Thursday, August 31, 2006

A new addition to the J-blog family

. . . not to mention a new addition to this “family”:

Abba, a.k.a. PsychoToddler

Mom, a.k.a. Mrs. Balabusta

Daughter # 1, a.k.a. Fudge

Son # 1, a.k.a. 30cal

Son # 2, a.k.a. Rafiki

Son # 3, a.k.a. OutOfAmmo (the newbie—welcome!)

Mom’s Dad, a.k.a. Glazerbeam

Mom’s sister, a.k.a. TuesdayWishes

Mom’s sister’s daughter, a.k.a. Tzipster91

I was going to call this post "Sky and the Family Cohn," but I figured that (a) that Skier fellow might not appreciate it and (b) since, apparently, nobody got the musical reference in the blog title Bewigged: Bothered and Bewildered, no one would get this musical reference, either. Sigh. That’s the thing about old musical references—I guess that, aside from us over-the-hill types, the only other type of person who would get them would be a musician. Hey, wait a minute . . . :)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Much obliged--or not



By rabbinic tradition, women are excused from most of what are often called time-bound mitzvot (that is, commandments that must be performed at specific times). The usual explanation is that women have other obligations--namely, raising children--that are equally important for Jewish continuity that would render the keeping of time-bound mitzvot difficult.

This exemption raises two issues, one up front and one at the far end (in a manner of speaking).

My understanding is that, once one takes upon oneself the obligation to fulfill a mitzvah (commandment), one is not permitted to change one's mind for any reason and cease fulfilling that mitzvah. (Given my Jewish education, or, mostly, my lack thereof, I don't even know where I read/heard this, so please correct me if I'm wrong.) So, when a girl becomes a Bat Mitzvah (“Daughter of the Commandment,” obligated to fulfill the commandments) at 12, she doesn't take on the time-bound mitzvot because it's assumed that, eventually, she'll have kids to take care of and will, likely, wish to cease fulfilling those mitzvot.

From my own perspective, as a non-Orthodox Jew, I see two problems:

One is that women who do not yet have any reason not to perform time-bound commandments refrain from doing so nevertheless. As a consequence, there are literally thousands of Orthodox Jewish women who are, in terms of observance, "on hold." It doesn't matter whether they're just barely B'not Mitzvah (12), 22, 32, 42, or even 52, with almost zero possibility that they'll ever have kids to raise--as long as they're single, they'll never take upon themselves the obligation to observe time-bound mitzvot.

The other is that, even after a woman's child-rearing days are over, she's still not obligated to observe time-bound mitzvot. Why not, pray tell? Name me one darn good reason why a woman of 65 should be exempt.

Cold, wet, and miserable . . .

. . . and it's not even September yet! It seems as if it rained for most of the month of June and a good chunk of the rest of the summer season. Naturally, it was steaming hot during the Three Weeks, when many observe the tradition of refraining from swimming in commemoration of the destruction of the Temple. But now, here we are on the second to last day of August, and it feels so much like autumn that I've lost all hope of going swimming again before the end of the season. I'm depressed already.

"Grant's Tomb--Grant speaking"

That's one of the ways that the jokesters in my family used to answer the phone when I was growing up. Well, speaking of growing up, our son has just about grown and flown--he drove himself back to college yesterday in that jalopy of his. When I came home last night, the place was dead as a doornail. It finally dawned on me, after a couple of hours at the computer, that, with him gone and the hubster out, I'd scarcely heard a sound in two hours. Those of you who still have kids at home may find this hard to believe, but there really is such a thing as too quiet.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Life-after-death insurance? No, just a combination of peer pressure & good old-fashioned Jewish guilt

My son is convinced that I'm becoming more observant because I'm finding religion in my old age. He's wrong on two counts. Let's just say that one would be hard pressed to make a case that I'm trying to score brownie points with the Big Guy Upstairs to ensure my admission to heaven when (a) I'm not sure that I believe in the Big Guy Upstairs and (b) I am sure that I don't believe in heaven.

So why am I trying, with greater or lesser success, to avoid turning lights on and/or off, watching TV, and using the phone on Shabbat? Why am I now saying Shacharit (the Morning Service) and Mincha (the Afternoon Service) every day except Sunday (when I simply can't force myself to wake up early enough for Shacharit or discipline myself to make time for Mincha--yet)? And why am I saying "shehakol" over a yogurt for lunch when no one I know is watching?

