Friday, April 29, 2011


They used to call them "the family jewels."

Now they call them "junk?!"

Warning: Do not try this at home.

Unless you want to have to explain the meaning of this word to one highly-insulted 69-year-old husband.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Good timing for some minor bad news

It was very considerate of our fax machine (and printer/copier/scanner) to wait until the week after the U.S. income tax deadline to decide that it would no longer function. At least my resident CPA got all the information he needed for his clients' tax returns before the machine made its last print-out. Now, the poor man has to run around like a chicken with his head cut off and buy a new multiple-function printer today. Oy.

Mimouna and/or Rumplenacht, slightly delayed

Parshat Acharei Mot and Parshat Kedoshim

Click to read the basic information regarding Parshat Acharei Mot and Parshat Kedoshim.

Here are some previous posts of mine on those parshiot:

    And here's my pet peeve: Why do some people seem to insist on following exclusively the rabbinic interpretation of "Lo t’kalel cheresh (Do not mock the deaf . . . ) v’lifnei iver lo titen michshol (and in front of a blind person do not put a stumbling block)" . . . (Parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapter 19, verse 14). The rabbis interpreted this phrase to mean that one should not mock a person who's not there (and/or able?) to defend him/herself, and that one should refrain from tempting a person to sin or leading a person to sin out of ignorance. That's an excellent interpretation, but I'm a strong believer that one should also pay attention to the literal meaning (p'shat) of this text, and I have good reason to insist on this.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2011

    Sefirah: Could we have a little logic, please?

    For the record, I started with the previous post.

    Sefirah is an old topic of mine (not to mention DovBear's)--start here and following the links. It's been brought to the fore this year by the fact that now it's my husband who's protesting.

    Nothing about the mourning practices of Sefirah makes sense. For openers, the whole notion of one teacher, even as great a one as Rabbi Akiva, (a) having had 24,000 students (b) all of whom died in a plague strikes me as being as preposterous as the number of Israelites traditionally believed to have left Egypt with Moses (not to mention the number traditionally believed to have died later in various plagues and/or rebellions).

    For closers, the Churban (Destruction of the Temples) gets two half-fasts (sunrise to sunset) and one full fast (Tisha B'Av, a sunset-to-sunset fast), plus three weeks of mourning, and the Shoah (Holocaust), with its six million victims, gets a grand total of one day of mourning (Yom HaShoah), which some say should be merged with Tisha B'Av. So why do the allegedly-deceased alleged students of Akiva get a whole month (er, 33 days?)?

    And to top it all off, how can one mourn and rejoice at the same time? Observing the mourning restrictions of Sefirah during Nissan, a month in which we're supposed to be so intent on rejoicing over our liberation from slavery in Egypt that we're not even supposed to say Tachanun, makes no sense whatsoever.

    So do we observe the period of the alleged plague as a time of mourning, and mourn beginning in Nissan, starting, noch besser (even better) on the second day of a holiday, Pesach (Passover), or do we mourn during the time of the attacks against Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages, and observe a period of mourning from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Shavuot?

    This sounds to me like a classic case of "two Jews, three opinions." We can't even decide why we're mourning, much less when.

    Maybe we should just listen to the songwriter: "Let's call the whole thing off."

    The quote-hunter spots another one

    For earlier quote-hunter fun, see my old series here.

    I'm listening to the haftarah (2 Samuel 22:1-51) on the seventh day of Pesach/Passover when a word jumps off the page: "chashkiy." As in:

    כט כִּי-אַתָּה נֵירִי, יְהוָה; {ס} וַיהוָה, יַגִּיהַּ חָשְׁכִּי. {ר}

    29 For Thou art my lamp, O LORD; and the LORD doth lighten my darkness.

    Oh, I get it: "chashkiy," as in "choshech (darkness) sheli (of mine)."

    But that's not why the word jumps off the page--"chashkiy" jumps off the page because this is only the second place in my life that I'm heard that word. After some considerable head-scratching as to whose song I'd first heard it in, I finally realized that it was part of an old Diaspora Yeshiva Band song. But I couldn't remember which one. So I went looking for it just now on my office computer, and found it in a song called "L'oro," from The Diaspora Yeshiva Band Collection, Disc 1. I'm not sure that this is the exact text being quoted, since there's at least one word (Elokai) in the song that doesn't appear in this quote, but it's close enough. :)

    Yep, I found "chaskiy" in a song. "But it's Sefirah!," some of you protest. "Why are you listening to music during Sefirah?" Good question . . .

