Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning from the inside out

It all started when I was in my late twenties. My then-rabbi was always fuming about the siddur/prayer book that the synagogue I was attending at the time was using, on the grounds that non-Orthodox siddurim were divisive, preventing Jews from non-Orthodox denominations from being able to walk into a shul anywhere in the world and join in the prayers. So I took him up on his challenge, and spend several months--yes, months--teaching myself to davven/pray the Orthodox version of the Sh'ma section and the weekday Amidah prayer from an Orthodox siddur. (For the record, it was a Birnbaum siddur, and I still have it, though I generally davven from a Koren Sacks, these days.)

Fast-forward to a different neighborhood, a different synagogue, and a different rabbi. This one taught me that there are some parts of the service that are more important than others. He called the most important section the Matbeiah shel Tefillah, which I understood to mean the hard-core required prayers. That section starts with Bar'chu (or, without a minyan, "Yotzer Or" in the Shacharit/Morning Service, "HaMaariv aravim" in the Maariv/Arvit/Evening Service, or the Amidah itself for Minchah/Afternoon Service) and ends with the end of the Amidah (or, I presume, Hallel on a Festival). But he said that one should add at least one "prayer" before the Matbeiah, preferably the Ashrei psalm, and one after, preferably the Aleinu prayer. It would be probably roughly another 15 years before I realized that he was using Minchah as his template.

These two rabbis had a profound influence on my siddur learning. They taught me the importance of being able to pick up a siddur anywhere and pray, and the importance of, well, knowing what's the most important.

As a child and teenager, the only prayers that I learned in Hebrew were the first paragraph of the Sh'ma and the parts of the service that my parents' congregation sang aloud. I davvened everything else in English. Due to the influence of these two former rabbis of mine, not only did I make it a point to learn to davven in Hebrew from an Orthodox siddur, so that I could davven anywhere, but I learned the prayers in order of importance, rather than in order of appearance. That second rabbi even taught me which psalms in P'sukei D'Zimrah were more important than others.

Some "newcomers"--Jewishly-undereducated Jews like me, baalei/baalot t'shuvah ("returnees" to Orthodox Judaism), and/or Jews by Choice--do it the hard way: They pick up a siddur and try to learn all the prayers from the very beginning. Me, I'm still learning new parts of the prayerbook to this day. (Malka Esther's and Larry's rabbinical-student guest was understandably puzzled when I mentioned that my latest accomplishment was learning Tefillah L'Moshe/Psalm 90--as a guy who's been buried in Gemara studies for years, he couldn't understand that, for an Am HaAretz/Jewishly-illiterate person, learning a psalm can be a big deal.) I get away with this because I started with the most important prayers first. If I skip part of the P'sukei D'Zimrah section, it's not the end of the world. But if I miss Bar'chu because I'm still saying P'sukei D'Zimrah, what sense does that make? Since when is a psalm as important as a part of the service for which a minyan is required? The minute the baal(at) tefillah/prayer leader gets to Yishtabach, that's the end of my P'sukei D'Zimrah--I will not miss Bar'chu!

The same priorities applied when we were raising our son. We taught him Kiddush first, then Vay'chulu, then Shalom Aleichem. Yes, that's the reverse order. But what's most important?

Bottom line: If you can't learn everything at once, don't try. Just start with the most important things, then go back and learn the rest later. Don't worry. It took me years to learn the Musaf Amidah for Festivals, and even more years to learn all of P'sukei D'Zimrah, but I finally got there. You've got a whole lifetime to do this, so relax.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bass booster found (yay!)

I thought that I couldn't turn up the bass on my iPod Nano. Fortunately, TOTJ Steve (see comments to the linked post) was right--I finally got around to giving the online iPod Nano User Guide a look, and it turns out that one can boost the bass by going, right on the iPod Nano's touch screen, to Settings, Music, EQ, Bass Booster.

I hope that I can now listen to Mark's/PT's music and do his bass-playing justice.