Let me be frank: There's nothing quite like having an Orthodox co-worker chide me for even thinking about coming to work on a day when I should be home mourning for the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) to persuade me that maybe I really should use a "personal day" for Tisha B'Av. Not being a great believer in vicarious atonement, I, personally, happen to think that prayer is a great improvement over animal sacrifice, and I have absolutely no interest in the rebuilding of the Bet HaMikdash. But am I going to explain to a person who has absolutely no doubt that our prayers affect the universe that I fast not because the Bet HaMikdash was destroyed (twice) but because thousands of people were slaughtered in the siege(s) of Jerusalem? No. On the other hand, hanging around with Orthodox Jews all day for the past few years has certainly made me think twice about at least being blatantly in violation of Jewish law. On my own, I would have thought that fasting on Tisha B'Av and Yom Kippur was quite sufficient. I only fast on Tzom Gedalia in memory of Yitzchak Rabin, who was assassinated for political reasons, as was Gedalia. If I were not working for an Orthodox Jewish organization, I almost certainly would not choose to fast on Asara B'Tevet, Taanit Esther, or Shiv'a Asar B'Tammuz.

But that still doesn't entirely answer the question of why I'm doing all that Jewish stuff even when no one sees me doing it. As my son said recently, spotting me in tallit and tefillin in the livingroom, "Mom, it's Friday." Indeed, it's been so many years since I davvened Shacharit on a regular basis on any day when there isn't a Torah reading to go to at the synagogue that he doesn't remember ever having seen me in tallit and tefillin at home.

It's like this: One gorgeous day, while walking to the subway, I just looked up at the sky and said Baruch yotzer or (Praised is [the One] Who fashions light," and then felt guilty because I hadn't recited the service from which that blessing comes. Or perhaps it was another beautiful day when I was listening to Debbie Friedman singing "Yotzer Or" and felt guilty because I hadn't recited the service from which that blessing comes. Maybe it was both. Jewish guilt will get me every time.

And it's like this: I've spent the past two years hanging out with a bunch of frummies in the Jewish blogosphere. Obviously, not everyone in the J-blogosphere is Orthodox, or I wouldn't be here. :) But it's certainly been a pleasure getting acquainted, on at least a somewhat more personal level, with the vast spectrum of opinions, and some of the people who hold them, within the Orthodox community. It's not abstract anymore--now the "Orthodox observance spectrum" comes with names, even if the names are fake. :)

And I've also been listening to too much of that darn Jewish rock music! :)

So I've got bloggers on one side saying ,

PsychoToddler said...

Sounds like you're trying to stick to a line in a branch of judaism that doesn't stick to lines. Time for a switch?

There are some more egalitarian branches of Orthodoxy out there.

Sun May 14, 10:57:51 AM 2006

And I've got singers on the other side saying " Gotta take that first step." :) and "P'tach libi b'Torahtecha, u-v'mitzvotchecha tirdof nafshi (Open my heart to Your Torah, and Your mitzvot [commandments] may my soul pursue)."

But beyond the peer pressure and the guilty trips, it just plain feels right to pray when I'm supposed to pray and to make a brachah (blessing) over food when I'm supposed to make a brachah over food (which is always!). Maybe I don't always approach prayer literally, or with the proper kavannah (focus, intent). But at least I'm praying.

And that makes me feel good. It helps mitigate the guilt. It also makes me feel connected to the Jewish people everywhere, present, past, and future. That's enough of a reason (or two or three) for me.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Bewigged: Bothered and Bewildered

Many Orthodox Jews believe that a married Jewish woman must cover at least part of her hair. Many Orthodox married women fulfill that "requirement" (some accept this as a requirement, some don't) by wearing wigs. On the other hand, here are four reasons why some choose not to wear a wig:
(a) The Sefardi rabbinate, if I understand correctly, has forbidden the use of wigs as head-coverings for married women;
(b) Wigs are often uncomfortable;
(c) They cost a fortune!;
(d) They get so much negative press among many of us non-Orthodox Jews.
So why do so many (mostly Ashkenazi) Orthodox married women wear wigs/sheitlach, rather than other forms of kisuyei rosh (head-coverings)?
Being some semblance of a good Jew, I'll answer a question with a question. :)
What do all of these have in common?
(a) An Orthodox Jewish man's kippah/yarmulkeh/skullcap
(b) A religious Muslim woman's headscarf
(c) A religious Muslim man's head-covering (keffiyah, Bukharian-style head-covering, kippah-style head-covering, etc.)
(d) The turban wore by men of the Sikh religion
The answer to the second question holds the key to the first question: All of these head-coverings are identifiable as religious and/or ethnic garments even by persons of other religions and/or ethnic groups.
That's why you're not allowed to wear a hat in court, but you are allowed to wear a kippah (to the best of my knowledge).
A hat is not always identifiable to persons of other religions or ethnic groups as a religious symbol. Perhaps one could have gotten away with wearing a hat to work fifty years ago, when the wearing of hats by women was common, but now, it often seems out of place in a secular setting. In fact, in one office in which I worked many years ago, the wearing of any head-covering was forbidden, unless it was for religious reasons. So how does a woman prove to her boss that she wears a head-covering for religious reasons when the head-covering that she wears is not identiably a religious garment?
A scarf or snood is even worse--not only is it not always identifiable to persons of other religions or ethnic groups as a religious symbol, but, in addition, it's considered too informal to be worn in many professional settings.
Ironically enough, some reasons why women wear sheitlach come from opposite ends of the spectrum:
(a) In some circles, a sheitel is considered the most modest hair covering because (aside from a "fall," a partial wig that can expose the front of the real hair), a sheitel generally covers every last strand of hair.
(b) On the other hand, sheitlach are sometimes considered halachic (Jewish law) "cheats," in that they allow a woman to maintain a certain level of vanity while still being officially modest. Some rabbis have actually encouraged the wearing of sheitlach on precisely these grounds: Women who would normally not consent to hide their hair will do so if they can wear someone else's hair instead.
I've always considered the wearing of a sheitel to be hypocritical: I've never seen any point in covering one's own hair with other hair--either a woman covers her hair or she doesn't. It's not so much that I've changed my mind on that score--it's just that, reality being what it is in the Galut/Diaspora, I've developed a certain amount of sympathy for women who either don't wish to be conspicuous for a reason that's incomprehensible to 99% of the population or who, professionally-speaking, literally can't afford to be that conspicuous.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Superman's new phone booth--the sequel

