Monday, November 30, 2009

Stop the presses! Rabbi Druckman's in Riverdale!

Anyone who can get to this important presentation tomorrow night on "The State of Conversions in Israel," please, please blog about it! Many thanks to Aliza Hausman for the information.

Event: "The State of Conversions in Israel" with Rabbi Chaim Drukman

Date: Tuesday night, Dec. 1, 2009

Time: 7:30pm

Place: Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, 3700 Henry Hudson Parkway, Bronx, NY

". . .

"Rabbi Chaim Drukman is the head of Bnei Akiva and past Director of the Israeli State Conversion Authority and a leading open voice on conversions in Israel.

Yes, THAT Chaim Drukman from all the articles I've linked in the past years about the problems of conversion in Israel! THAT Chaim Drukman whose conversions were revoked! . . .

If you don't know who Rabbi Druckman is or what the issue is, you might find some of my own posts (and links) concerning the "conversion war" helpful.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 update:

Here's a (partial) transcript of Rabbi Druckman's presentation, courtesy of a Yeshiva Chovevei Torah (YCT) rabbinical student, posted on Aliza's blog.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Will pose for peanuts :)

Sorry, I may be nuts, but I don't carry any. :)

Home sweet home

Shira's Shots
Sunday November 8, 2009

I recommend that you click on the photos--they look better in close-up.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If the Bet HaMikdash/Holy Temple were rebuilt . . .

. . . this would be the result.

Is that really what we want?

Pink posies

Shira's Shot, Nov. 17, 2009

Philanthropy-phobic :(

Since we seem to give to Jewish charities all year long, we try to give to secular charities at the end of the year. But we may be limited this year, much to our dismay, due to unanticipated Jewish charitable needs.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Parshat Toldot:Callous indifference,or senile dementia?

Those who'd like to review the story of the stolen blessing can read it here.

The rabbis of Pirkei Avot (Verses ["Ethics"] of the Fathers said, "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it . . . " (5:26) It never ceases to amaze me that I spot new things every year, though I've been reading the weekly Torah-reading portion/Parsha/Sedra every Shabbat/Sabbath for over 35 years.

And what I spotted this year was a shocking indifference to his sons on the part of Yitzchak/Isaac. The only reason given for him loving Esav/Esau is that Esav was a good hunter and brought him venison. (See chapter 25, verses 27-28.) Is that all? And he couldn't give his son a blessing without being bribed? Since when should a child have to bribe a parent to get a blessing?

And what the heck kind of blessing is this?

כט יַעַבְדוּךָ עַמִּים, וישתחו (וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ) לְךָ לְאֻמִּים--הֱוֵה גְבִיר לְאַחֶיךָ, וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְךָ בְּנֵי אִמֶּךָ; אֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר, וּמְבָרְכֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ.

29 Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be every one that blesseth thee.

And what the heck kind of blessing does he give the robbery victim, Esav?

מ וְעַל-חַרְבְּךָ תִחְיֶה, וְאֶת-אָחִיךָ תַּעֲבֹד; וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר תָּרִיד, וּפָרַקְתָּ עֻלּוֹ מֵעַל צַוָּארֶךָ.

40 And by thy sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt break loose, that thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck.

Did Yitzchak actually want his sons to kill one another?

Then, of course, there's the interesting question of how on earth Yitzchak could possibly have been fooled, and/or why on earth he allowed himself to be fooled, by a trick so transparent that even he pretty much "saw" through it, blind though he was.

One of the women at the minyan at which I davvened/prayed this past Shabbat suggested that Yitzchak was "losing it." Frankly, that's just about the only logical explanation I can think of for his behavior, which I find close to bizarre. After all, as someone at that same minyan pointed out, Yaakov/Jacob ended up with 12 sons, and somehow found a blessing for every one of them. (Okay, so some of us Documentary Hypothesis fans may say that the blessings were written long after they'd come true, but still . . . )

Let's review the facts. The Torah itself tells us that Yitzchak was 60 years old when his twin sons were born. (See chapter 25, verse 26.) He must have been at least 75 at the time of this story. Senile dementia at that age is not necessarily out of the question.