I also learned that I can actually turn the iPod off completely, which I didn't know was possible--I thought it had a "sleep" mode only. All I have to do to turn it off is to hold down the Sleep/Wake button for several seconds, and I can turn it back on the same way. This may save some wear and tear. I'm delighted to learn this. It's better for both the environment and my wallet if I don't have to replace my iPod every year.

In equally-encouraging news, I did a quick perusal of our new Canon PowerShot S95 camera's 196-page User Guide a couple of weeks ago and discovered that the "lighted-candle" icon on the top-of-the-camera settings dial (as opposed to the back-of-the-camera settings dial) is the auto setting for shooting photos in low light. I'm still convinced that I'll need an actual course to figure out how to use this camera on the manual settings, but at least I might be able to take better concert shots until I'm able to take a class.

I like good news. :)

Saturday, February 26, 2011

I give up :(

Remember this post?

In the time that's passed since that Ritual Committee meeting and the president's power play, we've had several kiddushim at which bakery cakes were served. Despite my husband's announcement from the bima asking congregants to notify him so that he (or I) could go buy a cake from a kosher bakery, no one has called, and all of the cakes were bought from a nearby non-kosher bakery, as usual. This means that the congregants in question called the office to make sure that the president, who does the food ordering, was informed, but the president didn't bother notifying my husband--he just went ahead and bought the cakes from his favorite local bakery. For each kiddush, an Entenmann's cake was purchased at a nearby supermarket for the grand total of two congregants who refuse to eat cakes that have no hashgachah (rabbinical supervision to ensure that they're kosher).

My unavoidable conclusions are that (a) only two of us care, and we've been "bought off" with Entenmann's, and (b) it really doesn't matter what any individual says or any committee decides--the president will do whatever he jolly well pleases, as usual. :(

Thursday, February 24, 2011

VIDEO! Danny works, Ruth plays

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conversion crisis update:The new Jewish “papacy"

Here's the Hillel (standing-on-one-foot) version: "Power corrupts . . . "
And money creates problems, too. :(
I’m sorry that I don’t remember where I read this, but someone recently wrote, concerning the conversion crisis, that Israel was flexing its muscles as the new population center of the Jewish world, with the Israeli rabbinate becoming indifferent to the concerns of Jews in galut/the Diapora.
Indeed. :(
To understand the latest twist in the conversion crisis, start with the Jewish Week article "Who Is A Jew Crisis Moves Into Aliyah Sphere: Chief Rabbinate seen taking control of Orthodox converts seeking to move to Israel." Now, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel not only gets to decide whose conversion is valid--apparently, their rabbis don't accept all of our rabbis, even the Orthodox ones--but also whether a convert with an "unacceptable" Orthodox conversion is eligible for automatic Israeli citizenship as a Jew under the Law of Return.
This new power grab by the official Israeli rabbinate is:
  • anti-Diaspora/Galut because it calls into question the authority of non-Israeli rabbis to make decisions for their own communities
  • anti-Zionist/Tzionut because it discourages converts from making aliyah/moving to Israel (which, for all we know, may be part of the official rabbinate’s intention)
(Side/snide note: It takes a certain talent to develop an official policy that’s both anti-Galut and anti-Tzionut.)
  • anti-non-Chareidi, because it calls into question any version of Orthodox Judaism (and any type of Orthodox rabbi) that doesn’t conform to every last Chareidi-mandated chumrah (stringency that goes beyond what halachah/Jewish religious law actually requires). I don’t remember where I read this, but, a few months ago, one convert now living in Israeli commented, only half-jokingly, that she wondered whether the Israeli rabbinate might nullify her conversion years from now if she were seen once in public without socks under her sandalim. This may also account for the ruling being anti-Tzionut—some of the Chareidi (fervently Orthodox) community may live in the Land of Israel, but they don’t accept the existence or authority of the State of Israel, so why would they want to encourage aliyah, especially by non-Chareidim?
  • dictatorial, because it strips all rabbis everywhere of their authority to make decisions for their own communities and concentrates said authority in the hands of a single decision-making body in Yerushalayim/Jerusalem. Has there ever been a period in Jewish history in which all authority for conversions, not to mention weddings and divorces, was limited to one centralized decision-making body for the entire planet? Is Yerushalayim rapidly becoming a Jewish Vatican? Whatever happened and/or will happen to the concept of Mara D’Atra, the local religious decisor for a particular community?
In case this latest volley in the conversion war doesn’t distress you enough, try looking at conversion through the eyes of this would-be Jew, who's dismayed by the high cost of converting. (Hat-tip: Larry Lennhoff, here.)
  • I hate to be a cynic, but I don’t really see another option—the move to create centralized batei din (rabbinic courts) that have the sole authority to do conversions puts so much power into the hands of so few that the rabbis in charge may be tempted to charge as much money as they want, because a perspective convert has few other places to go.
  • The move to create centralized batei din for conversion also makes it much more expensive for most would-be converts to go through the process because they can no longer just go to their LOR (local Orthodox rabbi). Now, not only do they have to pay for the beit din (consisting of three rabbis) and the use of the mikveh (ritual-immersion pool), they have pay to travel there, too, even if there’s a mikveh down the street and three Orthodox rabbis within commuting distance who would be willing to convert them.
Bottom line, literally—will would-be converts have to be rich in order to complete the conversion process?
And if they do convert, will they be able to make aliyah and be accepted as Jews in Israel, and/or trust that their conversions will never be declared invalid or nullified retroactively?

