Thursday, October 29, 2009

Green building on a gray day

Chelsea, Manhattan, New York City, 18th Street & Broadway
Shira's Shot
Tuesday, September 16, 2009

This building is green in more ways than one: If you look at the photo closely--click for a closer view--you can see that the smaller windows actually open. Let's hope that this is a harbinger of a greener future, with no more hermetically-sealed "boxes."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

P. & I discuss patrilineal descent & conversion

Anonymous started it in a comment to this post of mine, asking ""If the C movement officially allowed patralineal descent, would you cease affiliation with the movement?"

Then Julie Wiener got in on the act in this New York Jewish Week article, reporting that "Rabbi Robert Levine of Manhattan’s Congregation Rodeph Sholom . . . argues that matrilineal descent, only codified in Talmudic times, was itself a departure from biblical tradition and was a way of adapting to problems of that era: specifically, challenges faced by Jewish women who bore the children of non-Jewish men."

The Punster said he thought that, just as matrilineal descent was a response to a challenge of Talmudic times, perhaps “equilineal” descent--a policy of considering a person Jewish if either parent is Jewish--might be an appropriate response to the challenge of our own time. He's not so sure that he'd leave the Conservative Movement if it accepted patrilineal descent.

I, on the other hand, accept the logic of my first rabbi after moving to New York, which is that policies that affect the entire Jewish community differ from policies that do not. For example, what I serve in my home doesn't affect the whole Jewish community--what my synagogue serves does. The ordination of women and/or gays as rabbis does not affect the entire Jewish community--some accept such ordinations, some do not. But nobody's going to argue that the child of a (straight or lesbian) woman rabbi is not Jewish. The definition of "who is a Jew" does affect the entire Jewish community. If memory serves me correctly, my first rabbi in New York left the Reconstructionist Movement when it started accepting patrilineal descent.

So, on the one hand, it would be consistent with this approach for me to leave the Conservative Movement if the Rabbinical Assembly's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voted to accept patrilineal descent.

On the other hand, I have a huge problem--if I became Orthodox, I would have to consider the conversions of some old friends of mine to be null and void.

How can I suddenly decide that an old friend, who's been Jewish for over 25 years, who persuaded her husband, raised a secular Yiddishist, to try synagogue (much to the dismay of his mother), whose kids are Jewish day school graduates, who keeps a kosher home, and who has served on her synagogue's board, is not Jewish just because she was converted by a Conservative rabbi?

How can I suddenly decide that another old buddy who's been Jewish for over 15 years, has served as an officer of her synagogue, keeps a kosher home and is more observant than I am, is not Jewish just because she was converted by a Conservative rabbi?

The Punster feels the same way. Looks like the Conservative Movement is stuck with us and we're stuck with the Conservative Movement.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Orthodox Judaism and freedom of speech

For me and my husband, becoming Orthodox Jews would certainly pose some challenges, but not all the challenges are obvious.

"Shver tzu zein a Yid, It's hard to be a Jew" (not sure about my Yiddish transliteration) is certainly an obvious challenge. Giving up eating in non-kosher restaurants and becoming much stricter about kashrut in general, and giving up taking motorized transportation on Shabbat/Sabbath and Chagim/major holidays would be quite difficult. Among other things, and in a not-so-nice double whammy, making just those two changes in our observance would force us to desert our Seder host of roughly 20 years. :(

Another obvious challenge would be putting my egalitarianism on the back burner, at best. As I've often said, it's not the mechitzah--the divider separating men and women in an Orthodox synagogue--that's the problem, it's everything that doesn't go with it. Sitting in a separate section from my husband wouldn't be the end of the world. But never again being allowed to lead certain parts of a service, even in a Women's Tefillah Group, or, in a mixed group, never again being counted in a minyan, having an aliyah, leining Torah/chanting from the Torah scroll, or chanting a haftarat/reading from the prophets would be major sacrifices. And there's also the distinct possibility that my acceptance in the community would be conditional upon my never again being seen in public in my tallit and tefillin, traditionally considered to be for men only.

But there's another, less obvious issue that might make switching to the Orthodox camp even more difficult, if not impossible, and that's what appears, both to me and to my husband, to be a limit on what an Orthodox Jew can say in public and still be accepted by the Orthodox community.

Here's an excerpt from my review of Equality Lost: Essays in Torah Commentary, Halacha, and Jewish Thought, by Rabbi Yehuda Henkin:

“ . . . My understanding is that rabbinical interpretations of Jewish law were handed down orally by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai, along with the Torah sheh-bi-ch'tav, the Written Law (specifically, the Chamesh Chumshei Torah/"Five Books of Moses" [Genesis through Deuteronomy]). Exactly how literally is one to take this idea? Here, Rav Sheshet and Rav Shmuel combine their artillery to say that "in the same way that gazing at a woman's little finger is tantamount to gazing at her private parts [Rav Sheshet], so too, is attentively listening to her voice [Rav Shmuel]." (Page 68) I'm sorry that I can't find a less offensive way to say this, but my first reaction to this logic is that "the Emperor has no clothes." To me, the whole notion that a woman's pinky is as erotic as her erogenous zones is patently absurd, and I cannot for the life of me comprehend why on earth half the Jewish people should be forbidden to listen to the other half sing (which, in practice, means that half the community is forbidden to sing in the presence of the other half) based on such a blatantly ridiculous idea. My pinky is too sexy to be seen, therefore, I must metaphorically tape my mouth shut in the presence of men??!!!!!!”

