Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Parenting: The "laundromat" phase :)

Yes, there is a "laundromat" (laundrette, for the Brits) phase to parenting. It rarely starts before the age of 14, or whenever a child first leaves home for boarding school or college, but it does sometimes overlap the earlier part of the "empty nest" phase of parenting. It consists of those years in which it seems that your child(ren) come(s) home chiefly to do laundry during school vacations, between semesters, and/or between trips.

We are currently in the "laundromat" phase of parenting, and have been for several years. Our son came home from college last Thursday night, and left for six weeks of study in Japan this morning.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

You can't have both

From Seraphic Secret:

May 16, 2006

500 Volumes, 114 Souls

Watching the opening scene of Pride & Prejudice is painful. My vision is blurred. I am sniffing and snuffling. Finally, I hit the PAUSE button, run to the bathroom--Karen and Offspring #3 groan--where I yank a fistful of tissues, honk! blow my nose, and wipe the silvery strings dripping down my cheeks.

The reasons:

1. Well, simply put, it's just so darn good to be back with Jane again, to be in the comforting embrace of a masterful storyteller. After the painful two-hours plus of The New World, gosh, Jane Austen is... home.

2. Karen is sitting right beside me on our little bedroom couch. Pride & Prejudice is the ultimate story of the desperate need for love and marriage in a proper middle class family.There is so much of Karen in Lizzie. There is so much of me in Darcy's desperate love of Lizzie. Karen is sitting right beside me on our little couch and a major part of me just wants to fall to the ground, grab my wife's knees and thank her, thank her, endlessly express my gratitude for loving me,for marrying me, for putting up with me all these years..."

It's finally dawned on me that there's a reason why I find Robert Avreche's "How I Married Karen" series so fascinating: My experience was exactly the opposite of his.

My husband and I met in synagogue, and knew each other for about a year and a half before we started dating. We were friends long before any other possibility had occurred to us. I joke that we got married because we got tired of commuting across Central Park to each other's apartments to stuff envelopes for synagogue mailings.

My husband and I never went through the kind of "interview" that many people do on first dates (and/or on "shidduch" [looking for a marriage partner] dates), because we already knew the answers to the sort of questions that one would ask. And we already knew that we shared interests. Our relationship grew naturally. I cannot tell you how much I recommend this approach to relationships: Instead of looking, specifically, for that special person, just do what you enjoy, and, with any luck, you'll find somone else who enjoys the same things. I've made most of my friends that way, and, in the long run, found my husband that way, too.

On the other hand, I've never had that "struck by lightning" experience in romance that Robert describes so beautifully. "Love at first sight and forever" is just not the way my own life happened to work out. So I guess I'm living that experience vicariously.

Love growing from friendship, or love head-over-heels from the start. Both are wonderful. But you can have only one.

A near-tragedy nearly ignored by the media

My parents’ daughter

In her Thursday, May 25, 2006 post, "year in review part ii," Fudge said, “i was listening to the graduates today. they all start the same way. 'thank you, mommy and abba.' 'thank you, ima and tatti.'

you know something? they are not wrong.

if my parents hadn't believed in me enough to send me here, to pay for me to be here, to listen and advise me even when i was completely incoherent, i would be a very different, smaller-minded, and definitely blander person than i am today. you have given me a whole year so far to develop into someone knowledgable. i'm not there yet, but i'm loving every minute of the process.

thank you.

thank you very much.”

“'thank you, mommy and abba.' 'thank you, ima and tatti.'

you know something? they are not wrong."

My father’s father was a carpenter by trade. He fell to his death from the roof of a construction project when my father was only three. His mother was pretty short on funds thereafter, and managed to get him barely enough of a Jewish education to enable him to read the Hebrew alef-bet, more or less.

My mother’s parents, after each trying their hands at a number of trades, including clothing-factory work and tailoring, settled on a life as grocery-store owners. They managed to give their daughter a Jewish education somewhat better than what my father received, but not much.

My parents were determined that their four children would each get a better Jewish education than either of them had gotten.

That’s why each of us had at least four years of Hebrew school, and acquired a reasonable ability to read basic prayerbook Hebrew.

My parents took us to synagogue practically every Sabbath and holiday, even when they, themselves, couldn’t attend with us, work or shopping (in the days when grocery stores weren’t open on Sundays) getting in their way.

We knew that Rosh Hashanah meant dinner with Grandmom and Grandpop, and morning services in shul listening to the blowing of the shofar.

We knew that Yom Kippur meant fasting for 26 hours. We started “practicing” at 10, skipping breakfast first, then eating lunch at 2, then at 4, so that by the time we became B’not or B’nei Mitzvah, we were ready to tackle the entire fast.

We had kiddush in the synagogue’s sukkah on Sukkot, and danced in shul with the sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah.

As we got old enough, each child had her or his own chanukiah (Chanukah menorah) to light.

We sent money to the Jewish National Fund to plant trees in Israel on Tu BiSh’vat, and drowned out the villain Haman’s name in shul on Purim.

We were well acquainted with the sight of our mother boiling silverware for Pesach (Passover). My father read the entire Haggadah, albeit in English, from cover to cover, no matter how many guests left right after the meal.

We knew that Shavuot meant blintzes and rice knishes (a recipe that my grandmother apparently took into the grave with her—I’ve never had rice knishes anywhere but in her home), and the joyous commemoration, the next morning in shul, of our receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai.

We learned Zionism in Jewish day camps and United Synagogue Youth.

Arriving at adulthood, there was much I didn’t know, and still don’t know.

But my parents gave me the tools.

They always encouraged our learning and observance, even when we kids insisted that they stop bringing bacon (our only “pork cheat”) into the house.

They taught us that one can keep growing in observance as adults when they finally went kosher after we’d all moved out of the house.

It’s because of them that I was able to read Hebrew well enough to spend two months learning the Torah reading for the morning of Yom Kippur, which I chanted at my former synagogue for seven years.

It’s because of them that I was able to read Hebrew well enough to spend six months learning the weekday Amidah.

It’s because of them that I went kosher.

It’s because of them that I became a regular synagogue-goer, not just a “High-Holiday Jew.”

It’s because of them that I’ve spent the better part of my adult life becaming a self-educated Jew, insofar as anyone whose People has such a long written and oral tradition and so many members (including many of my fellow and sister bloggers) eager to teach it can be considered self-taught.

Mark/PT, writing about his father, Lester Skier, who passed away on May 18, 2006, the twenty-first day of the Jewish month of Iyar, said of him, "he figured out that the key to having Jewish grandchildren was Jewish education. So he spent every penny he made on tuition to Jewish Day Schools." Mark spoke of how radical it was in the 60s for non-Orthodox parents to send their children to day school. If such a move was considered radical in New York in the 1960s, imagine how radical it would have been in Southern New Jersey in the 1950s. Even the one and only (Conservative) Solomon Schechter Day School in the general area was across the river in Philadelphia, and the only children in our entire Conservative synagogue who attended it were the rabbi’s children. Then, too, my parents were barely able to make ends meet with their kids in public school, so paying tuition was never even a possibility.

I never had an opportunity to attend a Jewish day school.

Nevertheless, I owe everything I am today as a Jew to my parents.

Thank you.

Thank you very much.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Spelling lesson

My Hebrew is just good enough, at this point, that I can follow the Torah reading either in Hebrew, in Hebrew and English at the same time (the best method for me), or, if I'm too tired to try reading from right to left and from left to right at the same time, in English while listening to the leiner/baal koreh/Torah reader read the original Hebrew (meaning that I'm usually reading in the English in the same place that the reader is reading in the Hebrew). Imagine my surprise, then, last Shabbat when I distinctly heard the leiner chant the word kisui. "Kisui?!! Holy Moses! Let me check this out!" There it was, right in Parshat B'midbar. Over and over, in Numbers, chapter 4, the term kisui ohr tachash (which, in the Hertz Chumatz, is translated "a covering of sealskin") was used. "A covering? As in 'kisui rosh, a head-covering? Hmm. Kaf samech vav yod. Oh. So that's how it's spelled in Hebrew."


Revenge of the Shomrei Negiah :) :) :)

There we were at Haim Kaufman’s Sunday night Israeli folk dance “nostalgia” session (specializing in the older dances, from the 1950’s into the 1980’s). We were trying to learn a new partner dance, a rarity for me, since the spins make me dizzy and I, therefore, tend to avoid partner dances, much to my husband’s dismay. But, in the middle of the dance, I pulled out of the circle of couples, laughing. Two of the shomer-negiah “regulars” were there in the circle of couples. The woman in a snood (a hair net crocheted with thread thick enough to hide her hair) and an elbow-covering modest top was dancing with another woman, and the barefoot, kippah-wearing guy with his tzitizit flying was dancing with Danny Pollock , the guest teacher of the evening. And that was the problem—watching two women dance together and two men dance together, I honestly couldn’t figure out which was the woman’s part!

