Friday, March 30, 2007

Sefirah confusion

True, once upon a time, I promised not to listen to my Jewish rock CDs from Erev Pesach until Lag B'Omer. But there are a few things that I just can't figure out. For openers, if we don't say the Tachunun repentance prayers for the entire month of Nissan because we're supposed to be rejoicing over our liberation from slavery in Egypt, how can we be observing some of the customs of mourning, as some do during Sefirah, at the same time? For closers, if one is not allowed to sit shiva during Chol HaMoed because one is forbidden to mourn during a holiday, how can one be forbidden to listen to live music during Chol HaMoed when deliberately avoiding listening to music is a sign of mourning? So nu, may I go to that Klezmatics concert next Saturday night or not?

This would be a good time for me to link to my post "Finally, a *logical* explanation for the custom of mourning during Sefirah (hat-tip to DovBear)." Thanks, DB. Insofar as there's anything logical about the custom of mourning during Sefirah, you explained it pretty well.

The Four Children

One of the fine folks from the West Side Minyan has asked my permission to post the d'var Torah that I gave there last Shabbat regarding the Four Children on the WSJ website. (It should show up there, eventually, on the Resources page.) Unfortunately, I never wrote it out—since I live outside of the eruv (to say the least), I try as much as possible to avoid carrying, so the whole talk was in my head. But here it is, as best I can remember it. Needless to say, this'll be a bit rambling.

The Four Children mentioned in the haggadah are The Wise Child, the Wicked Child, the Simple Child, and the Child Who Doesn't Know to Ask. The Wise Child is considered wise because he or she asks what are the decrees and the judgments that Hashem our G-d commanded you, whereas the Wicked Child asks, "What is this service to you?," seeming to exclude himself/herself. The Simple Child just asks, "What's this?," while the Child Who Doesn't Know to Ask, well, doesn't ask.

One of the most logical explanations I've heard—I'd gladly cite a source, if I could remember it—is that the Four Children represent four stages of development. The Wise Child is the adult, one who's ready and willingly to identify with the Jewish community and assume his or her responsibilities as a Jew. The Wicked Child is the rebellious teenager, the one who still thinks his or her parents know nothing. Perhaps the text tells the parent to set the Wicked Child's teeth on edge because the Wicked Child sets the parent's teeth on edge. The Simple Child is a young child who's still learning—you have to explain everything in simple terms. The Child Who Doesn't Know to Ask is a child too young to know how to communicate. According to one interpretation that I heard somewhere, the phrase "at p'tach lo, you open for him" means that you open the child's mouth and put a piece of matzah in it. At that age, a child's Judaism is purely experiential. A very young pre-schooler truly embodies the biblical quote, "Naaseh v'nishma, we will do and we will hear." The human child develops by doing first and understanding later, and so it is with Judaism—you can't just study Judaism, you have to live it.

Another explanation that I forgot to mention—you’re getting the benefit of the "edited" version :) —is that the Wise Child is actually a crowd-pleaser who's feeding the parents what they want to hear, whereas the Wicked Child is the challenger, the one who's always asking questions, who won't just quietly accept a standard explanation. I rather like that version, being, in some ways, a bit of a Wicked Child, myself.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in his own haggadah, passed along this explanation, in the name of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe: The Four Children represent the four stages of American immigration. The Wise Child is the generation "straight off the boat," the Bubbe lighting the holiday candles, the Zayde reciting kiddush. The Wicked Child is the first-generation American, eager to toss out tefillin and tradition and become a "real American." The Simple Child is the second-generation American, a confused kid who sees Grandma lighting candles and Grandpa making kiddush while Mom and Dad stand there impatiently, mentally twiddling their thumbs. The Child Who Doesn't Know to Ask grew up without the grandparents from the Old Country, and hardly even understands what he's missing. In his haggadah, Rabbi Riskin told a true story of a seder that he'd attended at which a little girl began singing "Happy Birthday" when she saw the hostess lighting the Yom Tov candles—she'd literally never seen anyone lighting candles for any reason other than a birthday. A far worse story was told by blogger WestBankMama here (on her old blog). She and her brother, both then in the process of becoming baalei t'shuvah ("returnees" to Orthodox Judaism), had scrupulously cleaned and prepared their parents' home for Passover. Imagine their shock when they opened the door on the seder night, and their aunt walked in carrying a freshly-baked loaf of bread!!! They politely informed her that the table was too full, putting the bread aside on a coffee table, and, the minute their aunt and uncle left after the seder and were out of visual range, tossed the bread into the neighbors' garbage can.

The tragedy of the Child Who Doesn't Know to Ask is that this child doesn't even know that there's a question: Such an individual doesn't know enough to be aware that there's something s/he doesn't know. This is a person who wouldn't think to ask whether it's okay to cook chicken parmesan in a kosher kitchen because s/he doesn't know that poultry is considered meat according to Jewish law, and thinks, in all innocence, that the combo is kosher. Did I mention that I just learned last year, at the grand old age of 57, that not only miscellaneous grains and legumes, but also seeds, are kitniot? No wonder I can't find kosher-for-Passover techina!

Another interpretation of the Child Who Doesn't Know to Ask is that this is the child with special needs. "At p'tach lo, you open for him" means, in this case, to do whatever is necessary to make the story of our liberation from slavery in Egypt comprehensible, whether that means using large-print haggadot, sign language, visual aids and/or music for a child with learning and/or developmental disabilities.

Here's my own midrash, standing on one foot: "At" is (arguably) feminine, "p'tach" is masculine. From this, we learn that both the mother and the father are responsible for ensuring that their children learn the story of our liberation from bondage.

Finally, Rabbi Riskin reminds us that far worse than the Wicked Child is the child who's either so far removed from Judaism or so rebellious that she or he is not even at the seder. In recent times, many of those who grew up under the Soviet regime came out of the former USSR knowing nothing, or almost nothing, about Judaism. It's our responsibility to help provide "spiritual food" for those who are hungry to come and eat.

Opposing those who foster deliberate ignorance

I recommend this post by Chana.

