Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frozen out

As with the Shabbat/Sabbath a few weeks ago when the morning temperature was below 20 degrees Fahrenheit/-6.7 Celsius, most of our seniors stayed home yesterday, and, again, we had fewer than 20 congregants present by the end of the service. Though our Sabbath morning service is scheduled to start at 9 AM, we didn't even get a minyan until about 10:15 AM, despite the fact that our congregation counts women as part of a minyan. Apparently, this is the wave of the future: We can expect an empty sanctuary whenever there's bad weather.

But it wasn't only our congregants who were frozen out, it was also the rabbi--his contract was not renewed. We'll be on our own before the Yamim Noraim/High Holidays. Wish us luck.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Some interesting points from Parshat B'Shalach

I noticed this year, and pointed out to my husband, that Parshat B'Shalach seems to me to be the first place in the Torah (Pentateuch) in which B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are given instructions concerning how to observe Shabbat (Sabbath). (See Exodus, chapter 16, verse 4-30.)

My husband had a few thoughts on the subject. He said that our ancestors were taken out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) for a reason, and that part of that reason was to observe Shabbat, which was a revolutionary idea in that era. "What other civilization had a day off from work?" B'nei Yisrael needed instructions on Sabbath observance because they hadn't been able to observe Shabbat during their centuries of slavery. My husband is of the opinion that the teaching concerning Shabbat observance was the lead-up to the giving of the commandments, which was the ultimate purpose of the liberation of B'nei Yisrael from slavery in Mitzrayim.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Manna from heaven

This post is a bit late, I realize, since I'm publishing it after sunset (which means that, according to the Jewish calendar, it's already Wednesday), but working for a living does tend to limit how much post-publishing I can do during the day.

I wasn't particularly pleased with Rafi G.'s guest post (on DovBear's blog) re Parshat HaMan, but I suggest that you read it anyway, just to find out what he and I are talking about. Personally, I prefer the old posts on the subject written by DovBear himself--you'll find links to them at the end of Rafi G.'s post.

Here's what I found out about Parshat HaMan today. First, the bad news: There seems to be a minhag/custom among some folks to read the whole section twice, either both times in Hebrew or once in Hebrew and once in the Targum Onkelos Aramaic translation, as if segulot--as much a form of superstitious belief and/or behavior as throwing salt over one's shoulder, in my opinion--aren't bad enough when performed once. I second what DB said (in one of his linked posts): "Many people . . . are perfectly convinced that reciting the magic psukim [verses], on the magic day, is a guarantee, and that the rote recitation of words leaves God with no choice but to shower us with undeserved and unearned blessing. This view of how the world works is an absurd and dangerous distortion of Judaism,"

Then, the good news: Some non-Ashkenazim refrain from saying HaShem's name when reading the biblical passage of Parshat HaMan, saying "Amunai (my faith?)" instead of the Ashkenazi version, "Adoshem." I like that version much better, if for no other reason than that it rhymes with the original and would sound much better when one is singing sacred songs.

I spent half of yesterday evening on the carpet

I wouldn't want you to miss the pun, so, if you're not acquainted with the phrase "on the carpet," see here.

Since I have a ganglion cyst, which occasional hurts, under my left sole, and since I can't afford to fall and break both wrists again, I take much smaller steps than normal when I'm doing a folk dance. So, when I go folk dancing, I dance in back of the circle in order to stay out of the other dancers' way.

Unfortunately, there's a guy who attends many Israeli folk dance sessions who dances in back of the circle for the opposite reason--he's such a wild dancer that there's a real risk that he'll kick someone.

To avoid being run over by "kicky fiselach (feet), the Rockette," I now make it a point to get the heck off the wooden dance floor and go dance on the carpet whenever he gets anywhere near me.

And that's why I spend half my Israeli folk dance sessions on the carpet, literally.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bewildered by B'Shalach

DovBear's thoughts concerning Shirat HaYam/The Song of the Sea, sung when our ancestors reached the far side of the Reed Sea/Yam Suf, having see the Egyptians drown, are related to mine. DB wants to know how thousands of people could have sung the same previously-unknown song spontaneously and simultaneously. I've been wondering how on earth Shirat HaYam could include a reference to a sanctuary that hadn't even been mentioned yet, much less built. (See Exodus chapter 15, verse 17 in Parshat B'Shalach).

