Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Medinat Yisrael, may it live and be well

Here's a link to my Yom HaAtzmaut/Israel Independence Day post from last year, a pretty good one with some nice links in both the post and the comments.

I pray for the welfare of the State of Israel and its inhabitants. May Medinat Yisrael go from strength (as necessary to protect itself) to strength (in being "or la-goyim, a light to the nations" in democracy, education, medicine, science and technology, etc.)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go pack some Israeli cheese and olives for lunch.

Thursday, April 30, 2009 update: Look what I found when I got home--a new comment to an even older Yom HaAtzmaut post of mine, with links to a couple of Al HaNissim prayers. Thanks, Avi!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


While I still had both arms in casts, I paid shiva calls to the families of two congregants who'd died. Since December, I've taken three people off my mi-sheberach list (list of those for whom one is praying for a recovery from illness or injury) due to death. The demographics of our local synagogue being quite tilted toward the senior end of the spectrum, I sometimes feel as if my whole community is dying in front of my eyes.

Rowdy and raunchy :(

It was bad enough that a group of high school students were "singing" rap music out loud on the subway and disturbing many of the other people in that subway car. But what they were singing was even worse, and, frankly, pretty shocking to this 60-year-old. (Let's just say that I won't duplicate the lyrics on this family blog.) Isn't anything considered private and/or indecent anymore?

Will the last person to leave . . .

. . . please turn off the lights?

Okay, maybe I'm not always the last person to leave the office, since some folks here are on later shifts. Still, it sure does get annoying when the boss waits 'til 20 minutes before I'm scheduled to leave to give me a project.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Conflicts of principle, on a regular basis

For the cerebral version, see here.

This is the tachlis (nitty grit practical details) version.

For some of us non-Orthodox Jews, consistency of religious observance can be a lot more difficult when friends or, worse, family are involved.

Item: Years ago, a friend of mine accidentally treifed the synagogue kitchen (made it non-kosher) by using a cooking spray label "dairy" on the parve baking pans (intended for baking cakes containing neither dairy nor meat products). I should have reported the incident. I did not. I just couldn't do it. She was my friend. (For the record, that's one reason why I don't believe in pot-luck meals in a synagogue--there's a reason for having a mashgiach/kashrut supervisor, an independent person who's paid to ensure that the laws of kashrut are followed. A mashgiach doesn't have to worry about what friends he's going to antagonize by enforcing the rules.)

Item: I recently found out that one of my favorites among the baalei tefillah (leaders of religious services) at my current favorite synagogue is (a) intermarried and (b) currently enrolled in cantorial school. Policy question: Should a school for the education of Jewish religious leaders admit persons who are not exactly role models? Personal question: Should I do my best to avoid going to any services led by this individual? (Boycotting a service led by one of the finest singers in the synagogue is a lot to ask of a former synagogue-choir singer.) On the other hand, should I reject someone who's still a Jew, albeit one who's violated a major prohibition? What if my son intermarries? I have no intention of sitting shiva, but how would I handle a non-Jewish daughter (and grandchildren, if any)?

Item: We can either take the train to a friend's house for a seder, or we can walk a few blocks to a seder made by another friend who doesn't keep kosher. Either way, we're violating halachah/Jewish religious law. And what am I supposed to do when, as has happened a few times in my life, I find out partway through the seder dinner than not all the food is kasher l'Pesach/kosher for Passover--walk out?

Big-ticket item: Speaking of walking out not being the preferred option, to say the least, what if one spouse is more observant than the other? Usually, our policy of mutual non-interference (see the post and comments here) works pretty well, but sometimes . . . Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg married a secular Israeli. How does she manage?

Related: See my previous post.

What's ideal doesn't always work in real life :(

In a comment to this recent post of mine, Al said, "I believe partnership minyans wait until 10 men AND 10 women... Bringing women into your services should not be an excuse to excuse the men, which it sadly becomes by dropping the minyan requirement."

