Thursday, December 31, 2009

Line of the year

Courtesy of Trep:

Me: "I hope there's no trouble with my reservation, I can't imagine trying to find a room at this hour.

Desk Clerk [after glancing meaningfully over the top of his glasses at my kippah]: "Don't worry sir, if there's one thing the hospitality industry has learned in the last 2000 years it is to never turn a Jew away on Xmas eve".

An injustice in Jewish law

I can't find a link to this article, so I'm just going to type it in manually.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Raphael Grunfeld

Bat Bimkom Ben [a daughter instead of a son]

"In attempting to explain why the Jewish law of inheritance does not permit daughters to inherit [from] their father if the father has sons, we have mentioned the principal of patrilinial descent [side grumble: if this works for inheritance, why not for defining who is a Jew?] and the fact that the woman looks to her husband's "Family Bank" for support than than to her own father.

The second principle to bear in mind is that the rights of the daughter and the wife to the estate of the father/husband are only part of their financial rights to the Family Bank.

Both the daughter and the wife have other rights against the Family Bank for financial support. Were they to receive a portion of the estate in addition to these other financial rights, they would be double dipping.

What are these other rights of the daughter and wife of the deceased against the Family Bank?

Both the daughter and the wife of the deceased have the right, following his death, to have his estate pay for their food, clothing and medical expenses and the right to use the household utensils and the services of the family household domestic personnel. The expenses involved in the support of the daughter and the wife are a charge on the estate in the hands of the sons. If there are insufficient assets in the estate to pay for the upkeep of both the sons and the daughters, the sons must first take care of the needs of their sisters even if this means that the sons will have to go begging.

In addition, the wife has the right to continue living in the family house until she remarries. The daughter has the right to have her brothers pay for her furnished lodging until she marries. In addition, the daughter is entitled to receive from her brother a dowry to be paid to her out of the estate. The amount of the dowry is the greater of the amount that the father gave to his other daughters who married during his lifetime or 10% of the estate.

Although all of this may only take us part of the way to better understand why sons inherit ahead of daughters and wives, it does not take us all the way. For example, the legal right of the daughter to received support from the estate (not the right to the dowry) expires when she reaches the age of 12 1/2, "Bagrut." From then on, she must rely on charity. Why this is so, is as much of a mystery, a "Chok," as death itself."

Essentially, the Jewish law of inheritance reduces widows and female orphans to the status of beggars, totally dependent on the good will of their husband's/father's sons. That didn't work very well in Jane Austen's "Sense and Sensibility," did it?

The wife, who may have helped her husband, directly or indirectly, in his career, and/or who may have cared for him through illness, has no right to any of his estate if she should be fortunate enough to remarry. What reward does she get for her labors under the sun?

The daughter is cut loose to fend for herself at 12 1/2, an age at which, in the "developed" countries of the 21st-century world, she's too young either to work or to wed.

And all Rabbi Grunfeld has to say is that this law is a mystery?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

"Sentenced" to 5-9 years before retirement

The Social Security Administration just sent me estimates of what I'd receive in monthly retirement benefit payments if I retired at the minimum age of 62, at the "full retirement" age of 66, and at 70, when I could receive the maximum permissible monthly benefit.

I don't suppose it's any news to anyone that there's a price to be paid for staying home with the kid instead of being employed.

Let me put it to you this way: If I retired in roughly a year, at 62 (my 61st birthday being this February), and my husband passed away before I did, my monthly Social Security payment wouldn't even cover my maintenance (or the rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Highland Park, NJ). I'd get substantially more money if I retired at 66, and almost twice what I'd get at 62 if I retired at 70.

It would be much more difficult for me to commute to Manhattan from the suburbs. Worse yet, my husband, who would like to work until I retire, would find the commute impossible, since he'd not only have to get to Manhattan, but travel from there to whichever outer borough(s) his classes were located in. Like it or not, we're stuck here for at least five more years. Looks like I'll be shopping by backpack for a good while longer. :(

Flu Jew, and more "fun"

First, I got a rash on the insides of my knees. I figured that, if it didn't go away in a day or two, I'd make an appointment with our dermatologist for next week.

Famous last words.

I came down with the flu over Shabbat, so I don't think I'm going much of anywhere soon.