My father's been moved to a dementia facility

The news came via "relay" last night--my Israeli brother called my sister to let her know that, yesterday, he'd moved our father into a residential facility for patients with senile dementia. Dad will be able to remain there as his condition continues to deteriorate. This news is, well, as good as it's going to get. Dad's condition has deteriorated so much in recent months that he now has the common sense--or lack thereof--of a two-year-old. All four of us kids have been concerned that he could easily get into life-threatening trouble while his home attendant was in another room. He needed to be in a facility in which his ability to harm himself by accident would be reduced as much as humanly possible.

I'm very glad that I took my brother's advice and went to see my parents while my father still remembered me. Leaving them was hard, since I knew there was a good chance that I'd never see either of them again. Now, my mother's gone, and there's little point in visiting my father, since he doesn't even remember the name of the son who visits him two-three times every week, much less mine. I feel as if I got two deceased parents for the price of one--it's just a matter of receiving the official notice. :(

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Another kashrut challenge

Today, when my husband and I picked up our coffee and hot chocolate at a local bakery--see my latest two kashrut posts--I took a good look at all the goodies in the pastry display, and realized that it's entirely possible that I may never eat a cannoli again. Sigh. As my son never tires of reminding me, "It's your choice to keep kosher, Mom." Yep, it is.

Surprise, surprise, surprise

The first surprise
I generally prefer to davven through Shacharit (the Morning Service) at home, so that I can pray at my own pace. But a few weeks ago, when I was barely past my latest bout of bronchitis, I simply couldn't get up early enough. So I decided to davven through the P'sukei D'Zimrah (Verses of Song/"Introductory Prayer") section at home, then go to synagogue. Imagine my shock when I walked into the sanctuary just as the cantor was taking over from the rabbi at the Yishtabach prayer, and saw that there were exactly three people in the room--the rabbi, the cantor, and the hubster! It was so cold that day that most of our mostly-elderly congregants simply stayed home--even at kiddush time, there were fewer than 20 people in shul. So I decided that, despite my dislike for being rushed through Shacharit, I should go to synagogue right after P'sukei D'Zimrah whenever I'm davvening in the neighborhood, in the hope that, though it's rare for us to get a minyan in time for Bar'chu (sometimes called "the call to prayer"), my presence might, at least, help the congregation get a minyan for the Amidah prayer.

The second surprise
It appears that I may have the honor of leading P'sukei D'Zimrah on the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays), not because anyone really wants to give a woman such an honor, but because there may not be anyone else available who's not already leading another section of the services. As with being counted for a minyan, I appreciate being included, but I'd appreciate it a lot more if women were included out of principle, rather than for lack of an alternative.

The third surprise
Less than a week before the board is scheduled to vote on renewing his contract, the rabbi announced that his wife is pregnant. Does he expect us to believe that the timing of his announcement was a mere coincidence? How stupid does he think we are?

Not a surprise
An elderly couple recently celebrated a major wedding anniversary. The rabbi spent most of his sermon praising the husband, and said next to nothing about the wife. I'll let his actions speak louder than my words.

Sometimes, it's best to pretend that one agrees

See here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Consistent kashrut? Not quite

Start with part one, "Creeping toward consistent kashrut?" Be sure to read the comments.

I recently read Azriela Jaffe's "'What Do You Mean, You Can't Eat in My Home?:' A Guide to How Newly Observant Jews and Their Less-Observant Relatives Can Still Get Along." It's packed full of practical advice. But some of that advice may be challenging to apply, particularly when it comes to eating in non-kosher or "less-kosher" homes. Do I really want to kasher the oven, pots and utensils in someone else's home just so I can eat food that is cooked for me there? Frankly, no.

But there's another issue, on which Woodrow's comment to my previous post (see link above) touched. As he said, " . . . I'm not ready to go too far when I am back home (let alone staying at my parents' house- my sense is that just not eating chicken is pushing them to the edge of their tolerance!)"

Some of us have relatives and/or friends who barely tolerate our different level of observance as it is. Do we really wish to alienate them further by acting in a manner that they might interpret as "holier than thou"?