This might also account for the active role played by Rivka/Rebecca in this story. Sure, she was playing favorites. But under the circumstances, what would you expect? Did she really want the leadership of the family to be left in the hands of a man with so little ability to delay gratification and to prioritize that he'd traded his birthright for a bowl of soup, or would the family be better off in the hands of a man who was clever enough to figure out that he could get away with such a trade? Clearly, Yitzchak didn't have a clue. Clearly, Rivka was going to have to figure out a way to call the shots. She connived to get the blessing for Yaakov, then saved his life (assuming that Esav would really have acted on his threat, which is debatable) by finding a pretext for getting him out of town quickly. But of course, since she was only a woman, she got no credit. Yaakov never thanked her for anything, and it never seems to have occurred to Yitzchak, or, interestingly enough, to Esav, that she may have had anything to do with the theft of the blessing. Nor does Yitzchak credit her with the idea that Yaakov should go back to her family to find a bride. Ah, the joys of being a woman in the good olde days. :(

Sunday, November 22, 2009

This past Shabbat: A mixed review

I'm no longer comfortable going to Shabbat/Sabbath afternoon programs at my current favorite Manhattan synagogue. I just don't get how one can have a s'udah shlishit (traditional "third meal" of Sabbath) without Minchah (Afternoon Service) before it and Maariv/Arvit (Evening Service) after it. I'm no longer comfortable doing the Shabbat-closing havdalah ceremony without davenning/praying Maariv first. So Ms. Holier-Than-Thou skipped the program and hopped on the subway to davven Minchah and Maariv at home. Yeah, go ahead and insert roll-eyes emoticon here.

On the other hand, it was nice to be commandeered practically before I even had my coat off because the minyan with which I intended to pray was short a tenth person. I also enjoyed leading Musaf, even with the distraction of the pre-school kids chasing one another repeatedly around the amud (prayer leader's reading stand). :)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blue on green

Shira's Shot, Nov. 11, 2009

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Parshat Toldot:Aftermath of 1st recorded shidduch crisis

A 40-year-old first-time bridegroom. A 60-year-old first-time father. (See verses 20 and 26.)

I'll say this for Yitzchak (Isaac)--he was a lot more considerate of Rivka (Rebecca) than his son Yaakov (Jacob) would be of his wife Rachel. At least Yitzchak prayed for his wife to have a child (see verse 21, same link), whereas Yaakov just yelled at Rachel for being upset over being barren. (Okay, she yelled at him first, but he could have offered to pray for her.)

Harvest time in the city

Shira's Shot
Sunday, November 8, 2009
If you want to see some really good photos, check out Leora's and Brooklyn Wolf's blogs. Both of them are much more skilled photographers than I.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Religion & politics: I'm on the fringe, as usual :(

You would think that, by now, I would have figured it out, but I keep forgetting that people tend to assume that I'm as liberal in my politics as I am in my religious practice. I keep forgetting that it's safer for me to keep my big mouth shut on the issue of Israeli politics, because, unlike many of my non-Orthodox friends and acquaintances, I gave up on the Peace Now camp after the Summer 2006 War (the Second Lebanon War?).

It seemed to me fairly clear, after Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians and the Palestinians attacked Israel from that same territory less than a year later, that the Palestinians and their allies were far less interested in creating a Palestinian state than in forcibly ejecting Israelis from theirs. Now, every time I open my mouth on the subject of the "Matzav/Situation," I just get into trouble. :( I have friends who're still involved in Peace Now, and others who accept the findings of the Goldstone Report. Oy. I'm half inclined to say that Israel should do its own investigation just to give the lie to those who think that Israel is trying to cover up its "crimes." Seriously, folks, what country in human history has ever been able to wage a war without civilian casualties (and what other country whose civilians were being attacked would be condemned for waging a war)? The Goldstone Report, if accepted for all nations, would permanently change the rules of war. But of course, it's not intended for all nations, it's intended only for the Jewish one.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fiery fall foliage

Shira's Shot
October 30, 2009

I may not be posting much for the next few days--major project at the office.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Invisible disabilities: Aliza's plea for tolerance

See this important post by Aliza Hausman. Been there, done that. In the final analysis, it wasn't our son's mild-to-moderate hearing loss that made it difficult for him to fit in anywhere, it was his delay in developing age-appropriate social skills. (See here, re dyssemia and here, re pragmatic language deficit. And no, I'd never heard of these disabilities, either, until I ended up with a kid who had them.) We got thrown out of the nicest places, and the folks in shul weren't always so welcoming, either. :(

An urban autumn :)

Shira's Shot
Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A question of modesty (tzniut)

A few weeks ago, Brooklyn Wolf asked whether risque fashions saved tzniut/modesty. Here's part of his discussion:

"Tznius, would, in essence, say that only outfits that fall within a certain middle region of the curve would qualify as tznius. Too far to the left and you're attacting attention for being too dowdy (think about the comments that the Beit Shemesh burqua lady was getting -- even before the more serious allegations came to light) and too far to the right and, well... you're just not tznius anymore."