It gets better, folks—Danny and Shomer-Negiah Guy kept changing parts! :) What a pair of wiseguys! :)

With a tip of the hat to the frum folk-dancers, I pulled out my trusty e-mail from the OU right around midnight, and the Punster and I counted the Omer right then and there.

Yom Yerushalayim concert review

Monday, June 5, 2006 update: I have just received information via e-mail that I may have had the performers' names in the wrong order!!! Such an error would, obviously, render this entire review invalid. If that's the case, I apologize. Apparently, I'm going to have to be much more careful with my reviews in the future.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006 update: Now that I've received his permission, I'm posting a copy of a Mon, 5 Jun 2006 e-mail from Aryeh Kunster:

Hi Shira, i happened to have come over this review of the show i played at. there are however a bunch of mistakes - first off your review for teva was actually my set with "Mizmor Shir" etc. And i didnt get up with blue fringe - that was heedoosh. the order of the show was Aryeh Kunstler, the Teva (the band i think you lost your hearing in!) then heedoosh and then blue fringe. Thanks for the giving the review though! If you need my link its Thanks!

I have listened to some of the music on Aryeh Kunstler's website and on the Heedoosh website, and it does, indeed appear that I got everything inside out. Aryeh Kunstler's song "Split the Sea" is, to the best of my recollection, the song that I referred to as the Yom Suf song that I incorrectly attributed to Teva. And if you go to the Heedoosh website, click on the album jacket, then click on "Lecha Dodi," you can hear an audio clip of what I'm pretty sure is the "Sefardi L'cha Dodi" that I incorrectly attributed to Aryeh Kunstler.

My sincerest apologies to all of the performers for my errors.

Here’s that review of the Thursday, May 25, Yom Yerushalayim concert at CODA (34 East 34th Street at Madison Avenue), at which Teva, Heedoosh, a band that I think was called Aryeh Kunstier (Kunstler?) and Blue Fringe performed that I told drumbumJ I’d try to write.

Let me say, up front, that CODA is a very fine club indeed, for those for whom it is intended. Unfortunately, a Jewish rock concert at CODA is, apparently, no place for a




To put it in plain, er, Yeshivish, it’s a shidduch scene, a place for mingling, mixing, meeting, and, with any luck, marital matching. As I was telling my son while I helped him unpack his car at 1:30 AM after arriving home from the concert, I apparently do much better, to my considerable surprise, with the younger folks at concerts intended for and/or drawing a largely college crowd, because the college students are actually there to, ahem, listen to the music!

That said, CODA is an absolutely wonderful place for those of you seeking a bashert (a “destined” marital partner). Be forewarned, however, that there’s no place to sit except either the bar or the $20-minimum tables, so understand that those four-inch spiked heels are definitely going to “cost” you, comfort-wise.

Ahem. The review, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself.

Teva (sorry, their hyperlink is not currently working) Correction: Aryeh Kunstler performed a short set that included such enjoyable pieces as “Mizmor Shir,” “Eilu va-rechev,” and a song about the crossing of Yom Suf, the Reed (mistranslation: Red) Sea. I would, no doubt, have enjoyed myself even more than I did if I’d felt free to dance, but, since I was the only person on the floor who showed any inclination to do so, I confined myself to bebopping as discretely as possible.

I regret that I cannot review Heedoosh Correction: Teva at all, despite having heard their entire set. It was a classic case of “both ends against the middle”—the tenor lead singer at the high end and the bass player (sorry, Mark) at the low end were both so loud that I finally gave up and went for earplugs, which I spent almost five minutes trying to insert in my ears in such a way that they wouldn’t fall out. A gornisht helfen—that didn’t help. I actually spent half the set standing in a hallway by the exit behind a wall, to no avail. The volume of the music was unbearable, no matter where I stood. If it had occurred to me, in the middle of the set, that, having been banded like a bird (with a strip of red paper fastened around my wrist) and stamped like a passport (with an ink stamp on my hand), I could walk out of the club and return later, I would have done so. For me, the only thing interesting about the band was that the bass player, who, much to my surprise, traded instuments with the lead guitarist for two songs, then traded back, was the same one who’d played bass for Aron Razel at the YU concert in early April.

I finally got smart and took a walk around the block between sets to try to get my ears back, so to speak, and walked in probably partway through the next set. I assume that the reason why the security guard had rachmones (mercy) on me and gave me a bar stool to sit on was that he was shocked that I’d actually come back. :) It was, of course, just my rotten luck that, precisely because I finally got a load off my feet, I immediately got a foot cramp! I decided to tough it out, rather than standing up again, for fear that the guard would take the chair away, but I did spend the entire set bebopping around on the seat. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the exact name of the band. Correction: This was the Heedoosh set. Aryeh Kunstier was the name displayed on the video montage of upcoming acts. (Kunstier?? Kunstler, maybe? I can’t find a link to a band under either name.) At that point, having been standing for literally more than two hours straight, I was too tired to take notes, but I do remember that they did a delightful Sefardi “L’cha Dodi.”

Finally (!), it was time for Blue Fringe. (Frankly, had I not been waiting to hear them perform, I would have left in the middle of the Heedoosh [correction: Teva] set.) At that point, having had some time to rest my feet and being quite sick and tired of behaving myself, I just threw caution to the wind and got up and danced my fool head—er, feet—off, as usual. This is where things got really strange—a couple of the guys came over and tried to dance with me. (My impression was that the guys in question, not being exactly surrounded by women, decided that they might as well at least enjoy themselves by dancing with the only woman on the whole fracking floor who was actually dancing.) Mind you, no one made even the slightest attempt to touch me, but I gotta tell ya, as a woman married almost 29 years, it’s been one heck of a long time since I’ve had my personal space invaded in that fashion without my express consent. It was really most uncomfortable and embarrassing. One woman was kind enough to keep coming to my rescue and shooing the guys away. Obviously, if I’d had any sense, I would have stopped dancing, but, equally obviously, if I’d had any sense, I would have left shortly after realizing that CODA is a “’meet’ market.” Well, suffice to say that I’ve learned my lesson. I’ll never go to a concert at CODA again, no matter who’s playing. I’m too old and too married for the club scene.

Ahem, back to the review, as I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself again. Blue Fringe played Lo Irah (here’s a link to the lyrics of many of their songs), a thoroughly appropriate piece of music for Yom Yerushalayim, since the lyrics deal with living a normal life in Israel despite the matzav (“situation”) of facing constant terror attacks. They also played Av Harachamim, which I love. Then they invited Aryeh Kunstler (?) and his lead guitarist to join them for one song, which was a kick—I just loved watching the two lead guitarists taking turns—and kept the lead guitarist for a rousing round of—what else?—the Shidduch Song, which they played along with their equally appropriate Shir HaShirim. (Hey, four single Orthodox musicians playing a gig at a shidduch scene . . . :) )

A fun time was had by all.

Hafachta misp’di l’machol li”—Song and Dance in New York City remind me of last year in Jerusalem

Last summer, my husband and I went Israeli folk dancing in Israel twice, both times in Yerushalayim, and heard some wonderful folk-dance (and other) music at an outdoor concert.

This year, I got a reminder.

Here’s the long story:

This year, I decided not to go folk dancing during Sefirah until after Lag B’Omer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work for me, and I’ll probably try something different next year. For better or for worse—okay, obviously for worse—folk dancing is just about my only form of exercise, at this point, and I simply can’t afford to forego it for an entire month. So next year, I’ll go folk dancing during Sefirah even before Lag B'Omer, but I’ll refrain from hanging out in a corner and freestyling while dances that I don’t do are being played.

(Sometimes, I’m just too lazy to learn really complicated dances. Other times, especially in partner dances, the turns are a problem. I joke with my husband that he married a dizzy dame—the older I get, the more prone I get to dizziness. This is not such problem in most circle dances, as one can often skip the turns, as long as one ends up on the same foot and heading in the same direction. But it’s really not possible to skip the spins in partner dances, which is why I rarely do partner dances anymore, much to the Punster’s dismay—he complains that he’s the only guy who shows up with a partner and still has to find someone else to dance with.)

Ahem—that’s the long story. Here’s the short story: I went to Ruth Goodmans's Wednesday night Israeli folk dancing session at the 92nd Street Y last Wednesday night for the first time since the beginning of Sefirah, and the minute I heard this song and saw the dance, I was transported in memory back to last summer in Jerusalem, where the Punster says that we heard it sung at that HaTractor performance.

