Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DVR "disaster": "Galactica" "Final 5" not recorded :(

Say WHAT?! What do mean, "Battlestar Galactica Finale Impressions"?!

Dummy me, I kept checking my DVR for recordings, instead of checking the "Battlestar Galactica" page on SciFi.com for the telecast schedule. For reasons unknown, our DVR didn't record the final five episodes. Now, I may have to pay for the final-season DVD, when it's released, just to see the last five eps. Bummer. :( I'll try not to read Mark/PT's spoilers.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Mysteries of the Hebrew language

There will be a short delay while I work out some technical difficulties regarding some audio examples of "interesting" Hebrew. (Those fluent in Hebrew will probably roll their eyes, reading this post. But I never got past Intermediate in Ulpan, so some Hebrew still sounds odd to me.)

On the one hand, the link to Mark/PT's band website's Music page makes the Internet on my home computer freeze. So I have to set up the link to his wonderful "Ki V'Simchah" at the office. Done--here's the music link.

On the other hand, those who have the same problem that we have at home--that Mark's Music page makes our Internet crash--can listen to the same music here, where I choreographed my first dance to it, but I'll have to set up that link at home, because my office's 'Net Nannies block YouTube. Done--here's the dance link. (Hmm, I should have bent my arms at the elbow--I'm not crazy about the straight-armed look.)

So what does Mark's "Ki V'Simchah" have to do with "interesting" Hebrew?

"Ki v'simchah teitzeiyun,
U-v'shalom tuvalun . . ." (Yishaya/Isaiah 55:12)

Teitzeiyun? Tuvalun?

What the heck tense is that?

Here's one from another song by Mark, "Ma Yakar" (from his "Rock of Sages" album, available here and on iTunes):

"Ma yakar chasdecha, Elokim
u-v'nei Adam b'tzeil k'nafecha yechesayun
Yirviyun mi-deshen beitecha
v'nachal adanecha tashkeim . . . "

(That's from Psalm 36, verses 8-11, recited right after putting on a tallit.)

Yechesayun? How do we get from yechese (having to do with shelter or refuge, I think) to yechesayun? And yirviyun?

Then there's that line from Psalm 147, verse 20 (the last verse), " . . . u-mishpatim bal y'daum." Y'daum?

Here's a change of grammatical pace: Why does Psalm 148, verse 11 say "Malchei eretz v'chol l'umim, sarim v'chol shoftei aretz"? In both cases, it appears to me that the "s'michut" form (a type of possessive that creates an "of" between words) is being used. So why are there two different spellings? (Um, wild guess: "eretz" means earth, but "aretz" is a shortened form of "ha-aretz," the earth?)

Ah, the joys of being only partially fluent in Hebrew.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dumped by an old "friend"

First, they "slimmed down" their A-line skirts, meaning, in plain English, that they made them tighter across the hips.

Then, they shortened the skirt's pockets by two inches, so that, whenever I had the unmitigated gall to actually put something in the pockets, the items landed directly on, rather than below, my hips, making me look as if I were wearing a meatloaf on each hip.

Then, they were purchased by Sears, and, as predicted, went "trendy."

So they replaced that already-ruined skirt with a hip-rider version that has no pockets at all. Sure it looks gorgeous--but not on a pear-shaped 60-year-old who's 10 pounds overweight. And where am I supposed to put my cell phone, comb, and tissue packet? Do they expect me to go walking around my entire office building carrying my pocketbook all day long?

They also took their entire stock of 6o%-cotton/40-percent-polyester blouses and replaced them with 97%-cotton/3% spandex shirts. Neither version needs ironing, but if I wanted to wear something that form-fitting, I'd go for a tube top, thank you (not). (I have a vague recollection that Mrs. Balabusta complained about how much more difficult it is to find modest tops, now that so many blouses are being made with spandex, but, of course, I can't find her kvetch on her blog.)

So Ms. I-Hate-Clothes-Shopping, who's been living in this company's clothing for probably more than a decade, is abandoning the ship that abandoned her first. So long, Land's End.