A Partnership Minyan is a wonderful idea, but it wouldn't work in my local non-egalitarian synagogue for one unfortunate reason--we don't have 10 men, not because we excused them, but because we lost them to the Mal'ach HaMavet/Angel of Death. Our shul didn't begin counting women for a minyan until we literally ran out of men. On most Shabbatot/Sabbaths and Chagim/major holidays, we barely have enough men for the aliyot. No doubt, they'll start giving women aliyot soon for the same reason. Given a choice, I'd rather be counted and giving an aliyah on principle, rather than as a last resort.

Related: See my next post.

A walk in the park during lunch hour

A cool breeze
under the trees
'neath the first blossoms
and this spring's fresh green leaves

A robin redbreast
with orange "chest"
temporarily found
on the ground
I could almost touch it
It even seemed to be
watching me
'til it flew away
into the spring day

What a joy, a miracle,
to be alive in late April!

(Written April 21, 2009)

Mazal tov to blogger on becoming a published writer

So there I was, innocently reading the book reviews in Hadassah Magazine when I spotted the reviewer's name--and almost fell off my chair! Congratulations to one of the Jewish blogosphere's most articulate bloggers on having her writing published (for the first time?) in a non-student magazine--see the four book reviews published here in Hadassah Magazine under the "Holocaust Memoirs" heading. I wish Fudge the best of luck as she heads toward college graduation and a career as a journalist--and, perhaps, a fiction author--in the real world.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

"You gotta represent with your yarmulke"

I overheard an interesting conversation at my favorite Manhattan synagogue this past Shabbat/Sabbath. One of the guys was saying that he used to wear a kippah all the time, but no longer does so, because he felt that it constrained his behavior. He felt that he couldn't walk into a bar while wearing a kippah, even though Jewish law doesn't not forbid it, just because it wasn't done (iz pas nisht?). He also felt that he couldn't go to a museum while wearing a kippah, lest he be seen looking at a nude, which might "look bad" (mar'it ayin?).

In the interests of chinuch (education), I'm linking to an old Shlock Rock video, even though it's Sefirah (during which many observe restrictions against listening to music), because the video illustrates the point of the above conversation perfectly. The words to the song are here, but, in the video (hat-tip: singer/songwriter/bass player and sometime blogger Mark Skier/PT), Etan G. described an actual incident in which he felt constrained to behave himself in a more civil manner because he was wearing a kippah.

No rest for the weary :(

See comments.

A minor milestone, to my surprise

I knew that I hadn't leined/been baalat koreh/been a Torah reader in a while, but I forgot that, in the interim, I'd broken both wrists and undergone surgery twice. Boy, was I surprised when I reached out to take the yad and realised that I was not only about to put a large metallic object on or near the scar on my palm from my carpal tunnel surgery, I was also going to wind the yad's metal chain around my surgical-scarred wrist so that it wouldn't scrape against the klaf (parchment) and damage the lettering. Fortunately, holding the yad didn't hurt me, and my reading of the maftir aliyah for Shabbat Rosh Chodesh went perfectly. Next week, I'm going to be the baalat tefillah (service leader) for Musaf. The olde leiner and service leader is back in business.

Friday, April 24, 2009

If at fourth you don't succeed . . .

try, try again.

Since I'd managed to forget to remove my tefillin before Hallel on all three non-Shabbat (non-Sabbath) days of Chol HaMoed Pesach (the intermediate days of Passover, when, if it's not Shabbat, one is permitted to work), I made it a particular point to remember to remove them today. It was only after I finished Hallel that I remembered that, on Rosh Chodesh, one is supposed to remove tefillin before Musaf, not before Hallel.


On the plus side, there's always next Rosh Chodesh, so I won't have to wait too long for another opportunity to get it right.

Taken aback

See here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Birkat HaChama in Antarctica

Orthodox or Non-Orthodox? A conflict of values

Below are what I consider some of the advantages of non-Orthodox practice and some of the advantages of Orthodox practice, in terms of the values that they hold.

