Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore


When you’re an Israeli author looking to translate works from other languages, the Bible is as good a place as any to turn for inspiration for words that seemingly don’t have a translation. So when author Yemima Avidar-Tchernovitz first translated L. Frank Baum’s “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” into Hebrew, a 2,500 year old book served as a great launching pad.

Having already looked at the Hebrew translation of the Wizard of Oz years ago, I had a moment of sheer delight last week in our Tanakh class as we started reading the book of Job. Job opens with the line: “אִישׁ הָיָה בְאֶרֶץ עוּץ אִיּוֹב שְׁמוֹ” (There was a man from the Land of Uz, his name was Job). We don’t know much at all about this Land of Uz, though there are theories that it is a generic term for an unknown, easterly place. Sound familiar? Perhaps a place you can’t get to by a boat, or a train. It’s far, far away. Behind the moon, beyond the rain…

Turns out that the Hebrew title of the Wizard of Oz is “הקוסם מארץ עוץ” – or, “The Magician of Uz.”

The Wizard of Oz is the Wizard of Uz. Not only are the English and Hebrew words phonetically related, there’s an awesome depth to what the Hebrew name evokes. The word choice is brilliant. It connects a book that examines the question “why do bad things happen to good people?” (Job) to another that examines the question “what are good and evil?” (Oz).

I wonder what Israeli kids who have studied Job in school think when they watch or read Oz – does it have a different connotation to them? Do they associated it with their religious/ethnic heritage? Or is it just a damn good story?

What would Moshiach Eat?

Two interesting moments at shul this morning, back in Thornhill:

1. My Rabbi paused before Aleinu to say a few words:

Aleinu is a prayer about the coming of y’mei hamashiach – the days of the Messiah, or the Messianic age, depending on your point of view. In that light, I would like to make sure that the latkes have been put in the oven, so that they will be warm by the time we’re finished praying. You can’t have y’mei hamashiach without latkes.

On the surface, I’m sure this was just a humourous interlude for most – but it struck a great theological chord for me. That a rabbi who strongly identifies with the Reform Movement would make a reference to the coming of the messiah, and leave open the possibility that someone might accept a personal messiah, and not just the generic “messianic age” is a huge indicator of the uniqueness of the Reform Movement in Canada, and in particular, my Rabbi. It was a joke, a casual reference, not intended to be a drash or a d’var t’fillah. But in those few, brief sentences, there resonated a resounding cry of the possibility for Reform Judaism to embrace in practice the spectrum of beliefs that it purports to do so on paper.

2. Not having put much thought into it before, I noticed this morning at the start of the amidah that our congregation repeats the line “Adonai s’fatai tiftach ufi yagid t’hilatecha” chanting it twice – in Hebrew both times. While there’s nothing that says you can’t chant it twice, there’s also no specific reason to do so. One might ask: why is this prayer read twice? What is it about this specific line that merits a double reading? The answer – nothing. Then why do we chant it twice?

Before I go out in search of the actual answer, I want to posit a hypothesis…

A number of years ago, due in large part to the influence of the rabbi, our shul made a conscious decision to increase the amount of Hebrew used during services. As a result, almost the entirety of Shabbat Shacharit is now conducted in Hebrew. My guess is that on the way, the pre-Amidah line was read in both Hebrew and English, to facilitate the transition. At some point, the English was dropped, but people were accustomed to chanting it twice, so the English was just replaced with Hebrew, resulting in a doubly-chanted Hebrew line.

That’s my hypothesis. Tune in next week when I hope to have an answer from the Rabbi.