Neither of us ever really mastered this dance (too many turns for me; not enough practice for the Punster, as it’s a dance from the late 1990’s that’s no longer done very often), but it sure is fun to watch and to listen to. Just click here, scroll to the bottom of the page, and enjoy watching some fine dancers at play. (Note that the video works only if you have iTunes, according to my husband). (Shomrei negiah alert: Mixed dancing.) And here are the lyrics, plus some information about the songwriters, singer, and choreographer.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Catching up with comments--an update concerning some updates

This post is an update for all of my readers, but especially for those to whose comments I’ve just had time to respond since last Sunday, namely jdub, Kishkeman, Ezzie, Elie, torontopearl, The back of the hill, Mark/PsychoToddler, Jameel Rashid, and amechad. (If I missed anyone, I apologize.) Thank you so much for your patience. You can check my responses to these posts:

Sunday, April 23, 2006
Fed up with Conservative Judaism's attitude toward Observant Conservative Jews

Thursday, May 18, 2006
"A Man's Touch"--article on blogger "Nice Jewish Girl" and the difficult life of shomrei negiah

Friday, May 19, 2006
Some differences in practice between Orthodox & "semi-practicing" (as opposed to observant) Conservative Jews

Friday, May 19, 2006
I timed it, round 2: Davvening a Conservative rabbi's "rock-bottom required" Shacharit

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
"The kindness of strangers"--on paying a shiva call to Mark/PT and his family

Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Glen Holman's post, "Shiva - What to say"

Thanks a million for your comments. Much as I enjoy listening to myself talk (as my poor, long-suffering husband knows all too well :)), I find real conversations far more interesting.

Um, just one more thing. I don't generally go fishing for comments, but I'm making an exception in this particular case. On May 19, I published a post about my husband being honored by our synagogue. It's now over a week later, and that post has yet to receive a single comment. It's bad enough when my readers ignore me (no blogger gets comments on every post), but what did my husband do to deserve such treatment?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Post round-up

Since I'm currently between projects at the office, I've had some reading time. I've found so many good posts that it finally dawned on me that I couldn't possibly blog on each one individually. So here's an Ezzie-style post round-up. :) (Eventually, I'll be home at an early enough hour to respond to all of my recent commenters, too. But right now, I'm on my way to a Yom Yerushalayim [Jerusalem Day] concert. Into the e-mail this goes, to be posted later.)

Um, later . . .

#1: News from the broader community (this may be of particular interest to the members of the J-blog med squad)

From this article in the May 24, 2006 New York Times:

U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations

Published: May 24, 2006
As the United States runs short of nurses, senators are looking abroad. A little-noticed provision in their immigration bill would throw open the gate to nurses and, some fear, drain them from the world's developing countries.
. . .

"We're disappointed that Congress, instead of providing appropriations for domestic nursing programs, is outsourcing the education of nurses [my emphasis]," said Erin McKeon, the group's associate director of government affairs.

Holly Burkhalter, with Physicians for Human Rights, an advocacy group, said the nurse proposal could undermine the United States' multibillion-dollar effort to combat AIDS and malaria by potentially worsening the shortage of health workers in poor countries. "We're pouring water in a bucket with a hole in it, and we drilled the hole," she said.

There are now many more Americans seeking to be nurses than places to educate them. In 2005, American nursing schools rejected almost 150,000 applications from qualified people, according to the National League for Nursing, a nonprofit group that counts more than 1,100 nursing schools among its members.

One of the most important factors limiting the number of students was a lack of faculty to teach them, nursing organizations say. Professors of nursing earn less than practicing nurses, damping demand for teaching positions. "

#2: On changes contemplated by the Israeli rabbinate to the rules for the acceptance of conversions and gittin (Jewish religious divorces)

Only 50 rabbis abroad recognized [courtesy of the ADDeRabbi of On the Contrary!]

" . . . they're talking about not accepting Gittin either. This is scary @#$%. A scary implication - a woman gets divorced and remarried, has kids w/ her 2nd husband, and makes aliyah. The Rabbanut deems the kids safek mamzerim."

Jewish law, standing on one foot: A woman who remarries without a get (Jewish religious divorce) is considered adulterous, and, therefore, any child of hers from the second marriage would be a mamzer (a Jewish version of "illegitimate"). My understanding--and PLEASE correct me if I'm wrong!!!--is that a mamzer is not permitted to marry any other Jew except another mamzer or a convert. In other words, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of children could be declared illegible for marriage despite their mothers' best efforts to spare them this fate.

Certifying the Galus [Joe Settler has another viewpoint concerning conversion]

"Everywhere in the world marriages (and divorces) are registered by the government. And just like everywhere in the world (especially when foreigners are involved) there is a lot of paperwork (even in the U.S.). It's a bureaucracy. Period. This new rule will make it much easier for the potential Oleh to go through the various processes he needs to go through when making Aliyah and getting married. With standardized paperwork, and authorized (recognized) processors (the Galus Rabbis), unrecognized, unfamiliar, and unacceptable paperwork will eventually be a thing of the past (or at least a rarity)."

#3: On what Judaism is and isn't, and how it's changed

I'm embarrassed to say that I forget who linked me to this post. On the plus side, this means that I'm between projects and have had plenty of time over the past day or two to waltz my way down my entire blogroll and my even-longer "Favorites" list:

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Judaism Is About
What Judaism is......
and what it is not about

Here's a sample, but please, please read the whole post!

"Judaism is about passing the Torah and it's teachings from one generation to the next, about educating all of our children in the best manner possible to ensure that Judaism lives another generation and that the Torah is observed. It is about seeing the inherent value in every student and transmitting the Torah to them in a way that will cause them to cherish and value it for the rest of their lives.
Judaism is not about excluding children from schools because they don't dress the way you dress, speak the language you speak, don't sit and learn all day (as opposed to going to work) or hold the exact same hashkafic values that you hold. It's not about catering only to the "super-learners" who have kollel futures while ignoring those who cannot or will not reach that lofty goal."

DovBear chimes in:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sur Mai Rah v'Asei Tov

DB's thoughts on a post (which I can't find, but it must be there somewhere) by MOChassid:

MOChassid: "In the chareidi educational circles there is way too much emphasis on Sur Mai Rah and not nearly enough on Asei Tov. There is an overwhelming fear of the outside world but not enough confidence in the beauty of Torah and Yiddishkeit. Consequently, we hear about restriction after restriction rather than discussions about inspiring our children. This is tragic."

True, but not limited to educational circles.. . .

In each of these cases an Asei Tov (do good) opportunity is being sacrificed for the sake of Sur Mai Rah (turn away from evil.) Those fleeing a shul where the woman dress immodestly might have stayed and provided a better influence. The man who is afraid of names he doesn't know deprives himself of knoweldge. And the angry Rabbi likely keeps women from joining the minyan, if he doesn't drive them and their husbands away from the shul altogether. Examples of this sort abound, and MoC's right: It is tragic."

I encourage you to read the entire post.

On a lighter note, Conservadox posts:

Monday, 15 May 2006
customs sure change
"when a newly hired teacher at S.R. Hirsch's school did not remove his hat on first entering the principal's office, Hirsch himself reprimanded him for not removing his hat, explaining to the astonished young man that if other teachers, including also some non-Jews, were to see him greeting the school's principal with coccvered head, they would have to regard it as a sign of disrespect."

Breuer, Modernity Within Tradition: The Social History of Orthodox Jewry in Imperial Germany (p. 9).

Posted by conservadox at 11:27 PM EDT

#4: On following in the footsteps of our ancestors, even when our beliefs or opportunities are lacking

From Godol Hador:

Orthopraxy Le'Halachah

Prof. Ernst Simon didn't consider himself Orthodox (he "knew too much" and had moral issues with certain mitzvot) but he considered himself "a good soldier" and I guess I feel the same way. In the long run, we're part of something much bigger than ourselves, a phenomenon of religion and history (not necessarily the MOST unique or MOST remarkable or MOST beautiful, but a phenomenon nevertheless) and that may motivate us to keep the chain going. Grey Area 05.24.06 - 12:49 pm

David G. makes a good point. We're not all philosophers who keep this stuff on the brain 24/7, and anyway, Martin Buber could be an insensitive jerk sometimes, too. To use Heschel's analogy (originally applied to prayer without kavvanah), some of us Orthopraxists wind our watches even if they're not working well because we like them, because they're the only way we have to keep time, because occasionally we find a talented watchmaker who performs a partial repair, because someday we may find a master watchmaker who will repair it for good (not my personal reason but a shout-out to the optimists among us), and (here's the reason that circles back to Judaism Itself) because we appreciate the concept of Time and winding even an imperfect watch is the best way to show that appreciation. Anonymous 05.24.06 - 1:14 pm #

And speaking of Orthopraxy:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Responsibility to Tradition
"What's the big deal with having Jewish grandchildren? If there is no God, or if there is a Deistic God but no Yahweh, isn't Judaism simply a lifestyle choice? And shouldn't grandchildren (and children!) make their own lifestyle choices? If my grandchildren are relatively happy, I'll be happy."

