Monday, August 31, 2009

The tzniut (modesty) rules: What's their purpose?

That may sound like a strange question. What other purpose could there possibly be for the rules of tzniut (modesty) if not to minimize inappropriate sexual attraction and/or distraction?

Okay, let's start with the basics (copied from here).

Sources Regarding Kol Isha [the rule, sometimes observed with exceptions, sometimes not observed at all, forbidding a man to listen to a woman sing] by Gil Student [of Hirhurim].

There are two main talmudic passages that deal with kol isha.

1. Berachos 24a

Rav Yitzchak said: A tefach [Shira: I think that's roughly 2 inches, or see here] of a woman is nakedness ('ervah).

For what? If you say for looking at it, Rav Sheshes said: Why did the Torah count outer ornaments with inner ornaments? To tell you that anyone who looks at the small finger of a woman is as if he looked at the obscene place. Rather, [Rav Yitzchak is talking about] one's wife an[d] kerias shema [the reading/recitation of the Sh'ma, a biblical quotation affirming the oneness of God--I think the reference is to a man getting sexually distracted while reciting the Sh'ma].

Rav Chisda said: The thigh of a woman is nakedness as it says (Isaiah 47:2) "expose a thigh to cross a river" and it says (ibid. 3) "your nakedness will be exposed and your embarrassment will be seen."

Shmuel said: The voice of a woman is nakedness as it says (Song of Songs 2:14) "for your voice is sweet and your countenance comely."

Rav Sheshes said: The hair of a woman is nakedness as it says (ibid. 4:1) "you hair is like a flock of goats."

2. Kiddushin 70a

[Rav Nachman said to Rav Yehudah]: Would you like to send regards to Yalta [Rav Nachman's wife]?

He [Rav Yehudah] said: Shmuel said: The voice of a woman is nakedness."

I've blogged about my objection to the kol isha rule ad nauseum, but, for my newer readers, "Damned if we do and damned if we don't" is probably one of my better posts on the subject.

What about the other prohibitions? I'm not particularly fond of the rule that married women (and, according to some opinions, widowed and divorced women) should cover their hair because it's considered immodest--raising the rather interesting question of why a never-married woman's hair is not considered immodest--but I can understand the prohibition in light of ancient Near Eastern attitudes that deemed women's hair a sexual display. However, in my opinion, such a prohibition makes little sense in contemporary times, when naked hair is the least of our modesty concerns.

As for the notion that even looking at a woman's pinkie is forbidden, that attitude is such a major overreaction that I honestly don't understand it at all.

But I don't need a quote from either Rav Chisda or Yishaya/Isaiah to convince me that a woman's--or man's--naked thigh is immodest (certainly the upper part, at least).

And therein lies the basis of my question: Why do (some interpretations of) the rules of tzniut make sense, while others seem to have no connection to reality?

As I said in my post "Tzniut (modesty) for *men,* for a change", "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?!!!!

. . . An extra half-inch of exposed hair is going to cause uncontrollable sexual desire? What world are these people living in?"

And as I said here, concerning kol isha, "Whoa, wait a minute: “Rav Ovadia rules that the prohibition applies even if the singer is not alive.” ???!

Men are so obsessed with women that listening to the singing of even a dead woman is prohibited as a potential turn-on???!"

But the pi-->èce de r
  -->ésistance is here (see the comments).

As kisarita said here, (hat-tip: Robert Avrech)

kisarita said...
. . . In my opinion, refusing to shake hands, itself sexualizes a non sexual situation. . . .
June 22, 2009 5:45 PM 

Isn't that exactly the result of objections to bare feet, to the singing voices of even deceased women, and to "too many" centimeters of a married woman's hair being visible? Don't objections such as the aforementioned and the objection to shaking hands with persons of the opposite sex take non-sexual situations and make them sexual? Isn't that the exact opposite of what the rules of tzniut are supposed to accomplish? If the alleged purpose of the rules of tzniut is to minimize inappropriate sexual attraction and/or distraction, doesn't this obsession with "tzniut," rather than minimizing inappropriate attraction, make anything even remotely resembling sex the center of attention?

Have the rules of tzniut, as interpreted by some of the more right-wing segments of the Orthodox community, ceased to be matters of common sense, and morphed, instead, into chukim, laws for which there's no logical explanation, which one is supposed to obey just because HaShem said so, like the laws of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws)? How much do the rules of modesty really have to do with modesty anymore?

