Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tzniut (modesty) for *men,* for a change

I just finished reading Rabbi Yehuda Henkin's Understand Tzniut: Modern Controversies in the Jewish Community. On the one hand, I applaud him for taking a stand against the more extreme view of modesty rules expressed by Rabbi Pesach Eliyahu Falk in his Oz ve-Hadar Levushah: Modesty, an Adornment for Life—Halachos and Attitudes Concerning Tznius of Dress and Conduct. Falk seems to think that just about any movement by a woman that would be even remotely attention-getting, such as playing the violin, is immodest, a view that Henkin disputes.

On the other hand, perhaps it's because I have no yeshivah education at all and am unaccustomed to rabbinic argumentation, but I was absolutely floored by the attention paid (in the opening chapter) to the most minute details of permissible dress for women. The rabbis actually measured the permissible amount of a married woman's hair that can be left uncovered right down to the exact number of centimeters?!!!!

My visceral reactions:

  • It’s an insult that the rabbis think that even those women raised in Orthodox homes don’t have the common sense to know how to dress modestly without detailed guidelines. In fact, the guidelines themselves sometimes lead to absurd situations—I have occasionally seen Orthodox women wearing tops that cover their elbows but expose a hint of cleavage, and I dare anyone to find me a man who’s more turned on by a woman’s elbows than by her breasts! Let's make it simple and to the point: Don’t wear anything so short that a man can see halfway up your thighs, or anything so low-cut that a man can see your cleavage.
  • I've said it before and I'll say it again—the way the rabbis speak of men, one would think that males have no self-control whatsoever. An extra half-inch of exposed hair is going to cause uncontrollable sexual desire? What world are these people living in?
  • I've been writing this blog for just over four years, and I've never once seen a post about how Jewish men are supposed to dress modestly. Why are conversations about tzniut never about guys? At the other extreme from the rabbis' apparent opinion that, in matters concerning sex, men are animals, do the rabbis think that we women are made of stone?

So, here are my proposed rules for modest dress for men:

  • Women, according to halachah (Jewish religious law) have to have our upper arms (or, at least, our shoulders) and knees (or, minimally, thighs) covered, so what makes men exempt? Why should we be the only ones schvitzing (sweating) on 90-degree days? Ditch the muscle shirts and the short shorts, guys—fair is fair!
  • Speaking of centimeters, a little more cloth in the seat of the pants wouldn’t hurt. I think that men’s speedo bathing trunks and skin-tight pants are thoroughly immodest. Save it for the bedroom, where it belongs, buster!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Tefillin challenge, round 3 :)

Round 2 is here, complete with a link to round 1. :)

When last we encountered our intrepid tefillin-wearing woman, she was trying to get around the problem of not wishing to bare her head in synagogue in order to put on the head tefillin (tefillah?--well, "shel rosh," in any case). In round 2, I solved the problem by using a pre-tied scarf (see photo link in that post).

But commenter Mordechai Y. Scher reminded me that I had a major and serious halachic problem:

"Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Shalom Shira!

Yes, some of us are still here (though I wasn't patient enough to read all through that last comment).

First off, I do not want anyone to mistakenly think that I advocate woman putting on tefillin. I do not.

Having said that, if a woman will put on tefillin, she should be sure that all the halachot are followed. That includes, but is not limited to, placing the front edge of the bayit at the hairline or where the hairline used to be, placing the knot on the proper place at the back of the neck, etc."

. . . "

I knew perfectly well that the ring of tied-together straps of my head tefillin/shel rosh was too loose, a problem that I was trying to figure out how to solve without having to lie to a sofer and tell him that my tefillin had been a gift to a Bar Mitzvah boy and needed adjusting. By the time I got partway through our week at the Institute, I was afraid that, if the shel rosh got any looser, it would fall down around my neck like a necklace!

Rav todot/many thanks to Susan, the same woman who made my new pink kippah--photo link here--for tightening the tied-together straps of my shel rosh after Shacharit one weekday morning at the Institute.

Now that the shel rosh of my tefillin is properly tight, I've discovered a few things. First of all, it's surprising how much higher I have to reach to touch the shel rosh with my fingers and kiss them during the Sh'ma--the new reach took me a few days to get used to. Second of all, it's much harder to put the shel rosh around a scarf, or even an extra-large kippah such as the one that Susan made for me, now that the straps are tied so much more tightly. Much as I hate to admit it, it's vastly easier to put on a shel rosh over a reasonably-standard-sized kippah than over any other kisui rosh (head covering) that I've tried. Nu, do I get an A for effort, at least?

P.S. Now that my shel rosh sits in the proper place, much farther back on the top of my head than previously, I'm getting a much worse case of "tefillin hair"--every minyan after Shacharit (Morning Service), I find strands, and even whole patches, of my hair standing straight up, and have to dab my cowlicks with a little water so that I don't leave for work looking like Dennis the Menace.