Remember this one? As I said,"I will confess . . . to being a tad grossed out when women make or answer phone calls while, er, answering a call of nature." Jack of the Shack commented, "Some places require a little privacy and even though they may be public there should be some decorum." Well, no such luck--it's getting worse, folks: Now, not only are people using bathroom stalls as phone booths, they're setting their cell phones on "speaker!" I find it embarrassing enough that the folks at the other end can hear her "taking care of business." But who gave her permission to let them hear me "taking care of business?" I really resent the intrusion on my privacy.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"Musical license,"* or the case of the misplaced comma--A different way of listening to words

(*Well, if poets have poetic license, then what do songwriters have?)
I apologize to those of my readers who do not davven (pray) in accordance with Nusach Ashkenaz (the explanation is toward the middle of this page), but, particularly in this case, I can discuss only what I know reasonably well.
So, if you'll turn in your siddur (prayerbook) to Mi Chamocha in the Shacharit/Morning Service, I'm going to ask you not only to read the words but also to listen to them--that is, to the manner in which they're often sung in accordance with Nusach Ashkenaz.
"Shirah chadasha shibchu g'ulim |
l'shimcha al s'fat hayam . . ."
I know two different tunes for that quote, and both of them "break" in the same place.
Do you notice anything interesting about that "break?"
Try reading the same passage in translation:
"With a new song the redeemed praised |
Your name at the shore of the sea."
Yes, that's my own dubious translation, but it gets the point across: There's a "break" before the word(s--one word in Hebrew) "Your name."
Why? Does it make any sense in terms of the meaning of the words to put a "break" at that point?
Example number two:
Open your siddur to K'riat HaTorah, the Torah-Reading Service.
This quote (Eicha/The Book of Lamentation, chapter 5, verse 21) is the last thing that we sing at the end of this service before the Aron Kodesh/Holy "Ark" (in which the Torah scrolls are stored) is closed:
"Hashiveinu AdoShem |
eilecha v'nashuvah"
Three of the tunes that I know for that passage in the Torah Service "break" in that same place.
Again, read the same passage in translation:
"Turn us, HaShem |
to You and let us return" (Birnbaum Siddur's translation, more or less.)
As with a p'sik | in a Torah reading, you have to stop there in the song.
Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Here are two more examples, this time from Jewish rock music.
One is from the song "Modeh Ani," from Shlock Rock's Shirei Boker/Songs of the Morning CD. (I'd give credit to the composer, but there's no indication thereof on any of Shlock Rock's songs--I guess the group considers everything a collaborative effort.)
The other is also from the song "Modeh Ani," but from the version composed by Izzy Botnick, lead guitarist of the no-longer-extant band Kabbalah. The two bands have absolutely nothing in common, aside from having been known to share a bass player. :) (Scrolling from the bottom up, check out videos #1, 4, and 5. Then enjoy the rest. :) )
The prayer "Modeh Ani" is the first prayer recited upon awakening in the morning, and is not part of the Shacharit/Morning Service, so it can be found, in those siddurim in which it's included, right at the very beginning of the prayerbook.
Again, both of the above versions of "Modeh Ani" "break" in the same place:
Shehechezarta bi nishmati |
b'chemlah rabah emunatecha
"Who has restored my soul within me |
in pity great is His faithfulness"
What do any of the aforementioned "breaks" have to do with the meaning of the words?
Absolutely nothing.
(Have I mentioned, lately, that I have a Bachelor of Arts in French?)
But, on the other hand, all of those "breaks" fit the music perfectly.
Here's my theory: Songwriters don't listen to words in the same way that "language people" do.
"Language people" listen for meaning.
Songwriters listen for sound.
Winner and still champion: Aron Razel's "Shir HaMaalot" (listed and sold here as "We were joyful"). Truth to tell, I wasn't expecting this from a native speaker of Hebrew, so his song proves my point even more than do the liturgical songs that I mentioned above, which probably originated in Eastern or Central Europe, and even more than those two rock songs, both of which were written by Americans (to the best of my knowledge). This meshugeh/mad music mavin (expert) "breaks" not between phrases, but right smack in the middle of words! Repeatedly! He breaks the rules of not only this "language person," but also of this ex-choir singer!
And it works! His Shir HaMaalot is an absolutely wonderful song, even though, with the "breaks" in such crazy places, I'm still trying to learn it six months after having seen Aron Razel in live performance and bought the CD.
So this is my advice to "language people" (English and foreign-language majors and minors and degree-holders) and to choir singers: Put aside your preconceptions, and just enjoy!

