Sunday, February 26, 2006

“Na-aseh v’nishma”?: Why this Conservative Jew trying to become more observant could probably never become Orthodox

Following in the fine footsteps of Jack of the Shack, I’m going to simplify access to what, much to my considerable shock, has turned out to be an eight-part series by providing hyperlinks to the previous seven posts in the proper order:

"Taping" time

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part one)

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part two)

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part three)

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part one)—the anecdotal evidence

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part two)—the textual evidence

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t—my conclusion

It was GoldaLeah’s post Standing Again at Sinai I—Feminist Judaism that encouraged me to try to organize and edit into a readable form some thoughts that had been in the back of my mind for quite some time. I thought I’d be publishing only one post. But, after mulling the issues over for probably more than a month, I found, when I finally started putting words on hard drive, that I couldn’t express what I wanted to explain in less than three posts with different focii. Then, laid up in bed most of yesterday trying to recover from this debilitating cold and without sufficient kavvanah (ability to focus) to davven (pray), I started writing another post in more head. Much to my shock, by the time I’d made havdalah, not only had I written four new posts in my head, but I’d also realized that they were connected with the three that were nearly ready for publication.

It’s just my good fortune that yesterday’s parsha was Mishpatim (Exodus, chapter 25, verse 1-chapter 24, verse 18), because I realize that the sum of my problem is expressed quite clearly in a quote from that weekly Torah reading. The parsha tells us, in chapter 24, verse 7, that when Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher) took the book of the covenant and read it to the people, they said, “Kol asher diber Hashem na-aseh v’nisha, All that the L-rd spoke, we will do and we will hear.”

That, in a nutshell, is why I could probably never become Orthodox.

As I said in the first four posts of this series, in terms of halachah (Jewish law), there are things that I am not prepared to do.

And as I tried to make clear and explain in the posts titled "Damned if we do and damned if we don't," in terms of haskafah (religious perspective), there are things that I am not willing to hear.

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t—my conclusion

 Here's the whole series, if you're interested in reading any of it:

"Taping" time

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part one)

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part two)

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part three)

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part one)—the anecdotal evidence

Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part two)—the textual evidence

Single male Orthodox Jewish bloggers blogging under their real names admit in print that one of the reasons why they hope to get married is for the sex. Would a single Orthodox Jewish female blogging under her real name dare to say that she’s horny, or would such a public admission leave her vulnerable to charges of being a slut? One has only to read some of the comments to the earliest posts by the extremely anonymous Nice Jewish Girl to realize that there are Jewish guys out there who are shocked to learn that women even have sexual fantasies and desires.

It’s been this way for thousands of years. “Boys will be boys,” the old saying goes. Guys are forgiven for “sewing wild oats.” But tradition would condemn the woman who even looks at a man. One need only read the law of the Trial by “Ordeal” of a wife accused of adultery ("sotah") cited in the previous post, for proof: Notice the glaring absence of any similar ordeal for a husband suspected of cheating on his wife. One need only read the story of Yehudah and Tamar, also cited in the previous post, for further proof: Tamar was nearly burned alive by Yehudah for committing the same sex act that Yehudah had committed, indicating that our Biblical ancestors thought that it was perfectly acceptable to seek a prostitute, but not to be one.

The arguments against kol isha, a woman’s (singing) voice—that is, the prohibition against a woman singing in the presence of a man—do not apply equally to kol ish, a man’s (singing) voice.

Go to Jewish reggae singer Matisyahu’s website and tell me that Matisyahu’s voice can’t be as sexually provocative for women as some say that Neshama Carlebach’s voice is for men.

Go to the video of the Jewish rock group Blue Fringe singing “Flipping Out” and listen to the young women scream at the guys in Blue Fringe just as my generation screamed at the Beatles.

Jewish men are not prohibited from singing in the presence of Jewish women.

And yet, do not the same reactions occur?

But there’s a big difference between Matisyahu singing about loving Hashem with all his heart, soul and might, and still, simply because Hashem gave him that kind of a voice, provoking interesting reactions in my imagination, and a guy like Michael Bolton managing to appeal to the prurient interests of both sexes by singing “Simply Irresistible” while standing in front of a line of scantily-clad women performing what I can only describe as a “bump and grind” routine.

There’s an equal difference between Madonna prancing around the stage in her underwear and Neshama Carlebach singing religious music. Yes, some would say that Neshama’s voice is sexually suggestive, but if she intended to provoke that kind of reaction, she certainly wouldn’t be singing the hymn Adon Olam. As with Matisyahu, that’s just the kind of voice that Hashem gave her.

The problem is that the halachah of ervah (matters of sexuality, or nakedness) makes no distinction between Madonna and Neshama, between deliberate sexual provocation and something that just happens, where women are involved.

If my reading of Rabbi Jachter’s explanation of rabbinic rulings is correct, then, in terms of halachah (Jewish religious law), there is, at best, a debate among the rabbis as to whether there is any difference whatsoever between a choir of teenaged yeshiva girls singing divrei kodesh (holy words) and a Jewish Tina-Turner-wannabe singing “What’s Love Got to Do with It?” Both are equally “ervah,” and both are equally forbidden to men.

In those communities that observe such stringencies, a man will cross the street to avoid a woman, whether her top covers her collarbone and elbows and her skirt covers eighty percent of her legs, or whether she’s dressed like a hooker.

When it comes to issues of “ervah,” sexuality, halachah does not necessarily concern itself with what kind of music a woman is singing, or how modestly a woman dresses. What, when, where, why, and how are totally irrelevant. The only thing that matters is “who.” What matters is that a woman is a woman, and, in terms of the laws of ervah, every woman is automatically a michshol, a stumbling block, tempting men to sin.

We women are damned—condemned—if we do, and condemned in equal measure if we don’t.

It’s a classic, folks.

Every Jewish woman is an Eishet Chayil, a Woman of Valor, part of the bedrock of the Jewish community.

But every Jewish woman is also—believe me, if I could find a nice way to say this, I would—a potential isha zonah, a potential prostitute.

If you don’t wish to take my word for it, read this excerpt from 1. Berachos 24a, courtesy of Rabbi Gil Student (these quotes from here):
“. . . Rav Sheshes said: Why did the Torah count outer ornaments with inner ornaments? To tell you that anyone who looks at the small finger of a woman is as if he looked at the obscene place. . . .”

I ask you this: Isn’t the halachic attitude toward men a bit infantilizing? The assumption seems to be that adult men have limited self-control and that only their “mommies” can keep them in line. Why should it be assumed that men can’t walk on the same side of the street as women, or inquire as to their wellbeing, or greet them after services, or listen to them raise their voices in song—even if the words are from sacred music, such as z’mirot, and/or sacred texts, such as the Torah—without losing control of themselves sexually? Why does halachah, Jewish law, operate on the assumption that “boys”, even when adults, “will” continue to “be” like “boys”, needing someone else to take responsibility for ensuring that they behave properly?

Women get turned on and sexually distracted by men, too. (For the life of me, I can’t understand why some men think that males have a monopoly on “sex on the brain.”) But we just do what adults are supposed to do—we deal with it. We accept responsibility for our own behavior, rather than complaining that men should shut up and stay away from us so as not to turn us on. Why shouldn’t we expect the same of men?