As you can see, there's a reason why I'm not exactly known as a paragon of diplomacy. Much as I try to behave myself on my blog, I think that Dilbert, an Orthodox Jew, was much more respectful in this nicely-reasoned response than I was in this post.

dilbert said...

“. . . I accept the Talmud as interpreted on down the line, as authoritative. However, to paraphrase my father-in-law, it is the substance of the Talmud that is authoritative, not the specific conclusions. In other words, the Talmud gives us a number of options. I cant reject an opinion because I think that Rabbi was mistaken, or had a bad day. However, I can conclude that a different stated opinion should be followed. Remember, the Talmud is not a monolithic set of laws carefully and systematically set fowards. There are many conflicting opinions that are sometimes reconciled, and sometimes not. Using our tradition, we have to find the right path among the many."

Wed Jul 12, 12:34:00 PM 2006

On one hand, it's good to know that Orthodox Judaism has some "wiggle room," in that, to some extent, one can choose one's interpretation.

On the other hand, if I think a rabbi is mistaken, why can't I reject his opinion?

This isn't a rhetorical question. Look at the response Brooklyn Wolf got when he asked whether it's really such a terrible thing for a man to behave in a civil manner toward women. Not only did Brooklyn Wolf, who's Orthodox, come under attack for stating his own opinions, he was even attacked for letting others state our own views without having our comments deleted:

Shira Salamone said...

Somehow, this issur (prohibition) against talking to women under most circumstances strikes me as remarkably similar to the issur of kol isha (the prohibition against a man listening to a woman sing). In my opinion, both prohibitions seem to indicate that the rabbis had a very low opinion of the ability of males to control themselves sexually. I would say that not only are the issurim (prohibitions) themselves an insult to women, the attitudes on which these issurim appear to be based are an insult to men.

October 08, 2009 1:04 PM

Aaron S. said...

I am quite astounded that the blog owner here has allowed to stand many comments that are clearly Mevazeh Talmidei Chochomim and are openly Bizayon HaTorah.

If this isn't hefkeiros and apikores mamesh, nothing is.

October 08, 2009 1:09 PM

Yes, the opinion that I presented in that comment is my honest opinion. Yes, this is the way I think and express myself, both when writing and when speaking--as the saying goes, "I call them as I see them." And yes, from an Orthodox perspective, it's "apikores mamesh," which I believe means "truly heretical."

My husband and I have discussed this issue, and we both have the same problem. We both take Judaism "seriously, but not necessarily literally," as I wrote in the masthead to this blog. And both of us have a very difficult time conceiving of belonging to a community that, no matter how observant we became, would toss us out if we ever stated our true opinions on matters of Jewish law and/or belief in public.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Some good news from the NY Jewish Week

Palestinians shoot selves in feet

From "Netanyahu Seen Tying UN Gaza Report To West Bank Withdrawals," from the New York Jewish Week.

“ . . .a senior Israeli official said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has . . “been telling European leaders that he wants to withdraw from areas of the West Bank, but that he has to be sure Israel will be able to defend itself,” said the official. “He said that if Israel left an area and Hamas or Islamic Jihad came in and launched rockets at Israel from there, there would be a problem if Israel could not defend itself.

“To avoid that, he said he preferred not to give up territory,” the official said.

Alpher pointed out that this same scenario has happened in both southern Lebanon and Gaza. Israeli troops that were in both areas to ensure peace left only to find Palestinian terrorist groups move in and begin firing rockets into Israeli civilian populations.

“If the international community in its collective judicial wisdom punishes us for defending ourselves from cross-border attacks from land we withdrew from ... we have to be careful not to put ourselves in this position again,” said Alpher, who is also co-editor of the Israeli-Palestinian Web site “If our hands are tied as far as responding militarily, then this is a consideration against withdrawal that we didn’t have before,” he noted.

Before the UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Goldstone report in Geneva last Friday, Alpher said, Israel had always believed that “in the worst-case scenario if we withdrew and they attacked, we would respond. Now we have to ask ourselves if we are free to respond ...”

