Sunday, October 31, 2010

Baruch Dayan Emet: RivkA is gone

RivkA bat Teirtzel always tried to think positively, and to keep her life and that of her husband and children as normal as possible, despite the cancer. Her never-give-up attitude was an inspiration to many who never met her. I was hoping to remove her name from my mi-shehberach (prayers for the ill) list for a more positive reason, but the Mal'ach haMavet (Angel of Death) has taken RivkA bat Yishaya.

Monday, November 1, 2010 update: Soccer Dad has posted an entire Haveil Havalim link round-up, "The Good Name Edition," dedicated to posts remembering RivkA bat Yishaya v'Teirtzel.

The Sacrifice Of Sarah (by Chessler & Haut)

Recommended reading: Phyllis Chessler and Rivka Haut present a different perspective on Sarah's life.

Their perspective ties in with my unhappiness with Genesis, chapter 16, verse 6. It seems to me that Avraham was simply refusing to defend his wife against his concubine's disdainful behavior and insist that the concubine behave with proper respect, saying, essentially, "You deal with it." If you gave me a puppy, and the puppy bit someone, should I hold you responsible?

See also Chayyei Sarah.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

OK, G-d, even *I* can take a hint

It was startling enough when I put the aravot/willow branches from our lulavim into a vase of water and they actually sprouted roots . . .

. . . but when they started growing new leaves (!) . . .

. . . I figured that, for $4 and change worth of organic potting soil and another $4 and change worth of plastic flower pots, what did I have to lose?

I make no promises.

*This* is how you teach kashrut?!

Speaking of cutting an onion, I was going to include a link in that post for "davar charif," but this was the best link I could find.

I barely understand a word. Considering the vocabulary, I mean that fairly literally. :( ". . . assa foetida (Chiltit)"???
  • A story

Over 15 years ago, I took an Introduction to Talmud class with a Conservative former rabbi of our synagogue. I'm sorry to say that I didn't get much out of it. As I complained to an old friend, I'm a pragmatic person, and, after about three classes of listening to the rabbis' discussions, all I wanted was for someone to "bottom-line it" and tell me what the proper time was for saying the Sh'ma. My girlfriend's reponse? "You don't need a class in Talmud, you need a class in Shulchan Aruch."

  • Some background

Neither of us was raised kosher. We tried and gave up keeping kosher for a while because it was a bit challenging to learn from scratch. But we decided to start keeping a kosher kitchen when our son was born, figuring that it would be easier for him to keep a kosher kitchen as an adult if he'd been raised with one. Over the years, we gradually gave up bringing home treif (non-kosher food) from the local restaurants and eating it on paper plates. Later, we started looking for hechsherim (seals indicating that a product is kosher) on just about all foods, especially those that we used in cooking.

We're now been keeping a kosher kitchen for over 27 years. And yet, it was only about two-three years ago that we first heard that vinegar could create a kashrut problem. And it was much more recently than that--possibly when we spent a Shabbat with Malka Esther and Larry Lennhoff--when we first heard the term "davar charif."

In other words, we're like the pre-schooler in the Haggadah "sheh-eino yodeiah lish'ol, who doesn't know to ask"--we're sufficiently ignorant that we don't even know when we need to ask a question.

  • The problem at present

So I went to Drisha's kashrut class, hoping to pick up a tip or two. Instead, I was confronted with a text from the Gemara, complete with Rashi. The teacher informed me that this was an advanced class. Not only did I concur, but I also found that the kashrut class reminded me too much of my first attempt to study Talmud. So I dropped the class.

  • The ironic conclusion

" . . . the radish is Nat Bar Nat (two steps removed from the meat itself . . . "

[ ¶ ]

I just learned the term NaT bar NaT (NaT = notein taam--roughly, something that transmits flavor from one food to another) last week in that kashrut class. Thus far, I have yet to find an intermediate-level class in kashrut. Is it possible that kashrut classes are either beginner-level or advanced? I'm beginning to wonder whether dropping that class was a good idea.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Is Orthodox Judaism right for us? 4 challenges

My husband and I are still discussing the pros and cons of switching affiliations, and will probably continue to do so for some time. It seems to me that we're dealing with four basic challenges:
  • Egalitarianism

I've said it before and I'll say it again: for me, it's not the mechitzah (more examples, including a balcony version, here) that's the problem, it's everything that doesn't go with it. By the time my husband met me, I was already wearing a tallit/prayer shawl, though I hadn't advanced to wearing tefillin yet. I'm very used to, and enjoy, being counted in a minyan, leading services (including davar sheh-bi-k'dushah, those sections for which a minyan is required), having aliyot, leining (chanting the Torah/Bible reading from the scroll), chanting haftarot (additional readings, usually from the prophets). Even those Orthodox synagogues that have Women's Tefillah Groups don't usually have them more than once a month, and Partnership Minyanim are not available in every neighborhood.

