Friday, May 27, 2016

Donald Trump, King of Fantasyville

I think the bottom line is that Donald Trump is popular because he gets away with many of the things that some folks would like to say and/or do but wouldn't dare.  He's politically incorrect--he says whatever's on his mind without regard to whether it offends people, and, when challenged, defends his right to be offensive.  He doesn't worry about the facts.  He "gets the girl," and that's close to the truth, literally--his current wife is 23 years younger that he is.  He probably pays much less in taxes than us non-millionaires.  And his fans eat it all up because they'd love to be in his boat.  You'll notice that I called them his fans, not his supporters.  This is a presidential candidate?  What do his fans think we're voting for, the next Wizard of Oz?!

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Embracing low standards, or, perhaps, no standards :(

I think that one of the news commentators on MSNBC was correct when she said that Donald Trump is not held to the same standards as a politician because he's not one--he's a businessperson and an entertainer.  This perspective raises a disturbing question:  Do some of us Americans think it's perfectly acceptable for a businessperson to benefit from other people's misfortune, or to game the tax system in a way that most less wealthy people cannot, and quite possibly pay little or nothing in taxes?

Naturally, I can't find a news clip on the internet, but I have a distinct memory that Trump once said he could shot someone in Times Square and people would vote for him anyway.  Unfortunately, his current status as presumptive Republican nominee for president would seem to indicate that he's right.  It appears that some Americans don't care that Donald Trump has no principles.  After all, he's just an entertainer.

And this is the person who may end up being the next president of the United States?  I weep for my country.  How the might have fallen.  :(

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Mechitzah: Separation anxiety

Might as well start with the definition and description(s) here.


I've always said that the problem I have with davvening/praying in an Orthodox synagogue is not the mechitzah (gender-separation partition), but what doesn't go with it:  In an Orthodox shul, a woman is not counted for a minyan, not eligible for an aliyah, and not permitted to lead services.  (In Women's Tefillah/Prayer Groups, which are women-led and for women only, those parts of the service for which a minyan is required are excluded; in Partnership Minyanim, women may lead only those parts of the service for which a minyan is not required.) That said, the mechitzah itself can be a problem, depending on the synagogue's hashkafah/religious perspective, which does vary within Orthodoxy.


From the Wikipedia entry linked above:
"There are different views on the proper height of a mechitzah separating men and women in a synagogue. Differences about minimum mechitza height represent a source of disagreement between more liberal or Modern and more Ḥaredi Orthodox Jews. According to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, used by Chabad-Lubavitch, a mechitza needs to prevent men from seeing a woman who might be immodestly dressed, and hence a mechitza needs to be as tall as a man, or 6 feet.[7] However, according to Modern Orthodox Rabbi Ahron Soloveichik, a mechitzah need only serve as a halakhic partition, and hence need only be the minimum height for such a partition. Rabbi Soloveichik holds that this height is 10 tefachim,(each "tefach" 3.2 inches) about 32 inches is acceptable. [3]."


There's a huge qualitative difference between being able to see and hear the "action," and davvening from behind a "Berlin Wall."  There's also a huge qualitative difference between praying in a decent-sized ezrat nashim/women's section and davvening in what I once heard an Orthodox man describe as "the penalty box," an area so small that women who show up for shul are made to feel that they're being penalized for their efforts.  And there are other considerations, as well.  A former blogger once described her synagogue's ezrat nashim as a balcony with a wire-mesh screen above the front wall.  While it's possible that the women could see and hear through the screen, I find the whole idea of praying in an ezrat nashim designed like a chicken coop downright offensive.


"In order to accommodate stricter interpretations and provide a way for women to see, many synagogues will make an opaque wall that is 3–4 feet high and add a lattice, screen, one-way glass, or other semi-transparent material above that opaque wall. "


That's one better way to go, and locals can see an example in Manhattan's Carlebach Shul.  Another good way is to use ramps--the men descend a ramp into their section and/or the women ascend a ramp into theirs, ensuring that the women and men are clearly separated without cutting off the women's view.  (Locals can see an example in Manhattan's Jewish Center).  Or, for minimalists, there's the good old three-to-four-foot mechitzah.  Orthodox Jews can't get around the requirement to have a mechitzah in a place of prayer, but I personally think it's preferable to ensure that women feel welcome than to insist that they be neither seen nor heard.


Here you can see photos of mechitzot, including mechitzot at s'machot/"simchas"/happy occasions.  Why some Orthodox folks think that women and men must be separated even when they're not praying is a mystery to me.