Or perhaps I should phrase the question this way: Why don’t the rabbis expect the same of men?

As the anonymous blogger said, “I wondered why G-d would give me a mitzvah [commandment] that was wholly dependent on someone else. Tznius [modesty] didn’t make me a better person. It just made sure that men didn’t become worse people and I couldn’t think of a single mitzvah like that which applied to men.”

The rabbis said it themselves: I’m supposed to pray every day thanking Hashemsheh-asani ki-r’tsono, Who made me according to His will.”

Then they turned around and made halachic rulings that, essentially, treat me as if “my body [were] an act of sin waiting to happen,” simply because I am as Hashem made me.

That, ladies and gentleman, in considerably more than a nutshell, is why I, personally, cannot accept the prohibition against “kol isha”: It’s part of a package of halachic interpretations and rabbinically-sanctioned behavior patterns, that, fundamentally, treat women as sinners, at worst, and/or as stumbling blocks leading to sin, at best, no matter what we do or don’t do, just because we’re women.

I won’t be blamed for being female.

Baruch sheh-asani isha—Praised is [the One] Who made me a woman.


Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part two)—the textual evidence

(Thanks to Gili Houpt, who recently added us to his NYC Jewish Music mailing list, for providing the hyperlink to most of the material in this post. [To be added to his group, send an e-mail here.] Thanks, also, to one of the Jewish blogosphere’s dedicated explicators of Jewish law, Rabbi Gil Student, of Hirhurim [from whom you will read more in the next post], and to Rabbi Rabbi Howard Jachter, whose elucidation of the halachah (Jewish law) in question is quoted at length below. My thanks, in addition to GoldaLeah, of Go West, Young Jew, for posting the words of Jewish scholar Judith Plaskow on the Jewish blogosphere.)

In accordance with the order established in the study texts included in the Birchot HaShachar (Blessings of the Morning), I’ll start by citing a story from the Torah shehBiCh’tav/Written Torah (Bible/Law), then proceed to the Torah shehB’Al Peh/Oral Law).

Yehudah (Judah) paid for the services of a prostitute, and no one in the Biblical text said a thing. But it turned out that the alleged prostitute was his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, who had entrapped Yehudah into having sex with her in order to fulfill the law of levirate marriage to raise up a child in the name of her deceased husband (Yehudah’s son). When it became clear that Tamar was pregnant, Yehudah ordered her burned for playing the harlot. He rescinded the order only because Tamar presented indisputable evidence that Yehudah himself was the baby’s father. (See Parshat Vayeshev, Genesis 38:1-30.)

And now, a word (or two) from the Torah shehB’Al Peh/Oral Law: (Mishna, Gemara, and/or rabbinic interpretations thereof):

From Rabbi Gil Student’s 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 [kol isha]. . . .”

Courtesy of this source:

Rabbi Jachter's Halacha Files (and other Halachic compositions)
A Student Publication of the Isaac and Mara Benmergui Torah Academy of Bergen County

“The Parameters of Kol Isha
by Rabbi Howard Jachter

The Source of the Prohibition
The Gemara (Berachot 24a) states, “The voice of a woman is Ervah [nakedness], as the Pasuk [in Shir Hashirim 2:14] states ‘let me hear your voice because your voice is pleasant and appearance attractive.’” Rashi explains that the Pasuk [blogger’s note: verse] in Shir Hashirim [blogger’s note: Song of Songs] indicates that a woman’s voice is attractive to a man, and is thus prohibited to him. Rav Hai Gaon (cited in the Mordechai, Berachot 80) writes that this restriction applies to a man who is reading Kriat Shema, because a woman’s singing will distract him. The Rosh (Berachot 3:37) disagrees and writes that the Gemara refers to all situations and is not limited to Kriat Shema. The Shulchan Aruch rules that the Kol Isha restriction applies to both Kriat Shema (Orach Chaim 75:3) and other contexts (Even Haezer 21:2). The Rama (O.C. 75:3) and Bait Shmuel (21:4) clarify that this prohibition applies only to a woman’s singing voice and not to her speaking voice. . . . .

“Both Rav Ovadia Yosef (ibid) and Rav Yehuda Henkin (Teshuvot Bnei Banim 3:127) reject the claim that this prohibition does not apply today since men nowadays are accustomed to hear a woman’s voice. These authorities explain that since the Gemara and Shulchan Aruch codify this prohibition, we do not enjoy the right to abolish it. The Gemara and its commentaries do not even hint at a possibility that this prohibition might not apply if men become habituated to hearing a woman’s voice. Thus, all recognized Poskim agree that the prohibition of Kol Isha applies today. . . .

Zemirot [Sabbath songs]
There is, however, considerable disagreement regarding the scope of the Kol Isha prohibition. For example, the question of its applicability to Zemirot has been discussed at some length in the twentieth century responsa literature. Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (Teshuvot Seridei Eish 2:8) notes that traditionally women refrained from singing Zemirot when there were males who were not family members sitting at the Shabbat table. However, he records that the practice in Germany was for woman to sing Zemirot in the company of unrelated men. Rav Weinberg records that Rav Azriel Hildesheimer and Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (two great German Rabbis of the nineteenth century) sanctioned this practice. Rav Weinberg reports that they based their ruling on the Talmudic rule (Megila 21b) that “Trei Kali Lo Mishtamai,” two voices cannot be heard simultaneously. . . .

“Rav Weinberg writes that he does not find this explanation satisfying (perhaps because the Gemara (Sotah 48a) writes that men and women singing together is a major impropriety). Rav Weinberg instead defends the German Jewish practice by citing the Sdei Chemed (Klalim, Maarechet Hakuf, 42) who quotes the Divrei Cheifetz who asserts that the Kol Isha prohibition does not apply to women singing Zemirot, singing songs to children, and lamentations for the dead. This authority explains that in these contexts men do not derive pleasure from the woman’s voice.

“Rav Weinberg writes that we should not pressure women who wish to follow the traditional practice to join Zemirot in a mixed group. Indeed, many Poskim oppose this practice of German Jewry (see Otzar Haposkim E.H. 21:1:20:3). However, some cite the Gemara (Megila 23a) that states that women are forbidden to receive an Aliyah to the Torah because of Kavod Hatzibbur [for an explanation, go here and scroll up to read the post itself] as proof to the German practice. [They argue that the fact that the Gemara does not mention Kol Isha as the reason to forbid women’s Aliyot proves that the Kol Isha restriction does not apply when a woman sings sacred texts. Others reply that the Gemara might be speaking of a woman reading the Torah to her immediate family members or may be speaking of a female child reading the Torah (see comments of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, and Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv cited in Nishmat Avraham 5:76-77). . . .

Observance of the Kol Isha prohibition is quite challenging for us as this prohibition runs counter to the prevailing Western culture. In today’s promiscuous society where outrageous behavior is deemed acceptable, a woman’s singing voice appears innocuous. Moreover, the general culture views this prohibition offensive and demeaning to women. We are challenged to hold firm to our beliefs against the flow of the general cultural tide. . . . “ [End of Rabbi Howard Jachter’s presentation]

My own two cents:

So, in other words, we’re supposed to hold fast to the prohibition against a man hearing a woman sing precisely, davka, because “the general culture views this prohibition offensive and demeaning to women?”

