Tuesday, August 31, 2010

This so-called diet is actually working?!

Remember this?

I ordered a few items of clothing online, in the hope of being able to wear them on the Yamim Noraim/High Holidays. Boy, was I surprised when they arrived last night: Both the size-medium belt and the size-12 full skirt are at least an inch too big in the waist! I'm going to have to place two new orders (the belt's from L.L. Bean, the skirt's from Appleseed's) tonight for smaller versions and worry about sending the originals back later for refunds later, if I have any hope of receiving either item before Rosh HaShanah.

Black hat, white hat

Some of you may remember the saga of my black hat, which opened the door to a delightful Shabbat with Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff. I love my black hat, but the walk back to Larry's and Malka Esther's home from Etz Chaim proved one thing--that hat is hot!

I recently received my first-ever invitation to a Chassidic wedding. It's bad enough being hot-headed--I'm known for my temper, unfortunately--but being a literal hot-head is another matter: How was I going to dance in such a hot hat?

I'm living proof that the Jewish American Princess stereotype is nonsense--I hate shopping! So I do most of my clothes shopping online. And, to boot, I usually wear a kippah in synagogue. Where was I going to find a dress hat?

A trip to Macy's department store was of no avail. The last time I went hat shopping, I got some help from RaggedyMom (thanks!), but this time, I was going shopping straight from work in Manhattan. Who was I gonna call--Ghostbusters?

Since I couldn't think of any other place that sells hats in Manhattan, I headed to the Upper West Side, because I remembered that there was a hat shop right next door to West Side Judaica.

I walked into La-Di-Da, and within less than five minutes, the wonderful saleswoman had found me the perfect hat. Like my black hat, it's collapsible, and fits into a zip-type bag, so that I can just store it on the bookshelf on top of my siddurim (prayer books). Unlike my black hat, though, this white hat is unlined, and it's also 100% cotton. Oh, Canada, thank you for Parkhurst, which made this delightful, washable hat. I look forward to taking it for a literal spin--around the dance floor!

Couch-potato nation

Coney Island trip, Sun., Aug. 29, 2010

Merry-go-round in Luna Park, Coney Island

Boardwalk, beach, and Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island

Fishing and boating in the Atlantic

The "Parachute Jump," from Steeplechase Pier

Land and sea, from Steeplechase Pier

We've been trying to get to Coney Island ever since my husband recovered from his June hernia surgery, but every single Sunday has been either over 90 degrees--and I have poor heat tolerance--raining, or threatening to rain. We spent the threatening-to-rain Sunday in Central Park at an international folk dancing session, figuring that we could always duck into the Metropolitan Museum of Art if the dance session got washed out, and the Sunday before last, we just stayed home and tried to work on putting our recently-painted apartment back together during the downpour. But this past week, I just decided that it was now or never, so we got out early, hoping to beat the heat. We enjoyed seeing the amusement rides in the new Luna Park, but concluded that we're both either too ancient to be interested and/or not healthy enough (given the compressed disks in the neck area of my spine) to ride any of them safely. So we went for a walk on the boardwalk, instead, thankful for the breeze, and got out of the heat by going to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, er, mini-Circus (one ring instead of their usual three). Honestly, I could have lived without the lion-tamer act, but the rest was fun. We hit the subway just as I was starting to fade from the heat, but not until a taking a walk on the beach down to the ocean's edge, for a dip of the hands in the Atlantic. Boy, were our sneakers sand-coated!
Blogger's misbehaving again: I can't rearrange the photos to put them in my preferred order.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Separate seating, and other true stories

Separate seating
It all started with an old minhag (custom) of our local synagogue--someone has always "volunteered" to sit next to the rabbi on the bima. Usually, it's been the president or another member of the Executive Committee. But over the years, as the congregation shrank, aged, and became less healthy and mobile, it became more and more difficult for the Ritual Committee chair to find volunteers for the job, since the attendance of many of our members depends on the weather. (It's hard to walk through snow with a walker, and extreme heat can also be a problem.) Finally, he gave up looking, and simply assumed the job himself.

I should probably mention that my husband has been chair of the Ritual Committee for over a decade.

In the beginning, I fiercely resented my husband's absence by my side, as he spent weeks, then months, then years straight sitting with the rabbi instead of with me. But over the years, I've not only gotten used to it, I've actually reached the point at which I find my husband's presence next to my while I've praying distracting, and he feels the same way about mine. Now, when we go to shul together on Friday night or Sunday morning, we usually sit in separate rows.

So Saturday, on the way to shul, I said to my husband, "You're ready for an Orthodox shul, aren't you?" Likewise. Maybe.

Irony 1
This past Shabbat/Sabbath, one of our congregants sponsored a very nice Kiddush luncheon in honor of her 90th birthday. Yum! We ate quite well. But getting there was interesting. The large contingent of guests constituted almost half the people present. So when the chazzan/cantor began singing the Adon Olam closing prayer and almost all the guests stood up and started yacking, it was a major distraction. Finally, one of the congregants banged on the chazzan's reading stand and announced, "Excuse me--the service isn't over yet!" That quieted down most of the commotion.

The hero of the day was my favorite intermarried yeshiva grad.

Irony 2
There were two cakes at the kiddush, one provided by the birthday "girl" and one provided by the congregation in honor of the birthday of our long-time Shabbos Goy. The birthday girl's cake was from a local unsupervised bakery. (Yes, the kiddush was dairy, so the birthday girl was in compliance with the congregation's decision that we would buy dairy, but not parve, cakes without a hechsher/rabbinical seal certifying that a product is kosher.) The cake purchased by the congregant for our non-Jewish maintenance chief was kosher.

