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!


Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

We were delighted to have you. I'm surprised there were no cabs at the station, but not surprised someone offered you a ride. Looking forward to reading the rest.

Tue Feb 22, 08:44:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

I'd love to hear about the services at the C shul.

Tue Feb 22, 08:45:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

The gentleman who offered us the ride was equally surprised.

Will write about services when able. I snuck a minute to correct the link to the white hat--the link now leads to the dressier one, though my husband says the other white hat is still too dressy for a Jewish rock concert :(--but I must get back to my project.

Tue Feb 22, 10:54:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

Too fancy for Hoboken, too hot for church

Tue Feb 22, 11:15:00 AM 2011  
Anonymous jdub said...

as a former AA member, I can tell you that AA women do not not sing out of kol isha concerns. was likely purely a numbers issue.

indeed, it is a rare Mod Orth shul where women don't sing out of kol isha concerns (maybe a small handful).

Wed Feb 23, 11:15:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

JDub, that's good to know. Larry said pretty much the same thing.

Wed Feb 23, 01:10:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...


This was one of those delightful posts that brings me back to your blog. In fact, this is one of the best, generally upbeat and positive. Your effort to tone down the negativity and be more upbeat is really paying off.

I'll join in the Kol Isha statement, and go a step further. Every time you visit someone in an Orthodox Shul/event, you bring up this speculation. Kol Isha doesn't apply to ritualized singing. That's not to saw that it doesn't happen out of ignorance of the Halacha, or local custom, but it's not Kol Isha.

Constantly speculating why a handful of women seem less noisy than dozens of men and whether it's a function of Kol Isha is getting a little tiresome. You don't like that it's Halacha, that's fine. Go ahead and ignore it, I've gone to Karaoke nights with my Modern Orthodox friends, a few of the women won't sing, not sure if it's Kol Isha or stage fright, most sing, so you're in pretty good company at ignoring it or looking for leniencies (multiple voices, microphones, or ritual music are all generally accepted leniencies, even if not universally accepted).

But other than that issue, this was a beautiful post, and glad that you had such a nice time.

Wed Feb 23, 02:18:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

So what did the BM kid say about the death penalty for Shabbat violation?

Some of the best dvrei torah I ever heard have come from BM kids. They are more likely to come up with something original because they don't know what a typical dvar torah is like.

My favorite one was a bat mitzvah girl who spoke for parshat Tazaria (at what was the aufruf for our C wedding).

She suggested that the cohanim were assigned to check people for leprosy so that cohanim were humbled by having to care for the outcasts, while the people who were temporary outcast knew that some of the most important people in the hierarchy still cared about them.

Wed Feb 23, 03:15:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Alyssa said...

Hi.. Bar Mitzvah boy was Josh Siegel and I am his proud mom! Leora posted a link to this on Facebook. Thank you for being there and for your comments! [Larry: I'll ask Josh if he would mind if I post transcript of his d'var torah, or some sort of summarized version]

Wed Feb 23, 05:34:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Alyssa, mazal tov! We were happy to be able to join in celebrating such a simchah (joyous event). I hope that you'll be able to post a summary of Josh's d'var Torah, since my so-called memory would scarcely do it justice.

Thu Feb 24, 01:28:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al, I'll admit to being a bit obsessed with Kol Isha--I've been blogging about it since October 2004! In my defense, I'm a former synagogue-choir singer, so at least there's a good explanation for me being upset about a (possible) prohibition against a woman singing in the presence of a man.

Speaking of my former volunteer "career" as a shul choir singer, did I happen to mention that I sang alto? Given the fact that singing harmony is almost as natural to me as breathing, and therefore, my voice can certainly be picked out in a crowd, does the heter/leniency about multiple voices apply to me? My uncertainty is one of the reasons why I always try to determine how loudly the other women in the ezrat nashim are singing--I don't know whether I can get away with singing harmony at the top of my lungs without offending half of the congregation--and I'm not even sure which half. :)

Thu Feb 24, 01:55:00 PM 2011  
Anonymous rivkayael said...