Being part of a tradition involves passing on what has been received. We, as a People, have a responsibility to ensure that our own unique ideas, history, cultures, philosophies, our whole heritage really is preserved in the hearts and minds of our descendants. To fail to do so is to doom all that we have produced - and that which has produced us - to obscurity. No other people is going to do it for us.

That's the post, standing on one foot. Now tze u-l'mad--go and study, by reading the rest.

From Chayyei Sarah:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Taking Responsibility for Oneself
Really neat story about adults taking caring of responsibilities that their parents somehow never got around to (pidyon haben, hatafat dam brit, talmud torah/the study of sacred Jewish texts). They sound like me. :)

#4: On the day school tuition crisis, and some ideas for helping alleviate it

MOChassid, in his Tuesday, May 23, 2006 post, The Tuition Kerfuffle: Missing the Forest for the Trees, links to Orthomom's post, then a commenter links to his own post here, where you'll find some worthwhile thoughts, and quite a nice exchange of ideas between 501c3 and SephardiLady.

#5: From my own little corner of the Jewish community, a report on updates to the chumash published by the Conservative Movement

May 25, 2006
by Reb Yudel

"Updates to Conservative Etz Hayim Humash

"Etz Hayim: Corrected Printing
With more than 200,000 copies in print, "Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary" has now gone into its sixth printing. This printing is noteworthy because it includes the most comprehensive set of corrections since the book first appeared in 2001, . . ."

Since I don't even open my blogger e-mail account, much less either publish posts or respond to comments on my blog, at the office (because I like my job and have no interest in losing it), it can be much easier for me to write posts and e-mail them home for later publication than to keep up with comments. So please excuse me for not getting back to all of you. In one case, I've been trying to compose a proper response for several days. Rest assured that your comments are read and appreciated.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Lots of comments to which to respond, lots of things to post, not enough time

Sorry I'm a bit backed up in responding to your comments. Things are going to be a bit crazy around here for a few days, as our son is coming home from college tonight, doing a quick turnaround include laundry, packing, and trips to doctors, and leaving for Japan next Wednesday for six weeks of study. I'll get back to you when I have a spare minute.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

More information and/or opinions on kashrut, courtesy of Shifra

Round-up of recent posts concerning kashrut:

My two.

Shifra's four. Boy, do I have a lot to learn!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Glen Holman's post, "Shiva - What to say"

Sadly, Glen has sat shiva for his daughter, who was just days short of 11. This is one of the requests he makes of people paying shiva (rough equivalent--condolence) calls:

"Please allow me to be silent. I have been speaking for hours on end sometimes repeating myself. I am drained emotionally and physically. Be there to comfort me and if silence is what I need, please respect it."

Read the rest here.

I have paid shiva calls at which alcoholic beverages were served (which, to be honest, freaks me out), as well as shiva calls at which the mourners were visibly grieving, and many shiva calls in between. All I can say is that different people have different ways of expressing their feelings. It behooves us to have the consideration to take our cues from the mourners. Some weep, some laugh at the good memories, some show pictures, some speak of the deceased. Shiva callers are there to support the mourners. Sometimes that's not so hard, and sometimes it's very difficult, indeed. But we should remember that we are not there for our own comfort, but to give comfort to those in need of it.

"The kindness of strangers"--on paying a shiva call to Mark/PT and his family

Either my husband punched the wrong address into the search window, or the idiots gave us the wrong travel directions. One way or the other, when we got off the bus in what we thought was the right place and started checking the numbers on the houses, we were dismayed to discover that we were about 50 blocks--or, in plain English, a good hour's walk--from Mark's (blogger PsychoToddler's) mother's house. And the shiva minyan was scheduled to start in 25 minutes. For lack of an alternative, we entered a nearby gas station and called a cab--only to be told that the wait would be about 20 minutes! We headed down the street to the nearest bus stop, figuring that, if the bus came first . . . But the sign said that that bus didn't run on Sundays. So there we were, back at the gas station waiting for that stupid taxi, my husband looking down the street in the wrong direction to see whether there was another bus stop that might be for a different bus, when we heard this voice calling out of the blue, "Are you lost? We can give you a ride. It's a mitzvah." Ladies and gentleman, this is a first, and an ironic one, at that: We got a ride with a pants-wearing woman and her bareheaded husband because they thought we were frum! Out of respect for the Skier family, we were, for lack of a better description, "dressed to pass," my husband in one of his kippot s'rugot ("knitted" [crocheted] yarmulkes/skullcaps) and I in one of my new kisuyei rosh (head-coverings), and the couple in the car took us for Orthodox. As luck--not necessarily good--would have it, they themselves had just paid a shiva call in the same neighborhood last week, and so were able, and kind enough, to drop us off literally in front of Mark's mother's front door.

We got there in the nick of time. In point of fact, time was the big challenge. I didn't even have time to figure out where to put my raincoat before zipping into the kitchen so that the gents out in the living room could davven (pray). (This being an Orthodox home, there was separate seating--or, in this case, standing--for men and women.) And, to top it off, it wasn't quite clear to me what "time" it was--there I stood with the "baby Birnbaum" siddur that I'd brought from home (in case there weren't enough prayer books to go around) turned to Maariv, the Evening Service, when I heard Mark start the service with the word Ashrei. Ashrei?!! Holy Moses, lady, you're in the wrong service! A quick flip back through the pages, and I was in Mincha, the Afternoon Service, where I belonged, before Mark got to Chatzi Kaddish, at least. Much to my amazement, I was actually able to keep up with Mincha, though I can't say the same for Maariv--I just said as much of each brachah as I could manage and then "amen-ed" each of Mark's closing brachot. I figured that the point of a shiva minyan was to get to (Mourner's) Kaddish Yatom in time to respond to the mourners, so that's what I did.

These were certainly not the best circumstances in which to meet Mark's mother and two younger sisters. (To protect their privacy, I hereby dub his sisters F. and R., but those of you who've been reading Mark's blog for a while already know their names, as I did--the only thing Mark had to tell me was which one was which.) Mark's oldest child, "Fudge," still in Stern College across the East River in Manhattan for another few weeks, was there, too, along with her former, and soon to be new, roommate, S. (infamous from Fudge's Thursday-night radio broadcasts on, a very nice young lady.

These were also not the best circumstances in which to hold a reunion, either, but Mark told us that two of his fellow original Shlock Rock band members, Yonah Lloyd (guitarist) and Danny Block (saxophone player), had both paid shiva calls. If I remember correctly, Mark told us that Yonah, who'd already been booked to fly from Israel to the U.S., had come directly from the airport to sit shiva with him and his family. And David Bogner, aka blogger treppenwitz, a former Shlock Rock trombonist, had called from Israel to offer his condolences. Mark's mother and sisters all spoke fondly of the Shlock Rock gang.

Mark showed us family pictures and drawings, and spoke of his father.

Our shiva call, like the Torah, began with kindness and ended with kindness, when yet another stranger, in this case Mark's wife's brother M., gave us a ride to the subway.

According to Mark's wife's Sunday, May 21, 2006 post (see here), Mark will be sitting shiva in Queens until Tuesday evening, then returning to Milwaukee to sit shiva there. If any of you from the New York City area can pay a shiva call, I think that your presence will be most appreciated, as ours was.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Baruch Dayan Emet (Blessed is the True Judge): Mark's/PT's father has passed away

I've had Lester Skier on my mi-sheberach ("the One who blesses"--prayers for the sick) list since January. When I visited Mark's blog after Sabbath, I found this Terrible News guest-posted by Dr. Bean.

Those of you in the New York City area who wish to pay shiva calls can read Fudge's post on her father's blog for further information.

Mark, may you be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Friday, May 19, 2006

DAG asks "Why did the Kolko [child abuse at a yeshiva] case break during Sefirah?"

See his Thursday, May 18, 2006 post of that name here.

As I say in my masthead, I take Judaism seriously, but not necessarily literally. DAG's interpretation is very interesting, and I think that one can learn from it, whether or not one accepts it literally.

Some differences in practice between Orthodox & "semi-practicing" (as opposed to observant) Conservative Jews

Shifra's response to my Wednesday, May 10, 2006 post, Conflicting principles: a kashrut quandary was to post the quandary on her own blog.

Here's a comment to Shifra's post that particularly caught my attention:

9:39 AM, Elie said..

. . . Just a querying note on OtF's original submission: Challah? At a kiddush? That's a new one on me. I've seen just about every food imaginable at shul kiddushim, except bread."

That's an entirely reasonable question for an Orthodox Jew to ask. Among the Orthodox, it's a given that people will, as halachah (Jewish law) requires, make a motzi (blessing thanking G-d for bringing forth bread from the earth) over two whole loaves of bread before eating any other part of lunch on Shabbat (Sabbath). Among Conservatives, the same assumption cannot necessarily be made--some of us do, some of us don't. I assume it's for that reason that, in many Conservative synagogues, motzi is made at kiddush. As my current rabbi (who's occasionally good for something, despite my complaints), has pointed out, this practice does raise the rather interesting question of whether or not one should say Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) if the challah bread isn't followed by an actual meal, but rather, is accompanied only by cake and the like. Hmm.