Next up (when I have time to post pictures and videos): Our trip to Coney Island yesterday.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

In other news . . .

See here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nusach Eretz Yisrael

This comment to this post concerning Rosh HaShanah in Uman piqued my interest:

[ ¶ ]

Will on August 25, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Regarding increasing one’s spirituality-I recommend using nusach eretz yisrael, the ancient nusach tefillah of Eretz Yisrael which Rabbi David Bar-Hayim has resurrected. The brevity of the nusach for one is conducive to focusing on one’s kawannah, as opposed to rushing through davening.

[ ¶ ]

So I did an Internet search for "nusach tefillah of Eretz Yisrael" and ended up here.

[ ¶ ]

This sounds like something I should check out. Does anyone know where I can find a Hebrew/English Nusach Eretz Yisrael siddur/prayer book?

[ ¶ ]

On second thought, er, reading, is it still in the works?

A couple of mysteries

Mystery hechsher
My sister and I have a new favorite meeting spot--once or twice a month, we get together at Fairway and enjoy shopping together. Yesterday, we spotted what we assume is a hechsher (symbol indicating that a product is kosher), though we've never seen it before: Klbd. Neither of us could figure out what the "lbd" part meant. Then my sister took a guess: London Board of . . . um, what? "London Bet Din!," I exclaimed, meaning London Rabbinical Court. Does anyone have any information concerning this hechsher?

Mystery boy
Since there were a few heavy items on sale and my husband the college instructor has not yet been summoned back into the classroom, I kindly "volunteered" him to join my sister and me at Fairway in his famed role as "schlepper" (hauler--literally, dragger). On the way home, a young boy of early-elementary-school age waved at me in the subway. To be friendly, I waved back. Then he winked at my husband. We were both quite puzzled by his behavior. When we got off the train, the boy and the man accompanying him approached us on the platform. The man told us that the boy knew us from synagogue, and proceeded to introduce him as our now-former-rebbitzen's son! Our ex-rabbi's wife had been "broyges" (angry) with the entire congregation for some odd reason, even before we voted not to renew her husband's contract, and had not attended our synagogue since last fall. We didn't recognize her son because he'd grown so much in the 10 or so months since we'd last seen him. I'm glad we had this opportunity, since it's likely that we'll never see him again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where are they hiding?

I just did a quick check of my blogroll, and it appears that I have about twice as many Orthodox as non-Orthodox blogs there. Where are all the non-Ortho bloggers hiding? Can anyone recommend a non-Orthodox blog that's not already on my blogroll? It would probably help my own blogging if I read more posts by non-Orthodox Jews, so that I wouldn't hear complaints about focusing so much on the Orthodox community instead of my own Conservative one, or griping too much about my synagogue.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Surviving by turning a blind eye

He's rapidly becoming one of the mainstays of our ever-shrinking shul. He comes to synagogue almost every Shabbat (Sabbath) and holiday that he's in town and doesn't have to work (you should pardon the expression). He comes early enough to be assigned an aliyah, and is always happy to chant a haftarah. He sponsors an occasional kiddush. He makes good suggestions at meetings. He helps without being asked. He's intelligent, with interesting things to say. He's one of maybe three members under the age of fifty, and will probably outlive most of the congregation (myself and my husband included) by at least 20 years.

There's only one problem.

He's also married to a non-Jew.

In order to survive, our shul is turning a blind eye to halachically-incorrect behavior.

I have no clue how to handle this situation. He's still a Jew, after all, and should certainly be welcome to attend services. But I'm distressed that the shul has become so dependent on a person who's not exactly a good role model.

Do I have a right to criticize, given that I'm still traveling on Shabbat and Yom Tov (major holiday), which makes me a pretty poor role model, too?

And what, exactly, is my husband, chair of the Ritual Committee and currently, for lack of a better description, rabbi-by-default, supposed to do--turn away one of the few members of the congregation who's both able and willing to help?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010 clarification:
Neither my husband nor I has ever "turned away" anyone who wished to worship in our synagogue. The issue in question is whether giving an aliyah or haftarah to a person who's intermarried is appropriate. I apologize for the belated nature of this correction.

The wrong vocabulary

Here's a quote from Rabbi Michael J. Broyde's Hurhurim/Torah Musing guest post concerning Women Leading Kabbalat Shabbat:

[ ¶ ]

“Why then do we let children lead services like Kabbalat Shabbat and Pesukai Dezimra? I suspect that the answer to that question is as follows (and it is complex): exactly because we are now a more egalitarian community than we ever were, we must be careful not to treat women like children as a matter of halacha. . . . we permit six year old children to lead Ein Kelokeino, because no one will confuse a six year old with an adult, but we ought not to permit Ein Kelokeino to be led by an adult woman, exactly because we will confuse her with an adult man, because she is an adult obligated in Jewish law. Since she cannot lead Mussaf as a matter of Jewish law, even as she looks like a fully obligated adult in our modern egalitarian eyes, we must draw greater lines distinguishing women from men than children from adults. We fear this confusion less when a women leads kiddush in the social hall or makes hamotzi over Shabbat lunch, exactly because neither of these are situations where we consider the person leading services to be functioning as a chazan.”

[ ¶ ]

I can’t protest that this approach gives an 11-year-old boy more rights than a woman old enough to be his grandmother because, based on some of my recent reading, Judaism is a religion of responsibilities, not rights.

[ ¶ ]

I can’t protest that this approach fails to respect the dignity of women because, if I understand some of my recent reading correctly, Kavod HaTzibbur/the honor of the congregation almost always trumps Kavod HaBriyot/respect for HaShem’s creatures.

