Wednesday, June 29, 2005

“Fascinatin’ Rhythm”

At first, I thought I enjoyed singing along with Mark’s bass (see because I’m a harmony freak. I’ve been singing harmony—both written and improvised—since I was a teenager, and it comes as naturally to me as breathing.

But then it occurred to me that I was being inconsistent. After all, sometimes Mark plays harmony, but sometimes he solos. So what was it about, say, the intro to “Shoshanat Yaakov” that made me want to sing along?

It was just this morning that I suddenly realized that harmony wasn’t the only thing that I was enjoying. Bass players have one major advantage over (ex-) choir singers—in all my twenty-something years in the choir, I never once sang a piece that was syncopated! So that’s why I started switching back!

When I first started listening to Mark’s Moshe Skier Band play “Shma Yisrael,” with music by Pik, I would sing along with Mark’s bass, then switch to melody when the lead guitarist, Mendel Appel, came in, because the way Mendel plays that opening bit is really cool. So why am I now switching back to the bass-guitar line after Mendel’s first go-round, rather than sticking with him through the repetition? The answer is that, by going back to the bass line, not only am I singing harmony, I’m also singin’ somethin’ so durned syncopated that I’m dancin’ in, out, and around Mendel’s melody part like a drunken sailor. Hot sauce, that’s fun!

I hope the guys in the band get as much of a kick out of playing and singing this stuff as their loonier fans do. :)

"Contrary to popular opinion, the identity of the next chancellor of JTS is important for Orthodoxy in general . . .

". . . and modern-Orthodoxy and religious-Zionism in particular. "

It isn't every day that an Orthodox Jew comes out with a statement like that. He should know that those of us in the non-Orthodox world appreciate his willingness to discuss a non-Orthodox movement in reasoned terms.

Check out the Out of Step Jew from Kfar Saba's blog at This is from his Sunday, June 26, 2005 post, " The Future of JTS and Contemporary Judaism."

"Without trying to narrow the very wide theological and Halakhic gaps between CM [Conservative/Masorti] and MO/RZ [Modern Orthodox/Religious Zionist] Judaism, it is clear that a more self-confident leadership of both groups, even if it moves them further apart, is needed if contemporary world Jewry is to come to terms with some of the major issues that we will face over the next 50 or so years.

These issues include those that modern biology has presented and will continue to present. These discoveries have already forced us to reconsider our Halakhic and theological definitions of the origins of life, of the meaning of personhood, of the nature of the soul. Modern biology, technology and a changing sociology have also forced the issue of the place of women in society in general and in religious society in particular, in the forefront of our Halakhic and theological lives.

The future of JTS [the Conservative Movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York City] is important because if both the CM and MO/RZ worlds do not approach these issues with the seriousness they deserve (and they need not do them together, they need not agree on them, but they both must work on them) then Judaism will wake up in 50 years to the fact that the world has, for the first time in its long history, passed it by.

And our children and grandchildren will suffer the consequences."

While you're there, check out his most recent post on Jewish feminist concerns. This is the guy who, some months ago, complained bitterly about how difficult it was to obtain for his daughter a Jewish education equal to that being given by the Israeli religious school system to her twin brother.

Friday Night Lights, by Esther Kustanowitz

I’m delighted that Esther published this on her blog—it’s similar to the article she published in the June 24, 2005 New York Jewish Week—because I was trying to figure out a way to share it with you. It’s a good thing for her to remind some of us old married folks that being single and Jewish is no picnic—I remember it well, but not fondly—and to share her thoughts with others in the same boat.

(Thanks to the newlywed [mazal tov!] NaomiChana of for providing this link.)

Update: Ms. Lost in (Cyber)Space never thought to try to find the article on the Jewish Week's own website. Here's the original:

". . . But say I’m not invited out, can’t afford singles dinners every week, and don’t feel comfortable inviting myself somewhere else. Then I’m stuck there, with challah rolls, salad and a bottle of wine that I’ll decide not to open for just myself, watching those candles flickering. Growing up, Shabbat candles meant time with my family, or with friends in the sticky summer heat at Camp Ramah.

Now, they invoke the hazy, increasingly uncertain promise of a future family that I don’t have. These candles, which are supposed to embody the endless optimism of a day of rest, work another mojo — unsettling my mind and making me feel lonelier. It’s like they’re squinting at me, trying to figure out what I’m doing there by myself. Their unsteadiness seems to symbolize my search for meaning in rituals that are clearly meant, optimally, for families.

When you’re single, often dancing between movements and synagogues, and feeling at home nowhere but your own home, 25 hours without electricity can be an endlessly lonely time, starkly lacking in actual and spiritual illumination. And the more you know about observant Judaism, the worse it gets. Judaism should provide you with a framework for faith: Heschel aficionados will happily invoke the concept of Shabbat as a palace in time, wherein we are the monarchs of our lives, freed of the trappings and the worries of the everyday.

But for many singles who repeatedly experience the insulated isolation of Shabbat, a shameful truth emerges: Shabbat and holidays specifically, and Judaism as a whole, primarily provides a framework for family faith and community spirituality. Take away the family, community, neighborhood, or synagogue, and how many would still believe and observe from the core of their being? How much personal commitment comes from the desire to belong to a certain community? Why should I light candles if I find them so upsetting?"

"25 hours without electricity can be an endlessly lonely time . . ." Nobody talks about that, do they? How do single Orthodox Jews survive for the many hours during which they can't use the phone or the computer, and can't watch TV or movies, listen to radio, or play music, hours during which they have, literally, no one to talk to and nothing to watch or listen to? How many hours can one spending reading and napping on a long and rainy afternoon in the summer, when Shabbat (Sabbath) lasts past 9 PM?

