Friday, October 29, 2004

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop a to drink"—New York City’s tap water has been declared treif (no joke)

Some of us in the non-Orthodox Jewish community are wondering what the rabbis will come up with next. First, there was "sheitel-gate,” the recent controversy over the use of “Hindu hair” in Orthodox women’s wigs. (See my August 3, 2004 post, “A Wig and a Prayer,” at Now, there's this:

A few months ago, some rabbis declared that the tap water in New York City contains tiny crustaceans and is, therefore, treif/trayf (not kosher) unless filtered. Discussion of this ruling has been all over the Jewish blogosphere, among other places. Those wishing to understand what the commotion is all about can click on over to, where Simcha, an Orthodox rabbi by training, but not by profession, has numerous hyperlinks to discussions on halachah/Jewish law listed in the sidebar under Selected Topics. Scroll down to VIII and click on hyperlinks I-VI for New York Water. You might also wish to read a rabbinical dissent published in the Jewish Press (a right-wing Orthodox newspaper published in New York City), at

I've read some interesting complaints on the Jewish blogs. One commenter said that this ruling may have a deleterious effect on the health of those too poor and/or too old to go out and buy bottled water on a hot summer day or to install a water filter. Another commenter protested that the ruling was based on a misinterpreted definition: The claim being made was that the crustaceans were visible to the naked eye of anyone who’d been trained to see such things, but, said the commenter, if one had to be trained in order to see the crustaceans, then, by halachic/Jewish law definition, the crustaceans weren’t visible to the naked eye, and, therefore, did not render the water treif/non-kosher. Yet another commenter complained that, next thing you know, the rabbanim/rabbis will find something in the air that will make them declare that treif, too, after which we won’t be allowed to breath without face masks.

People are taking this ruling very seriously in the Orthodox community of New York City. I have it on reliable authority that there are now signs posted in kosher restaurants and take-out establishments in the Borough of Brooklyn, City of New York, announcing that they use only filtered water. On the other hand, if it’ll make you feel any better, there are those who, after discussing the issue with a rabbi, have concluded that the kashrut of their tap water is not a problem and have chosen to continue drinking unfiltered New York City tap water. But still . . .

Are you as puzzled as I am by the recent tendency among some of the Orthodox to interpret halachah/Jewish law in a more stringent fashion that their parents do (or did)? I've found an article posted by The Out of Step Jew to be helpful. The article is quite long, but well worth reading. You can find it at —check out the sidebar and click on H. Soloveitchik: Rupture and Reconstruction.

May 18, 2007 update:
Here's a link to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," from which I borrowed (though, apparently, not entirely accurately) the title of this post.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Recommended Reading

I’ve been too busy “blog-hopping” to write anything lately. Here are a few posts that you might find of interest.

Naomi Chana has clearly put a lot of thought into her October 24 post on intermarriage, “In Which I Am Intense,” at This is a must-read.

Another meshugannah mommy, in her October 19th post, issued an invitation to her more observant friends to respond, on her blog,, to the concerns addressed on my blog in the posts, and comments to, “Men in Halachah” #1 and #2. I’ll be keeping an eye on the comments.

The Out of Step Jew in Kfar Saba is in the process of writing some very distressing posts concerning the conflict among Israelis regarding the proposed unilateral withdrawal from Gaza (the hitnatkut). Follow his discussion of this issue at

Psycho Toddler currently finds himself between a rock and a hard place, having to forbid his daughter to sing before a mixed audience even though he, himself, is not entirely comfortable with the strict interpretation of the halachic/Jewish Law prohibition against a woman singing in the presence of a man. Check out his October 21 post, “My Daughter's Voice,” at

The Shaigetz, who’s actually a Chassid, has done such a good job of skewering “the elders’ obsession with visual temptation” that his post October 19 post is currently up to 157 comments. I’ve given up trying to read them all. But I recommend that you check out the original post, if not the responses thereto, at While there has been much discussion in a local Jewish paper about the deleterious effects of the radical separation of Orthodox men and women on their ability to find spouses, this is the first time I've seen anyone discuss the deleterious effects of this separation on existing marriages.