For the record, my husband is also an egalitarian, and is downright offended by the prayer thanking G-d for not having made him a woman.

  • Prax (practice)

It's a bit overwhelming to contemplate all the major and minor changes we'd have to make in our lives to become Shomrei Mitzvot, Observers of the Commandments. We'd both need to study the laws of Shabbat/Sabbath and kashrut/dietary laws just to figure out what we don't know. It's a major commitment. Are we really ready to comply with every detail concerning how to conduct our daily lives halachicly? Do we really want to have to worry about the halachic status of a knife with which we've cut an onion, or what we are and aren't allowed to carry within an eruv?

  • Dox (belief)

Neither of us believes in Torah MiSinai, that G-d gave Moshe/Moses the entire so-called Five Books of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) on Mount Sinai. We're both supporters of the Documentary Hypothesis, believing that the Torah was cobbled together from various pre-existing "texts" (written and/or oral).

My views were always anathema to our Orthodox former rabbi because I insisted on distinguishing between Torah sheh-Bi-ch'tav (the Written Law/Bible) and Torah sheh-B'Al Peh (the Oral Law), holding fast to the notion that the Mishnah and Gemara were the work of men (yes, males) rather than their transcripts of what G-d had told Moshes on Sinai. And it irks me no end when people treat midrashim (rabbinic legends and interpretations explaining gaps and difficult passages in the Torah) as if they were written in the Torah itself, not distinguishing between one and the other.

Neither of us believes in miracles that can't be explained by natural phenomena. For example, we're both convinced by the theory that the miracles that occurred at the time of Yitziat Mitzrayim/the Exodus from Egypt were the results of a massive volcanic eruption on the island of Thera/Santorini in the Mediterranean--we read "Exodus: The True Story Behind the Biblical Account," by Ian Wilson, which promulgated this theory, and it makes sense to both of us. That's not to say that G-d couldn't have caused this eruption and/or its timing, but it is to say that the Reed Sea didn't part just because G-d told Moshe to hold his staff over it.

And my husband would love to study cross-cultural influences on Judaism once he retires and has the spare time. He's always been fascinated by the Enuma Elish, the Gilgamesh Epic, and the Code of Hammurabi, for example, and, in his younger days, often expressed an interest in studying Akkadian and Ugaritic so that he could read some of these ancient texts in the original.

One of my husband's chief concerns is that, while he's very interested in studying traditional divrei kodesh/sacred texts, and would love to do some serious learning once he retires, he also wishes to be free to express his opinions. That's a concern of mine, as well. I understand that the rabbis loved to "explain away" problems in the text, and I find their midrashim and other explanatory literature very interesting, if for no other reason than that these explanations demonstrate clearly what the rabbis thought was missing or troubling. But neither of us would particularly appreciate having our own opinions considered unnacceptable simply because they're not necessarily traditional. We don't want to feel that the community that we choose won't accept us unless we keep our opinions to ourselves.

  • As the old saying goes, "It takes two to tango."

"Mixed marriages, of sorts" present some very real challenges, and sometimes simple tolerance isn't enough. A "mutual non-interference ageement" doesn't work in the Orthodox community--for example, unless both of you are willingly to be completely Shomer Shabbat/Sabbath-Observant, Orthodox Jews won't eat in your home because they won't trust your kashrut. Unless we both agree to make the switch, it won't happen.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chayyei Sarah

Chayyei Sarah link

Genesis, chapter 25:

6 But unto the sons of the concubines, that Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts; and he sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.

[ ¶ ]

Say what?! He did this for the sons of his later concubines, but he didn't do this for Yishmael/Ishmael, his firstborn son, son of Hagar?!

[ ¶ ]

My Haftarat Chayyei Sarah post: Avishag and David

[ ¶ ]

Update: See The Sacrifice of Sarah

Monday, October 25, 2010

My current hat collection

As promised at the end of this post, I'm publishing links to photos of my current hat wardrobe. I think you may need to be a "member" of Flickr and sign in to see these (sorry), but here goes:

Many thanks to La-Di-Da, my current hat supplier, and to Parkhurst of Canada, which made the last three hats, all of which are unlined (cooler for wearing while dancing!) washable 100% cotton.

Considering the fact that I hate clothes-shopping, I've been pleasantly surprised to find that hat-shopping is not only much easier (since I don't have to keep running back and forth between the dressing room and the display floor), but can be fun--I'm amused by the obviously-too-large hats that the saleswomen occasionally try to sell me. "What do you mean, it fits? If it fell any further down on my face, I wouldn't be able to see!" :) (Small head + short hair = hat covering eyes :) ) Hat-shopping is certainly more fun than finishing up the post-apartment-painting and pre-carpet-installation housecleaning.