The money quote:

"Nowadays, how can anyone dare avow that a religion based wholly on blindness and ignorance is a committed relationship to God? What good is this frumkeit that is cultivated simply by wearing blinders? It falls away at the merest touch of the outside world!"

Here's a previous post (to which she refers in the post linked above) that gives an idea of what she considers to be true Orthodoxy.

Taking time off from a scheduled time off

Has your life ever been so hectic that you felt you needed to take a break from a planned break? Fudge is beginning to demonstrate a rather alarming resemblance to her over-scheduled father. Or maybe she's in training to follow in her mother's footsteps, advancing her career while raising a clan of kids and teaching an aerobics class in her copious spare time (cough, cough). I'm glad to see that she took a few minutes out of her schedule to go for a walk down by the riverside and enjoy an informal "concert" in the subway.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Best Pesach "visual" for 2007 (thus far) :)

This year's (high tech). :)

Last year's (low tech).

Diminished Houses (by Elie)

"The Torah in Exod 12:1-11 provides the rules pertaining to the korban pesach, the pascal sacrifice. The korban was to consist of an unblemished sheep or goat, which must be roasted whole and completely eaten by midnight; leftovers are to be destroyed. But what about a family for whom an entire sheep is much too big a meal to complete in a single night?"

Every now and then, I get (and need) a reminder of just how lucky I am. Would that the same were true for all. Here, Elie tries to describe what happens when a family isn't big enough because it's been reduced by death and needs support from others who've gone through the same heart-wrenching experience.

May we all find joy, or at least comfort, in this season.

The new movies?

This season's last episode of Battlestar Galactica was telecast last Sunday night. At the end, the fine folks from the Sci Fi Channel had the unmitigated gall to announce that the next season wouldn't begin until 2008. Is this the not-so-hidden cost of CGI--does it take so long to create a season's worth of computer-generated imagery that we now have to wait almost as long for a science fiction television series season as for another episode of Star Wars?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Seder memories

My earliest memories of the seder are of one of my great uncles speed-reading through the whole thing entirely in Hebrew, with probably most of the attendees not understanding a single word. Being with the extended family was fun, but there wasn’t much seder to it.

Later, my parents would make their own sedarim (seders), with enough people crammed around the dining room table that we practically had our elbows in one another’s soup. These sedarim were a vast improvement, in that, since they were conducted almost entirely in English, everyone understood everything. To his considerable credit, my father insisted on doing the entire seder, no matter how many guests left after shulchan orech (the meal).

But, as I got older and learned a tad more Hebrew, and, especially, after several years in the synagogue choir, I found my parent’s sedarim sadly lacking in singing. So, for a few years before they made aliyah (moved to Israel), I invited them to come to our seder for one night (and our friends were kind enough to host them and us for another). Since we invited a few friends from the choir, we had the most wonderful singing, reserving the English for the Maggid (“Telling”) parts of the seder.

Alas, then we left Manhattan for one of the outer boroughs of New York City, and there went not only our singers, but our seder, as well. We found out the hard way that we’re simply not cut out for running a “learners’ seder”: We need a critical mass of guests who actually know their way around a haggadah. Probably the worst seder we ever made was the one at which the Punster and I were literally the only people at the table who knew any of the seder songs. What was the point in killing ourselves preparing for guests and whipping up a special meal when we just ended up singing duets? We could have done that by ourselves, and skipped the extra hassle. Sigh.

Nowadays, we usually go to a synagogue seder for one night and to an old friend’s place for the other. We’ve probably been going to our friend’s seder for over a decade now, since our kid and her two were still kids, so we feel right at home. Everybody gets two haggadot—one from which the seder is being read, and one from which we can spot interesting commentaries and chime in. And yes, I'm happy to say that there’s plenty of singing—and, for Chad Gadya, some sound effects (woof woof, meow), as well. :)

“Kulanu M'subin" Chicken (Seder recipe with a moral)

Ah, I knew I’d posted this somewhere.


This combination of my mother’s tzimmis recipe and a chicken recipe by one of my best friends is ideal for a Seder because you can leave it in the oven practically forever without paying any attention to it, and participate fully in the Seder knowing that this dish won't burn, dry out or overcook. Make twice this amount if you're having more than four people.

The moral of this recipe is that, since all of us were freed from slavery on Pesach, none of us should be a “galley slave” at a Seder. As the rabbis said, “Halaila hazeh, kulanu m’subin—On this night, we all recline.” So get out of the kitchen and take your rightful place, a seat at the Seder table.

1) 1 raw chicken, kashered, cut into eighths (or at least 8 kashered chicken cutlets)

2) 1 pound of raw carrots, scrubbed but not peeled (save those vitamins!), cut into chunks or slices (slices are traditional for Rosh HaShanah, as they symbolize the kesef one hopes to earn in the new year, so, for Rosh HaShanah, cut at least some of the carrots into slices)

3) 1-2 raw sweet potatoes or yams, peeled and cut at least in half lengthwise, then into chunks

4) pineapple (unless someone’s allergic), preferably chunked, canned in unsweetened pineapple juice 1 can per chicken is better (at least 1/2 can) with 1 can (at least 1/2 can) of the aforementioned juice. Extra pineapple will be needed for the juice if you can’t use orange juice. If using sliced pineapple, cut it into chunks.

5) 1 cup orange juice per chicken, unless that’s a problem for anyone’s stomach, in which case you may need to open more pineapple just to add another full cup of pineapple juice

6) 1-3 WHOLE raw apples, scrubbed Apples with the skin still on make very tasty baked apples, & they’re also the only kind that will stay whole, since cut apples tend to fall apart and become applesauce in the stewing process (or whatever kind of process you wish to call this).

7) cinnamon

8) (optional‑‑seedless citrus fruit, peeled and sectioned.) (My girlfriend uses canned sweetened mandarin oranges, which have the advantage of being seedless, pre-peeled & sectioned, but the disadvantage of being packed in sugar syrup. However, if anyone at the Seder is allergic to pineapple, this is a good alternative, if the sugar isn’t a problem.)