What I learned from Parshat Ki Tisa

Rabbi Yishmael omer, bi-shlosh esreh midot haTorah midreshet:

Rabbi Ishmael says, by thirteen principles/through thirteen rules is the Torah expounded/elucidated (depending on your translation):

1. Mi kal vachomer--An inference from a lenient law to a strict one, and vice versa
2. U-mi-g'zerah shavah--An inference drawn from identical words in two passages

. . .

Copied from here.

Exodus Chapter 32 שְׁמוֹת

א וַיַּרְא הָעָם, כִּי-בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן-הָהָר; וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה-לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ--כִּי-זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה-הָיָה לוֹ.

1 And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him: 'Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.'

ב וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם, אַהֲרֹן, פָּרְקוּ נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב, אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵי נְשֵׁיכֶם בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם; וְהָבִיאוּ, אֵלָי.

2 And Aaron said unto them: 'Break off the golden rings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me.'

ג וַיִּתְפָּרְקוּ, כָּל-הָעָם, אֶת-נִזְמֵי הַזָּהָב, אֲשֶׁר בְּאָזְנֵיהֶם; וַיָּבִיאוּ, אֶל-אַהֲרֹן.

3 And all the people broke off the golden rings which were in their ears, and brought them unto Aaron.

Larry and his rabbinical-student guest tried to clue me into how "g'zerah shavah" applies to this text--since, clearly, when Aharon/Aaron was speaking to "ha-am," the women and children were not included, then, when "ha-am" broke off their gold jewelry, it was only the adult males who did so, which is why midrash (rabbinical interpretive story) credits us women with not having taken part in the sin of the Egel haZahav/Golden Calf. I'm not so sure myself, since the text says "kol ha-am, all the people." But at least I now understand the rabbis' logic.