September 2, 2009 correction:
One of my e-mail correspondents has reminded me that "a "chok" has legal force, while there is no actual law to wear a skirt that is x inches below the knees." So I should say that I think that the rules of tzniut have become similar to chukim, in that, as with chukim, there is no logical explanation for some of them. (I should also mention that this e-mail correspondent doesn't think that the tzniut rules are illogical, just that they are "societally governed," and "people still use them as social markers (such that having an uncovered head in shul still advertises one's availability).")

Another round of simcha inflation

If this is what some people do for a bris--food for 80 people?!--I'm afraid to think about what the Bar Mitzvah celebration and wedding are going to be like.

Previous rounds here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Links to my Aug. 21-27, 2009 posts

Grand Central Station from an unusual angle
Shira's Shot, Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Main Concourse's turquoise "sky" ceiling, taken from the ramp to the lower track level and dining concourse

If you click on the photo, you'll get a nice view of the ceiling carvings (in the Main Concourse) and the chandelier (over the ramp).


My Maariv is kaput, or I'm beginning to understand traditional gender roles

I leave the office at a decent hour and head to Manhattan's Upper West Side, picking up a few items at Supersol kosher supermarket and another few at Kosher Marketplace, plus a Koren Sacks pocket-sized siddur (prayer book) from West Side Judaica for davvening (praying), on the subway, whatever parts of Shacharit (Morning Service) I don't have time to say with my speedy Kaddish minyan (which is often every part except for the Matbeiach shel Tefillah, the core required part of the service [of which I say every word], plus the Kaddishes). By the time I get home, it's after 8 PM. I still have to enter my purchases in our computer records and download and back up my files from the office. (I've had just enough bad experiences not to trust in the continued and uncorrupted existence of files that are stored on only one computer.) I'd also like to, ya know, eat dinner.

By the time I'm finished with all the above, it's roughly 10:30 PM, (even though my husband did the cooking and dishwashing, in return for my having done the shopping), and I have to get up at 5 AM for morning minyan. (I've been rather spoiled over the summer--my husband will be teaching four nights a week starting in about two weeks, so I'll have to do almost all the cooking, whether I've also done the shopping or not.) It was difficult enough when I was getting up at 5:30 for a 7 AM Shacharit, but now that I have to take the subway to get to the nearest synagogue that not only has a minyan (so that I can say Kaddish for my mother) but also won't toss me out on my keester for putting on a tallit and tefillin while female . . . *

How am I supposed to say Maariv (the Evening Service) when I'm not finished doing everything else that has to be done 'til it's already well past my bedtime? When am I supposed to sleep?

Sigh. Been there, blogged that.

And if even I can't find time to sleep for more than 5-6 hours, how do folks still in the child-rearing years manage such a feat?

In our case, it's an interesting role reversal--it's the lady of the house who's getting up early for minyan, and the man who, for the time being, is taking care of the cooking. How do egalitarian families with young kids manage? Who "covers" the caregiving and housekeeping, when both spouses count themselves obligated to pray three days a day? Who "minds the store" when neither spouse is willing to sacrifice her/his own religious life in order to care for the kids and/or kitchen so as to enable the other spouse to have a religious life? Must we women be the other Leviim?

Sigh. Been there, blogged that, too.

*For those (probably including me, in future years) who don't understand the reference, see " Driving while Black."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Homesickness: A good sign?

I've been blogging for five years now, and I've noticed something interesting among the younger J-bloggers: Some of them, heading off for college in a location far from home, have cried on their first Shabbat in the dorm, while others seem unable to eat or sleep normally for a few days.

I checked with my husband, just to be sure, and, as I suspected, neither of us experienced anything like this when we left home for college.

And that's not necessarily anything to brag about.

The Punster and I were both late bloomers. Neither of us had a lot of friends and/or a decent social life to speak of. For both of us, going away to college was a great escape, an opportunity to go somewhere where no one knew us from Adam and we could start with a clean slate.

We had little to lose, and everything to gain.

Those who suffer from homesickness may, indeed, have much to gain, but they also have to give up more in the process.

If our own experience is any indication, homesickness may be an indication that the sufferer is, basically, a well-adjusted individual who's had a fairly happy childhood.