Remove apple cores. Place apples in corners of pan. Stuff the emptied cores with pineapple chunks (perhaps cut or broken into smaller pieces), then sprinkle the apples (and their pineapple stuffing) with cinnamon.

Place well-cleaned chicken pieces or cutlets in bottom of roasting pan.Arrange potatoes and carrots around and/or on top of chicken.Place pineapple chunks (and/or citrus sections) on top of chicken pieces. Pour orange and/or pineapple juices over contents of pan. Sprinkle cinnamon on contents of pan.

Cover roasting pan with aluminum foil—the foil cover and the quart or so of juice in the pan are the secrets to keeping this dish from overcooking. "Roast" (stew?) for 1 ½ hours minimum at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. For a Seder, unless you're NOT running "Jewish time", roast/stew this for approximately 2 hours at 300 degrees, then turn it down to 200 until you get to "shulchan orech", the meal.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I'm sky high over Aidel Maidel's engagement

. . . to Mr. Sky-High! Mazal Tov!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Customer service???!

Today, I stood on line for almost exactly an hour to mail two packages via FedEx. I must admit to having been rather rude to the clerk, but, frankly, it's hard to stand for an hour on one foot, even with a cane. I can see why folks with mobility problems buy themselves walkers with built-in seats. That'll be me in about 20 years.

The Pesach potato-sack race

It's just one of those silly games that people play at camp and at company picnics and the like: Stand a group of people in a line, pair them off, have each person of each pair put their "inside" leg in a potato sack (or a pillow case), then have the whole hobbled group race to the finish line.

Okay, I'm an idiot: I limped the last half block home after dancing at that Makor concert last Saturday night, so you would think that I would have had the sense not to go Israeli folk dancing this past Thursday after work. But no! I thought that, if I took it easy, dancing outside the circle with much smaller steps and no hopping, I'd be fine. Famous last words. To make a long story short, I woke up this morning with a lump in my left foot at the surgical site. If it doesn't go away by Tuesday, I'm calling my podiatric surgeon.

So there we were, my hero in his rocker cast (from the sprained ankle) and yours truly back in athletic shoes and occasionally needing assistance from my trusty cane, dashing--or not--off to the nearest kosher supermarket by subway and bus to stock up for Pesach. (Here's the secret of our semi-sane Pesach shopping--we get the goods home by taxi.) I joked with the Punster that, like folks in a potato-sack race, we had two good legs between the two of us.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blooms in bloom

My first fully-bloomed crocuses I saw today
Purple and yellowno need to be blue, with the sun shining, too
Machalif et ha-z'manim v'yotzer or, baruch Hu


Daffodil days

I saw my first daffodils of this season just a few days ago
Baruch sheh-kacha lo b'olamo

Spring is here!
Give a cheer!
Ma adir
Shiru lo shir

I'm so thankful to Hashem for this time of year


A necessary change

Mine is a feast-or-famine job. Sometimes, I can spend weeks at a time working on a major project under deadline pressure. At other times, I can go literally for hours at a time with almost nothing to do but answer the few phone calls that don’t go to the other assistants in this office.

So it’s ironic that I’m actually literally losing sleep over blogging. Even when I’m sitting at my desk with nothing to do but surf the Internet, I send my posts home via e-mail and post them when I get home. I’ve also been waiting until I get home to respond to comments on my own blog and to post on other blogs any comments that I wish to sign with my Blogger name and link (as opposed to the alternative name that I use when commenting from the office). As I said in the linked post, “The result is that not only do I have less time in the evening to do other things, . . . I get several hours less sleep per week than I did when I was temping.”

And since the lack of sleep is beginning to affect my health, I'm going to change my blogging time, as of now. I’ve decided that, since I’ve been extremely careful not to reveal the identity of my employer on my blog, and since I’ve only revealed the identity of my employer to four other bloggers (to the best of my so-called memory), I’m probably not taking too much of a chance by blogging from the office (as discretely as possible). It's fortunate that I've been keeping archives of all my posts in WordI just deleted some extremely remote hints of my employer's identity that might have constituted a clue for an outsider, and, if necessary, I'll delete a few other odds and ends.

There’s another issue involved in my decision. I’ve frequently made myself late to morning minyan because I spent time answering comments or correcting posts. It’s a bit too ironic for my taste that my interest in writing about observance should interfere with my observance.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

She played a mean trombone

There are more consequences to being 58 than just having an unreliable memory and the beginnings of hearing loss. We middle-aged folks also have to deal with the interesting results of having grown up in a different era.

I remember well how our Seder host, some twenty years ago, after having mentioned the words "dentist" and "she" in the same paragraph, took us aside and asked us not to act surprised that that her daughter’s dentist was a woman—she didn’t want her daughter to think that that was unusual (which it certainly was, in the mid-80’s). And I remember ever so nonchalantly pointing out to our son both the male and the female “motorworkers”—I refuse to call them motormen—beginning probably within a week of having seen a woman in the “driver’s” seat of a subway for the first time.

Which brings us, you may be surprised to know, to the reason for this post.

When I joined a college student organization, my mentor told me that she’d given up playing the trombone because it wasn’t an instrument for a woman.

Imagine, then, my pleasant surprise when the brass rock band—bass (?) sax, tenor (?) sax, trumpet, trombone, and drum set—that I heard playing in the subway tonight turned out to include the first female trombone player I’ve ever seen (to the best of my recollection).

So I listened to a couple of their songs and did a wee smidge of semi-discrete dancing on my way to an Israeli folk dance session. ‘Twas a most pleasant warm-up.

Call me silly and I’ll plead guilty as charged, but I still get a kick out of seeing women play musical instruments that "girls" just didn’t play when I was growing up because they weren’t consider appropriate for “girls” (which, in those days, included 90-year-olds)—electric bass, electric rock guitar (as opposed to acoustic folk guitar), trumpet, trombone, and drums (and maybe a few others that my so-called memory can’t remember).

Did I happen to mention that my son’s favorite physics teacher is a woman? We’ve come a long way.