Bet HaKnesset Rentals, Sales, & Storage, Inc. :(

Our local synagogue is down to fewer than 100 members. We're surviving on rentals to organizations and for parties, and on our Thrift Shop.

Not everyone can take home Thrift Shop purchases at purchase time, especially when the items purchased are furniture (of which we get many donations from relatives cleaning out the apartments of deceased area residents). I can’t even begin to tell you how dismaying it is to enter a synagogue sanctuary on a Sabbath morning and find half the walls lined with bed frames and headboards, breakfronts, etc., and know that this is the only thing keeping our doors open, as a sister congregant said. Our synagogue building hardly seems to belong to us congregants, anymore. :(

Round-up of my NHC Institute 2008 posts

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Homemade kippot & Judaica available here

I just located a receipt showing Shari Lynn's website, Neshamah Creations, where you can order a kippah like this one. So let me post her URL quickly, before I lose the receipt!

And here's another one, quickly before I misplace this, too: You can order a kippah like this one from Ceidlen at BelleKipa.

Check out these neat mouse pads--I bought the one on the top from Betsy Platkin Teutsch. (Er, I'm not quite sure how to order the mouse-pad version online, but I'm sure Betsy would be happy to help you.)

These folks are just a few of the fine Judaica artists who were selling their craftwork at the NHC Summer Institute 2008.

Awkward moments at the Institute

The Mystery of the Missing Spouses

My husband and I attended several of the earliest National Havurah Committee Summer Institutes. Due to a combination of circumstances, we were unable to attend for over twenty years thereafter. Imagine our dismay when two of the people whom we had known (from those early Institutes) as halves of two different married couples showed up unaccompanied by a spouse. In the case of one of the individuals, whom we saw every day, my husband was seriously concerned that the fact that that person never once mention her/his family might indicate that a nasty divorce had taken place in the interim. In any case, we were afraid to ask, and can only hope that the missing spouses were missing due to scheduling conflicts only.

Sunday, September 7, 2008 update:

Apparently, my husband and I are both a little short on visual memory--we didn't realize that one of the allegedly missing spouses was, in fact, at the Institute. Not only did we see the names of both halves of one of the couples on the 2008 NHC Institute Roster, but we were relieved to see that both still live at the same address. (Whew!)

The jury is still out on the other couple--the Roster confirmed that only one of the spouses attended, and my Internet search skills are not good enough to enable me to find any reference to their marriage that's more recent than several years old.

I'll admit to liking to hear myself talk--that's one reason why I blog :)--but sometimes, listening to oneself talk is a necessity

When our son was a kid, I told him that he shouldn't offer to help a person with a disability unless the person asked for help or appeared to need it, because people with disabilities do have their pride.

I should have paid more attention to my own words. :(

Watching a woman in a wheelchair maneuver around the cafeteria with a tray of food in one hand, I commented, admiringly (never have seen this done before), "That's a neat trick." As if that comment hadn't already, in all likelihood, annoyed the individual enough, I then offered to carry the tray, and took it. "I said 'No,'" the person protested. "Oh, I'm sorry--my hearing isn't what it used to be," I replied, and, handing back the tray, beat a hasty retreat, feeling quite appropriately rebuked and chastened. If, perchance, the party in question is reading this, I apologize for the affront to your dignity.


A group in our neighborhood is currently in the process of creating what they're calling a "synagogue without walls," housed at one of the local churches. I don't know whether the fact that none of these people has any interest in joining any of the three existing shuls, all of which are dying, because all of them are too traditional for this crowd, makes me feel better or worse, but it certainly doesn't make me feel good.

So you can imagine how I felt upon meeting the rabbi of the new shul at the Institute and striking up an acquaintance. The individual certainly seems very dedicated to the job (though we disagree on patrilineal descent--the rabbi's pro, we're con), and it doesn't hurt that he/she has a wonderful voice and was a welcome addition to the various groups sing z'mirot (Sabbath songs). But that didn't make me feel any better when I walked into my local synagogue quite late (due to exhaustion) yesterday morning and discovered that they were waiting around for enough men to start the Torah reading. To the Jews in our neighborhood who won't set foot in our shul, all I can say is, in the words of that old Yiddish-English expression, "What are we--chopped liver?" :(

A rotten week

On the Monday following the Institute, I discovered that:
  • I had a rip-roaring cold;
  • the job that I had recently covered for an absent co-worker was not covered by said co-worker in my own absence;
  • the major project that I'd left behind was not going to be done properly unless I did it myself, a fact that probably prolonged my cold because I ended up doing overtime instead of getting to bed early.
Remember the old tee-shirts that used to say, "My parents went to (fill in a country's name) and all I got was this _ _ _ _ _ tee-shirt"? Well, I barely got a gold-foil star. :( What a come-down from a wonderful vacation.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