Two cents more from an anonymous comment on Not the Gadol Hador’s Wednesday, September 14, 2005 post, The Thing I Hate Most About Orthodoxy”: (yes, there are comments, though the screen denies it—just click and read):

“And really, men should get out of the tznius business altogether; they are currently doing a lot of damage by imposing their own angst with contemporary society on religious women. . . . “Anonymous 09.14.05 - 4:11 pm

Speaking of “their own angst with contemporary society,” one meaning of the word “contemporary,” according to Webster’s New World Dictionary is “living or happening in the same period.” Apparently, not much has changed in halachah’s (Jewish law’s) attitudes toward women since Torah times. What was “contemporary” to our Biblical ancestors is instructive: According to Parshat Naso, Numbers, chapter 5, verses 11-31, any man who was afflicted by so little as “ruach kin’ah, a spirit of jealousy,” could bring his wife before a Cohen (a priest), and have her condemned to public disgrace as an alleged adulteress simply by subjecting her to a trial by “ordeal.” Not being blessed with a good Jewish education, I ask this question of those more learnèd than I: Is there another single instance, in the entire corpus of Jewish law, in which a person could be tried and condemned with no witnesses whatsoever and only, for lack of a better description, circumstantial evidence?

Here’s the view of a modern Jewish scholar, Judith Plaskow, courtesy of this post by GoldaLeah (who, I hope will come out of blogger "retirement" eventually) on her blog, Go West, Young Jew:

“[Judith]Plaskow's ideas [expressed in her book Standing Again at Sinai] are resonating with some of the deeper truths I've always felt but had never put a name to, mainly that women in Judaism are unequivocally the "Other." Here Plaskow is using Simone de Beauvoir's definition: Men have established an absolute human type -- the male -- against which women are measured as Other. Otherness, she says, is a pervasive and generally fluid category of human thought; I perceive and am perceived as Other depending on a particular situation. In the case of males and females, however, Otherness is not reciprocal: men are always the definers, women the defined. [emphasis mine (GoldaLeah’s).] Women's experience is not enshrined in language, nor has it shaped cultural forms. As women appear in male texts, they are not the subjects and molders of their own experiences but the objects of male purposes, designs, and desires.

Plaskow argues that the above system of Other and Otherness is, in some ways, at the core of Judaism. "Jewish women," she writes, "have been projected as Other. Named by a male community that perceived itself as normative, women are part of the Jewish tradition without its sources and structures reflecting our experiences. Women are Jews, but we do not define Jewishness. We live, work, and struggle, but our experiences are not recorded, and what is recorded formulates our experiences in male terms. The central Jewish categories of Torah, Israel and God are all constructed from male perspectives. Torah is revelation as men perceived it, the story of Israel told from their standpoint, the law unfolded according to their needs. Israel is the male collectively -- the children of Jacob, who had a daughter, but whose sons became the twelve tribes.”

My two cents, again:

This is the essential question: Why does halachah insist on treating women as “other,” rather than as human?


Damned if we do and damned if we don’t (part one)—the anecdotal evidence

I’m quoting these seemingly random readings in an effort to make a point, in the hope that their effect will be cumulative. So please stay with me through part three.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004
Bnei for the men, Braq for the women
"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 of my co-workers tells me that she won’t sing at all—not even z’mirot/Sabbath songs, a form of religious music—if any male(s) other than her grandfather, father, and/or brothers, is/are present.

Thirty-some years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for a Modern Orthodox man to sing in one of the Zamir Chorales, “mixed” Jewish choral groups (found, I believe, only in large American cities such as New York and Boston). Now, some of those same men, former Zamir Chorale singers, won’t even listen to the Zamir Chorale. (I read this somewhere [probably in Hadassah magazine some time ago].)

According to an article I read some time back, (probably that same Hadassah magazine article), it was once common for women in Modern Orthodox synagogues to sing prayers as loudly as they wished. Now, many women no longer feel free to do so.

Here’s more on that subject, from the comments to this Thursday, October 14, 2004 post:

PsychoToddler said...
I played a kumzitz [er, sing-along?] recently with my Rabbi. The men were arranged in seats to our right; the women to our left. The men sang all the songs with us; the women were silent. I kept trying to shake the feeling that I had water in my left ear. Somehow, I think we orthodox are missing something.
Fri Oct 15, 05:13:36 PM 2004

Renegade Rebbetzin said...
PsychoToddler -I'm not surprised that happened. I see it happen all the time, particularly at my Shabbos table, where I try to set an example by singing zemirot along with the men, and yet some of the women still stay silent! . . .
Sun Oct 17, 12:36:12 AM 2004

Shira Salamone said...
. . . PsychoToddler, you ain’t kiddin’ when you say the Orthodox are missing something when the women don’t sing—they’re missing half the Jewish people!
Sun Oct 17, 05:18:23 AM 2004

In his Sunday, October 17, 2004 post, “Ai du,” The Shaigetz discusses “. . . the separation of the sexes at weddings and functions now starting at the car park . . . ”:

“The late Rabbi Shlomo Baumgarten was the Rav of a yekkishe [German-Jewish] shul on the Hill and a great man. He would greet the ladies of the congregation, waiting to walk home with their cloven, with a polite Good Shabbes as he left the shul. With the Chassidisation of the Hill today, no Rav would risk being drummed out of town for that. . . .

I do not believe that the generations before us, where couples walked home from shul together, went together to sheva brachot and barmitzvas, that were celebrated at home and in rooms with no mechitza (partition wall between men and women), were more likely to cleave with the wrong mate than we who are so well insulated from any potential pitfalls. Nor do I believe that the reason five year old girls are no longer allowed to enter the men’s shul even on Simchat Torah is because there is a real problem of anyone being led astray by their good looks. I have never noticed any risk of cleavage with a five-year-old girl and if the strict segregation we practice leads to impure thoughts about kids then it might be high time we abolished either the rules or the kids.”

A word from this blogger: I have absolutely no idea where I read this, but some kind soul (male) was trying to explain to another kind soul (female) that she shouldn’t be upset if a man avoided inquiring as to her health and welfare, because he was simply trying to respect her modesty.

Saturday, January 07, 2006
the year in review
“the guys in my community were too frum to walk on the same side of the street on me or the opposite extreme, and i thought all guys were like that. you can imagine how alarmed i was when teachers talked to us about marriage. i just figured i'd be one of those spinsters who writes children's books and neatly avoid the whole unhappy scene.

no one ever talked to us about shomer negiah [see explanation here]. i guess they thought we would have laughed if they'd told us not to touch boys we couldn't have found if we wanted to, anyway.”