The use of electricity on Shabbat or Yom Tov (a Pilgrimage Festival) may not be a concern for me, but still, the prospect of spending these days alone is not something to which I look forward. I'm in my mid-fifties, married to a man in his early sixties, with a son in his early twenties who'll be off on his own in a few years. Thirty years from now, I'll be back in the same boat that I was in when I was in my twenties—I'll be single again. It's tough enough no longer having a child to bless on Friday nights. How will it feel, lighting candles alone again after so many years?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Trouble in Special Ed. land—read these and weep, then give Z your support

See Z’s Wednesday June 22nd 2005 post, “Implosion,” her Monday June 27th 2005 post, “It’s Monday…and now we’re NOT in camp,” and her Monday June 27th 2005 post, “I Have Had Enough.

“Summertime, and the livin’ is . . . “ NOT easy

This past Spring semester, the Punster taught four college courses.

His private tax and accounting practice is expanding to the point that his freelance work for a former colleague is now interfering with his own practice.

And I’ve been employed pretty steadily since late last August.

But now, it’s summer, and, as usual, our income is dropping precipitously.

Sure, there’s “tax extension season,” ending August 15, for those who didn’t quite manage to get their tax returns done by April 15. But it’s not nearly as lucrative as the regular tax season.

And it’s almost impossible for the Punster to teach more than one course during the Summer semester. The poor guy’s teaching two hours per night Monday through Thursday evenings, and that doesn’t include the time that he spends preparing for class, writing and grading exams, and determining and turning in final grades. And he’s still running a private practice. How much more can he do?

Adding to the excitement is the fact that my Boss # 1 is still in the market for a permanent employee to take my place. So my days of reasonably steady employment are probably numbered. Sure, they’re using me more and more for special projects. But the last time I worked on a major special project, I was unemployed for four and a half months after the project was completed. And that wasn’t the first time that I’d gone for months without any assignments from my usual temporary employer.

Did I mention that none of my temporary employment agencies employed me last year?

To make a long and thoroughly unpleasant story mercifully short, we rarely take vacations: When we have the money, we don’t have the time, and when we have the time, we don’t have the money. This can get “interesting” when we’re among some of our better-off friends—when everyone else is giving their “what I did on my vacation” reports, all we can do is stand there “schtum” (silently) and hope that no one notices.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Salamone-Punsters meet the Skier (Psycho Toddler/Mrs. Balabusta) family!!!!!!!!!!!!

Warning: Lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng post!!!

The Orthodox organization for which I’ve been temping on and off since December 2001 employs both Jews of all stripes and non-Jews, so the clothing runs the full gamut, from Orthodox women in skirts below the knees, high-cut tops covering the elbows, and, for the married ones, hair at least partially covered, to, at the other extreme, women in pants or mini-skirts and sleeveless and/or low-cut tops. So I don’t risk being fired when I show up bareheaded in a short-sleeve blouse.

But I didn't want to risk putting the kabosh on a couple of new friendships. So when I found out that the Skier clan was coming to New York City and we made arrangements to meet, I told my husband that this was going to be an “undercover” operation—we were both going to go under cover, literally.

Well, that’s easy for a guy. All the Punster had to do was don his Adjunct Professor of Accounting summer uniform of khakis and a short-sleeve dress shirt and top it with one of the many crocheted kippot (yarmulkes, skullcaps) that he uses both for davvening/praying at home and in shul (synagogue) and for teaching at a campus of his college that caters to Orthodox Jews. (Did I win the "run-on sentence" championship with that one? :) )

For me, on the other hand, dressing was a major national project. Unfortunately, it’s been several years since I’ve been able to find a denim skirt that fits me. And I had a strong suspicion that jeans—or any other kind of pants, for that matter—just wouldn’t do. (Indeed, the Mom [] and both older girls were wearing skirts even in the picnic photos on Mark’s blog []). (Shorts?!!! Are you out of your mind?!!!!!! I don’t care if it’s already 80° Fahrenheit—don’t even think about it!!!!!!!!!!!!) So I was stuck with one of the dress-casual cotton-knit skirts (with a hemline about three inches below the knee) that I wear to the office. I topped that with my favorite jewel-neck (read—close to the collarbone) t-shirt, and topped that with a long-sleeved blouse with the sleeves rolled up to just below the elbow to hide the t-shirt’s short sleeves. I was dressed and almost ready to go: First, I had to review my reminders. Number one: Remember not to take your sunhat off when you go indoors. Number two: Under no circumstances should you call their youngest daughter by That Name That Her Father Calls Her On His Blog. (Ahem: Eek!!! ‘Nuf said!) And last but not least, I reminded both myself and my husband to be careful with whom we shook hands. (For an explanation of shmirat negiah, the law of being shomer negiah, see This prompted a typical comedy routine. Punster: “You mean I can’t shake hands with any of the girls?” Me: “Are you trying to make trouble?” Punster (wearing his trademarked naughty-boy grin): “Yes.” (Where’s a roll-eyes emoticon when I need one?)

Finally, we were off to the subway, then the bus. We debarked on Main Street. (I hate to bust your bubble, Mark, but debarking isn’t just for trees and dogs :)—it’s a legitimate English word of French origin, quothe the old lady with the BA in French. :) ) From there, we were occupied with practical concerns. I wondered how on earth all the Orthodox women whom I saw at my office dressed in two layers, with the top layer falling at least below the elbow, managed to keep the top layer on all day even when they were outdoors in 95° weather—I was wilting already in 80° weather after walking only a few blocks. The Punster’s concern was even more practical: “How will we know them?” “Oh, don’t worry—I’ve seen photos of all of them on Mark’s blog. I’ll recognize them.”