Pre-Sefirah music madness, 2007 edition

Once upon a time, I promised not to listen to my Jewish rock CDs from ever Pesach until Lag B'Omer. So I'm taking this final glorious opportunity to buy and listen to everything in sight. :) (For those who missed last year's pre-Pesach CD fest, here's the link.)
Knowing that I was facing a deadline, I finally got myself over to Jewish Jukebox, "Sameach Music's Home on the Web," and ordered "U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo," the album that MOChassid recently produced, with the participation of some of his musician friends, in memory of his late father, a cantor. While I was there, I also ordered the new Blue Fringe album, "The Whole World Lit Up." Much to my pleasant surprise, JewishJukebox tossed in The Diaspora Yeshiva Band's "Live at Carnegie Hall" Reunion album for free.
Then I picked up the Moshav Band's "Misplaced" the other night at their concert.
So let me try to write up a little review.
The Diaspora Yeshiva Band: "Live at Carnegie Hall" (the Reunion album)
Nu, what's not to like about the wonderful and incredibly talented musicians of the (original) Diaspora Yeshiva Band? Go, buy, listen, enjoy! And while you're at it, pick up the two-CD set "The Diaspora Collection. " Great stuff! Eventually, I really must get around to buying more of the recordings made by members of the band since they went their own individual ways.
Blue Fringe: "The Whole World Lit Up"
My favorites on this album are "Etz Chayim" (traditional prayer, contemporary arrangement), and, best of the batch (in my opinion), "Anayni" (traditional prayer, plus original lyrics in English by drummer Danny Zwillenberg). As to the rest of the songs, to be honest, the band seems to be moving in a musical direction that's not quite so much to my own personal taste. (Personally, I'm not sure how I feel about musical arrangements in which a guitarist plays the same chords and/or sequence of notes over and over for roughly three minutes straight, as in their arrangement of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach's "V'Shamru." If I'm in the mood to be mezmerized, I find it mezmerizing. If not, I find it boring.)
But don't let that stop you. Check them out for yourselves on their website or their MySpace page. They may be just right for you.
Moshav Band: "Misplaced"
Moshav is pretty diverse. One minute, they're singing something middle-eastern-tinged, the next, it's country-western-sounding, cantorial, folk-rock, or reggae, sometimes with somewhat unusual rhythms and/or rhythm changes, often with more than one musical genre, not to mention language (English, Hebrew, and/or Arabic) in the same song, with the occasional political commentary. "When I'm Gone" morphs from country to cantorial to Arabic-language middle-eastern and back to country, and ends in Hebrew.) Try going from "Hallelu," which I'm not even sure I can describe (middle-eastern plus rock?), to the mostly-reggae English/Hebrew of "Lift Up Your Head." All the more fun. The album closes with "Dream Again," a piano-and-solo-voice folk ballad that sounds to me like an apology to a sister that I'm not sure he has. Run, do not walk, and buy this album ASAP.
U'Shmuel B'korei Sh'mo (MOChassid's musical anthology of friends' music, produced in memory of his father)
I don't think there's anything on this CD that I don't like. With so many different singers, songwriters, and musical styles, there's something on this CD for everyone, from Ben Zion Solomon (described in the liner notes as "one of the world's foremost experts on Breslov music") singing a Breslover "L'cha Dodi" to Aron Razel singing both a Latin-American/jazz "Yom Shabason" (Yona Matz'a) of his in Ashkenazi Hebrew and, just to get me thoroughly confused, a ballad of his in Sefardi Hebrew. (The first time I heard the MP3 samples of Razel's songs on the Internet, my husband had to convince me that these two songs were both being sung by the same person. :) ). Personally, I think Yosef Karduner's folk ballad "Ha'aleinu" (singer and back-up singer, plus lead and rhythm guitars, with only a hint of other instruments), is gorgeous, as is Chaim Dovid's folk ballad "Brach Dodi," especially the Spanish-sounding chorus (though I think that song could be a bit shorter).
Hint: Jewish Jukebox delivered my three CDs literally within days of my order. If you still have enough money left from Passover shopping (oy) to place your order tonight (no pressure :) ), you could have just about a week to enjoy a new CD or two before Sefirah.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Half a vote (vetoed)

Hat-tip to Brooklyn Wolf for this article.
So let me get this straight: A man can ask to have a previously-issued get (Jewish religious divorce) withdrawn, thereby causing his ex-wife's second marriage to be declared adulterous retroactively and her child(ren) from her second marriage forbidden ever to marry?
It's not bad enough that, according to Jewish law, only a man can authorize a divorce? Now, he can withdrew his authorization at will, with the support of the rabbinate?
Not for nothing is the Hebrew word for husband still "baal," master. A man acquires a woman with a wedding ring and a ketubah (marriage contract), and if he doesn't care to let her go when the marriage is dead, she's either chained to him in marriage for life or forced to pay, for her freedom to remarry, an extortion fee that can be as high as sole custody of their children. A get is nothing but a fancy term for a writ of manumission.

Perpetual children

I don't remember where I read this story, but it seems that, many years ago, the entire adult male population of a small Jewish town was drafted. (Was this in Czar Russia, perchance?) The result was that the Jewish observance of the town was radically diminished. Baby boys born shortly after the draft were not given a brit milah (ritual circumcision) because there was no trained mohel left to do the job. The eating of meat ceased because there was neither a shochet to slaughter animals in accordance with Jewish law nor a mashgiach to whom to ask questions if there was any doubt about whether the meat was kosher. The synagogue was virtually deserted, since there weren't enough boys left over the age of thirteen and under the age of conscription to make a minyan.

Imagine what might happen in our day if, heaven forbid, an epidemic swept through a large swath of the United States and killed all females who'd reached the age of puberty. The males would cope, with great difficulty. Enterprising guys would start daycare services to accommodate the 85% of the male population that wouldn't be able to afford to hire imported nannies or become stay-at-home parents and whose jobs didn't give them the liberty of telecommuting. In the Jewish community, considerable effort would have to be made to ensure that all the usual g'milut chassidim (acts of kindness), such as bikur cholim (visiting the sick) and ensuring that mourners' meals were provided, still had volunteers. There would be, obviously, a drop-off in births (and brit milah observances) for the foreseeable future, and young men would have to be sent out of state to find wives. The minyanim, after some adjustment and, possibly, the hiring of babysitters to care for young children during services, would manage. The "public" life of Judaism would continue.