Voices from Our Side of the Curtain
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

“The F-Word”
“Don’t get me wrong. I think Tznius [modesty] is the best thing in the world for body image and woman’s sense of self-esteem. Except every teacher told me that the reason I had to wear long sleeves and skirts was because I didn’t want to cause inappropriate desires in a man. Because my body was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode and lead some man astray. Face it, my body was an act of sin waiting to happen. You have no idea how terrified I was of my own body. For years, I was afraid to even walk because my hips might twitch and send some guy the wrong message and then I would be the cause of impure thoughts. I’m still not fully comfortable in my own skin. I wondered about it. I wondered why G-d would give me a mitzvah [commandment] that was wholly dependent on someone else. Tznius didn’t make me a better person. It just made sure that men didn’t become worse people and I couldn’t think of a single mitzvah like that which applied to men.”

“Leaving Home”
“. . . suddenly, you get big and nothing’s allowed anymore. You grow these bumps on your chest and your legs get long and suddenly, you’re not allowed to walk the way you used to because you might turn some guy on. Suddenly, the male friends that you had when you were little are off limits, even though you’d sooner marry your brother than kiss one of them, and if you do talk to your guy friends, they call you a slut behind your back. Suddenly, the way you talk is too loud, your smile is too sexy, and your body is too shapely. Quick, whisper, stop smiling, cover your body with burkahs. It’s not proper to be who you are.”

Please read parts two and three. I am trying to make a point, but there’s far too much material for me to include in just one post.


Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part three)

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Association has proven that it’s possible to be Orthodox and feminist. But no amount of reinterpretation is going to make it possible to be both Orthodox and egalitarian.

A Jewish egalitarian believes that women should have equal opportunities to participate in, and/or to lead, all Jewish rituals.

It’s not the mechitzah, the physical barrier and/or balcony separating women from men in an Orthodox synagogue, that’s the issue for me.

It’s everything that goes with it.

Or, to be precise, it’s everything that doesn’t go with it.

Many Jewish women find meaning and purpose in the role assigned to women by Jewish tradition. If that’s their choice, and they take satisfaction in their portion, kol hakavod, they have my respect. That has been the way of Jewish women for generations.

But some of us women seek a wider path, one that I’d have to give up if I became Orthodox.

As an Orthodox Jewish woman, I could never again:

1. be counted in a minyan;

2. lead any part of any religious service;

3. have an aliyah;

4. leyn/read Torah;

5. chant a haftarah;

6. lead kiddush;

7. lead birkat hamazon,

unless I were davvening/praying in a Women’s Tefillah (Prayer) Group.

But when it comes to women within Orthodox Judaism, it’s not just Orthodox practice that concerns me, it’s also Orthodoxy attitudes.

The tendency on the part of the Orthodox community to separate men from women seems to be getting stronger every day.

Yes, I do mean “men from women.”

Not men and women.

Not women and men.

Not even women from men.

Men from women.

Which brings me to the thoughts that I’ve been trying to formulate into a cohesive post or posts ever since GoldaLeah, of Go West, Young Jew, published her Wednesday, November 09, 2005 post, “Standing Again at Sinai I (Feminist Judaism).”

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part two)

I am, by nature a point-blank, blunt-spoken individual. As you may have gathered from reading my blog, I tend to say what I think and to think what I say, whenever I can get away with it (which means most of the time, except at work). Being tactful and diplomatic simply doesn’t come naturally to me, nor does saying the politic thing—I have to work very hard at choosing the right words for the circumstances and/or avoiding making matters worse by offending people who already disagree with me.

So, believe me, if I were to become Orthodox, the lightswitches wouldn’t be the only things on which I’d have to use tape.

My big mouth would be the next candidate.

While everyone else from my would-be Orthodox shul would be at the Israel Day Parade shouting “We want Mashiach now!,” I’d be busy stifling myself. Because I don’t believe in a literal mashiach (messiah). And I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing the sacrificial system restored, believing, as I do, that prayer is a much better idea. And I have no desire to see the democratically-elected government of the State of Israel replaced by a hereditary monarchy of the descendants of David HaMelech/King David.

I spent too many years hanging around with the Jewish Recontructionist Movement not to have developed beliefs—or lack thereof—that the Orthodox world deems heretical. I don’t reevaluate, changing my beliefs to match what tradition demands. I revaluate—I find new values in our tradition, new ways of interpreting it, so that I can still claim Jewish tradition as my yerusha, my heritage, even though I’m not a literal believer.

So I fast on Tisha B’av not because the first and second Temples were destroyed, but because thousands of Jews were slaughtered in the process, not to mention during later times such as the eras of the Crusades, the Inquisition, the progroms, the Shoah/Holocaust . . .Can you see me trying to explain that one to the folks sitting on the shul floor, mourning-style, lamenting the destruction of the Temples?

Pass the tape, please.

So I davven/pray not because I believe that there’s a supernatural G-d who hears prayer—for me, personally, the jury’s still out on that one—but because I find poetry and beauty in our prayers, and/or because I’m quoting the words of my ancestors. That’s a good enough reason for me, but one that would be deemed kefira, atheism, by my Orthodox would-be co-congregants.

More tape, please.

So I observe Shabbat, after a fashion, not because I believe that Hashem created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, but because I think that the very idea that everyone should have a weekly day off is one of the greatest contributions to the betterment of the human race that Judaism has ever made. And I am not willing to land in the middle of a shouting match among the “creationists,” the “Darwinists,” and the “Intelligent Design” believers, because, frankly, the question of how life on earth came to be is of no relevance to me from a religious perspective—one way or the other, I’m still lightin’ candles on Friday night. I hear that the rabbis say, “More than the Jews have kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jews.” That’s a good enough reason for me. But if I were to explain Shabbat that way to the Jr. Cong. kids at an Orthodox shul, they’d replace me with a new Jr. Cong. leader faster than you can say the word apikorsut—heresy.

Is there any tape left on that roll, or do I need another one?

I would definitely need to plaster more tape across my mouth if I didn’t want to be kicked out of my imaginary Orthodox synagogue, because nobody would appreciate it if I lamented that I found it difficult to be both frum and female.

Which brings me to my next post . . .

Why I don’t think I could become Orthodox (part one)

I’m not going to lie about this: One big reason why I don’t think I could become Orthodox is related to the old Yiddish saying, “Schver tzu zein a Yid, It’s hard to be a Jew.”

I was not raised Orthodox.

The last member of my family to live an Orthodox life until the day of death was my maternal great-grandmother, who died when I was about six years old. So there were no Orthodox Jews in my family to serve as role models as I was growing up.

I never attended a Jewish day school.

And now, I’m supposed to accept upon myself 613 commandments??!! As I was saying, “Schver tzu zein a Yid.”

There are simply some things that I’m not prepared to give up.

I’m trying to avoid using the phone on Shabbat. But I’m not prepared to give up watching tv on Shabbat.

We went kosher when our son was born. I stopped eating non-kosher meat outside of the house several years ago. But I’m not prepared to give up eating cheese that doesn’t have hashgacha (i.e., cheese that isn’t supervised by a rabbi to ensure that it’s kosher). Nor am I prepared to stop eating kosher fish cooked in non-kosher pans in non-kosher restaurants.