It would be the height of irony if the State of Israel used the Goldstone Report as a justification for refusing to make any more territorial concessions. And frankly, it would serve the Palestinian terrorists and their supporters in the United Nations right.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

. . . & furthermore (grumbles Shira with Katrina)

. . . I second her complaint about independent minyanim (see end of the same post by Katrina to which I linked in my previous post), which is not about what they're doing, but what they're claiming:

"--This article reminded me of the independent minyan movement, which drives me up a tree. I think that it was laudable for the founders of the movement to try to create great environments for meaningfuldavening (praying) when they couldn't find it elsewhere. Then their heads got a little big when various philanthropists and journalists (including in the Forward) said they were the living end. But the bottom line is, AN INDEPENDENT MINYAN IS A SHUL. Hadar just opened its own yeshivah, for pete's sake. Its founders are having kids, and those kids will need Hebrew schools and bnei mitzvah and the like. Then they will buy buildings, or at least more permanent spaces, and basically provide all of the same services as shuls, possibly without rabbis, but Hadar has had rabbinic figures as well. And some small shuls in the Midwest and so forth don't have rabbis. So what is a shul, really?"

My own complaint, since I'm a few years older than Katrina, is based more on recent North American Jewish history. What makes the independent minyan "movement" think they're doing something new? What are we, chopped liver?


Framing the discussion: Point & counterpoint

Ben Dreyfus*, in an essay posted here (hat-tip--Larry Lennhoff, in the comments to this related post), said: "For liberal Judaism to thrive, it must develop frames to see itself as authentic on its own terms. Orthodox Jews aren't doing anything wrong by viewing Judaism through Orthodox frames, but we as liberal Jews are missing an opportunity by failing to see Judaism through our own liberal Jewish values.

This framing problem manifests itself in subtle ways. When we refer to Jews of other denominations as "more religious" or "more observant," we undermine our own standards of religious observance, and judge ourselves on a scale external to our own Judaism.

Consider this phrase: "I'm not shomer Shabbat: Every week I light candles after sundown and then drive to synagogue." The speaker obviously observes Shabbat but is allowing someone else to define what Shabbat observance means.

Furthermore, one version of this frame (problematic even for Orthodox Jews) equates "religious observance" solely with ritual observance. "

Katrina is not happy about this essay, as you can see:

" . . . he doesn't offer any solutions, aside from the vague imperative that the movements reframe. . . . "

. . .

"--What about history? The idea of what Shabbat observance is has been influenced, to a large degree, by what it meant in the past. Of course, you may say, but Katrina, what about all of these crazy Orthodox people who pile chumrah upon chumrah in their Shabbat observance? They
don't care about history either. But that's precisely what offends Shomer Shabbos people such as I and half the J-Blogosphere about the crazy Orthos. The Jewish people do have a sense of what "Sabbath observance" means. If the liberal movements want to change the way that they talk about Shabbat, they will likely have more, rather than less, success, if they don't trample on concepts that people understand and may even be attached to."

. . .

"Regular people who come to synagogue don't want to talk about how they frame their Judaism. They want to talk about how to live it."

This could make for a very interesting discussion. The floor is open.

*My Sh'nat haSh'mittah/"Sabbatical Year" teacher.

. . . and furthermore, grumbles Shira with Katrina

Parshat Noach: Another fine mess

(Here's the first fine mess.)

Might as well start with DovBear's post. I'm linking to his Parshat Noach post through mine just because I'm too lazy to set up that link explaining the word Parsha again.

Okay, here are the problems that I see.

  • B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 6: Noach/Noah doesn't protest when HaShem, er, Elokim, says He's going to destroy all living creatures. HaShem, Elokim, oh, man, do I have to scrounge up that link to the Documentary Hypothesis again to explain the different names of G-d? Sigh. Here it is.
  • Why doesn't HaShem, er, Elokim choose some species-specific plague to wipe out the human race only? What did the animals do to deserve to be wiped out? For the record, I think I swiped this thought from GoldaLeah's B'reishit Noach post, which you should definitely read.
  • B'reishit/Genesis, chapter 7, verse 2: HaShem--yes, HaShem, not Elokim--tells Noach to take seven of every clean beast (male and female), and two, male and female, of every unclean beast. Nu, exactly how is Noach supposed to know which animals are "clean" and which are "unclean" when that list isn't mentioned in the Torah for at least another book and a half?
  • Poor explanation: "Therefore was the name of that place called Babel (Bavel), because there HaShem confounded--balal--the language of all the earth . . . (B'reishet, Genesis chapter 11, verse 9.) Bavel comes from balal?? Wrong consonant, sorry--not even in the transition from Ashkenazi to S'fardi, or from S'fardi to B'nei Edot HaMizrach (Children of the Communities of the East, e.g., Syrian, Iraqi, Yemenite) pronunciation, where they've been known to say "tob" rather than "tov"and "panav" for "fanav," can one substitute the letter bet for the letter lamed. Close, but no cigar.
On the plus side, at least the "begats" specify "sons and daughters."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Philanthropy-phobic :(

See the comments.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tolerance and/or standards?

On one hand, it's nice that some in the Orthodox world are tolerant of those who are not as observant as they are, or who aren't observant at all.