And part of a comment:

Mike S. said...
One would think that tzniut were an obligation only of women, and only with regard to sexual display. This is not true--men's clothing is also regulated, as are other kinds of ostentatious display. Ostentatitious display both of wealth and of surface piety are prohibited. The latter ought to include clothing that ostentatiously covers more than normal."

Let's follow these thoughts with this discussion of "yuharah" (variously translation as presumptioness, religious arrogance, religious self-righteousness) by Rabbi Marc Angel. Take your time reading it--I'll wait.

Back yet? Okay.

Here's my question: Why are so many women in the Orthodox community careful to walk a fine line between attraction attention by being too dowdy and attracting attention by being too, well, attractive, while some of the men go out of their way to call attention to themselves by wearing such blatantly attention-attracting attire as streimlach and bekeshes? Why is calling attention to oneself considered immodest for a woman, but perfectly acceptable, and even laudable, for a man?

I don't remember where I read this, but didn't one of the rabbis of a recent century (the Chofetz Chaim, perhaps?) forbid his students to wear their arbah kanfot/tallit katan (usually worn under a shirt) with the tzitzit (fringes/tassles) visible? Whatever become of that standard of discrete piety?

Monday, November 09, 2009

"Who is a Jew," UK version: a GoldaLeah must-read

GoldaLeah, of Go West, Young Jew, published "Explosive: Who is a Jew? UK Version" over the weekend. Here's my "take-away:

"A secular court has ruled that a Jewish school is not allowed determine the Jewishness of its students based on Judaism's own standards.


According to the court, instead of determining if you are Jewish based on whether your mother is Jewish or had an Orthodox conversion, the school should base the definition of Judaism "on faith, however defined".

Seriously, there must not be a single Jew anywhere near that court.

When, ever, has being a Jew been defined on "faith"? How many of us Jews (Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Conservative, etc.) could easily pass a faith test? Could you have passed it yesterday? What about tomorrow? How many of us would have to give up calling ourselves Jewish because we don't "practice" our Judaism enough?"

This is quite disturbing, and a cautionary tale: There's a price to be paid when the government gives direct subsidies to religious schools.

Parshat Vayera: Something old, something new

Here's something old concerning Yishmael/Ishmael, and also something old about the Akeida/Binding of Isaac.

Here are some new thoughts that I had yesterday:

The commandment of brit milah/ritual circumcision and the announcement that Sarah would have a son were given at the same time, and the text says very clearly that Yishmael was circumcised when he was thirteen years old. (See Parshat Lech L'Cha, Genesis chapter 17.)

Now here we are, in Parshat Vayera, with Yitzchak/Isaac conceived, born, and weaned, and yet the text of Genesis chapter 21, verses 14-16, describes Yishmael as a "yeled," a boy. Here's a translator's nightmare: "va-tashlech et ha-yeled." Did Hagar cast the boy under a tree, or did she send the boy under a tree? Unless my Hebrew is completely off, either translation would be correct. The translator chooses "cast." Why? Aside from the obvious problem that parents don't generally throw their children, the kid must have been around 15 years old! The original Hebrew alternates between calling Yishmael a yeled (boy), and a naar (youth). Were two different texts cobbled together here, with the seams showing, as usual?

And why does Sarah disappear from the text? Where is her reward for having ensured the perpetuation of Avraham's lineage by offering her handmaid as a surrogate mother? Where is her reward for having waited over a decade after the birth of her handmaid's son to have a son of her own? Where is her reward for having saved Avraham's life twice--and enriched him in the process--by allowing herself to be passed off as only his sister and not his wife? Her reward is to have G-d, with her husband's cooperation, threaten the life of her only child? My own midrash: No wonder she dies in the next parshah--if this is her reward, why live?

Friday, November 06, 2009

HaShem's chutzpah

  • From my response to YC's comment to this post: "Also we are talking 13 yrs later (between Hagar having a child and Sarah having a child)" So why should G-d even be surprised, much less offended, that Sarah was skeptical? What did G-d expect?"

