So far the trip has been constant hard work. The Beit Din has been putting in 12 hour days. Some of us have come more than half way around the world to go no further than the front door of our hotel. We looked forward to Monday which was to be a day of touring. Some of us went on an organized trip to the lemur reserve. It was an interesting trip which took us past the vast slums of Antanamarivo where housing seemed to spring from a waterlogged marsh and people lived in dread of the flooding caused by periodic cyclones. The lemur park was a delightful nature reserve sponsored by France and Japan. Its inhabitants were ex-pets liberated from lives of ignominy as pets to the relative dignity and steady food supply of the reserve.
The lemurs were delightful. Their seemingly gliding through the air was quite remarkable. They even stopped to play with my wife’s cane.
Gate of the Rova. Notice the symbol on the left tower.
The next stop was not one of delight but one we where we felt lost. It was the Rova, the historic palace complex of the pre-colonial royalty. This site is dominated be the Queen’s palace, a huge stone structure that can be seen throughout the city. It was built in the mid-nineteenth century and compares quite well with European royal palaces. It was the prime repository of Malagasy tradition and culture. On a windy night in 1995 the palace was set on fire. The wind carried the fire so that all of the structures were destroyed. No one knows who set the fire and for what reason other that than that it has something to do with politics. It has been partially destroyed but the sense of loss remains strong.
One of the unusual features of society is the centrality of circumcision. An uncircumcised male is an object of contempt. The circumcised penis is also the symbol of royal power and appears on the gate of the Rova, one wonders what would have happened had the Jews been less modest. Tomorrow we are looking forward to the conference.
-Rabbi Gerald Sussman