Vayera round-up, and this year’s thoughts

I'm working on getting in the habit of reading the parsha/weekly Torah/Bible reading in advance. In the meantime, though, borrowing an idea from DovBear, who does this frequently, I'm going to link to some of my previous posts on the subject of last Shabbat's reading, Vayera:

Some thoughts from this past Shabbat:

  • What's the big deal about Avraham having served his guests dairy and meat in the same meal? The laws of kashrut couldn't possibly have been binding then because the Torah hadn't been given yet! (In my opinion, the rabbis created unnecessary problems for themselves by articulating the idea that there's no early or late [ein mukdam u-meuchar?] in the Torah.)
  • Sarah did not lie when she told G-d that she had not laughed--the text says quite clearly that she laughed "b'kirbah," "within herself," which is not the same as laughing out loud.
  • Lot's daughters learned too well--he taught them that their respectability could be sacrificed in case of need, so they sacrificed their respectability when they thought that there was a need.
  • I'm developing some sympathy for Sarah in my old age. She drove out Hagar's son Yishmael/Ishmael in order to protect Yitzchak/Isaac, her own son.
  • My husband's contribution: Akeidat Yitzchak/The Binding of Isaac was a test for Yitzchak, as well. If he hadn't been a willing sacrifice, he would have been unworthy to perform his own mission.
  • It appears that HaShem wasn't so thrilled with the fact that Avraham went along with the Akeidah without protest--afterward, HaShem never spoke to Avraham again. (I don't think that this observation originated with either of us, but I can't remember where I read it.)
  • Last but not least comes my big gripe of the year: Why is Avraham nicer to strangers than to his own family? He argues repeatedly with G-d not to destroy S'dom and Amorah (Sodom and Gemorah), but says not a word when G-d tells him to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. He shows hospitality to total strangers, yet sends his son Yishmael packing with nothing but bread and water. All HaShem said was "Sh'ma b'kolah," listen to her (Sarah's) voice. HaShem never suggested that Yishmael and his mother Hagar should be sent off into the desert with limited means of short-term survival and no means of long-term support. Judging by the text, Yishmael had to have been over 14 years old at the time of his expulsion. Avraham could have given him a parting gift of, for example, a small flock of goats. Why didn't he?

Here's DovBear's take.

Shlomo Carlebach yahrzeit concert

Yehuda Green (I think)

Taken at the end of the concert, after they brought the "house lights" back up--I've never figured out how to adjust my camera for low light.)

For months after finishing my year of aveilut/mourning for my mother (in June), during which I refrained almost completely from listening to music, I scoured the papers and Internet looking for a really good concert in the right place and at the right time. This was it. On Saturday night at the West Side Institutional Synagogue, Pey Dalid, Eitaz Katz, Elli Kranzler, Yisroel Williger, and Yehuda Green, accompanied by the Krohn Brothers Orchestra (see here) joined in a celebration of Shlomo Carlebach's music, in a concert commemorating his sixteen yahrzeit (anniversary of death).
We heard so many familiar and beloved Carlebach songs, others that we knew but hadn't known were his, still others of which we'd heard the melody but couldn't figure out from where in the Tanach/Bible or siddur/prayer book we knew the words, and yet others for which we couldn't quite catch the words. Everyone was having a grand time singing along, clapping, and dancing.
Dr. Elli Kranzler, who has wisely "kept his day job" (as the saying goes) as a psychiatrist when he's not playing gigs or acting as baal tefillah (prayer leader) at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, told a tale that he couldn't remember who'd told him. According to the story, Rabbi Carlebach told somone that, when he died, he wanted to meet Mozart. "But Mozart wrote symphonies, concertos, masses and operas. What will you talk about?" "I'm going to tell him that I wrote Mi-Chamocha." "Which one?," Dr. Kranzler asked, and then sang snippets of three different versions of Mi-Chamocha all composed by Carlebach.
This became a running theme, as Yisroel Williger proceeded to sing snippets of so many versions of "Oseh Shalom" composed by Carlebach that I lost track of the number. He wrote something like six (?) different versions, which means that, apparently, most of the versions of Oseh Shalom that I know are Carlebach tunes, a pleasant surprise to me.
After dancing I don't know how many rounds with a circle of women, I finally kicked my husband out of the women's section--it was a mixed-seating concert--and sent him to the men's section to do some dancing himself, lest he miss the fun. When I went forward to see whether I could spot him among the dancers, he waved to me to "come on down." Much to our surprise, he'd run into a Russian couple (originally from Moscow) who davven/pray at our synagogue on Yom Kippur every year and whom he helps find the place in the Russian machzor (holiday prayer book). They'd met Carlebach in Moscow, and he'd been very helpful to them when they'd first come to the US.
What a wonderful time we had! Apparently, I don't even know how much Carlebach music I know, and there's plenty more that I have yet to learn.
I also learned that I needed another hat. Since my husband insisted on wearing a sports coat and dress pants instead of jeans, I ditched my plan to wear a jeans skirt and a baseball cap, stayed in my shul clothes, and wore the same dress hat that I'd worn to a recent Chassidic wedding. As I feared, I ended up with the most over-dressed head in the entire room! In need of an "in-between" hat--dressy enough for work or a concert but not for a formal event--back I went to La-Di-Da yesterday, since we were on the Upper West Side again. Stay tuned. I'll try to find a minute to take and post photos of my current hat collection.