An unexpected question

See here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Also on the subject of clothing . . .

2 Jews, 3 opinions: Prayer attire for women

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I've been trying to walk a fine line between traditional ritual "garments"--the Torah describes a tallit as a garment, but does not describe tefillin as such, and doesn't mention a kippah at all--and beged isha, women's garments. I've lost track of the number of posts I've written on this topic.

I just finshed reading New Jewish Feminism: Probing the Past, Forging the Future, an anthology of essays edited by Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, and I must say that I'm, frankly, relieved to see that I'm not the only Jew on earth who's interested in--okay, some might say obsessed with--the clothing question.

From "The Politics and Aesthetics of Jewish Women's Spirituality," by Lori Hope Lefkovitz, PhD, and Rabbi Rona Shapiro (page 70):

"For some women, the demand for women to don tallitot and tefillin indicates that women must in effect become men, by wearing male garb, in order to empower themselves as Jews. Others believe that tallitot and tefillin are the garb of the Jew, and simply because women have not, by and large, had access to this meaningful ritual attire in the past does not mean that they should not wear it now, any more than they would decline to wear judge's robes or surgical scrubs because women came late to the professions of medicine and law." (I should mention that the authors express concern about divisions between more and less traditionally-observant women over this issue.)

Well, in case you don't know which side of this debate I support, see here.

Dr. Anne Lapidus Lerner, in her essay "Pacing Change: The Impact of Feminism on Conservative Synagogues" made some interesting and, to me, rather distressing points. (See pages 181-182 particularly.) Not only did she remind me--as if I needed reminding--that there's no one universally-accepted standard for women's ritual attire in Conservative synagogues, she also startled me considerably by stating that JTS requires its female rabbinical students to wear tallit and tefillin, but the Ziegler School does not. Say WHAT?! How on earth can a rabbinical seminary (or a cantorial school) of a movement that, at least officially, adheres to (its own interpretation of) halachah/Jewish religious law accept as a rabbinical (or cantorial) student any individual who doesn't observe all of the mitzot, including the time-bound ones? I don't get it.

Bottom line, in my opinion: The "big-tent" approach of the Conservative Movement has some serious drawbacks, and I think that our failure to encourage girls and adult women to take upon themselves mitzvot/commandment pertaining to prayer attire is one of them. No girl or woman in a Conservative synagogue, school, camp, or youth group should feel intimated or embarrassed about wearing a tallit and/or tefillin.

See also Jen Taylor Friedman's "Should All Barbies Wear Tefillin?".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Daniel Gordis's dire prediction sounds sadly familiar

See his latest dispatch, "The War We Haven't Fought Yet," and weep.

Ever since we first visited Israel in 1978, my husband's been predicting that, if there were ever peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, there would be civil war among Israeli Jews. In my opinion, only the sides have changed--whereas my husband predicted war between the datiyim (religious) and the chilonim (secular), I predict that a civil war, if it came to pass, would be between the most extreme of the chareidim (fervently religious) and everyone else. Not even the Dati Leumi (Religious Zionist) community is going to put up and shut up forever as their women are beaten up for riding in the front of so-called "mehadrin" (sex-segregated) buses, their daughters are threatened for walking through the "wrong" neighborbood accompanied by male friends who are walking on the other side of the street, and their rabbis' conversions are declared invalid.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

So much for planning, round two :(

See round one here, then see the comments.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I'm sure there's something in Yiddish . . . :(

I was so proud of myself.

Last night, I went to Supersol on the Upper West Side of Manhattan (the one at 661 Amsterdam Ave., between 92nd St & 93rd St.), and bought exactly what we needed and (almost) nothing else:
  • Challot
  • One package of corn thins
  • A main course for last night, when I worked overtime on a project, and tonight, since, er, as soon as I get home, I'll have to do the laundry instead of cooking, to spare poor Mr. Post-Op.
  • Color-coder sponges for our kosher kitchen: 2 blue scrubber-sponges, because we eat dairy so often that we wear them out, and 2 green scrubber-sponges, because we so often mess up and accidentally use them for dairy . . . (We can only hope that we're "covered" by either the "batel b'shishim" rule [rough explanation: a seventieth (er, sixtieth, per Larry's correction in the comments] of something not permissible but accidentally added doesn't make a food not kosher?) and/or by G-d's mercy on a pair of poor folks who weren't raised kosher.)
  • Okay, a few all-fruit fruit leathers.

