep Binyamin as a slave (Lulav scoffs uncomfortably) where Yosef says he could set the entire Egyptian army on them and Yehuda responds with “Oh yeah? Well, just two of us killed an entire city”. (Nora laughs) 

Lulav: That's not something to be proud of, my guy. 

Jaz: No! And, Yosef literally tells him he should just sell Binyamin for the divining cup just like he sold another brother for silver. (Lulav laughs) 

Nora: Wait, literally meet me in the pit! 

Lulav: (bro-y voice) Not cool man; I told you that in confidence! 

Jaz: (laughs) Yeah. 

Lulav: Jaz, can you take us to the close? 

Jaz: Yup. Thank you for listening to Kosher Queers, (Lulav and Nora giggle) for this wild episode. But, if you like what you’ve heard, you can support us on Patreon at patreon.com/kosherqueers, which will give you bonus content and help us keep making this for you. You can also follow us on Twitter @kosherqueers or like us on Facebook at Kosher Queers, or email us your questions, comments, and concerns at [email protected] - like our listeners did today! - and please spread the word about our podcast! Our artwork is by the talented Lior Gross. Our music is courtesy of the fabulous band Brivele, whose work you can find on Bandcamp. Go buy their album, they’re great. Our sound production this week is done by our excellent audio editor, Ezra Faust. I’m Jaz Twersky and you can find me @WordNerdKnitter on Twitter. I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Lenape people. 

Lulav: I’m Lulav Arnow and you can find me @spacetrucksix on Twitter, or yell at me @palmliker! I recorded this audio on the traditional lands of the Wahpékute and Anishinaabeg.

Jaz: Nora, where can people find you?

Nora: I’m Nora, you can find me @NoraChernov on Twitter, and I also recorded this on the traditional land of the Lenape people.

Lulav: Nora thank you so much. You’re a delight.

Nora: Thank you for having me.

Lulav: Have a lovely queer Jewish day.

[Brivele outro music]

Jaz: This week's gender is: cloudy ambivalence.

Lulav: This week's pronouns are: something, I dunno.