Non-Orthodox (hey, I'm Conservative, so I'm starting with my own folks first):
  • Freedom of movement
Okay, the Conservative Movement's Rabbinical Assembly does not approve, but even most Conservative Jews use means of transportation other than their feet on Sabbath and major holidays. However, before my Orthodox brethren and sistren get too exercised about this, please understand that some of us have serious reasons for doing so. Consider my friend with Multiple Sclerosis, who can't even get to her building's entrance/exit door, much less to a synagogue, without using an elevator, or my parents, who, even before my mother broke her hip last week, couldn't go to synagogue unless someone drove them there. Perhaps I'm misinformed, but my understanding of halachah/Jewish religious law is that it shows little mercy for those with mobility challenges. If a person can't walk to a seder, or to a synagogue or sukkah on a Sabbath or major holiday, the person just can't go, period. An Orthodox Jew with limited mobility is basically a prisoner of his/her home every Sabbath and major holiday.
Update and correction: Thanks to commenter Miami Al, I've discovered the existence of the Shabbat scooter.  [Mon., Oct. 27, 2014:  Try this link, or, better yet, this one.]
  • Freedom of association
An Orthodox Jew who, by the spin of the genetic lottery, happens to be born gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is just plain out of luck. That person can stay in the closet and find excuses not to marry, stay in the closet and marry someone of a gender other than the preferred one, or, well, leave the Orthodox community. Frankly, if there are any other options, they're either extremely difficult and taken by the brave only, or I just don't know them.
  • Freedom of choice
Our Orthodox brethren and sistren take so literally the Biblical verse "p'ru u-r'vu, be fruitful and multiply," that a married Orthodox Jew simply does not have the option of remaining childless, if fertile. There are even questions as to the minimum number of children permissible, the answer depending on one's interpretation and/or rabbi, I presume.
  • Freedom of speech
I've blogged about this before, but, at the risk of repeating myself, let me just say that there are certain things that an Orthodox Jew can't say without being deemed a kofer/apikorus/heretic. An Orthodox Jew can "finesse" it, to a certain extent, saying, for example, "Rabbi X rules this way, but I don't follow that ruling, I follow Rabbi Y's interpretation." But, in the final analysis, only on an anonymous blog can an Orthodox Jew admit to having doubts about, for example, whether HaShem really gave us the Torah on Har Sinai or whether it was written by inspired human beings. You have to buy into the belief system, or at least, give the members of your community the impression that you do, if you wish to remain within the community and/or if you don't wish to jeopardize your children's marriage prospects.
  • Freedom of role(s)
Anyone who's been reading this blog for more than about 2 1/2 minutes has already figured out that I'm not only a feminist, but an egalitarian, as well, believing that women and men should have equal opportunities in all aspects of Judaism. As I've blogged previously, it's not the mechitzah that's the problem, it's everything that doesn't come with it: being counted in a minyan, being allowed to lead any part of a public religious service, etc. Some of us just can't reconcile ourselves to the idea that the separate roles assigned to men and women by the rabbis over a thousand years ago are still binding on us today and can't be changed.

  • A sense of structure and permanence in an ever-changing world
The Torah's been around for a good while. Maybe the rabbis knew/know a thing or two, and we don't have to reinvent the wheel in every generation.
  • A sense of community
This is, to a certain extent, the flip side of the "freedom of movement" argument--nothing is more likely to engender a sense of community than knowing that you can visit any member of your congregation on foot on a Shabbat/Sabbath or Yom Tov/holiday because they all live within walking distance of the synagogue.
  • A shared commitment to observance
No Orthodox Jew (except a medical professional who needs one for life-saving purposes) would dream of even bringing a cell phone to synagogue on the Sabbath, much less leaving it turned on. It's also nice that an Orthodox Jew doesn't have to worry about going to the neighbor's house for dinner because everyone in the community keeps kosher. In fact, families of the more observant Conservative variety have been known to leave the Conservative Movement for Orthodoxy because Shabbat observance among their Conservative counterparts is often such a low priority that many kids go to soccer practice, ballet class, piano lessons, etc. on Saturday, leaving the children of the more observant Conservatives without Shabbat playmates.

For me, the chief advantages of being non-Orthodox are that I can travel to the synagogue or seder of my choice, discuss my true beliefs (or lack thereof) without worrying that my frankness will make it impossible for my son to find a wife, and lead the weekday morning minyan. The chief drawback is the relative lack of shared observance. I hate it when people's cell phones ring in shul on Shabbat!