It gets better, folks. This afternoon, I bit into a corn crisp, and a crown came off of (what's left of) one of my teeth.

Looks like I'll be busy making the medical rounds for the next few weeks. :(

Friday, December 25, 2009

Another retirement requirement

New York City is a wonderful place for a Jew to live. There are so many synagogues, Jewish day schools, Jewish book and Judaica stores, kosher restaurants, and kosher food stores here.

But New York City can also be a terrible place for a Jew to live, especially without a car, if one's neighborhood has almost none of the above even within delivery range, much less within walking distance.

Sure, I can go shopping after work and clean out West Side Judaica (hmm, I thought there was more info on their website--maybe it's malfunctioning), Kosher Marketplace, and/or the Upper West Side Supersol. But I still have to haul the stuff home by subway. I'm 60 years old. How much longer am I going to be able to shop by backpack?

It's the same when the hubster and I go shopping in the nearest kosher shopping area out in beyond-the-subway land. We end up making the return trip via bus and subway with heaven knows how many pounds of groceries on my back, and with my 67-year-old husband looking like an old-fashioned water carrier because of all the shopping bags hanging from each arm.

We need to live in a neighborhood that's close enough to kosher stores that we can have our groceries delivered. Any other grocery-transport method simply won't be viable in 20 years.

See also my Retirement reality.

Bugged, or score another one for the rabbis

Some time back, I published this protest against what I saw as rabbis being more concerned about bugs in berries than about injustices against agunot (women whose husbands won't give them a religious divorce) and gerim (converts).

Fast forward a few years. While Malka Esther, Larry, my husband and I were talking 'til the wee hours on Erev Shabbat, Malka described the method for removing bugs from strawberries: Cut off the tops, slice the berries in half, and soak them in salt water. I didn't get all the details (such as how long one soaks the berries and how much salt one uses), and I was rather skeptical about berries being buggy, but I figured that, just in case there really are bugs hidden among the surface seeds or the interior, it wouldn't hurt for me to try soaking my strawberries. After all, we'd already concluded that filtering our water was not such a bad idea.

Imagine my shock when, back home several days later, I returned to the kitchen to empty a bowl full of salted water and strawberries, and discovered tiny black dots crawling around my kitchen countertop!

After that incident, I stopped buying lettuce because I can't be bothered washing every leaf separately, and the pre-washed stuff from the kosher stores spoils too quickly when only two of us are eating it. Pre-washed baby carrots are now my raw vegetable of choice.

Not being overly fond of strawberries that taste a tad waterlogged and salty, I've switched to frozen strawberries with a fancy hechsher (rabbinical seal certifying that an item is kosher) that says that the strawberries have already been checked for and cleaned of bugs. So now I have to haul yet another item home from the kosher stores, none of which are even within delivery range, much less walking distance.

Which brings me to yet another retirement requirement . . .

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Sometimes, it's best to pretend that one agrees

See the comments.

Xmas eve dilemmas past

When I was growing up in South Jersey, in the ancient days before cable TV and videos, Christmas Eve used to be a lot worse for Jews than it is now. We couldn't go out because nothing was open--movie theaters and restaurants were all closed for "yontif." There was nothing on television but midnight masses from either the Vatican or New York City. My favorite joke about Christmas Eve in those days is that we had a choice of Saint Pete's or Saint Pat's. :) I don't miss those "good old times."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A subway-riders' special: Cheap ad

Currently on display in New York City subway cars are advertisements for a certain over-the-counter cold medication. The ads consist of photos of three red-nosed women, obviously supposed to be suffering from a cold, with captions including such, ahem, stirring words as, "Press on, good lady" and "Soldier on, brave soul." But look closely--the short-haired woman, the woman with shoulder-length hair in ringlets, and the woman with smooth shoulder-length hair are all the same model, in three different wigs. Recycling at its best. :)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yosef haTzaddik? Well, yes and no

The rabbis called him Joseph the Righteous because he resisted the advances of Potiphar's wife. This was certainly admirable.

But he put his half-brothers into prison for three days, accusing them of being spies. Then he took his half-brother Shim'on/Simeon/Simon hostage in an attempt to ensure that his other half-brothers would eventually return to Egypt with his brother Binyamin/Benjamin. Not only was he obnoxious to his half-brothers, he didn't care how his father would feel, either.