ו וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ, מִמָּחֳרָת, וַיַּעֲלוּ עֹלֹת, וַיַּגִּשׁוּ שְׁלָמִים; וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְשָׁתוֹ, וַיָּקֻמוּ לְצַחֵק. {פ}

6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to make merry. {P}

Speaking of g'zerah shavah, "l'tzahek" refers to making merry in the context of pagan worship?! Holy Moses, is that what Yishmael (Ishmael) was doing at Yitzchak's (Isaac's) weaning party?! No wonder Sarah insisted that Avraham (Abraham) expel him from their home! (That's still no excuse for his having sent Yishmael and his mother, Hagar, out into the desert with nothing but bread and water--what, he couldn't have given his son a small flock of goats with which to earn a living?)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Another delightful Shabbat with the Lennhoffs

Malka Esther and Larry Lennhoff were kind enough to invite us to join them last Shabbat. (We've enjoyed their hospitality on previous occasions.) Here are some of the highlights:

  • An advantage to observing a traditional Jewish practice in public
This is the second time since I started blogging that my husband and I, clearly looking for a taxi where there was none in sight, have gotten a free ride from an unknown Jewish driver simply because my husband was wearing a kippah/yarmulke/skullcap. In this particular instance, I think that the kind gentleman in the tweed hat was also concerned that waiting for a taxi would result in us violating hilchot Shabbat/the laws of Sabbath by riding in a vehicle thereon. I give our driver (Ira?) credit not only for his chesed/kindness, but also for his thorough knowledge of the area--he managed to get us from the Edison train station to the Lennhoff's house in a neighboring town without once taking a major road, leaving both of us wondering whether we'd ever get there until we actually did. Rav todot (many thanks), not to mention kol hakavod (our respects)--he earned a tip of the baseball hat that I was wearing at the time. And speaking of hats . . .

  • A disadvantage to observing a traditional Jewish practice in public
Maybe I was too busy dancing the first time I wore my white dress hat [link corrected] to notice, but the turned-down brim turns that hat into a wearable mechitzah, of sorts, partially obstructing my ability to see the women around me in the ezrat nashim/women's section. Fortunately, the brim is flexible. I'll have to remember to push it up.

And I'm sorry to say that, when I experimented with wearing the pink hat that I bought for Jewish concerts to Shabbat/Sabbath dinner, the experiment lasted only about 10 minutes because I had to switch to my new pink kipppah--that hat turns out to be tight enough to give me a headache. I've already offered it to a friend.

To be continued when time and circumstances permit. Hmm, I really do have to ask my husband to photograph me in the new pink kippah that I bought at Limmud.

Update, after work
  • Minchah and Kabbalat Shabbat-Maariv services at Ahavas Achim (a Modern Orthodox Ashkenazi synagogue)

I'm delighted to report that the renovation of the Bet Midrash (Study Hall/Daily Chapel), not yet complete the last time we were there, has greatly expanded the room and made for a much more comfortable davvening experience. Prior to the renovation, even the men's section was cramped, and the women's section was downright claustrophobia-inducing. Now the men's section is quite comfy, and the women's section is much larger than before. The mechitzah is a six-feet-high see-through lace curtain, which is not bad, as mechitzot go.

There was some question, however, about whether the women's section was relatively quiet because of concern for kol isha (the prohibition, observed to varying degrees in different Orthodox communities, against men hearing women sing) or because there were roughly half as many women present as men. After we got home, I asked my husband how loudly the men had been singing. He replied that most of them had been singing at a "normal" volume, but a few, especially the ones up front, right behind the baal tefillah/prayer leader, had really been belting it out. So I think it was a combination: There were certainly fewer women, but I don't remember hearing anyone on my side of the mechitzah really belting it out.

The Lennhoff's three overnight guests--my husband and I and another Conservative guest--all went to HPCT-CAE on Shabbat morning. I figured that it would be more pleasant for me to davven/pray in the morning at a Conservative shul/synagogue, where being a tallit-wearing female was less likely to raise any eyebrows, than to davven through the Amidah prayer in the Lennhoff's living room while wearing a tallit and then remove it and go to shul, and we also wanted to keep R. company. (R., feel free to "out" yourself in the comments, if you'd like.)