Must I stop eating in the home of my vegan friend? What about my old buddy who doesn't keep kosher, but never serves meat when we're there, out of respect for our kashrut observance (such as it is)? How do I explain to my kosher-kitchen-keeping girlfriend that it's one thing to eat cheese without a hechsher (rabbinical seal ensuring that a product is kosher), since the Conservative Movement has ruled that all U.S.-produced dairy products are kosher, but possibly another matter to use products that not only contain unhechshered cheese but are also cooked/baked (etc.) without rabbinical supervision? Am I now going to refuse to eat her latkes because she cooks Celentano's dairy lasagna in her kitchen, since I strongly suspect that Celentano's dairy lasagna may not be kosher even by Conservative standards? And what about my oldest friend, who's struggling to balance her kashrut with shalom bayit (keeping peace in the family), since she's well aware that her step-children, who are certainly old enough to know better, do whatever they want in her kitchen when she's not there?

I appreciate the efforts of my non-kosher-keeping friends to respect our kashrut, and am not willing to alienate them by refusing to eat in their homes or making a big production number concerning what I and/or they would have to do in order to enable me to eat in their homes. I also appreciate the difficulties that some of my other friends have in trying to keep their kitchens at least a reasonable semblance of kosher, and am not willing to alienate any of them, either.

Bottom line: What I eat when I'm in control is one thing. But, provided that I'm not asked to eat non-kosher beef or poultry, milk/meat combinations, or what I call "hard-core treif"--pork or shellfish--I don't see myself ever being "kosher enough" to make a song and dance about what I'll eat in the homes of other people who are kind enough to invite me. I'll try to persuade my friends and family to eat in kosher restaurants when they're available, but I'm not ready to make a song and dance about that, either. I'm simply not prepared to let my kashrut observance interfere with my relationships with my family and friends.

Creeping toward consistent kashrut?

Some months ago, I had a semi-bright idea--if I had crème caramel instead of a pastry with my hot chocolate when we went for a bite at a local treif (non-kosher) bakery, I'd cut my chances of eating something treif there in half. True, one can't expect a baker in a non-kosher bakery to check eggs for blood spots. But, on the other hand, I can't imagine anyone using lard as an ingredient in a custard.

A few months later, I told my husband that I'd be switching from pancakes to waffles when we eat in a non-kosher restaurant. After all, pancakes are often cooked on the same griddle as bacon, whereas waffles are cooked in a waffle iron, which is used exclusively for cooking waffles.

In December, I called a very old friend of ours to schedule a dinner get-together. Since she's almost completely non-practicing, I didn't know how she'd react when I told her that I no longer feel comfortable eating in a non-kosher restaurant when there's a kosher one only a few blocks away. She took it quite well, I'm happy to say, though I'm afraid her wallet was not so happy about the increase in the bill.

Then, just recently, I read--probably somewhere on the Internet--that it's halachically permissible to drink not only tea and coffee, but, also, hot chocolate purchased from a non-kosher establishment, provided that, if any dairy product is used, it's milk, not cream. (I assume that the beverage would also have to be served in a paper cup.) Wow. You mean I'm not violating halachah when I have a hot cocoa at the local treif bakery?! So I persuaded my husband that we should buy his coffee and my hot chocolate at the bakery, but bring them home, where we could drink them with kosher goodies.

When I finally began looking at the big picture, I was a bit distressed. Sure, we live in New York City, where we can buy not only kosher baked goods, but even cups of kosher crème caramel, at the nearest supermarket. But, unfortunately, not one of NYC's hundreds of kosher restaurants happens to be within walking distance of our apartment. So, if I were really serious about trying not to eat in non-kosher restaurants, at least when we're in the New York metropolitan area, what was I supposed to do when we felt like grabbing a bite "out," but didn't feel like getting on the subway?

Who would have thought that frozen kosher pancakes would be my "salvation?"

Did I ever mention that, since my cooking skills are largely limited to boiling water, we're been eating pancakes "out" ever since our then-young son refused to eat my homemade pancakes? So we've come to think of pancakes as a treat.

Now, when we want something special and don't feel like either cooking or schlepping, we can just pop some pancakes into the microwave, and we're both not only happy, but also halachically correct. :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

To R.Student:*All*humans are G-d's creatures,period

Thanks to Too Old to Jewschool Steve for alerting me to Rabbi Gil Student's Thursday, January 14, 2010 post, Tehillim for Haiti.

Rabbi Student and I are of vastly different hashkafot/religious perspectives, and this won't be the first time that I've disagreed with something that I've read on his blog.

But I find his "Tehillim [Psalms] for Haiti" post downright offensive, especially this part:

"After Ma'ariv tonight we recited Tehillim. Then, as we naturally segued into "Achenu kol beis Yisrael -- Our brothers, all the people of Israel" that is usually said after Tehillim, I was unsure whether it was appropriate or some other more universal phrasing should be substituted. Then someone told me that there are Jews in Haiti also, which resolves the wording question and pretty much renders all of the above academic."

