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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Ritual and Scholarship

Later this evening, I'll be helping to lead a community-wide service in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (For those of you in or near the 'Hassee, it will be at Temple Israel on Mahan at 630pm; all are welcome.) This powerful story in today's NYT about the rededication of a Torah from Auschwitz will be on my mind.

The story resonated with me on a separate level because of its brief allusion to the ritual associated with crafting a Torah scroll. It notes: "Its ornate Hebrew must be hand-lettered by specially trained scribes, and it is considered unacceptable if any part is marred or incomplete."  While sitting in shul on Saturdays, I often lose myself in the essays at the back of the Etz Hayim book of the Torah in the pews. This past Shabbat, in particular, I was drawn to one by Stuart Kelman on the ritual production of Torah scrolls. (You can get a flavor of it at this Wikipedia entry, but it's not quite so detailed as Kelman's piece. On the other hand, this website looks promising.)

It's an amazing process, and naturally for someone as confused between the sacred and profane as I am, I was wondering what rituals prawfs-people adopt, if any, prior to engaging in scholarship or service or teaching. I understand that at some mission-oriented schools, prayers are made prior to faculty meetings, which often have an elevating effect on the tone and tenor of discussions. I also think I have heard that some professors say a prayer before each class.  I'd be curious to hear if anyone has their own prayers or Wade Boggs-like "chai and chicken" rituals that help them write scholarship on a regular basis. It needn't be sectarian, just ennobling of purpose, a bit different from the "I write from rage" school of thought I was exposed to during my 1L torts class with this mysterious guy.

Posted by Administrators on April 30, 2008 at 10:53 AM in Article Spotlight, Current Affairs, Dan Markel, Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I favor deep cleansing breaths before class -- or, as I once wrote on this blog, listening to "That's When I Reach For My Revolver" on my Ipod. At the beginning of each semester, I take a purifying bath; because I don't regularly bathe after that, my wife has suggested increasing the frequency of the ritual. Finally, before writing my piece on Grutter's First Amendment, I sacrificed a heifer; but note that local laws may vary on this one. I am considering working my way up to human sacrifice before my tenure process -- or, alternatively, being the human sacrifice at my tenure process; I can't decide which.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Apr 30, 2008 11:56:58 AM

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