Thursday, July 12, 2007

Ignorance isn't bliss, it's embarrassing

I clicked on my sidebar’s link to "Haveil Havalim, current post," and ended up at this post (thanks, Malachi!), which sent me to this post. Sigh. I’m not even a baalot t’shuvah (“returnee” to Orthodox Judaism), and I’ve run into some similar embarrassing situations, myself. Oy, can I tell you stories . . .

Baruch Elokeinu sheh-b'raanu li-ch'vodo (repeat three times)
[Blessed is He, our G-d, Who created us for His glory (repeat three times)
For His glory]

Od ha-paam, od ha-paam, li-ch'vodo (repeat twice)
Od ha-paam, li-ch'vodo, li-ch'vodo
[Repeat, again, "for His glory" (repeat twice)
Repeat, again, "for His glory," "for His glory"]

[I think "od ha-paam" can mean either "repeat" or "again."]

V'hivdilanu min ha-toim (repeat three times)
Min ha-toim
[And separated us from those who stray]

Od ha-paam, od ha-paam, min ha-toim (repeat twice)
Od ha-paam, min ha-toim, min ha-toim
[Repeat, again, "from those who stray"]

V'natan lanu Torat emet (repeat three times)
Torat emet
[And gave us the Torah/law of truth]

Od ha-paam, od ha-paam, Torat emet (repeat twice)
Od ha-paam, Torat emet, Torat emet
[Repeat, again, "Torah/law of truth"]

V'chayei olam nata b'tocheinu (repeat three times)
[And life eternal planted within us]

Od ha-paam, od ha-paam, b'tocheinu (repeat twice)
Od ha-paam b'tocheinu, b'tocheinu
[Repeat, again, "within us"]

Every summer for something like a decade, my mother worked as a counselor at the local Jewish day camp in return for tuition for the four of us. So there I was, among the campers singing Hebrew songs, when I got carried away by the spirit of the moment and started singing this beauty at the top of my lungs:

V'natan lanu et ha-Shabbat (repeat three times)
Et ha-Shabbat
[And gave us the Sabbath]

Od ha-paam, od ha-paam, et ha-Shabbat (repeat twice)
Od ha-paam, et ha-Shabbat, et ha-Shabbat
[Repeat, again, "the Sabbath"]

Dead silence from the counselors.

I knew that I'd done something that wasn't done, but no one said a word, and I was afraid to ask.

It was roughly another forty years before I understood: I'd been under the impression that what we were singing was just an ordinary Hebrew song, when, in fact, those lyrics are taken from the siddur (prayer book)--and since I didn't know that prayer at that time, I had no idea that I was adding words that weren't part of the prayer. The words that come immediately after the lyrics of that song are "Hu yiftach libeinu b'Torato, May He open our heart to His Torah." There's no mention of Shabbat (Sabbath) in that particular prayer, which is recited daily.

Over forty years after the fact, I'm still mortified to realize that, by adding that verse, I'd made it clear to every counselor present that I was ignorant of Jewish prayer. It's to their credit that they chose not to embarrass me by telling me just how stupid I'd made myself look.

Then there was the time that we invited a High Holiday cantor and his wife to lunch at our humble abode on Rosh HaShanah. Imagine how I felt when the cantor's wife complained that my very elegant and none-too-cheap dairy meal was just, well, "It's traditional to have a meat meal." My immediate reaction was to be thoroughly insulted. What an ingrate! (It probably didn't help that that was not the first time a guest had complained that the food I was serving wasn't good enough for her.) I've learned a few things since then. Apparently, it is traditional in some circles to make it a point to serve a meat meal on Sabbaths and holidays. But still, is it that great a breach of tradition to serve smoked salmon and kosher brie (neither of which is either cheap or easy to get in our non-Jewish neighborhood) that it was worth insulting the hostess? And how did she know that we weren't one of those families that had simplified our kashrut observance by having a dairy-only kitchen? If she wished to explain the tradition to me, why didn't she take me aside and explain privately, rather than embarrassing me in front of both of our husbands and my friend and friends?

Still, I would never serve a clergy-person and/or spouse a dairy meal on a Shabbat or Yom Tov again, lest I risk having to deal with that kind of disdain. I'd clean out one of the glatt kosher take-out places (lest there be a question about whether our kitchen is kosher enough) and put at least one dish, double-wrapped, on the hot tray (lest, heaven forbid, we be accused of being Tzadokim because we'd served only cold food.) Sigh.


Blogger Ezzie said...

If it makes you feel better, a lot of frum people don't know where most of what they're singing comes from anyway.

Avraham Fried has a popular song "Chazak" which in the Navi is about people strengthening each other to serve idols. (He actually knows this, and explains that they're using it the way one of the meforshim does, to be fair.) But it's still funny.

Thu Jul 12, 09:45:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So it's not just because I'm an am haaretz/Jewishly-illiterate Jew? Okay, that does make me feel a bit better.

The good news is that the lyrics to a lot of divrei-kodesh-(sacred-text)-based music do sound familiar to me now. Sometimes it takes a while for me to track down the words in the siddur or machzor (regular or holiday prayer book), Tanach (Bible), or Pirkei Avot (Sayings [Ethics] of the Fathers), but I'm pleased to see how often I succeed. And sometimes, when I'm stumped, I ask other folks, and learn something new, which is neat.

Why on earth would anyone want to use as lyrics a quote encouraging people to serve idols? What do the meforshim (commentators?) do with this text, that Fried thinks it's okay to write a song using such a quote?

Fri Jul 13, 04:13:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Jack Steiner said...

If it makes you feel better, a lot of frum people don't know where most of what they're singing comes from anyway.


I am wondering how many frum people question what they say/sing/daven etc.

That is not to suggest that they are all automatons, but...

Fri Jul 13, 05:28:00 PM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Concerning people questioning what they're davvening, Jack, I have two responses.

First, I've found, personally, that, now that I'm at least trying to pray three times a day, there is certainly the temptation to davven on auto-pilot. If my personal experience is any indication, davvening (praying) with kavvanah (focus, intent) can be become more difficult as prayer becomes more routine.

Second, singing can also help some davveners get around some problems. I heard it said once, by an Orthodox Jew, that it's easier to sing the prayers in Hebrew, because when s/he actually started thinking about the meaning of the words, they became problematic.

Sat Jul 14, 10:10:00 PM 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a major league carnivore, and Shabbos and Yom Tov just aren't Shabbos and Yom Tov for me without meat - except for one token milchig meal on Shavous lunch. I'm not looking forward to this coming meatless week, let me tell you!

But I would eat (shudder! gaaag!) tofu rather than insult a hostess. What a boor that woman was.

Mon Jul 16, 10:12:00 AM 2007  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Elie, thanks for the kind words. It's nice to know that derech eretz/common courtesy is still alive and well, and that folks like my thoughtless guest are the exception.

I'll remember to spare you the tofu. :)

Mon Jul 16, 05:37:00 PM 2007  

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