[ ¶ ]

So how do I explain my own personal reaction to Rabbi Michael J. Broyde’s guest post, namely, that, by refusing to allow women to lead even halachically-permissible parts of the service, traditionalists are treating us like (perpetual) children?

[ ¶ ]

Even assuming that women are guests at Orthodox public worship, which is the opinion of some traditionalists on the grounds that the requirement to say specific prayers at specific times is incumbent on men only, doesn’t the host at a Sabbath or Festival meal usually offer a guest an opportunity to lead either Kiddush or Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals)? Even if we’re guests, shouldn’t we be made to feel welcome?

More troubling texts from Ki Tetze

There are other parts of Parshat Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19) that disturb me in addition to the one mention in my previous post. There's the commandment to kill a rebellious son by stoning (21:18-21). It's to the credit of our ancient sages that they made so many rules about who was eligible for this death penalty that they claimed that this commandment was never carried out. Then there's the death penalty for a married woman who's found not to have been a virgin on her wedding night (22:13-21). (Note that there's no similar penalty for a married man--see 22:28-29.) My husband and I discussed this on the way home from shul (synagogue) on Shabbat (Sabbath) after the morning services, and concluded that the rabbis probably mitigated this rule in their usual manner: They probably insisted that the then-unmarried female be warned not to have sex, then they probably insisted on there being two witnesses to prove that she'd defied the warning. That's our uneducated guess.

[ ¶ ]

In a comment to my previous post, Larry said, "Ultimately, I can be satisfied with the pragmatic answer that many of these laws are not in force any longer, and no one (outside of a small fringe) is seeking to restore any of them prior to the Messianic age." There are times when I think that we might be better off without a Messianic age, if the coming of the Mashiach means a reversion to ancient laws that simply don't sit well with our contemporary sense of ethics.

[ ¶ ]

As to the problem that a woman can't give a man a get/Jewish religious divorce (24:1), they're still working on that one. Sigh.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A troubling passage from Ki Tetze

In the very beginning of Parshat Ki Tetze (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19), we read about the female captive whom a soldier is permitting to take as a wife.

י כִּי-תֵצֵא לַמִּלְחָמָה, עַל-אֹיְבֶיךָ; וּנְתָנוֹ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּיָדֶךָ--וְשָׁבִיתָ שִׁבְיוֹ.

10 When thou goest forth to battle against thine enemies, and the LORD thy God delivereth them into thy hands, and thou carriest them away captive,

יא וְרָאִיתָ, בַּשִּׁבְיָה, אֵשֶׁת, יְפַת-תֹּאַר; וְחָשַׁקְתָּ בָהּ, וְלָקַחְתָּ לְךָ לְאִשָּׁה.

11 and seest among the captives a woman of goodly form, and thou hast a desire unto her, and wouldest take her to thee to wife;

יב וַהֲבֵאתָהּ, אֶל-תּוֹךְ בֵּיתֶךָ; וְגִלְּחָה, אֶת-רֹאשָׁהּ, וְעָשְׂתָה, אֶת-צִפָּרְנֶיהָ.

12 then thou shalt bring her home to thy house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails;

יג וְהֵסִירָה אֶת-שִׂמְלַת שִׁבְיָהּ מֵעָלֶיהָ, וְיָשְׁבָה בְּבֵיתֶךָ, וּבָכְתָה אֶת-אָבִיהָ וְאֶת-אִמָּהּ, יֶרַח יָמִים; וְאַחַר כֵּן תָּבוֹא אֵלֶיהָ, וּבְעַלְתָּהּ, וְהָיְתָה לְךָ, לְאִשָּׁה.

13 and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in thy house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that thou mayest go in unto her, and be her husband, and she shall be thy wife.

יד וְהָיָה אִם-לֹא חָפַצְתָּ בָּהּ, וְשִׁלַּחְתָּהּ לְנַפְשָׁהּ, וּמָכֹר לֹא-תִמְכְּרֶנָּה, בַּכָּסֶף; לֹא-תִתְעַמֵּר בָּהּ, תַּחַת אֲשֶׁר עִנִּיתָהּ. {ס}

14 And it shall be, if thou have no delight in her, then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not deal with her as a slave, because thou hast humbled her. {S}

It's all very well and good that a man who has "humbled" a female captive is not allowed to sell her or deal with her as a slave. But, with her mother and father dead, no husband, probably no surviving relatives, and probably no means of supporting herself, where exactly is she supposed to go, and how is she supposed to survive? Fundamentally, the displeased husband is tossing her into the street.

To my more learned readers, how did/do the rabbis deal with this passage?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

At what price?

I read a d'var Torah (Bible discussion) recently about the reason for poverty: The writer's opinion (quoting traditional texts, if I recall correctly) was that HaShem made some people poor in order to give others the opportunity to perform the mitzvah (commandment) of giving tzedakah (charity). Would HaShem really be that cruel?

Then there was the post (on another blog) discussing the great debate about kollel: Some post-World-War-II rabbis were of the opinion that the more students were studying full-time, the more likely that the scholars lost in the Shoah/Holocaust could be "replaced," and the question being debated was whether it was worth forcing just about every "Yeshivish" male into full-time Torah study, rather than letting them develop their own individual talents, or not. The whole notion of forcing thousands of males to fit into a single mold for the sake of producing one "Gadol" (a "Great," an individual who's a genius in Torah knowledge and interpretation) is one that I, and many of the commenters, find quite distressing. It seems to me rather cruel to force an individual to do something for which he has no aptitude, then ostracize him when he doesn't do well or tries to find a more suitable way to make a living.

I wish people would think more carefully before concluding that it's acceptable to make the innocent pay.