We were rapidly approaching the designated coordinates, and I was wondering whether I’d have a minute to duck into the nearby Judaica store, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but, well, actually, a crowd large enough to fill the entire width of the sidewalk, and then some. At that point, I started counting heads, literally. One teenage girl—check. Three teenage boys—check. (Where were Daughter Number Two and the Mom?) One vaguely-familiar-looking guy with a beard. But the real clincher was perched atop the bearded guy’s shoulders—there sat the most flabbergastingly-familiar-looking four-year-old girl whom I’d never actually met yet. “Mark?” “Yes.” “I’m [real first name.] And this is [the Punster’s real first name].” “How did you know it was us?” Confession time: “I counted heads.” Mark made the introductions, which were, through no fault of his own, ah gornisht helfen (no help)—I’m embarrassed to say that it took me two days, a look at one of Mark’s old posts, and a quick review of the liner notes to his “Rock of Sages” CD to figure out which name went with which son. (Apparently, I had two of the boys' ages reversed. No wonder I was so farblunget [confused].) Mom and Daughter Number Two were shopping and would meet us later.

We checked into the Skier clan’s favorite local kosher pizzeria. The three boychiklach promptly commandeered a booth and took charge of Youngest Daughter, leaving Mark, Oldest Daughter, me, and the Punster to bring back lunch. We settled in the booth in front of the rest of the crew so as to be easily visible to Mom and Daughter 2, with me across from Daughter 1 and Punster across from Mark. I told Mark that I’d been half tempted to tell my boss that I was going to see an internist, which was, literally speaking, true, but a bit disingenuous. :) Mark cracked up, and made some mocking remark about not wanting to get arrested. The Mom arrived, with Daughter 2 in tow, and told quite a tale: It seems that the blouse that she’d originally been given to try on had been so difficult to fasten that she’d needed her daughter’s help. We joked that she needed an engineering degree for that one. The chosen blouse apparently passed for a sci fi costume. This prompted some droll and some serious discussion of our mutual favorite TV show, Babylon 5. "You're not a real B5 fan unless you have all the DVDs, including the ones for (the aborted, 13-episode-only, sequel) Crusade." :) Wow, Mark had actually met and talked with creator, producer, and chief writer J. Michael Straczynski at a sci fi convention. I'm impressed. And the Mom, er, Mark’s Mrs. (genieg shoin—enough already: This woman needs her own name. I’ll call her C) had the fascinating theory that the G'Quan Eth plant desperately sought for a religious holiday by Planet Narn's ambassador G'Kar in the first season's "By Any Means Necessary" was based on an etrog, which, like the G'Quan Eth plant, is also valued only as a ritual "object" during a specific holiday (in the case of the etrog, that would be Sukkot, the Feast of Booths). Not only that, but Commander Jeffrey Sinclair had used talmudic logic to help enable G'Kar to celebrate his holiday.

The five of us in the front booth—Daughter 1, Mark, C, me, and the Punster—alternated between serious conversation and goofing off. We talked about Daughter 1’s upcoming first year of college and our Young Scientist's decision to change his major from computer engineering technology to physics. We talked about our respective Jewish communities. We talked about my understanding of the “Orthodox spectrum”—“Modern Orthodox, then Yeshivish, then Chareidi”—and C’s view, from the inside: “It depends on who you’re standing next to. The Modern Orthodox [of Milwaukee] consider our (the "Twerski?") community extremely observant, but the Chassidim think we’re too lenient.” We talked about Mark’s concern that Modern Orthodoxy was rapidly being replaced by a form of Chareidi Orthodoxy that considered anything enjoyable to be suspect, as if fun of any kind endangered the survival of Torah-true Judaism, an attitude that I described as ascetic. On a related subject, I complimented him on coining the term “Autoimmune Judaism” (See in response to a series of posts on dilbert’s blog positing that much of the current Orthodox community's internal strife is a reaction to the rise of Reform Judaism roughly 200 years ago. ( : Commented Mark to one of the posts in dilbert's series: “ . . .the idea that the attitudes which are currently splintering the orthodox community were born out of the conflict between Orthodoxy and the Reform movement is fascinating.From a Medical point of view, it seems similar to an antibody reaction being triggered by a foreign antigen, which then spins out of control and begins attacking the host's own body.” Man, he sure has that right—from my perspective, watching the right-wingers accuse the Modern Orthodox of heresy and/or atheism and/or insufficiently-strict observance of religious law is like watching the frum/Orthodox world destroy itself from the inside out. To paraphrase what we used to say during the Vietnam War, they're destroying the community in order to save it.)

And I mentioned my own theory that the problem, at this point, is that many of the Orthodox are trying to be "frummer than thou" because they're literally afraid of being mistaken for Conservative.

Lest you think that our get-together was all work and no play, meeting C and Mark confirmed a theory of mine. On the occasion of their recent 18th wedding anniversary, Mark wrote of his wife, “It's a testament to the power of Jewish marriage that two such different personalities can stay together for so long without driving each other crazy.” (See Mark's Wednesday, June 08, 2005 post, "The Mrs.," at, and don't forget to read the comments, which are half the fun.) Having read C’s relatively new blog (, and remembering something hilarious that she’d written that Mark had posted on his blog some months back, before she'd started her own (see, I was convinced that it might very well be the “driving each other crazy” part that kept the two of them together—both C and Mark have marvelous senses of humor. Talk about “leave ‘em laughing,” the last thing C said to me before joining the rest of the clan in the family “battle tank” for the drive back to Mark’s parents’ home absolutely cracked me up! :) Check out her Thursday, June 16, 2005 post, “The Electric Company,” at and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the fun we were having together.

And, by the way, the minute I first saw C, I got a pretty good idea of why Daughter 1 is even prettier in person—by far!!!—than she looks in her father’s photos.

