Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Shir HaShirim illustrates Orthodox divide re dating

I almost forgot to post this thought that occurred to me during the reading of Shir HaShirim (the Song of Songs) in synagogue this past Saturday. (It's traditional to read Shir HaShirim in synagogue during Pesach/Passover.)

Note: I'm using the JPS translation.

Chapter 3, verses 2-3:

"' . . . I must seek the one I love.
I sought but found him not.
I met the watchmen
Who patrol the town.
'Have you seen the one I love?'"

This describes the Modern Orthodox and some of the more left-wing Centrists. Those seeking mates must seek them without much assistance. But there's not much interference, either, though there’s plenty of pressure to get married, I imagine.

Chapter 5, verses 6-7:

"I sought, but found him not;
I called, but he did not answer.
I met the watchmen
Who patrol the town;
They stuck me, they bruised me.
The guards of the walls
Stripped me of my mantle."

This describes the Yeshivish and Chareidi, and some of the more right-wing Centrists. It's "pas nisht"( it isn't done), among most folks in this segment of the Orthodox community, for a person to seek a mate independently. Everyone, male and female, must go through the shidduch (matchmaking) system. Every date must be "redt." I'm not sure of the exactly translation of that Yiddish word, but, I gather, judging by the way it's used, that it means "checked and approved as an appropriate person to date, meeting your requirements for a potential spouse." (Nobody in that world dates just for fun.) In that segment of the Orthodox community, it's considered scandalous for an individual to so much as speak to a person of the opposite sex who's not known to be a member of the speaker’s family, unless such a conversation is necessary. The watchmen/shadchanim (matchmakers) "patrol the town." (An extreme and irresponsible minority within the Chareidi community who, apparently, consider themselves “guards of the walls” between males and females, has even been known to strike women who have the unmitigated chutzpah/gall to sit in the wrong place on buses in some neighborhoods in Israel, stripping them of their mantles of dignity.)

I find it interesting that a poem written roughly 2,000 years ago so nicely illustrates certain aspects of the current Orthodox community.


Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Neither here nor there

. . . or, as they say in Yiddish, nishteh hér und nishteh hén.

Incident # 1:

Recently, I asked an old friend when her musician husband was giving another concert. She reminded me that he’d just given one that past Saturday night. I said that I would have liked to attend, but the concert had started at 8 PM, and, with Shabbat/Sabbath ending so late at this time of year, I wouldn’t have been able to get there on time from where I live. She replied, “Oh, I forgot you’re frummer than I am.”

Did I mention that this particular friend is a former Jewish-day-school Jewish-studies teacher, and was our son’s Jewish-studies tutor for several years when he was in junior high and high school? Truth to tell, I was a bit floored by her statement. It would never have occurred to me that I might be “frummer” (more observant) than such a person.

Incident # 2:

We went to the home of a very old friend of ours for the first seder. I noticed that, when she was leading the prayers that follow Hallel after dinner, she was reading rather haltingly, with the occasion error, as if she didn’t know the words that well.

Did I mention that this particular friend is much better educated Jewishly than I, and was my role model for many years?

I told my husband that, of late, I find that I’m becoming more observant than friends who are much more knowledgeable than I am. (You might say that they’re quoting Talmud and I’m quoting tefillah [prayer]). It’s an odd sensation.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. After all, toward the end of my membership in my former synagogue (dual-affiliated Reconstructionist/Conservative), I was among the few congregants who prayed using the Birnbaum siddur (an Orthodox prayer book). I was also, to the best of my recollection, the only congregant who pointed out kashrut problems in the synagogue kitchen to our rabbi, and the one who proposed to my fellow and sister Ritual Committee members that the synagogue hire a mashgiach/kashrut supervisor (a suggestion that was roundly ignored.)

I think one of the things that attracts me to the Modern Orthodox community is the sense that I wouldn’t be quite so “out there” (conspicuous, unusual, whatever) in my observance. It’s a bit awkward, explaining to the folks at Ansche Chesed that, while I’ll trust their kashrut (“kosherness,” for lack of a better translation) in their own homes, I hold synagogue kitchens to a higher standard, and won’t eat “potluck” food in any shul unless the food is packaged (with a hechsher/symbol indicating that it’s kosher), not homemade. (See here. I think that a synagogue of any denomination should keep a kitchen kosher enough that any Jew—or, at least, any Jew not so right-wing that he/she wouldn’t set foot in a non-Orthodox shul—would feel comfortable enough with the kashrut level to eat there.) As for my current local synagogue, it’s awkward, being one of the few congregants I know there who prays three times a day. I find myself in the rather strange position of being both one of the most religiously-radical members of my local synagogue and one of the most observant, particularly among congregants in the 50-70 age range (see my “Little House on the Prairie” family of posts).

I do have one Conservative friend who observes taharat hamishpachah/family purity laws and "tovels"/ritually cleans her new dishes. (She's the only Conservative non-rabbi or non-rebbitzen/rabbanit/rabbi's wife whom I know who observes either law.) But I’m more observant, in some ways, if not all, than many, if not most, Conservative Jewish friends of mine, even the better-educated and/or more studious ones. Still, I’m not yet as strict or as consistent in my observance as Orthodox Jews are. So where do I fit in the Jewish community, anyway?