Corruption among Jews makes Wolf howl

Brooklyn Wolf is having a tough time seeing chillul HaShem (the public desecration of G-d's name) repeated time and again with the arrests of Jews on criminal charges. And criminal behavior isn't the only Jewish-community issue that concerns him.

Pulling herself up by her own bootstraps

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Not my favorite "first"

I didn't expect the head painter to return so early in the day to do the final touch-ups on our apartment, so I found myself with a grand total of 10 minutes in which to davven Shacharit/pray the Morning Service before his arrival. Since Ms. Slow-Davvener's all-time so-called speed record for Shacharit is probably about half an hour, I ended up saying Shacharit on the subway for the first time in my life. No tallit, no tefillin for the first time since my broken wrists healed. Major bummer. :( And it's a good thing today's Tuesday, because I would never have finished the Shir shel Yom (Psalm of the Day) for Wednesday--it's much longer--and still had time to say HaShem ori v'yishi (the so-called Penitential Psalm) before the train pulled into my station. I hope I never to have to davven Shacharit on the subway again.

Update: Dummy that I am, I forgot all about the tallit and tefillin and went grocery shopping after work. I did manage to get home barely in time to sneak in a "wrap" during twilight, but I suspect it was too late to be legit. Oh, well, tomorrow's another opportunity.

Wed., Aug. 18, 2010 update:
I was good today--not only did I davven Shacharit with tallit and tefillin, I said all of my favorite psalms in P'sukei D'Zimrah (which I don't always have time to do), and even added the last three verses of the Mishlei/Chronicles quote to my usual first three. Hmm, I like "bookending" a quote. Maybe I'll try to do that more often.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Too much of a sacrifice?

I think that my old friend, a now-former egalitarian Conservative Jew who recently joined a Modern Orthodox synagogue, may have different priorities than I have.

She wants a "Jewish social life," people with whom to share Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holiday) meals.

Thus far, she doesn't seem to be bothered by what she's had to give up.

It occurred to me that, while Women's Tefillah Groups are certainly a wonderful idea, they have their limitations, and I'm not talking only about what prayers a group composed solely of women are not allowed to say--I'm also talking about the fact that they usually meet on only one Shabbat a month.

I will admit that I've become rather spoiled in recent years at our local Conservative synagogue--since there are so few members who know how to chant a haftarah, I get to chant just about every haftarah I know just about every year. That's a total of nine, folks, depending on the calendar: Noach, Shabbat Chanukah I, Terumah, Behaalotecha (same text as Chanukah, different day), Matot, Re'eh (2nd half of Noach), Ki Tetze (1st half of Noach), Shabbat Rosh Chodesh, and Shabbat Machar Chodesh.

Assuming that a Women's Tefillah Group meets only on one Shabbat per month, that's twelve WTGs per year.

I know nine haftarot.

Do the math.

One or two haftarot will probably be taken by Bat Mitzvah girls. Another few may go to women observing yahrzeits. And long-time members will probably get first dibs over a "newby" like me.

I told my husband that that, even if we joined a Modern Orthodox synagogue with a Women's Tefillah Group, it might be years before I chanted a haftarah again, and there might be years when I wouldn't get an opportunity at all. Since my Hebrew-reading skills are not great, it took me about a month to learn each of the haftarot that I know (and would take me about a month to learn any new one), so not chanting "my" haftarot would be a major sacrifice.

Am I really willing to give that up?

"Conversion" of a different kind

"Minhag Yisrael halachah hi, the custom of Israel (meaning the Jewish People, not the State of Israel) is the law." I don't know from which text I'm quoting, and I hope my grammar is correct (hu, hi?), but my shul's former rabbi was very into this notion that a custom/minhag, once established for a number of years, becomes as inviolable as a law/halachah.

I certainly saw this approach in connection with the recent discussions on various blogs (including my own) concerning a woman leading the Kabbalat Shabbat portion of the Shabbat (Sabbath) Evening Service.

Personally, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with this approach. It reminds me of the verse from the Rabbi Yishmael quote (recited very early in Shacharit/Morning Service) stating, roughly, that, depending on circumstances, similar laws might be interpreted in a stricter or more lenient manner. To be honest, I'm usually more comfortable with a law being interpreted in a more lenient manner than in a stricter one. :)

To be even more honest, I'm even less comfortable with the feeling I get that, in recent years, customs regarding women's dress and/or behavior have been interpreted by some in a stricter manner than might be necessary within halachah/Jewish religious law.

Take, for example, the question of whether a woman is permitted to lead P'sukei D'Zimrah.

Here's a direct quote from the Koren Sacks Siddur (prayer book), Nusach Ashkenaz (an Orthodox siddur), the "Daily Prayer, Services, Laws of Birkot HaShahar and Pesukei DeZimra," page 1215:

344 If one comes late to synagogue, one may skip all, or portions, of Pesukei DeZimra, as follows:

a If there is sufficient time, say Barukh SheAmar, Psalms 145-150, and Yishtabah.

b If there is less time, say Barukh SheAmar, Psalms 145, 148, 150, and Yishtabah.

c If there is less time, say Barukh SheAmar, Psalm 145, and Yishtabah.

d If there is less time, omit Pesukei DeZimra altogether. Complete the rest of the service with the congregation, then say Pesukei DeZimra privately, omitting Barukh SheAmar and Yishtabah. [The reference is a Hebrew abbreviation or acronym that I'm unable to copy, since I don't know how to type in Hebrew: resh mem''alef, vav shin vav''ayin, alef resh''chet. nun bet.]