A grand time was had by all. I hope we can get together again the next time they’re in town.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Rabbinical priorities: High—forbidden fruit (and veggies, and water . . .); low—agunot, unrecognized converts

A couple of years ago, I read somewhere (probably in the New York Jewish Week) that a rabbi in southeast Asia was considering declaring broccoli treif (not kosher) because it was hard to inspect for insects (which aren’t kosher). Since then, I’ve learned, from the NY Jewish Week and the Jewish blogosphere, that New York City tap water has been declared treif because of the presence of barely-visible insects (see my Friday, October 29, 2004, post, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop a to drink"—New York City’s tap water has been declared treif (no joke) at

. In England, seltzer has been declared off limits for Ashkenazim during Pesach/Passover—the bubbles are created using kitniot, which Ashkenazi Jews are not permitted to eat during Passover—and strawberries (insects, again) are now forbidden year round (see Paul Shaviv’s Wednesday, March 30, 2005 post, Forget strawberries ...... read this,” at So are onions (see Paul Shaviv’s Friday, May 20, 2005 post, “Mind your onions! A new issur before shabbat.” At In the U.S., corn (maize, for you Brits) is now suspect unless under reliable hashgachah (rabbinical supervision to ensure that something’s kosher)—see AidelMaidel’s Sunday, May 22, 2005 post, “Not good enough,” at, and spinach, I gather, also requires careful inspection, because of the possible presence of—you guessed it—insects.

Meanwhile, back at the court house (or Bet Din), hundreds of Orthodox women are being held hostage—agunot, or “chained” women—by husbands who refuse to give them a get (Jewish religious divorce, which can be given only by the man). (See Miriam Shaviv's Thursday, June 02, 2005 post, "Blackmail, aided, abetted and encouraged by the courts " and her Tuesday, June 07, 2005 post, "The Rabbinical courts vs. Yad L'Isha" both in the June archive at I think it’s likely that, among non-religious women, the inability of the rabbanim (rabbis) to find a solution to this problem leads them to decide to forego the process altogether and remarry without a get, which, in the eyes of halachah (Jewish law), makes a woman an adulteress and her children by this marriage mamzerim—bastards—severely restricted by Jewish law in terms of who they are permitted marry. So, indirectly, the rabbinical courts are probably responsible for the creation of thousand of mamzerim.

Also back at the Bet Din, a tragic tale from Britain comes to us courtesy of Paul Shaviv (see his Friday, April 01, 2005 post, “The haredi-isation of mainstream Diaspora batei din -- whether its waffles or humans, if its Israeli Rabbanut, we don't recognise it ..., at Apparently, a young man is being denied admission to a Jewish day school because the Bet Din of London is questioning the validity of his mother’s conversion fifteen years ago by an Orthodox Sefardi Bet Bin in Israel. Apparently, a turf war two times over—Israeli vs. British, Sefardi vs. Ashkenazi—is more important than the future of an innocent child.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

On “shidduch” dating: Whatever happened to “getting to know you?”

Since we celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary only a week ago (see my June 12 post, "Anniversary Waltz," at, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the subject of dating and marriage in the Jewish community.

I find the trend toward “matchmaking” in the right-wing Orthodox community, as opposed to meeting in less formal and pressured circumstances, downright distressing. As I mentioned in my anniversary post, my husband and I met in synagogue. I’ve always joked that we married each other because we got tired of commuting to each other’s apartments to stuff envelopes for synagogue mailings. J The Punster and I actually knew each other for about a year and a half before we started dating. We helped organize and attended Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners in the synagogue, and served on half a dozen committees together, helping to organize Chanukah parties, Purim schpiels, Tikkunei Lel Shavuot, Tisha B’Av services, and congregant-run services during the rabbi’s and cantor’s summer vacations. We went folk dancing together, and I can’t, for the life of me, tell you when our dance sessions turned into dates. We knew each other as human beings long before we started considering each other as possible future marriage partners.

In a “shidduch” (matchmaking) approach, the prospective bride and groom may not meet each other on more than six occasions before becoming engaged. They may date for only two or three months. I’ve read tales of “shidduch dates” in which each party runs down a long “laundry list” of qualifications for marriage, as if the date were a job interview. How much of her hair will she cover after we’re married? Does he wear a hat or a kippah (yarmulkeh, skullcap)?

It’s true that, when it comes to marriage, all bets are off. Some couples end up divorcing even after a “trial marriage” of living together before the wedding. Others fall in love at first sight and stay that way—one former fellow congregant fell in love with his wife on their first day, another couple fell in love the day they met, and yet a third got engaged so quickly after meeting that her father quipped that he knew they weren’t getting married because she was pregnant because they hadn’t even been dating long enough to know that! Still, the thought of “marriage by the numbers,” of dating with a checklist, disturbs me.

Where are the opportunities, in the right-wing Orthodox community, for people to get to know one another as people before they have to decide to get to “know” one another in the Biblical sense? What's wrong with innocent get-togethers? Whatever happened to shidduchim made at another couple’s wedding—what’s the point of separate seating at a wedding, of all occasions? Is there separate seating in the sukkah, too? Do co-ed Chanukah parties and/or Purim parties take place at all among the yeshivish, chareidi, and/or chassidisheh communities? Is there no way to meet that doesn’t involve a shadchan (matchmaker)? Why is everyone so surprised that there’s a crisis in the right-wing Orthodox community concerning the relatively large number of people who are still single at ages at which most Orthodox Jews are expected to be married, hopefully with children? How are people supposed to get married when there are so few opportunities for them to meet?

Friday, June 17, 2005

Sharing our knowledge—on the advantages of a 100% Jewish (by birth or by choice) marriage

Since celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary only a few days ago (see my June 12 post, "Anniversary Waltz," at, I've had some thoughts on the subject of Judaism and marriage.

