Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Sarah Palin and Hashem, keeping notes on their hands?

Hat tip to DovBear, who notes this derasha which Sarah Palin made:
At an Ohio Right to Life fundraiser Friday, the former Alaska governor assailed the media for criticizing her for writing speaking pointers on her hand at the tea party convention last month. Some critics charged Palin with double standards after she took a jab at President Obama’s use of the teleprompter.

“I didn’t have a good answer to that criticism because I thought it was so ridiculous,” Palin said. “But then someone sent me the other day Isaiah 49:16.”

The verse reads, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”

For Palin, that was encouragement enough.

“Hey, if it was good enough for God, scribbling on the palm of his hand, it’s good enough for me, for us. In that passage, he says, ‘I wrote your name on the palm of my hand to remember you.’ And I’m like ok, I’m in good company,” she told cheering supporters.
Oy. In terms of whether the pasuk actually means this... Well, perhaps, sort of. The pasuk in question is Yeshaya 49:16:

טז  הֵן עַל-כַּפַּיִם, חַקֹּתִיךְ; חוֹמֹתַיִךְ נֶגְדִּי, תָּמִיד.16 Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands; thy walls are continually before Me.

But Saadia Gaon points out that kapayim in other contexts means clouds, and that this is what is means here as well. Radak argues, writing:
[מט, טז]
הן על כפים -
פירש רב סעדיה ז"ל:

כמו עננים, וכן: נשא לבבינו אל כפים. 
והנכון כמשמעו. וכן תרגם יונתן.
כלאו את חקוקה, לפני שאזכרך תמיד.
Looking at a Mikraos Gedolos on Yeshaya, we find Rashi gives both explanations. Mahari Kara is not explicit, but it seems he favors engraved on hands. Ibn Ezra cites both but favors the hand interpretation, for reasons he gives there. Targum Yonatan: Behold, you are like engraved upon hands before Me.

We might also consider Yeshaya 44:5:

ה  זֶה יֹאמַר לַיהוָה אָנִי, וְזֶה יִקְרָא בְשֵׁם-יַעֲקֹב; וְזֶה, יִכְתֹּב יָדוֹ לַיהוָה, וּבְשֵׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל, יְכַנֶּה.  {פ}5 One shall say: 'I am the LORD'S'; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel. {P}

and consider the ancient practice of writing on the hand to show that one belongs to one another. Thus, in an Aramaic papyrus from Elephantine, 427 BCE:
Meshullam son of Zakkur, a Jew of the fortress Elephantine, of the detachment of Arpakhu said to the woman Tapmut (as she is called), (3) his slave, who has on her right hand the marking "Of Meshullam," as follows...
Note that even if it means hand, this is metaphor. Hashem does not have a hand! (Just dibra Torah ke-leshon bnei adam.) And he would not need to engrave something upon his hand as a memory aid! And this is likely like a mark, showing attachment and a maintained connection. It is not crib notes!

Despite all this, I think that it is misguided to mock Sarah Palin for having notes inscribed on her hand.

I know. I often teach; sometimes secular subjects, and sometimes shiurim. And there are three things I can do, going into a lecture or shiur:

(1) I could use full written notes. I find that, particularly for shiurim, it is useful to write out the derasha in full, just to make sure all the ideas are developed, and to make sure that there are smooth transitions from one idea to the next. This even if I don't actually read the notes. (So, on the advice of Rabbi Lookstein, in his class on homiletics.) But on the occasions that I actually read the notes out loud during a speech, the result is a wooden delivery. It is like using a teleprompter.

(2) Another option is to go in without notes at all. I've done this on more than one occasion. The drawback is that I might forget a connection, and flounder about for a minute while trying to reestablish it. And sometimes I forget to address one of the important ideas I had planned on discussing.

(3) I could give myself a terse outline. The three or four major ideas I plan on addressing, with maybe a transition or two; or a turn of a phrase. The result is a more engaged and natural delivery, but hopefully covering all topics I want to cover, in the order I want to cover it.

That I would opt for (1), while referring occasionally to notes; or especially that I would opt for (3), does not indicate that I am a moron, who cannot remember the three or four points. It means that I can get nervous, or caught up in a discussion, and forget to mention some point I did wish to deliver.

That Sarah Palin wrote on her hand a reminded that she wants to lower taxes does not mean that without that note she would have thought that she wants to raise taxes -- to cite DovBear --
Now, you may have thought Sarah resorted to crib notes because she needed to remind herself that she wants to lower taxes (no joke, this was one of the actual reminders she put on her hand)
Rather, this was one point she wanted to talk about, organically, out of, say, 50 points that she might have discussed. Look at the picture of her hand, above. She wrote "budget cuts", but crossed out "budget" and wrote in "tax cuts". I suppose because tax cuts speak to voters, who want this practical result of more money in their pockets, while budget cuts means limiting government, a means to the end of tax cuts, but also suggesting, in some instances, a reduction of services. She was giving a speech, and was using this as an outline.

And she couldn't very well bring a piece of paper to the interview, while looking so natural; especially after having criticized President Obama for his over-reliance on a teleprompter. Even though this is very different, in terms of audience perception, it is a fine point of distinction that many might not grasp.

Anyway, check out this SNL clip, a trailer for the movie 2012:


Anonymous said...

Despite all this, I think that it is misguided to mock Sarah Palin for having notes inscribed on her hand.

I think she's mocked because typically only people who wish to cheat use crib notes. Using them is not a respectable act. Also, she's opened herself up to it by being a leading critic of Obama's teleprompter. Sauce, goose, gander, etc.

joshwaxman said...

"I think she's mocked because typically only people who wish to cheat use crib notes."
except that who says we should cast this as crib notes? if she were not on camera at the angle she was at, she might well have had a sheet of paper in front of her. this was a way of looking pretty without being without notes.

"Using them is not a respectable act."
but this was not a "test". i don't really see anything not respectable about what she did. i do see a bunch of folks jumping at every chance to mock, whether or not it is warranted.

"Also, she's opened herself up to it by being a leading critic of Obama's teleprompter. Sauce, goose, gander, etc."
i mentioned this point in the post. this is a non-starter. there is a vast difference between the two. why was she criticizing Obama for this? the idea seemed to be that he was not really a good speaker with original ideas. rather, he delivered ideas and phrases crafted by his paid word-smiths, verbatim. thus, mocking (incorrectly) him for not being able to speak to elementary school students without his teleprompter. she did not have all her prepared remarks on her hand. she had a memory aid to the specific talking points she wished to address, and then she spoke at great length about all those points, NOT reading from a text, but speaking as a normal, articulate, geniune person would speak.

thus, it is only "Sauce, goose, gander, etc." if one does not think carefully about the implications of each respective charge.

the rest is petty politics.


Yeshivish said...

The hatred for Sarah Palin is down right pathological. It is not hard to tell when people have completely lost a grip of the issues. As soon as people try to demonize someone that is when you know. Someone could disagree with Sarah Palin, I really have no problem with that. In fact, there are plenty of things that she believes which I disagree with. I understand though, that shes an accomplished woman with a great deal of intelligence. To call her an idiot is without a doubt proof that it is something more than a disagreement.I see a similar sentiment when it comes to Israel.

Yosef Greenberg said...

How did this turn into a political argument?!

I like the way you turn this into a shtikkel Torah.


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