Now imagine what might happen in our day if, heaven forbid, an epidemic swept through a large swath of the United States and killed all males who'd reached the age of puberty. There would be, obviously, a drop-off in births for the foreseeable future, and young women would have to be sent out of state to find husbands. Baby boys born shortly after the epidemic would have to be taken to other states, or mohalim (ritual circumcizers) "imported," for the brit milah. Not only kosher food but mashgichim (kashrut supervisors) would have to be imported for simchas (happy occasions). And, at the High Holidays and Pilgrimage Festivals, dozens of out-of-state yeshivot (Jewish day schools) and kollelim would be besieged with requests to send ten males to make a minyan so that the women could pray a full service with a Torah reading. Imagine the fundraising and stretching of widows' budgets necessary to provide free airfare, room and board to any 10 males at least 13 years old willing to sacrifice a few days with their own families to help make a minyan in towns with no adult males.

Think about that for a minute, folks. That means that a 90-something-year-old woman would have to rely on a group of boys young enough to be her greatgrandsons to (enable her to) say kaddish for her own mother.

I really don't know how else to describe the current approach to public worship in Orthodox interpretations of halachah (Jewish religious law) other than to call it a culture of female dependency, or, in fancier terminology, infantilization. Without 10 men present, women (no matter how many there are, how old we are, and/or how Jewishly learnèd we are) are not permitted to say bar'chu, kaddish, or kedushah, or to read the Torah scroll or haftarah with all the appropriate blessings. We are completely dependent for public ritual on our fathers, our brothers, our husbands, and even our own sons. In other words, even if we're mothers, even if we're gray-haired, in the eyes of Jewish law, we're no more than, and never will be any more than, overgrown children.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Rosh Chodesh without, & with, a minyan

This morning, when I was davvening (praying) at home, alone, I thought to myself that it was a pity I couldn't be somewhere where there was a Torah reading. But our local shul has weekday morning minyan on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday only, and where else could I go within walking distance where a woman would be welcome? Sure, I could always put on my tallit and tefillin at home, say the three paragraphs of the Sh'ma, then, having fulfilled the minimum requirement for wearing tallit and tefillin (to the best of my knowledge), take them off and go, but I suspect that I'd get the fish-eyed stare at the local Orthodox minyan just for showing up--they're probably not used to having women present at weekday services, and may not even have a mechitzah set up on weekdays. Yep, a fish-eyed stare for a fish out of water. Sigh.

On the plus side, we've finally gotten something going at work--we had a portable mechitzah set up in the Bet Midrash (house of study, usually a room used for study and prayer--some might call it a chapel) at the late minchah (Afternoon Service) on Taanit Esther (the Fast of Esther) and today for Rosh Chodesh ("New Moon," literally Head of Month--first day of a new month on the Jewish calendar). Neat! If I davven at breakneck speed, I can finish the Amidah just about in time for the repetition, so I can say K'dushah, not to mention the "2nd Modim" and two kaddishes. Now, all I have to do is to figure out whether I'm supposed to substitute "Sim Shalom" for "Shalom Rav" at minchah on Rosh Chodesh, as the baal tefillah did today, or whether that's done only in Nusach S'fard.

(Update: It's "Shalom Rav" in the ArtScroll Nusach Ashkenaz siddur, "Sim Shalom" at all weekday Mincha services in the Artscroll Nusach S'fard siddur. We women have to davven with the S'fard minyan because there's no room in the crammed-in-like-sardines Ashkenaz minyan for a mechitzah).

Speaking of minyanim . . .

Mark/PT's & Aidel Maidel's new "Jewish dictionary" blog

See here. This'll help non-yeshiva grads like me. Hat-tip: Well, duh. :) Thanks to Mark/PT and Aidel Maidel for all their hard work.

Setting the Shabbos Table, by Robert Avrech

A real beauty.

(Hat-tip to Rafi G of Life in Israel--I found this link in his huge double-issue Havel Havalim post round-up.)

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sign on shop door: Gone dancin' :)

I left the poor Punster, CPA, facing piles of tax returns, and made my way, gingerly, over the three inches of snow at every street corner to go to a concert at Makor because the Moshav Band was in town. I've wanted to see them ever since I bought their "The Best of Moshav Band: Higher and Higher" album, which gave me pause during last summer's war in Israel. I also wanted to give the opening band, Heedoosh, a second chance after last year's mix-up.