The Punster was very lucky as a child. His parents sent him to a really good Hebrew school, where he learned Hebrew much more thoroughly than I did. His knowledge of Hebrew grammar is much better than mine, which is particularly handy since we switched to Sefardi pronunciation as adults—he almost always knows when a kamatz (that little T-shaped vowel) is supposed to be pronounced Aw and when it’s supposed to be pronounced Ah. He’s also a much faster Hebrew reader, and is much less likely to trip over difficult words—he can chant a haftarah on the spot, whereas I need a month’s practice. And he learned his way around the siddur (prayer book) as a pre-Bar Mitzvah boy, whereas I’m still learning—he lead the Musaf service for his Bar Mitzvah celebration, whereas I’m still sticking a siddur under his nose, pointing to a passage, and waiting for him to nod “yes” or “no” so I’ll know whether to pray that passage or not.

I was also very lucky as a child. My parents were really into home ritual, and got me interested, as well. So I taught the Punster how to chant the kiddush for Erev Shalosh Regalim (the eve of any of the three Pilgrimage Festivals) and how to do havdalah (the ritual for the end of the Sabbath).

When it came time to teach our kid, I worked with him on kiddush (largely a home ritual), and the Punster worked with him on the brachot (blessings) before and after the Torah and haftarah reading (shul [synagogue] rituals) and on laying tefillin (putting on phylacteries).

I don’t know how it works with Jews by choice in the Orthodox community, but, in the non-Orthodox community, Jews by choice have a rep for making their Jews-by-birth spouses more observant. One of my best friends took a hard-core Secular Yiddishist and made such a shul-goer out of him that he sent his kids to a non-demoninational day school to ensure that they would learn Jewish tradition and Hebrew.

I would think that it must be quite a challenge to raise a Jewish kid in a home in which one spouse is not Jewish.

A Little Nusach Music: What I learned at the Tikkun Lel Shavuot

After straining what was left of my voice to croak my way through, and leading a discussion on, my own “d’var Torah,” (see, and between coughs, I managed to listen to what our friend the cantor—too bad she isn’t our shul’s (synagogue’s) cantor—had to say about “holiday theme songs.” Apparently, each of the three Shalosh R’galim (Pilgrimage Festivals) has a “theme song” whose tune can be substituted for the standard nusach (traditional liturgical tune) for certain parts of the service. I forget what she said was the theme song for Sukkot (the Feast of Booths), but the theme song for Pesach (Passover) is Adir Hu, which can be used for such passages as Mi Chamocha and the Hallel’s Hodu LaShem Ki Tov. Apparently, there’s a fancier tune to the piyut (liturgical poem) Akdamut, sung at the beginning of the first aliyah on Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks) than the one that I know, and that’s the theme song for Shavuot. But the really neat thing that I learned is that the plainer tune to Akdamut, which is the one that I know, is also the basis of the nusach for kiddush—the nusach that I’ve been using since I was a teenager—for the evening of the Shalosh Regalim!

I also learned from her that the Hebrew word “piyut” and the English word “poetry” are both derived from the same Greek word.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

FIRE! Why an open box of baking soda in an obvious & easy-to-reach place could save your life

Have you ever heard the old expression “Oil and water don’t mix?” Well, that’s no joke. If you try to douse an oil or gas fire with water, the oil or gas will just float on the surface and the fire will spread. You can’t drown a gas fire—you have to SMOTHER it!!!

That’s why I’ve kept an open box of baking soda in a highly visible and easily-accessible place in the kitchen—namely, on top of the refrigerator—for as many years as I can remember.

And that’s what my husband used to put out the fire when the plastic challah board fell onto a burner that I’d left turned on for Yom Tov and starting blazing away like the bleeping blue blazes.

Half an hour and four firefighters later, we surveyed the damage. The stove hood is now scrap metal, since the four fine fellows from the Fire Department of New York—G-d bless New York’s Bravest!—pried it part way off the cabinet to which it was attached to ensure that there was no hidden fire between it and the cabinet. The stove may need to be replaced. The countertop is warped next to where the fire was. And, of course, we’ll have to replace the poor challah board, among with a few other items that were damaged. Still, I can’t complain about the fact that no one was injured, Baruch HaShem (Praised is G-d). (Or perhaps “Baruch HaGomel, Praised is the One Who bestows favors,” the brachah/blessing for having escaped danger, would be more appropriate.)

So here’s the way the next few days are shaping up:

The mess in the kitchen has to be cleaned.

The homeowner’s insurance claim has to be made.

And this old lady, still trying to recover from the runny nose, bronchitis, and larygitis that kept her out of shul on Shavuot , except for our truncated “mini” Tikkun Lel Shavuot that lasted less than two hours, has to put herself to bed so that she can drag what’s left of herself back to the hospital tomorrow, her husband having landed there with yet another kidney-stone attack only hours after the fire, and find out what kind of surgery the doctors have in mind for him.

On the plus side, at least the tornado that was threatening to hit the midwestern university at which our Young Scientist is doing a summer research project was kind enough to change its mind.

If I never again have a Shavuot this “exciting,” I’ll be a very happy person.


By the time I'd pried myself out of bed, done a little clean-up in the kitchen, and was ready to leave, Paul called to say he was on his way home from the hospital. Outpatient surgery is scheduled for Monday.

Okay, so I'm an idiot--never having had to make a homeowner's insurance claim before, it didn't occur to me to leave the kitchen as it was was until after the insurance folks had appraised the damage. (Sigh--and here I was trying to make the place semi-livable for when the Punster finally got kicked out of the hospital for being too healthy.) Well, for better or for worse, there's still plenty of damage to be seen.