Kindly read the comments here first, then see part 2, the "tachlis" (nitty-gritty practical details) version, here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Six candles as my witnesses

It was rather sobering, to say the least, davvening Shacharit (praying the Morning Service) next to a tray of six burning yahrzeit candles. Gila's words say it better than I can.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yom HaShoah, by Gila

Fall in the family (must be the latest trend) :(

Original posted Friday, April 17, 2009, 9:39 AM. I'm keeping this on top until Monday, at least.

My mother, who's over eighty, took a tumble yesterday and broke her hip. Surgery is expected to take place within the next few days. Please keep Esther bat Golda v'Chaim in your thoughts and prayers.

Early Sunday update: My mother is awaiting surgery today, and is resting comfortably--mostly sleeping--in the interim.

Sunday, 6:17 PM update: My mother is now safely out of surgery, is alert, and will be going home (where she'll undergo rehabilitation) in a few days. She'll need 24-hour care for the foreseeable future.

The current theory is that my mother fell due to dizziness caused by low hemoglobin.

Nadav & Avihu:the "spontaneous combustion" theory

Re Parshat Sh'mini, the Torah reading for last Shabbat/Sabbath, a previous rabbi once theorized that Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's/Aaron's older sons, were killed by spontaneous combustion. As evidence, he cited the fact that their relatives were asked to carry them out by their tunics, which, in a normal fire, would have been burned. What was in that Ohel Moed/Tent of Meeting, anyway?

A short subway scene

Wow, a rare clear route to the escalator!
And I was only about 20 steps away
But then another train pulled in
And suddenly
There were 30 people in front of me
Oh well, even a New Yorker can tolerate a 15-second delay

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Round-up of my Fri., 4/17-Sun., 4/ 19/2009 posts

Praying in synagogue, for the hubster's sake

I vastly prefer davvening (praying) the Sabbath Evening Service at home, so that I can pray at my own (snail's) pace and sing whatever parts of the pre-HaMaariv-Aravim-blessing service strike my fancy with whatever tunes I choose. On a typical Friday night, I might sing melodies by such diverse songwriters/groups as Shlomo Carlebach, Shlock Rock and/or Lenny Solomon (its leader), Beat'achon (they have a gorgeous L'cha Dodi, though I sing only the first verse, 'cause it's a long song, and davven the rest), Mark Skier (aka blogger PT) , Diaspora Yeshiva Band, Cantor Charles Osborne (a tune I remember from my years as a synagogue-choir alto), and the most famous Jewish songwriter of all, "Unknown."

As I've written previously, my husband, though better educated Jewishly, came from a completely non-observant family, and, as a result, became far more synagogue-oriented than home-observance oriented. It finally dawned on me that my current preference for davvening Kabbalat Shabbat (praying the Sabbath Evening Service) at home was actually discouraging my husband from davvening Kabbalat Shabbat because he has no interest whatsoever in praying at home. So I promised him that I would go to shul with him on a Friday night at least once a month. I don't appreciate the speed-davvening, but I do appreciate my husband, and want him to be a prayer participant, not just an onlooker.

Festival Maariv mystery solved

I just noticed last week that the usual introductory passage before Bar'chu at Maariv (Evening Service) is omitted on the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals), and asked why. This is probably obvious to my more learned readers, but my rabbi told me that "V'hu Rachum, y'chapeir avon (He is compassionate, forgives sin . . . ") is a penitential prayer, and, therefore, inappropriate for a holiday.

Friday, April 17, 2009

How do they do it?

My hat's off to the Moroccan Jews who celebrate Mimouna, and anyone else who can manage to put away all of their Passover plates, pots, pans, etc. within hours after the end of Pesach. I should only live long enough to be able to accomplish such a feat. It takes us days. (Sure, the kitchen is switched back and all the Pesach stuff is off the dining room table, but it's all sitting in piles in the Pesach storage boxes, waiting to be neatly packed away and parked back up on top of the bookshelves. Wish us luck, and we wish the rest of the post-Pesach stragglers the same.)

Shower power, or researching halachah *here*??!