On the other hand, how does one balance tolerance with the need to know whether someone else's observance level resembles one's own observance level enough to make them reliable for such matters as kashrut?

Even some of us Conservative Jews have problems balancing tolerance and standards. I benefit from other Jews' tolerance of my (current) unwillingness to give up traveling (by means other than my own two feet) on Shabbat/Sabbath and Chagim/major holidays and eating hot cooked dairy foods in non-kosher restaurants, but I also suffer from not knowing whether I can trust people who bring packaged baked goods without a hechsher (rabbinical seal certifying that a product is kosher) to a pot-luck meal in a synagogue to use only kosher ingredients when cooking their homemade dishes.

Then, of course, there's the hot-button issue of when welcoming non-Jewish spouses crosses the line into what seems to be an approval of intermarriage. I think I expressed the tolerance/standards dilemma on this subject reasonably well in my comment to this book review by Sheyna:

The whole issue of intermarriage is fraught with difficulties. How do we support conversion by those who've married into the Jewish family but haven't yet joined it? How do we welcome people while still maintaining appropriate distinctions between Jews and non-Jews? I don't have a clue.

I don't have a clue. Do you? How do you manage the balance between tolerance and standards? The floor is open.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Noah's flood: Crying over spilled, er, water

DovBear considers Parshat Noach the most difficult parsha of all, but does a good job trying to work through the problems that plague traditional believers concerning the Mabul/Flood.

After Sukkot, something a bit more permanent :)

Fancy non-s'chach ceiling :)

Subway entrance for the upper-crust :)

Shira's Shots
Wednesday, September 17, 2009
(Click on the photos for a closer view.)

I think these are shots of the New York Life building (nice close-up here), but I wouldn't swear to it.

Some subway trivia, for the benefit of non-New Yorkers:

The Interborough Rapid Transit/IRT, Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit/BMT, and Independent/IND subway lines were integrated into one New York City Transportation Authority system years ago, but, due to the originally-separate construction, different trains may be necessary for the originally-different lines because the trains aren't all the same width! [No joke--the former IRT lines have narrower cars than the former IND lines.] Hat-tip: a long-ago landlord of mine who was a train buff.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Hachnasat orchim" or "dumbing down?"

From the comments to this post of mine:
Reb Barry said...

Shira, why expect others to take responsibility for someone's prayer experience? That's one of the problems facing American Jewry. Why dumb the service down because some people don't understand? Let those who don't understand find a learner's minyan. If they want to know what parhsa is this week, look it up on the internet before services. Why is it that people are perfectly competent in other spheres of their lives don't want to make an effort to figure out what to do at shul, and want it handed to them?

Sat Oct 03, 12:52:00 PM 2009

I wasn't too happy with that comment at the time, as you can see from my response, but I must admit that Reb Barry does raise an interesting point.

On the other hand, so does Reb Dov.

Reb Dov said...

. . .
The page-number-calling issue was raised when I was a gabbai at the egal minyan at JTS during rabbinical school. Our answer was, "People from the community come here to daven and say kaddish. The extra few seconds it takes to keep them with the kahal is a small price to pay for fulfilling the mitzvah of hakh'nasat or' (hospitality to visitors).

How can synagogues or minyanim accommodate those still in the learning stage without making long-time pray-ers feel that their own prayer experience is being interfered with?

See my April 10, 2010 follow-up post, The pace and scheduling of public prayer.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Parshat B'reishit: Fun with the DH :) (and more)

First, a little good news.

Now, on with the show.

DovBear published an interesting post on Parshat B'reishit, pointing out, among other things, that the order of creation differs in the two creation stories. (Said DB, "This, it must be noted, does not rule out the possibility of a divine author . . . ") The presenter of this week's d'var Torah (word/discussion of Torah/Bible) seconded DB's opinion about the nature of HaShem in the two creation stories, pointing out that HaShem quite literally muddied his hands to create Adam in the second story.

Those of you who are not yet acquainted with the Documentary Hypothesis would be advised to read a bit of the linked explanation before continuing.

The two different creation stories in Parshat B'reishit are found in Genesis chapter 1, verse 1 through chapter 2, verse 4, and chapter 2, verse 5 through the end of chapter 2, respectively. That second section actually runs past the creation story, per se, through the end of chapter 4, including the birth of Shet/Seth. In the first story, G-d is called Elokim. whereas, in the second, G-d is called by a name that starts with a yod in Hebrew (and a J in English), a name for which Jews often use the respectful substitute name HaShem (to avoid pronouncing or writing such a sacred name). In the first story, Elokim starts from scratch and ends with the creation of the male and female Adam, created in G-d's image. In the second, HaShem creates a male Adam first, then forms a female from his rib last.

I found it most interesting that, after the entire second creation story is finished, right through the birth of Shet/Seth at the end of chapter 4, the story reverts, in Genesis, chapter 5, to the creation by Elokim of the androgynous Adam, of the first creation story, before embarking on one of the Bible's infamously long-winded genealogies.