I always sing as loudly as I want. Have gone to many shuls and even shteeblaach and never gotten grief (shuls/shteeblach that want to hush women up simply don't have women's sections). If the guys don't like it they can get out. No halacha forbids me to sing. If they don't want to listen they can leave. Some of my relatives would never go to a musical/opera for this reason, but they have never given any woman grief for singing in their presence (they might leave, or something, but a mensch doesn't impose his views on people).

A second observation: some women go to shul to talk--if you start singing, they might join in and actually daven.

Thu Feb 24, 04:01:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Okay, RivkaYael, I'll take your word for it and try singing at my usual volume the next time I'm in an Orthodox synagogue. Maybe I'll get the "yackers" to join me. :)

Thu Feb 24, 04:11:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...


Not questioning your obsession with Kol Isha. I have female Congregational Choir Singers in my family as well.

I'm questioning your obsession with "begging the question" when you know the answer is "no" just to get a rise out of your Orthodox readers. It's needling and off putting as someone that's been here.

If you have questions about Kol Isha, fine. If you just don't like it, fine. But the constant attacks on any Jewish woman that doesn't sing loud enough to your personal satisfaction is getting bizarre.

This has come up on your blog enough that you knew that the women not being louder had nothing to do with Kol Isha, yet there is was, as an attack on anyone not following your exact Jewish prescription.

Everything else in your post was beautiful and endearing. But you're starting to sound like a broken record on Kol Isha when you know it has nothing to do with what is going on.

If you are behind the mechitza and singing at a reasonable level, you are personally unlikely to ever be in a congregation where you are creating a problem.

The halacha is that when multiple voices are heard together, you cannot pick one out. I'm sure plenty of ill mannered frummies can post on here bashing anyone for relying on such a leniency, but whatever.

The halacha may be based on a legal fiction, but so what, it is what it is. So with the Halacha out of the way, your issue is how loudly you can sing in a Synagogue situation without offending anyone? The limitation here is good taste and good manners.

Throwing Kol Isha into the mix is a terribly habit you probably picked up from your co-workers of discussing an issue, throwing out a Hebrew/Yiddish phrase, hand wringing for a minute or two, and concluding to do nothing. :)

Thu Feb 24, 04:40:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Miami Al, it has not been, and is not now, my intention to offend. That said, I've been discussing kvetching/complaining about kol isha on my blog for over five years, and you have a point in saying that it's time for me to give it a rest.

That said, I think you missed my recent point.

I said, "My uncertainty is one of the reasons why I always try to determine how loudly the other women in the ezrat nashim are singing--I don't know whether I can get away with singing harmony at the top of my lungs without offending half of the congregation . . ."

You said, "If you are behind the mechitza and singing at a reasonable level, you are personally unlikely to ever be in a congregation where you are creating a problem.

The halacha is that when multiple voices are heard together, you cannot pick one out."

The problem is precisely that you *can* pick my voice out because I *don't* necessarily sing at "a reasonable level"--I prefer to harmonize loudly enough that my harmony can be heard by other people, and I honestly don't know whether that might offend people. So I try to match my volume to what I hear around me, keeping my harmony to myself if that seems wise.

I do this in my Conservative shul, too, but for a totally different reason. When the cantor's leading, I belt it out. But when my husband is the baal tefillah/prayer leader, I sing more quietly because I think it's disrespectful and possibly a halachic problem to drown out the baal tefillah--how can you say Amen to a prayer than you haven't heard? Not to mention that it isn't nice to drown out one's spouse. :)

Thu Feb 24, 06:13:00 PM 2011  
Anonymous rivkayael said...

Shira, they can't see you. So they can't pick you out. The guys are not supposed to be looking into the women's section.

Thu Feb 24, 06:21:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

RivkaYael, I realize it may seem that I'm trying to create an issue where there isn't one, but I'm actually trying to deal with the fact that there are both women and men who think that there *is* an issue. Am I too concerned about people who think of kol isha as such an absolute prohibition that even singing harmony with a person of the opposite gender who can't see you is a problem? Should I ignore this perspective as belonging to a segment of the Orthodox community in which I probably wouldn't feel comfortable anyway?