No, my blog is most definitely not a good place to look up rulings regarding halachah/Jewish religious law.

Except when I link to someone else.

Just before Pesach, I checked my own blog, of all places, to find out whether one is permitted to shampoo one's hair on a Yom Tov/major holiday. I remembered linking to a ruling that one is permitted to take a hot-water shower on a Yom Tov. But as for the shampoo, the answer is no, because one is not permitted to squeeze a liquid out of anything, including one's hair. See this post, toward the end.

P'ri hagafen

Another guest at my girlfriend's seder asked about something that's puzzled me, too: Why is it that the brachah/blessing over wine or grape juice "borei p'ri hagefen,who creates the fruit of the vine," but the brachah over grapes themselves is "borei p'ri ha-eitz," who creates the fruit of the tree"? How could grapes and grape juice not come from the same plant?

"It isn't that kind of fruit," my old friend explained. "It's more like 'p'ru u-r'vu, be fruitful and multiply.' It's about the fruit of our labor."

Oh. That makes sense.

So nu, maybe those of us who are parents should say a brachah like that over our child(ren). I mean, if anything is the fruit of our labor . . . :)

Back to the future, seder-style

We've been going to our old friend's home for the second-night seder almost every year since her kids and our son were in elementary school, through her difficult years, her divorced years, and her remarried year and a half. This is her second seder since her remarriage.

Now that her kids and our son are all in their twenties, it's been a long time we've had a child-oriented seder, so I wasn't expecting one. I'd completely forgotten that her step-granddaughter, previously introduced to my readers as the little shadchanit, is now a very talkative synagogue-pre-school student.

Much to my surprise, I didn't mind foregoing the adult-oriented discussions, of previous sedarim. Maybe I was just too tired from trying to kasher my house with two half-healed formerly-broken wrists.

Or maybe I'm just ready to have grandchildren. There are some drawbacks to having a son who's not even halfway through grad school. Oh, well.

For those whose minhag is to say "half-Hallel"

My B'nei Edot HaMizrach ("Children of the States of the East"?) co-worker tells me that, in her community (Syrian-Egyptian?), there's no such thing as half-Hallel for Rosh Chodesh or the last six days of Pesach/Passover--her community says the complete Hallel whenever Hallel is recited.

But for those of us who differentiate, I recently read somewhere (can't remember where) that we say half-Hallel for all of Pesach after the first (2) day(s) (1 in Israel, 2 in the Galut/Diapora--long story) because of the dignity of the seventh day. There's a midrash that, when the Jews were rescued at the Reed Sea, an event traditionally held to have taken place on the seventh day of Pesach, HaShem rebuked the angels for singing. "How can you sing when My creatures are drowning in the sea?" (This is always the [a?] reason traditionally given for pouring or dipping wine or grape juice out of our cups when we recite the Ten Plagues at the seder.) Therefore, we diminish the number of psalms that we sing for Hallel during Chol HaMoed lest anyone get the false impression that Chol HaMoed (an intermediate festival day when one is permitted to work) is as important as the seventh day, a full chag (when work is not permitted).

Minhag = custom

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sad news, glad news

I finally caught up on this sad news. May Brian and his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

I also caught up on this glad news. Mazal to Drew and Rachel, and b'ruchah ha-baah (welcome) to baby Sophie.

I hope that Anth is doing much better now, too.

"Quit your whining" about Haggadah not being PC

Katrina says that those of us who are non-Orthodox Jews should take context into consideration, and not kvetch (complain) so much about those portions of the Haggadah that are not "politically correct."

Berel Dov Lerner discusses the Four Children

This is a nice drash.

The great "soft matzah" debate

Ezzie and commenters make interesting points here.

Three days in a row

This is the third weekday Chol HaMoed day in a row that I've forgotten to remove my tefillin before Hallel. And I keep forgetting and saying at least one of the brachot/blessings, as well, though my husband's minhag/custom is not to say the brachot for laying tefillin when using them on Chol HaMoed.

There's an old joke: "Make sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear." Maybe I should make sure my brain is engaged before putting prayers in gear (or putting arm and head into or out of "gear," as the case may be.)