  • Then there's that little incident in which G-d planted a tree in Gan Eden and gave the order that the fruit of that tree was not to be eaten. What, the G-d who created humans curious didn't know that we'd eat from the tree? Gimme a break!

Why did G-d punish Adam and Eve and rebuke Sarah, when it was G-d who set them up?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Quote of the day

From the comments to this post by Bad for Shidduchim:

Rule of thumb: the age gap is too big if you could have been in high school with your future mother in law.

Comment by Miriam — November 4, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

"Broccoli" harvest

To track the growth of this "broccoli" from the beginning, see here,
and click back to my earlier photos
Shira's Shot, October 30, 2009

Too old for hip-hop, so to speak . . .

. . . or "Geezers on the dance floor"

I've probably mentioned that I've decided to apply the same, er, semi-logic to my year of aveilut (mourning) for my mother that I apply to S'firah--I try not to listen to music, but I do go Israeli folk dancing because it's the only exercise I get.

So there I was at Ruth Goodman's Monday night session at the Kraft Center (Columbia University/Barnard College Hillel) when she started teaching a new dance. Partly through the dance instruction, she demonstrated a hop--and three of us alte geezers left the circle immediately, two with bad knees and yours truly with a bad foot. You can't keep a dancer down, but you can sideline one temporarily. Ah, for the good old days when I could dance for hours without even noticing it.

The irony of the fact that Ruth Goodman is older than I am is not lost on me.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A typical Conservative B. Mitzvah celebration?

Item: At a recent Bar Mitzvah celebration in a Conservative synagogue, the Bar Mitzvah boy chanted the first b'rachah (blessing) over the haftarah (reading from the prophets), then the first and last paragraphs of the haftarah. The closing b'rachah over the haftarah was chanted by a friend of the parents. "Dan l'kaf z'chut, judge everyone favorable," said the rabbis, so I perhaps I should give the young man the benefit of the doubt and assume that he may have had some disability that made even what little he did an accomplishment.

Item: At a recent Shacharit/Morning Service with my "Kaddish minyan," a young man had his first aliyah, apparently in preparation for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah celebration. His mother's comment to a friend was unclear--either the previous Shabbat/Sabbath was the first time the Bar Mitzvah boy had attended a Shabbat morning service, or it was the first time he'd actually prayed, instead of reading a book during services.

Item: At our local synagogue, the cantor had to lay down the law and tell a "candidate" and his custodial parent that his Bar Mitzvah celebration would not take place unless the young man attended Shabbat morning service every week.

Full disclosure: Our attempts to make a shul-goer out of our son were a complete failure, due largely, in my opinion, to the fact that he was the only kid in our congregation who attended synagogue almost every Shabbat. By the time his Bar Mitzvah celebration rolled around, the only reason he was attending Shabbat morning services was that the rabbi required him to do so. (What, you expected him to listen to us at that age?)

How on earth are we supposed to raise our kids observant if we don't, or can't, get them to participate in religious services? And how can we get them to participate in religious services if the culture of many Conservative synagogues militates against making prayer a priority? When did dance classes become more important than davvening, and soccer practice more important than synagogue attendance?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Lech L'Cha/Vayera smackdown, or G-d's a sexist

Josie noticed it right away, and, leaning over to Debbie, asked why, when G-d told Avraham Avinu (Abraham our Father) that Sarah Imeinu (Sarah our Mother) was going to get pregnant and Avraham laughed, G-d said nothing about his laughter (see Parshat Lech L'Cha, Genesis, chapter 17, verse 17), but when G-d told Avraham again that Sarah was going to get pregnant and Sarah laughed, G-d rebuked her (Parshat Vayera, Genesis, chapter 18, verses 12-15)? Debbie nonchalantly informed her that the quote from Lech Lecha was from the E strand and the quote from Vayera was from the J strand. So I checked the choice of names used for G-d, and, sure enough, the Lech L'Cha quote uses Elokim, and the Vayera quote uses HaShem (er, the name of G-d that begins with a yod in Hebrew and a j in German and English). (For further explanation, see Documentary Hypothesis.)

I've complained before that G-d isn't very fair to Sarah. For openers, if G-d's already planning on Sarah getting pregnant, why doesn't G-d bother telling anyone before Sarah gives Hagar to Avraham as a surrogate mother? For closers, why is that the only time G-d ever speaks directly to Sarah, it's to yell at her?
<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>