And I’m not prepared to stop travelling on Shabbat. One of the reasons why I’m not prepared to stop traveling on Shabbat is that I’m not willing to giving up “shul hopping” (visiting other synagogues) on Shabbat. As I said to “Anon. #2” here, I’ve never, in my over twenty years of membership in my current synagogue felt truly at home there, because "In our shul, we can count the number of people who are both hard-core davveners and egalitarians (believers in equal rights for women in terms of participation in ritual) on one hand, literally." In addition, as “Anon. # 2" said, I also feel out of place in my community because it's not “willing to allow [me] to be intellectually curious and intellectually honest . . .”

Which brings me to my next post . . .

“Taping” time

You know about that halachah/Jewish law that forbids the use of electricity on Shabbat/Sabbath unless the device was either turned on before Shabbat or is turned on by someone not obligated to observe the Sabbath (a non-Jew) or by a pre-set timer?

Well, two Shabbatot/Sabbaths ago, we found ourselves forgetting, and turning the bathroom light on and off on Shabbat. So last week before Shabbat, I put tape on the lightswitch, taping it fixed in the “on” position.

Last Shabbat, we kept forgetting and turning the kitchen light on and off. So this past Friday, before Shabbat, I taped the kitchen lightswitch on.

Yesterday, we kept forgetting about the bedroom light, so next Friday, before Shabbat, I’ll tape the bedroom lightswitch off. We’ll manage.

That’s the easy part.

The harder part will be the other kind of “taping.”

To be precise, I still have to learn how to program the DVR.

But that’s not really the biggest problem.

The real issue is that I love to watch television on Friday night because it's the only night of the week that I don't do any work.

I don’t enter bills into our financial records.

I don’t print checks to pay said bills.

I don’t reconcile bank statements.

I don’t cook.

I don’t clean.

I don’t do laundry.

To be frank, time management is not one of my strong suits. But, that being the case, when else am I going to find three hours to watch Sci Fi Friday, if not on Friday?

Yes, I know that watching tv on Shabbat, since it requires one to turn on an electrical device, is considered working on Shabbat.

But it sure doesn’t feel like work.

Which brings me to my next post . . .

Friday, February 24, 2006

"We're leavin' the USSR"

Please excuse the quote from Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock, but it was too good to resist, though he was speaking of immigration to Israel, rather than the U.S.

Thanks to Ezzie, whose latest "round-up" steered me to his "Post of the Day," Irina Tsukerman's account of her personal experience as a Russian Jew immigrating to the United States.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The sunny side of parenting our son

Lest you think that all is doom and gloom at the Salamone-Punster Palace, here ‘s the good news:

Our son gets along well enough with his soon-to-be-former roommate that they may try to get a two-bedroom private apartment for next September, after our son’s current short-term lease expires.

He’s smart enough to have gotten himself a job as a teaching assistant, though his pay isn’t nearly enough to cover the cost of maintainging the car that he bought with his earnings from last summer’s research project.

He’s in a five-year Physics program, which, though it will cost us an extra year’s tuition and will also mean that he graduates two-three years later than most of his peers—remember that he also put in an extra year in his special-ed. high school—does give him an opportunity to add some more studies to his résumé. Having just about completed his minor in Japanese—the school only offers three years thereof—he’s considering earning a second minor in Microelectical Engineering, and possibly a third minor in Math. This is the same kid who needed a calcutor to add 2 + 2 when he was in fourth grade (roughly 10 years old, for my foreign readers, if any), and who was still struggling with calculus as recently as his freshman year of college. Amazing!

My sister, back when she was still well enough to be employed, spoiled everything when she started treating our son to trips to bookstores. Within a few years, our library-loving son was protesting that he had to buy books because he couldn’t find what he wanted at the library. Sigh. We ended up having to give him a separate “book allowance” on top of his miscellaneous spending money. It cost us a few bucks. But, as I told people at the time, I can think of far worse ways for a kid to blow his parents’ money.

Our son will be taking a six-week course in scientific and technical Japanese in Japan this summer. The airfare will be as sky-high as the jets in which he flies, no doubt. And the food and incidental expenses won’t be a picnic, either, especially if he chooses to tour Tokyo and Kyoto. If??!! If you think we’re going to send our kid all the way to Japan and not insist that he visit Tokyo and Kyoto, at the least, you’re out of your minds! Sure, the cost is going to carve a giant hole in our savings/investments. But I can think of far worse ways for a kid to blow his parents’ money.

Would that all parents who raised a kid with disabilities could have our long-term good fortune. To paraphrase what I said to 30CAL/”Moe” the other day, I try always to count my blessings. I'm not saying "Modim" (“We thank You”) for nothing.

February’s Fiscal Follies

Our son and his roommate found it difficult to share a bedroom. So they went to the college housing office, seeking separate rooms. The person with whom they spoke said that s/he would refer the request to the proper authorities. That never happened. Realizing that he and his roommate weren’t going to get an answer, my son did an end-run around the college housing office and found himself a private apartment.

Unfortunately, the college housing office, even though it was to blame for ignoring our son and, thereby, forcing him to do an end-run around it, refuses to take responsibility.

So our son has been billed an extra $800 for withdrawing from student housing in mid-year.

The subject line of the e-mail from our son read “More fun”: His brakes had failed (with no injuries involved, baruch HaShem/thank G-d), and he needed to replace them immediately.

So we’re expecting another bill for over $400.

And if we get smart and replace the struts, too, in the hope that our kid’s car won’t break down on his next trip home in about a week, that’ll cost us roughly yet another $600.

Then there’s the fascinating approach to annual deductibles taken by his student health insurance: Instead of putting a dollar amount on the annual deductible, the plan simply bills a student the entire cost of his first visit to any individual physician.

So my son received a $530 bill from the gastroenterologist checking up on his Crohn’s Disease and on some kind of chronic intestinal infection for which he was being treated.

Did I also mention that yours truly had the brilliant timing to get sick two weeks before I would have been eligible for sick leave, and that, therefore, I’m going to be docked two days’ pay?

Bottom line—these are the extra bills that we either have received or expect to receive by the end of May:

Gastroenterologist’s bill—$530.

College housing withdrawal penalty—$800.

Brake replacement (and oil change)—roughly $400.

Struts replacement—roughly $600.

Airfare to Japan for six-week summer course in scientific and technical Japanese—I’m afraid to ask.

Cue the music. The only thing missing from this post is the audio from a circus band.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Febrile seizures: Life-saving information

Read Stephanella's February 22, 2006 post, "The Longest Night," the traumatic story of how she almost lost her four-year-old son Raphael to a seizure cause by a high fever, and post your best wishes for Rapha's recovery.

Here's the essential information about febrile seizures, copied from the aforementioned post:

1. 2% of children under age 5 experience febrile seizures. The general rule is one seizure per bout of illness; More frequent seizures may signal a more serious condition. Normal range seizures last for several minutes max.

2. If a child is seizing, ensure his/her head and body are safe from hard or sharp objects but don't attempt to stop the convulsions - a fracture may result. NEVER put anything - especially a finger - into a seizing child's mouth. You WILL lose it as the biting down instinct is particularly strong during episodes. DO, however, move the child's head to the side so that the tongue falls sideways away from the throat and saliva doesn't block the airways.