Contrast this passage to "Laws of Havinenu," page 1217:

362 When circumstances require, one is permitted to substitute a special paragraph (Havinenu, page 1005) for the thirteen middle blessings of the Amida. This is only permitted in exceptional cases, such as when one is incapable of concentrating during a full-length Amida or expects interruptions. One says this abbreviated form of the Amida while standing, and one does not need to repeat the full-length Amida afterward [shin vav''ayin, alef vav''chet, kuf yod: alef]

To my admittedly-undereducated eyes, it appears that skipping parts of P'sukei D'Zimrah is not uncommon, whereas using the abbreviated Amidah is a major big deal--Rabbi Sacks himself says it's done in "exceptional cases" only.

Yet some of the reading I've done on women's participation in leading public worship seems to indicate that for a woman to lead P'sukei D'Zimrah would be as much of a breach of the rules as a woman leading the Matbeiah Shel Tefillah, the core obligatory prayers, some of which one is not permitted to say without a minyan. To me, this makes no sense. My understanding is that the P'sukei D'Zimrah originated as a substitute for a minhag/custom of the very pious to recite the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms every morning before Shacharit, a luxury not available to us "working stiffs," who certainly don't have enough time. When did this minhag become as much a required part of the service as the Amidah, that a woman shouldn't be permitted to lead it?

The same is true of Kabbalat Shabbat, a relatively new part of the Shabbat Evening Service that dates back only about 500 years and includes absolutely nothing that can't be recited without a minyan. It makes no sense to me that the prohibition against a woman leading Maariv/Evening Service should be extended to include the "new" introduction to the Maariv of Shabbat.

Protests against women leading P'sukei D'Zimrah and/or Kabbalat Shabbat because they're now (allegedly) required parts of the service remind me of what's happened over the past century or so regarding married women's head-coverings.

According to interpretations of halachah/Jewish religious law accepted as binding by many Orthodox Jews, a married woman must cover at least part of her hair in public. My understanding is that, until about 100 years or so ago, the traditional head-covering for a married women was a hat, scarf, snood, or some other head-covering made of cloth (and/or possibly fur), and that it was only roughly 100 years or so ago that some rabbis approved a kula (leniency), for the benefit of married women who would otherwise refuse to cover their hair, permitting the use of a wig (sheitel) instead. Now, here we are, merely about 100 years later, and, in some Ashkenazi right-wing Orthodox communities, anything other than a sheitel is considered an insufficient head-covering! In less than roughly a century and a half, what started out as a kula (leniency) has become a chumrah (stringency)!

Shouldn't there be some reasonably-clear distinction between a minhag/custom and a halachah/law? Shouldn't there be some reasonably-clear distinction between "the mesorah" (tradition) and what's absolutely required?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Our son was in town!

Would that he could have stayed longer, and that he had come to New York for a better reason--he had to undergo medical exams in connection with that stupid lawsuit that's been dragging on for four years between the insurance company seeking reimbursement for our son's months of physical therapy and chiropractic treatment and the so-called driver who rear-ended the taxi in which he was riding--but we'll take what we can get. So here's the latest photo of the Sonster with the Punster (his proud Papa).

Or not. :( They changed Flickr since the last time I posted a link to a photo. How do I post a link that displays only the photo itself, and not a link that would enable everybody and his cousin to edit my Flickr page?

Update: I tried that linking business again. I hope this works without granting access. Click on this link to see my son and his dear old dad, my husband.

Monday, August 16, 2010 update:
I'm at the office now, and I see that the stupid link doesn't work unless you sign in. Some technical advice would be appreciated.

Thurs., Aug. 19, 2010 attempt: Link. Let's see how this works once I get to the office.

And the answer is that you can't see my photos unless you have a Flickr account--you have to sign in. I give up.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Speaking of not thinking . . .

Thinking isn't always my strong suit either. But enough about me.

Public-transit space hogs
Why should anyone have to explain to a grown man that if he sits with his knees spread two feet apart, he's not only taking more space than he paid for, but, worse, he's also forcing his neighbor to rub knees with a total stranger? And where are the brains of the inconsiderate fellow who thinks that the person next to him has pressed his/her knees together not to avoid "playing kneesies" with him, but to give him more room, and proceeds to spread out even further? Squashed between two men taking up roughly a seat and a quarter each, I've sometimes wondered whether, if I pressed my legs any closer together, I'd become a mermaid.

E-mail etiquette
Some people don't bother typing their name at the end of an e-mail--they just assume that I'll remember who abc123 at whatevermail.com is. Personally, I think that's rather thoughtless.

Mystery mail at the office is even better (quoth she sarcastically). I recently got an e-mail from a source so mysterious that I wouldn't save the attached file because I couldn't identity the sender. I had to hit the reply button and ask the sender who the heck he/she was. Then there was that e-mail from the Office of the [Title]--this means absolutely nothing when there are at least a half dozen people in the organization who have the same title.

Please think before you send. We're not mind-readers.

Shul happenings make me glad and sad

Good news on rentals
Another congregant and I had a huge fight with the synagogue president this past Sunday after morning minyan over the issue of the rental of the sanctuary before the end of Shabbat/Sabbath. I think we may finally have gotten through to him. At a meeting a couple of days later, he told us that he'd told the office worker in charge of rentals that he risked being fired if he kept renting the sanctuary too early. He said that, from now on, the rental guy will use a Jewish calendar to record the rentals, rather than using a secular calendar and checking the Jewish one whenever he got around to it, which has resulted in the creation of scheduling conflicts such as these. The rental guy is also now under orders not to rent the sanctuary until one hour and five minutes after licht-bentchen/candle-lighting time. Yay! (I hope. We shall see.)