The three of us arrived at a reasonably early hour, just in time for Hodu LaShem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo. My husband later commented that, aside from the family of the Bar Mitzvah boy, we were among the few folks present in the pews at that hour. On the plus side, the baalat koreh/leiner/Torah reader did an excellent job of chanting the (complete) parsha/weekly biblical reading from the scroll despite the fact that she was clearly suffering from a cold. The Bar Mitzvah boy also did an excellent job in chanting both his Torah portion (maftir) and the long haftarah (a reading from the Prophets), and gave a rather daring d'var Torah (Bible discussion) asking why the penalty for violating the Shabbat/Sabbath was death. I was suitably impressed, not only by his discussion but by the fact that the powers that be had let him discuss something so controversial.

  • Minchah and Maariv at Ahavas Achim

The disadvantage of davvening Minchah and Maariv in the main sanctuary was that the dearth of women was hard to miss in such a large room--I don't think there were ever more than six of us in the ezrat nashim. As for me not being able to keep up with the baal tefillah, that's about normal. We women did get practically first dibs on the v'samim/spice box, though--they handed it to a few guys, then passed it over the glass-topped mechitzah.

  • Food and fun

Not for nothin' I wore my most comfortable skirt--I knew that Malka Esther would keep all of her guests well fed. Yum! We stuffed ourselves quite nicely at both Shabbat dinner and Shabbat lunch, gave the rabbinical-student guest a run for his "money" with questions and comments, talked Torah in general and parsed the parsha in particular, checked out some translations just to see how they compared, sang a zemer (Sabbath song) or two, and had a wonderful time.

  • Going home

We had a "sighting" in Penn Station that reminds me of Larry's joke (see the comments) about an outfit being too fancy for Hoboken and too hot for church. A young lady passed us in a gold lame micro-mini-skirt "up to there" and a pair of four-inch stiletto-heeled shoes. Once she was beyond the range at which she could have heard me, I commented to my husband that, years ago, I would have "pegged" her as a prostitute immediately, but now, I couldn't be sure, and I thought it was sad that some otherwise-respectable folks now think it's perfectly acceptable to dress (or, from the guy's perspective, to be dressed) in such a flagrantly immodest manner.

I paid for my remarks, I suppose, by nearly freezing my feet off on the walk home from the subway--we could have waited for a bus, but decided that we'd freeze less if we kept moving. Who knew that the temperature was going to drop from Friday's 60 degrees Fahrenheit to 23 degrees with a stiff wind by the time we got home? But all's well.

I've already started reading that book on women's halachic writings that the Lennhoffs lent me so that I can return it on our next visit. We're looking forward to it!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Parshat Ki Tisa

See the basics here.


  • Permission to be an artist--chapter 31, verses 1-11. HaShem recognizes artistic talent.
  • Chapter 32, verse 3 gets interpreted by the rabbis in an interesting fashion--because "ha-am (the people)," is, grammatically, a masculine noun, the women did not participate in the sin of the Egel haZahav/Golden Calf?? I never did "buy" that notion.

Fri., Feb. 18, 2011 update:

Despots' designated distraction goes down drain

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised by the unrest in North Africa and Western Asia. Just how long did the local tyrants think that they could distract their pent-up and/or penned-up peoples with protests against Israel's "persecution" of the Palestinians? Do you think that some of the locals might finally have noticed that the leadership's policy of imprisoning the Palestinian "refugees" in perpetuity in so-called refugee camps right down to the third (fourth?) generation because they're more useful as pawns than as citizens is of no help whatsoever to the literally-poor and/or persecuted?

TOTJ Steve, phone home.*

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Iceman Cometh, and Taketh Tree :(

The tree seen in the close-up here is no longer with us, I'm sorry to say--it fell to the tree-surgeon's saw yesterday, poor thing.

In better news, I saw my first shoots yesterday. Baruch shehecheyanu--Praised is the One who has kept us alive! The first flowers should be blooming within about two-five weeks. I can't wait to see them, after this dreadful winter.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt, etc., make Israel look good

It's a little snarky for my blog, but I think the point being made here is legitimate.