Monday, April 28, 2008

If there's no buy-back, may we eat our sold chametz?

I originally posted this question in the comments to my own post here, but I think it's a sufficiently serious question to warrant its own post.

Shira Salamone said...
I heard of a situation in which a rabbi who had acted as agent for the sale of chametz somehow never got around to buying it back. (His congregants didn't find out about this until years later.) Is the sale halachically valid if the agent fails to buy back the chametz?
Sun Apr 27, 11:36:00 PM 2008

In my am-haaretzdik/Jewishly-undereducated opinion, this is a classic case of a michshol (stumbling block) placed before the "blind" (a person who might not know better). We trust those through whose agency we sell our chametz to buy it back as soon as possible so that it becomes permissible for our consumption and/or other use. If they don't do so, does that cause us to sin unknowingly?

My response to Jack's "30-Something Grandmothers"

See here.

I have my not-so-humble opinions about the current state of affairs including affairs among the very young that result in childbirth: I think it's child neglect for a baby to be raised by a parent under the age of 18. If that makes me politically incorrect, so be it. In my opinion, the whole point of child welfare laws should be to protect children, not their parents. A person who's too young to be able to raise a child properly shouldn't be allowed to raise one. We don't let 15-year-olds drive, vote, or drink. Why should we let them raise children?

The cynic speaks: Why does the law allow children to raise children? Answer: Money. If the government (local, state/provincial, and/or national) takes custody of a child, the government is financially responsible for that child. Insisting that all children born to parents under the age of 18 be turned over to the government to be raised in an orphanage and/or by foster parents until, one would hope, adoption, would cost Joe and/or Jane Taxpayer a fortune. We leave the responsibility to the parent(s) because we refuse to pay for it ourselves--even though it's innocent kids who suffer the consequences.

Yaaleh V'Yavo: A prayer that moves, literally

I would happily give credit b'shem chazzani, in the name of my cantor, but I don't dare name him lest I risk losing what's left of my anonymity. So let me just tell you the story:

Why, I asked him, does the Yaaleh V’Yavo prayer, which we recite on Shalosh R’galim/Pilgrimage Festivals, Chol HaMoed (intermediate days of Shalosh R’galim, when some work activities are permitted), and Rosh Chodesh (roughly. the first day of a month) appear in different places in the Amidah prayer in different services? On Rosh Chodesh and during Chol HaMoed, it appears in the brachah/blessing that ends “ha-machazir sh’chinato l’Tzion (. . . who restores His Presence/Spirit to Zion”), but on the non-working days of the Shalosh R’galim, it appears in the brachah that ends “m’kadesh [haShabbat v’] Yisrael v’ha-z’manim (. . . who sanctifies [the Sabbath and] Israel [meaning the descendants of the Patriarch Isaac/Israel] and the seasons).

My chazzan said that, during the first and last days (the non-working days) of the Shalosh R’galim, Yaalev V'Yavo is an integral part of the prayers specific to those days, and therefore, is included in the blessing that’s specific to those days. It is not, however, an integral part of the petitionary brachot recited only on weekdays (from chonen ha-daat [roughly, thanks for giving us knowledge) through sh’ma koleinu [“hear our voice”]), and so it had to be placed in a brachah that comes after sh’ma koleinu.

Ah-hah! Thanks, Cantor!

So that’s why I have to be so careful not to forget to say Yaaleh V'Yavo on Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed—since I learned the Amidah for the Shalosh R’galim first, I literally don’t expect to find Yaaleh V'Yavo in the place in the Amidah in which it’s recited on Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed! The only trick I’ve found is that, when I get to the beginning of the brachah that starts “r’tzei” and ends “ha-machazir sh’chinato l’Tzion,” I must literally cover the end of the brachah with my hand so that I don’t accidentally skip Yaaleh V’Yavo, which is in the middle.

(Link>)"Dagwood" sandwich generation: Re longevity

I have a shiva call to pay--a friend's grandparent just passed away. The grandparent was over 100 years old. My friend was responsible for both his/her grandparents and her/his parents, and still has a child in school.

No one talks about the drawbacks of increasing longevity, do they? What are we going to do as more and more people live to such an age that some adult children find themselves taking care of not two, but three generations at the same time?

Sefirat HaOmer: Why no brachah during the day?

This is my understanding of how one counts the Omer, according to halachah/Jewish religious law:

One is supposed to do Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer, at night. (Sefirat HaOmer appears before Aleinu in the Arvit/Maariv/Evening Service). However, if one forgets to count the Omer at night, one is permitted to count it at any time before sundown the next day. But those who do the count during the day are supposed to count without making the brachah/blessing first. They are permitted to recite the brachah the next time they count at night, provided that they haven't forgotten to count, by night or day, any day of the Omer--once one misses a day's count, one must continue counting without making the blessing.

Question: Why is one not supposed to say the brachah if one does Sefirat HaOmer during the day? Is one not still fulfilling the mitzvah?