To whom it may concern, literally

On 10/22/10 12:26 PM, "FirstName LastName" <> wrote:

I’m writing to you as the mother of an RIT graduate to suggest that this might be appropriate reading material for your Packaging Science students.


Friday, October 22, 2010 1:34 PM

Thank you so much for passing on the article. I have the same issues with that type of packaging. It’s amazing how many people end up in the emergency room with bad cuts due to packaging “attacks”.

I will share the article with my colleagues and students.

Best regards,

Professor Deanna M. Jacobs

Pkg [Packaging] Science Graduate Program Coordinator
Rochester Institute of Technology
CAST [College of Applied Science & Technology] 70-1127
78 Lomb Memorial Drive

Rochester, New York 14623


[ ¶ ]

[ ¶ ]

Yep, every now and then, it pays to open one's big mouth and complain to someone who may actually be able to do something about it.

[ ¶ ]

Note: This post is the newest addition to my "design" series.

Friday, October 22, 2010

"Plastic surgery," industrial version :(

I just bought two Foxcroft® Wrinkle-Free long-sleeved shirts from Appleseeds. Check out the colors here--the white one is, well, white, but the rose violet one is absolutely gorgeous, and a perfect color for me, since I look good in anything mauve or rose-colored.

But the packaging? Oy, don't ask. :(

Apparently, some efficiency expert has come up with the allegedly brilliant idea that the quick and easy way to pack shirts into plastic bags is to fasten them shut in the folded position with the same kind of I-shaped plastic fasteners that are used to attach a price tag to a garment. Even worse, the plastic fasteners used are less than 1/2 inch long, much shorter than price-tag fasteners, which results in the customer having a hold-your-breath moment while attempting to cut them: slip of the scissors = shredded shirt. :( It took me about 10 minutes just to unpack the two blouses.

I find "user-resistant" packaging more than an annoyance. I believe that it shows a total disregard for the convenience, and even the health and safety, of consumers. Some months ago, I bought refill brushes for our Sonicare electric toothbrush, and actually cut myself getting the brushes out of the stiff plastic packaging material, which is quite sharp-edged when cut. As far as I can see, there's no way to open this package without cutting it and risking getting cut. Does Sonicare want to be sued? More recently, I bought more refill brushes, and found that I had to first use the point of the scissors to punch a hole in the packaging, then cut the packaging in four different places in order to remove the brushes. This was roughly a ten-minute project.

In all seriousness, what's going to happen when I get older and more arthritic? Will I have to pay a person to come to my home once a week and open all of my packages?

Bottom line: Packaging designers should spend less time figuring out how to protect products and more time figuring out how to protect people!

Note: This post is the newest addition to my "design" series.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A "time is money" tale

I've known her for decades. She's a skilled shopper, the type who can squeeze a penny until it yelps, and loves bargain-hunting. We meet occasionally at Fairway supermarket, just so that she can get her jollies giving me good ideas for purchases and watching me find so many items for a better price than I would pay elsewhere.

All was going great until it was time for me to pay. Then I told her that my back could no longer handle the "backpack schlep" and that, since my husband was stuck at home with a tax client, I'd have to take a taxi home. She practically had a heart attack. First, she insisted that I wait until my husband's client had left and he could meet us. When I pointed out that the trip would take about an hour, and that I wanted to go home right away, she suggested that I go ahead, and that she could wait for my husband with the groceries. Even my statement that I wanted my husband to be home when I arrived so that we could eat dinner together didn't satisfy her. Finally, I had to resort to lying, calling my husband and pretending that he'd told me that he had to stay home to finish a tax return.

On the way home in the taxi, I thought about the differences in our lives that had led to such a disagreement. She's never been married and has no children, so she has no one around whose schedule she has to plan. In addition, she's been disabled and unable to work for over a decade due to an unfortunate combination of old injuries and newer illnesses. Aside from planning around her weekly doctor and hospital appointments, she simply has far fewer constraints on her time--but far more constraints on her money. So it just doesn't register with her anymore that sometimes it's better to spend money in order to save time (and/or my back). Someday, I may be in a similar financial position. But, fortunately, that day has not arrived yet. I was glad that I could afford to take a cab home.