But no junk food! I kept the load on my wallet, my waistline, and my back as light as possible.

Lighter than intended, unfortunately.

Somewhere on a Manhattan subway platform yesterday evening sat the forgotten bag of bread that I hadn't put in my backpack for fear that the challot would get "matzahed."

After all that schlepping, I still had to pick up some challot this morning.


Is "nebuch" the right word?

The Punster's Big Hospital Adventure

First, the latest kidney stone played hide and seek, forcing the surgeon to spend much longer finding it and removing it than he expected.

Then, just to make life interesting for both of us, the Hubster passed out in the lobby while we were waiting for a taxi to take us home. Fortunately, three kind hospital employees--one of whom was a nurse, thank G-d--schlepped him up off the floor and into the wheelchair that he'd been trying to reach as he complained about being dizzy--apparently, he was already not entirely alert when I told him that I'd bring him a wheelchair--and rushed him to the Emergency Room. The ER personnel took a gazillion blood samples--I called them "vampires" :) --to send to the lab. Then, they wrapped a blood-pressure cuff around his upper arm, put a heartbeat-rate-monitoring contraption on his index finger, plugged an IV into him and "salted" his veins with sodium chloride--I told him he was getting well pickled :) --stuck an oxygen gadget in his nose, and gave me the honor of (literally) standing at his bedside for probably over four hours until they decided that he was well enough to go home.

Such fun. Not.

Next time, I'll remember to:
  • take him from Ambulatory Surgery to the lobby in a wheelchair, and make sure he stays there until the taxi arrives.
  • bring food (and plastic utensils with which to eat it)--there's almost nothing kosher at the local grocery store, especially when you're following the surgeon's orders and looking for something low-fat and not spicy, and, since the Hubster passed out between meals, I ended up having to feed him a single-serving container of Cheerios (which he ate "straight up"--without milk--by hand, directly from the container).
I'm happy to report that my husband was well enough yesterday to want to leave the apartment. Nut case that he is, he went over to the shul to help with the financial records.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Links to my Thurs., Aug. 13-Mon., Aug 17, '09 posts

How hot was it?

It was so hot in New York City today that, when I started heading down the stairs, as usual, to go back to my office after visiting another office, because I'm too impatient to wait for the elevator, I turned right back around and waited for the elevator, because, when I opened the stairwell door, it felt as if I were stepping into an oven! (In numerical terms, it was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit/32.2 Celsius).

On the other hand, here it is, mid-August, and this is the first hot spell we've had. It's been a relatively cool and very wet spring and summer. I think we've had at least one day of rain every week since April. (We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have had a sunny week at the NHC Institute--sloshing around that campus in the rain would have been thoroughly unpleasant, especially with all the goose poop.) I wish we could send a quarter of our rain to California, where it might help prevent those wildfires, and another quarter to Israel, still suffering from drought. Rumor has it that local crops are being ruined by the excessive rainfall. Yes, Virginia, there's such a thing as too much of a good thing. :(

So much for planning :(

See comments.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

NHC Institute '09: Jammin' in Cheney Chapel

Shira's Shots
Tuesday, August 4?, 2009

(I finally got all the photos and videos copied from the Punster's laptop. See # 7 here.)

Between degrees, the Sonster visits the folks

The Family Physicist just earned his MS in May. Yay! Now, onward to the PhD!

Shira's Shot, Tuesday, August 11, 2009, taken with the help of the Sonster, who's become quite skilled with a camera, at 79th St. and Broadway, Manhattan, after a fine family feast at Estihana kosher Japanese restaurant in honor of our son's six weeks of studies in Japan (while earning his undergraduate minor in Japanese), his newly-minted Master's degree, and his current PhD plans, not to mention his visit with his dear olde dad and mom.

Previous edition here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Happy Belated Fifth Blogoversary to Me

I seem to have missed my fifth blog-o-versary on Aug. 2 while prepping and packing for the NHC Institute. Well, it stands to reason--the last 12 months have been, shall we say, interesting, in a no-news-would-have-been-better-news sort of way, so I can't honestly say that I've had much to celebrate. On December 11, 2008, I broke both wrists. Almost six months later to the day, on June 12 (our 32nd anniversary), my mother passed away. All told, not the best 12 months I've ever had. The only joke I can make is that at least my mother waited until my wrists had healed well enough to enable me to hold a ("pocket-sized") siddur/prayer book, or I'd be having a hard time saying Kaddish for her.