After the Institute #3: Mizmor, Shir l'Yom HaShabbat*

The two highlights of my week at the National Havurah Committee Summer Institute 2008 were davvening (praying) with a minyan every weekday (which enabled us to hear and respond to Barchu, Kaddish, and Kedushah, and to be present for a Torah reading on Thursday morning)--a rare privilege, these days, at our local synagogue--and all the singing on Shabbat/Sabbath, both at the services and during the meals. We had a wonderful time Friday night sitting around Pierce Hall and singing all manner of music, mostly Jewish, but some secular, too, and singing z'mirot (Sabbath songs) around the lunch and dinner/seudah shlishit tables. I also got a particular kick out of the baal t'fillah (prayer leader) for Pesukei D'Zimrah leading us in singing our way through all five of the Halleluyah psalms,** and was very glad, indeed, that I'd made it one of my liturgy-learning projects, a few years ago, to learn the ones that I didn't know. What fun! I'm looking forward to going back next year and getting my batteries recharged.

*Mizmor, Shel l'Yom HaShabbat, a Psalm, A Song for the Sabbath Day (Psalm 92)
**See Psalms 146-150 here

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

After the Institute #2: Reminders for future years

This post will be of interest primarily to other Institute attendees.

  1. Learn the words to all the verses of Yedid Nefesh, so that you can teach Lenny Solomon's tune next year.
  2. Don't bring much food--you ate like a pig all week.
  3. Do bring an extra plug-in light for the powder room (for my foreign readers, that's a room with only a toilet and [usually] a sink, as opposed to a "full bath," which also has a bathtub, or, at least, a shower stall). The light there is connected to fan that sounds like a bleeping vacuum cleaner, which you certainly don't want to hear all Shabbat/Sabbath, and your flashlight barely lasted overnight. (You really don't want to have to leave the door ajar when you're using the powder room during the day.) Someone suggested that we bring a night light, which is an excellent idea.
  4. Bring more light-switch covers for Shabbat. I think we were short at least three.
  5. Bring two white shirts for each of you for Shabbat--at the Institute, many people follow the traditional minhag Yerushalmi (custom of Jerusalem) and wear white tops, at least, especially on Friday night. Some of the women wore white from head to toe.
  6. Weekday breakfast note (there being no hot food served on Shabbat morning): The real maple syrup is on the shelf right at the cafeteria entrance.
  7. Um, Ms. Can't-Handle-Beans, you did better with dairy despite your mild lactose intolerance.
  8. Be sure to try before you "buy"--many of the dishes have more pepper in them than you can tolerate, so sample things first before piling them onto your plate. The Punster said that the soups were generally too peppery for you.
  9. Bring your camera, and plenty of batteries ('cause videos use a lot of power) to the Thursday night talent show!!!!
  10. Don't forget to ask someone to take a photo of the two of you.
  11. Bring your copy of the sheet music for Salamone Rossi's (correction: Louis Levandowki's) "Halleluyah," if you can find it. You'll probably end up singing it over Shabbat (maybe Friday night when folks get together to sing after the poetry reading, which is when we tried it this time).
  12. Someone's great suggestion: Fold up your schedule and stick it into the plastic casing containing your name tag/meal-admission card, to make it easier to carry on Shabbat. (Note to my readers: Yes, there's an eruv.)
  13. Say Birkot HaShachar (the Morning Blessings) before Shacharit (the Morning Service) on Shabbat--this year, the Traditional Egalitarian minyan started the service at Pesukei D'Zimrah (Verses of Song [mostly psalms and biblical quotes], sometimes called the Introductory Service), and you ended up playing catch-up again.
  14. Do n'tilat yadayim (the ritual hand-washing) and say a motzi (the blessing thanking G-d for bread) before getting on the lunch line on Shabbat, 'cause you'll never be able to get back through that line to the washing station. (Okay, it'll be a bit out of order, saying hamotzi before kiddush [the prayer, recited over any beverage except water, thanking G-d for the Sabbath], but logistics seem to necessitate this.)
  15. Eat Shabbat lunch and dinner/seudah shlishit in the back seating area (the Hampshire Room?)--that's where all the singing was going on this year.
  16. Friday, August 29, 2008 update: Follow the same instinct you followed this time, and bring enough clothes for the whole week--you'll be too busy davvening, studying, reading, singing, dancing, and/or having fun to bother doing laundry. Parents with kids in tow probably don't have the luxury of skipping a laundry session--there are some advantages to being past the child-rearing phase.
  17. Another Fri., Aug. 29, 2008 update: As you did this year, be sure to take housing next year within the eruv, on the main part of the campus --aside from being outside the eruv, the lakeside housing is a serious schlep from the main part of the campus, and the last thing you need, in terms of getting to morning minyan on time, is an extra 20-minute walk.

Monday, August 18, 2008

After the Institute, #1: The care and feeding of a beged ish meter :)

Leave it to us Heebs to spend an entire week in the countryside--and spend it mostly indoors. Oy.