In case you need any further proof that my brain is turning to mush, I keep doing the ritual hand-washing after using the ladies' room and then forgetting to make the brachot, or scratching my head three minutes later and asking myself, "Did I say the brachot or didn't I?". Oy. If this is my brain at 60, can you see me at 80?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pharaoh the Mitzri (Erachet's parody poem)

Delightful. (Hat-tip: Ezzie.)

Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Sunny day, chasin' the clouds away"

Shot today, near my own home, so sweet

Can you tell me how to get,
how to get to Shira-leh's street

Television show theme music currently playing in my head courtesy of Sesame Street.

A drizzly spring day in Central Park

on a Friday afternoon, 'bout two hours before dark

Shira's Shots, April 3, 2009

Taken while I was detouring through the park on the way home from an appointment with my orthopedic surgeon.

These late sunsets have their advantages.

A thoroughly disorganized Pesach

What with me still being slightly disabled as a result of having broken both wrists last mid-December and my husband being behind in his tax-return preparation because he had to spend so much time helping me, we were really both pretty out of it this year. We ended up buying things for Pesach (Passover) that we knew we already had, just because we didn't have time to look for them. We now have enough dental floss to restring the Brooklyn Bridge. :)

To make matters even more interesting, my kavvanah (focus, concentration when praying) has gone down the proverbial tube. If I hadn't decided, at the last minute, to go to synagogue on Friday night instead of praying at home as usual, I would have forgotten to do Sefirat HaOmer completely, and would have had to count without the blessing from now until Shavuot. (If one forgets to count the Omer in the evening, one may count in the morning without the blessing, but if one forgets to count in the morning, too, one must count without saying the blessing for the rest of the Sefirat HaOmer period.) That would have been a major bummer, as I've managed to complete the count with the blessing for, I think, the past two years. (I strongly recommend that you click on that link and sign up for the Orthodox Union's daily Sefirat HaOmer reminder e-mails.) I also managed to have to repeat the silent Amidah prayer twice (thus far), once because I said "chag haSukkot" (the Festival of Booths) instead of "chag haMatzot" (Festival of Unleavened Bread) during the Yaaleh V'Yavo paragraph, and the other time because I forgot to say "Yaaleh V'Yavo" completely. Not to mention that I forgot to remove my tefillin (which I wear in accordance with my husband's minhag/custom, which is to lay tefillin on Chol HaMoed, but without saying the brachah/blessing) before Hallel.

Worst of all, I realized, in the middle of Shacharit (Morning Service) today that we'd never made a Maot Chittim donation to help pay for food for people who couldn't afford to make a Seder and/or buy kosher for Passover food for the entire festival (eight days in the Galut/Diaspora, seven days in Israel--long story). In this rotten economy, with so many people in need, I feel like a real heel. :(

Update: So I got on the Internet and tried to make a donation to our usual folks, the New York Board of Rabbis Passover Appeal, but their donation link has already been disabled (presumably until next March). Then I tried to donate to the neighborhood Jewish social-services organization--the one that provides Kosher Meals on Wheels, among other forms of assistance--but those dinosaurs have a website without a "donate here" link! Oh, well, all else having failed, UJA-Federation of New York was happy to accept our Passover 2009 Donation, late as it was. Sigh. We'll try to time it to be more helpful next year.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Pesach surprises

Not necessarily made to be a maid?
My sister was kind enough to send her cleaning woman my way after I broke both wrists last mid-December and ran out of home-attendant coverage. I was hoping that she would spare me almost all of the pre-Passover cleaning, but I ran into a couple of unforeseen problems. For openers, my cleaning lady couldn't figure out how to flip open the top of the stove to clean under the burners, and I had to pick up the stove-top myself. To make matters worse, she not only couldn't figure out how to strip my refrigerator down to the bare walls, so that the walls, shelves, and frames could be thoroughly cleaned--I had to remove half the shelves and shelf support frames myself--but she also couldn't figure out how to put the frames and shelves back in after the cleaning, either, and, again, I had to do half the job myself. Nu, wasn't I paying her so that I wouldn't have to put too much stress on my half-healed wrists? Sigh. As I told my husband, it's a good thing that Pesach came now, because I wouldn't have been able to help my klutzy cleaning lady two months ago.