Friday, May 13, 2016

"Filming the action . . . "

I didn't want to link to this post on Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day) itself because it seemed inappropriate to complain on such a happy day.  But I found it upsetting because, as the author stated, the women in that synagogue's women's section were filming the action.  What she didn't say was that they were filming rather than participating--the men were dancing while the women watched. 
I've been criticized before (and may catch heck again) for not being able to accept the idea that women can be genuinely moved or happy when they are spectators at religious observances in which they can never be participants.  The blogger really enjoyed "photographing the other women photographing the dancing"?  It never occurred to her that she might enjoy the occasion even more if she herself were dancing?
I was particularly struck by the short video at the end of this post, which showed that the woman shooting the video (a) had her view partially blocked by the railing and (b) could only get a good close-up by using the zoom function.  I can't imagine praying, on a regular basis, in a synagogue in which I was so far from the "action" that I wouldn't be able to see it except partially and "in miniature" on Shabbat or Shalosh Regalim, when the use of recording devices is forbidden.

Fortunately, this isn't the case in all Orthodox synagogues.  I have personally attended more than one Sukkot service in more than one Orthodox synagogue in which some of the women carried their own lulavim and etrogim and in which we made our own Hoshanot circuit with a Torah scroll within the women's section.  There's a lot to be said for having side-by-side men's and women's sections with the mechitzah (gender-separation partition) in between--it's darned near impossible to dance when you're in a balcony, due to lack of room and/or sloped or step-based construction.  And there's a lot to be said for a congregation (and its rabbinic leadership) that considers it a good thing for women to hold a Torah scroll.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Discrimination in health-care coverage

Birth control methods that don't require a prescription (such as condoms and spermicides) are now easy to obtain, but we pay for them ourselves.  On the other hand, birth control methods for which one needs a prescription, which are almost always methods used by women (for example, birth-control pills, diaphragms, and intrauterine devices), are political footballs--liberals want insurance to pay for them, while conservatives won't touch them with a ten-foot pole.  So we pay even more for them ourselves.  Or else, we end up seeking abortions because we couldn't afford to prevent the conceptions.  For so-call pro-life advocates, that might be described as a case of penny-wise and fetus-foolish.  :(

But what about the rest of health care?  Why is it that the mouth is covered, but the teeth are not--we need separate dental insurance; that the eyes are covered, but glasses are not--we need separate insurance to pay for glasses; that the ears are covered, but hearing aids are not--good luck even finding insurance that pays for hearing aids!; that the legs are covered, but wheelchairs are covered by insurance for in-house use only, as if a person with mobility challenges is forbidden ever to go outside?  Aren't all of our parts part of our whole?  Why does health-care coverage discriminate against full-body health, safety, and well-being?

Much of this is nothing new, unfortunately.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

For Yom HaShoah: "The Holocaust Without Jews"

Yom HaShoah/Israeli Holocaust Day and International Holocaust Day increasingly run counter to one another.

"Last November in Sweden, the organizers of a Kristallnacht commemoration chosenot to invite Jews lest the universal lessons of the Holocaust be marred by the official participation of the people who were its primary victims. Yet the left-wing activists who organized the rally had no problem with Palestinian flags or posters equating the Star of David to a swastika, both of which make annual appearances at an event ostensibly called to remember the genocide of Jewish people."

I would compare this to having a large group of total strangers "invade" a yahrzeit (anniversary of death) observance for my mother and demand that I speak about every mother except my own.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Post-Pesach, plus politics, post

It's huntin' season again :)  (No animals will be harmed)
Yep, it's that time of year--we're looking for all the things we packed away before Passover.  We'll probably need at least another week to find everything.


A Conservative Jew reconsiders kitniyot
This year, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards declared kitniyot permissible during Pesach even for Ashkenazi Jews.  Being both a Conservative Jew and an Ashkenazit, I have now been given official permission to eat rice (well-checked for any chametz accidentally mixed in) and legumes on Pesach.  This would certainly make Pesach much easier for me, as I'm not only gluten-sensitive, but must also avoid white potatoes and other nightshades to prevent arthritis flare-ups.


That said, I may choose to continue avoiding kitniyot during Pesach in accordance with the teaching of Mishlei/Proverbs 1:8:
ח  שְׁמַע בְּנִי, מוּסַר אָבִיךָ;    וְאַל-תִּטֹּשׁ, תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ. 8 Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the teaching of thy mother;

My mother was adamant in her belief that Pesach and its menu should be different from the rest of the year.  And since I can't eat wheat anyway, how else can I keep Pesach's menu different if not by avoiding kitniyot?


Politics
After Donald Trump's landslide victory in Indiana yesterday, he will almost certainly be the Republican Party's nominee for President of the United States.  Personally, I think that his only skill is that he's mastered the media, and that his only goal is self-aggrandizement.


Friday, May 6, 2016 update:
I forgot about this Trump analysis.

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