Now, here we are, back in civilization. Apparently, it's the Punster's turn to get bronchitis--I did my time last August. But I have a whopping good cold, so I'll be publishing posts bit by bit, in order to get to bed at a decent hour, which I was too busy having a fun and/or interesting time to do most of last week. :)

Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while have put up with my infinite discussions on the subject of what I should wear as a kisui rosh (head-covering--follow the links if you want to see where I first start thinking aloud about this), the question being whether a kippah/yarmulke/skullcap is or is not beged ish (a man's garment) . (The Torah forbids us to wear the clothing of the opposite gender.) But wouldn't you know that, just when I thought I'd given up wearing kippot for good, I found myself facing a minor identity--or perhaps identification--crisis at the Hav. Institute: Since I prefer skirts (not having the figure for pants and having been raised to believe that a female doesn't go to synagogue in them), wearing a baseball cap pegged me as an Orthodox married woman. Yeah, I know--here we go again. (Insert roll-eyes emoticon here.) So, when we went to Thursday night's shuk (bazaar), I put my poor, long-suffering husband to work: I decided that any kippah that he wouldn't be caught dead in was not beged ish :), and bought three of them. Here's the one that Susan made--she finished it during our last class together on Friday morning , so that I could wear it on Shabbat. Ceidlen made this one--she said that men tend not to buy her "popcorn"-stitch kippot, except for the white ones, occasionally. And here's Shari Lynn's headgear version of Yosef's k'tonet pasim (Joseph's coat of many colors).

Tonight, in return for his assistance, my husband got a nice dinner of chicken soup, chicken shish kebab, and Israeli salad, with pita bread for a starch. Okay, it was straight from Kosher Deluxe, and we both needed the chicken soup, but the hubster's not complaining. :)


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Chareidi vigilantes strike again (and again)

See this frightening story of women physically attacked for the way they dress or for sitting in the allegedly wrong place on the bus. (Hat tip: DovBear.) And see this older story about a part of the brit milah/circumsion ritual that many Chareidi rabbis demand continue to be done in a manner that has already caused several deaths and infections, even though there's a safer way to do it, as if saving a life takes a lower priority in Jewish law than performing a ritual.

On a much less serious note (you should pardon the pun), I just blogged about muzzling Jewish musicians.

As I've said before, the rightward turn of Orthodox Judaism affects all Jews.

And it also affects those who thought they'd converted to Judaism, even those converted by Orthodox rabbis, even those converted by Israeli Orthodox rabbis.

Some of the more extremist among the Chareidim (fervently right-wing Orthodox Jews) would like to force all Jews into little boxes.

So here, in "honor" of the kannaim--zealots--who are bound and determined to destroy even their own (even if it means leaving children unprotected from sexual abuse) if they deviate from what the kannaim consider the "derech" (correct path of Orthodox--excuse me, "Torah-true"--Judaism) in the slightest, is a new, frummer-than-thou version of "Little Boxes." (Listen to part of the song here.) Please pardon this rant/parody, but as a 59-year-old, I remember all too well the days when blacks were arrested for insisting on their right to sit where they pleased on buses, and were attacked by police with dogs and high-powered water cannons when they demonstrated for that and other rights. Knowing that my Israeli nieces could be attacked for refusing to move to the back of a bus or for wearing jeans makes the increasing violence of the kannaim a matter of personal concern to me.

Little zealots on the hillside
Little zealots all in black and white
Little zealots, little zealots, little zealots, all the same
There's the black hat, and the white shirt
And the black pants, with the tzitzis out
And they're all dressed in black and white
And they all look just the same.

And the zealots in the houses
All go to the yeshivas,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's rabbis and there's sofrim
And students in the kollelim,
And they're all dressed in black and white
And they all look just the same.

And they all pray in the shtieble,
And some drink their l'chaims,
And they all have frummie children,
And the boys all go to shul.
And they study in yeshiva
And they all learn the Gemoireh,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

And some zealots don't do business,
But marry, and raise a family,
And some live off tz'daka and welfare,
and off their kollel wives, all the same.
There's the black skirt and the white top
And the sheitel with the hat on top
And they're all dressed in black and white
And they all look just the same.

Little zealots in the Heights, now,
B'nei B'rak and Ramat Bet Shemesh,
And of course in Yerushalayim, little zealots, all the same
There's the black hat, and the white shirt
And the black pants, with the tzitzis out
And they're all dressed in black and white
And they want all Jews to be the same.

That's the kannaim. But, Baruch HaShem, thank G-d, there are more reasonable souls among the Chareidim.

[Note: Actually posted September 16, 2008.]

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Blogging the NHC Summer Institute '08: Thoughts

Here are some informal notes that I took and reactions that I had that don't fit into the "just the facts, ma'am" approach of my previous NHC Institute posts.

  • Re multiple genders, someone (one of the teachers?) suggested that Jews who get "nose jobs" (plastic surgery) are similar to people changing sex in that, in both cases, the individuals are changing their appearance to "pass" for what they want to be identified as.