Soap opera
My husband and I have been fighting over bath soap for Pesach for years. First, I tried using old-fashioned kosher dish soap of the solid-bar variety, the kind marked with a red star for meat or a blue star for milk. (I don't know whether it's even still being manufactured anymore, given the widespread availability of kosher liquid dish detergent. Oops, I should have done a search first and written later.) The hubster didn't like it. So I tried Ivory liquid hand soap. He didn't care for that, either. So I gave up and went back to using a newly-opened bar of Dove soap.

This year, I made a halachic decision, of sorts: Any product used on our hands (which touch the food, dishes, utensils, and pots) that was made exclusively with water and what an old girlfriend of mine calls "unpronounceables" (miscellaneous chemicals, often with long names) was hereby kosher for Passover, whereas any product containing an ingredient that was identifiably chametz would be put away in a taped-shut kitchen cabinet. Ivory liquid hand soap and Lubriderm body lotion passed the test. But imagine my unpleasant surprise when I spotted "maltol" among the ingredients of Dove soap. Maltol?! Yep. Into the taped cabinet went all our bars of Dove soap. Ivory liquid hand soap is now the only hand or bath soap being used in our home on Pesach.

The tale of the retired Torah sroll

Let's put it this way: My husband's hagbah didn't go exactly as planned. When he lifted the scroll, it went down, rather than up. He swears that only the eitzim (wooden rollers to which the parchment is fastened), but not the klaf (parchment) itself, touched the floor, and the rabbi confirms this. Still, we just made a donation to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, by way of t'shuvah (repentence). As for the sefer Torah in question, it's the largest one that our synagogue owns, and the chazzan (cantor), who's also our baal koreh (Torah reader), is now under orders never to use it for a Torah reading again, since there's hardly any man left in the congregation who's capable of lifting it.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Women & group prayer:A survey for Orthodox Jews

Start here.

In addition to making me think about my future participation in the Women of the Wall, should I have an opportunity (and the nerve), the movie "Praying in Her Own Voice" did get me thinking about women and group prayer in general, and the Orthodox community's response(s).

I've quoted the Out of Step Jew's opinion on women's tefillah groups several times before, but it's worth quoting again:

"The main modern-Orthodox Halakhic argument against these groups is that it is instead of tefila b'tzibbur (prayer with the necessary ten man quorum) and therefore women are giving up a greater good to attain a much lesser good. While I don't doubt that this is a true Halakhic statement since the real-life tradeoffs are never so simple, this argument is disingenuous. If tefila b'tzibbur was considered such an important part of a religious woman's life Orthodox communities would make sure that women could participate in daily or at least weekly minyanim (as many do for Megillah reading on Purim, for hearing Parshat Zachor and for hearing the Shofar). By looking the relative sizes of most women's sections it is obvious that this is not a value for Orthodoxy. It's safe to say, Halakhah notwithstanding, that tefila itself is not considered an important value for women.

But that is beside the point. I know of modern-Orthodox and religious-Zionist communities where women gather in homes on Friday night not to say Kabbalat Shabbat [psalms and songs introducing the Sabbath Evening service] and ma'ariv [evening service], but to say tehilim [psalms]. There are even more communities, especially in Israel and not just amongst Sephardim, where women gather in these same groups on weekday evenings or nights, not to say mincha [afternoon service] or ma'ariv but to recite tehilim.

These practices are not just condoned by the Orthodox rabbinic establishment, they are praised.

So, when a woman recites chapters of Psalms with a group of women when she could be praying mincha or ma'ariv in a proper minyan, that is praiseworthy, but when they actually say the mandatory prayers, read from a Torah, and listen to a dvar Torah, that is blameworthy?"

Thanks to the Jewish blogosphere, I've also become acquainted with women's "Amen groups." (The short version, for those who don't wish to read the linked article, is that these are gatherings of women at which women recite various blessings aloud for the express purpose of enabling other women to answer "amen." Krum as a Bagel doesn't have many kind words to say about women's Amen groups. Here's his original post regarding these groups.