    No questions asked, etc.

    Years ago, the Ritual Committee of our local synagogue turned down an excellent candidate for the position of High Holiday cantor because he wanted to commute from home, which was not within walking distance by any stretch of the imagination (or by any stretch of the legs, either).

    Now, when our regular cantor is under the weather, we bring in female cantors who are clearly commuting from outside the community. No one gets upset about having a woman lead the matbeiah shel tefillah (required parts of the service), including d'varim sheh-b'k'dushah (prayers that can only be recited with a minyan), and no one asks how they got there.

    But they still won't give our guest cantors an aliyah. They don't care that she's commuting. They just care that she's a she.

    If you're looking for halachic logic, don't bother--there isn't any.

    Sunday, April 24, 2011

    Slow-poke scores one :)

    You may be amused to know that there is actually one advantage to having Ms. Slow-Davvener (pray-er) lead the P'sukei D'Zimrah section of the morning service--since leading PS takes me about 10 minutes longer than it takes my husband, we're more likely to have a minyan by the time we get to the Shacharit Amidah prayer when I lead PS than when he does. :)

    That said, getting a minyan for the Shacharit Amidah on the first day of Pesach is probably never going to happen in our shul again, no matter who leads what.

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Chametz sheh-avar*?

    My understanding is that one is not permitted to eat, after Pesach (Passover) any chametz that one hasn't sold for Pesach. But what does one do about forgotten inedible chametz?

    When I went to scrub the toilet earlier today, I got an unpleasant surprise--I'd forgotten to throw out the toilet brush before Pesach. "So what?," you ask. Well, it's like this--I clean my toilet with a combination of baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, and (grain-based) white vinegar. Does that make me the only Jew on earth who has a chametzdikeh toilet brush?

    Long story short--I bought a new brush. The old one is now under wraps, literally (stuffed into a plastic bag), and will be thrown out after Pesach.

    *Thanks to Woodrow/Conservadox for the link--see number 10 here for the explanation, and plenty of other useful Pesach/Passover explanations and information.

    Synagogue score

    • First day of Pesach
    We didn't get a minyan (for which we count women) until after the Amidah prayer of Shacharit (Morning Service).

    We barely had enough men to do a Torah reading, and only because there are just five aliyot on the Shalosh Regalim (Pilgrimage Festivals), as opposed to seven on Shabbat (Sabbath).

    Since some of our members are indifferent to, and others ignorant of, the need for them to stay in the sanctuary during the Musaf (Additional Service) Amidah, we had only 10 people, exactly, by the time we were halfway through Tefillat Tal (the Prayer for Dew). I was literally afraid to leave the room until Ein Kelokeinu. Methinks that, on the first day of Pesach (Passover), I'm going to have to resign myself to staying in the sanctuary through the repetition of the sacrifice readings--I usually leave after the Kedushah section--until we move. Sigh.

    • Second day
    We still didn't get a minyan until after the Amidah shel Shacharit, but we had enough people by Musaf time that I was able to make my escape after the Musaf Kedushah.

    I don't think we ever had more than 15 people at any time on either day.


    . . . . and read about an advantage of clicking here.

    For (door) openers (or which came first . . . ) . . .

    My husband's been doing a lot of reading about Pesach (Passover), both on general principles and because, as "acting rabbi," he's been giving "sermons" on the topic. He tells me that, originally, the door was opened toward the beginning of the seder. This would make sense, as the text of the Haggadah specifies that the hungry are invited to come and eat.

    Then, enemies of the Jewish People made it dangerous for us to open the door at that logical point in the seder service, less we be harassed at best or slaughtered at worst.

    Stubborn souls that we were, we moved the opening of the door to a later point in the seder, after the meal, rather than dropping that practice. But that move made the original reason for opening the door completely invalid. So which came first, "Shfoch hamatcha," Pour out Your wrath," or the tradition that we open the door to admit Eliyahu HaNavi, Elijah the Prophet? "Shfoch hamatcha" makes sense as a protest against our enemies, but makes no sense whatsover as part of the seder text. The idea of Eliyah HaNavi being invited to every seder doesn't make much sense either. Any takers?

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    A time-saver?