Another point of interest to me is that, in Genesis, chapter 6, verse 1, the "sons of god" were sporting with "the daughters of the human," "Sons of god"--I call "pagan influence" on that phrase. As for the human women, where did they come from, all of a sudden? Or did our ancestors just not bother to mention any daughters in that long list of "begats?" And the Nefilim of verse 4? Same as the "sons of god," or not?

You might also be interested in this post in which my husband compared Parshat B'reishit with Parshat Sh'mot, pointing out that both parshiot/weekly readings pack a lot of story into one parsha.

5:40 PM update:

Here are views of Parshat B'reishit from GoldaLeah, Rabbi Gil Student, and the ex-Gadol Hador, or whatever he's calling himself, these days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 update:

I completely forgot to link to some previous posts of my own re Parshat B'reishit. Here's a post about the "visible seams" in the composition of the Torah, and one about Adam and Eve as a coming-of-age story. Wow, Steg, you've been commenting on my blog since 2004?! Thanks!

Thanks also go to our son for his contribution to this discussion.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Good news: I found my missing siddur!

It's lucky for me that I accidentally dropped the match box behind the dining room table while cleaning up after Shabbat/Sabbath--when I ducked under the table to pick it up, I found my mini-Koren Sacks Siddur/prayer book hiding between a table leg. Apparently, the siddur had simply fallen out of my tote bag--probably when I put the tote bag and my lulav down at the same time--and landed where it couldn't be easily seen.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

People behaving badly, 21st-century style

"Up or down?," I asked the woman in the elevator.

No answer.

"Up or down?," I repeated.

Still no answer.

"Oh, well, I'll take my chances," said I, and stepped into the elevator.

I looked at Silent Samantha, who still had her eyes glued to her hand-held computer.

"You don't talk to people."

"Yes I do. But this is very important."

"You don't talk to people."

No, she doesn't talk to people, just to machines.

How typically 21st-century, to ignore the people with whom you've gone out to lunch in order to talk to a cell-phone caller, or to text or twitter while in class (heaven help our children's education).

Some of us have even been known to keep a spouse waiting for dinner while they send that last e-mail, upload that last photo, or finish that blog post. Guilty as charged. It has occurred to me that my son is probably lucky that blogging didn't exist when he was a kid, or he might have had to wait for his bedtime story.

The case against television


"Hung" (about a gigilo)

"Cougar Town" (Here's what that means in current slang.)

I seem to recollect having seen ads for a show about a call girl, too.

Then there are the ads for "Melrose Place" that use language sufficiently suggestive and/or vulgar that I won't repeat it on this family blog.

I refuse to link to such garbage, or to watch it. Whatever happened to the good old days when you could watch television with your six-year-old?

Thank goodness for old movies, The History Channel, and a few other bright spots, not to mention NY1 News, or I'd toss the TV out the window.

Brooklyn Wolf's touching, & true, tale of inclusion

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

DovBear's list of Simchat Torah "schtick"

Here's his list, along with some interesting discussions concerning whether any of it is appropriate, and, if so, at what point(s) in the service.

My "contribution:"

"zuvemen? (Yiddish) = le'mi? (Hebrew) = to whom (English - duh)?

For example: ha'hod v'ha'hadar! tzuvemen? tzuvemen? l'chai olamim!

The glory and the praise! To whom? To whom? To the Everlasting One!
JS | 10.12.09 - 3:25 pm | #

Thanks for the translation! I've heard or sung that one for years, but I never had any idea what it meant. I've also heard two different pronunciations: "chei" (rhymes with "yay") and "chai" (rhymes with my). May I assume that "chei" is Yiddish (or, the more exotic possibility, Aramaic) and that "chai" is Hebrew?
Chei Olamim means "life of the worlds." Chai Olamim means "lives forever" - or, acc. to Kabala/Chasidus, it means life - worlds, with no association ("of the"), to indicate the distance between the Ein Sof and the worlds.

A poem from my childhood, illustrated (kinda)

Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear
Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair
Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn't fuzzy, was 'e

Shira's Shot, Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I hope the fuzziness of the flowers is visible.

This will probably be my last floral hurrah until next spring, now that it's officially, Jewishly, fall.

It's now officially, Jewishly, fall

Not only did we start saying "Mashiv ha-ruach u-morid ha-gashem (He makes the wind blow and the rain fall)" in the Amidah prayer last Saturday, on Sh'mini Atzeret, but, yesterday, for the first time since late last spring, I had to roll up my sleeve in order to lay t'fillin. Pretty soon, I'll be dressed in more layers than a layer cake. Feh. I hate all that cold-weather bundling up.

Might as well take this last glorious opportunity to post a final floral photo before bringing on the fall-foliage photos. Be back in a minute.