My rabbi said that, while one may fulfill the mitzvah during the day, the count is really supposed to be done at night, and that's why one doesn't say the brachah when counting during the day.

Any other opinions, explanations, etc?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Chol HaMoed Pesach posts, 2008 (see photos!)

Here's a little something in honor of Chag HaAviv, the Festival of Spring.

Reminder: Friday [until sundown] is the fifth day of the Omer.

*She's* your daughter?!!!"

One of the fine folks I hang out with at Tamar's Thursday night Israeli folk dance session at the JCC in Manhattan is a friendly soul and a bit of a kook, which makes her just my kind. (Why else would I have married a punster?) She's also a hard-core folk dancer. She goes folk dancing when her foot hurts, when her back hurts, when she's exhausted from work. She even goes folk dancing when she has other things to do.

"I gave up my daughter's concert tonight for this. She's playing at Joe's Pub in the Village."

"What does she play?"

"She's a singer."

"Oh, neat."

"She's also [plays a couple chords of "air guitar"]."

"Oh, so she's a singer and a guitarist."

"Yeah, she also plays the oud."


"You know her. Pharoah's Daughter."

"She's your daughter?!!!"

So lemme get this straight--I've been hanging out for something like a year with Basya Schechter's mother?!

She's threatening to stop coming to Tamar's session because they do too many couples dances, which she's not crazy about. I certainly hope she doesn't carry out her threat, because we enjoy each other's senses of humor.

In between dances, I tell her, "My son's a physicist, your daughter's a singer. We folk dancers really know how to pop 'em out."

She cracks up.

Flowers where? Greeley Square

Cars zoom by without a care

People eat their lunch out there

Flowers and shades make quite a pair

Statues sit and nobly stare

Avian guardians watch from air

Looking north to Herald Square

Here's a gardening mystery

Why is a daffodil always turned toward me?
Is it possible for a seed to fall
in such a way that a flower grows facing a wall?
Or is flower power solar-run?
Can a flower live only if it faces the sun?

My computer has been resuscitated

Yesterday afternoon, my husband the hero brought in a computer repair person, who rescued my desktop from the trash heap. My floppy drive is now officially kaput, and only my husband can figure out how to get either my CDR drive or my DVD drive to work, but I'm grateful for large favors.

I was less than pleased to discover, however, that some of the files that I thought I'd backed up on the external hard drive were nowhere to be found. :( I ended up using the list of the files I'd saved on the Punster's old laptop as a guide, copying the original e-mailed versions directly onto the desktop. I'm going to have to be more scrupulous about checking to ensure that files that I think I've saved on the external hard drive have actually been saved. But for the time being, all's well, or as well as possible with a nearly-five-year-old computer.

And now for the fun: While the cat was away, this mouse did play--I uploaded a bunch of photos to my office computer (there being no storage space to speak of on my husband's old laptop) yesterday morning while the boss was out for Chol HaMoed, and set up some posts. Shira's Shots, comin' right up.

Kashrut color war

For those not acquainted with the concept of a "color war," see here.

My mother, bless her, did it backwards—she waited 'til all of us kids had grown and flown, and then she went kosher! I wasn't surprised that she'd decided to go kosher at home, but I was shocked that she decided to go kosher "out," as well—I couldn't believe that she'd actually given up eating lobster, her favorite food, a major sacrifice for the Jewish cause. At this point, she hasn't eaten lobster or non-kosher meat in about 30 years. But since she’d waited until after the kids were out of the barn, I wasn’t terribly well acquainted with the habit of keeping a kitchen kosher.

So, many moons ago, when our son was born, I insisted that we go kosher the rest of the way, so to speak—that is, with separate dishes, pots, etc. I figured that it would be easier for our son to keep kosher as an adult, should he choose to do so (we hope), if he'd been raised with a kosher kitchen.

Here’s where the fun starts: I chose a patriotic-American color code for our newly-kashered kitchen: red for meat/fleishig/b’sari, white for milk/dairy/chalavi, and blue for pareve (or parve—pick your spelling)/b’li chalav o basar /containing neither dairy nor meat. Now, some twenty years later, along comes a company from New Jersey* and starts producing and/or packaging whole sets of color-coded kitchen utensils, sponges, etc. Unfortunately for us, their color code is red, blue for dairy, and green for parve! So I'm having fun trying to keep even just plain kosher, much less kosher for Passover, getting thoroughly confused by a blue parve towel, from the old days, combined with green parve sponges, potholders, even a green-handled knife. Eek! This is going to take some getting used to. And if you think we have it bad, what’s going to happen the next time our son comes for a visit?! Double eek!

*Update--here's the info:

Mark-It International Inc.
P.O. Box 114
Deal, NJ 07723

Phone: 732-728-0050

(No URL on package.

For those not aware of this, Deal, New Jersey has a significant Syrian Jewish population.)