On the plus side, I turned 60, and our son just earned his Master's in Physics! (Hot sauce!) So there's been some good news, too. Photo of our son in Manhattan to follow--he's in town for a (too-rare) visit. (Yay!) There are no graduation-ceremony photos, though, 'cause there was no ceremony--we have to wait until he gets the PhD, apparently.

The Jewish blogosphere has changed considerably since I joined the party in August 2004. Many of my favorite bloggers are no longer blogging, or have cut back their blogging considerably, some for personal reasons, some for lack of time, some because they've graduated college and are probably concentrating on real life. There are, admittedly, probably too many dormant blogs on my blogroll, just because I don't have the heart to delete them and/or cherish the delusion that the bloggers will change their minds. But more bloggers have entered the scene. This is fortunate, because I'd rather read other people's blogs than follow people on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace . . .

I do find it interesting that so many of the blogs on my blogroll are written by Orthodox men. I'd love to know where all the non-Orthodox bloggers and the women are "hiding."

While I'm trying to figure that out, I'd like to offer a salute to my fellow and sister bloggers. Who knows? Since Ms. Tech-Challenged, here, is always a few years behind, I may be the last person still blogging when the Twitterers turn off the lights. :)

Sunday, August 16, 2009 update: See photo of the holder of a newly-earned MS in Physics here.

For your amusement

Apparently, I've been declared an instant Brasileira--a lot of the spam that I receive on one of my e-mail accounts is in Portuguese. :)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Delusions of youth

I was just rereading an article in AARP Magazine this morning, and it finally registered with me that the completely-gray-haired woman in the accompanying photo was the same age as I am-- 60.

Here's a photo (previously linked to this post) of my late mother, taken in August 2005 , when she was 81 years old. As you can see, she still hadn't gone completely gray, even at that late age. I know for a fact that my mother did not use hair dye, and even stopped wearing make-up, after she had an allergic reaction and her doctor forbade both. I joke with people that I may be the only person on earth who actually believes that the late former President Ronald Reagan may not have been lying when he said that he didn't dye his hair.

I may not have inherited any of my mother's aptitudes (though I've inherited her face-your-problems-and-deal-with-them attitude)--I can barely boil water, I have no sense of direction, and I can't add 2 + 2 without a calculator, while my mother was an excellent cook, a skilled front-seat navigator in the car, and a retired bookkeeper--but I've definitely inherited her hair. Maybe one of the reasons why I don't see myself as old is that, with no more than about half a dozen gray hairs, I don't look my age.

Here are my husband and me at last week's NHC Institute. The resemblance between me and my mother, aleha ha-shalom (rest in peace), is hard to miss. Aptitudes, or lack thereof, notwithstanding, I am my mother's daughter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

NHC Institute'09:Harpo blogs about building the eruv

Check out this neat post on Jewschool.

Monday, August 10, 2009

NHC Institute 2009: Heaven and earth :)

Cheney Chapel

Canadian cra . . . er, campers :)
Where were those pooper scoopers when we needed them? :)
(Click on photos to enlarge. The photo of Canadian geese is actually not bad, if I do say so myself.)