Here's another difference in practice that can create real problems, as you'll see from this true story:

My son, a writer for his college's student magazine, was supposed to write an article about his school's Hillel, and went over to Hillel's assigned room on a fact-finding mission. (Normally, he wouldn't set foot in the place, much to our dismay.) He had been told that a pot-luck meal was being served, and walked in with two packages of cheese, which he put on the table. But he realized that there had been a misunderstanding when he noticed that there was already meat on the table, and removed the cheese immediately. Nevertheless, he was raked over the coals by the Hillel "regulars" for "treifing" the meal (making it no longer kosher). He protested that he couldn't possibly have "treifed" the meal because the cheese had still been in its package and had been on the table for only a few seconds. (I agree. At worst, he could have treifed the plate or tablecloth on which he'd put it.) They wouldn't let up. So he explained that, in Conservative Jewish circles, where the observance of kashrut varies widely despite official rabbinical pronouncements, people generally avoid having pot-luck meat meals because not everyone buys only kosher meat, while most Conservative Jews tend to be much less stringent than Orthodox Jews in their definition of what constitutes kosher when it comes to dairy products. (True.) To no avail. The "regulars" were so intent on castigating our son for a simple misunderstanding that he stormed out of Hillel, no doubt never to return. To say that I'm upset is a radical understatement. Here was a student who'd never been to Hillel before and might possibly have been persuaded to return. Instead, he was tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail. The Hillel regulars were dead wrong, according to halachah (Jewish law): By failing to mention to our son that the pot-luck meal would be a meat meal, they violated the law "lifnei iver lo titen michshol" in front of a blind person you must not put a stumbling block," (see parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapter19, verse 14), which the rabbis interpret to mean that you must not do something that might cause an ignorant or weak person to violate halachah.

It's important for us to understand one another's practices so as not to be left puzzled or confuse one another.

Facing the future unbowed--here's hoping the chiropractor will straighten me out, literally

One of the older women in my congregation has such a bad "widow's hump" that her shoulders are at almost a right angle to her back. I absolutely refuse to go that route.

And some of the other older women walk with their backs visibly off-center, their entire torsos, from the hip joints upward, tipped forward.

So when I began noticing that I, too, was walking tipped forward . . .

(To the Skier gang: Check the DVD--Several times in my dances, at points when I turn around or face sideways, it's visible that I'm not standing completely straight.)

Therefore, I'm now investing in a chiropractor, in a sincere attempt to avoid getting literally bent out of shape.

I timed it, round 2: Davvening a Conservative rabbi's "rock-bottom required" Shacharit

Here's round one.

I wanted to see whether it would be possible for me to do a "rock-bottom required" Shacharit (Morning Service) and still get to work on time without waking up an hour and a half early. So I tried following the recommendation of a former rabbi of mine, of the Conservative variety:


The matbeiah shel tefillah/"required core of the service" (brachot before Sh'ma, entire Sh'ma, brachah after Sh'ma, entire Amidah)


This version of Shacharit took me approximately 20 minutes. Add another 5-10 when I get another set of tefillin (phylacteries) to use at home (for putting the tefillin on, taking them off, and, if I have time, putting them away), and I can do the whole thing in half an hour.

I'm good to go.

Or, at least, I will be, when I can find the money for another set of tefillin. Did I mention that our son's new hearing aids just cost us $2,200, and that we've spent over $1,300 thus far to pay for his study program in Japan this summer? Hmm, this may take a while.

Finally getting his just deserts (not to mention desserts)--my husband is honored by our synagogue

Last night, our synagogue honored my husband for his many years of community service. He's been treasurer of our shul for so many years that we're both lost track of how many (I thought it was nine years, but he thinks it's eleven), head of the Ritual Committee, the poor guy who gives out honors in shul on Shabbat (Sabbath) and holidays, and, since he's one of less than a handful of congregants who can do a haftarah without prior notice (I'm not among that illustrious number), the most frequent haftarah chanter in the congregation. He's also the radically-underpaid accountant for the local Jewish social services agency, as well as the volunteer "quartermaster" (treasurer) for the local Jewish War Veterans post ( having served stateside in the Payroll Office during the Vietnam War). The shul honored him with a concert of religious and secular Jewish music and "general" music including Broadway tunes, arias, and art songs, and gave him a beautiful Coach wallet . Then all of us got to stuff ourselves with delicious cakes and pastries. It was delightful. Not to mention long overdue.

The only sour note of the evening was the absence of our rabbi, as usual. (See Wedmesday the Rabbi Slept Late, round 2, which includes a link to round 1--maybe I should call this round "Thursday the Rabbi Went to Bed Early.") Just as he didn't show up for the siyyum bechorim or the annual Yom HaShoa commemoration, he didn't show up when a member of his own synagogue's board was honored. If he had a problem with kol isha, the prohibition observed by many Orthodox Jews against a man listening to a woman sing, he could have written a one-sentence note saying that he was sorry that he wouldn't be able to attend the concert but wanted to congratulate my husband on being honored by the congregation. You would think that, after so many years of studying Talmud, he would understand the concept of derech eretz, common human decency and courtesy. I wasn't kidding when I said that this man has nothing but contempt for his own congregation.

Well, enough of that. I refuse to let that man ruin the fun. I'm tickled pink to see the Punster finally get the recognition that he so richly deserves.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"A Man's Touch"--article on blogger "Nice Jewish Girl" and the difficult life of shomrei negiah

From the New York Jewish Week:


A Man’s Touch
Elicia Brown - Special To The Jewish Week

"She cried herself to sleep at night. She took Zoloft. She contemplated suicide. Then she started a blog.

. . .

"For generations many Jews have wrestled with the challenge of the “shomer negiah” laws, which call for abstinence from, not only sex before marriage, but all expressions of physical affection toward unrelated members of the opposite sex. Their strictest adherents won’t even shake hands. For generations also, many Jews have found that the laws can enhance relationships. As Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis puts it, shomer negiah helps ensure potential mates that they are “not just looking in each other’s eyes, but also looking in the same direction.”

But for some — and perhaps for an increasing number as the average age of Orthodox Jewish singles shifts upward — the isolation grows unbearable. . . . "

Read the rest of the article here.

Nice Jewish Girl's blog.

My reaction to a DovBear post & comments re abuse of children & women by rabbis

From the comments to DovBear's Tuesday, May 16, 2006 post, "Why the J-Blogosphere Matters," concerning rabbis who abuse children and women:

"Sick about how the great ethics of our outstanding faith have been hijacked and subverted by pious jackasses for their own selfish purposes." Me too, I'm sick of it as well. It's a sad sign of the times- fundamentalist strains of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have risen quickly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. My generation is obsessed with being "more" everything than our parents, at the sacrifice of some of the best "lesses." More strict, more strigent, more holy (or so we think), more wealthy, all they while- less tolerant, less compromising, less loving. Sadly in this pursuit of fundamentalism, I think we are truly beginning to miss the whole point. katieb 05.16.06 - 6:08 pm "

"more wealthy, . . . " I'm sick of the materialism of the Conservative Movement, as well. I'm sick of Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations that are as fancy as weddings used to be. I'm sick of weddings at which the flowers alone, roughly a decade ago, cost $900.

"I think we are truly beginning to miss the whole point."

On the other hand, sometimes, we do get the point. I'm proud of the acts of kindness and justice that we do as a people, and hope that they continue. I'm proud of the American Jewish World Service's work to try to prevent further slaughter of the innocents in Darfur. I'm proud of the Satmar, with whom I disagree about almost everything, for their work in bikur cholim, visiting the sick. I'm proud of the West Side Minyan, which just gave a Bat Mitzvah girl a gift of $180 to be donated to the charities of her choice.

Balance is as essential to Judaism as to every other religion. Ritual cannot replace common human decency, lest we become little better than animals who can read. But neither will derech eretz alone enable a religion to survive. We need to cherish both the Shabbat and everything that our tradition tells us was created during the other six days of the week.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Erev Lag B'Omer concert in Greenwich Village, New York City

Business-and-pleasure first: I strongly recommend that contemporary Jewish popular music lovers in the New York City metropolitan area subscribe to Gili Houpt's NYCJewishMusic e-mail list. This is the third Jewish rock concert that I've attended in the past couple of months because of information I received in his e-mails.

So there I was, standing on the corner of Sullivan and 3rd Streets in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, trying to decide whether or not it was dark enough yet to be Lag B'Omer, as I'd been wandering around the Village for half an hour and wanted to sit down in the Lion's Den and enjoy the canned music until the show started without violating the traditional Sefirah restrictions. Then I saw a guitar-toting guy head down the block. When I saw him at the club's door, I figured, "If it's late enough for him, it's late enough for me," and went in.