The fact that there are Jews in Haiti makes the discussion of whether it's permissible to say psalms for the earthquake victims irrelevant???!!!

According to the Talmud, we Jews are supposed to be "rachmanim b'nei rachmanim, the compassionate children of the compassionate." So why should there even be a question about the permissibility of praying for any other human being who's in need? The prayer says, "Baruch m'rachem al ha-b'riot--Blessed is the One who has compassion upon His creatures." Since when does "creatures" refer to Jews only?

I have e-mailed a link to this post to Rabbi Student, and await his reply.

G-d lied

In Parshat Sh'mot, Exodus chapter 4, verses 10-16, HaShem told Moshe/Moses, who considered himself a poor speaker, that his brother Aharon/Aaron would do the talking for him. And again, in Parshat Vaeira, Exodus chapter 7, verses 1 and 2, HaShem told Moshe that Aharon would speak to Par'oh/Pharaoh.

Here's a challenge for my readers: Can any of you find a single instance, in Parshiot Sh'mot, Vaeira, or Bo, from the time HaShem appointed Aharon as Moshe's spokesperson (Exodus chapter 4, verse 14 through Exodus chapter 10, verse 29) in which Aharon alone spoke to Par'oh?

In every instance in which I would have expected Aharon to do the talking and Moshe to perform an action, either both of them spoke or Moshe alone spoke, and Aharon performed the action, all at HaShem's command--to the best of my recollection, HaShem never once gave Moshe the option of letting Aharon speak in his place. This is exactly the opposite of what HaShem had led Moshe to believe would happen. Not until Vaeira, Exodus chapter 9 verse 8, did Moshe alone perform an action, and I can't find a single instance in which Aharon alone spoke to Par'oh.

In other words, HaShem conned Moshe.

Some interesting Internet projects by bloggers

Back in November, Brian Blum, of This Normal Life, posted that he had decided to started a SiddurWiki in memory of his father. Check it out--you may wish to contribute to the writing.

The ADDeRabbi got involved, a few days ago, in a new online publishing venture, Jewish Ideas Daily. It looks very interesting.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Not-so-instant replay

See here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Jewish orgs. join Haitian earthquake relief efforts

American Jewish World Service, which already supports several community-led long-term projects in Haiti, is seeking donations here.

Mazon, A Jewish Response to Hunger, already partnered with the International Medical Corps and the Lambi Fund of Haiti , is seeking donations for relief efforts, both short- and long-term, in Haiti.

UJA-Federation of New York is partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution to provide relief.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Silent nights :(

It's true that I decided, even before my mother died, that I wouldn't give up Israeli folk dancing for a year. I also cheat by watching the occasional music video.

But my CDs are gathering dust in the cabinet, and I haven't listened to anything that I've downloaded. Nor have I bought the latest Shlock Rock album.

The toughest part about trying to observe at least some semblance of aveilut (the year of mourning) for my mother is that I haven't gone to a single live-music concert since her death, and I still have six months to go.

I miss music.

It never fails :(

Just when we think we're getting a little ahead, wham!

The latest financial "fun": $2,000 to the dentist for my new post and crown.

Ouch (on both physical and fiscal counts).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Moshe's first act of disobedience?

HaShem specifically tells Moshe (Moses) to tell Par'oh (Pharaoh) that HaShem intends to slay Par'oh's firstborn (see Parshat Sh'mot, Sh'mot/Exodus chapter -Sh'mot/Exodus 4, verses 22-23). Why doesn't Moshe ever actually warn Par'oh of HaShem's plan, despite HaShem's order?

Biblical near-death experiences

First, HaShem sends Moshe/Moses back to Egypt to "spring" the descendants of Yaakov/Jacob from slavery to Par'oh/Pharaoh. Then, HaShem tries to kill Moshe while he's en route back to Egypt to fulfill HaShem's own command. Tzipporah, Moshe's wife, takes flint in hand and circumcises their son on the spot, thereby allegedly saving her husband's life. (See Parshat Sh'mot, Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 3 verse 1-4, verse 26.)

A few books later, HaShem reluctantly gives Bil'am permission to go to Balak, king of Moav, but attempts to slay him when he actually sets out. Only the intervention of Bil'am's talking donkey saves Bil'am's life. (See Parshat Balak, Vayikra/Numbers, chapter 22, verses 2-36.)