Pesach gripes (guest post by JS on DovBear's blog)

Check out this checklist of complaints. JS has a point.

That post makes me feel better about our so-called Siyum B'chorim, at which we study whatever my husband, a firstborn, dreams up at the last minute in the middle of tax season. But "Taanit B'chorot?" Is JS a feminist, or did s/he not realize that "b'chorot" means firstborn women, exclusively? Actually, I think that, since the Torah says that there was not an Egyptian household without someone dead, one could make a case that the plague of the firstborn killed baby girls, as well as boys.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This shouldn't be "rocket science," folks

I've thrown out five pairs of pantyhose in the past two weeks because they had runs (British: ladders) in them. Scientists and technicians can send an astronaut to a space station and transmit television signals around the globe, but they can't invent a pair of pantyhose that doesn't rip while I'm still in the process of putting them on for the first time. :(

Taken aback

See comment.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reward and punishment: Blaming the victim

Recently, my husband and I watched a movie biography of composer George Gershwin. To me, one of the most striking things about the film was the fact that no reason was given for Gershwin's premature death, though it seemed fairly obvious to me that the headaches and occasional lack of ability to control his hands depicted in the movie meant that he probably died of either (a) a series of mini-strokes followed by a massive one or (b) a brain tumor. Just how taboo was it to discuss the cause of death at the time that the movie was filmed, and/or why was cancer considered such a taboo, even as recently as when I was a child?

I was reminded of this movie, and those questions, recently when, first, a girlfriend's Multiple Sclerosis flared up, then, my husband landed in the emergency room with yet another kidney-stone attack.

Yes, I've been down this road before, but my opinion is still in accord with "this quote (from the third-season episode “A Late Delivery from Avalon”) from the 1990’s series Babylon 5 (chief writer J. Michael Straczynski), spoken by Ranger Marcus Cole to Babylon 5 space station’s chief physician, Dr. Stephen Franklin: “You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them?’ So now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

A former rabbi of ours (Conservative) once explained to me that one of the differences between Conservative and Recontructionist Judaism is that Conservative Jews believe in reward and punishment. That's one point of theology on which Conservative Judaism and I part company, probably due to my 20-some years of membership in a dual-affiliated Conservative/Reconstructionist synagogue. To me, the glaringly obvious problem with a belief in reward and punishment is that it seems to imply that people deserve anything bad that happens to them. Maybe that's a simplistic interpretation--please feel free to present a clearer picture in the comments--but I can't understand what our son did to deserve to be diagnosed with both kidney stones and Crohn's Disease before he'd even earned his undergraduate degree. For that matter, why do most kids get away with multiple ear infections, while ours has been wearing hearing aids since he was three and a half?

Cancer. That was a disease that, for many years, dared not speak its name. People barely discussed it in hushed tones when I was a child. Why? Was it assumed that G-d was punishing the victim for some sin?

Why are we surprised when some of our most right-wing Orthodox rabbis blame tsunamis, earthquakes, and even, heaven help us, the Holocaust and terrorist attacks on such sins as not checking the mezuzot on our doorposts? Isn't that what a belief in reward and punishment implies? Isn't that what the second paragraph of the Sh'ma tells us that we're supposed to believe?

What interpretation of this belief, if any, is acceptable to a 21st-century person?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The "vocabulary parshiot"

I came to the conclusion some years ago that the most useful thing I could learn from the parshiot (weekly Torah/Bible readings) about the construction of the Mishkan (rough translations: Tent of Meeting, Tabernacle in the Wilderness), which we just completed this past Shabbat/Sabbath, was a bunch of new Hebrew words. First came the colors: techelet (blue), argaman (purple), tolaat or tolaat shani (scarlet), not to mention the oft-associated shesh (linen) or shesh moshzar (fine twined linen--pardon the transliteration, as I'm not quite sure how to pronounce it). Then there's the sal (basket) and the kiyor (wash basin). And the list of construction materials and items goes on and on: atzei shittim (acacia word), badim (staves, poles), amudim (pillars, although how shesh, linen, becomes amudei shesh, pillars of linen, is a mystery to me), adanim (sockets), lulaot (loops), and this year's additions, k'rasim (clasps) and k'rashim (boards). More to follow in future years. I also have some questions this year. Do tsal and tsad both mean side? How many kinds of y'riyot (curtains) are there, anyway: What's the difference between a kaporet and a parochet? (And what's the connection between the Mishkan's kaporet and "shluggen kapores"?)