For the benefit of those within hailing distance of Manhattan, the scene at Makor on Saturday night is totally different than during the week. In the interest of cramming in as many people as possible, almost all the tables and chairs are removed from the room--this, I remembered from our previous Saturday-night outing there--so I wore a jeans skirt, just in case I wanted to join the mixed (no mechitzah) multitude sitting on the floor. (Next time, I'm cheating and bringing my own water bottle--I spent 10 minutes of the intermission just trying unsuccessfully to get a drink! It would probably help if they had more help behind the bar.) You should also be aware that Makor is even more of a young and/or singles scene on a Saturday night that on a weeknight, if that's possible. :) It goes without saying that I was one of the only two people above forty in the room, as far as I could see. But don't let that stop you--Makor gets some really good musicians.
I'm guessing that the residential-street location has started to create problems in the performance space--the lead singer of Heedoosh announced that, much to the band's surprise, they'd been asked to perform without a full drum set. The drummer played mostly a knee-held bongo, plus a small snare drum (with drumsticks with some kind of padding on the ends) and a half-sized cymbal.
Heedoosh was delightful, a bit off-beat, and eminently "danceable" if anyone else had been dancing at the time. Unfortunately, the room was so crowded that I couldn't get my usual spot in the back for discrete rocking out, so, being up front, I tried to semi-behave myself. Too bad they didn't bring any CDs to sell--I certainly would have bought one.
The Moshav Band was a bit better prepared for the circumstances, as lead singer Yehuda announced that this stop was part of an acoustic tour. 'Course, the term "acoustic" is a bit elastic, these days--the acoustic guitar and the violin were both amplified, and the bass was electric, not "stand-up" (orchestral, whatever). But the only drum was the bongo that Yehuda kept shifting from between his knees to tucked in one elbow.
Okay, enough technicalities. Nu, the performance, already? In a word, wow! They started off with havdalah (over a bottle of beer, two candles held together, and what appeared to be an herbal teabag used for v'samim [spices]), then dove right into their "Eliyahu HaNavi." They played songs that I know from the "Best of" CD (including "Come Back," which I love, "Don't Give Up," and "Heart is Open"), and a number of songs that I'd never heard before, as well. Things got particularly lively after a young fellow with a colorful Bukharan kippah on his head rudely pushed his way all the way to the front of the room. I was quite annoyed until I realized why he'd done that--he was one of those "mosh pit" specialists who likes dancing "for the house." Well, I'll say this for exhibitionists--they sure do break the ice. Within minutes, he was joined by a young lady, then the dancers broke up into men's and women's groups. (The dancing wasn't exactly modest, but there was no touching between the sexes.) It got to be quite a fun scene, especially during the middle-eastern-style songs, with all the women (includin' yours truly, in the middle of the audience) snaking their arms. At one point, the band had to catch up with the audience, which kept singing after the alleged end of a song. :)
Moshav Band's music is an interesting mix of Hebrew, English, and the occasional Arabic, religious, personal, and political (of the liberal variety). If Yehuda Solomon ever gets tired of traveling, he's got a wonderful cantorial voice. All of the band members are top notch, so much so that I'm embarrassed to say that it didn't even register with me until after the concert that the mandolin parts were being played by a violinist. (Apparently, Meir Solomon is no longer a regular member of the band, though there's still another Solomon brother, Yosef, playing bass.) And they're a fine group of songwriters, as well--all but two of the thirteen songs on their latest album, which I bought after the show, including the title song, "Misplaced" (about illegal aliens), were written by members of the band. I love this group!
Here's a bonus question for folks in the know. There's Yehuda Solomon, Yosef Solomon, Meir Solomon, Soul Farm band's lead singer/acoustic guitarist/percussionist Noah Solomon Chase, and the daddy of them all, Ben Zion Solomon, guitarist, banjo player, fiddler and singer (formerly of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band). So nu, is the "daddy of them all" quite literally their dad? Um, never mind.
Run, do not walk, and buy at least one Moshav Band CD. Even if you get upset by "lefty" music, there are plenty of other good songs to enjoy.
And give Heedoosh a good hearing. I think we'll be hearing more from them.

Friday, March 16, 2007

I'm dreaming of a white Pesach

Snow, snow, go away
Don't want you at all today
Sidewalk slick makes walker sway
How I wish that it were May

It would not be our first seder with snow
As Northern folks undoubtedly know
People are sometimes sad in a cold clime
When they see no sun for days at a time

On the other hand, here are children having a snowball fight
Perhaps snow has a purpose--our kids' delight

Aish u-varad, sheleg v'kitor, ruach s'arah osah d'varo*
Maybe 'tis for our "guarantors"** that Hashem in heaven gives us snow

*From Psalm 148: "Fire and hail, snow and vapor, stormy wind does/makes/acts/fulfils (in accordance with) His word."
**From a midrash (rabbinical interpretive story) saying that our ancestors promised Hashem that their children would be guarantors of their loyalty. Or something to that effect. Could my more learned readers post the midrash in the comments, please?


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mystery of the Missing Purim Munchies solved

What's this bag doing in the vegetable crisper? What's in it? Holy Moses, it's the missing hamantaschen! Hey Punster, better hurry up and eat that chocolate hamantasch before I lose it again. :)

When is a modest skirt immodest?

Here's a comment that was posted to one of my dances on YouTube on Monday:

"AdamAus85 (1 day ago)
Okay the dancing makes me blush, lol, but good on you for your efforts. "

Nice try, Shira. Here you actually changed the choreography to make this dance more modest. A gornisht helfen (it didn’t help).

Here’s the funny part, folks—if you watch closely, you’ll see that it isn’t my hips swiveling, it’s my skirt. If I’d done the same move in pants, I don't think that it would have been of any, um, particular interest to a guy.

Bonus points go to everyone who guessed that the other time that a modest skirt isn’t modest is when a little girl is hanging upside by her knees from the play equipment. And you wonder why Orthodox parents complain about rabbis and/or yeshivot and/or community minhag (custom) forcing them to put their young daughters in skirts (see the comments to this post).

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Look first, toss later :(

Imagine my surprise when I went to look for the leftover hamantaschen for a Shabbos pig-out and couldn't find them. Apparently, I threw out the bag in a fit of cleaning without noticing that there was still something in it. My apologies to the hubster--I was saving the last chocolate hamantasch for him, and it ended up in the trash. Sniff. Sorry.

Update Thursday night, March 15, 2007--good(ies) news!

Reckless endangerment, part two

See part one here.

About a month ago, I left the office at the end of the day and found an Orthodox co-worker standing outside the building smoking. So I started my standard lecture about “cancer sticks.” (I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that our son was brainwashed against smoking by constant reminders that his father’s father had died of lung cancer from cigarettes.) Much to my surprise, my co-worker wasn’t the least bit phased by my lecture. So I tried the Jewish angle: “u-shmartem et nafshoteichem, guard your souls” (I don’t know what I’m quoting—please enlighten me), “u-vachartem bachaim, choose life” (Devarim/Deuteronomy somewhere, I think—again, kindly enlighten me). At this, she went on the attack, pointing out that a relative of hers who’d smoked had lived to a ripe old age, and that it was up to G-d to decide how long a person was going to live.

This conversation has been bothering me ever since, and reading about all the drinking and smoking going on on Purim only upset me more.

Since when is it mutar/permissible for a Jew to abdicate responsibility for her/his own health?

Kaput computer kvetch

Who knew?

Seriously, who knew that the computer we bought for our son when he was planning to major in computer engineering technology would not have sufficient number-crunching ability to handle his switch to physics? At least my sister got a reasonably-new (two-year-old) computer out of that mistake.