Surprising areas of strength

Picture this, if you can imagine it: One of my co-workers is telling me that her landlord sold her chametz, and I'm telling her, in no uncertain terms, that, no matter where her chametz is stored, if her landlord didn't pay for it, he doesn't own it, and is not authorized to sell it unless she specifically makes him her agent for the sale! I, a Conservative Jew who never went to yeshiva a day in her life, am arguing a major point of halachah (Jewish religious law) with an Orthodox yeshiva graduate who has a Bachelor of Hebrew Letters degree! My husband agrees with me, by the way. How can anyone legally sell anything that doesn't legally belong to them unless the owner authorizes the sale? If I'm wrong, please let me know. [Update: I e-mailed the link to this post to the folks on my e-mail contacts "G-d Squad" list--rabbis and rabbinical students--as well as to the lawyers in my e-mail contacts list. Thanks to rabbinical-student Steg for posting the first comment.]

More weirdness: I've noticed recently that people whose Hebrew I expect to be better than mine make mistakes in liturgical Hebrew that I myself don't make. I've heard people tripping over the psalms and prayers in the part of the Haggadah that comes after the meal, saying "bashar" instead of "basar" in Ashrei (mostly Psalm 145, with a few additions at the beginning and end), "im habanim s'meichah" instead of "eim habanim s'meichah" in Psalm 113 (the first psalm in Hallel), "alei ashor" instead of "alei asor" in Mizmor Shir l'Yom HaShabbat (Psalm 92). Some of these people got a better Hebrew education that I did; some are even yeshivah grads; some have been my role models for decades! The only explanation I can come up with is that my recent round of Ulpan Hebrew studies combined with roughly a year of davvening three times every day (well, almost every day) has improved my ability to read Hebrew text that's included in the various services, though not my ability to read a Hebrew text that I don't already know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Recommended: OU's Sefirat HaOmer reminder e-mails

The Orthodox Union will happily e-mail you a reminder every day of Sefirat HaOmer telling you what number you should count. Sign up here or here. Last year, with the help of the OU's reminder e-mails, I didn't miss a single day of the count!

In the meantime, here's a homemade reminder: Today [until sundown] is the third day of the Omer.

Rabbi Mark Greenspan's "Haggadah Hobby"

In the comments to my siyum post, I mentioned that the rabbi of an old friend with whom we usually celebrate one seder has a practice of presenting the results of his study of a haggadah as the study text for his synagogue's siyum bechorim. Here's his story, courtesy of the New York City Jewish Week.

Remember: Today [until sundown] is the third day of the Omer.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Chag weekend wrap-up, home-from-hospital edition


The Punster had thought that he might be admitted for kidney-stone-removal surgery, but was tossed out of the hospital for being too healthy. Until he passes that stone, my husband's health will be a bit unpredictable, but, aside from his Saturday Afternoon Fever, you should pardon the expression (see comments to linked post), so far, so good.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house . . .

Having lost a good few hours of Pesach prep to the Punster's kidney stone attack, we're still finding items of debatable Pesach kashrut status around the apartment and tossing them into a closet. (Thank goodness for the prayer nullifying any chametz that got missed!) This morning, I finally realized that I'd never put away the household-cleaning bucket. Yep, that's what I said. I may not be particularly good at recycling, but I do try to protect the environment by minimizing my use of polluting household cleaners, so I prefer to use hydrogen peroxide (kills germs and is biodegrable), baking soda, and cheap white vinegar. Guess what, folks? White vinegar is made from grain. Am I the only person in the world whose bathroom-cleaning sponge is chametz?

A Shabbat picnic at the Salamone-Punster Palace

My husband has dubbed it the "hot box."

That's what our apartment feels like on the Shalosh R'galim/Pilgrimage Festivals, when one is permitted to cook only on a pre-lit stove. We have absolutely no cross-ventilation in our apartment, so, with the urn, hot tray (or "blech" with one burner turned on under it, for Pesach), at least two stove burners, and, if necessary, the oven left on for two days straight, the place gets unbearably hot, even with the air conditioners likewise left on.

Therefore, in the interest of not roasting ourselves along with the shank bone, and given that we would be at the home of friends for the first seder and at the synagogue for the second, we decided to have a picnic--i.e., cold--dinner on Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve/Friday night. That way, we could make do with just one burner left on for heating water for tea on Sunday and Monday.

I hope that all of you managed to keep your cool :) last weekend, and will do so again next weekend.

Seder One

My girlfriend's new husband (yay!) may never have experienced a seder quite like this one. It doesn't happen every year, but some years, my good friend ends up with not only my husband and me, but also another couple, whom she and we have known for over two decades, at the same seder. Every seder, we really get into great conversations about the maggid (the part of the seder in which one discusses most directly the exodus from Egypt), but that's even truer when we're all together at the same seder. My girlfriend said, of her new husband, "We'll bring him up to speed." :) No doubt.

Seder Two (for Galut Jew)

We had a good crew at our table at our congregational seder. This made up, to a large extent, for the overly-salty food and for the rabbi, in desperate need of reliable readers, getting one poor man to read all three pages of Arami Oved Avi.