    Some have the tradition not to wear tefillin during Chol HaMoed (the intermediate days on which one is permitted to work in the middle of a Pilgrimage Festival). I'm inclined to wonder whether the fact that one must add the Yaaleh v'Yavo prayer to the Amidah prayer, add the Hallel psalms, and add the Musaf (Additional) Amidah prayer and still get to work on time might have something to do with that.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Curses, foiled again :)

    Here we are, showing our mettle, er, metal, pre-Pesach. :)

    Remind me never to volunteer to cover the breakfront doors again (as in, no chametz shall be seen in your dwellings)--my arms are as short as the rest of me, making tearing sheets of foil long enough to cover these windows almost impossible. As you can see, I've resorted to "masking-tape surgery." :)

    It's a good thing that I thought to check my waist pouch at the last minute, just in case--I'd forgotten that I'd put a Larabar in there (as "emergency rations")! It's also amazing how much lighter my pouch is, now that I've removed the gazillion batteries that I used to need for my old camera and my CD player.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    There's a swimming pool in our kitchen . . .

    . . . from the boiling-hot water that I just poured all over the counter tops and the table.

    Shabbos dinner will probably consist of left-over bread, warm grape juice (from the bottle that I removed when emptying the refrigerator for cleaning), gefilte fish, baby carrots, and some of the cookies that we have to get rid of before Monday morning. Ditto for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Sigh. Our Pesach preparation plans were derailed by my husband's ER adventure last Sunday night and by the funeral that my husband attended this morning. There are some things for which one simply can't plan.

    Okay, the floor's, well, not exactly dry, but dry enough. No shirking--back to work!

    Shabbat Shalom, and A Sisen (Sweet) Pesach.

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011

    Clueless cleaning company

    For an entire month, I've been reminding them that one of the main jobs of the person helping us with our Passover cleaning is to clean the oven with Easy-Off. This is the only time of the year that I use a toxic cleaner.

    So they send over a cleaning person who sprays Easy-Off in the oven--and promptly gets too sick from the fumes to work. Let me get this straight: You knew that cleaning the oven was one of the main requirements for this assignment--and you sent a cleaner with asthma?! Dudes and dudettes, I have asthma, which is one of the reasons why I hired someone else to clean the oven!

    Fortunately, a more intelligent scheduler tells the sick cleaner to trade assignments with another cleaner, who arrives about an hour later, finding my husband with his head in the oven, literally, since we were afraid to leave the Easy-Off on the oven surfaces until the second cleaner's originally-scheduled arrival time four hours later. The second cleaner does a wonderful job, even volunteering to have a go at the stove with a toothbrush(!), and even manages the amazing feat of getting all the shelves and bins, post-scrubbing, back into the refrigerator without instructions. All's well that ends well. I'm quite relieved that my poor husband doesn't have to abandon his tax-return preparation for too long to lend a hand.

    But this is at least the second year in a row that one of this company's cleaners came to do Passover cleaning unprepared to use Easy-Off. We'll probably just do the job ourselves once my husband retires--he can do the oven cleaning and the heavy lifting (to spare my bad wrists), and I'll put all the appliances away and foil up the 'fridge and counter tops.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    Ambivalent about France's Burqa Ban

    I agree with what JoeSettler wrote here. What's next? Will politicians come up with reasons to ban sheitlach (wigs)? Kippot (yarmulkes, skullcaps)? Hey, they're already trying to ban brit milah (ritual circumcision) (hat-tip: Heshy).

    Sunday, April 10, 2011

    Pesach prep leads to ER adventure :(


    [ ¶ ]

    "Are you all right?"

    [ ¶ ]


    [ ¶ ]

    I found my husband bleeding from the head. He'd been cleaning the bedroom when, apparently, the wire for the vacuum cleaner had gotten tangled up with the wire for the Shabbos lamp, and the lamp had come crashing down on his head. I've never weighed the Shabbos lamp, but my guess is that this ten-ton monstrosity actually weighs around five pounds or more.

    [ ¶ ]

    We went through quite a collection of tissues to stop the bleeding, and decided that it might be wise to hop an ambulance and let the hospital check out the injury. Fortunately, the fine folks at the Emergency Room said that it was such a superficial wound--a nice inch-long gash in the scalp--that there was no need to worry about a concussion or a CAT scan. Unfortunately, my husband is now, somewhat late for Purim, walking around looking like Frankenstein, with three surgical staples in his head. And he'll have to spend probably several hours of Erev Pesach at the hospital waiting to have the staples removed. But it could have been a lot worse. I told my husband that I could think of better ways to dye one's hair. :)

    The shul's loss was my gain

    As usual, we didn't have a minyan for Minchah (Afternoon Service) yesterday. Our minhag (custom) when we don't have a minyan for Minchah on Shabbat (Sabbath) and can't have a Torah reading with a scroll is to chant the Torah reading using the text printed in the back of our weekday siddur (prayer book). So I took advantage of the situation and volunteered to "lein." I happen to know the weekday portion of Acharei Mot because it's the beginning of the Torah reading for the morning of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), which I leined (chanted) at our former synagogue for seven years. It was nice to be back in the saddle, though the transition from Yamim Noraim trup (High Holiday cantillation) to regular trup was a bit bumpy--I've forgotten my t'lishah k'tanah and g'dolah. Having my husband, who was on the bimah already because he was leading services, give me a hand was certainly handy.