8:31 AM

Back with the photo, as promised.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Quoting my quick quip on Sh'mini Atzeret

When we finished reading Kohelet/Ecclesiates, I said to my husband, "At least I have a good precedent for my tendency toward redundancy." :)

Sukkot side effect

See also my Sukkot highlights (dinner in the Lennhoff's sukkah, Hoshanah Rabbah at the Carlebach Shul) and Simchat Torah: lows and highs (evening in the home shul, morning at Ansche Chesed).

Apparently, I don't have enough hands: What with juggling a lulav in one hand and a tote bag full of etrog box, mini-siddur/prayer book (which I use for catching up on my prayers on the subway), tallit (prayer shawl), and, because I was afraid to put them away lest I forget them when I needed them, tefillin, in the other hand, I somehow managed to lose my recently-purchased Koren Sacks mini-siddur. :(

So, this morning, I got onto the subway with my ArtScroll mini-siddur instead. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there were words in the "l'olam y'hei adam . . . " b'rachah/blessing, which I know practically by heart, that I'd never seen before. I began to wonder whether ArtScroll Publishing was becoming even more right-wing Orthodox, making the prayers even longer.

It finally dawned on me that I should do something intelligent and check the spine of the siddur. Surprise, surprise--not: The siddur that I'd taken was Nusach S'fard. (To the best of my knowledge, Nusach S'fard is a combination of the Nusach Ashkenaz wording traditionally used by Ashkenazi Jews and the Nusach shel HaS'faradim used by S'fardi Jews, and was originally used only by Chassidim, who are Ashkenazi). I'd completely forgotten that I'd originally bought my mini-ArtScroll siddur as a reference book--at the time, I was using it primarily to try to figure out the lyrics to some of (sometime-blogger PsychoToddler) Mark's Nusach S'fard songs. Tomorrow, back to my "baby Birnbaum" siddur--I had enough trouble learning to davven/pray in Nusach Ashkenaz!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Simchat Torah: lows and highs

(See my Sukkot highlights--dinner in the Lennhoff's sukkah, Hoshanah Rabbah at the Carlebach Shul--here.)

The low was going to our local synagogue for Erev Simchat Torah. I go there in the evening out of rachmones (mercy), for fear that, with so many senior congregants who hesitate to come out at night, if we relatively young folks--I'm 60, the Punster's 67--don't show up for Maariv/Evening Service, we might not get a minyan. I don't think we got even 20 people, including the rabbi, the cantor, and a grand total of two children. For the record, no, we did not have 10 men. These days, it's fairly rare for us to get 10 men at any of our services, other than the Yamim Noraim/High Holiday services.

The high was spending this morning and afternoon at Ansche Chesed, where I had the privilege of choosing among three minyanim. Since Minyan M'at tends to run late on Simchat Torah, I figured I could always visit them later, and since the three minyanim meeting in a combined service in the chapel suffered from the disadvantage of being in a room not really big enough to accommodate dancing, I decided to take my chances and join the wilder (that is, younger: 20-40) folks from Kehilat Hadar who use Hirsch Hall for their Simchat Torah services. Though I did have to be careful to dance outside of the way-too-fast-for-me hakafot circles, I thoroughly enjoyed the singing and dancing, not to mention the festive foolishness--one poor chap, standing on a chair to lead the singing, got his pants rolled up to the knees by two kind volunteers. :) But the leining/Torah readings--they had five Torah-reading stations, to enable everyone there to have an aliyah--were quite serious, and the Musaf, with a silent Amidah and the repetition aloud thereof (chazarat ha-shatz), not to mention Amar Rabbi Elazar and Kaddish D'Rabbanan, was the most traditional service I'd ever seen at Ansche Chesed. (For the record, all services at Ansche Chesed and Kehilat Hadar are egalitarian, meaning that women and men participate equally and can lead any part of the service.) I'd be half tempted to try out Kehilat Hadar on a regular Shabbat/Sabbath, were it not for the distinct possibility that I'd be the oldest person in the room by at least 10 years.

All told, 'twas a delightful day, though it would have been nicer if my poor put-upon chair-of-the-Ritual-Committee husband hadn't gotten stuck praying at the home shul, where the vast majority of the congregants are too old to be interested in dancing.

Sukkot highlights

  • Tuesday night dinner with Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff in their sukkah.
We had a grand time with Malka Esther and Larry in the lovely sukkah in their backyard. Malka Esther cooked a feast worthy of a festival, and we enjoyed the fine dining al fresco. It was delightful remaking the acquaintance of Y., whom we'd met when we visited the Lennhoffs on Shabbat/Sabbath. We were also very happy indeed to meet Leora and her husband and daughter (though their sons were eating in other sukkot that night). What fun! Rav todot/many thanks to Malka Esther and Larry!