Shira's Shots, Aug. 9, 2009

NHC Institute '09: Reminders for future years

This post will be of interest primarily to NHC Institute attendees.
  1. Start with the reminders from the 2008 NHC Institute.
  2. Ask NHC to continue to put us in non-air-conditioned housing--Cheshire Hall is reputed to be freezing because the AC is completely out of control and actually gets worse if one opens a window.
  3. Don't order the feminine-fit T-shirt--even the large size, though longer, is not wider, and you're a bit past the age at which you'd look good and/or feel comfortable in just about anything that skin-tight.
  4. Remind the Punster to order a new NHC Institute sweatshirt, and to bring his ancient NHC Institute shirts for resale to benefit NHC--some attendees enjoy collecting the old NHC Institute shirts, especially since the graphic changes every year. While you're at it, bring your own skin-tight 2008 T-shirt for resale.
  5. Empty the camera and bring extra memory sticks, so you'll stop running out of room and be able to shoot more videos.
  6. Bring three night-lights: 1 for the powder room (with the noisy fan, which you don't want to leave on over Shabbat), 1 for the kitchen/livingroom (so that you won't have to waste electricity running the ceiling light while out at night during the week--leave the ceiling light on over Shabbat for middle-of-the-night reading), & 1 for the bedroom ('cause it was pitch black in there when we came home from Shabbat dinner and z'mirot singing).
  7. Bring an external mouse, so that you can upload photos and video from the camera to the hubster's laptop in far less than 45 minutes and without cursing.
  8. Nu, if you're going to bring a tape recorder, bring blank tapes! (Hmm, I saw a woman recording z'mirot one weekday afternoon with a Blackberry. I don't think it's possible to upload taped music. Is there a lower-tech MP3 recorder, or is it time to make the big switch?)
  9. Re last year's reminder #14 concerning n'tilat yadayim (the ritual hand-washing), here's a better idea, suggested by Rabbi Susan Gulack: Bring a full coffee-mug of water and an empty bowl to the table, and do n'tilat yadayim right at the table! (For the record, Shabbat dinner is even worse than lunch--we're all at the same Kabbalat Shabbat service, which means that all Institute attendees hit the cafeteria line at the same time.)
  10. Do Birkot HaShachar with all three paragraphs of the Sh'ma (which includes the first line and Baruch Shem K'vod) before breakfast--our current rabbi says that one is not permitted to eat m'zonot (grain products other than bread, for which one must wait until after Shacharit) until after one has recited the full Sh'ma, and also, one can be sure that one has said the full Sh'ma at the proper time/z'man if one says it before 8:15 AM (New York City time).
  11. The left-over grape juice (if any) from Friday night Kiddush gets put into the beverage cooler directly behind the salad bar. (We said Kiddush Rabbah/"Morning" Kiddush over bread this year.) I haven't figured out where the leftover challah is.
  12. Don't bring a (mini) siddur/prayer book to Kabbalat Shabbat/Sabbath Evening Service, even if your wrists are bothering you--the NHC provides very light-weight spiral-bound special Kabbalat Shabbat siddurim for everyone.
  13. But for heaven's sake, do remember to bring your tallitot to Saturday morning breakfast, because Shacharit starts immediately thereafter! We missed probably 20 minutes of (Birkot HaShachar and?) P'sukei D'Zimrah rushing clear across campus to our suite to get our tallitot. (Shout-out to our suite-mates Yael and Alan from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada!)

NHC Institute 2009: Some stories


After my mother's death on June 12, I debated whether it would be appropriate for me to attend the NHC Institute, at which there's certainly plenty of partying and socializing between classes and workshops, especially in the evening after dinner. One of my best friends talked me into it. "If nothing else," she said, "you're guaranteed to get a minyan for Kaddish." A truer word was never spoken.


Every once in a while, I get spared the dubious privilege of embarrassing myself in public simply because I don't have time to open my big mouth and stick my foot in it. Being clueless also contributes nicely to my occasion bouts of "foot-in-mouth disease."

There we were, singing away in a group, when one fellow got up and announced that he was going somewhere else to do another kind of singing. It was only by good fortune that I didn't have time to ask him where else people were singing before he added the explanation, "I'm going to be a bear."

Blogging has its uses, not only in terms of the Jewish information that I've picked up, but also, occasionally, in terms of the secular knowledge that I've acquired. Some months ago, I was reading a post about Israel, and a commenter signed a comment "Bears for Israel." Bears for Israel?? Well, obviously, I was missing something. (If we had arrived at last summer's NHC Institute in time to attend the opening "ceremony," and had seen the performance by the individual known as Bear, I would have understood the meaning of the term, but alas . . .) So I did an Internet search for "Bear, slang" and came up with this explanation.

Oh, that kind of, ahem, "singing!" Holy Moses, it's a good thing I didn't get a chance to ask!

(Speaking of my cluelessness, this post is related, though it's not about Institute stories.)