    Thursday, April 07, 2011

    General griping post (after yesterday's seriousness)

    After yesterday's last post, I just had to write something a bit more lightweight.

    • What kind of idiot supermarket cashier or "bagger" would deliberately pack a grocery bag in such a way that a jar of gefilte fish was placed directly on top of a cake???!!!

    • All my husband had was a bowl of soup and a quarter-pound hamburger with steamed vegetables. All I had was a bowl of soup and three pieces of roasted chicken with steamed vegetables. The bill? Sigh. "Why is it that, lately, every time we eat out, it costs us around $50?" "Because you insist on eating in places with hashgachah [rabbinical supervision to ensure that a restaurant or food is kosher]." Oh. Sorry I asked. :(

    • Among the many jobs that my father once held in an effort to make ends meets was taxi driver. But he was from the "old school"--he used to get out of the taxi and walk around to the other side to open the doors for his passengers. Now, we have taxi drivers who just press the "unlatch" button and sit there while a 69-year-old puts his own suitcase (full of college textbooks) and backpack (full of Pesach/Passover groceries) into the trunk by himself.

    • The taxi driver's lament: "Everyone pays by credit card. I have no cash to buy gas."

    Wednesday, April 06, 2011

    DNR :( :( :(

    Amid all the posts about the mess at my synagogue, Pesach (Passover) prep, and some consideration of the necessity of improving my cooking skills, etc., comes a dead-serious moment: My brother wrote to let us siblings know that our father no longer enjoys much of anything. He barely responds when spoken to, barely moves, and takes so little pleasure in eating that he's being hand-fed baby food. And he suffered during his last major illness.

    [ ¶ ]

    My siblings and I all agree--if our father no longer enjoys life, we see no point in making him suffer to prolong it. At this point, it's just a waiting game. :( :( :(

    Parshat Metzora: "Untouchables" beyond number

    A link to the notes and the parsha are here.

    [ ¶ ]

    Just a few quick thoughts:

    • If so many men and women were "untouchable" due to natural bodily emissions, who the heck was left?

    • How often did one have to replace one's dishes, given that the "earthen vessels" of the person with a bodily emission had to be broken?

    • And how the heck does one kill a bird in an "earthen vessel" over running water?

    Tuesday, April 05, 2011

    The great divide

    See here.

    Monday, April 04, 2011

    Pesach shopping tip for NYC-area residents

    Fairway has quite a lot of kosher-for-Passover food. We went to the branch at about 74th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, and did pretty well. Note that not all of the kosher-for-Passover food is in one section. For example, the Pesachdikeh almond butter and cashew butter and Israeli olive oil are upstairs in the "Natural Foods" section, the dried fried, nuts, and chocolate-covered nuts are near the fresh fruit section, and the kosher cheese is near the far left (south?) wall. Keep looking. You can't get everything there, but you can get quite a bit. We assume that, as usual, the prices are as good as, and often better than, what you'd pay in a kosher store. Just be sure to check every single item to ensure that it's kosher for Passover.

    Chicken veggie soup from Talia's Steakhouse--yum!

    We stopped off at Talia's Steakhouse yesterday to fortify ourselves for our first round of Pesach (Passover) shopping, and, since we were taking our coughs and sniffles with us, thought it wise to order a couple of bowls of chicken vegetable soup as our appetizers. We were not expecting anything this good. This may very well be one of the best bowls of chicken soup I've had in New York City. The soup was delicious, and was loaded with chunks of fresh vegetables and chicken. Those within commuting distance might want to give Talia's Steakhouse a try.

    Friday, April 01, 2011

    Getting the h _ _ _ out of Dodge

    Dodge City [Kansas] was the setting of innumerable Wild-West movies and books and, most prominently, the CBS-TV series Gunsmoke, which ran from 1955 to 1975. After being defeated by the good guys, badmen might stereotypically be commanded to "get the hell out of Dodge."”