3. Underarm temperature taking is inaccurate. For a good reading purchase a high end digital ear instrument or use the standard under-the-tongue or rectal modes.

4. When sponge bathing a child to bring down a fever make sure the water is warm. Overly cold temps will cause chills in turn signaling the body to raise temps even higher.

5. If a feverish child has a vacant, "zombie" look in his/her eyes or begins talking or behaving in bizarre fashion seek medical help right away.

6. Try not to panic. Your child needs you to be calm and be there for him or her.

7. Note the time so you're aware of how long the seizure lasted.

Hat-tip to Allison of An Unsealed Room.

Check out Chana's blog, "A Curious Jew" (thanks, Ezzie)

Thanks to Ezzie for recommending Chana's blog, A Curious Jew. I strongly recommend that you read her Friday, February 10, 2006 post "Judaism, the Bible and our World: Part I' and its sequel, the Saturday, February 18, 2006 post, "Judaism, the Bible and our World: Part II," warning against the dangers of sheltering, as opposed to protecting, children. There's quite a discussion going in the comments.

Update: Blogger is messing with us again--as of now (7:40 PM EST, Wed., Feb. 22, 2006), you won't be able to read the comments to this post unless you click on "POST A COMMENT."

"cyberians": A new word enters my blogger vocabulary

Thanks to an anonymous commenter to this post on Ezzie's blog, I now have a new way to describe myself.

Connecting the Jewish Education Dots (New York Jewish Week article)

[As long as I’m stuck home with this stupid cold anyway, I might as well make some use of my time between naps and post something.]

Standing on one foot, the study cited in this February 17, 2006 article found that there was insufficient connection among families, schools, and informal programs such as Jewish youth groups and camps, and that that lack of coordination was negatively impacting the chances of Jewish children getting a decent Jewish education.

Here are two passages that I found particularly striking:

“While the study concluded that one-day-a-week Sunday school programs have “little positive impact over the long term,” two- and three-day-a-week programs, and especially supplementary high school programs, are seen as deserving more support — “unless we are prepared to write off the majority of young Jews,” since most do not attend day school.”

A day-school education may be the norm among the Orthodox, but there are an awful lot of non-frum families out there who can’t or won’t send their kids to day school. Writing us off is not in the long-term interest of even the Orthodox community. Hey, you guys have to get your baalei t’shuvah (returnees to Orthodox observance) from somewhere.

And here’s a statement to which I’d love to get some responses from those of you who are Jews by Choice:

“The report noted that with more converts and non-Jews involved in raising Jewish children as a result of intermarriage, the goals and language used in regard to Jewish education may differ, depending on whether the parent was born Jewish or not.

Those raised outside of Judaism often speak of wanting the child to have a relationship with God and learn about moral issues, while those born Jewish emphasize learning rituals and practices.

The contrast in outlook is “quite dramatic,” the report stated, describing the difference as “a Judaism of family and festivals as compared to a Judaism of faith and feelings.”

Wertheimer said it is important for schools “to understand how things are being heard.”

This article makes no mention whatsoever of the challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities in getting a Jewish education for their children. For that, see this New York Jewish Week article.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Holier than thou? How I ruined my own Shabbos

[Created while stuck at home, between sneezes and trips to the tissue box. My current temperature is 99.9 Fahrenheit/37.77 Celsius. That's nothing to write home about, obviously, but I feel like _ _ _ _.]

It all started innocently enough.

Or so I thought.

I got up on the bima with my Junior Congregation kids, spoke a few words about Yitro/Jethro having been either, according to the Written Torah, a Midianite priest, or, according to midrash (rabbinic interpretative story), a Jew by Choice, bringing Moshe Rabbeinu/Moses our teacher some influence from the outside world, namely, the basis of the first Jewish judicial system, and how that proves that outside influence is not always a bad thing for Judaism (read the comments, too). By way of illustration, I then proceeded to lead the kids and the congregation in singing Adom Olam to the tune that our last rabbi’s kids had called the tune to Dror Yikra, but which was actually, unbeknownst to them, the tune to an old song (from the ‘60’s?) called “Sloop John B.” (Frankly, I don’t think it’s the best tune for either Dror Yikra or Adon Olam that I’ve ever heard, but it works, more or less.)

Fast-forward an hour or so. The president of the congregation asked me to lead Birkat haMazon, the Grace after Meals. In the middle of “bentching,” (reciting Birkat haMazon), I stopped to shush a whole table of people who were talking through it.

After bentching, I was called over to the offending table by the president. One of those seated there, whom I will call E. the Elder, expressed her indignant opinion that Yitro was most certainly not a Jew by Choice. I was quite taken aback. I had careful cited a midrash whose premise I don’t believe—I don’t think Yitro was a Jew by Choice, either—out of respect for tradition, and here I was being taken to task for it. Since it was the rabbi himself who’d introduced me to that midrash last year, I turned to him for support, not being learned enough to be able to cite chapter and verse. But instead of answering my sheilah (question), he proceeded to put me on the carpet for speaking words of Torah without his permission. I walked away quite upset, and got my tallit (prayer shawl) and a siddur/prayerbook so that I could davven/pray the Mussaf/Additional Service, which I always miss, being downstairs with the Jr. Cong. kids at the time. But just as I had tucked myself away into a corner of the sanctuary, now full of tables from kiddush, and was about to launch into the Mussaf Amidah, I overheard E. the Younger (no relation to E. the Elder) complaining, from halfway across the room, “She thinks she’s the rabbi and she can tell us what to do.” I slammed my siddur shut and stormed over to her table. “If you insist on insulting me, at least do so to my face. And I’ll shush anyone who talks during Birkat HaMazon—I don’t care that I’m not the rabbi!” Having yelled my piece, I stomped out of the room, and went downstairs to davven Mussaf.

Being in no mood to return to the scene of the insult, I davvened Mincha and Maariv at home. This gave me an opportunity both to davven at my own pace and to check out some of the material that’s not in the Silverman (old Conservative) Siddur and/or that we usually skip. I was quite surprised to see Yedid Nefesh listed as a S’udah Shishit (or Shalosh Seudos, as the Artscroll Sidder puts it)/Sabbath afternoon song—I’d always thought that that was an Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve song.

I also looked at the post-Havdalah material. Gott fun Avrohom, a Yiddish prayer that I read in translation, is very nice, my theological reservations aside. (I don’t have faith in either the Thirteen Principles, the complete and close Redemption, the Resusitation of the Dead, or the prophecy of Moses.)

There are, as usual, way too many verses in the following prayer, B’Motzaei. I was glancing through those verses when my eyes fell on the prayer after them, Amar HaShem L’Yaakov.

Amar HaShem L’Yaakov??!!!

Why did I suddenly hear a violin solo playing in my head?

Quickly, I scanned through the Hebrew.

Sure enough, I knew the first four verses from a song written by bloggin' physician/musician Mark Skier, a.k.a. PsychoToddler, recorded by his Moshe Skier Band while there was still a violinist in the band's line-up.