Mourning the morning minyan
Since my husband realized that the congregation had never been officially informed that the shul would no longer hold workday morning services, he announced from the bimah (pulpit), this past Shabbat, that this past Monday and today would be the official last workday morning minyanim. Monday and today, he and I were the only ones there. Since it's now the month of Elul, when we begin preparing for the Yamim Noraim/High Holiday coming next month, there's a tradition to blow a few blasts on the shofar (ram's horn) at every weekday morning minyan until the day before Rosh HaShanah/New Year, so my husband brought his trusty shofar. When he blew the shofar, I was sad that it was for just the two of us, and even sadder that, from now on, if we want to hear a shofar-blowing at a workday morning minyan during Elul, we'll have to go to another shul.

What was I thinking?

Or was I thinking at all?

I bought fresh corn tonight. What made me think that I'd be able to cook once the apartment-painting got started in earnest is beyond me. As of today, I no longer have a clean sink in which to wash the pots. It'll be eat out or take-out for the next few days. And Shabbat dinner will have to be edible at room temperate or straight from the refrigerator--the hot-tray has temporarily disappeared.

We put a pile of clothes in a suitcase so that we'd be able to find them. Then the painters "buried" the suitcase. It took us over half an hour to unearth it.

I wish we hadn't gone along with the head painter's suggestion that the whole apartment be painted in semi-gloss. Fortunately, they haven't gotten to the living room/dining room or the entrance foyer yet, so all is not lost. But the bedrooms sure are shiny.

Rav todot, many thanks, to my husband, who managed to dig out my tallit and tefillin this morning.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Woman leads KS @ Ortho Shul--improved version

I got my head handed to me--and rightfully so--for "Orthodox bashing/baiting" when I wrote my original post on this topic, so, in keeping with my attempt to turn a new leaf, let me try a more respectful version, in the hope of encouraging a calmer discussion.

Some of my readers have protested that Rabbi Avi Weiss (of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, the Orthodox synagogue being discussed), having just barely recovered from getting his head handed to him by the Rabbinical Council of America for changing Maharat Sara Hurwitz's title to Rabba Hurwitz, moved too quickly in making yet another decision that much of the Orthodox world deems radical. They have a point.

That said, what are some of the other reasons why many in the Orthodox community don't accept the idea of a woman ever leading Kabbalat Shabbat?

It's a chiddush (literally, "new thing" (?)--an innovation)

As DovBear points out here, so's Kabbalat Shabbat itself, dating back only to about the 15th century (give or take). For that matter, Nusach Sfard is an even more recent chiddush, dating back to only about the 16th century.

It's not tzanua (modest) for a woman to lead men

Here's what someone else said on the subject (in a comment to a post on another blog):

"1. L.D. on August 3, 2010 at 4:22 pm Do men not care that when they lead services their rear is on view to the entire congregation… this not also a sniut [tzniut, modesty] concern? Women are not blind, nor are they without feelings. Clearly the men are not very concerned about this. . . . "

I've been blogging for six years, and in six years, I've never once seen a post about tzniut and men, other than the one I wrote myself. If there's a more diplomatic way to say this, I can't figure it out: I honestly don't see any alternative to calling this objection sexist.

Kol Isha (a woman's voice)

My long-term readers are well aware of my personal objection to the prohibition against a man hearing a woman sing--I've posted ad nauseum on the subject. (For newcomers, my best posts on the subject are probably "Men in Halachah--Shirking their responsibilities, part one, and "Damned if we do, damned if we don't, conclusion.") But aside from my personal opinion, there are rabbinic opinions that the issur (prohibition) of kol isha does not apply to zemirot, at least. For further discussion of how the rule affects this situation, see DovBear's post here.

Kavod HaTzibbur (The Honor of the Congregation)

Let me state, up front, that this is a law regarding which I've done almost no reading: I haven't felt motivated to study the law that a woman's participation in parts of a public religious service might constitute an embarrassment to the congregation, as this rule makes me feel that Jewishly-knowledgeable women are being treated as an embarrassment. That said, my limited understanding is that kavod ha-tzibbur applies to those parts of the service that are obligatory for men but optional for women. I don't think that kavod ha-tzibbur is applicable to Kabbalat Shabbat, since it's not an obligatory part of the service. (For a rabbinical perspective on kavod ha-tzibbur, follow the links in now-Rabbi Drew Kaplan's "More Kevod Zibur stuff"--the first link leads to quite a discussion by Rabbis Riskin and Shapiro on the subject of women's aliyot.)

I'll leave the last words to djf:

1. djf on August 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm

Gil, I appreciate you point and while I’m more sympathic to RAW’s position than you are, I wish he would take into greater consideration the effect of his innovations on the community at large.

Unfortunately, though, it’s a one-way street. The Right is not looking over their shoulders, wondering whether the positions they take would alienate the MO [Modern Orthodox] world. When you listen to the promient chareidi [fervently Orthodox] and RWMO [Right-Wing Modern Orthodox] voices speak about the “frum community”, you get the impression that they’ve already excluded most MO.

At what point should we stop asking RAW to turn the other cheek?

Or, as DovBear put it here, "If you can tolerate Hasidic shenanigans without tossing them out of Judaism, I don't see why H.I.R can't be extended the same courtesy."

[ ¶ ]

Rabbi Weiss's move may have been poorly-timed, but I hope it doesn't prove "fatal" to his, and his synagogue's, continued status as Orthodox.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A new beginning (for better and for worse)

Yesterday was our first Shabbat/Sabbath without a rabbi. My husband led the P'sukei D'Zimrah section of Shacharit/Morning Service, and unlike the rabbi, he prayed almost slowly enough for me--I was caught up by the time the chazzan/cantor took over and got to the Yishtabach prayer. (I think I probably shocked a few people--including my husband :) --just by showing up at the beginning of the service: I'd been davvening/praying the early part of the service--at least through P'sukei D'Zimrah--at home for several years because I resented being forced to davven at breakneck speed.)