But who knew that leaving a laptop turned on and working on physics problems for hours at a time would create such serious heat-dissipation problems that we would have to purchase a new computer for the Son-ster less than four months before his graduation? He learned, at our expense, that physicists can’t use laptops for serious number-crunching, and/or whatever (else) physicists do. They need the larger surface of a separate CPU to dissipate the heat thus generated.

A word to the wise for physicists, physics students, future physics students and/or their parents: A physicist needs a really good desktop computer, designed for serious number-crunching and for being left on and working for hours at a time, to do the actual work, and, optimally, a cheap laptop to carry the finished work around and make any last-minute changes.

Silver lining: The Son-ster and a bunch of geek friends from his college will be constructing a homemade computer for him out of standard components. And he's kicking in a few hundred dollars of his earnings from his on-campus job. So the new computer will cost a lot less than we would have expected to pay.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Out of sight, out of mind

Ah, Jewish prayer. Let's start from the beginning.

Our G-d

The grammatical structure of the Hebrew language creates a problem with "G-d language." Hebrew has no neuter. (Even the Hebrew word for parent is a masculine noun.) So it's either G-d Himself or G-d Herself. There's no Oneself.

Intellectually, it works, but on an emotional level, my personal feeling is that, once you start calling G-d "He" one minute and "She" the next, well, it just doesn't sound as if you're talking about the same Being, which is a bit of a problem for a monotheistic religion. So "B'ruchah, Aht," the feminine form of "Baruch Atah," (Praised are You), just doesn't feel right to me.

B'ruchah Aht, Shechina, Praised are You, Hashem's Spirit (or however one translates Shechina, a feminine noun) doesn't feel right, either—unless there's something in the Kabbalistic (Jewish mystical) tradition of which I'm unaware, we Jews are not in the habit of praying to G-d's Spirit separately.

Our Ancestors

Here's a quote from page 298 of Entering Jewish Prayer, by Reuven Hammer (reviewed here):

"Suggestions have been made that there be more feminine references in the prayers through the inclusion of the mothers along with the fathers. In some cases this is not a radical change, but in others, such as the opening section of the Amida, it is. Here the objection is twofold: first, that the line is a specific quotation from the Bible. When God reveals Himself to Moses at the burning bush, He says, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exod. 3:6). The mothers do not appear in any such quotation. The second theological objection is that God "chose" the fathers specifically, granting them a unique blessing, which was passed from father to son, but not the mothers, so that the factual basis for mentioning them is lacking. To include them in that context requires a rewriting of sacred history. The problem is not one of how we view the role of women and their place in current Jewish practice, but one of preserving the integrity of a historical tradition. This problem is not easy to solve, but it is important that we be aware of it and develop sensitivity to it."

So since Hashem, as portrayed in the Tanach/Bible, did not mention our Mothers when He introduced Himself to Moshe, and did not "choose" them, (gee thanks, G-d), we're not allowed to honor them, either? My apologies to the author, but I'm not impressed with his "sensitivity."


"Ashrei ish sheh-yishma l'mitzvotecha," Happy is the man who hears Your commandments." This is a quote from part of the blessing after the Sh'ma that's said shortly before the Amidah in the Shacharit (Morning) service. Since there is no footnote to that sentence in the ArtScroll siddur (prayer book), I assume that that sentence was written by the rabbis (whoever "the rabbis" are, in this case). How fascinating. Ya know, instead of the word "ish," they could have chosen the word "adam," which is as close to the word "human" or "person" as Hebrew gets, to the best of my knowledge. But no, they just had to pick one of the Hebrew words that means "man," thereby forcing those of us who don't fit that description to reinterpret. As usual. [Grumble.]

Our "clothing"

I put that word in quotes because some say that, since the hand tefilla is described as an "ot" (rhymes with "oat"), a sign, and the head tefilla is described as "totafot”—I 'm not sure anyone really knows what "totafot" means—tefillin are not garments.

A tallit (prayer shawl), on the other hand, most certainly is a garment, and is described as such in the Sh'ma.

So let me get this straight: When the rabbis of the Talmudic era were compiling the basics of the siddur, they chose, as perhaps the most important quotations in the entire prayer book, three paragraphs two of which refer to "garments" for which, even in Talmudic times, there were discussions about whether women should wear them or not. How many women do you know who bind tefillin as a sign upon their hand and use them as "totafot" between their eyes? And when the Sh'ma tells us to look at the fringe in order to remember and perform Hashem's commandments, what are we women supposed to look at? My half of the Jewish people has to take half of the Sh'ma, arguably the most important Biblical quote in the entire siddur, metaphorically.

Our "privilege"

Courtesy of an anonymous commenter to this post :

"The beracha women recite, "she-asani kirtzono" ["who has made me in accordance with His will"] is nearly a thousand years newer than the other berachot, which date to the 3rd or 4th century. "

According to my anonymous commenter, the beracha/brachah/blessing that men recite, "she-lo asani isha" ["who has not made me a woman"], is a thousand years older than the corresponding brachah for women. Exactly what brachah were women expected to recite in the intervening thousand years?

Or did it take a thousand years for it to occur to any liturgy-writing rabbi that we women might actually wish to use a prayer book?


For lack of an alternative, I've come to the conclusion that, much as I love the siddur and davvening (the prayer book and praying), fundamentally, the siddur was written by men for men. We women are just the folks behind the mechitza, or home taking care of the kids, literally out of sight and out of mind. To quote (to the best of my recollection) a rabbi interviewed in Tamar Ross's Expanding the Palace of Torah (reviewed here), "Women are guests in the synagogue. They are welcome guests, but they're guests." Given the structure of the siddur, we hardly need to be reminded.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Stern Gang :)

Yeshiva University's Stern College for Women has attracted some fine writers, a fact to which we Jewish bloggers can attest. If any of you have not yet become acquainted with "The Stern Gang" (yep, I made it up in a comment on DovBear's blog a few months ago), I recommend that you do so. Meet Fudge and Chana (the Curious Jew).