So that was my adventure for the day. :)

Come havdalah time, I had to draft the Punster, already back from minyan, to hold two Chanukah candles together so that I could recite havdalah (the prayer separating the Shabbat from the rest of the week), which he’d already done at shul. It had been so long since we’d done havdalah at home that we didn’t even have a havdalah candle in the house, and had to fulfil the requirement for a flame created with two combined wicks by holding the two Chanukah candles so that their wicks touched.

Afterward, and following a call from the president the next day, the hubby and I reviewed the events of Shabbat. These were our conclusions.

1. In current parlance, it’s called “Freedom of the Pulpit”—the rabbi has complete freedom to say what he wishes, whether I like it or not. In tradition parlance, the term is “Mara d’Atra,” which I think means roughly “Master of the Place”—the rabbi is the designated religious authority for the synagogue, and no one can speak from the bima on a religious subject without his prior consent. You’d think that I’d learned that the last time I got in trouble. (See my Monday, October 31, 2005 post, High-Holiday-Season Highlights, part 3: The 1st day of Sukkot—this is the “ugly” part). Sigh.

2. I should have made sure that my Jr. Cong. kids knew the tune that I was using for Adon Olam. I had assumed that they did, since that tune had been sung here many times before. No such luck. Some congregants get upset enough that I actually have the chutzpah (nerve) to sing any new tunes at all, not being great supporters of David haMelech’s/King David’s words, “Shiru laShem shir chadash, sing to the L-rd a new song" (Psalm 96). They get even more upset when I seem to be doing a solo and leaving the Jr. Cong. kids in the dust. Note taken.

3. The no-new-tunes issue may be a generation-gap problem, but the attitude toward talking during Birkat haMazon is not—the groups in conflict are divided not by age, but by background, my husband and I concluded. In Orthodox circles, it’s quite common for people to say Birkat haMazon to themselves, and there’s no expectation that anyone else at the table will be quiet while they do so. For those of us who were raised non-Orthodox and/or who came to Judaism later in life, the practice is entirely different. Since many non-Orthodox Jews aren’t well enough acquainted with certain rituals to perform them on their own, the non-Orthodox movements have often chosen to perform as a group in synagogue some rituals that have traditionally been performed individually and/or at home. This probably accounts for the existence of congregational Sedarim (Seders, ritual Passover meals), even among the Orthodox, who probably consider them a form of kiruv (an attempt to encourage Jews to return to Orthodox observance). It also probably accounts for the likelihood that Birkat haMazon is done “b’tzibbur, in community”—that is, as a group—more often in non-Orthodox circles. And therein lies the problem. Those who grew up with the tradition that Birkat haMazon is basically a private prayer see no problem in talking while others are bentching. But those of us who’ve experienced Birkat haMazon much more frequently as a group prayer find it disrespectful in the extreme when others nonchalantly yak through it.

The hubster says that I should simply learn to ignore all the blabbing unless the blabbermouths are speaking so loudly than I can’t hear myself bentch. I can only reply that he himself, having learned so much of what he knows while studying in an Orthodox synagogue for his Bar Mitzvah celebration, is one of the people in the other camp. There’s no good answer for this one, folks. The (ex-)frummies are going to continue to see nothing wrong with talking through a communal Birkat haMazon, while those of us raised Conservative and otherwise are going to continue to find nothing right about it.


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blinded by the light--a snowbound day in New York City

It’s a beautiful day in NYC
The sky is blue, the sun shines brightly
And that’s the problem
Every time the sunlight hits the snow
The glare hurts my eyes

Still, I can’t complain about a beautiful day

The sidewalks are mostly snow-free now
But the snow and slush piled at every intersection
Challenge my skills at navigating my new wheeled backpack
Sometimes I plow through
Sometimes, if the muck is particularly daunting
I just give up, and carry the darned thing

Now here’s a clever soul
Using a sheet to cover a car’s windshield
Anchoring it to the car by closing the front doors on two of the corners

Me, well, at times like this
I’m glad I don’t live where I would have to dig out my car
Just to buy a quart of milk
I’m happy to sally to the subway
And leave the driving to the MTA


Sunday, February 12, 2006

An apology to NYC-area bloggers: Sorry I didn't think to announce last night's Ruby Harris CD-release party

Okay, so maybe the crowd at the Carlebach Shul wasn't as big as it would have been if we hadn't been in the middle of a snowstorm--Ruby joked that this sort of weather is considered quite moderate in Chicago--but inside, we were having a grand old time listening (and--you know me--dancing in the back of the room) first to Oneg Shemesh accompany himself on the guitar, then to Ruby Harris on the violin or guitar. There was a small band--western-style drum set, keyboard, middle-eastern hand-held drums--but it certainly got bigger as Ruby kept calling folks in the audience to come up and join him. One fellow came equipped with clarinet, another with guitar and some kind of rattle. Rudy seemed to know every musician who walked in the door. The final jam, to M. Shur's "Hafachta," an old Diaspora Yeshiva Band classic, was just awesome.

One of the Jewish blogosphere's physician/musicians, Mark/PT--there are two, at last count, if we include former simcha-circuit keyboard players--has been known to claim that musicians are poor judges of music. Well, that's debatable, but, if last night's show was any indication, musicians are terrific judges of other musicians. So tell me, Mark, is every musician friend of yours a musical genius? :)

Friday, February 10, 2006

My own viewpoint concerning some of the major differences between Judaism and Christianity (for Kiwi, etc.)

Kiwi the Geek, a Christian reader of PsychoToddler, posed some questions about Judaism that Mark/PT decided to refer to The Jewish Connection.

Here's some of what transpired in the course of that conversation.

"Kiwi the Geek:
I'm told Jewish Christians can find the answers in the Tanach, which is apparently a basis for their belief.

Jewish Christians
Ain't no such animal. Pick a team."

I'd like to expand (expound?) on Mark's statement, and perhaps make it a bit clearer why he's right. Contrary to popular opinion, and/or all claims to the contrary notwithstanding, there are many good reasons why there's no such thing as a so-called "Jewish Christian," "Hebrew Christian," and/or "Messianic Jew," and why one can't be both a Jew and "for Jesus." I’m copying here the comment that I posted on GoldaLeah’s blog, when she published her Sunday, December 11, 2005 post, “Your god is Not My God.”

“Disclaimer: The following are my own opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of “the management.” :) It is entirely possible that these opinions are based on limited knowledge and/or interpretation, or are inaccurate for other reasons.

I think that Judaism and Christianity share some of the same beliefs, but that what we emphasize can differ radically.

I believe that Judaism tends to emphasize *this* world, whereas Christianity tends to emphasize the next, though both officially posit a belief in life after death.

I believe that Judaism tends to emphasize the group—notice that our central prayer, the Amidah, is written entirely in the plural—whereas Christianity tends to emphasize the individual.

I believe that Judaism tends to emphasize deeds, whereas Christianity tends to emphasize faith or thought. Consider how many centuries Judaism managed to thrive before the Rambam/Maimonides write the Thirteen Principles of Faith. Consider, too, that the performance of a mitzvah/divine commandment is considered paramount. So what if you’re really buying the most gorgeous etrog you can find to impress the woman you hope to marry and her parents? The important thing is that you’re fulfilling the commandment to use a lulav and etrog during Sukkot. No Jew in his/her right mind would ever refrain from fulfilling a commandment out of concern that she/he might be doing so for ulterior motives. I’m under the impression that ulterior motivation for doing the right thing might be of greater concern for a Christian.