Missing-members Monday

Ten. That's exactly what we got for Monday morning's Yom Tov service. Not ten men and ten women. Ten, period (including the rabbi and the cantor). Were it not for the fact that our synagogue has long resigned itself, however reluctantly for the majority of our members, to counting women for a minyan, we wouldn't have had one. There will come a time when women get aliyot for the same reason--we barely had enough men for the five aliyot plus maftir. If our synagogue is going to go egalitarian, I would vastly prefer that we do so on principle rather than out of desperation. But who asked me?

Oops--I forgot to report on the resolution of the Siyum and the Sabbath-Day meals questions

For the record:

A) My husband ended up leading a study session concerning Sefirat HaOmer.

B) The rabbi decided, at the last possible minute (meaning that very Shabbat morning, just before the service started), that it wouldn't be possible for us to eat two meals with bread and birkat ha-mazon/grace after meals within the roughly one-half hour between the end of the Silent Amidah and 10:30 AM, so he ruled that we would have just kiddush in the synagogue after the Silent Amidah, and make s'udah shlishit at home with neither bread nor matzah.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Tax season + Pesach = kidney stone attack :(

It's getting to be a regular Punster, CPA tradition--this happened before (two years ago?). On the plus side, at least my husband helped a lot with the Passover shopping (a major undertaking requiring a trip by subway and bus, with a return trip, via taxi, necessitating the hauling of many well-stuffed shopping bags), but he was already feeling rather under the weather when it came time to do the final kitchen work, so I had to finish prepping the kitchen for Pesach myself. Please excuse me while we do a standing-on-one-foot bedikat chametz--I've got an ambulance to call. Hospital, here we come. :(

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Dance, to "Adon Olam," desecrates G-d's name??!

It was bad enough being accused of a lack of tzniut (modesty) because I posted the dances that I choreographed--all to sacred texts, and all danced in modest clothing in as modest a manner as I could muster--on YouTube. Now I've been accused of committing a hillul HaShem, a desecration of G-d's name, because I posted a dance choreographed to the last line of Adon Olam (to music by the Shlock Rock Jewish rock band). Frankly, this is starting to get pretty upsetting. I'm not sure whether it's better or worse that my accuser is (allegedly) a 15-year-old girl.

Some in the Orthodox community believe in the kol isha prohibition that forbids a man to listen to a woman sing. Some, with more right-wing views, say that a woman may not perform even for other women because it's "not tznius"/lo tzanua/immodest. Some say that a woman is not permitted even to play a musical instrument in the presence of a man because a man is forbidden to look at a woman (with the exception of his wife, I would hope).

Thank goodness these views are not held by the entire Orthodox community. Personally, I find being treated as if I were a sex object exclusively, as opposed to a full-fledged human being, rather depressing.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gila wants a place of her own

She's sick of being a single at someone else's Seder.

While you're at it, see Esther's thoughts on Sabbath as a single.

And keep your single friends and family in mind. If the married among us think it can sometimes be challenging for us to be Jewish . . .

See Rafiki's new video, "The Crackdown"

This is quite a production, a tad over 30 minutes long, complete with technical effects, thanks to the wonders of computerized video editing. And all that from a yeshiva bachur (young male student) who's about 17 years old. Calling Robert Avrech.

Parental Guidance Warning: Violence.

On borrowed time on a borrowed computer

My poor computer, which has been on its last chips for months, if not years--it's almost five years old--finally gave up the ghost Friday afternoon. There I was, innocently attempting to turn the computer off for Shabbat/Sabbath when it froze in mid-shut-down. Several vain attempts at rebooting later, I called over the hubster in a panic. He finally gave up and hit the "panic button," i.e., the on-off button on the CPU tower, himself. (You may be amused to know that I've been so thoroughly brainwashed about using only the Start menu for shut-down that I'd completely forgotten that there was another way to turn off the computer!) I got the Shabbat candles lit barely half a minute before candle-lighting time.

My husband was kind enough to lend me his old laptop. The problem is that, since some of the hubster's accounting applications are not compatible with his new laptop, I have to be prepared to hand back his old one at a moment's notice. Then, of course, there's the great fun of trying to type on a regular keyboard balanced on my lap--laptop keyboards are really rough on my carpal tunnel syndrome--while mousing around on the laptop itself--we ran out of ports that would accommodate any of our current "mice." There's also the major detail that my husband's old laptop multitasks even more slowly than my late lamented desktop. So don't be surprised if it takes me forever to respond to comments. I never know when I'm going to have a computer available, or how quickly I'm going to be able to type, mouse, and post.

I've asked the hubster to try to get a computer repair person on a day when he doesn't teach. Wish me luck, because, if this computer can't be repaired, I probably won't be able to shop for another one for at least three weeks, given that today is only two days before the U.S. tax deadline and less than a week before Pesach.

The good news is that I did a complete back-up of My Documents on an external hard drive only about three weeks ago, and am generally pretty scrupulous about backing up any document that I've created or updated on any given day. So I probably haven't lost any documents.