"The fleishig diet"

Erica and I were joking about being in "mixed marriages." Her husband, Richard, will eat in kosher restaurants only, while she'll eat cold food in non-kosher restaurants. I said that I'd stopped eating non-kosher meat about a decade ago, but that my husband is getting there the long way--he's becoming a "fleishig-phobe" (afraid to eat meat)* lest he be unable to have "coffee and" (coffee and a pastry) later. So Erica told us about some folks she'd known years ago who'd gone on "the fleishig diet"--they'd made sure to eat meat (fleish) every six hours, so that they wouldn't be able to eat (most) junk food.** The diet had worked for one young lady until she'd discovered the joys of peanut butter.*** :)

*I swiped the idea of "fleishig phobia" from an "Everything's Relative" cartoon by Jordan Gorfinkel published relatively recently in the New York Jewish Week, and probably in other Jewish publications, as well.)

**A high proportion of junk food is has milk in it, and many Jews who keep kosher wait six hours between eating fleishig/b'sari/meat (any product containing meat or poultry) and chalavi/dairy (any product containing milk).

***Peanut butter, being a meat-free, milk-free food, is permissible for eating after either meat or dairy foods, according to the laws of kashrut/Jewish dietary laws.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

NHC Institute '09:Quick note on classes,before class

Sorry, dreadful keyboard on college library computer aggravating my wrists. Will need to abbreviate, etc.

My classes, Hillel-style (standing on 1 ft.)

  • The Ever-Renewing Literal Sense: Alternatives in the Literal Interpretation of Scripture. Devorah Schoenfeld is leading us in a discussion of how various internal and external factors influence what we may think of as a literature interpretation of Tanach/Bible. Language, context, historical background, Jewish tradition, &/or what makes sense may influence a person's opinion. For example, when we read the text "an eye for an eye," do we assume that a person who blinds someone else will be subject to being blinded? Our common sense, along with tradition, both tell us "no," but, if we clear ourselves of preconceptions and consider the Ancient Near East (ANE), we might conclude that the literal sense may, indeed, have been that a person who blinded someone else was subject to being blinded.

My apologies to the poor souls who've gotten stuck with me as a chavrutah (study partner), thus far. Both Tuesday's & yesterday's chavrutah were far more learned than I, & I can only hope that I didn't bore them to tears.

  • Shabbat for the Land: Shmittah in the 21st Century. Ben Dreyfus is leading us on a tour of the texts & practices--and current work-arounds and their attendance controversies--of the Sabbatical Year. Today, we'll be learning about Otzar Beit Din (click here & keep scrolling--you'll get to the explanation, eventually).

For further information concerning the classes and teachers, see the NHC website.

Speaking of class, I'm going to be late. L'hitraot--see you later.

NHC Institute '09:Extremes of Kaddish--solo & speedy

One of the folks from my "Kaddish minyan" recently commented that, without the "kaddeishim" (the people who come to Shacharit/Morning Service) to say Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish, there might not be a minyan for Shacharit (Morning Service).

I'm very used to saying Kaddish with a small crowd. In addition, never having been Orthodox, I'm used to Kaddish being led by the rabbi, cantor, or shliach tzibbur/baal t'fillah/prayer leader. So imagine how surprised I was on Tuesday evening at Maariv/Evening Service when I got up to say Kaddish and no one started it. After a second or two, the baal t'fillah got the hint and started leading, at which point I joined in. But the minute I joined in, the baal t'fillah dropped out, and there I was, reciting Kaddish by myself for the first time in my life. The same thing happened this morning. It's an odd sensation.

On the other hand, I've also been stuck with the speedy-gonzalez types. At my Kaddish minyan and in most other synagogues that I've attended, Kaddish Yatom is said at a slow-to-medium speed, presumably to accommodate the many folks who say Kaddish who don't normally pray at all and/or whose Hebrew, er, Aramaic is not up to a faster pace. So I'm really not used to having to say Kaddish (especially Kaddish d'Rabbanan, which is longer and a tad more complicated to begin with) at 90 miles per hour, and don't much appreciate missing parts of Kaddish just because I can't keep up.

Sigh. Ah, for the happy medium.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

NHC Institute '09:Cones, soft-serve, study, & song

First, rav todot, many thanks, to my husband for doing all the driving on the way to the Franklin Pierce University, Ringe, New Hampshire. This not only enabled us to get here at a decent hour (since my husband is blessed with a sense of direction), it also spared me the necessity of testing out my driving ability for the first time since I broke both wrists last December. I'm going to try to help with the driving on the way home.