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Forwarded via e-mail: An Israeli living across the "Green Line" considers the current situation

"All the votes aren't counted, yet. We should have this discussion in a year.

What the blogs all miss is that until now it was very easy - in fact the far less costly path - for Lebanon to cede control of the South to Hezbolla. Opposing Hezbolla would be very costly and letting them be cost nothing.

The math has changed.

It's true it's hard to find an obvious victory here, but I've been in Israel for 3 victories that got us nothing in the long run. This uncomfortable draw might actually be better for us than any of the victories were.

Or not. I'm not a prophet.

Another thing that happened is that after a morally ambiguous intifada or two, we went to war with an absolutely clear casus belli. We were attacked when we were sitting on a recognized international border and had offered no provocation of any kind.

From the way it looks here, world condemnation was unusually muted. Note that the UN is sending soldiers explicitly to control an enemy of Israel and only that - there's no symmetrical deployment on both sides of the border. The problem is clearly defined, and it's Hezbolla, not us.

There's not much chance the UN force will be good for much militarily, but if you can overlook the change in attitude about the struggle in which Israel is involved, you need new political glasses.I don't say it was good. Only the developments over the next year or two will tell us that, and I'm not a prophet. I just say it's too early to see the effects of this war, and the moaning and anger are not justified. Neither would a celebration be justified. A seed has been sown: it may bear fruit, weeds, or nothing.

Let's wait and see."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Upside down and backwards, literally

When it comes to learning computer skills, I often benefit most from hands-on learning. But when it comes to learning to lay tefillin, I got hands-on teaching. :)

Unfortunately, having had more than one teacher, I got a bit confused--I seem to have learned various parts of at least two different minhagim/customs. (The manner in which one fulfils a commandment often depends on the region from which one's ancestors originated and/or where one is currently living.) So, years ago, I asked my husband to teach me his own minhag, just so that I'd perform the entire ritual in accordance with a single minhag. Now that I've been laying tefillin on a reasonably regular basis for ten years (ever since our son became a Bar Mitzvah--I figured that I didn't have any excuse not to lay tefillin after that), I thought I'd mastered the art.

Until yesterday.

Unfortunately, when I went to lay tefillin at morning minyan yesterday, I discovered, much to my dismay, that the bag I'd brought contained not my tefillin, but my "home" tallit! I'd already recited the brachah/blessing for putting on the tallit. Was I to take it off and go home for my tefillin?

Bad girl that I am, I'd gotten to minyan so late that the Punster was just finishing his prayers, so I asked him to lend me his tefillin. But since he's right-handed and I'm left-handed, I asked for his help in laying the tefillin right-handed on the left arm.

And that's when the fun started.

Much to our mutual surprise, we discovered that, whatever minhag I was using, it wasn't his: He lays his shel yad (tefilla for the arm) with the bayit (box containing the parchment with Scriptural verses hand-written on them) above the loop and knot, whereas I've been laying my shel yad with the bayit hanging below the loop and knot.

It gets better, folks. This morning, I tried to duplicate the minhag that the hubster had shown me yesterday, and couldn't do it. Somehow, I ended up with the strap of the shel yad wound in the opposite direction from usual, and with the shin on the hand "upside down." (This may be the right-side up and correct direction for those who follow a different minhag, but it's not correct for my husband's.) When I asked my husband for help, we made a startling discover: Despite the fact that he'd bought both his and my tefillin from the same sofer (scribe) at the same time, and that he'd specifically requested one right-handed and one left-handed set of Ashkenazi tefillin, our straps weren't tied the same way, and it would be literally impossible for me to tighten the bayit section of the strap (where the loop and knot are) if I put the bayit above the loop and knot! So, unless I'm prepared to schlep the tefillin back to a sofer and have the knots retied, I'm stuck with my current minhag, whoever's it is.