A Jew without a community

We have an old friend whom we met in our former synagogue over 30 years ago. She used to attend Chanukah and Purim parties and Shabbat (Sabbath) dinners, plus the occasional service, held there. But she was raised secular without any Jewish education, and never really found a comfortable niche for herself in the Jewish community, religious and/or secular. She probably hasn't attended a Jewish service, except for weddings, bar or bat mitzvah celebrations, and funerals, or been involved in the Jewish world in any but the most minimal way, in several decades.

Since moving out of Manhattan, we've kept in contact with her by phone and by getting together for dinner on or around our birthdays. So we just saw her a couple of weeks ago.

That's why I was a bit surprised to get a birthday card from her a few days ago with the puzzling request, "Call me." But a gift from her appeared in the mail a few days later, so I assumed that she just wanted to be sure that it had arrived. I called yesterday and thanked her, and we chatted for a few minutes about the birthday celebration.

We must have been talking for close to five minutes before she got around to telling me why she'd requested a phone call--her mother had died, and she'd been making calls to, or leaving messages asking for calls from, family and friends to let them know. She said she'd found it comforting to talk about her mother's death.

I was sad, and not only because her mother had died. What saddened me almost as much was that, without any Jewish community to support and comfort her in her time of need, our old friend had been, essentially, sitting shiva via telephone.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

VIDEO! Israeli folk dance marathon

So there we were on Saturday night, Feb. 12, 2011, after Shabbat (Sabbath), at the Riverdale Temple, dancing away until the wee hours of the morning. A word to the wise: Always eat before going to a folk dance marathon, 'cause they never serve dinner before 11 PM at the earliest!

VIDEO of dancers and drummers mixing.

Revenge of the downstairs neighbors

Remember this post?

Well, guess what? For the time being, we're still living in a two-bedroom apartment, and we just got new upstairs neighbors.

With a running kid.

Our former downstairs neighbors get the last laugh.

See my comments to this post for more fun with the neighbors.

Friday, February 11, 2011

It never fails :(

Just when we think we have a few cents to spare, along comes another whopping medical bill. :( I can't afford to retire until I'm old enough for free Medicare.

On the plus side, I'm happy that my husband and I are reasonably healthy, and wish the same were true of all our friends and family, some of whom are struggling with far more serious health problems and far higher medical bills.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Parshat Tetzaveh: P'til techelet, & other mysteries

Here's the basic information, including a link to this parshah/parashah/sedra/weekly Torah reading.

Note that, as I kvetched/complained previously in discussing Parshat Terumah, we (still) have no definition of an ephod or a breastplate. We also have no actual description of the "mitre," though it seems to have had a pure-gold "Holy to HaShem" sign attached to it.

The breastplate was attached to the ephod by a p'til techelet, a thread of blue, and the gold "sign" had a p'til techelet on the front, as well. (See chapter 28, verse 28 and verse 37.) What was the significance of techelet (blue) in general, and of a p'til techelet (blue thread) in particular, that it was considered sacred enough for use in the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple (and also, later, sacred enough to be part of the tallit/prayer shawl*)? For that matter, what was the significance of argaman (purple) and tola-at shani (scarlet)?

5:54 PM update: Here's Techelet's take.

Fri., Feb. 11, 2011 updates:

*The presence of a blue thread on the ritual fringe/tassle of a tallit is a practice that, despite being a clear-cut mitzvah (commandment) from Torah sheh Bi-ch'tav (the Written Law/Bible), fell into disuse, for a reason that I don't understand--why can't we just use vegetable dye?--and the recent revival of this practice is controversial.