Let me take a moment to give my female readers fair warning never to wear uncomfortable shoes to the Lion's Den, because, while the room's capacity may be listed as 400, there probably aren't even 50 seats in the whole place, including bar stools. This room is made for dancin', and that's just what I'll do . . . :)

Having concluded that the negative attitude toward Jewish musicians playing secular music that I'd had at the Jewzapalooza concert last September was ridiculous, I decided to sit back and enjoy Soul Farm's mostly-secular rock performance. Which I did. Thoroughly. This show was completely different from the one that band founders guitarist and lead singer Noah Solomon Chase and singer and lead guitarist C. Lanzbom had done at the April concert at Yeshiva University. That performance had emphasized Jewish music. In this performance, the music was about 85% secular. But who cared? C. Lanzbom is quite a talented electric rock guitarist. He even used, in some of the songs, some kind of plastic tube over his lefty pinky to play what I can only, with my limited knowledge, describe as "slide" (Hawaiian?) guitar, while leaving his other fingers free to chose notes and/or chords. (This may be old hat to guitarists, especially country-western ones, but I've certainly never seen that done before.) In full-band mode, backed up by a drummer, bass player, and electric rhythm-guitar player, he was having a grand time doing his rock-star thing, which is a bit showy for my own personal taste, but not illegal. Fortunately for the Punster, who was teaching a class last night, the show started so late that he was able to schlep an hour on the subway and still get there in time to catch the last two or three Soul Farm songs. We both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and danced our feet off, as usual. I'm happy to report that we weren't the only couple over fifty making fools of ourselves on the dance floor. :)

Next up was a rock band that was, at least in part, considerably older than than audience. The lead guitarist, one Yossi Piamenta, even came complete with gray hair and beard, and the lead singer, one Moni Piamenta seemed to be in the same ballpark, age-wise. Drummer Aasf Shor was rather younger, in a t-shirt. For me, though, the surprise of the evening was the bass player, who was dressed more in keeping with the location than with the mostly-Orthodox audience, in low-slung jeans with an inch or two of skin showing. I remarked to my husband that she looked young enough to be Yossi's daughter. Well, low and behold, two or three songs into the set, which the bass player was obviously enjoying immensely, Yossi dedicated a song to his daughter, whose name I think he gave as "Gelli," and the bass player grinned from ear to ear. (Evidently, the family that plays together stays together. :)) She took a solo during that song, and a couple other times as well, and suffice it to say that she's clearly inherited her father's talent, in spades. Holy Moses, what a phenomenal electric rock guitarist Yossi Piamenta is! (Apparently, he's been nicknamed "the Jewish Jimi" [Hendrix]). He's also a very gracious musician, happy to invite first C. Lanzbom and then Noah Solomon Chase to perform with him. And, lest we miss the opportunity, he personally led us in the brachah (blessing) for, and the counting of, the Omer.

Here are a couple of reactions.

My husband was not quite as crazy about the Piamenta performance, and, in the final analysis, neither was I, not because Yossi isn't phenomenally talented, but because we both tend to prefer songs that are actually sung. Neither of us is really that much into songs that have a minute and a half's worth of words followed by 10 minutes worth of instrumental solos. We can't sing along with them, and they're harder to dance to, as well. If you're absolutely bonkers about wild instrumental solos, the Piamentas are definitely for you. But if you prefer songs with lyrics, they may not be quite your cup of tea.

Another interesting thing about this concert--and the reason why I finally ended up at the front of the room, even though my ears paid the price (I can't figure out how to use the current generation of earplugs)--was watching the musicians perform, which I love to do. There were times when it almost appeared that C. and Noah were actually watching each other's fingering to ensure that their playing would be in musical synch. C. and Yossi faced each other for a while, too. Even watching Soul Farm do a little "jam" as a warm-up, and watching Gelli Piamenta and the Piamentas' drummer, Asaf Shor, riff off each other while everyone was tuning up, was fun. (Drummers seem to have "'Energizer bunny' syndrome"--they just keep going and going, always eager to play another "lick.") I get a real kick out of watching musicians perform, all the more so when they're really getting "into" one another's playing.

I hope to see some of you on Thursday, May 25, Yom Yerushalayim, at CODA, 34 East 34th Street (at Madison Avenue) at 7:30 PM, when Teva, Heedoosh, and Blue Fringe perform. You can have a lot of fun for $15.

P.S. This morning, having put my CDs back into my backpack and my CD player back into its carrying case, I decided to do a "kol isha (women's voices)" party as a change of pace after last night's all-male-voices concert, and chose my Debbie Friedman, Neshama Carlebach, and Smadar CDs for my first "listens" since putting away my music for Sefirah. I got "guilt tripped" almost immediately when I heard Debbie Friedman sing "Yotzer Or," because I hadn't davvened Shacharit (prayed the Morning Service). One of these days, maybe I'll get yet another rolling backpack, this one big enough to accommodate my tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries) so that I'll be able to take them to work with me after morning minyan instead of leaving them in my "minyannaire's cubby" in syngagogue and won't have any more excuse not to davven Shacharit at home when I don't go to morning minyan.

"Pairadocs" sings "I Got Your Blog"

Sunday, May 14, 2006

"Mi k'amcha Yisrael, goy echad ba-aretz?": Will the Israeli rabbinate tear what's left of "one people" apart?

"Who is like Your People Israel, one people on earth?"

I find this alarming. First, the Israeli rabbinate refused to accept non-Orthodox conversions. Now, it's not only refusing to accept even many foreign Orthodox conversions, it's even questioning the Jewishness of people who can trace their Jewish ancestry back eight generations! All I have by way of proof of my Jewishness is my parents' ketubah (Jewish marriage contract). Is our son at risk of being declared a non-Jew?

"Who is like Your People Israel, one people on earth?" Good question. Not only can we be thoroughly unwelcoming to people who (would like to) choose Judaism, now we don't even accept those who were born Jewish. Is the People Israel unique on earth in our insistence on self-destructive behavior? How long will we remain "one people," or am I already too late in asking that question?

It's BlogRolling's fault: Apologies to all the folks who think I'm ignoring their blogs

When I finally got my blogroll set up, with mucho help from Sheyna Galyan, I thought I had it made in the shade: Whenever someone updated their blog, BlogRolling would put a little "updated" tag next to their link, so, rather than cycling through my entire list, I'd just visit a blog when the "updated" tag appeared. It finally dawned on me only a few weeks ago that there seemed to be an awful lot of bloggers on my blogroll who just weren't writing very frequently. So I began doing random checks. I was none too happy to learn that I'd missed dozens of posts because my "updated" tags weren't being updated. Sorry, folks! I didn't mean to be antisocial. I'll try to drop in more often.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Milk and meat mix-ups, or the missing-mashgiach mishaps--(mis)adventures in kashrut

Regarding my previous post, I have good reasons for insisting that all food served in a synagogue be under rabbinical supervision. I've had far too much experience with cases of "sh'eino yodeia lish'ol, [a person] who doesn't know to ask" in the area of kashrut--many people know so little about the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) that they don't ask questions because they're not aware that there's a question that needs to be asked. I hasten to mention that I, myself, am far from being an expert on kashrut, and am still being introduced to rules of which I was not aware.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I roomed briefly with a former classmate of mine, sharing her bedroom in her parents' house. Her mother kept a kosher kitchen, but had, apparently, missed a few details. When I pointed out to my roommate's father that the kitchen was stocked with Nabisco crackers, which were, at that time, still being made with lard, he pretty much begged me not to tell his wife.

Fast forward a few years. I'm living in Manhattan, having Shabbos lunch at the home of some fellow congregants, when I notice that the non-dairy creamy being served with the meat meal is not parve (made without either meat or dairy products, and therefore, permissible for use at either a meat or dairy meal).

Fast forward roughly thirty years. I explain to a sister congregant that one of the reasons why I insist that food served in the synagogue be under rabbinical supervision is that many people, with the best of intentions, make errors in kashrut. I cite the above example, that some people make the mistake of serving non-dairy creamer with meat, believing, in all sincerity, that non-dairy is the same thing as parve. My buddy proceeds to inform me that she, herself, wasn't aware that not all non-dairy creamers are parve.

A note to my readers: The U.S. Department of Agriculture measures minimums; the mashgiach (supervisor ensuring that a product is kosher) measures maximums. The U.S.D.A. forbids a company from advertising a product as dairy unless it contains a certain minimum amount of dairy product, to protect consumers against fraudulent claims. The mashgiach's job, on the other hand, is to ensure that any product labelled parve (or, for the Israeli market, where consumers don't necessarily know Yiddish, "b'li bassar o-chalav, without meat or milk") has no dairy products in it whatsoever (or, in a pinch, an amount so miniscule as to be deemed non-existent by Jewish law).

