Thursday, May 26, 2011

Too Jewish?

A quote from the Schechter Rebranding article in last week's New York Jewish Week:

"With even many highly engaged American Jews shying away from denominational labels and growing numbers of interfaith families whose children aren’t Jewish according to the traditional halachic definitions to which the Conservative movement adheres, it is not clear whether Schechter schools, which pride themselves on their rigorous Judaic studies, serve a large enough niche to be viable.

“They’re affected even more than others by what’s happening in American Jewish life,” said Schick. Schechter schools on average devote more hours to Judaic studies than community schools do, Schick said, and that might be a problem: the Conservative schools are “more religious than most non-Orthodox American Jews want to be.”"

Now there's a phrase that I haven't heard before, and I wonder whether it applies to the Conservative Movement as a whole. Is the "official" version of Conservative Judaism “more religious than most non-Orthodox American Jews want to be”? In my own personal opinion, based on my 62 years as a Conservative Jew, the answer, for many, though not all, Conservative Jews, is "yes."

Flowers have such fleeting lives

They quickly fade and fall
Take heed while they are still around
Enjoy their beauty's call

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Planet Earth: We just live here :(

Tectonic plates shift, creating a massive earthquake, which, in turn, creates a tsunami. Lives, homes, entire towns are lost in Japan. And the Achilles heel of nuclear power--that it's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to protect nuclear plants against natural disasters--is exposed. All this, while the Japanese Search and Rescue team is still in New Zealand, helping earthquake victims there.

Tornados tear apart the United States, striking even such unexpected places as New York City, where there was extensive damage to property and trees, and one life lost. A large swath of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is blown away, and 125 people are known dead--thus far--in the town of Joplin, Missouri, alone. More tornados have already struck, and more are probably expected.

Heavy rainfall in the U.S. Midwest causes the Mighty Mississippi to overflow its banks, washing away or damaging, homes, business, and farms while the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sacrifices smaller towns to save big ones, such as Baton Rouge and the barely-recovered-from-Hurricane-Katrina New Orleans.

And now, the volcanos of Iceland are making their presence known again.

The earth will do what it does. We're just along for the ride.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Food news

Budget vs. health

Sure, it would be nice to be all-organic all the time, but hey, the hubby is planning to ditch his accounting practice in about a year, and who can afford it? So I did a bit of Internet research here, here, and here, and came up with an "organic priorities list," trying to determine which foods really get sprayed with insecticide(s) to within an inch of their lives and which ones aren't quite so bad. Here are some foods that these sites think might be safer if organic:
  • "Starches": Potatoes, rice. Since the organic rice in our local supermarket is all $4 for 2 pounds, we might as well experiment with some different kinds, such as basmati--any organic brown rice will do.
  • Vegetables in general: bell peppers, celery, lettuce, green beans, spinach, and, some say, tomatoes (a good excuse to keep buying Middle Earth Tomato Sauce with Roasted Zucchini and a hechsher from Milano, Italia--scroll up from the end of the comments--yum!)
  • Fruit: Apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, bananas, imported grapes (more likely to be sprayed heavily), cherries, strawberries
  • Animal products: Just about all--meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products
  • Miscellaneous: Coffee, baby food
Speaking of strawberries . . .

Bugging out--a Kashrut issue

I decided to follow Miami Al's advice (a year after 'twas given--I'm a slow learner :)):

"Easiest solution for strawberries, cut off the leafy part and some sliver of the flesh... The issues with infestations is in the green part on top, not the berry itself."

The alternative is to soak them for two-three minutes in water mixed with fruit wash (Orthodox Union method--see the comments to the post linked immediately above) or salt, and end up with a soggy, tasteless mess not worth eating. So off I went to our friendly local supermarket for organic strawberries, nipped off the leaves and a bit of the flesh with my handy-dandy new paring knife, scrubbed them under running water with my fingers for about 15 seconds, and enjoyed! Speaking of my new paring knife . . .