Just called me "tied up in knots."

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A lesson in Middle Eastern politics learned from parenting

Recently, Mark regaled us with a tale about the challenges of traveling with tots in tow. (Be sure to read the comments, while you’re there). His story reminded me of a challenge that the Punster and I faced when our twenty-three-year-old was a tot, himself.

I wish I could make a long story short, but I can’t. So this is your official warning: Either bail out now—you might want to read some of my Friday posts, instead—or park a pillow on your computer chair and make yourself comfortable, because this is going be a long and bumpy read.

When we first moved to our current apartment, our future Physics major was all of 17 months old.

He spent much of his time tearing around the apartment yelling at the top of his lungs because:

(a) he was 17 months old,

(b) he was a vilteh kindt/wild child, bordering on hyperactive, and

(c) he was hard of hearing, and had no idea how much noise he was making. It would be another two years before Dummy Mummy and Dumb Dad finally had his hearing tested, got him into speech therapy, and bought him his first set of hearing aids. It was amazing how much quieter (relatively speaking) he got, once he could, quite literally, hear how loud he was.

Ahem—where was I before I so rudely interruped myself?

Ah, yes.

The family downstairs was composed of:

(a) the head of household,

(b) her teenage daughter, and

(c) her aging mother—who couldn’t tolerate any noise of any kind at any time.

As you can well imagine, the contrast between our two families was a recipe for disaster.

They thought we were the neighbors from hell.

And we thought the same of them.

Almost every day, and often more than once a day, at just about any hour, they would bang on their ceiling/our floor with a broomstick to try to get us to stop our son from running and/or otherwise making noise.

Have you ever tried to stop a toddler from making noise?

Good luck.

In an attempt to accommodate our downstairs neighbors’ needs, we redoubled our efforts to get our son to bed at an early hour.

That didn’t help.

The neighbors' biggest complaint was that, every time our son ran across the "dining area" (which my husband was using as his office space), he made their chandelier shake.

So we jerry-rigged (spelling?) two baby gates together across the entire width of the livingroom to keep junior out of the “dining area,” covering the gates with sheets to keep our son from getting his head caught between the slats. (This was before the development of safety gates with narrower gaps between slats, or cloth or plastic mesh.) In effect, we created a giant “playpen.”

Even that wasn’t enough.

So we lined the “playpen” with old quilts to muffle the noise of running feet and falling block-towers.

No, I’m not kidding—so help me, we really did line the livingroom floor with quilts.

In other words, we “imprisoned” our own son in the functional equivalent of a padded cell in order to try to make peace with the downstairs neighbors.

And even that wasn’t enough.

One fine day, I must have just gotten home from a grocery-shopping trip and been too distracted by the necessity of putting the perishables into the ‘fridge, because I neglected to put my son into his “prison.”

Needless to say, he took advantage of his freedom to run through the dining area.

And he fell.

And they banged with the broomstick.

Then he started to cry . . .

And they banged with the broomstick again.

My son had just hurt himself falling, and he wasn’t allowed to cry?!

Did I mention that this happened at roughly 3:30 in the afternoon?!

At that point, I snapped.

Grabbing the wailing boy in one arm and an umbrella in my free hand, I marched downstairs and started pounding on our downstairs neighbors' door with the umbrella, screaming, at the top of my lungs, “You’ve got a broom, I’ve got a broom! Open this door! I want to talk to you!!!!!!!!”

After several minutes of futile yelling, I finally calmed down enough to realize that my neighbors weren’t stupid enough to open the door to someone who was threatening to break it down. So I went back upstairs, put some dirty clothes into the shopping cart, and took the cart and my boy to the basement laundry room.

Not five minutes later, I heard a siren. Sure enough, a police car had just pulled up in front of our building.

Toddler still in tow, I went back upstairs to my neighbors’ floor and pleaded my case to the cops.

“No matter what we do, no matter what time it is, it’s never enough for these people. If they take me to court for disturbing the peace, I’ll counter-charge them with harassment. We bought this place. We own it. It’s our home, and we have a right to actually live there!”

I was never charged, nor did my neighbors ever take me to court.

But the long-term results of my brief bout of temporary insanity were most interesting.

That particular family continued to live downstairs from us for roughly a decade following that incident. But, in all that time, they complained to us about noise only about two-four times per year.

American legend has it that that President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”

But if you can’t walk softly—because we bought this place,* we own it,** it’s our home,*** and we have a right to actually live there—that’s all the more reason to carry a big stick!

*with the money that we donated to our land-purchasing agent, the Jewish National Fund, and/or with the blood of Jewish soldiers
**even the unfriendly United Nations doesn’t deny that—yet
***and our hope for the past 2,000 years.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Some might say that Condoleezza Rice's appearance in Israel in the middle of the war was supposed to be a diversion to draw attention away from the expansion of the war.