On the plus side, we still have a working refrigerator, microwave, coffee pot (which we use for boiling tea water), and hot tray, so we won't need to live on tuna salad.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Tikkun Lel Shavuot prep: I’m writing something resembling a d’var Torah on the connection between Tamar, Ruth (& her fearless leader, Naomi),& agunot

I plan to start my discussion at the shul (synagogue) by reading these two posts by Miriam of, and strong recommend that you read them, as well:

Thursday, June 02, 2005--"Blackmail, aided, abetted and encouraged by the courts" (This one is in the June 2005 archive.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2005--"The Rabbinical courts vs. Yad L'Isha"

Meanwhile, back at the shul house, let’s talk about the story of Tamar, which you can find in the chumash (book containing the first five books of the Bible, plus the haftarot [additonal readings, usually from the prophets]), in Parshat Vayeshev (one of the weekly readings), Genesis, chapter 38 in its entirety. Tamar married Er, the eldest son of Yedudah (Judah), but Er died. According to a tradition that was observed more literally then than at present, the brother of a man who died childless was obligated to marry his widow, and their first child was considered the child of the deceased. So Onan, Er’s brother, married Tamar, but, when the time came, he “spilled his seed” because he didn’t wish to produce a child that would be considered his late brother’s. He, too, died. At that point, Yehudah, superstitiously fearing that Tamar was responsible for the deaths of two of his sons, sent her back to her father’s house, allegedly to await a time when Shelach, the next brother, would be old enough to marry her. However, some time later, when Shelach was grown and Tamar realized that they should have been married already, she took her fate into her own hands—at exactly the time at which her “spies” told that Yehudah would be shearing sheep at Timnah, she went there, disguised herself as a prostitute, and got him to sleep with her, taking his signet, cord, and staff as a “deposit” until he sent a goat as payment. Three months later, when it became known that she was pregnant and she was accused of having played the harlot and threatened with burning, she produced those three items as evidence that Yehudah was the father of her child, and Yehudah declared her “more righteous than I, in that I did not give her to Shelach, my son.”

Fast forward several centuries to the Book of Ruth, which we’ll read tomorrow morning [correction: which we'll read tomorrow morning in Israel, and on the second day of Shavuot in Galut (the Diapora)]. Naomi, her husband, and their two sons flee to Moav to escape a famine. Both the husband and the two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law with no visible means of support. Naomi urges both to return to the houses of their fathers and remarry, but Ruth refuses. Her “whither thou goest” was the least of her acts of bravery and chesed (kindness)—by casting her lot with that of her mother-in-law, she joins her in becoming totally dependent on the charitable acts of strangers, risking, to put it bluntly, possible starvation.

Returning to Naomi’s old neighborhood, Bet-Lechem (Bethlehem), Ruth starts gleaning—picking up sheaves of grain missed by the harvesters, an early form of charity—in what turns out to be the fields of a “redeeming kinsman,” a member of Naomi’s husband’s family who’s a close enough relative to perform the act of “levirate marriage,” described above: “According to a tradition that was observed more literally then than at present, the brother of a man who died childless was obligated to marry his widow, and their first child was considered the child of the deceased.” The text indicates clearly that Boaz knew that he was a redeeming kinsman and that there was another redeeming kinsman who was a closer relative. Yet, in all the time that Ruth spent gleaning in his fields, he never said a word to her about marriage. Finally, Naomi took matters into her own hands: She told Ruth to make herself appear attractive, then sneak onto the threshing-room floor after everyone was asleep, uncover and lie down at Boaz’s feet. The next day, Boaz asked the nearer relative whether he wished to marry Ruth, and, having gotten “No” as the answer, committed himself to marry Ruth himself.

In the case of both Tamar and Ruth (and her fearless leader, Naomi), the women sought and got justice by the only means available to them at the time. Tamar, for lack of an alternative, used the sexual act itself as a means to secure a child bearing her late husband’s name. Ruth, through Naomi’s strategem, used the fear of exposure as either the (possible) seducer of a respected widow and/or a man who refused to perform a levirate marriage for his relative’s widow.

Some agunot (women whose husbands refuse to give them a religious divorce) of our day have gone public with their complaints about the callous indifference to their plight shown to them by some in the rabbinical courts. They should be lauded and supported in their efforts, not condemned. These brave women are following in the footsteps of our ancestors Tamar and Ruth. They are using the only weapons available to them to secure the consideration to which Jewish law should entitle them, as it is said in Psalm 145, “ . . . v'rachamav al kol maasav, and His compassion is over all His works.”

Correction: You'd think that after chanting the 3rd chapter for all these years, I'd at least remember that Megillat Ruth/the Book of Ruth is read on the second day of Shavuot in the Galut/Diapora. Sorry for the confusion.

Anniversary Waltz

I hated being single. It was a lonely life, and not much fun in bed, either. But what exit strategy would work?

One of my girlfriends from shul (synagogue) persuaded me to come with her to her favorite hang-out. She plunked me down on a chair in her apartment, plastered make-up all over my face, fiddled around with my hair, and dragged me to a singles bar. Unfortunately, I’ve never cared for booze, and I do much better with people whom I meet through shared interests and activities than I do with a room full of miscellaneous strangers. I lasted roughly an hour, then fled, bored out of my mind, never to return.

So, when another congregant whom I knew from his d’var Torah (Torah discussion) at a Tikkun Lel Shavout (a study session on the first night of the Feast of Weeks) and from Erev Shabbat (Sabbath eve) dinners in the shul suggested that I join him at a folk dance session, this former ballet student’s interest was piqued. Granted, this was one of those invitations that aren’t clearly dates, described so well in a recent New York Jewish Week article (probably by Esther Kustanowitz, of and My Urban Kvetch,, but still, an evening of folk dancing had to be better than another hour in a singles bar!

Well, of course, I was totally lost at my first folk dancing session. First of all, I had to learn the rules:

1. Never get in front of the leader (in a dance that has one) unless you know the dance well enough to be the leader!

2. Don’t join the circle unless you know the dance well enough not to trip over your own two feet, or anyone else’s. If you don’t know it yet, just stand outside of/behind the circle, preferably behind someone who knows the dance very well and whose footwork is easy to follow, until you pick up the steps. Then, feel free to break into the circle.