    It hadn't really occurred to me that, if a doctor removes part of the anatomy of a baby identified as female whose genitalia are large enough that she appears to have a penis, this is the functional equivalent of a clitoridectomy, robbing that individual of the ability to experience sexual pleasure. That's a very high price to pay for "passing."
  • One older straight woman, said that, now that she's widowed, she feels more comfortable in a gay synagogue than in a straight one. That's a sad commentary on what I perceive as Judaism's lack of a role for singles.
  • Gender as an obsession: On the one hand, men and women are separated by a physical barrier (mechitzah) in an Orthodox synagogue, as if gender were the only major difference among individuals, complained a classmate; on the other hand, complained another, distributing honors exactly down the middle in an egalitarian minyan, alternating female, male, female, male, is equally obsessive, gender-wise. [Update in response to Elf's DH's comment: The person who told this story was talking about one specific egalitarian minyan--most are not so obsessive about this.]
  • I was very sorry that a young Orthodox woman who was in the Feminism class the first day did not return for later sessions. I think we need to hear the voices of those struggling with gender issues while working within a halachic framework. [Update # 2: Apparently, she did return, but must have been wearing not-so-Orthodox-style clothing, because I didn't spot her the second day--and, to boot, she told me that she doesn't identity as Orthodox! I'll be writing more about "Orthodox-style clothing" in a future post. Update # 3: Here's that post.]

    In case I don't have an opportunity to blog again from the Institute, I wish all of you a Shabbat Shalom. And do read the Institute posts on Jewschool.

    By the way, we finally got around to doing Kiddush Levanah last night. It's very nice indeed to make a brachah/blessing thanking HaShem for the moon while standing on a campus in the middle of the countryside.

Blogging the NHC Summer Institute '08: Classes

(For an introduction, see National Havurah Committee Institute 2008.)

Judith Plaskow's and Martha Ackelsberg's class, "The Unfinished Revolution: Jewish Feminism in a 'Post-Feminist' Age," is discussing what's been accomplished and what remains to be accomplished by the Jewish feminist movement.

Yesterday, we discussed the fact that male and female are not the only genders, that about 1.7% of human beings are of mixed or indefinite gender. How can the Jewish community be or become inclusive, no matter what gender or genders individuals appear to be or what gender they consider themselves to be? I think of the traditional brachah for women, Baruch . . . sheh-asani ki-r'tzono, Blessed [is the One who] made me according to His will." Isn't that equally true for those who don't really fit on either side of the mechitzah? And might that fact make us think twice about gender roles in Judaism and in general?

Today, we spoke about "The Three Gaps" discussed in Robert Drago's Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life (Boston: Dollars & Sense, 2007):

  • "The Care Gap--the difference between those in need of care and those receiving adequate care, or those adults and the elderly with disabilities, along with children, who get substandard care or none at all.
  • The Gender Gap--the heightened distinction between those women who succeed in professional careers and those who engage in care work for low or no pay.
  • The Income Gap--the increasing distance between high- and low-income individuals.

Drago also wrote about "The Three Norms," "broad rules of behavior that govern our expectations of other and of ourselves, and which carry penalties for those who deviate from the rules.":

  • The Motherhood norm--a society-wide belief that women should be mothers, and perform unpaid family car and low-paid care for those in need.
  • The Ideal Worker norm--a belief among managers and professional in total commitment to career, and high rewards for this commitment.
  • The Individualism norm--a society-wide belief that the government should not help those needing care.
Our teachers pointed out that feminists may have thought that just naming the problems would help encourage people to solve them, but that many of the National Organization for Women's demands from their 1967 convention still haven't been met. So they asked:
  • How do we appeal to those not yet already committed/interested in these issues?
  • How do we frame these issues for the community?
  • How do we frame them as issues for our particular workplace or synagogue?

Food for thought, quoth she, as she heads out to lunch.

I hope I'll have time to blog about Adele Reinhartz's class, "Diversity and Rupture: The 'Parting of the Ways' Between Judaism and Christianity," but, given the limitations of blogging from the library, I can't make any promises.

Check out the Jewschool blog--two of my classmates are also blogging the NHC Institute, and, judging by my two-second perusal on the way out the door, they're doing a much better job.

Update, 3:39 PM

I have less than an hour--unless I get desperate enough to haul my husband's hulking monstrosity of a laptop (he's a big-screen fan) halfway across the campus to a WiFi hotspot--to blog about my afternoon class.

My husband's class is comparing Isaiah and Mohammed, and I'm studying the break between brethren. Who knew that we'd spend a week of Jewish study reading the Quran and the New Testament, respectively?

These are some of the issues that may have contributed to the splitting of Christianity from Judaism:

  • Beliefs--does the individual think that Jesus or isn't the messiah?
  • Identity--who's a part of the group and who's not?
  • Behaviour--what do you eat (kashrut), who do you sleep with (circumcision), how and/or to whom do you pray?
  • Personality, and how one handles conflict--with hostility or with consensus?