Others might say that the expansion of the war might have been a diversion to draw attention away from the presence of Condoleezza Rice.

Some say that this whole war is a diversion to draw attention away from Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

But the most interesting one I've heard is this one, from a colleague.

Apparently, there's a midrash(?) that Hashem created trouble for Pharoah's baker and cup-bearer as a diversion to draw attention away from the innocent Yosef/Joseph.

So, said my co-worker, maybe Hashem created the terrorist scare in Britain--in which, mind you, no one has actually been injured or killed--as a diversion as Israel expands the war in Lebanon.

Assuming, of course, that the U.N. etc. doesn't cram a cease fire down Israel's throat before the big clean-up can be achieved.

'Cause if that happens, Israel will be back at war in Lebanon within the next decade. Hasn't Israel already withdrawn from Lebanon once before? And what good did that do, pray tell?

(When did I become such a warmonger?)

As Jameel said yesterday here:

11:23 PM Roundup of the past few hours.

1. Tourist stabbed to death in Jerusalem by Palestinian.
2. Another IDF soldier killed in combat today.
3. CeaseFire in the works...which will prove once and for all, that crime pays.

Israel will be forced to leave South Lebanon, without Hizbollah being disarmed.

Israel will be forced to negotiate a prisoner swap with Hizbollah as the only means of returning our kidnapped soldiers.

Israel will be forced to negotiate the abandonment of the Shaaba Farm area (Har Dov), which will reduce our security even further.

Hizbolla will retain their rockets and missiles, and even though they will be deployed (for the time being) north of the Litani River, they will still be a threat to Israel.

Lastly -- Hizbollah's standing in the Arab world as the power that took on Israel, and won, will be celebrated for revitalizing the Arab dream of pushing Israel into the sea, once and for all.

If the Israeli government accepts these "terms of surrender" -- then the very fate of Israel's survival comes into question.

It also means, that after a war that cost the Israeli economy over 7 billion shekel, loss of over 115 lives of soldiers and civilians, and the loss of the IDF as a military deterrence -- we will have lost the war.

And that will set the stage for Olmert's big plans...for yet another unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

G-d Help Us.

6:00 PM As of a few minutes ago, over 155 katyushas landed in Israel today. . . ."

Some Jewish music CD recommendations from Mark/PT

Now that the Three Weeks are over and we can listen to music again, A Simple Jew wanted to know whose Jewish music bloggin' physician/musician Mark/PT would prescribe for healthy listening. :) Enjoy!

On a lighter note, (link>) “Exploding Toilets,” Mars and Venus version

How is it that a guy can pick up the seat several times a day and never notice the scuz underneath? Would it kill ya to take some toilet paper and wipe the rim?

Another question: If I’m the first person to take a shower, why it is that I so often find hair in the “hair catcher” in the bathtub the next morning? I’m living with two guys, for Pete’s sake. (Don’t get excited—I’m talking about the Hubster and Sonny Boy.) Neither of them can see their own hair?

Men must have selective vision.


Shlock Rock band's fund-raiser for Israel

Received via e-mail from Shlock Rock band:

Special Letter from Lenny and the Kraz,

A number of people emailed me after our last newsletter and remarked that except for the prayers for the 3 kidnapped soldiers I had not mentioned the war in Israel or the situation up north. The truth is living in Israel we are living it on a daily basis and I kind of figured you are as well even if you are not in this country.

Allen Krasna aka "The Kraz" whom you all know from his involvement in many Shlock Rock projects as a writer and actor came up with this idea. Read on as the Kraz explains this project.

Many of us living in Israel, specifically in a “safe” area – are trying our hardest to find a way to help out our soldiers, brothers, neighbors etc. And thank God at this time, everyone is working hard together doing great work. We, a group of neighbors in Bet Shemesh, came upon what we think is an interesting way – to combine fundraising, with profiling a local Soldier, and with a community's effort to help any way we can. The idea was first thought of 7 days ago, and through an incredible team effort we have managed to launch it .

Our effort is to:

Help one specific Oleh Soldier keep his spirits up by giving him something good to think about, getting many Jews to hear his music.

Find a way for people to contribute a small amount to the support effort (you are asked to give $10 – nothing more is accepted).

Help fund many important projects relating to the situation here, being run by the community of Bet Shemesh and by others.

Our Project is:

Without repeating here too much of what you will find on the site. Our project introduces a Hesder Soldier from our neighborhood, Elie Deutsch. It presents him to you as a son, a soldier, and a musician. We are selling a downloadable album of his music combined with audio clips (recorded from the phone) of him and his comrades from the Northern front. All proceeds of the sale go to various charitable efforts, to help soldiers, people in shelters in the North, and people displaced from the North.