Relieved of the rabbi's insistence that he davven as quickly as possible--the rabbi recently won an all-time speed record for our synagogue by praying the entire Shabbat morning service up to the Torah reading in 35 minutes flat--the chazzan took the davvening at a much more relaxed pace. So the service took about three hours, instead of two and a half.

My husband gave a very nice D'var Torah/Word of Torah/Torah discussion/"sermon," saying that the rabbis managed to keep Judaism alive even without "the place that HaShem will choose, " and we, too, can maintain our worship without a rabbi just as our ancestors learned to maintain Judaism without a Temple.

It was nice to have a leisurely service with no rushing and with a sermon that didn't completely ignore the parsha/weekly Torah reading (a peculiar practice of our ex-rabbi).

If only the president hadn't ruined the day by renting out our sanctuary a whopping 45 minutes before the end of Shabbat--we hadn't even started Mincha (Afternoon Service) when the renters first appeared. That was a not-so-nice first in the history of our congregation, and bodes poorly for the future. Will the needs of those (trying to be) somewhat more observant be deemed too expensive by those who are comfortable being somewhat less observant? Will the president send the Shabbos Goy home and lock us out of the Sukkah if we're the only ones eating there?

Thursday, August 05, 2010

End of an era

Following a fine fleischig farewell kiddush this past Shabbat/Sabbath, our rabbi is now our former rabbi--we can no longer afford even a part-time rabbi, and did not renew his contract. I wish him well. Divrei Torah/Torah discussions will now be given/led by congregants.

This morning, we held our last-ever workday morning "minyan." It's been a long time--probably over a year--since we've gotten a minyan at a Shacharit/Morning Service on a workday, and the cost of lighting and heating or cooling a room for 3-4 people is simply prohibitive. Today, my husband "led" the service, in a manner of speaking--we actually ended up davvening bi-y'chidut (praying as individuals), as if we were alone, because I was the only other person present. How sad, that we can barely get a minyan by 10 AM on a Shabbat or Yom Tov/major holiday morning, much less at any other time.

At a recent Ritual Committee meeting, the majority voted to move all evening services (and probably Sunday morning services, as well) to the former chapel, which we plan to reclaim from our renters, who don't need that second room anymore. I am not happy with being banished to the basement--I hate davvening in the "dungeon," which is a small, windowless, low-ceilinged room--but it's all about money, when you're as broke as we are. Not only will davvening in the chapel enable us to save on lighting and heating/air conditioning costs, it will also enable us to rent out the sanctuary. It really upsets me that financial considerations supercede the comfort of the congregants, and that renters get to use our sanctuary more than we do. I've made no secret of the fact that I can't wait 'til we sell this building and move to a house. It'll be small, which means that we'll have to rent other quarters for the Yamim Noraim/High Holidays and the first-night seder. But at least it'll be all ours.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

An apology, and a course correction

I've been taken to task of late for both "Orthodox bashing" and being too judgmental concerning my fellow and sister Conservative Jews. I've always prided myself on writing respectfully, and regret that I have not been as successful at maintaining a diplomatic tone in recent months.

[ ¶ ]

I was honestly surprised by the complaint that I've stereotyped Modern Orthodox Jews and attempted to fit them into my pre-conceived mold. I will endeavor to listen more and talk less.

[ ¶ ]

One specific complaint was that I did not properly appreciate the "Jackie Robinson"--first of one's kind--aspect of Rabbah Hurwitz's position as the world's first rabbah as it related to the question of the degree of modesty of her manner of dress. (See my "role model" post.) I received an e-mailed response to that complaint from a Modern Orthodox Jew who had polled some of her MO friends--including rabbis--about whether it's truly necessary for Rabbah Hurwitz to cover all of her hair, and found that "they were of the opinion, "as long as it's within the bounds of halacha why should people care". " In all honesty, I'm undecided on this issue, as I truly believe that this is a classic case of both sides being right. But I do understand the concerns of those who sincerely believe that Rabbah Hurwitz may be undermining her own authority by not following the most stringent interpretation of the laws of modest dress. As Miami Al commented on the "role model" post, "Sometimes, we deal with what is, not what should be." "What is" is that many Orthodox Jews will hold Rabbah Hurwitz to a higher standard, fairly or not. As JDub commented, "leaders of the community should not be publicly using such leniencies." I tip my hat to my very-persuasive commenters, who have really forced me to rethink my position on this issue.

[ ¶ ]

(The same correspondent protested against a Modern Orthodox commenter's characterization of Modern Orthodox Jews as not very "intellectually rigorous," asserting that that, too, is a stereotype.)

[ ¶ ]

I was quite stunned that JDub considered my "Woman leads Kabbalat Shabbat" post an example of Orthodox-bashing. I had actually thought that I was being complimentary. In retrospect, I will grant you that I was writing from the perspective of an egalitarian Conservative Jew. Nevertheless, I daresay that one or two of my other recent posts skated a lot closer to the edge of diplomatic writing, so I was surprised that he chose that particular post to get mad about.

[ ¶ ]

For the record, I do believe that both Miami Al and JDub were right--it was too soon for Rabbi Weiss to make another controversial move. Thank you for helping me see this issue from an insider's perspective.