Computer shopping advice cheerfully accepted.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Taken aback

Our rabbi does not accept the opinion, held by some other rabbis, that one is permitted to use egg matzah for the motzi blessing over bread on Shabbat Erev Pesach, a Sabbath that falls on the day before Passover. His opinion is that, since egg matzah is a form of matzah, it's forbidden until after the Seder. So last night, just before Maariv (evening service), the rabbi, the cantor, my husband (chair of the Ritual Committee) and I (a Ritual Committee member) were trying to figure out how the congregation was going to fulfill the requirements for making the motzi over actual bread at both lunch and seudah shlishit (the third meal, usually a late-afternoon snack) next Shabbat/Sabbath, given that the last hour for eating chametz is around 10:30 AM here in New York City.

The rabbi suggested that we break for kiddush with motzi over bread after the P'sukei D'Zimra (Verses of Song, consisting largely of biblical quotes) section of Shacharit (Morning Service).

"That makes sense," I said. "You did once tell me that, once I recited the section from "la-asok b'divrei Torah" through "v'talmud Torah k'neged kulam," and then recited all three paragraphs of the Sh'ma, I could eat anything I wanted."

The rabbi clarified that I could eat only m'zonot (non-bread grain products, such as cereal or cake), not bread, at that point in the prayers (a major detail that I'd forgotten, but I'd been waiting for after kiddush to make motzi anyway).

"Oh. In that case, what's the difference whether we break after Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings) or P'sukei D'Zimrah (which comes immediately thereafter)? Either way, we're not yotzei (we haven't fulfilled our religious obligation) until after the Amidah."

At that point, the cantor piped up, "Why don't we do kiddush and motzi before the Chazarat HaShashatz (repetition aloud of the Amidah prayer said silently)?"

"Great!" I said. "Then we can do seudah shlishit before the Torah reading."

The rabbi agreed, and asked the cantor to begin Maariv.

I was quite taken aback by that conversation.

For openers, why on earth did the rabbi suggest that we break for bread after P'sukei D'Zimrah? Why did it not occur to the rabbi that we wouldn't be yotzei (plural: yotzim?) until after the Amidah?

For closers, the last time that Pesach began the evening after Shabbat, the previous rabbi had it all planned: We would start the service early, break for bagels after the Amidah, and send the Shabbos goy (a non-Jewish employee) out of the building immediately thereafter with every last scrap of chametz. And that's exactly what happened. Yet here we were, a week before Pesach, and the current rabbi had not only not figured out how the congregants were going to fulfill their Shabbat obligations, as he interpreted them--I think the previous rabbi allowed egg matzah for seudah shlishit--he hadn't even thought about he was going to fulfill his own Shabbat obligations. After all, he, too, was going to be in synagogue, with us congregants, at the last permissible time for eating chametz. He actually told my husband and the cantor that he would go along with any plan they came up with, as if it were no concern of his.

Am I make a big deal out of nothing?

Related: Who leads the siyum in your synagogue? See especially my response (comment #18?) to Noam's e-mailed comment.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Desperate housewives :) :) :), Pesach edition

. . . not to mention desperate husbands and/or starving children--"Mommy, there's nothing left to eat!"--in the midst of a cleaning and shopping frenzy that involves the whole household (with any luck).

Reformulate the description, as necessary. Singles get the dubious privilege of doing all the work by themselves, and likewise the widowed and divorced, especially if there are no children (still) living at home to pitch in.

Long before he was ordained, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld once said that, with all the preparation that preceeds Pesach (Passover), by the time we get to the Seder, we have some idea of what it felt like to be slaves in Egypt. Yeah, well, right now, we're still in the "sighing because of our bondage" stage. Oy.

In case I don't get around to posting again before Pesach, I wish all of you a Pesach Kasher v'Saméach, a Kosher and Happy Passover.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Getting-rid-of-chametz post: Instant-soup problem

Here's one for those of us still desperately seeking, with just about a week to go, to remove the chametz from our kitchens, one way or the other.

As an experiment for the overworked Hubster, CPA/college accounting instructor, who's drowning in tax-return preparation and class prep for four courses, I bought a couple of those instant noodle soups in a cup. I should have noticed that some of these single-serving cups contain over 50% of one's daily requirement of sodium!

Here's a suggestion for the sodium-concerned who still want to demolish this junk before Pesach:

1) Add water and stir in accordance with directions.

2) Do not add contents of flavoring packet—that’s where the sodium is. Really, who needs that much sodium in one dish? Just fish out the noodles with a fork and eat ‘em as instant pasta. (Okay, I’ll never pass for a gourmet. :) )

A thousand thanks to my mother, may she live to 120, for having always served vegetables “straight up,” with neither butter nor salt. Being accustomed to eating my veggies plain comes in particularly handy now that I’ve been officially inducted into the Salamone-Punster Family Kidney-Stone Club—we’re now three out of three. :( On the plus side, I’m still only an associate member—I haven’t had a kidney-stone attack yet.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

My latest Biblical and liturgical line-up

Who takes precedence?