Good news

See the last comment here.

What were they thinking?

Whose bright idea was it to have us pray the long version of Tachanun on the same weekdays that we have a Torah reading? Nu, didn't these people ever have to get to work on time?

See also Member in good, er, sitting, "I hate Tachanun" club.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good news, bad news re our shul's kashrut policy

Remember this fiasco?

Well, there's good news, as I reported in the comments to this post:

I'm happy to report that another vote was taken two days ago--this time, by the Ritual Committee, instead of the Board--and that policy was reversed. My husband now has the privilege of schlepping to the nearest kosher bakery by subway and bringing home a kosher dairy cake whenever a congregant requests one for a dairy kiddush.

Fri Oct 15, 11:52:00 AM 2010

But there's also the not-so-good part:

Miami Al said...

I'm not sure why that's good. The ritual committee decided that the solution to Kashrut problems is to have your husband do all the work... :)

I think you need to find a new Shul.

Wed Oct 20, 11:07:00 AM 2010

True, on both counts. Sigh. My husband does end up with a lot of "privileges." I can't wait until he retires and we move to a more Jewish neighborhood with viable synagogues and kosher shopping within walking distance. Two years, m'dear. Be patient.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The am ha-aretz/ignoramus of Drisha's kashrut class

Within the past few weeks, both real-life friends and folks who post comments here have suggested that I take a kashrut course. So I popped over to Drisha this evening to try theirs. I guess I have until next Tuesday to decide whether I want to register and continue in the class, which is a good question--clearly, I'm out of my depth (though I learned a thing or two tonight), since I've never studied Gemara and can barely read standard-writing Hebrew, much less Rashi-script Hebrew. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My "design" series (thus far)

It occurred to me that I really should gather the links to all of my (currently-published) posts concerning design in one place, so here they are:



Post-Sukkot surprises

Fish tale
Good luck trying to squeeze etrog juice unto your Shabbos fish on a Friday afternoon. Apparently, etrogim have extremely thick rinds and not much fruit--you'd have to be Shimshon/Samson to get any juice out of one! Just cut your etrog and add a section or two to the fish pan.

A tree grows in WHERE???
To cheer us up after the end of the holidays, I took some hadassim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches) from the lulav and put them into a vase with a few inches of water. Much to my surprise, one hadass branch and two arav branches have sprouted roots!

My husband: "Let's plant them."

Me: "Where? We live in an apartment."

Anybody want to adopt a tree?

Friday, October 15, 2010

An interesting discussion re Yeshivat Maharat

Rabbi Harry Maryles has started an interesting conversation here. Be sure to read the comments, which are at least as interesting as the post.

A Lech L'cha link from Larry

Larry Lennhoff recommends this beauty. Thanks, Larry. I hope you'll get around to writing another post, one of these days.

Lech L’cha: Smashing idols

I like what Techelet, of Threads of Blue, has to say here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Punished in perpetuity

See here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Limits to how observant we're willing to become

Some months ago, on the recommendation of Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff, I read Azriela Jaffe's What Do You Mean, You Can't Eat in My Home? Ms. Jaffe goes into great detail describing how one can bring disposable pans, request kosher ingredients and check them, kasher pots, supervise the cooking, etc., to enable one to eat in the home of a relative or close friend who doesn't keep kosher.

So I know that it's doable.

I just refuse to do it.

Not just because it would be a major pain, but because there's a limit to how much "holier-than-thou" I'm comfortable with being. I imagine that most Orthodox and Observant Conservative Jews would not describe strict observance in those terms, and I hope you aren't offended, but that's how it would feel to me.

And even though egalitarian issues would, obviously, have a greater effect on me, since I'm of the female persuasion, my husband may be even more hesitant than I am to become Orthodox, given our differing manners of observance.

Bottom line:

We refuse to skip a birthday party just because it's being held in a non-kosher restaurant. (My husband would have been there, too, if he hadn't had a class to teach).

We'll continue to join our non-kosher friends for their break-the-fast after Yom Kippur, since they go out of their way to make steamed salmon for us kosher folk.

We'll continue to eat the homemade latkes in the home of Chanukah-party hosts who keep what they consider to be a kosher kitchen, but who cook prepared dairy products (such as dairy lasagna) without a hechsher (seal indicating that a product is supervised to ensure that it's kosher).

We'll continue to spend Shabbat/Sabbath with friends who turn lights on and off all day, even though that means that we, ourselves, will have to violate Shabbat by turning lights on (unless we want to go to the bathroom/WC in the dark).

Even if we decide to join an Orthodox synagogue and become more observant in many ways, will we ever be 100% observant?

Frankly, no.