But there was one particular dance, Hora Mamterah, that drove me nuts. On the fourth step, the entire circle of dancers would leap into the air and do some fancy footwork while airborne. What was that all about?

My dancing partner (for lack of a better description) offered to take me back to his apartment and show me how to do that particular step. Now, is that a classic pick-up line, or what? :) But I’d known him for a year or more, so I trusted him enough to take my chances. So we went to his apartment, he put a record of Hora Mamterah on the phonograph, and then . . .

. . . he showed me how to do that step. It turned out to be a simple Mayim step (also known as a grapevine step), with a leap after the first step. This is what he showed me: Left foot cross over right foot in front, right foot step to the side, left foot cross over right foot in back, right foot side, left foot front.

And after all his hard work, he didn’t even make a pass at me.

Not then, at least.

Which is one of many reasons why we’re celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary today.

I hope we dance together for many more years.

Here’s a link to one of the Punster’s favorite websites. (Note: Mixed-dancing alert [though most of the “line” dances are probably "kosher"], and possible “kol isha” alert [for those gentlemen who accept the interpretation that it’s forbidden to listen to a woman sing], as well): Pick a link (by title, dance type, choreographer, or date posted), then click on a specific dance link, then scroll to the bottom of the page to view the video. The video quality varies. In case you’re wondering, here’s the homepage:

P.S. Any of you who haven’t yet congratulated PT and his gorgeous wife, “Mrs. Balabusta,” , on the occasion of their 18th wedding anniversary on June 8 are cordially invited to click on over to and add your good wishes to the comments to the Thursday, June 09, 2005, post “The Mrs.”

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Sefirah: Concerning the "Carlebach Clause"—on respecting another person's hashkafah

This year, I decided to do something Jewish for Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day). So I bought myself a Jewish music CD.

In Ashkenazi (*non*-Mediterranean European) Hebrew.

From Milwaukee.


Well, it's Jewish, at least! :)

I'd been singing along with Moshe Skier's music for at least a week before it finally dawned on me that we were in the middle of Sefirah, a semi-mourning period on the Jewish calendar. Many traditional Jews refrain from listening to music (or, at least, to instrumental music) for part or all of the Sefirah period, which begins on the second night of Pesach (Passover) and ends on Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks). So what was I doing listening to Moshe's music when I have a feeling that he might not listen to it at this time of year?

Those of us who are old enough, in this age of the mp3, to remember good old-fashioned phonograph records may also remember that the late, great Jewish singer/songwriter/guitarist Shlomo Carlebach, zichrono li-v'rachah (may his memory be a blessing), used to have a request printed on his album covers asking his listeners not to play his records on Shabbat (Sabbath) or Yom Tov (a Jewish holiday), when the use of a music-playing or recording device is forbidden. Well, I'm not the most Sabbath-observant "Member of the Tribe," but, still, it wouldn't kill me to respect another Jew's hashkafah (religious viewpoint).

Personally, I don't accept the idea that Sefirah should be a semi-mourning period. (See my Monday, August 16, 2004 post, Re-eh: Permission to enjoy (later disputed?) at ). For that reason, my own observance of Sefirah is limited to Sefirat haOmer, (counting, literally, the days from the second night of Pesach until Shavuot), and, in just a nod toward tradition, not getting a haircut during Sefirah, except on the permissible day of Lag B'Omer. Still, should I respect the hashkafah of other traditional Jewish musicians and apply the "Carlebach Clause" to their music, as well?

After serious consideration, I've decided to apply a "private-vs.-public split" to the issue. I do this sort of thing all the time. For example, here's a typical "private-vs.-public split," in which my observance is stricter at home: I keep a kosher home, but I'll eat cooked food in non-kosher restaurants, provided that there's no meat or shellfish in it. On the other hand, here's a typical "public-vs.-private split," in which my public observance is more traditional: While I've been known to turn on a light on Shabbat in my own apartment, I wouldn't dream of doing that in any synagogue, and I also wear my keys around my neck when going to my local shul (synagogue) on Shabbat so as not to carry anything in public, a forbidden activity. So here's the deal: I'll continue to listen to any music of my choice in the privacy of my own home during Sefirah, but I won't listen to Jewish instrumental music in public between Pesach and Lag B'Omer. There'll be no more crankin' up at the office during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate, work-permitted, days of) Pesach! And I suppose that I could manage to leave those new Jewish-music CDs that I just bought yesterday unopened until next Tuesday night, after Shavuot.

On the plus side, I've just discovered the "a cappella page" of, and, while the music is uneven in quality, some of it is rather enjoyable for this former synagogue-choir singer.

Update: I haven't a clue what just happened, but, five minutes ago, when I attempted to post a comment in response to dilbert, all of my comments disappeared. So here's a copy from my personal "archives" in Word. If the comments reappear, I'll delete this copy.

Update, Saturday night: I came home from Mincha-Maariv and discovered that my comments had reappeared. Deleting copy, as promised. If all goes well, you'll find the comments back in the comments section, where they belong. Feel free to add more--I'd love to hear from you!


Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The responsibilities of being a Jewish blogger, part 3: “Hanistarot . . .What is hidden . . .”--On privacy & confidentiality

Let me take care of the obvious first. (Would that it had been so obvious at the time. [Sigh.]) I learned the hard way, as usual, never to send a mass e-mail without being sure to put the e-mail addresses of all of the intended recipients into the bcc (blind courtesy/carbon copy) window. It’s my responsibility as a blogger to ensure that those who don’t wish to share their e-mail address with half the known universe aren’t forced by my thoughtlessness to do so. (Sigh—I might as well get this over with: See my Friday, May 27 post, “A lesson in bcc, learned the hard way (as usual)—This is my public apology for having “outed” an anonymous blogger,” at

And now, for the less obvious . . .