Now, if only I could figure out something useful to do with the sacrifice and, worst of all (for me), the "leprosy" (tzoraat) readings . . .

A taste of the future?

See here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"All that glitters is not gold"

So goes the old saying, and it's true, too--what glitters might be "fool's gold" (pyrite), or it might be mica.

There's a section of sidewalk, just about a block long, near the office of some of my health-care professionals, that was constructed with cement (concrete?) containing such a high proportion of mica flecks that the entire sidewalk quite literally glitters in the early-morning sun. The old legend that supposedly lured some of our immigrant ancestors to the United States--that the streets were paved with gold--may not have proven true, but being bedazzled by the sidewalk under one's feet is still a treat.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Conservative Jewry: Toward Renewal, Not Kaddish

For me, this is the "money quote" from this editorial by Rabbi David Lerner in last week's New York Jewish Week:

"Most of all, we need to create Shabbat communities where those most committed to halachic Shabbat observance will find like-minded peers. Too often our lay members who observe Shabbat end up attending Orthodox synagogues, compromising their egalitarian values and intellectual honesty in order to be a part of a Shabbat-observant community."

Update, Sunday, March 15, 2009--Rabbi Jerome Epstein has something similar to say in his column in the Spring 2009 issue of CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism, "Bringing Back Our Most Committed Young People":

"Over the past 15 years, we have witnessed the phenomenal growth of independent minyanim. Today there are more than 80 that are not affiliated with any movement. But many of their members grew up in the Conservative movement, went to Camp Ramah, were active in USY, and studied at Solomon Schechter day schools. Some of the minyanim, in fact, are led by Conservative rabbis. Although some of their religious services may seem to be different from those in United Synagogue congregations, they generally are Conservative Jewish services attended by Conservative Jews – outside a Conservative synagogue.

To compound the challenge, many of the more committed people who were inspired by our movement have chosen to identify with Orthodox congregations, not because of the ideology but because they seek others who share their commitment to the very ideals that we say we hold dear. They bought into what we said we stand for – but they do not find it in our synagogues. So they seek elsewhere."

As I said in this post, "Speaking as a lifelong Conservative Jew . . . My personal experience has been that, while most Conservative Jews prefer a more traditional service than do most Reform Jews, the observance level of Conservative Jews outside of the synagogue is often not much different than that of Reform Jews." And as I said in this post, "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 . . . " (Ah, the joys of being "Conservaprax.")

I recently commented to my husband that I sometimes feel that, if one finds oneself to be more observant (in some ways) than one's rabbi, it's time to go to a different synagogue, as Larry Lennhoff's wife did (see first comment here). Unfortunately, as my husband pointed out, some of the rabbis of our previous synagogue, and of my current favorite--the one to which I take the subway on Shabbat/Sabbath (a no-no, according to halachah/Jewish religious law, which forbids any non-medical-emergency travel on Shabbat or major holidays except by foot)--aren't as observant as I am (in some ways), either.

So how the heck is the Conservative Movement supposed to create halachically-observant communities when so many, if not most, Conservative Jews are even less halachically-observant than I am?


Finally, a "label" that fits: I'm "Conservaprax"

Here's my response to an anonymous comment to my 2009 Purim post:

"Anon. Tue Mar 10, 10:33:00 PM 2009, "observant/egalitarian, Conservaprax(?)"? Hey, maybe that's what I am! Okay, maybe I'm semi-observant, what with the riding to shul on Shabbos, but really, how else would describe someone who's not sure she believes in either G-d or halachah, but who davvens 3x/day & complains that her shul's not kosher enough?"

That description certainly sounds like me. Perhaps praxy may not be restricted to the Orthodox.

An appreciation

See here.