The treif-restaurant birthday-party blues

The birthday girl is Jewish, so she lured us in with a promise of a Carvel ice cream cake for dessert.

Trying to be a good girl, I ate in the nearest kosher dairy restaurant and showed up at 9:30 PM, as instructed, for the cake, only to find the party-goers still scarfing down pizza and about to order another one. I was there for roughly 45 more minutes before the kosher cake was finally served.

How long can a person nurse an iced tea? Can you say "awkward," "conspicuous," and possibly "holier-than-thou?" :(

Some of the more kashrut-observant guests were ordering salads instead of pizza or other cooked food. One woman even showed up with a shaker-bottle of Miller's (kosher) grated cheese and a small bag of walnuts in her tote, in a kind of kosher version of "bring your own."

I'll have to decide just how kosher I want to be when joining friends in non-kosher restaurants. (A salad with olive or vegetable oil, no vinegar, no lemon, no onions, no croutons, anyone? With cheese or not with cheese, that is the question.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

A healthy competition

Word gets around. Another old friend of ours, hearing of our recent adventures in Orthodox territory, was upset at the thought that I might be giving up my egalitarian approach of over thirty years when there's a traditional egalitarian Conservative synagogue and an independent egalitarian minyan in the same neighborhood. She has connections to the minyan, and offered to get us an invitation for home hospitality. As it happens, we have connections to the Conservative synagogue, and will try to get a home-hospitality invitation through them. We hope to have those options checked out by the end of next summer. Hmm, wonder whether we could swing a home-hospitality invitation to the other Modern Orthodox synagogue there, too. Stay tuned. As they say in baseball, it ain't over 'til it's over. :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fashion (junior division): Bah, humbug ! :(

Here's the original.

I hate baby showers. I don’t know whether this has more to do with the fact that our only child is a male or with the fact that I have no interest in clothing or clothes shopping. I’ll grant you that shopping for “stretchies is a lot easier than shopping for clothing for older children or adults. But I find sitting around oohing and ahhing over some cute dress that the wee one will outgrow in six months anyway a crashing bore. There’s also the major issue that the attendees are expected to pay for that cute dress that the wee one is going to outgrow in six months anyway. Put ‘em in stretchies and forget about it. I’d rather buy a crib-safe toy or a book for later then blow my money on clothing that the kid’s only going to wear half a dozen times.

[ ¶ ]

Actual publication date November 10, 2010. Long story.

[ ¶ ]

For the record, I bought three baby books for the wee one. That's my preferred baby-shower gift. Three baby books probably cost as much as one of those overpriced baby outfits, but I enjoy book shopping much more than I enjoy clothes shopping.

Tishrei's toll on Orthodox women

Tales told on the Internet:
  • One Modern Orthodox woman was so upset at being expected to prepare all the meals for her husband and guests that she went on strike: Invoking the halachah/Jewish religious law that women are permitted, but not required, to "live" in the sukkah, she insisted on eating lunches indoors, just so that the menfolk would take the hint and not expect her to prepare their meals. Her lunches were the most relaxing meals that she had during the entire holiday.
  • A "shtieble rebbitzen (rabbi's wife)" was livid that she hadn't been able to get to synagogue at all for the entire month of Tishrei because she'd spent the entire month slaving in the kitchen, even reciting Hoshanot while keep an eye on her stove. She complained that her holiday season had been completely ruined, and suggested to her married-couple guests that perhaps a married woman shouldn't read her ketubah (marriage contract) because it would just get her depressed.
  • One Modern Orthodox woman was so tired after Hakafot on Erev (Eve of) Simchat Torah that she knew that she couldn't possibly go to synagogue the next morning and still have the strength to make Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner. So, instead, she mumbled her prayers while "decapitating parsips" for chicken soup, missing all the morning's festivities in synagogue.

Another Modern Orthodox woman spent Simchat Torah in a chassidic synagogue, and said that the women were so moved that they stood on chairs in the balcony to check glimpses of their male relatives dancing down below in the men's section. A few years ago, when I asked what Orthodox women do on Simchat Torah in synagogue, one woman answered that, since, according to halachah, men are obligated to study Torah but women are not, it makes sense that most of the rejoicing on the holiday of Rejoicing over the Torah should take place in the men's section. It happens, though, that the Modern Orthodox woman mentioned in this paragraph is a Talmud scholar in her own right. I honestly don't understand how she could watch the celebration from afar and not feel shut out.

Correction received: The shtieble rebbitzen did make it to synagogue on Yom Kippur, and was able to pray with real ferver because there was nothing for her to prepare. (I assume that either everything was made in advance, or her family was invited to someone else's home.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Immodest/lo tzanua

In clothing and posture
Some things are simply impossible not to notice: The young lady sitting across from me on the subway was wearing a skirt so short, and had her knees spread so far apart, that anyone within visual range could see all the way up to, and including, her panties. Pardon me for showing my 61 years, but don't mothers teach their daughters to keep their knees together anymore?