What kind of vindictive G-d would try to slay G-d's own messengers?

And why is it that, in the three instances (of which I can recall) in which G-d threatens to kill someone--namely, the two above plus Akeidat Yitzchak/the Binding of Isaac, a being other than G-d (an angel, the daughter of a heathen priest, and a donkey) prevents the slaying? Why doesn't G-d G-dself come down and stay Avraham's hand?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Gripe Day: Good luck trying to search a blog, etc.

You might as well start here.

If anything, the technical difficulties have gotten worse since then. Searches are now a joke, with precious little "findable," either on my own blog or on someone else's. Thank goodness I've archived all my posts in Word.

My blogroll, still in no discernible order, now "hides" a few blogs. Lerner's Jewish Bible Blog is no longer accessible; only the most recent post is visible on Hirhurim and on Modern Orthoprax & Heterdox; on Emes Ve-Emunah, only the most recent post is visible, with the print so dark that it's only legible when one "highlights" it; and only the comments from the most recent post are visible on DovBear's blog. Yes, I've checked the URLs at the Blogrolling site, and they're still correct.

I can't post comments on quite a number of blogs because only an empty box appears where the word verification letters should be.

And, in the newest twist, I can't even access DovBear's blog by typing "DovBear's blog" into a general Search window--now, I get his latest "tweets" instead of his blog! I have to type "DovBear.blogspot" to read his blog.

What the heck did Google do?

See previous post for further fuming, but see the one before that if you're more interested in being amused.

I give up

My posts have minds of their mind and will do whatever they want, no matter how many times I try to add spaces between paragraphs and/or otherwise correct the formatting.

Ah, for the good olde days before Google, when I could write drafts in Word and copy them into the "Compose" window with impunity.

Sigh. See post below for cause of kvetch/complaint.

10:34 PM update:

I finally got the space between paragraphs to appear in the previous post, a mere 10 hours after I'd published it. Why my efforts had an effect this time, as opposed to 10 hours ago, I have no clue, as usual.

Some dumb ideas

Once upon a time, in the days of my long-lost youth, we used to have these things called shower curtains that were made of vinyl and both hid the bathtub and kept the floor, if not exactly dry, close to it.

Then some genius came up with the brilliant idea that shower curtains should be real curtains. You know, the kind made of cloth.

Just what we need--yet another item to get mildewed in the bathroom. And, in order to keep the floor some semblance of dry, the stupid thing still has to be lined with--yep, you've got it--a vinyl curtain.

Clever, no?

Not unless you enjoy wasting money on useless objects that didn't even exist 40 years ago.

"Why do I need to dress my bathtub?"

"Why do you need to dress your bed?," answered the hubster.

Hmm, there's a thought. Why is it not enough to tuck in the sheets and blanket? Why do we "need" to put a quilt or bedspread on top? Are we afraid that our beds might "get naked?" :)

Here's another dumb idea: window treatments.

That's funny, I didn't know my windows were sick.

Monday, January 04, 2010

My opinion: Yaakov never knew

I don't recollect having seen any evidence whatsoever in the Torah sheh-BiCh'tav (Written Pentateuch) that Yosef (Joseph) ever told his father Yaakov (Jacob) the truth about his "disappearance," nor can I imagine any possible reason why his brothers would have done so. Yosef could always have said that he hadn't contacted his father because he was first enslaved, then imprisoned, then preoccupied with running Pharaoh's kingdom, all but the last statement having been true. Granted, Yaakov was a smart enough cookie that he may have figured out that there was more to the story, but he may also have been smart enough to conclude that there might be some details that he'd rather not know. As for his brothers' claim, after their father's death, that Yaakov had asked Yosef to forgive them, I think that story was as much of a fabrication as the brothers' initial presentation of Yosef's bloodied cloak.

Your thoughts?

Instead of Flu Jew, Bacterial Betty

The flu treatment, such as it is, wasn't working--the fever was way down, but the nose was still running like a faucet, and I still sounded like a croaking frog. On the other hand, I didn't have the aches and pains typical of a flu. So the doc and I decided to change gears, assume that what I had was a bacterial infection, and try an antibiotic. It seems to be working. My nose has stopped running, and my voice is almost back to normal. Tomorrow, back to the salt mines.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

In hiding?

See the comments.

Friday, January 01, 2010

A rude attitude

See the comments.
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