I've been hearing for years about the Hoshanah Rabbah morning service at the Carlebach Shul, but this was the first year that I had a paid day off on Hoshana Rabbah that enabled me to attend it. Hoshanah Rabbah being the last day of Chol HaMoed (Intermediate Days) of Sukkot, when normal daily activities are permitted, the Carlebach Shul sings the Hallel psalms with instrumental accompaniment (which is forbidden on Sabbaths and Chagim/Holidays, according to the Orthodox interpretation of halachah/Jewish religious law). I figured that such a lively Hallel would be quite enjoyable.

Having taken the precaution of praying Shacharit/Morning Service through the Hallel section at home, so that I could pray in my tallit (prayer shawl, traditionally worn by men only) and use my lulav and etrog without risking offending anyone at this Orthodox synagogue, I was pleasantly surprised to see at least a quarter of the women holding lulavim and etrogim, and two women were even wearing tallitot. So next year, if I have the opportunity to attend again, I've come in full regalia. On the other hand, it was just as well that I've davvened/prayed through Hallel before leaving home, because, much as I enjoyed all the singing, which included a lot of the la-la-la variety, I had no idea where in Hallel they were, most of the time. :) I enjoyed myself quite thoroughly, nevertheless. After all, it isn't every day that one hears Hallel accompanied by two guitars and a violin. I was also quite pleased when the gents rolled open the front of the movable modular mechitzah (divider separating men and women in an Orthodox synagogue) for a moment and handed us women a Torah scroll with which to circle inside the women's section during the Hoshanot. The man carrying the sefer Torah (Bible scroll) around the room before the Torah reading also entered the women's section with it just long enough to enable us women to give honor to the Torah, before returning with the sefer Torah to the men's section. Last but not least, I was happy to see, not to mention hear, Gili Houpt on guitar, and to have the opportunity to thank him for having given me one of the tiny siddurim (prayer books) that he used to distribute for Mincha/Afternoon Service in Central Park, which, as I told him, was the only siddur that I could hold after I broke both wrists last December. All told, Hoshanah Rabbah at the Carlebach Shul was quite a delight.

*This is a good explanation, but I suggest that you ignore the superstition part about seeing one's shadow--I don't believe in superstition, Jewish or not.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

One off, one on :(

I often incorporate prayers for the financial health of family, friends, and/or blogger buddies into the "barech aleinu et ha-shanah ha-zot" (bless for us this year) b'rachah/blessing of the Amidah prayer. Wouldn't you know, no sooner had I taken one blogger off my list--mazal tov, Ezzie!--than I had to add another one. I have no kind words for the current state of the economy. Best of luck to Elie and to all those currently between jobs.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

"Untouched by human hands," or just cautious?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009, 4:32 PM

Another blogger (Orthodox) recently mentioned that, when his wife first began to observe shmirat n'giah (see explanation below), she was happy to feel that her body was back under her own control, but she later concluded that control of her body had simply shifted from the lechers to the rabbis. I'm mentioning this because I originally planned to publish this post after Isru Chag/day after Simchat Torah, but the, in my opinion, related fray currently going on over at Brooklyn Wolf's blog convinced me that now might be an appropriate time. (For the benefit of the Hebrew-challenged, the word "tzniut [tznius]," frequently used in that post, means "modesty.") I can't quite put a finger on why I think that sh'mirat n'giah and the great debate going on in the comments to that post are related. I guess it's the issue of control.

Maybe I just come from a physically undemonstrative family, but I remember being surprised by how casually New Yorkers hugged and kissed one another. Growing up in a South Jersey suburb, the only place I can remember seeing that sort of behavior was between the hosts and guests on television's late-night Tonight Show. I've never been comfortable with that sort of greeting. So the Orthodox practice of sh'mirat n'giah--refraining from any physical contact with members of the opposite gender who aren't one's spouse or immediate family members--might actually be helpful to me and to others who are similarly reticent.

It also might be helpful to singles who don't wish to be pressured into physical relationships for which they're not emotional ready. As Nice Jewish Girl explained here, it's easier to say "I'm shomer/shomeret n'giah" than "I don't want to sleep with you."

But, for long-term singles, sh'mirat n'giah can be brutal, as Nice Jewish Girl was saying--see here, especially--and, for those who never marry, it can be downright cruel. How can any human being be expected to live an entire lifetime with almost no physical contact with another human being?

So I'm forced to give sh'mirat n'giah mixed reviews.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

It's hard to miss

I hear tell that 19th-century German Jews had a saying: "Be a Jew at home and a German on the street." Well, le' me tell ya, it's pretty hard being a Jew at home and an American on the street while riding a bus and/or subway with a lulav. Good luck trying to carry a three-foot-long object discretely.

It gets better: Since many Orthodox women do not attend morning minyan in synagogue, praying by themselves in the morning and/or at other times of the day, and since many in the Orthodox community are of the opinion that a woman is not obligated to use a lulav and etrog, bonus points for being a walking bull's-eye within the Jewish community go to any female seen in public at 6:30 AM, unaccompanied by a father, brother, husband and/or son,with a lulav and etrog in her hands.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Sukkot stories

Sometimes I think that every synagogue needs a soundproof room for those who, as the old joke goes, come to shul to talk to Moish, not to talk to G-d. We could certainly have used one last Friday night, when the yakking from the folks who came to eat dinner in the sukkah, but not to pray, made it almost impossible for us pray-ers to focus on Maariv/Evening Service.