Some years ago, at a Bar Mitzvah celebration at another synagogue, I was surprised and dismayed to see that not even the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy was given an aliyah (the honor of being called up to read from the Torah scroll). Granted that the family of the Bar Mitzvah boy (or, in non-Orthodox synagogues, the Bat Mitzvah girl) often tends to take most of the aliyot, which is not necessarily appropriate either. But I don’t think I’d ever witnessed a Bar Mitzvah celebration at which the boy’s own father didn’t get an aliyah. (This assumes, of course, that the child’s father is Jewish.) When I asked a member of the congregation why this had happened, she replied that there had been so many men observing a yahrzeit--it's customary to give an aliyah to a person observing a yahrzeit--that they’d run out of aliyot. (I should mention that the synagogue was Conservative and that it’s not necessarily customary in Conservation synagogues to break up the k’riyat haTorah/Torah reading into shorter sections to allow for extra aliyot, which are permissible on a Sabbath morning.)

Frankly, this answer got me quite upset. My reaction at the time was to wonder whether we Jews had become no better that the pyramid-building, death-obsessed Egyptian pagans from whom we’ll celebrated our long-ago liberation in about two weeks. Does the Jewish religion prioritize the dead over the living, that a yahrzeit, which takes place every year, should take precedence over a once-in-a-lifetime simchah?

Full disclosure: Fortunately, both of my parents are still alive (though, considering the dubious state of their health, I don’t know how long that will be the case). I may very well feel differently when I’m one of the people observing a yahrzeit.

Again, I would appreciate your comments, and extend a particular invitation to members of the G-d Squad (rabbis, rabbinical students, cantors and cantorial students) and/or to those who have lost a loved one and observe a yahrzeit.

Which takes precedence?

It was probably around two decades ago that I found myself involved in a machloket (disagreement on a point of halachah/Jewish law) with a then-rabbinical student (long since ordained) hired by my former synagogue to lead Shabbat/Sabbat morning services while the rabbi and cantor were on vacation. That year, a Rosh Chodesh (New Moon, or, roughly, the first day of a new month) fell on a Shabbat on which one of the Haftarot of Consolation was to be chanted. The rabbinical student insisted that we chant Haftarat Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (the reading from the prophets that’s chanted when a Rosh Chodesh falls on Shabbat), but I insisted that the minhag/custom of our synagogue was to chant the Haftarah of Consolation that would normally be chanted on that Shabbat. Much to my dismay, the rabbinical student pulled rank on me, reminding me that he was the Mara D’Atra (roughly, Master of the Place, meaning the one authorized to make halachic decisions). (Grumble.)

Twenty years later, I still think he was wrong, but I think I understand the principle on which he based his decision: I understand that, under many circumstances, an action performed on a regular basis takes precedence over an action performed on a less regular basis. (I’m sure I’ve heard a good Hebrew term for this, but Ms. Middle-Aged-and-Memory-Challenged can’t think of it, of course. Please remind me.) For example, one puts on a tallit (prayer shawl) before putting on t’fillin, even though it’s a pain in the neck to have to keep pulling the tallit back onto to one’s shoulders, because a person who wears t’fillin wears them for weekday morning services only, whereas a person who wears a tallit wears it at every morning service, including Shabbotot/Sabbaths and Shalosh R’galim/Pilgrimage Festivals. Here’s another example: Recently, when Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, for which one reads from an extra Torah scroll, fell on Shabbat Shekalim, for which one also reads from an extra Torah scroll, we did the regular weekly reading first, then the reading for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, then the reading for Shabbat Shekalim.

But I don’t think this applies to the Haftarot of Consolation for one simple reason—in the case of a haftarah reading, it’s one or the other. (I have heard that. in some congregations both haftarot are chanted, but that’s not the minhag/custom of any congregation to which I’d ever belonged.) So I still think that a Haftarah of Consolation takes precedence over Haftarat Rosh Chodesh.

I would appreciate your comments. I extend a particular invitation to members of the G-d Squad (rabbis, rabbinical students, cantors and cantorial students).

Letting one's hair down, literally--biblical version

Here's a quote from the parsha (assigned Torah/Bible reading) for this past Shabbat/Sabbath:

"45 And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and the hair of his head shall go loose, . . . " (Vayikra, Parshat Tazria, Leviticus, chapter 13, verse 45).

Where have I heard something similar before? Oh yes, here:

18 And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and let the hair of the woman's head go loose, . . . "(B'midbar, Parshat Naso, Numbers, chapter 5, verse 18)

Calling all rabbis, rabbinical students, Bible scholars, biblical archeologists, anthropologists, etc.: What was the significance of loosened hair in the biblical era?

Related: Sotah: Trial by ordeal. (See also Elie's response to that post, Sorting out Sotah.)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Question: Who leads the siyum bechorim in your synagogue?

My husband points out that my ongoing dispute with our rabbi about leading the siyum bechorim may be the result of a cross-cultural misunderstanding. It may very well be that our rabbi spent so many years in the Orthodox world that it's never occurred to him that not every Conservative Jew is a yeshiva graduate capable of even reading, much less completing, a masechet (tractate, chapter?) of Talmud (Gemara?), and that the rabbi of a Conservative synagogue is, therefore, often the only person qualified to lead a siyum.