Second, I'm thoroughly enjoying being able to eat soft-serve ice cream in a cone in the fully-kashered and rabbinically-supervised cafeteria. Usually, I avoid both cones and soft ice cream because I don't know whether they're kosher.

Okay, now for the reason we're here: We came to the National Havurah Institute to study and hang out with other Jews.

I'm studying
  • the meaning of P'shat, so-called literal interpretation, and
  • modern ways of approaching the Shmittah year (with a teacher who studied the law of Shmittah last year, which was a Shmittah year, in Israel.) You may remember him from his comment to this post about last year's NYC Institute.

Go read the course descriptions on the NHC website, linked above, while I head off to a round-singing workshop. L'hitraot, see you later.

Here's the round-up of my posts about last year's NHC Institute.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The last taboo

The rabbi had nothing but praise for the man who was celebrating a major birthday. He was kind, a fine person to have as a friend, a regular synagogue attendee and chanter of haftarot.

And then the rabbi went too far.

He called the man a good Jew . . .

. . . politely ignoring the fact that the honoree's wife is not Jewish.

Then there's the person of my acquaintance who's intermarried and a cantorial student. Even journalist Julie Wiener has conflicted feelings about the ordination of intermarried clergy, despite being intermarried herself.

In a related story, here are a Conservative rabbi's words on his congregation's merger with a Reform synagogue:

"In the Miami merger, Rabbi Schonblum of the Conservative synagogue said the Who is a Jew issue would not be a problem because his congregation has practiced patrilineal descent for five years. "We can’t enforce it ... so we let it go," he said, referring to the Conservative movement’s requirement that children born to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother convert to Judaism before their bar or bat mitzvahs.

... I’m bringing in close to 50 or 60 people from my adult Torah study classes who are becoming closer to Judaism and understanding our Jewish traditions. It has been working. ... You can’t enforce anything today on anybody."

. . . Rabbi Schonblum said he believes the "Conservative movement can’t discriminate anymore. We can’t go and say to somebody, ‘You are not accepted because you are not like we are.’ It doesn’t work."

He emphasized that he has been permitting the practice of patrilineal descent "under the knowledge" that the child will not be recognized as a Jew "anywhere outside of the Reform movement. . . . "

Is it simply not possible for Conservative standards to be maintained in smaller synagogues? The tale I told at the beginning of this post is true and recent, the intermarried man in question being a member of my own congregation, which now has probably approximately 80 members. [Sunday, 11:07 AM update: I stand corrected--my husband says we have about 60 members.] My husband, who's the chair of the Ritual Committee, frequently asks him to chant haftarot because he's one of the few members of our synagogue who knows how and who's happy to volunteer. He also often gives the "birthday boy" an aliyah because he's frequently one of the few men in attendance in a congregation that often barely gets enough men for a Torah reading and won't give aliyot to women, though women are counted for a minyan.

And what about the seminaries, possibly not affiliated with the major American denominations, that admit intermarried students to rabbinical and/or cantorial training programs?

In all seriousness, I'd like to understand how the Orthodox, especially those in smaller communities, manage to maintain traditional halachic standards on the issue of intermarriage.

Amateur hour

We could have sworn that the rabbi, at a Ritual Committee meeting, said he'd gladly save us the cost of a High Holiday cantor by leading Shacharit (Morning Service) himself, freeing the regular cantor to leading Musaf.

We could also have sworn that the president, at a subsequent board meeting, told us that one of the reasons why we should renew the rabbi's contract was that he would lead Shacharit for the High Holidays, since we could no longer afford to hire a High Holiday cantor.

I'd been bugging my husband, who's the chair of the Ritual Committee, to check with the rabbi to ensure that he's been looking over the material, but somehow, he hadn't gotten around to it. So Ms. Big Mouth asked him herself.

To make a long story short, the rabbi was surprised by the question, indicating that he had no plans to do anything other that the usual sermon for the upcoming Yamim Noraim, since no one had offered him any extra pay for extra work.

There are several possibilities:

1. We misheard or misunderstood.

2. The rabbi changed his mind.

3. The president reneged on an agreement to pay the rabbi extra money.

4. Who knows?

What I do know is that no one bothered to tell my husband.

Bottom line:

Guess whose husband now has less than two months to learn the Shacharit for the Yamin Noraim? Guess who's advised said husband to have the congregation read most of the High Holiday piyutim (liturgical poems) silently to themselves in English?
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