I would greatly appreciate, if you would take a look at the site:

I would also appreciate it if you would pass this email on to people who you think would be interested

Thanks so much and hoping for Peace in Israel and for all of Israel.

Allen "The Kraz " Krasna

Well there you have it. The only thing I will add is that I actually produced Eli's vocal and the songs are really excellent. Keep praying as I am sure you are and we will all merit to see the coming of the Moshiach and re-building of the Bet Hamikdash speedily in our time!

Talk to you soon - Lenny [Lenny Solomon, bandleader, Shlock Rock]

More theological problems, and other grief caused by disbelief

The woman who organized the women’s tehillim (Psalm[-reading]) group at my office has absolutely no doubt that our prayers are efficacious.

I have no such belief. I’m there to be with my sisters as we express our solidarity with the people of Eretz Yisrael/the Land of Israel.

It would be nice to have that absolute faith and confidence that G-d will answer when we call upon Him.

Here’s another one that I can’t believe:

“Keep praying as I am sure you are and we will all merit to see the coming of the Moshiach and re-building of the Bet Hamikdash speedily in our time!

Talk to you soon – Lenny”

I don’t believe in Mashiach (Messiah). I don’t want the Temple to be rebuilt: I'm not big on animal sacrifices, personally—I think that prayer’s a great improvement. When my brother was still Orthodox (he was a baal t’shuva ["returnee" to Orthodox Judaism] for a few years), he used to say that, as long as we’re eating meat anyway, we might as well eat meat as part of a sacrifice. But I’ve never been particularly fond of the idea of vicarious atonement. If I’m going to eat a hamburger, I’d rather butcher it to eat it because I want it than because I sinned. What does killing a goat have to do with making up for something that I did wrong, forgiveness, and/or trying to improve my behavior?

On the other hand, see the next post for more from “Lenny.” His buddy “the Kraz” had a nice fund-raising—and morale-boosting—idea.

Speaking of Tisha B’Av & the current war in Israel, my husband & I are having a serious theological problem--it's called “Reward & Punishment"

Parelleling my attempts to increase my level of observance, my husband and I have occasionally discussed what it would be like to become Orthodox, and this is one of the problems that we’ve encountered.

This quote, from the 1990’s science fictiontelevision series Babylon 5 (chief writer J. Michael Straczynski), which I cited previously here, expresses our attitude pretty well:

“You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

This quote, from the Musaf Amidah prayer on the Shalosh Regalim/Pilgrimage Festivals, expresses the traditional Jewish attitude:

Mipné chataénu galinu méartzenu—because of our sins, we were exiled from our land.”

Better yet, try the “evening and morning every day always” version (recited in every evening and morning service), the second paragraph of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 11:13-21).

And here’s a very recent version voiced by blogger Rock of Galilee:

". . . I thought that when I got to the wall I would be one of those people who yell, "WHY???!!!" or "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING?????!!!?" I thought about it for a second and grabbed onto a fleeting thought that everything that God does is for the best, whether we understand it or not. Instead of asking questions of God and leaving the wall very unsatisfied, I focused on the truth of God and read the shemona esrei, the 19 blessings that we say every day praising God and asking him to help us with our daily lives. I focused on the absoulte power and holiness of God in the first section and then during the section where you request from God I asked him (in the preordained order) to:

give me the knowledge and intuition to deal with the family in this siutuation.

Return us to the Torah study, which is even less then usual while we are in exile

Forgive our sins which have definitely brought about this tragedy

. . .

[Red added by me.]

A former rabbi (Conservative), knowing that my husband and I had been members of a dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue, once commented that a belief in Reward and Punishment was one of the concepts that distinguished Conservative Judaism from Reconstructionist Judaism.

That’s one of the chief reasons why I still have half a foot in the Reconstructionist camp, though I disagree with their decision to accept patrilineal descent.

So what exactly is this theological concept, some interesting combination of masochism and a classic case of blaming the victim?

The first Temple gets destroyed by the Babylonians, the second Temple by the Romans, and we’re to blame?

Children die of illness, mothers get killed in car collisions, and we’re to blame?

Tsunamis kill thousands, hurricanes devastate coastal areas and leave thousands homeless, and we’re to blame?

Hamas is tossing Qassams at S’derot and Hizbollah is raining Katyushas from Lebanon, and we’re to blame?

How did a bunch of guys as smart as our ancient sages manage to develop a theology that, in addition to being perfect for creating major guilt trips, plays straight into the hands of our enemies?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Well, this is good for *next* year's Nine Days, anyway--What constitutes "not bathing for pleasure" in 98-degree weather?

I strongly recommend that you check out Elie's Nine Days approach here.

Here are a few things he had to say about what he does and/or doesn't do at during the Nine Days:

"6) Bathing: Not less frequently, but in lukewarm water, so the shower is solely about cleanliness and not about pleasure. This is one of my "soapbox" (pun intended!) issues. The thought that civilized human beings, in the heat of summer, go without bathing for a week makes me want to gag. If you're one of them, please don't tell me!"