My personal assignment for tomorrow night is to spend some time at catching up on guest-blogger dilbert’s posts. They look far too interesting to miss—and I’m too far behind to be able to read them all tonight.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Adam Ragil, an undecided voter, invites you to his blog to convince him

I—and you—received this invitation via e-mail on Oct. 19 (sorry for the delay):

“For one week only, baynonim is going political. You and your readers are invited to visit the site and convince this swing voter that Bush/Kerry is the right man for president.”

Here are Adam’s rules:

"All visitors to the blog are invited, and strongly encouraged to answer this question: Why does either candidate deserve my vote? Comments that disparage the other candidate will be deleted. I want to know why your candidate is better, so please don't waste my time telling why the other guy is no damn good. Outstanding comments will be posted on the blog itself, and at the end of the week, the commenter who's done the best job (to be determined arbitrarily) will be listed on the sidebar among the ranks of honored bloggers and contributors who have won baynonin challenges. (If you choose to post anonymously, please use a pseudonym)”

I encourage you to click on over to and have a look and/or post a comment.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities, part 2

Here’s my thesis #2: According to halachah/Jewish law, all men have weak egos.

You want proof? You’ve got it.

Centuries ago, when universal education was not so readily available even in the Jewish community, the rabbanim/rabbis established several practices in order to prevent the less-educated from being embarrassed in public. Speaking of the less-educated, I’m not learnèd enough to list these practices in the order in which they were established, so please bear with me if my list is not in chronological order.

Practice #1(?): Every groom, even the greatest scholar, was to be required to recite the central statement of the marriage ceremony, “Harei at . . . . ,“ word by word after the m’sader k’dushin (whoever’s “performing the ceremony”). In this way, a groom who was not educated enough to recite the words by himself would not be humiliated in front of the gantze mishpocheh/entire family.

Practice #2(?): In an era in which universal education was not a given, but the requirement for a man, but not necessarily a woman, to study Torah was already established, the rabbis ruled that a woman, though technically permitted to have an aliyah, should not have one “l’ma-an kavod ha-tzibbur” (for the sake of the honor of the congregation). At that time, a person called for an aliyah had to read from the sefer Torah/Torah scroll by him/herself. Therefore, only a literate person could be called up for an aliyah. The reasoning of the rabbis was that a congregation whose women were educated enough to read from the scroll, but whose men were not sufficiently educated, would be embarrassed, since men were required to study Torah but women were exempt.

Practice #3(?): The rabbis established the practice of having a baal koreh (master of the reading)/leiner/pre-assigned Torah reader, in order to enable any man to have an aliyah, whether he were learnèd enough to read from the sefer Torah for himself or not.

Whoa, Nellie! Wait a minute! Rewind that tape! Play back the previous song on that CD! Let’s go to the videotape! Let's see the instant replay!

Women were banned from having aliyot lest their ability to read from a sefer Torah put men to shame. Then, the rabbis established the practice of having a “designated reader.” Therefore, even if you assume (which, obviously, I don’t) that having some women in the community who are better educated than some of the men is an embarrassment to the community, the reason for continuing to prohibit women from being called up for an aliyah no longer exists! Now that every minyan has a baal koreh, no one has to be capable of reading from the scroll in order to have an aliyah!

Why, then, does the prohibition against giving women aliyot persist? Why, indeed, was the prohibition established in the first place? The only reason I can see is that the rabbis were convinced that men have weak egos, and were so concerned about protecting a man’s fragile self-image that they were perfectly willing to ban half the Jewish people from reading from the scroll of the Law that we all received at Sinai.

Why should every Jewish woman be forced to pay the price for protecting Jewish men’s weak egos? Is not every Jew responsible for believing that all humans are made b’tzelem kelokim, in G-d’s image (however one wishes to interpret that)—and for acting accordingly?

Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities

The sages of old were so convinced that females were “the other” that they named an entire Talmudic tractate—“Nashim (Women)”—after us. I thought it would be interesting to treat the men like Martians, for a change, and see how they like it.

So here’s my thesis: According to halachah/Jewish law, all men have poor self-control.

You want proof? You’ve got it.

I copied this from, Simcha’s blog—on that blog, just check the sidebar to the right for the “Select Topics” list and click on "Kol Isha I."

“It is generally understood that a man is not allowed to hear a woman's singing voice. . . .