I'm curious to know, particularly from my Orthodox readers, who leads the siyum bechorim in your synagogue. Is it the rabbi, the cantor, or a congregant (or a person in another category that I've somehow overlooked)? Am I being unfair to my rabbi, who's a part-timer, by insisting that this is part of his job, even though, technically, it's not in his contract?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tea for three :(

There were only three people at morning minyan today--and one was the baal tefillah/prayer leader. Witnessing the slow death by, well, death, of a synagogue is a sad thing. Watching the steady decline and death of our members is no picnic, except for the Grim Reaper. The Mal'ach HaMavet/Angel of Death is having a field day at our shul. :(

See also The last Jews in _______

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Another slight-belated Purim parody video

See here. Thanks to Jameel for posting this.

Note that the video's title is a Hebrew pun: "Balagan" means a ruckus, a tumult; Baal LaGan (which is pronounced almost exactly the same way) means "husband to the kindergarten." :)

Family photos moved to Flickr

In the interest of preserving what little is left of my and my family's anonymity, I have deleted almost all (to the best of my recollection) family photos from my posts, so that they are no longer visible to anyone walking past my computer, and inserted links to them on Flickr, instead. (Okay, I left the digital photo of an original analog wedding photo on the blog--who's gonna recognize either me or my husband from a blurry photo of a photo that's over 30 years old?) Many thanks to Red for instructions on how to link to photos uploaded onto Flickr.

Not on the same planet

Our rabbi, who's a part-time employee, was complaining that there was so much Torah to learn that he'd never have time to learn all of it before he died. Being the mild-mannered young lady that I am (ahem), I said to him, "What are you talking about? Everyone else at this table is employed full-time." The obvious, which is that the others who were sitting at the table had even less time to study than he had, and might find his comment rather thoughtless, didn't seem to have occurred to him. Sorry, but there comes a point at which cluelessness can be downright offensive. Can you tell that I was quite annoyed? I later told some of the same fine folks that our rabbi (who's well past 30) thinks he's still in yeshiva.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Warning: Limited blogging ahead

It's amazing how many more posts I write and read when I'm between major projects at the office. (Well, duh!) :) I'll see you when I see you.

Round-up of my posts & links, March 30-April 3, '08

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Member in good, er, sitting, "I hate Tachanun" club

Note: This is round three. See round two (with a link to round one) here.

About the only thing good that I can say about the Tachanun prayer is that at least we recite it while seated. (Other folks may have different minhagim/customs).

Mark/PT had his say on the subject a while back, and what he had to say wasn't pretty, either.

That fellow from Frum Satire reminded me of the whole sorry story when he recently posted about the parts of the service that he skips. (Parental Guidance Warning: Frum Satire is not a family-oriented blog, and some of the comments deal with adult subject matter.)

I have two major problems with Tachanun. First of all, how much breast-beating over my sins and those of my ancestors do I really want to do every darned weekday? I say Tachanun either at Shacharit (morning service) or at Mincha (afternoon service)--I flatly refused to say it more than once a day. Second of all, the Tachanun for Shacharit on Mondays and Thursdays--the weekdays on which there's a public Torah-reading--is seven pages long! I just said eleven pages worth of Amidah, and now I gotta top it off with seven thoroughly-unpleasant pages more??! Okay, obviously the fact that I'm a slow Hebrew reader with a slight case of ADD doesn't help--I have enough trouble both reading and focusing as it is. But the subject matter and the amount of text to be covered certainly don't help. On Mondays and Thursdays, I read only the first section of Tachanun, then skip directly to "nipla na," and its accompanying psalm, followed directly by "Shomer Yisrael." That's as much of Tachanun as I ever say, and that's as much as I'm ever going to say. Genig, shoin--enough, already!

Hey, Mark, wait a minute, I just took another look at that post: You mean some people actually say the Vidui confessional every weekday??! Before they say Tachanun? Are we Heebs gluttons for punishment?

"Midnight" Madness--re the bedtime Sh'ma

Yep, we've been down this road before: See Morning Madness--on davvenning Shacharit (on prayer the morning service), a previous rant of mine.

All the Torah/Bible said was "Hear, Israel, HaShem is your G-d, HaShem is one. You should love HaShem your G-d with all you heart, and with all your soul and with all your resources. And these words which I command you this day . . . you should teach them thoroughly to your children, speaking of them . . . when you lie down and when you arise." (Devarim Vaetchanan, Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4-7--translation part ArtScroll siddur's/prayer book's and part mine).

Okay, so we know that we have to say the first paragraph of the Sh'ma (some say all three paragraphs) before going to sleep. And sure, how often does a Jew do anything without saying a brachah/blessing first? But how did we get from a blessing followed by the Sh'ma to a four-page extravaganza? As far as I'm concerned, once I've recited the brachah and the Sh'ma, I've fulfilled the requirement, and I can jolly well go to bed.

Next up: My take on Tachanun

Recommended reading: "The Missing Piece"

Sarah Bronson, of Chayyei Sarah, has just published this very interesting article on singles seeking mates/the shidduch crisis. You can comment on "The Missing Piece" on Sarah's post or by writing to

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Question of the day: "Whatever happened to privacy?"

WBM and Israeli Matzav on Israeli-style democracy

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