So my opinion of Yosef is rather mixed.

Retirement reality

Before our son was born, my husband wanted to move to a house in North Jersey.

I didn’t.

All I saw was a long commute when I went back to work, endless carpools, and hours spent drive to do just anything, even just to pick up a quart of milk.

He was right and I was wrong.

Granted, living in the ‘burbs would have made our son’s teenage years much more challenging, since either we would have had to drive him everywhere or we would have had to trust him with a car (and I don’t know which would have been worse). But, on the other hand, tax season during his childhood would have been so much easier if I hadn’t had to take our son somewhere every Sunday for at least a month straight so that my husband could see clients and/or get some tax-return work done. And, if we'd chosen the right area, our son might have been spared the dubious privilege of being raised as the "token Jew" of his Jewish community.

But that’s all water under the bridge.

The problem I’m dealing with is both a current and a future one. Only in recent years has it occurred to me what I gave up by not having my own house. I think this may be partly because the house in which I grew was so small that about the only difference between it and an apartment was the lack of a basement for storing supermarket items on sale. But seeing the homes of some of my friends, I now realize that, if we’d bought a “real” house—one with at least one extra room for use as an office and another for the entertainment center and/or entertaining guests, a finished basement, and a back yard with a deck and/or patio (as opposed to a back yard that was just a driveway leading to a garage) :

• We’d have had a place for our son to run around indoors without catching heck from the downstairs neighbors, and I wouldn’t have had to get him out from under my husband’s feet during tax season. (We wouldn't have had the occasional "fun" with the downstairs neighbors, either--see the comments to this droll post by Mark/PT).

• We’d have a place to sit outdoors and read without worrying about being hit by a stray baseball in the playground.

• We’d have the option of cooking and eating outdoors in nice weather in the summer.

• We’d have a yard in which to build our own sukkah, something I’ve never done in my life, much to my regret. Now, I end up eating in a restaurant every night of Chol HaMoed Sukkot just so that I can eat in a sukkah.

And—big-ticket item—

We'd have room to entertain company year round!!!

From the beginning, it was difficult for us to invite more than a few people at a time because our living/dining room is so small. But since my husband retired from ___ and starting running an increasingly-substantial private tax and accounting practice out of the apartment, his file cabinets and paperwork have pretty much taken over the living room. It’s only gotten worse since he started teaching college accounting courses—now, not only are there client files all over, there are students’ homework papers and tests to be graded, too. It’s recently occurred to me that we hardly ever get invited by anyone anymore, no doubt because we hardly invite anyone anymore.

Unfortunately, my desire for a house comes way too late. Houses in Highland Park, NJ are currently going for not less than $300,000, from what I can see from a quick internet search. It’s highly unlikely that we’d make anywhere near that amount from selling this apartment, and we can't afford to retire with a mortgage hanging over our heads, assuming that any bank would even give us one in the current economic climate. Frankly, we would just remain in our current apartment were it not for the fact that there's not a single viable synagogue in the entire neighborhood, and even Ms. Schleps-to-Shul-by-Subway-on-Shabbat may think twice about traveling to synagogue by subway on the Sabbath—or any other time—when she's 80. It seems likely that we'll move from here to a low-floor rented apartment in the suburbs with a high concentration of viable synagogues within walking distance--assuming that we we're lucky enough to find an affordable place that matches that description.

A snow storm . . .

. . . means that, in my neighborhood, the subways are running and the buried-underground power lines are still safely buried. So I shouldn't have much trouble getting to work tomorrow. There are some advantages to living in New York City.

On the other hand . . .

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chanukah's last hurrah (prior to Shabbat)

This is my last opportunity to post some Chanukah fun before I shut down the computer for Shabbat/Sabbath. Enjoy!

More Chanukah music, courtesy of DovBear
Here's Basya Schechter and her group, Pharaoh's Daughter, singing and playing Maoz Tzur.

Making a short story long or a long story short, depending on your point of view
Yesterday, I was too exhausted to get up in time to hop the subway to morning minyan, so I davvened bi-y'chidut (prayed alone) at home. I davvened at my preferred nice slow pace, and included all the parts of P'sukei D'Zimrah that I say on weekdays when I have time. If I include the time it took me to put away my tefillin and tallit, it took me almost an hour and 25 minutes.