The central talmudic discussion of kol ishah [my translation: a woman’s voice] is in Berakhos 24a:

R. Yitzhak said, "An exposed handbreadth [of flesh] of a woman is ervah (a matter of sexuality)."For what purpose? If I say that the rule treats the matter of gazing upon such a thing, Rav Sheshes said, "Why did Scripture list ornaments worn outside clothing along with those worn inside [at Num. 31:5]? It was to tell you that whoever looks even at the little finger of a woman is as if he stared at her sexual parts." Rather, the rule relates to one's own wife, and it pertains to the recitation of the Shema.

Rav Hisda said, "A woman's leg is ervah, as it is said, 'Uncover the leg, pass through the rivers' (Is. 47:2), and thereafter, 'Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yes, your shame shall be seen' (Is. 47:43)."

Shmuel said, "A woman's voice is ervah, as it is said, 'For your voice is sweet and your face pretty' (Song 2:14)."

R. Sheshes said, "A woman's hair is ervah, as it is said, 'Your hair is as a flock of goats' (Song 2:14)."

I should, perhaps, mention that another translation of ervah is “nakedness/nudity.”

Hence, the prohibition against hearing a woman sing, kol ishah ervah, can be translated literally as “a woman’s voice is nakedness/nudity” (or, in another version of the prohibition, kol ishah ervatah, “a woman’s voice is her nakedness/nudity”).

So let me get this straight: According to the Talmud, not only a woman’s leg, but also her (singing) voice, her hair, an exposed bit of her flesh/skin, and even her pinky are the functional equivalents of total nudity.

By way of response, I’ve copied the text below from Miriam's post (and the comments on) “Bnei for the men, Braq for the women,” found at

"Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, the head of the central rabbinic court in Bnei Brak, is asking righteous women to kindly leave shul before the service is over for reasons of 'modesty.' "

One anonymous commenter, obviously more learned than I, had this to say: “The midas chassidus [attribute/character trait of piety] is for men to take care of their own souls . . .“

My own comment, both to that post and to this one:
When I was a kid, there was a saying: "Children should be seen, not heard." Apparently, some in the Jewish community are of the opinion that not only should women not be heard ("kol ishah ervatah"), women should not [be] seen, either. Yes, indeed, why should women miss kaddish [which can be recited only with a minyan] and davvening b'tzibur [praying with a congregation]? Why is it more important for women to "protect" human males than to show kavod [honor, respect] for HaShem? (Would you walk out of a classroom before the class was over?) Why, pray tell, does the onus for the preservation of tzniut [modesty] always fall upon the women? Is a man not responsible for controlling his own yetzer ha-ra [evil inclination]?

As you can see, according to the Talmud and at least some current rabbanim/rabbis, men have such poor self-control that even looking at a woman’s pinky is enough to distract them with sexual thoughts. By commenting on a woman's body in such a judgmental manner, the rabbis actively encourage men to shift the responsibility for their own yetzer ha-ra/evil inclination to us women and blame their own poor self-control on us .


“Between Jobs”—Temping in a rotten economy

Faced with the prospect of helping my husband earn some college tuition money for our son, I was hoping that the certificate in word processing that I earned in early 1997 would enable me to find full-time permanent employment. Apparently, I was suffering from delusions of fiscal grandeur. Seven years later, not only am I still temping, I’m now earning $4 less per hour than I earned in 1999—when I actually have a job. In 2001, I went nine whole months without a single day’s work—and six of those months were before the terrorist attacks of September 11. This year, I haven’t worked for a full month straight since the end of March. And my prospects of ever being employed in a full-time permanent position are decreasing in inverse proportion to my age. Thus far, I’ve been passed over for permanent employment on three occasions in favor of people whose knowledge of Word or Excel was not as good as mine—and two of the lucky people were young enough to be my daughters, literally.