A missing obituary

The Jewish Week published a very touching obituary for Jewish singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman. The Jewish Press, a newspaper intended for a mostly right-wing Orthodox readership, published . . . nothing. I was just curious to know to what extent, if at all, the Orthodox community was even aware of her existence. Is it only the right wing that either didn't know about her or won't acknowledge her? Did/do Orthodox women, not constrained by the prohition against a man listening to a woman sing ("kol isha, a woman's voice"), listen to her music? Or was/is it also a problem that she didn't use the "substitute names" for G-d, such as HaShem, which are used to avoid taking G-d's name in vain, when she sang?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Conservative Jews: Good news, bad news

Last week, an e-mail went out from one of my favorite traditional egalitarian Conservative minyanim in Manhattan--they needed someone to chant the haftarah ("prophetic reading"). I replied as soon as I saw it, "Ooh, may I, and may I lein (chant) my own maftir, too, pretty please?" With my unpredictable voice, the result of years of acid reflux, I haven't learned a new reading in at least two years, and was eager to chant a haftarah and Torah reading that I've known for decades.

I got my wish.

And something that I wouldn't have wished for.

Seventy-some people stayed after kiddush in the social hall of the synagogue that houses the aforementioned minyan to hear a guest speaker--and afterwards, not a single person thought to suggest that we davven Minchah (pray the Afternoon Service). So I ended up davvening solo in the chapel. This hurts, coming as I do from a dying congregation that has to beg for a minyan on a Shabbat (Sabbath) afternoon. :(

Judging by my own personal experience, Conservative Jews are all over the map, and that observation applies not only to laypeople, but to clergy, as well. I've encountered Conservative rabbis who wouldn't hesitate to hold a Seudah Shlishit (tradition "Third Meal" on Sabbath) not preceeded by Minchah, followed by a discussion and havdalah without benefit of Maariv (Evening Service). I've also encountered Conservative rabbis whose personal observance was barely distinguishable from that of Orthodox Jews. We Conservative Jews are a really decisive bunch, quoth she sarcastically.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Iceman Cometh

Shira's Shots, Thurs., Feb. 3, 2011 (or was it Wed., Feb. 2?)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Praying on autopilot,&other language-maven laments

“It’s no wonder I can’t hear your “mem sofits”—when you turn around and davven (pray) facing the congregation, I can see that you don’t close your mouth. You can’t make an M sound without closing your mouth! You do that all the time—you don’t pronounce all of your sounds.”
[ ¶ ]
“Well, you know it all anyway.”
[ ¶ ]
“Whether or not I know it all is irrelevant—as shaliach tzibbur (representative of the congregation [in prayer]), your responsibility is to recite the prayers for those who don’t know them. If they haven’t heard every word clearly, have they fulfilled their prayer obligation by listening to you pray and saying "Amen" after every b'rachah (blessing)? As a baal tefillah (prayer leader), you have to know not only when to open your mouth, but when to close it, too.”

[ ¶ ]

Okay, okay, I’ll try to enunciate more clearly.”

[ ¶ ]

For the record, this is an ongoing discussion. (Sigh.) He’s so busy worrying about the music that he doesn’t pay sufficient attention to the words.

[ ¶ ]

He’s not the only one.
[ ¶ ]
“Why do you say it this way:

‘V’al kulam, yitbarach v’yitromam,
shimcha malkeinu, l’olam vaed.’

Don’t you pay any attention to what the words mean? Listen!

‘For all of these things, blessed and extolled,
be Your name our Sovereign, forever and ever.’

Why do you break up the phrase by putting a pause there?”

[ ¶ ]

“But that’s the way the nusach (traditional tune) goes!”

[ ¶ ]

“Then fiddle around with the nusach until it matches the meaning of the words. The music should follow the words, not the other way around! When you put a “comma” in the wrong place in a prayer, you sound like an am ha-aretz (Jewishly-ignorant person) who doesn’t understand the words. Not only does that put you in an embarrassing position, it also puts the synagogue in an embarrassing position because of kavod ha-tzibbur (the honor of the community). It’s less than ideal to have an am ha-aretz leading services.”
[ ¶ ]
I can’t help it—I'm a language maven ("maven = expert" in Yiddish, from "mavin," meaning "understand" in Hebrew). As a former foreign language major with a B.A. in French and a few semesters of Spanish under my belt, not to mention a year or two of Hebrew Ulpan, I tend to notice it when people are playing fast and lose with language.