Today, my "kaddish minyan" did the entire Chanukah Rosh Chodesh (New Month) service, complete with Hallel, Torah reading, and Musaf (Additional Service) for Rosh Chodesh, in about half that amount of time.
It finally "clicked"
To paraphrase a quote from the Haggadah, I am a women of 60, but I never understood why the "Al HaNissim (For the Miracles)" text was placed in that particular place in the Amidah prayer until, well, my Hebrew and my knowledge of the siddur/prayer book were finally up to the task.

Rough translation and summary:

"For the miracles that are daily with us . . . "

"In the days of Matityahu (Mattithias) . . . the evil Greek kingdom stood against Your People Israel. . . And You, in Your great compassion, stood with them in their time of trouble . . . enabling the many to be defeated by the few . . . After that, Your children came . . . to purify Your sanctuary . . . and established a set eight days of Chanukah . . . to laud Your holy name.

For all this, praised and extolled be Your name . . . "

Oh, that's why Al HaNissim is recited right there!

Of course, that should have been obvious from the siddur's translation, but either I'm a slow learner, or I understand some things better when I figure them out for myself, or both. :)
Enjoy Shabbat Chanukah!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Not-so-instant replay

See comments.

Six months of Kaddish: Lost in the transportation

I finally got around to checking my calendar, and it turns out that the six-month anniversary of my mother's death, kaf Kislev, was Monday, December 7. In all honesty, I'm simply not accustomed to thinking in terms of the Jewish calendar, and it hadn't occurred to me that her proper, Jewish-calendar yahrzeit (anniversary of death) might actually be earlier than her secular-calendar one. To me, Mom's yahrzeit will always be June 12, our wedding anniversary. But I'll observe it properly, on kaf Sivan.

Gary Rosenblatt recently wrote "In the Year of Mourning," about his own experience of saying Kaddish for his mother.

My experience has been very different. For openers, I decided that I would davven (pray) with a minyan (quorum of 10 required for Kaddish and certain other prayers) for Shacharit (Morning Service) only, since I'm disorganized enough that I hardly ever get to bed at a reasonable hour even when I get home at a reasonable hour, much less when I have to travel home at a later time. I davven Minchah (Afternoon Service) and Maariv/Arvit (Evening Service) bi-y'chidut (by myself), so I lose the opportunity not only to say Kaddish, but also to be with my fellow and sister mourners for the other services. For closers, I have to take the subway to say Kaddish every day except Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yamim Tovim (holidays), since none of the local synagogues gets a minyan on a weekday.

And that's where my Kaddish gets lost in the transportation. Mr. Rosenblatt is mourning among his fellow congregants, whereas I'm an "outsider" mourning in someone else's synagogue. I have no complaints, mind you, other than my standard kvetch about everyone davvening far too quickly for Ms. Molasses. The folks at my "kaddish minyan" have been friendly and helpful, and have even put up with my complaints about not being able to keep up. But I'm not "one of the gang." I don't davven there on Shabbat or Yom Tov (though I may davven there in the future, once our local synagogue closes its doors permanently). It seems to me that part of the purpose of having a mourner say Kaddish is to bring the mourner back into the community. Instead, I've had to leave my community in order to say Kaddish. And that's sad.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Confused, as usual

The guy who led the brachot/blessings when we lit Chanukah candles at Israeli folk dancing last night used a tune I'd never heard before. So I asked him whether he was S'fardi or B'nei Eidot HaMizrach (Children of the Communities of the East?/West Asian). Much to my surprise, he said he was neither, that he was Yemenite. Given his dance style, which is Middle Eastern, I wasn't surprised that he was Yemenite, but I was surprised that Yemenite is not considered B'nei Eidot HaMizrach.

I also didn't realize until this morning that I wasn't supposed to be saying La-m'natseiach (Psalm 20) in Shacharit/Morning Service during Chanukah. I don't suppose it's any news that I'm a slow learner. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

What was private has become public, & vice versa

What ever happened to the good old days, when you could make a reasonably-confidential telephone call in a public place simply by stepping into a phone booth and closing the door? Almost all of those old-fashioned phone booths have disappeared (due to crime, my husband thinks), replaced by pay phones that offer neither privacy nor, if outdoors, protection from the weather. Now, if you want to make a confidential phone call, you have to call from home on a landline phone (the old-fashioned kind of phone that's actually plugged into a wall jack). I've heard that cell phones are, according to law, a form of radio, and that nothing you say on a cell phone is considered confidential.