To the best of my recollection, this is the first time in 29 years of marriage that my husband and I both took showers before eating our last meal preceding Tisha B'Av. Last week, I was taking showers not only every morning, but every night, as well. It was roughly 98 degrees Fahrenheit/36.67 Celsius for several days straight, last week. To make matters worse, New York City has been plagued with major power outages and brown-outs since the beginning of the Three Weeks--several entire neighbors of the city were actually without any power whatsoever for ten days straight! (Boy, is Con Ed ever going to get its duff sued!) So we've been trying to sleep with the air conditioner turned off. Elie, what constitutes "bathing for pleasure," under these circumstances?

"5) Laundry: When we had small kids, we did have to do quite a bit of laundry during the Nine Days, just to make it through. Now we try to avoid it for all outerwear, but do usually need to do a load of underwear/socks/pajamas somewhere in there... which seems to be permitted even according to (most of) those ubiquitous halacha sheets."

From the comments:

At 6:34 PM , Shira Salamone said...
Thanks for the information about laundry. We haven't yet adopted the practice of not doing laundry during the Nine Day because we do not wish to be offensively smelly during the hot weather. Frankly, this is the first time I've ever heard that there's any leeway either for washing the clothing of young children or for washing underwear. We might be able to live with a restriction that allows us to have clean underwear. I'm discussing this with my husband as I type.

At 9:54 PM , Elie said...
Shira: All the sources I've seen say that clothes worn next to the skin primarily to absorb sweat (e.g., undergarments, socks, etc.), are not restricted at all by the custom of not washing or wearing freshly washed clothes.

(Oops, I spoke too soon--Here's what the Orthodox Union has to say on the subject [see Nine Days link above]:

"It is the practice not to wear freshly laundered clothing during the Nine Days. Undergarments, for health reasons, are generally not included in this ruling. ")

Now, I've got about 11 months to work on the Punster. :)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A day before Tisha B’Av and smack dab in the middle of a war--not the best time for a second blogoversary

When I first starting my blog, I though I’d be discussing the parsha (weekly Torah reading) and complaining about my synagogue. Little did I know that I’d also write a ten-part series on raising a child with disabilitities, talk about my husband’s and son’s kidney stones, and obsess about kol isha. (Maybe I should have seen that last one coming—after all, how would you expect a former synagogogue-choir singer to react to a law prohibiting a woman to sing in the presence of a man?) But probably the most interesting thing that's happened is that I've found myself making a real effort to understand viewpoints quite different from my own.

Now, I’m trying to wrap my feeble brain around this war. I’ve always been in the Peace Now camp. At this point, I’m just confused. As I was saying to Fudge the last time we chatted over pizza, I’ve always avoided getting involved in politics because just about anyone can convince of just about anything, and I think that it’s almost unethical for someone as gullible as I to get involved in politics. So here I am, going back and forth between “if someone comes to kill you, kill him first” (which I hear is a saying from the Talmud) and “you don’t talk peace with your friends, you talk peace with your enemies’ (no idea who said that).

Settlers, please chime in. This is what I understand:

Many people moved outside the Green Line (the pre-1967 borders) because the Israeli government(s), past and present, gave them financial incentives to do so. That’s how my brother and ex-sister-in-law and their three kids ended up in East Jerusalem.

Some people moved outside the Green Line because, since past Israeli governments considered the settlement of the territories strategically necessary, they considered it their patriotic duty.

Some people moved outside the Green Line because they felt very strongly that no area of the biblical Eretz Yisrael/Land of Israel should be off-limits to Jews.

Now what? How much land does Israel need to be safe? And/or, given the range of the current generation of missiles, does the size of the State of Israel make any strategic difference? And even if Israel wants to give back land, is it even possible anymore, or is the surrender of land so easily interpreted as a sign of weakness that Israel can’t afford it?

Please feel free to support or oppose, agree or disagree with anything that I or any commenter has to say. My only rule is that all comments must be stated in respectful language. There will be no “flame wars” or insults—the only thing I won’t tolerate is intolerance.

The floor is open.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The hitnatkut, one year later

A year ago, I was in Israel, watching on Israeli English-language television with my parents as thousands of Gush Katif residents were expelled from their homes. At the time, I thought that the hitnatkut, the disengagement from Gaza, was a good idea, but that didn't make it any easier to watch. Thousands of people were losing their homes, their livelihoods, their children's schools overnight. It was heartbreaking.

Well, here we are, a year later, and what did Israel get for all that suffering?

Thousands of people are still living in temporary housing, many are still unemployed, and Israel is, again, at war.

Let us not forget the people of Gush Katif. (Hat-tip to West Bank Mama for the link.)
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