[ ¶ ]

Mind you, my ear for languages has not always stood me in good stead.

[ ¶ ]

Many years ago, a co-worker accused me of being a racist because I’d imitated her West Indian accent. I had to explain to her that race had nothing to do with it—it’s just that, as an ex-foreign language major, imitating accents is what I do.
[ ¶ ]

My all-time winner, though, was the time I was having a conversation with my then-rabbi and didn’t realize, until the conversation was over and I’d walked away, that I’d been “echoing” his British accent right back at him. Oy, how mortifying. I hope he got over being annoyed eventually.
[ ¶ ]
[ ¶ ]
See also "Musical license,"* or the case of the misplaced comma--A different way of listening to words and More "misplaced commas" :).

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Parsha puzzles: Out of the blue

I knew there was something that I forgot to mention when I discussed Parshat Terumah yesterday: Where did this "ephod" thing come from, all of a sudden? What is it, or, better yet, why are we expected to know what it is without any explanation, since, to the best of my recollection, this is the first time it's been mentioned? And a breastplate? Vus is dus/mah zeh/what's that, and for whom or what? (See Exodus, chapter 25, verse 7.)

While we're at it, who's this Yehoshua/Joshua fellow who suddenly shows up out of a clear blue in Exodus, chapter 17, verse 9, at the end of Parshat Beshallach? Never heard of him before.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Parshat Terumah, in one word: Blueprints

Sigh. This description of the construction of the Mishkan/Wilderness Sanctuary is one of those "vocabulary parshiot." Maybe I'll take a pass on the parshiot/weekly Torah readings until after Tazria-Metzora.

Just a quick word about the haftarah, which is my least favorite among the haftarot that I know how to chant: That was one heck of a "draft" that Shlomo haMelech/King Solomon instituted, sending thousands of men to L'vanon (Lebanon) to help in preparing the raw material for the construction of the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple. (See I Kings, chapter 5, verses 26-32). Note that the haftarah conveniently fails to mention whether or not the draftees got paid for their hard labor.

Thurs., Feb. 3, 2011 update: See my next post, Parsha puzzles.

Parsha catch-up: Parshat Mishpatim

Here's the basic information.

The Hillel (standing-on-one-foot) verison: Information overload--too many laws! (Sounds like Judaism in general. :) )

DovBear discusses this parsha's reference to hornets, has problems with Mishpatim, and urges caution regarding the attitude toward abortion that appears to be indicated in this parsha (start there and follow the link). But even he's a bit overwhelmed, and asks for ideas.

Woodrow, of Conservadox, has some interesting notes.

My comments:
  • Anyone who doesn't believe that halachah (Jewish religious law) evolves has only to read Exodus chapter 21, verses 23-25. "Ayin tachat ayin, An eye for an eye," was interpreted by the rabbis to refer to monetary compensation at a point in Jewish history so long ago that I wonder whether anyone actually knows whether this law was ever carried out literally.
  • I'm sure I learned this from someone else: "Naaseh v'nishma, We will do and we will hear," (Exodus chapter 24, verse 7) is the way that human beings develop--as children, we "do" first, and only understand why later, when we're old enough.
Thurs., Feb. 3, 2011 update: More from DovBear and commenters.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Happy Birthday to me!

The good news is that I'm in reasonably good health, and I'll be eligible for Social Security retirement payments as of the first of next month.

The bad news is that I won't be eligible for free Medicare (free medical care for seniors, courtesy of the U.S. government) until I'm 67. (At 66, you're eligible for Medicare, but you have to pay for at least part of it). So I'd prefer not to retire for at least five more years. I hope my hands and wrists hold out for that long.

P.S. I'm on strike--I refuse to say Tachanun on my birthday! :)
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