    The transferred sense, 'to leave or get out (of anywhere) at once', arose in the mid-1960s, when it was recorded in the slang of youth gangs, and became common by the 1970s.”

    You might as well start with my Not the best thing to read right before Shabbat.

    To tell the story from the beginning, I’d have to go back roughly 15 years, to the year that my husband was president of our local synagogue, and the current president—the co-signatory mentioned in the linked post—was vice president. (The nominating committee quickly figured out that, since my husband ended up doing much of the treasurer’s work anyway, he would serve the congregation better by going back to being treasurer.) Even when he was vice president, the current president was taking actions in the synagogue’s name without my husband’s knowledge or consent. But I’ll try not to bore you with the gantze megillah (the whole long story).

    That said, the Megillah actually plays a part in this sad tale.

    Some years ago, a pair of hard-working congregants (one of whom was then a shul vice president) decided to try to organize the shul’s (synagogue's) liturgical texts. So they gathered, in one basement storage room, all of our haggadot and High Holiday machzorim/prayer books, and put all of our Megillat Esther, Shir haShirim (Song of Songs), Megillat Ruth, Eichah (Lamentations), and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) books in labeled boxes so that they could be found easily and carried upstairs to the sanctuary and back down without too much difficulty. Unfortunately, they were unable to control access to the storage room, and it deteriorated into such a junk pile that, only a few years after their efforts, we were unable to find the Megillat Esther books on Purim and had to do the entire Megillah reading with just the actual megillah/scroll and a couple of books that my husband and I had brought from home—there were no texts for the rest of the congregation.

    Fast forward to this year’s Purim. As a precautionary measure, I went downstairs on Shabbat (Sabbath) after the morning services to check to see where the Megillat Esther books were—and couldn’t find them. I reported this to the president, who assured me that the books were there and that he would find them. That evening, the president took me, my husband, and the cantor to the storage room and pointed out a pile of Megillat Esther books, rubbing it in my face that I hadn’t seen them. I felt pretty stupid, saying that I must have mistaken them for haggadot, since they weren’t in the expected labeled box. Even the cantor began mocking me.

    And that’s when it got interesting—for no reason whatsoever, the president verbally attacked the cantor, accusing him of not caring about anything but his paycheck. I chastised the president, but he wouldn’t shut up until he was darned good and ready.

    It got even more interesting when my husband reminded me, after we’d gone home following the Megillah reading, that he, too, had looked for the Megillat Esther books, and that he hadn’t seen them either.

    The former vice president who’d helped organize the books had resigned after the president had publicly accused her of some misdeed the nature of which I can’t even remember and hadn’t bothered issuing a public apology until some six months later. After that incident, we decided that the president was a power-hunger egocentric who resented the very idea that any other member of the congregation (or any shul employee) might possibly get credit for anything—he wanted to hog all the credit for himself. Therefore, he sabotaged anyone else’s efforts to do anything for the synagogue, driving my husband and both vice presidents to resign their Executive Board positions because the president had passively and/or actively prevented them from doing their jobs.

    Given that history, we came to the conclusion that the president had deliberately hidden the Megillat Esther books in order to make the rest of us look like idiots and himself like the hero who’d saved the day.

    (Lest you think that I'm joking, the latest report, heard from a reliable source, is that some of the people from the neighborhood, and even some of our shul's own temporary employees, believe that the president bought and owns our synagogue building. We assume that he knows this, and that, like the Lubavitcher Rebbe, alav hashalom [may he rest in peace], he will neither confirm nor deny.)

    After the Purim incident, I asked my husband whether he was at risk of facing any more of the president’s mistreatment than he’d already faced. My husband said he thought that the president, especially in light of his recent health problems, would have to be nice to him because he was the acting rabbi and the only congregant healthy enough to be able to help consistently with the shul’s accounting, though my husband will no longer sign any shul document. But I said that the opposite was also possible: If the president’s health continues to be a problem and he finds himself facing the possibility of losing his status as “the king of ‘Main Street’”—since becoming shul president, he’s made quite a name for himself in our neighborhood by providing facilities in our shul building for local political, cultural, and social events—he might try to trash my husband’s reputation just to prove that he, and he alone, is still the boss. And, to boot, if anything happens to the president that’s serious enough to take him out of commission permanently, my husband’s going to be left holding the bag, faced with the necessity of cleaning up the mess that the president created. (See the linked post.) The faster we get out of this neighborhood, and this shul, the better off we'll be.

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