Those of the female persuasion who don't want to worry about such things might seriously wish to consider either wearing skirts long enough to cover their knees even when they're seated, or wearing pants.

In behavior
The person leading Shacharit this morning at my (former) "Kaddish Minyan" never opened a siddur/prayer book the whole time, praying the entire service from memory. What a show-off!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tragic consequences of privacy's disappearance

Yes, I've discussed this before--see here and follow the links. And see Chana's post here.

But now I'm serious. Dead serious.

Because an innocent person is dead by his own hand.

Cell phones and the Internet can be deadly weapons. Some people think that it's perfectly acceptable to discuss their private lives on the bus, subway, train, plane, sidewalk, etc. Some people think that it's perfectly acceptable to text while driving. And some people think that it's perfectly acceptable to hide a camera, make a video of their roommate's or friend's sexual encounter, and splash it all over the Internet.

A disregard for the human need for privacy can destroy lives.

See also Threadzofblue's A Response to LGBT Teen Suicide and Noach: Lessons from a Rainbow.

Too Old to Jewschool Steve's correction: " . . . it appears that the roommate and friend viewed the encounter from roommate's remotely activated webcam on his (presumably notebook) computer, rather than a deliberately hidden camera. And I have seen nothing to suggest that what was seen was recorded or "splashed all over the internet".

What was done was bad enough, without my apparent exaggeration.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Bothered and bewildered by B'reishit

Here's last year's discussion, complete with links (including one to our son's interpretation of the Adam and Eve story).

A couple of new thoughts that I had this time around:

Update--I forget to mention this beauty, from chapter 4:

כג וַיֹּאמֶר לֶמֶךְ לְנָשָׁיו, עָדָה וְצִלָּה שְׁמַעַן קוֹלִי--נְשֵׁי לֶמֶךְ, הַאְזֵנָּה אִמְרָתִי: כִּי אִישׁ הָרַגְתִּי לְפִצְעִי, וְיֶלֶד לְחַבֻּרָתִי.

23 And Lamech said unto his wives: Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech; for I have slain a man for wounding me, and a young man for bruising me;

כד כִּי שִׁבְעָתַיִם, יֻקַּם-קָיִן; וְלֶמֶךְ, שִׁבְעִים וְשִׁבְעָה.

24 If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold.

Who's he threatening? Is this guy just bragging, or is this one of the earliest recorded cases of wife abuse?

Odd occurrences at our local synagogue

I can understand why the president, seeking to relieve my husband (who was already "booked" for P'sukei D'Zimrah/Introductory Psalms and Prayers and Minchah/Afternoon Service), hired Cantor J. for Shacharit/Morning Service on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur--she used to be a member of our congregation before she earned her cantorial degree, so even our traditional-minded congregants don't mind that she's a she. Besides, she's between jobs, like half the cantorial world, so it was a nice thing to do.

How a good friend of hers (and ours--we know her from Israeli folk dancing), also a female cantor who's between jobs, got hired to liven up Sukkot in our absence is somewhat more difficult to figure out. We were also surprised that Cantor J. was hired to lead Musaf (including some nice English readings about our Mothers and their connection to water, interspersed among the traditional Hebrew, in Tefillat Geshem/Prayer for Rain), and that Cantor S. was hired for Simchat Torah and for Shacharit and a D'var Torah/Torah discussion on Shabbat B'reishit.

I asked my husband why he thought that the same anti-egalitarians who'd been refusing to allow women to have aliyot (except on Simchat Torah) for longer than the roughly 25 years that we've been members have no problem with female cantors, all of a sudden. He replied that he thinks the congregants respect the female cantors' professionalism, but don't wish to accord similar privileges to us ordinary Janes. That's as good (or bad) an explanation as any.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah stories

The pre-Chag (holiday) rush
We were in such a hurry to get ready for the Yom Tov (holiday)/Shabbat (Sabbath) weekend that, while we remembered to do Eruv Tavshilin, we completely forgot to light our Yahrzeit candles. More on that later.

Tefillat Geshem
Apparently, the Prayer for Rain, traditionally recited on Shemini Atzeret, worked a little too well this year. More on that later, too.