Tales making the rounds:

A congregant notices that the cookies being served at a function in a synagogue contain "marine oil," whatever that is, and reports this finding to the rabbi.

A congregant notices that the synagogue members working in the kitchen are noshing Nabisco crackers, still made with lard at that time, and reports this finding to the rabbi.

A congregant becomes suspicious when another congregant exclaims that the cake being served after a chicken dinner is surprisingly good for a parve cake. Heading into the kitchen, the congregant finds his/her suspicions confirmed when a quick perusal of the cake box shows that the cake is clearly labelled OU-D(airy). Said congregant reports this finding to the rabbi, who promptly orders that all the cake be removed from the tables immediately. Apparently, no one has ever bothered to explain the concept of " parve" to the loyal, hard-working, respectful and well-meaning chief of maintenance/kitchen worker/shabbos goy despite the fact that he's been working for the synagogue for probably at least a decade.

After protests are made to the Ritual Committee, the Committee posts, on the synagogue's kichen wall, a list of rules intended to ensure the maintenance of the synagogue kitchen's kashrut. This attempt at maintaining kashrut receives a permanent blow some months later when one of the congregants, who's taken on the job of baking for a meat meal, reads the ingredients of a non-stick spray rather than noticing the hechsher (mark confirming that a product is under supervision to ensure that it's kosher) and sprays every parve baking pan in the synagogue's kitchen with a non-stick spray that's clearly labelled dairy.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Conflicting principles: a kashrut quandary

Why am I hearing Lenny Solomon and his Shlock Rock band in my head? Sigh--here's the song:

"Davar halamed may-in-yano
v'davar halomed mesofo,
v'chayn shnay ksuvim hamachishim zeh et zeh.
Ad sheyavoh hakasuv hashlishi v'yachria bay-nay-hem.

A dubious word or passage is explained from it's context or from a subsequent expression. Similarly, if two biblical passages contradict each other, they can be harmonized only by a third passage."

For the record, that's from "Rabbi Yismael omer, Rabbi Ishmael says," from the end of Birchot HaShachar ( the Morning Blessings), explaining how the Torah is interpreted.

I'm currently facing conflicting principles.

On the one hand, my first rabbi in New York was adamant that no food should be brought into a synagogue from home kitchens on the grounds that there was no way to judge the kashrut (adherence to the laws of keeping kosher) of any kitchen not under rabbinical supervision, and that he, personally, did not want to be put in a position of saying that one person's cooking (even his own wife's) was kosher enough and another person's was not.

On the other hand, if I refuse to eat anything but packaged food at a potluck dinner in a synagogue, I give the appearance of being holier than thou. Did not Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus say, (Pirkei Avot/Verses of the Fathers, chapter 2 paragraph 15), "Y'hi ch'vod chavercha chaviv alecha k'shelcha . . . Let the honor of your friend be as dear to you as your own. . . "?

The obvious solution would be to avoid going to potluck dinners in synagogues. (At lunch, where half the food is packaged chummus and techina or jarred herring anyway, it's not so obvious that I'm avoiding eating the other half.) But then, do I run into the "Al tifrosh min hatzibbur (Do not separate yourself from the community" [Hillel, (Pirkei Avot/Verses of the Fathers, chapter 2, paragraph 5)] problem?

For the time being, I've decided to come down on the side of kashrut and not go to this Erev Shabbat's potluck dinner in a synagogue. It's also a matter of cowardice on my part--I'm simply not prepared to tell a woman whom I've known for over a decade that, while, I'd happily trust her kashrut in her own home, I won't eat her home-cooked food in a synagogue, on principle.

My husband thinks I'm nuts, by the way.

It occurred to me that I'd already written on this subject. It took me a few minutes to dig it out of my "Halachah and Jewish info" folder, but here it is. I sent this e-mail to one of my best friends.

Subject: Synagogue kitchen kashrut--a Reconstructionist imperative
Date: Thursday, February 22, 2001 11:30 PM

I was thinking about our conversation of the other day, particularly about __ __'s objection to enforcing the use of products with a hechsher. I think she's missing the point. Keeping a synagogue's kitchen kosher, by some communally-recognized standard, is a Reconstructionist imperative. Rabbi Kaplan [Rabbi Mordechai M. Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism] always considered the Jewish people to be at the heart of the evolving religious civilization that is Judaism. There are so many matters of principle that separate us from some other Jews, such as egalitarianism and the acceptance of female rabbis and cantors. Why fight over issues that are *not* matters of principle? Any Conservative or Modern or Centrist Orthodox Jew ought to be able to make a motzi in a Reconstructionist synagogue, even if he or she can't davven in one. It's the least we can do as a movement to promote achdut Yisrael, the one-ness of the Jewish people."

Update 1, Sunday, May 14, 2007:
For more details on my past experiences with kashrut that have led me to conclude that only the presence of a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) ensures that food in a synagogue is kosher, please see my next post, "Milk and meat mix-ups, or the missing-mashgiach mishaps--(mis)adventures in kashrut."

Update 2, Sunday, May 14, 2007:
Here's a copy of an e-mail that I sent out to my Jewish blogger mailing list early this morning. Some of the comments already posted are in response.

Sun, 14 May 2006 00:31:55 -0700 (PDT)
Kashrut dilemma

Here's the background:

Conflicting principles

Milk and meat mix-ups, or the missing-mashgiach mishaps--(mis)adventures in kashrut

More background:

Over a decade, ago, we heard that the cost of sponsoring a kiddush (at an area synagogue of which we were not members) consisting of nothing but (if memory serves me correctly) wine, grape juice, soda, challah, and cake was $200. Those strapped for cash couldn't even put out a few boxes of packaged kosher cake from the supermarket in honor of their father's yahrzeit, because everything had to be done by the synagogues's resident kosher caterer.

Here's the dilemma: A synagogue wishes to be more inclusive, concerned that, if the only meals permitted are those provided by a kosher caterer, many of the less-well-off congregants will be excluded. Those who would like to sponsor a kiddush or attend synagogue dinners (especially those with several children) will be unable to afford to do so. So the synagogue allows members to cook in its kitchen and/or bring in food prepared in their home kitchens, provided that they follow a list of kashrut rules. In either case, there is no rabbinical supervision, and, therefore, no real guarantee that kashrut will be maintained. Question: Is there a way to guarantee kashrut without excluding people with limited budgets?

Please feel free to respond either via comment to either of the above linked posts or by e-mail.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A laugh on the way to >Kiddush Levanah<(see link)

Did I ever mention that my husband specializes in musical puns? He’ll just keep whistling something until I figure out what song he’s whistling and how that song is connected to what he or I said or did/are doing. In this case, he was whistling an old Perry Como favorite, “That’s Amore,” all the way to the playground, where we were going to recite Kiddush Levanah. And I was laughing all the way to the playground. For those of you who are too young to be acquainted with that song, here’s the first line of the lyrics: “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.” :)

I found another punster while looking for a link to an explanation of Kiddush Levanah. :)

Something new, something old

I wore one of my new “knitted bathing caps” to Minyan Rimonim at Ansche Chesed this morning. Here’s my reaction.

The disadvantages of wearing a knitted kisui rosh (head-covering), not necessarily in order of priority:
It flattens my hair.

It’s tight and uncomfortable, bordering on painful and headache-inducing.

It sits low enough on my forehead to feel weird (and can get hot in a place without air conditioning, as at home, when I forget to turn on the AC before Shabbat/Sabbath. [Hmm, do we have a timer around here somewhere?]). But, if I move it up, it looks less like a woman's garment. My recollection is that Jewish women who wear this type of kisui rosh do wear them fairly low on the foreheard, covering their bangs.

As I was saying, more or less, it covers my bangs, the only part of my short hair that’s worth looking at.

The advantages of wearing a knitted kisui rosh:

It’s close enough in appearance to a kippah s’rugah (“knitted [crocheted] yarmulkah/skullcap) to make me feel that I'm wearing an identiably-Jewish garment.

It covers my bangs, the only part of my short hair that’s worth looking at.


Having my bangs covered is, on the one hand, tough on my vanity, which is disadvantageous. On the other hand, since my bangs are the only part of my hair that really look obviously dirty when not shampooed daily, having my bangs covered eliminates my only excuse for shampooing my hair on Shabbat and Yom Tov, which is assur (forbidden). Therefore, as of this morning, I’m no longer shampooing my hair on Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (major holiday).