And there, of course, there's one's so-called private life. Now, it's far too often splashed all over the front page of a newspaper or magazine, or displayed and/or discussed on a news telecast or homepage, with no concern for any person or persons--adult or child--affected.

But the opposite is also true. An old friend of ours who's a former actor complained years ago that movies killed the acting business. Once upon a time, practically every town worth its salt had its own theater. Then along came the movies, in which one actor could be seen by millions, and millions of small-town actors were suddenly unemployed. Then along came videos and downloads, and now, even the movie theaters are deserted, as audiences of hundreds have been reduced to individuals in front of their home or portable screens. The same thing happened to music. Once upon a time, if you wanted to hear music, you played it yourself, and everyone within earshot could hear you. Or you hired musicians to perform at a simchah/happy occasion, or attended a performance. Now, everyone's got his/her own iPod. Public entertainment has now gone private.

What a topsy-turvy world.

Related posts of mine:

So much for "yeridat ha-dorot"

I don't know whether the concept of "the decline of the generations" applies to the Torah shehBi-Ch'tav/Written Torah (Pentateuch) itself or just to the rabbinic writings, but it certainly won't help us with the story of Yosef/Joseph. First, Yaakov/Jacob gives Yosef, his second-youngest child, the multicolored cloak indicating future family leadership. Then, he doesn't stop the young braggart from mouthing off to his brothers about his dreams. Yaakov has no more common sense as a parent than we modern parents have.

Half and half

Our son tells us that most of the male Jews he knows who are around his age (mid-twenties) are not particularly interested in practicing Judaism, whereas many of the female Jews he knows who are around his age are more observant. Here's hoping that our son ends up with one of the more observant women, since we hope to have halachically-Jewish grandchildren who are some semblance of observant.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Chanukah fun, courtesy of DovBear

Dreidel satire. Don't forget to read the comments. :)

Holiday music 2. Who knew that a dreidl made of clay could be so hip that even rapper Y-Love would get in on the action--in Yiddish, noch besser (even better)?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Much better, thanks

Nes gadol on a sad near-semi-anniversary

Yes, I know that we save "Nes gadol hayah sham, a great miracle happened there" (or "po, here," for Israelis) for Chanukah, which doesn't start until sundown tonight, but a minor miracle happened to me this morning: I arrived at morning minyan just as they were starting Kaddish d'Rabbanan, and managed to say the whole thing from memory while taking my coat off! I'd been making it a point for the past few weeks to try to say Kaddish d'Rabbanan without reading it, on the grounds that memorizing it was the only way to ensure that I really knew it, but I didn't think I'd gotten it down quite that well yet.

Tomorrow will be the six-month anniversary of my mother's death, according to the secular calendar. My parents always wanted us kids to surpass them in Jewish knowledge. Mom would have been pleased that I'm still learning.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"I am not a tragedy," says Chana

Sure, she'd like to get married eventually, but:
  • She'd like to ". . . marry that person at a time when we shall be financially stable, when I know my own mind, when I am mature and certain that I can live happily and healthily with that person. I want to create and cultivate a family and raise them with as much love and joy and thought as my parents raised me. Thus, I want to marry the right person at the proper time, whenever that may be. "
  • If she never marries, it won't be the end of the world--and the Orthodox community should stop acting as if would be.

Read the rest here.

Why Torah doesn't "read" like a book (by XGH)

One possible explanation: Given the dirth of books in the days before the invention of the printing press, the Torah was originally transmitted orally. I should have thought of this myself, but I'm glad Ex-Godol Hador pointed it out.

A no-win situation :(

One friend of mine, after his/her job skills became obsolete, decided that she/he was too darned old to bother getting retrained and would retire and live on investments. I'm sure that that hasn't been much fun in the past year and a half or so.

Another friend of mine took the opposite approach, going back to school to ensure a steady income--and has, nevertheless, spent much of the time since earning a graduate degree "between jobs." This person has already spent most of his/her savings trying to survive "between jobs" periods, is too young to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, and will be "between jobs" yet again by this summer.