Paul seems to have considered himself challenged by the Jerusalem Church of Peter and company because he insisted on preaching to the gentiles (pagans) without insisting on their conversion to Judaism. Circumsion seems to have posed the most significant challenge, in those days before anesthesia.

It's a pity that there were no recording devices in ancient time, other than quill pens, as many folks would love to know what Jesus and/or his disciples really said.

Blogging the NHC Summer Institute '08: Workshops

(For an introduction, see National Havurah Committee Institute 2008.)

Well, so much for yesterday's post--much to my surprise, the library closed at 4:30 PM instead of 8, as it had the night before. Unfortunately, my husband's laptop is currently refusing to access the Internet via the ethernet cable, for reasons unclear, so here I am, sneaking in a post while the library is open. There are so many workshops and classes that I have limited time, so I'll try to post some highlights.

The workshop that I chose to attend on Tuesday morning was "Ecology and the Next Jewish Theology, led by David Seidenberg. To describe the workshop while standing on one foot, our teacher encouraged us to see HaShem in all creation, and not necessarily to assume that all creation was made for the benefit of humanity alone. If memory serves me correctly, he mentioned that HaShem calls creation "tov meod, very good" before the creation of humankind.

Fri., Aug. 22, 2008 update--received today via e-mail from David Seidenberg:

Hi Shira,

Just noticed your post about the workshop I taught.

Sorry to say that creation was not called very good before the
creation of the human. Maybe you were thinking of the Rambam's
statement that none of the species, even human beings, is significant
compared to the whole of creation (which of course includes all the
species and people). He says the Torah teaches that by stating that
the whole comple creation is tov meod.

If you go back to edit please add a link to my site, Neohasid.org,
from there.



Thanks for the correction, David. (That's what I get for not checking in my Chumash before opening my big mouth.) I like the Rambam's approach.

[End of update]

That afternoon, I attended Marty Seltzer's workshop, "Are Messianic Jews Jewish?" The question with which he opened the session was this: "If a Messianic Jew asked to join your chavurah, would you accept him or her as a member?" As you can imagine, this question generated quite a bit of discussion. One of the issues seemed to be that there are various versions of the Jewish/Christian combo. Some groups, such as Jews for Jesus, are actively seeking converts. Some ("Hebrew Christians?") are Christians taking on Jewish customs. Some who call themselves Messianic Jews are born Jews who practice as Jews but believe as Christians. This group is probably the most difficult to deal with, especially when it involves those born halachically Jewish (Jewish (according to halachah/Jewish religious law)--they appear to be practicing Jews, and don't invoke Jesus in their worship. Naturally, being Jews, some of us answered the question with a question: Should we turn them away or bring them in (on condition that they not proselytize), hoping that they'll eventually change their minds? The final vote was split.

My morning workshop yesterday was "Kashering the Payroll: a peek inside the Conservative teshuvah [halachic/Jewish religious ruling] on workers, wages, and unions. Jill Jacobs, Rabbi-in-Residence, Jewish Funds for Justice, spoke about the approximately five-year process of shepherding her proposal for fair treatment of workers through the (Conservative) Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Law and Standards, presenting proof texts from the Torah and Talmud to rabbis more accustomed to dealing with questions of kashrut and conversion. In a number of synagogues that she visited in a previous labor-union position, she would start discussing a living wage for janitors with a rabbi only to have the rabbi disappear and return a few minutes later with the shul's own janitor, asking "How much do you earn? Is that enough to live on?" If nothing else, Rabbi Jacob's teshuvah should help raise our conciousness of fair labor practices.

Yesterday afternoon, I chose Drisha teacher Chasiah Haberman's "Clothing and Prayer." The question raised was, "Who must wear how much clothing, and under what circumstances, to pray?" Surprisingly, many of the rabbinic texts presented deal with the tzniut (modesty) of men, apparently because women can cover X-marks-the-spot simply by crossing their legs--according to Mishnah, Challah, chapter 2, verse 3, "The woman sits and separates her bread while naked because she can cover herself, but the man may not"--whereas men, who by anatomical design let it all hang out--literally--can't say much of anything without covering themselves. Who knew? This was certainly a refreshing change of pace from the current obsession with women's modesty in dress.

Gotta run: I'm late for class!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Blogging the National Havurah Comm. Institute 2008

I'm happy to report that we arrived at the National Havurah Committee Institute 2008 in one piece.

One of the nice things about blogging is that I can thank my husband not only publicly, but internationally, for driving for hours through one of the worst thunderstorms I've ever seen. By the time we finally arrived at the Franklin Pierce University campus in Ringe, New Hampshire, I was practically ready to say a shehecheyanu! Rav todot, sweets!