The inevitable finally happened :(
For the past year or two, I've been praying at our local synagogue on Erev (Eve of) Simchat Torah in order to ensure that our shul got a minyan. This year, it was a gornisht helfen (no help). We got five men and three women. No matter whom you count for a minyan, we didn't have one. This was the first time since I started attending synagogue voluntarily as an adult roughly 35 years ago that I went to synagogue on an Erev Simchat Torah and didn't see a single hakafah. How sad for our congregation.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch-house . . .
In the middle of the night on Simchat Torah, there was a soaking rain with lots of wind. When I woke up the next morning and went into the kitchen to fetch my daily dose of acidophilus from the refrigerator, I smelled gas. Sure enough, the wind from our always-open kitchen window--an anti-carbon-monoxide precaution--had blown out both of the stove burners that we'd left on so that we could cook during the holiday (which is permissible on a pre-lit flame on a holiday, but not on Shabbat/Sabbath). Without a Yahrzeit light to use to transfer one pre-lit flame to light another one, there would be no more cooking and no Shabbat candle-lighting for us. :(

When I told my husband the bad news, he promptly dumped the stuffed cabbage into a pot and put it on the "hot spot" on our already-plugged-in electric hot tray so that it would be warm by dinner-time. Of course, on the way out to synagogue, I just so happened to check the timer, and found it set to the rather unusual hour of 7:30 AM. Hmm . . .

Rush job
When I arrived at my current favorite egalitarian Conservative synagogue in Manhattan for the Simchat Torah morning service, I was dismayed to discover that I'd already missed the hakafot with the minyan with which I prefer to davven/pray on Simchat Torah morning. I was even more dismayed when I realized the likely reason why they'd finished dancing with the sifrei Torah/Bible scrolls so soon--the overnight rain had not only flooded the basement social hall, forcing that group to move the pews and dance in the sanctuary, it had also rendered unusable not only the elevator, but every single bathroom (WC) in the entire building! Under the circumstances, I was forced to forgo staying with that minyan and getting an individual aliyah, davvening instead with a minyan that gave out group aliyot. It wasn't the best of circumstances for Simchat Torah. But we had a joyous celebration anyway, though it was shortened.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch-house, part 2
"Did you reset the timer for the hot-tray this morning?" My husband tried to hide a grin, looking like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "Did you really think I wouldn't notice?" He gave up.

On the plus side, I recently read a question on the Internet asking whether it was permissible to change a setting on a timer on Shabbat, since changing the setting does not cause an immediate change in an electrical circuit, so I suspect that there may be some leeway. Any further information would be appreciated. I'd like to get my husband off the hook. :)

Hoshanah Rabbah at the Carlebach Shul

I arrived at the Carlebach Shul roughly 50 minutes late, and fully expected to have to play catch-up for the Matbeiah shel Tefillah (the hard-core required part of the service). I needn't have worried--much to my surprise, the baal tefillah (prayer leader) was just getting to the Yishtabach prayer when I walked in. I hadn't even missed Bar'chu!

There's plenty of singing, and, because one is permitted to play musical instruments on Hoshanah Rabbah, a few of those too, at the Carlebach Shul during Hallel on Hoshanah Rabbah, which is why I went there. (This year featured a guitar, a clarinet, and a violin). I figured out that, if I could match the words to the tune being played and sung, I should sing along, and, if not, I should just recite each psalm to the end and sing la-la-la thereafter. So I was having a grand old time. I got thoroughly lost, though, when we got to the parts of Hallel during which the lulav and etrog are waved. Apparently, the minhag/custom at the Carlebach Shul, at that point in Hallel, is not to wave the lulav and etrog over own's shoulders, but to turn own's entire body in each direction--forward, right, back, left (clockwise)--and wave the lulav and etrog straight forward while facing each way. Neither the baal tefillah nor anyone else one was actually leading this part of Hallel, nor were any explanations being given, so I had no idea how many times one was supposed to do this. I finally gave up trying to figure out what was going on and, following my own lulav-waving minhag, completed the rest of Hallel on my own, on the assumption that there would be no harm in repeating a psalm if I ever figured out when to do so. And, indeed, I ended up doing a few psalms (or parts thereof) more than once. I'm guessing that the baal tefillah finally got to the closing b'rachah/blessing about 10 minutes after I did.

If you enjoy lots of enthusiastic singing in both the men's and women's sections, you'll love the Carlebach Shul on Hoshanah Rabbah. Women are welcome to bring lulavim and etrogim (and wear a tallit/prayer shawl, if so inclined). And all of us, male and female, were encouraged to buy "Hoshanot"--bundles of willows consisted of five branches bound together--for the ritual at the end of the Hoshanah prayers. I should mention that we women were given our own sefer Torah/Bible scroll so that we could do the Hoshanah circles in the women's section.

The Carlebach Shul is very welcoming and lots of fun on Hoshanah Rabbah, but you should be forwarned that their Hoshanah Rabbah Hallel is probably the longest in history. :) I got there at about 9:50 AM, but I don't think we finished Hallel until about noon! Much as I enjoyed myself, I may look for a synagogue that's a little easier on my feet for next year's Hoshanah Rabbah morning services. Recommendations would be appreciated.
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