After shul, I took a nostalgia stroll down Riverside Park, past some of the playgrounds where we used to take our son when we still lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and when we returned for visits. That’s when I figured out that there may be another good reason for me not to wear a hat at all times—I came home with a mild case of heat prostration. (I tend to be sensitive to heat, a problem which our son inherited, unfortunately.) I’ve heard that wearing a hat in the winter helps keep one’s body heat in. Unfortunately, that may work just as well in hot weather as in cold—once I’m out of the sun and don’t need the visor or brim, the hat must come off so that I can cool down.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Women as "rabbis" in the Orthodox community--a few words by Gil Student and Godol Hador

Here's GH's post, including a nice quote from a post by Rabbi Gil Student on his blog, Hirhirim:

"Rather than ordaining women as rabbis, the most viable suggestion is to create a new title that reflects advanced scholarship but lacks the history of the title rabbi. This title will designate women as scholars who are qualified to teach. There might even be differing levels, including a teacher and an halakhic scholar. I see no reason why a woman cannot rule on halakhic matters to those who ask her,[9] even if others will ignore her rulings. If institutions start offering programs to grant women the titles of melamedet (instructor) and poseket (halakhic decisor), I suspect that they will be somewhat successful."

Well, that part of Rabbi Student's quote is pretty nice. It's a reasonable accommodation for a community that's not prepared to go further.

But I have a problem with this part:

"I. Serarah

To my surprise, I did not see any Conservative scholar raise the issue of serarah. As we discussed in regard to converts, neither they nor women may be appointed to positions of communal authority. The majority of contemporary posekim rule that women may not be appointed to such positions.[2] Therefore, it would seem to follow that women may not serve as pulpit rabbis which, presumably, is the quintessential communal position. R. Moshe Shternbuch[3] addresses the question of whether a convert may serve as a pulpit rabbi and ruled that he may not but, R. Shternbuch suggests, someone else should be appointed to that position and the convert can have a different title while fulfilling the role but not the position of the rabbi. While this is informing, it is not a viable model to be used on a large scale."

In other words, a woman can be a justice in the U.S. Supreme Court, but she can't be president of a synagogue. It may be obvious to Rabbi Student that this is an issue, but it's obvious to me why no non-Orthodox rabbi in his/her right mind would even consider it. With due respect to my more traditional readers, I find it just flat-out insulting that it's automatically assumed and rabbinically affirmed that a woman is not permitted to hold a position of leadership in the Jewish community. What is this, kavod hatzibbur redux?


A further consideration that I initially neglected to raise, but which I consider to be of primary concern, is that of tzeni'us. Should women be rising to roles of public leadership, not to mention speaking publicly in front of large gatherings of men? This is one that is mixed with both halakhic and meta-halakhic issues. Because I assume that those on "the left" will automatically reject such considerations and those on "the right" will consider them decisive, I will leave the discussion of this matter for a later date."

The term kol isha ("a woman's voice") refers to the prohibition observed by many Orthodox Jews against a woman singing in the presence of a man. There's absolutely no prohibition regarding a man singing in the presence of a woman. Apparently, t'zenius (tzniut, modesty) is yet another consideration that's an issue for women only.

Rabbi Student is a Centrist. I don't even want to think about what the Chareidim (ultra-Orthodox) are saying about women's ordination.


Gee, I must be gettin’ old or somethin’--confirmation slip, so to speak

Somehow, I think I've been down this road before.

I'm now old enough not only in age but in appearance to have received my first senior discount at the supermarket without asking. Oy. On the plus side, I'd rather be 57 than six feet under and pushin' up daisies. :)

I timed it

Yes, folks, it’s official: Including, ahem, a “pit stop” or two, it takes me roughly an hour to davven (pray) Birchot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings) and P’sukei D’Zimra (the Verses of Song, aka Introductory Prayers) at my preferred (stop and think about what I’m saying and/or check the translations) pace. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was the world’s slowest davvener.

P.S. Mind you, even an hour is not enough time for me to say all of Birchot HaShachar and P’sukei D’Zimra. I always skip the readings about the Akeidah (Binding [of Isaac]) and the korbanot ([Temple] sacrifices), not being much into either, in Birchot HaShachar, and, even on Shabbat and Chaggim, I skip probably half a dozen pages in P’sukei D’Zimra. I have neither the reading speed nor the patience to davven much more than I'm davvening now--otherwise, I'd never get to the matbeiah shel tefillah, the core required part of the service, and/or I'd be so "davvened out" that I wouldn't be able to pray with kavvannah (focus, intent).

The Movie Set, take 2

Here's the first take.

Let’s just say that she’s more than sufficiently curvaceous that it would be hard for a (straight) guy not to notice. So why is she still single? One person theorized that she’d never marry because any guy who dated her more than twice would realize that she doesn’t have much by way of seichel (common sense) and is strikingly immature for a person of her age, apparently still expecting Mommy and Daddy to make all her decisions for her. Another person speculated that she might, indeed, marry because some guys prefer women who can’t think for themselves and who’ll just let them make all the decisions. So if you happen to know any guy(s) like that, please let me know—have I got a gal for you!

See "We want Moshiach now?" & "The continuing slide of Ultra Orthodoxy into Pagan Superstition," by Godol Hador

Here are some not-so-typical thoughts about the mashiach (messiah).

And here are a few pointed words about the dubious custom of contributing money for drinks at the commemoration celebration of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai's yahrtzeit, Lag B’Omer, at his grave on Har (Mount) Meron in the hope of getting a yeshuah (salvation, such as having children, finding a shidduch/marital match, etc.)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

I am now the proud owner of two "knitted bathing caps" (kisui rosh update)

After all the songs and dances I've written here about head-coverings and what they represent, I finally found a couple of those knitted caps (recommended by some of my commenters) that I could live with. Some of you will probably be highly amused to know that, because my hair is short and because I'm not all that fond of having my ears covered when I'm indoors, I'm wearing both, er, caps as the knitted equivalent of roll-brimmed hats—I just roll them up until they clear my ears. Unfortunately, and much to my surprise, these caps are not "one size fits all." Not so surprising, thanks to Shifra's previous "report," is that I get a mild headache, just as Shifra described, from these caps (not to mention from my new baseball hat), especially from the cap that's roughly an inch longer and, therefore, has to be rolled up farther. On the plus side, the nice thing about these whatever-they're-calleds is that, because they're knit, they bear more than a passing resemblance to good old-fashioned kippot s'rugot ("knitted" [crocheted] yarmulkehs/skullcaps). That's about as close as I can get, in a woman's garment, to an identifiably-Jewish kisui rosh (head-covering).

For those of you who are wondering, I plan to wear these to synagogue (except on weekday mornings), to replace my kippot. But at work, I'll still be bareheaded, except when I'm off in a corner somewhere davvening Mincha (praying the Afternoon Service) in my baseball cap, because I'm still not ready to "represent." And why won't I be wearing these caps on weekday mornings, you ask? The answer is they're so long that I can't figure out how to put on tefillin when I'm wearing one—since it's not permissible to wear anything behind the head tefillah ("shel rosh") and the skin, I'd have to roll up one of those caps so far that it would practically fall off. Well, I can't say that Mark/PsychoToddler didn't warn me. :)


Finally, a *logical* explanation for the custom of mourning during Sefirah (hat-tip to DovBear)

Recommended reading: DovBear's Wednesday, May 03, 2006 post, "Why we mourn during s'fira (and not on Yom Hashoa)."

Main point: "During the Middle Ages, the days after Pesach were a time of great peril. This was the season for blood libels, pogroms and general military campaigning like the Crusades which slaughtered the Jews of the Rhineland in May of 1096. As a result, it became ordinary for Jews to be in mourning during the weeks after Pesach . . . "

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Floorway robbery, or the cleaning robot cleans up

It's just a machine
to wash the floors clean
But at 399
the price is obscene
It's not nice
For that kind of money
I could hire somebody
to come to my home
the whole place to clean
at least thrice


We have six . . . people conversing on cell phones at once in my subway car

Only the fortunate ones can get their cell phones to work underground, but on the elevated subway lines, oy, don't ask! Every time a subway train comes out of a tunnel and into the open air, it's Cells in the City. By the time I got to my station, I'd counted 11 people on cell phones in my car alone.

I think the woman on the bench across from me must have been yakking for at least 10 minutes straight. I gave up trying to nap or read, and listened to talk radio instead, in self-defense. I don't mind short calls, of the "Honey, what do what want me to pick up on the way home?" variety--that's what cell phones are for. But 10-minute conversations?! Where do these people think they are--their livingrooms?! Is consideration for others while one is in public places just one of those values that no one bothers with anymore?

For previous kvetches on the subject of cell phone use (abuse?), see here and here.

Smacked in the face by the truth

I was trying and trying again and again
To write a rather long poem
In seeking a rhyme, I came up with this line:
"She wants me to leave her alone."
That thought must have been in the back of my mind
It just popped up on its own

I was stunned, upset
That was so unexpected
(That's all I can say
I have no rhyme)

Unfortunately, I've good reason to think
that the words I wrote are true
I'd really rather it weren't this way
But I know that's what I should do

And that's why I'm feeling blue


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