I’m not surprised that my husband is less than thrilled about my inability to earn a steady income. What does surprise me, however, is the reaction of my friends. Apparently, I’m considered lucky. First of all, I’m married to a guy at least part of whose income—namely, the pension that he gets from his early retirement after 30 years of drudgery—is stable, albeit insufficient to cover our expenses. Second of all, my husband’s retirement benefits include health coverage. So many of our friends who, like us, are paying college tuition for a kid or two (or facing that prospect down the pike), are dealing with long-term unemployment, difficulty in finding freelance work, and/or ex-spouses whose child-support payments are unreliable. One of my friends is happy to be working two jobs and earning several thousand dollars less than she made several years ago because she now has health insurance for the first time in months. My problems are petty, by comparison. As a result, much of what I have to say is considered trivial and a waste of time that my friends don't have. I've become little more than a nuisance with too much time on her hands.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Parshat B’reishit: Adam and Eve—a coming-of-age story

Anyone who’s been around young children knows that they’re totally unselfconscious about their bodies, and would happily run around naked if their parents didn’t insist otherwise. It’s only as children approach adolescence that their bodies become objects of embarrassment.

We also know, from personal experience (for better or for worse) that girls often mature more rapidly than boys. The rabbanim/rabbis of old were so convinced of this that they differentiated between females and males in choosing the official age at which a Jew becomes obligated to observe the commandments: A girl becomes a bat mitzvah (literally, a daughter of the commandment) at the age of 12, whereas a boy becomes a bar mitzvah (a son of the commandment) at 13.

Little wonder, then, that Eve was the first to bite into the forbidden fruit, conveniently provided by that living phallic symbol, the snake. The knowledge of good and evil represents the awareness of sexuality, as evidenced by the fact that Adam and Eve were never concerned about being naked in G-d’s presence until after they’d eaten the forbidden fruit. G-d then kicked them out of Gan Eden/the Garden of Eden, like a pair of parents whose kids have just gotten married and must now move out and support themselves. Only then, like a pair of traditional newlyweds, did they have sex for the first time.

Parshat B’reishit: On the visible seams in the Torah

Many of us non-Orthodox Jews accept the theory that the Torah is a combination of four ancient traditions edited by scribes—most say under divine influence—into one text. What astounds me is that the scribes who did the redacting/editing seem to have made no effort whatsoever to cover their tracks. Instead, they appear to have treated the redaction process like a quilting bee, piecing together patches of text from the different traditions and leaving the seams between the patches just as visible as the seams in a Torah scroll.

One of the most obvious examples of this approach is the two stories of creation that appear in Parshat B’reishit. In the first, “ . . . G-d created the human in His image, in the image of G-d He created him, male and female He created them.” (Genesis, chapter 1, verse 27.) In the second, HaShem put Adam under anesthesia, performed a rib-ectomy on him, and used the rib to create Eve. (Genesis, chapter 2, verses 21-22.) Perhaps one should give the traditionalists credit for their creativity in trying to prove that there’s only one creation story despite the evidence to the contrary.

Monday, October 11, 2004

“The mind reels.” :)

After all the holidays, I thought I’d take a break and just post a few chuckles. Enjoy.

Found on Adam Ragil’s blog,, on Wednesday, September 1, 2004:

“Was chatting with an RN [religious neighbor, by which he means a neighborhood schtieble-goer, as opposed to a neighborhood Modern-Orthodox-synagogue-goer] recently about his background.

I grew up in a Young Israel, he said, but hurried to add, it was a frum Young Israel.

The mind reels. What is a non-frum Young Israel?”

An Orthodox employee of an organization for which I often do temp. work told me that she was pleased that some friends had gone to see a particularly rabbi to ask him for a blessing because “He gives a good brachah.”

The mind reels. There’s such a thing as a bad brachah?

Sunday, October 03, 2004

“May it be Your will . . . that their homes not become their graves”—A prayer for the victims of the hurricanes

“. . . this was the Kohen Gadol’s prayer on the Day of Atonement when he left the Holy of Holies in peace . . .
May it be Your will, HaShem, our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, that this year that is coming upon us and upon all Your people, the house of Israel, be a year in which You open Your treasury for us; a year of abundance, a year of blessing . . . “

And concerning the inhabitants of the Sharon he would say: May it be Your will, HaShem, our G-d and the G-d of our ancestors, that their homes not become their graves.”

According to the ArtScroll Machzor for Yom Kippur, “The Kohen Gadol [High Priest] recited a special prayer for the people of Sharon because the earth there was not suitable for construction, and houses had to be rebuilt twice every seven years or they would collapse. Also, the houses in the valley were subject to landslides and flash floods. Hence the Kohen Gadol prayed that the inhabitants of Sharon not be trapped in the ruins of their homes (Yerushalmi Yoma 5:2) .
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