How ironic and sad that the friend who chose not to be retrained for new employment and the person who spent several years in grad school gaining new qualifications in order to avoid being frequently unemployed both suffered unanticipated financial losses.

As the old saying goes, you can't win for losin'. :(

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Forecast: Rain, sky of gray

Wish the sun would come this way
It's hard to chase the blues away
On such a damp and dreary day

I've already had my fill
of chill

(Written November 26, 2007)

Monday, December 07, 2009

Irresponsible behavior:unhealthy for people&synagogues

Mr. Shirker/Show-off called my husband, the Ritual Committee chair, a while back and asked to chant a haftarah (a reading from the prophets) in memory of his father. The timing couldn't have been better, since we had an aufruf to attend at another synagogue that Shabbat (Sabbath) morning.

Fat chance that everything's going to happen according to plan.

First, the hubster gets a phone message from the rabbi saying that he had a family emergency and would be out of town. This was two days before the same Shabbat as that aufruf.

Then, at the Kabbalat Shabbat/Sabbath Eve service the evening before the aufruf, Mr. Shirker/Show-off informs my husband that he's not going to be at services the next morning to chant the haftarah. Since it's already Shabbat, my husband can't phone Mr. Mixed and ask him whether he's available.

So the chazzan/cantor ends up
  • leading the service from Birkot HaShachar through P'sukei D'Zimrah, which is usually done by the rabbi, or, in the rabbi's absence, by my husband,
  • leading the Shacharit/Morning Service and doing k'riat haTorah (chanting the Torah reading from the scroll), as he does every week,
  • giving a short d'var Torah/Torah discussion in place of the rabbi's sermon,
  • chanting the haftarah, which he almost never does, but, since we now have exactly six congregants capable of chanting a haftarah (if my so-called memory serves me correctly), and none of them happened to be there that Shabbat, he didn't have much choice, and
  • leading Musaf, as he does every week.
It gets better, folks.

This morning, my husband walks into "morning m'zuman," as he calls it--we almost never get a minyan (10), these days, so we have to settle for the three-person minimum that's good enough for a communally-recited Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals, but not good enough for saying kaddish--and discovers that our usual weekday baal tefillah/prayer leader (a.k.a. the shnorrer) is out sick. Guess who led the morning "minyan" this morning?

This would be funny if it weren't unnerving. At this point, my husband and Mr. Mixed are pretty much taking turns chanting haftarot, since, of the other four congregants who can do the job, one knows only two haftarot and is too nervous about chanting them to want to learn any more, two more (Mr. Shirker/Show-off and a party whom I hereby dub AWOL, who's almost exclusively a "High Holiday Jew," at this point), are almost never available, and yours truly knows only nine. The number of (male) congregants who can lead a service and can lein Torah/do k'riat haTorah/chant the Torah reading from the scroll can be counted on less than one hand, and some of them are not happy about volunteering even during the cantor's vacation. Our worship services are rapidly turning into a two-man show, with my husband and the cantor doing just about everything but sermonizing (and even that, in the rabbi's absence), not because that's what they want, but because they really don't have much choice. (Did I mention that our rabbi doesn't know how to chant a haftarah or lein and is unwilling to learn?) Under the dubious circumstances, I can hardly blame my husband for giving Mr. Mixed the honor of chanting the haftarah practically every other time he walks in the door. This is unnerving and upsetting not just on the general principal that a congregation should be able to sustain its own religious life without relying almost entirely on one volunteer, but also because my husband already has kidney stones, borderline cholesterol, and a hernia, and has recently begun having dizzy spells serious enough that he had to be escorted off the Israeli-folk-dance floor to a chair last night. The current plan for next fall's High Holidays is for my husband to lead Shacharit and Minchah/Afternoon Service, to chant at least one haftarah (Yonah), and, if the rabbi's contract doesn't get renewed, to give the sermons, as well. Just how broad does this congregation expect one person's shoulders to be?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Midrash madness


When HaShem asked Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchak/Isaac, he left from Beersheva and returned to Beersheva.

Yet Sarah died in Chevron (Hebron). How and/or why did she end up in Chevron?

According to a midrash, she went to the Kever HaMachpela to pray that Adam and Chava/Eve, who were buried there, would intercede with HaShem on her son's behalf.