Krum is right about women's tefillah groups and women's amen groups having something in common: In both types of groups, women say "amen" as a group to brachot (blessings) recited by other women.

Why does Krum consider this to be such a terrible thing?

The way I see it, women's tehillim groups are not a threat to Orthodox Judaism because no mandatory prayers are being recited. (The recitation of tehillim [psalms], while laudatory, is not required of any Jew, to the best of my knowledge.) Women's amen groups are not a threat because there's no requirement to say one's brachot (blessings) aloud, to the best of my knowledge. But both have the same thing in common with women's tefillah groups: They're an expression of the wish of many Orthodox women to pray as a group.

Wherein is it written that the only proper way for an Orthodox Jewish woman to pray (when not behind the mechitzah at a minyan) is alone, and, oft-times, literally facing a wall?*

The acceptance of women's tefillah groups (would) require(s) both men and women to accept the idea that women can be, even to the limited extent allowed by Orthodox interpretations of halachah, independent agents in praying as a group.

So here's a survey for my Orthodox readers: What's your opinion of group prayer for women? Are you in favor of, or opposed to, women's amen groups, women's tehillim groups, and/or women's tefillah groups, and why?

*(I've seen this at my office many times, where a woman will find a quiet corner in a stairwell to davven [pray] minchah [the afternoon service] because, as is the case in many places in which weekday services are held, there's no mechitzah in the room in which the men hold their minchah minyan, and, therefore, the women can't be in the same room when the men are davvening minchah. Heck, I've davvened that way at my office many times myself.)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Women and ritual: A survey for Conservative Jews

I recently saw a 2008 movie about the Women of the Wall, who've struggled for over a decade to pray as a group, with a female leader and a reading from a sefer Torah (roughly, scroll of the Bible), at the Kotel HaMaaravi/Western Wall. The film, "Praying in Her Own Voice"--you can read about it and click on a link to an excerpt here) did get me thinking about (A) women and group prayer, and the Orthodox community's response(s) to more recent innovations concerning women praying in groups, and (B) the response of traditional Conservative Jews to the current egalitarian Conservative practice of allowing women to have the same roles as men in religious rituals.

For me, one of the most upsetting aspects of the film was that Orthodox women--not just men--screamed at their own sisters for daring to davven as a group out loud.

I've encountered this attitude before, and I don't understand it, especially when the opponents of equal rights for women in Conservative synagogues are other Conservative women.

As an egalitarian Conservative Jew, I've always been puzzled by the adamant opposition of my more traditional Conservative brethren, and, even more so, my more traditional Conservative sistren to, for example, allowing women to have aliyot. Nobody says that you have to have an aliyah, so why are you so opposed to letting me have one?

I'm not trying to be snide or sarcastic. I'm simply trying to understand. For those of my readers who are in the traditional Conservative camp, why are you of the opinion that a "to each her own" approach is not an option when it comes to women's participation in ritual?

A brazen law-breaker, but kind-hearted

Okay, we all know the "drill"--when using public transportation, avoid direct eye contact or staring as much as possible. Still, it's hard not to notice what a person standing directly in front of you or seated directly across from you is doing. I was flabbergasted when I sat down in the subway and realized that the guy on the facing seat was just putting the finishing touches on a hand-rolled marijuana cigarette, blatantly breaking the law in an extremely public place. He still that "joint" in his hand when I got off at my stop. But at least he dug out a few coins when a subway beggar walked through our car.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Mazal tov to MaHaRa'T Sara Hurwitz

Congratulations to MaHaRa'T Hurwitz, and to Rabbi Avi Weiss (who "ordained" her) and the entire Modern Orthodox community. If I understood the audio portion of the linked video correctly, the title is an acronym for Manhigah Hilchatit, Ruchanit, v'Toranit, Leader in Jewish Religious Law, Spiritual Matters, and Torah. This "ordination" is a major step in welcoming Orthodox women into the world of Jewish learning and leadership. Thanks to DovBear for spreading the news.

April 2, 2009 correction, thanks to commenter Jon: Hilchatit (not Halachit). Done. Thanks. Again, Mazal to Maharat Hurwitz.
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