A while back, I wrote a terrific post called “Life Imitates Art.” But you’ll never find it on this blog because I never posted it, and I never will. I won’t even tell you what the subtitle was going to be. (Suffice it to say that it concerned the fact that a person of my acquaintance was in a situation that reminded me of one I’d seen on television.) I concluded, after very serious consideration, that, however remote the possibility that anyone might be able to figure out who I was talking about, I couldn’t risk it. That would have been a gross violation of that person’s privacy. It would also have entailed a breach of a confidence, as the person who’d informed me of the situation certainly never intended to have it splashed all over the Internet.

Not everyone appreciates having his or her private life made public. Before posting about someone else (other than my poor family members, who simply have to put up with me), I have to think seriously about how the other person would feel. Would the post constitute a violation of privacy and/or a breach of confidence? Would the other person feel embarrassed, insulted, offended, or upset for any reason? Would his or her family and/or friends feel embarrassed, insulted, offended, or upset for any reason?

As a blogger, I cannot ignore privacy and confidentiality concerns. It's my responsibility to take other people’s feelings into consideration when deciding what to post.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The responsibilities of being a Jewish blogger, part 2: Think before you write--On blogging as the parent of a child with disabilities

I’ve been on both sides.

When my son was younger and struggling with delayed emotional maturation, delayed social-skills development, and delayed academic learning, I had to put up with people who bragged about their kids’ wonderful behavior and academic achievements.

On the other hand, I know that many of the students in my son’s special-education school were in the vocational or sheltered-workshop tracks, rather than in the college-preparatory track.

So when I was in the mood to brag about my son on my blog, I found myself in a very interesting position: After writing a terrific post, I checked it for spelling, grammar, word-usage, and content, as usual—and deleted the entire first paragraph before I’d even pasted it into the “create post” window.

Did I really want to post something that “show-off-y” on a blog that would be read by other parents of children with disabilities? Would I be making a difficult situation even more so by bragging so much? I know how I felt when people did that to me. Why would I want to put anyone else through that?

It’s natural for people to brag about their kids. But please, folks, brag judiciously. Take into consideration the fact that not everyone’s kid is fortunate, and that their parents don’t need to be reminded of what they already know all too well.

The responsibilities of being a Jewish blogger: Chaverim Kol Yisrael

By nature, I’m a blunt-spoken individual. I prefer to be point blank in expressing my opinions, to “brazen it out,” as I often put it (or, as many people would say in rather ungrammatical slang, to “tell it like it is”). But being an egalitarian member of a traditional Conservative synagogue—and, especially, being a member of its Ritual Committee for roughly half of that time—has taught me the necessity of expressing my opinions in a tactful, diplomatic, and respectful manner.

Much to my surprise, I’ve found these “tact lessons” very helpful as a blogger. When I first started my blog, I assumed that I would be writing exclusively for those interested in the opinions of “a tallit-and-tefillin-wearing woman,” and that I could say whatever I wanted in any way I chose. But, very shortly after I started my blog, I happened to be reading another Jewish blog in which the blogger used a Yiddish word in a post—and stated, in no uncertain terms, that anyone who couldn’t understand that word didn’t belong on that blog. I was so thoroughly offended that I clicked right back to my own blog and immediately added the words “welcoming the entire Jewish community” to my masthead. Then, I had to consider the implications of what I’d added. Following the dictate of Hillel, I was not about to do to others what I had found hateful when it was done to me—I would not go out of my way to offend the more-traditional visitors whom I’d just welcomed. So I decided that an attitude adjustment was in order: I would not change my opinions in the least, but I would be judicious in my choice of wording, publishing those opinions in tactful, diplomatic and respectful language.

That decision has paid off in spades. I have never had a “flame war” (an exchange of insults) on my blog—I’ve never even had to enforce my official policy of deleting insulting and/or disrespectful comments, because none has ever been posted here. But what’s even more important is that I’ve attracted comments from readers at vastly different points on the “observance spectrum,” ranging from totally non-observant and/or “still learning” to non-denominational, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative (and various combinations of the aforementioned), and Modern Orthodox. I may even have welcomed a “yeshivish” commenter or two. (Having participated in “Olam haBlog” since August 2004, I’m getting better at this “Orthodox classification” business—I think “yeshivish” is right of Modern Orthodox but left of chareidi.) I have hosted the most fascinating, informative, and respectful discussions on even the most controversial topics. I hope that those who are new to my blog will find the respectful differences of opinion expressed in these two posts and their comments to be good examples of the type of discussion that I encourage here: See my Tuesday, October 14, 2004 post, “Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities,” at and its companion, my Thursday, October 14, 2004 post, “Men in Halachah—Shirking their responsibilities, part 2,” at .

Last Shabbat (Sabbath), we chanted Birkat haChodesh, the Blessing of the New Month, welcoming the upcoming month of Sivan, which begins tomorrow night at sundown. That blessing includes the words “Chaverim kol Yisrael, All Israel (the entire Jewish People) are friends.” Many of you have become not only my long-distance chaverim (friends), but my chevruta, my study partners, as well. I hope that you will help me honor the upcoming holiday of Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks), Z’Man Matan Torateinu (the Time of the Giving of Our Torah), the holiday that most celebrates Jewish learning, by continueing to study together with me.

Worthwhile reading from different points along the Jewish-observance spectrum--see these posts by dilbert & Velveteen Rabbi

I found dilbert's, May 24, 2005 posts, "A Historical approach to most every controversy in Judaism," parts 1-3, as well as his summary post of May 26, fascinating and informative reading.

I also recommend Rachel's June 01, 2005, post, "Braided halakha", at It's a beauty.
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