While you're at it, I'm happy that Ezzie "introduced" me to SJ so that I can introduce her to you. She seems to be a student at an unidentified college in New York City, and she and Chana recently spent a Shabbat at the Serandez home.

I would call Fudge the elder stateswoman of this group, were it not for a recent post of hers. Speaking as someone who's always considered herself immature for her age, I found it quite interesting to read about the challenges that come with the opposite experience. It isn't every day that one finds oneself a guest at a Bat Mitzvah celebration at which one is one year younger than, and two grades ahead of, the Bat Mitzvah girl.

But don't go away thinking that Fudge writes only serious stuff, or you'll be missing half the fun. Stick around long enough to read about why she describes herself as "pronuclear." Then, of course, there's her recent post about the joys of dorm life. Oy.

Chana has three recent posts that are well worth reading. She writes quite movingly about a person with a disability who gave her the ability to think twice about prejudging people. She also writes about hot chocolate spills and stuck-in-an-elevator thrills. There's also this thought-provoking piece about religion being far more than ritual.

SJ has a few words to say about tolerance among Jews. She also tells us about her trip to London. And here's her poetic look at a rainy day.
So what are you waiting for? Click on the links for some good reading.

Reckless endangerment on Purim

Out-Of-Control Alcohol
More on Purim Drinking
Drunken Bnei Torah
Purim and The Search for Yossi - Part 1
Purim, and The Search for Yossi - Part 2

Read one, a few, all. I'm sure there are others.

One of my co-workers told me a dreadful story. She was invited to a Seudat Purim (festive Purim meal), and witnessed parents trying to deal with their drunken son.

In discussing the situation, she mentioned that the boy had been drinking at the home of his rebbe (teacher in a yeshiva [in this context]).

And she was particularly upset because he was only 15 1/2 years old.


To say that I was both shocked and livid is a radical understatement.

Let me get this straight: This underage boy's own teacher not only served his students alcoholic beverages, but served enough to get his students drunk?!

What kind of irresponsible person would do such a thing? And why do parents allow it?

Seriously, is it obligatory to drink at all on Purim, much less to drink enough that one can't distinguish between Haman the villain and Mordechai the hero? Whatever happened to the concepts of guarding one's soul ("u-sh'martem et nafshotechem"--quote approximate, [from Devarim/Deuteronomy?]) and choosing life ("u-varchartem bachayim" [ from Devarim/Deuteronomy?]). Don't people understand that overconsumption of alcohol can kill?

Why should my young single female
colleague have to go two blocks out of her way to walk to a Purim Seudah because she can't trust the behavior of the drunken men in the street? Why isn't it perfectly obvious that such behavior is a chillul haShem, a desecration of G-d's name?

Why should getting plastered
on Purim be considered a good thing?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Esther played the "sex" card???!!!

As long as Jameel is still slaving away (or currently sleeping away) on the J-Blog Purim Podcast, I might as well stay up another minute or two and link you to West Bank Mama's fascinating, and rather risqué, take on the Purim story. I've been reading Megillat Ester/the Scroll ("Book") of Esther as an adult for over 30 years, and I never thought of that. Here I thought it was all politics. You go, West Bank gal!

Sunday update: Well, how do you like that? I happened to be glancing quickly at the commentary in the ArtScroll Megillat Ester (Scroll ["Book"] of Esther) during this morning's reading, and look what I saw on page 85: "she was purposely showing a great interest in Haman to arouse the King's jealousy and to disarm Haman." Apparently, the interpretation that Esther was "playing the 'sex' card" is not original to West Bank Mama. Nevertheless, I thank her for bringing this idea to my attention. Zeesh, I'm 58 years old and have spent my entire life in Conservative synagogues, and I've never heard this one. How come the frummies get all the racy stuff? :) :) :)

On the other hand, check out this notion, which also never occurred to me until WBM mentioned it: "As a child I assumed that of course Achashverosh would take Esther’s side at this point. She is his wife after all. But as an adult, I see that this is by no means a given. Achashverosh, in a drunken state, had previously had his wife killed just because she refused him one request. In this case, Esther is asking him to take her side against a powerful, and rich, advisor." So that's why Achaverosh, in his usual drunken stupor, goes out to the garden, leaving Esther semi-alone with the guy who had plotted to kill her entire people: He needed to decide which one of them he was going to banish or hang. Did Esther pull some interesting maneuver to ensure that the king would find Haman fallen on her couch when he returned from the garden? This is way past politics. Esther's even more gutsy that I'd thought. Until Achaverosh condemned Haman, Esther had no idea whether even she would escape with her life, much less all the Jews of the Persian empire.

"V’rachamav al kol maasav,” including Amalekim?

". . . v’rachamav al kol maasav,”. . .and His mercy is upon all His works (?) (Psalm 145 [“Ashrei”], verse 9)

Apologetics, courtesy of Conservadox. I thought this was a pretty decent explanation, until it occurred to me that the attack* being avenged** had taken place literally centuries before. For that matter, was all the slaughter mentioned in Megillat Ester really necessary?

Non-apologetics, courtesy of ex-Gadol Hador/XGH at Existential Angst.

Bottom line.

And we end up right back where we started: "HaShofet kol ha-aretz lo oseh tzedek, Will the Judge of all the earth not do justice?"***

See Sh'mot B'shalach/Exodus chapter 17, verses 8-16.
** See D'varim Ki Tetze/Deuteronomy chapter 25, verses 17-19.
*** See B'reishit Vayera/Genesis chapter 18, verse 25.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Final Purim links from last year

A Purim kvetch.

On the other hand, I'm counting my blessings.

Purim sameach.

Post-first-Megillah-reading update: Woops, forget to link to this pre-Purim shiur (study session) at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School.

Purim link fest

I posted this last year in honor of our first seudat Purim. It took me a couple of hours or so, and I didn't get a single comment. [Pout.] Now you know why I'll never do a Havel Havalim links round-up (see drop-down menu on the linked blog). But you might as well enjoy the links from last year, even though I still probably won't get any comments. [Double pout.]

Purim sameach--Happy Purim.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Purim rerun

I posted this last year around Purim time, and I still like it. Hope you do, too.
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