[ ¶ ]

Two e-mails sent by two different Modern Orthodox readers (from two different cities) turned out to be related. One correspondent explained that the problem is not that right-of-Centrist Orthodox men are woman-haters, but, rather, that it simply isn't part of their worldview to take into account the concerns and perspectives of women. Another correspondent suggested that I'm simply paying too much attention to the writing of people with such a narrow perspective. She may have a point, in that I tend to be sensitive—perhaps too sensitive—to the tendency of some right-of-Centrist Orthodox men to either misunderstand or completely ignore my comments on matters that are of direct concern to women, and this has been reflected in my recent more negative writing. (Right-of-Centrist? Right-wing? Please pardon the usual difficulties that I have, as someone who's never been Orthodox, in understanding the finer nuances of the Orthodox "observance spectrum," which I probably didn't get quite right in the linked post.) Much as I hate to say it, I might be less inclined to write in a negative manner if I simply avoid reading posts concerning women’s issues written by right-of-Centrist Orthodox men. I confess that I find it extremely difficult to keep an open mind and/or be diplomatic when I feel that women’s concerns and perspectives are being systematically dismissed as irrelevant.

[ ¶ ]

On the other hand, I've quoted several times in the past from a post by the British Chassidic self-described "Shaigetz": "Ai du" is a humor-infused complaint about what he sees as the excessive separation of men and women.

[ ¶ ]

I will try to return my blog to its earlier civility and open-mindedness, and to take into consideration the fact that I know more about my own Conservative crew than I understand about the opinions and workings of the Orthodox world. Thank you for your patience, and I sincerely hope that you will remain my readers.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Taking it for a spin

Start here.

Getting there was half the fun. When I got off the subway after a surprisingly short ride, I checked my surroundings and decided against waiting for a cab. So I asked someone how to get where I wanted to go. He told me that the street I was looking for was behind me. I pointed out that the street toward which he was pointing was not the street I was looking for. Big mistake. He sent me in the opposite direction, and I ended up walking for at least 20 minutes in a giant horse-shoe, crossing over the same highway (probably the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway) twice. I've been through Williamsburg on the BQE many times, but I'd never actually been to Williamsburg. Next time I'm going somewhere where I've never been, I'll print out a map.

When I finally got to the catering hall, I was a bit surprised to discover that there was no coat room, which meant that all the women were dumping their garment bags, etc., on the "ladies' lounge" floor. I was downright taken aback that the "ladies' lounge" leading to the "stalls" had neither a discreet turn nor a wall nor a door hiding the "stalls." There were men walking in and out of the lounge, helping their wives. Such an immodest arrangement was most certainly not what I would have expected in a chassidic catering hall.

Since the stalls had floor-to-ceiling doors, I had no place to hang my garment bag, and had quite a time of it, changing from my office attire into my simcha outfit. But I somehow managed to get the outfit on, stuff a scarve into the slightly-too-low neckline, park my new hat on my head, and exit just as the bride was entering the room. The bride turns out to be Satmar, not Lubavitch. Speaking of stereotype-busting, I'm honestly suprised--I didn't think the Satmar allowed even their men, much less their women, to get a college education, but the bride has a master's, and is rumored to be studying for a doctorate. (It's also possible that the bride isn't Satmar, but that her family just chose that catering hall.)

After taking photos during the Kabbalat Panim (pre-wedding reception), I sat with a co-worker's wife, and, having gotten there too late for the meatballs, nibbled on fruit and a yummy pastry or two that she recommended. Then everyone moved outdoors for the actual wedding ceremony, it being traditional, especially in chassidic circles, to hold a wedding ceremony outdoors when possible. We waited forever--nu, you wouldn't expect a Jewish wedding to run "Jewish time"?--but I finally filled my camera's memory card with videos of the wedding. (I always remember extra batteries, but I keep forgetting to buy an extra memory card.) Having little boys sing for the processional was a sweet idea, though they didn't all have the best voices. :)

Cynic that I am, I think I finally figured out why it's traditional, in an Orthodox Jewish wedding ceremony, for the bride to circle the groom seven times. Yes, there are "standard" reason(s) given. But here's my quite unorthodox opinion: Circling your chattan (groom) is the only active thing that a bride (and her mother and the groom's mother, who escort her) get(s) to do during the entire ceremony. After that, the kallah (bride) just stands there schtum (silently) while a man or men recite blessings and read the ketubah/wedding contract. The chattan fares only slightly better, since he gets to give the kallah (bride) the wedding ring and recite the traditional words while doing so, and he also gets to stomp on a glass at the end of the ceremony, in memory of the Bet HaMikdash/Holy Temple.

There was a yummy dinner after the chuppah (a word meaning both "wedding canopy" and "wedding ceremony"). Then, when the newlyweds returned from their yichud (isolation, for the first time, alone together in a room with the door closed--originally, this was when the marriage was consummated), there was plenty of dancing. What fun for all!

I was planning to leave around 10. Famous last words. Dessert wasn't even served until around 11. So I noshed, bentched (said Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals) and was about to leave when another round of dancing started. Naturally, I ended up staying for another half hour. Altogether, 'twas a happy night for the bride, groom, family and guests. Just don't ask when I got home. I was so tired this morning that I forgot to take the head tefillin out of its box, and put it on still in the box, not realizing until I took it off!

Note: This post was actually published on Friday, September 3, 2010.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Happy sixth blogoversary to me?

None of my friends has time to talk to me on the phone, a commenter bid my blog farewell this morning (I hope he changes his mind), and I had one of the worst days I've had at the office in months. Oh, well, at least it's an Israeli-folk-dancing night. 'Scuse me while I grab my dancing shoes and go.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Woman leads Kabbalat Shabbat at Orthodox Shul

<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>