I have about two seconds to discuss this first day of classes, as it's dinner time in the dining hall. Judith Plaskow's and Martha Ackelsberg's class, "The Unfinished Revolution: Jewish Feminism in a 'Post-Feminist' Age," is discussing what's been accomplished and what remains to be accomplished by the Jewish feminist movement. My other class is "Diversity and Rupture: The 'Parting of the Ways' Between Judaism and Christianity," taught by Adele Reinhartz. No time to talk now--see you tomorrow!

Monday, August 11, 2008

My post-Tisha-B'Av priorities

I didn't plan this in advance, but this is the order in which I ended up ending the fast:
Oops, we forgot to do Kiddush Levanah. Any takers for tomorrow night at the Institute?

We have no idea what Internet access--or spare time--we'll have, but I'll try to keep you posted if I can.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Torah lishma from a contemporary perspective

Torah lishma refers to the study of the Bible, Talmud, and other Jewish sacred texts for its own sake.

In my opinion, this is the "money quote" from XGH's "The Real Problem with Lakewood":

"2. No Pressure

In academia, there is a lot of pressure to do research, to get your PhD, to publish, to get tenure. Maybe after getting tenure you can coast a bit, but at least during your most productive years (20s and 30s) you are actually being productive. In the Yeshivah / Kollel world, all you have to do is show up."

Ezzie and his commenters, taking off from XGH's post, have plenty to say--both for and against--on the subject of full-time Torah learning. I strongly recommend that you read all the comments here.

Orthodox husband opposes idea that wives are property

Brooklyn Wolf, a married Orthodox Jew, protesting an Orthodox rabbi's assertion that wives are the property of their husbands, presents, as proof that wives aren't property, the fact that, if one can't sell something, one doesn't own it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Still shocking, 31 years later

One of my commenters has been known to kvetch that, for all my complaints about Orthodox Judaism's faults, Orthodoxy still offers a wonderful lifestyle that helps one avoid some of the more egregious excesses of the secular culture. (September 3, 2008 update: I remembered that comment, but couldn't find it 'til yesterday--see comments here.) On that point, I agree. Here's an illustration of just how right that commenter is:

Shortly after I got married, I was told this startling bit of "wisdom" (quoth she sarcastically) by one of my then-co-workers: "Oh, you're in heaven now, but just wait--in another year or two, you'll be sleeping around like the rest of us."

Call me naive, if you wish, but I was stunned. Recounting that conversation to my husband, I said, "What's the point in being married if you're going to sleep around anyway?"

Thirty-one years of marriage later, I'm still of the same opinion.

Whatever complaints I may have against Orthodox Judaism, Orthodox practice does include a requirement to respect others--and oneself.

"The best little . . . " um, never mind :( :( :(

We first saw it maybe a month ago: a bus sitting on the side of a busy major highway near our apartment, apparently not broken down, its front door wide open, with music playing and people sitting inside. As we passed the back of the bus, the heads of a man and woman appeared, then disappeared again below the window. That was all we saw, but it was enough. Apparently, they're playing dodge-the-cops by putting a brothel in a bus. I think Meals on Wheels for elderly and disabled shut-ins is a wonderful idea, but now, there's this on wheels? :( :( :(

Pre-Nine-Days prep: My 10-minutes rule

Since I've heard that one isn't supposed to wear clean outer-clothes during the Nine Days of mourning preceding and including Tisha B'Av, but I see no point in being smelly and dirty, I line up all the blouses, t-shirts, skirts, jackets, etc. that I'm planning to wear during that period and wear each one, a day or two before the Nine Days, for at least 10 minutes. That's just long enough to do some legitimate work, such as downloading and saving a file and backing it up onto the external hard drive or cutting vegetables for a salad.

If you haven't already read Elie's tips on the Nine Days, I strongly recommend it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011/Tisha B'Av update: It's a good thing that they announced at our local synagogue that we'd be having a Mincha (Afternoon) Service just before the beginning of Tisha B'Av, because I'd completely forgotten--again!--that one is supposed to eat one's final pre-fast meal (seudat hamafseket?)before davvenning/praying Minchah and almost davvenned Minchah at the office, as usual! So I'm adding this note to my pre-Nine-Days prep. post as a reminder for next year and future years.

Links to my Aug. 2-5, 2008 posts

Don't forget to check out this week's Haveil Havalim post round-up at Little Frumhouse on the Prairie.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Which takes precedence? Part two

You might wish to read part one first.

A commenter in part one suggested that, if Rosh Chodesh falls on the Shabbat of Consolation on which we read Haftarat R'eh, one can read Haftarat Shabbat Rosh Chodesh (the haftarah chosen especially for those occasions on which Rosh Chodesh coincides with Shabbat/Sabbath), then combine the missed Haftarat R'eh with Haftarat Ki Tzetze, which is read on one of the later of the Seven Shabbatot (Sabbaths) of Consolation.

But my husband has a question: Does it suffice that we're reading all the designated texts of consolation, or do we need to do so for seven uninterrupted Shabbatot?