See here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Observance survey re mitzvot of Purim

Purim sameach--have a happy Purim!

I'm curious to know how others observe Purim. According to the Orthodox Union, these practices on Purim are mitzvot (commandments/obligatory observances):

Taanit Ester/Fast of Esther (day before Purim):

My understanding is that Taanit Ester is a dawn-to-sundown fast, though, interestingly enough, the OU's description, long as it is, fails to mention that major detail. :(

"On the 13th of Adar during Minchah, it is customary to give three halves of the coin which is the basis of the local currency. The money is given to the poor to do with it as they wish. This contribution is made in memory of the half-shekel given by Israel when the Beit Hamikdash [Holy Temple in Jerusalem] still stood; and whose forthcoming collection was announced on Rosh Chodesh Adar."


"Purim has four main Mitzvot:

The Reading of the Megillah (Mikra Megillah)
The Festive Purim Meal (Seudat Purim)
Sending Gifts (Mishloach Manot)
Gifts to the poor (Matanot l'Evyonim)

Questions for my readers:

  • Do you fast on Taanit Esther? If so, for how long? (My understanding is that some fast until after Minchah only, except on Yom Kippur, though I'm not acquainted with the halachic/Jewish law justification for that practice, and would appreciate being enlightened and/or corrected.)
  • Do you give machatzit ha-shekel? If so, and if you're American (or Canadian?) do you knock themselves out getting almost-impossible-to-find half-dollar coins to give, or do you just give two quarters? (And why is it that some say we're supposed to give three half-of-the-local-currency coins when our ancestors gave only one half-shekel coin per person?)
  • Do you attend a Megillah reading in a synagogue? If so, do you attend one reading or the traditional two readings?
  • Do you attend or give a Seudat Purim/festive Purim meal? If so, is the meal held at your or another person's home, in a synagogue, in a kosher restaurant, in a place of employment or a kosher restaurant during lunch hour, or other (please describe)? Do you think that a Seudat Purim must include meat (nu, there's no such thing as a Jewish vegetarian?) and wine (setting such a bad and unsafe example for the kids if you really do get drunk enough not to be able to tell the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman")?
  • Do you give matanot la-evyonim? If you give gifts to the poor for Purim specifically, do you make it a point to do this, or to arrange to have it done, on Purim Day itself?
  • What "flavor" are you--Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, non- or post-denominational, other?
Enjoy your Purim, and nash some hamantaschen! Here's a treasure hunt for your Purim amusement: Go to Mark/PT's blog, click on his Moshe Skier Band link, and, if you can click on the Movies link without your internet crashing (#$%^&*!!!!!!!!!!!!), scroll down to the very bottom of the page and enjoy the oldest video there, a Purim performance by the original Shlock Rock line-up with Mark on bass.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Judaism, superstition, & uncomfortable connections

I just love it when the rabbi begins his sermon with the statement that Judaism prohibits belief in superstition--and then proceeds to give an entire sermon based on the "fact" that the ayin ha-ra (the evil eye) is real, without seeing any contradiction whatsoever between his first assertion and his second. [Insert roll-eyes emoticon and/or sarcasm warning here.]

So Jews are forbidden to believe in, or engage in practices involving, superstition.

This is why we have segulot? Maybe, if I tie a red string around my wrist . . .

Parshat HaMan, not to mention Ashrei, anyone?

What about going to a rabbi for a blessing? Since when is any human being supposed to have that kind of power?

And when it comes to sympathetic magic, we get dangerously close to more-widely-accepted territory. The beating of the leaves of the willow branches (aravot) against the floor or chair is said by some to be an attempt to imitate the sound of rain--the day before we pray for rain.

What about petitionary prayer in general? When we ask G-d for help, aren't we trying to force G-d's hand? Is there a continuum leading from superstition to sympathetic magic to petitionary prayer? Could there be more of a connection between religion and red strings tied around wrists than we'd like to admit?

Wed., March 4, 2009 update:

Ah, here's what I was looking for, three days ago--I knew that DovBear had a few words to say about Parshat HaMan.
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