What evidence do we have that Adam and Chava were buried in the Kever HaMachpela, which isn't even mentioned in the biblical text until after Sarah's death, when Avraham bought it as Sarah's burial place? What evidence do we have that Sarah even knew of its existence? Besides, what on earth were the rabbis thinking? What woman in her right mind, especially in those days, would have entered (what was then merely) a cave unaccompanied by any male member of her family and put herself at risk of being raped?


All he did was laugh at or mock his brother. Why must we whitewash Sarah, who was clearly simply trying to protect her own son's inheritance, by saying that Yishmael was expelled from the family because he was some kind of villain?


True, he traded his birthright for a bowl of soup, so we know that he was not exactly a role model for delaying gratification and planning for the future. But still, he was good to his father, hunting deer for the venison that Yitzchak/Isaac loved, and he even took another wife when he realized that the wives he'd already married displeased his parents. What did he do to deserve to be described as a rapist and murderer? I'd also be curious to know whether it occurred to any of the midrash-writers that Esav actually had a perfectly legitimate reason to bring 400 (presumably armed) men with him to his reunion with Yaakov/Jacob: Yaakov had already taken Esav's birthright and blessing, so why should Esav have trusted him not to come back for more?

éah and Rachel

Get real, folks: This is the Torah's female sibling rivalry story. What's with all the stories about sisters helping sisters?

Léah had weak eyes from crying because she was supposedly chosen to marry Esav? No evidence.

On the other hand, the Torah's own text concerning the marriage night provides some evidence in favor of the midrash that Rachel gave Léah the secret signals that she and Yaakov had devised to ensure that Rachel was the one he was marrying: Somehow, Léah got all decked out as a bride and got married with no (recorded) protest from Rachel. (Another interesting question is how Yaakov managed to spend all night with the wrong woman and [allegedly] not realize it until morning, but that's straight from the text, not midrash.)

As far as I can see, though, the sisters, in competing for the love of their husband by making babies, were bitter rivals for as long as they were both alive. Otherwise, why on earth would Léah have given Yaakov her handmaid to use as a surrogate mother when Léah herself had already given birth to four children and Rachel herself hadn't born any children at all? And why would Léah have accused Rachel of having taken away her husband?

Sigh. Some midrashim create as many questions as they answer.

Monday, December 7, 2009 note:

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Here's the discount. Please don't use it. :(

First, a certain store automatically deducted $5 from the bill of any customer who had a store ID card and had spent a certain amount of money in that store. Then, they started giving out coupons that couldn't be cashed until the day after the customer had earned the discount. My reaction was that they were counting on many of their customers to lose the coupons, which I often do. :( But now, not only is a customer not permitted to cash the coupon until the day after earning the discount, the customer must also use the coupon within two weeks. My impression: It's all public relations--the store wants to look generous, but doesn't want to be generous.

Too close for comfort :(

I had a sad dream recently. In my dream, it must have been one of the High Holydays, because not only was the sanctuary of our local synagogue packed to capacity, the folding doors were open, and even the folding seats in the "back" were packed. That's the good part. The sad part was that the only light in the entire space was coming from the tiny lightbulbs next to the memorial plaques, presumably because we'd fallen far behind in paying our electricity provider. Unfortunately, the non-payment is far more likely than the capacity crowd, the likes of which we haven't seen in years. :(

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Ginger: Backwards, in high heels, & in long skirts

I've been very good about not attending concerts or listening to my CDs during my aveilut (year of mourning) for my mother, though not quite as good about not watching videos. But I'm a dancer, and I decided even before my mother died that I wasn't going to give up Israeli folk dancing for a year.

It's also hard for me to pass up opportunities to watch old Fred Astaire or Gene Kelley movies, other movie musicals, and/or music or dance events on TV. This past weekend, we were watching a couple of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and I was struck by how dangerous dancing can be for women. There's an old saying that Ginger Rogers not only did the same dances as Fred Astaire, she did them backwards and in high heels. Nobody seems to have noticed that she also did many of those dances in skirts so long that barely more than her shoes was visible. How she managed to dance in skirts that long without tripping and breaking a bone or two is beyond my comprehension. I don't recommend this, or similar stunts, for amateurs.
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