And here’s the biggie: I believe that Judaism tends to emphasize individual responsibility, whereas the the belief in vicarious atonement is at the very heart of Christian dogma. Yes, we Jews pray that Hashem will forgive us because of the merit of our ancestors. And yes, we used to sacrifice animals as a way to atone for our sins. But our main emphasis is on improving our behavior. Christianity, on the other hand, is very clear on this point—according to Christian dogma, no amount of personal atonement could earn a person entry into heaven if Jesus had not died for the sins of humankind. You can’t get much more vicarious than that.

Judaism and Christianity had totally different responses to pagan human sacrifice. Judaism replaced it with animal sacrifice, and, later, with prayer. Christianity replaced it with a one-time “human” sacrifice, followed by the symbolic “human” sacrifice of the sacrament/holy communion (hope I’m using the correct terminology). Mind you, symbolic sacrifice is a vast improvement over the real thing.”

Please feel free to add to this list and/or to respond in any other (respectful) manner.

Update (posted at some ridiculous hour on Sunday morning, Feb. 12, 2006):
I encourage you to read not only the ongoing series at The Jewish Connection, but, also, to see what Kiwi and commenters have to say on her Friday, February 10, 2006, Judaism & Christianity post.

Update #2, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2006:
Another major difference between Judaism and Christianity that I neglected to mention here, but discussed in a comment to Kiwi's Judaism & Christianity post, is that, as relatively non-dogmatic as Judaism is, it still has a serious problem with the idea that G-d would choose to have a "begotten" child. Dilbert discusses the related issue that the (resultant) divinity of Jesus is not within the acceptable parameters of Jewish beliefs. Tze u-l'mad—go and learn.

One of the joys of blogging is having respectful discussions concerning serious issues on which people disagree. In these days when even cartoons can practically start a war, that's downright refreshing.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Some parents have all the luck

Lucky them.

My sister refused to babysit until our son was out of diapers. And even after he was out of diapers, she didn't babysit except on our anniversary. She saw our son when it was convenient for her, not when it was helpful to us.

My brothers lived in Jerusalem and the San Francisco area, respectively.

My parents lived in South Jersey until they made aliyah, moving to Jerusalem.

My father-in-law passed away when our son was less than a year old, and my mother-in-law was in no condition to be of any assistance.

My husband’s brother and sister-in-law already had two kids, the first of whom was born with health problems, by the time our son was born. And by the time it was clear to us that our son was going to be difficult to raise, they knew that their second child was in even worse health.

From the very beginning, we were almost completely on our own.

My husband always wanted a second child. So did I. But by the time I was ready to consider getting pregnant again, it was clear that the kid we already had was going to be a handful—and that we couldn’t expect any help whatsoever from anyone in raising either him and/or another child.

And that was before we realized that he was a handful because he had disabilities.

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child.

Well, we didn’t have a village.

So I tip my hat to all of the hard-working grandparents, aunts, uncles, and/or other relatives or friends who lend a helping hand. And I suggest that those of you who are blessed with help from loved ones in raising your child/ren thank Hashem every day for your good fortune.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Getting my kicks at Makor

Last night turned out to be one of the most surprising nights of my life, in a fantastic way.

When first we encountered our dancer/choreographer, she was suffering from a serious case of discouragement. She had sent an e-mail to a dozen of her female friends, inviting them to join her at Makor's "Girls' Night On" on her 57th birthday to watch her present her very first choreographic work. Only one friend had responded, informing her of previous plans. (That reminded her of an old joke: "What if you had a party and nobody came?") So there she sat, all by her lonesome, watching the room fill to the rafters with women easily half her age and contemplating the distinct possibility that she might be the oldest woman present. To make matters even worse, the room emptied radically after the intermission, as the half of the Touro College and Stern College student bodies that was in attendance left to prep for the next day's classes. Our dancer/choreographer was particularly saddened when one of the studious students told her that she was headed home to do homework, since the young lady in question was the only person in the entire room whom she knew. (On the plus side, this will, no doubt, be welcome evidence to the good folks paying her tuition that their sky-high expenditures are going for the purpose intended.)

Finally, our dancer/choreographer found herself standing next to the stage, awaiting her cue, staring left at a formerly standing-room-only and now half-empty room and straight ahead at a stage full of microphones. With only roughly three minutes available to do her dance and "permission denied" to move the mics, she panicked, telling the event's organizer to give her a later slot while she tried to figure out which of the three dances she'd choreographed would fit best in a space that small. A few minutes downstairs, and back she came. "Never mind, I'll go on as scheduled—none of my dances takes any less room than the other, so I'll just have to chance breaking my neck."

So there she stood. First, she stumbled her way through an explanation of how she'd come to choreograph this dance. "There I was, doing data entry at home and listening to this website on the Internet, when I heard this song, and the minute I heard it, I just got right up and danced my feet off. Well, after a few rounds of this over the course of the next few days, I thought maybe I should try my hand, or rather, my feet, at choreography. And here's the result." She read a translation of the lyrics to "Ki V'Simcha" (Yishaya/Isaiah 55:12—scroll your way around the "radio blog" 'til you find it, click and enjoy!), then called to the sound technician in the back of the room. "Hit it."

And that's when the most incredible thing happened: The minute the women in the room heard Mendel's opening guitar sequence, they all started to SCREAM!!!

Holy Moses!!!!!!!!!!

This was nothing like the performance the Punster and I had given at the synagogue Chanukah party. There, the people clapped partly because they enjoyed the dance, and partly because I’m a 20-something-year shul member, the editor of the shul's quarterly bulletin, and a hard-core “regular” in the davvening department. Here, not only did they not know me from Adam, but, more important, they appreciated the reason why I'd choreographed the dance in the first place: They, too, loved the music!!!!!!!!!

Much to my complete astonishment, they clapped and screamed through my entire performance. When I got to the section in which Mark and Mendel sing with only the drummer playing and I put my finger over my mouth in a "shah, shtil/shush, quiet" motion, they actually laughed. :) They just "got it" totally. They "got" the entire dance totally. I was absolutely bowled over. Never in my life has anything I've done elicited such a wildly enthusiastic reaction. So I announced the name of the website, "," thanked the audience for helping me celebrate my 57th birthday, and walked off the stage to thunderous applause.

As I was saying, Holy Moses!!!!!!!!

One woman actually told me that my performance was the highlight of the evening. I spent the rest of the evening listening to the other performers, collecting compliments, and handing out lyrics translation sheets with Mark's URL printed on the bottom.

The organizer, Leslie Ginsparg, asked me to promise to perform at a future "Girls' Night On." Believe me, I don't have to be persuaded: I'll be back for more. I've just made an amazing discovery: Applause is addictive, appreciation a major ego trip. What a rush! Now, I have a reason to keep choreographing other than just that I think that music is for dancing.

To those guys from Milwaukee: You rock, and thanks to your music, now I rock, too!!!!!!!!!! :)
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