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Too-Many-Leviyim Lament, round 2 & counting

Let's start with a definition of terms, for latecomers who are trying to catch up--I'll highlight the beginning of rest of this post in green, for those who wish to skip this part:

Cohen (plural--Cohanim) = descendant of the priests of the Tent of Meeting in the Wilderness and, later Temple priests, with other duties in other parts of the ancient Land of Israel; entitled to only the first aliyah in traditional synagogues

Levi/Levite (plural--Leviyim, Leviim) = descendant of a Cohen's assistant in the Tent of Meeting in the Wilderness, assigned to carry the parts of the Tent of Meeting from one location to another; later, assistants in the Temple (best known as Temple singers), with other duties in other parts of the ancient Land of Israel; entitled to only the second aliyah in traditional synagogues

Yisrael (Israel) = everyone who's neither a Cohen nor a Levi

Designation as Cohen, Levi, or Yisrael is passed down by one's father.

Aliyah = (plural--aliyot)=honor of reading a section from the sefer Torah or having it read to him).

Mafir ("additional") = an unofficial aliyah given to honor the person chanting the haftarah/Prophetic reading)

Magbia= person who ceremonially lifts the sefer Torah

Golel = person who rolls closed, ties, and, in Ashkenazi and other synagogues that use a simla/"dress"/cloth cover, as opposed to a hard case as a cover, "dresses" the scroll

Darn, I should have thought to try Wikipedia before I did all this yakking--they explain the Torah reading quite nicely.

As I mentioned previously, our local synagogue is a bit heavy on Leviyim.

Under the circumstances, my husband would get gray hair from trying to assign aliyot if he weren't gray-haired already. Here's the line-up from this past Shabbat/Sabbath, as best I recollect:

The local Leviyim (including a father and his two teenaged sons) ended up, for lack of an alternative, with three aliyot, Maftir, and magbia for the first sefer Torah. The Yisrael who had the seventh aliyah was also magbia for the second sefer Torah, and the Yisrael who had the third aliyah was also magbia for the second sefer Torah.

The line-up wasn't nearly as upsetting as hearing someone's cell phone ring while he was on the bima (pulpit, prayer "stage," whatever). Yes, this was on Shabbat. I would say that there are some drawbacks to attending a shul in which not all the congregants are particularly observant, but since I, myself, take the subway to my favorite synagogue on Shabbat, which is also forbidden, I suppose I can't talk.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Another question from Ms. Tech-Challenged

Could my readers kindly lend me a hand, in honor of my fourth "blogoversary," and explain how to use Sitemeter statistics to find out how many people have read/are reading a particular post? I'm just curious to know whether a lack of comments indicates (a) that there are lurkers on my blog or (b) that I'm talking to myself. :)

Also, what about those old links that seem to have been gobbled up in Blogger's takeover by Google?

Quote of the day

"I think it's the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic attitude toward sexuality, which I think has evolved into a vehicle for severely messing with peoples' minds. Sure, there might be some benefit (like preventing the birth of unwanted childrem add preventing the spread of STDs) to have an ideal of chastity and confining sexual activity to monogamous married couples. But our Bible and Koran thumpers go far beyond that in that they treat this code of sexual behavior as the the primary aspect of morality, and they are far more punitive about it than they are about other, more serious sins.

I believe that this attitude is what leads to the more serious violations that really are a problem -- the perpetrators, had they lived in a society with more healthy views about sex, might have found sexual outlets other than molestation. I'm not saying that frumdom should adopt a philosophy of "anything goes," but maybe they need to be a little more tolerant of people who fall short and stumble. The community is certainly tolerant of people who commit lashan hara, not that they say lashon hara is permitted, but they don't ostracize someone for committing it. In the same way, they don't have to say premarital sex is OK, but they don't need to go ballistic because some young couples might lose control. It's not the end of the world if you eat a little pork, so why should it be the end of the world if you get laid?

(Speaking of pork, I've never heard of a rabbi forbidding Jews from shopping at supermarkets where treif is sold, but yet they go bonkers about the internet and movies, becuase of the "porn." Tell me, what's the difference between being on the internet, with porn freely available, and shopping at the Safeway, with pork freely available?

Elie’s tips for the Nine Days

I've found Elie's post on the Nine Days extremely helpful, and strongly recommend that you check it out.

I haven't quite figured out how to get around the fact that, with Tisha B'Av following immediately after Shabbat, I'll be without a shower for two days straight. To the best of my knowledge, it's forbidden to shower on either day. If anyone has any other information about the halachic rules concerning showering, please pass it along!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Still blogging after all these years

I published my first post on Monday, August 2, 2004. This is my 1,113 post. Even I didn't know I had that much to say (and/or I'm a bigger blabbermouth than I thought. :). Thank you for reading, and thank you, too, for all I'm learned from reading your comments here and your posts and comments on other blogs. For me, blogging has been a 21st-century version of Jewish continuing education.
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