We could also have used one for the politician who graciously accepted our (president's, probably) invitation to join us in our sukkah for dinner (on our tab, of course) and then rather ungraciously proceeded to talk our ears off for roughly 20 minutes straight, instead of having the good grace to sit down and shut up after five minutes or so. Okay, we all know that, from your perspective, this was just another campaign stop, but, really, did you have to be so blatant about it?

But the real "fun" came on Sunday morning, when some wiseguy raided our sukkah for a full glass of wine and then proceeded to stand in the synagogue lobby drinking it until the police were called.

On the plus side, my Kaddish minyan may be far more pleasant than usual this week. Until today, I was following my husband's minhag/custom of laying tefillin without a brachah/blessing on Chol HaMoed, the "intermediate days" of Sukkot and Pesach, when one is permitted to work (if necessary) and to do other normal weekday acts (traveling, cooking, turning electrical appliances on and off, etc.). This is one of those "two Jews, three opinions" things: Some say that one shouldn't lay tefillin at all during Chol HaMoed. As of today, however, I'm no longer wearing tefillin during Chol HaMoed: When I walked into my Kaddish morning this morning, I looked around, to check out the local minhag, and saw that absolutely no one was wearing tefillin--and I'm not going to "out-frum" the rabbi. So I'll have no more worries about getting my tefillin off in time for Hallel. Better yet, since I finished the Amidah prayer during the Hallel psalms, and finished Hallel during the k'riat haTorah/Torah reading, I was actually right on time to start the Heicheh Kedusha of the Musaf Amidah with the minyan! Ah, five days straight of actually being on time to say Kedusha! I've only been on time to say Kedusha with this minyan once before, so this'll be a real treat.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Near tears at morning minyan

I'm not a great fan of the Tachanun prayer, and often skip it, but it does have its uses--when a minyan in which I'm participating recites it, I have more time to finish the Amidah prayer.

Unfortunately for my purposes, my "Kaddish minyan" hasn't recited Tachanun for several days. I'm guessing that there's a tradition to skip Tachanun between Erev Yom Kippur/the Eve of the Day of Atonement and two days after Simchat Torah.

On Erev Yom Kippur, when we say neither Tachanun nor Psalm 29, La-m'natzeiach, we had a baal tefillah/prayer leader who was so fast that I didn't even finish the Amidah soon enough to say the Kaddish Yatom/Mourner's Kaddish prayer after the Aleinu prayer. It's a good thing there's always at least one more Kaddish in Shacharit/Morning Service (after Shir shel Yom/Psalm of the Day, or, until Hoshana Rabbah, Psalm 27, L'David, HaShem Ori v'Yish'i).

Today, the baal tefillah was so fast that I had just barely finished the third paragraph of the Sh'ma when they started the Amidah. I was so upset I was ready to pack my bags and go home. They were already up to shlishi (the third aliyah), in the k'riat haTorah (Torah reading) by the time I finally finished the Amidah.

Frankly, I'm so discouraged about almost always being at least half a page, if not five pages, behind everybody else that I'd gladly leave and never davven/pray with a minyan again, were it not for the fact that I need a minyan to say Kaddish for my mother.

And it would be even worse if not for the fact that (a) when I was in my late twenties (and pre-kid), I taught myself, over the course of several months, to pray the weekday Amidah (using a Birnbaum Siddur/prayer book [Orthodox, Nusach Ashkenaz]), and, therefore, I already knew it when (b) I took upon myself the obligation to pray three days every day a little over two years before my mother died, thereby giving myself two years practice. Can you imagine what davvening in a weekday minyan must be like for someone who can barely read Hebrew (or not) and/or has never prayed a weekday service before, even if they're "Shabbos regulars" (people who come to synagogue every Sabbath)?

A weekday minyan is not for beginners. No mercy is shown to anyone who can't read Hebrew well, if at all, and/or who doesn't already know the prayers practically by heart because s/he's been davvening them daily since s/he was six years old. In some synagogues, pages aren't called, or are called infrequently. When I suggested to the gabbai that it might be a good idea to announce the page numbers for the Torah reading, he said, "Everyone knows which parsha (weekly reading) it is." Clearly, it never occurred to him that that's not necessarily true. We newcomers and relative newcomers are simply left to fend for ourselves. So much for us Jews being rachmanim b'nei rachmanim, compassionate children of the compassionate.

See my October 20, 2009 follow-up post.

While you're at it, see my April 10, 2010 follow-up post, The pace and scheduling of public prayer.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012 update:  For the record, here's the original complaint, Morning Madness--on davvenning Shacharit.
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