Thu Feb 24, 06:41:00 PM 2011  
Anonymous rivkayael said...

Those people are teenagers. Most of them mellow out (and hopefully learn actual halacha) as they get older. I learn with some of those rabbeim too.

I used to not eat any meat at Ashkenazi restaurants because I am Sephardi (many are makpid on beit yosef glatt). Does this mean I have issues with Ashkenazi shechita or kashrut? No. Do the Ashkenazim care that some Sephardim have this minhag? No. And I have no problem eating at Ashkenazi homes. Before I changed my minhag on marriage, my husband's relatives made sure to get beit yosef glatt beef. I never asked questions about their kashrut. They eat my food too (and I learned Ashkenazic practice after I got married).

My point is, people have different practices. It's a tragedy if we allow them to divide us. You were citing a blogpost about some YU event. Teenagers are very immature and this leads them to be too intense about certain things.

Thu Feb 24, 07:01:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

So maybe I, too, should mellow out. :) I'll try to take your advice and not worry so much about differences in practice.

Thu Feb 24, 10:01:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...


I realized that I might have been speaking in jargon, and for that I apologized. The fact that when multiple voices are together, you cannot identify one, is the Halachic equivalent of a Legal Fiction. The fact that one actually CAN pick your voice out doesn't matter. Under Halacha, your voice cannot be picked out.

"I *don't* necessarily sing at "a reasonable level"

Well, that's a problem, but has nothing to do with Kol Isha. You should never be a guest anywhere and be unreasonable. :)

Agreed with rivkayael, despite the silliness and rightware slide of the Orthodox community, nobody actually cares what teenagers think or blog about. Why on earth do you care? The people your age at the Modern Orthodox Synagogue are probably NOT that different in practice than you, just because of where you are at now and that generation of Orthodox Jews.

Thu Feb 24, 10:57:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Miami Al said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

Thu Feb 24, 10:58:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"The fact that one actually CAN pick your voice out doesn't matter. Under Halacha, your voice cannot be picked out."

Ah, thanks for the clarification, Miami Al. I didn't know that, and I'm glad to hear it.

"You should never be a guest anywhere and be unreasonable. :)"

That's why I take my cues from the folks around me. Even at non-Orthodox synagogues, I make it a point to pay attention to the other davveners (pray-ers) in case any of the "regulars" has a harmony that clashes with mine, which happens with surprising frequency. "Regulars" get first dibs on harmony--I just have to work my harmony around theirs, or sing quietly.

"The people your age at the Modern Orthodox Synagogue are probably NOT that different in practice than you, just because of where you are at now and that generation of Orthodox Jews."

That's good to know.

Thu Feb 24, 11:37:00 PM 2011  
Anonymous Chicago said...

I daven regularly in both a MO shul and a Conservative one.

Miami Al is doing very well here with your Kol Isha situation, so I won't say much more about it. I went to MO schools, both primary and secondary. We were never told we couldn't sing in shul or davening because of Kol Isha.

However, as a regular shul-goer and someone who participates actively in the davening, I will say that it is annoying when someone who considers themselves to be a vocalist sings in a way that is out-of-step with the rest of the congregants.

It comes across as showy and it is distracting to those of us who are trying to keep the tune.

There is a lady who does this at the C shul I sometimes go to and while she is very talented and she is a very nice woman, it annoys people.

Someone told me years ago that communal prayer is not accomplished just by virtue of everyone being in the same room physically. We pray as a community, together.


Fri Feb 25, 12:43:00 AM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

"It comes across as showy and it is distracting . . ."

I hadn't considered that possibility. Thanks for mentioning it, YMMV. I guess I'll just have to try to tone it down and behave myself.

Fri Feb 25, 10:42:00 AM 2011  
Anonymous rivkayael said...

YMMV is an internet acronym for "your mileage may vary". It's not her initials :).

Fri Feb 25, 04:37:00 PM 2011  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Oy. Apparently, Ms. Tech-Challenged can't keep up with tech-based and/or social-networking vocabulary, either. :)

Sat Feb 26, 07:42:00 PM 2011  

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