I mangled a mango, but I finally got it right (see the comments to this post)

TOTJ Steve

You don't peel a mango. You "fillet" it. Basically, that means you slice off each side, cutting just to the side of the center pit. Each fillet will be about 1/3 the width of the whole fruit. With the cut side facing up, take your paring knife and make several straight cuts in one direction, than more cuts in the perpendicular direction, so that you cut "cubes" into the flesh. Push the skin side "in" and the cubes pop up, then you just slice along the skin to free the cubes. Repeat with the other side, then carefully remove as much flesh as possible from the pit. Yumm.

Yummy, indeed! On my first attempt, I accidentally cut all the way through the skin and had to peel each cube of mango off the skin individually--what a mushy mess. But I got it right on my second attempt, carefully avoiding cutting through the skin, and had a delightful addition to the fruit salad I made for this past Shabbat. Thanks, TOTJ Steve!

And speaking of my new paring knife again . . .

Onion update (for part one, see Crybaby)

The good news:

  • Chick peas taste better when warmed for a few minutes in a pan of onions already browned in olive oil.
  • Cooking the onion (and the beans, for that matter) with fresh ginger--currently as cheap as dirt in our neighborhood--makes the flatulence less malodorous.
The bad news:
  • I wrapped the leftover cut raw onion in plastic wrap and sealed it in a zip-type plastic bag, and it's still making the inside of my refrigerator smell, even with an open box of baking soda right next to it.
  • No amount of fresh ginger seems to make the flatulence disappear. If you'll pardon the indelicate language, I'm tired of being an old fart.

We now return you to your regularly-scheduled, written-in-family-friendly-language blog.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Parshat Behukotai

See the basics here.

I'm too much of a 21st-century American for this parsha--the whole idea of donating the value of a human being to G-d (and/or the Kohanim/Priests?) sounds too much like putting a slave on the auction block for my taste.

Framed, too/2 :)

Hot pink

Shira's Shot
Madison Square Park

May 5, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Parshat Kedoshim story by Maggid of Bergenfield

The Maggid's hyperlinks don't work very well, but I recommend that you go on over to his blog and check out his May 15, 2011 story, "The Frozen Prosecutor."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


My mother, aleha ha-shalom (rest in peace) gave me a few cookbooks years ago. One is Food--Your Miracle Medicine: How Food Can Prevent and Cure Over 100 Symptoms and Problems, by Jean Carter (copyright 1993). Since I don't want to take a gazillion medications and/or nutritional supplements for every little thing that ails me, I decided to see whether the book had any dietary suggestions for ameliorating asthma.

Onions! Ah! I can't eat them raw, but I can eat them cooked, and since my mother always said that I wasn't getting enough healthy fats in my diet, what better way to kill two birds with one stone than to stir-fry some onion in extra virgin olive oil? Eye irritation? I'd been advised to try a Vidalia onion, so out I went and bought one. Almost no tears! Wonderful!

Until I looked at the book again.

"The onion is the richest dietary source of quercitin, a potent antioxidant (in shallots, yellow and red onions only--not white onions)." [Page 484. Bolding added.]

So I searched the Internet to try to find ways to cut onions that wouldn't hurt my eyes. Here's a good demonstration of how to cut onions without crying, along with an explanation of why it works--the tear-inducing part is in the bulb, so the trick is to cut out the bulb and throw it away.

Terrific! I bought myself a paring knife, as TOTJ Steve had recommended, and was all set to try this new technique tomorrow night.

Until I looked at the book again.

"The bulbs
contain at least three natural anti-inflammatory drugs that strike at the basic cause of asthma." [Page 347. Bolding added.]

Sigh. To quote an old song, "It won't be long before it's cryin' time."

On further thought, fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) and vitamin C--a kiwi a day keeps the doctor away:)--might work better for me. But asthma or no asthma, I cannot eat jalapenos!

Framed :)

"Bridal path"

Shira's Shot
Madison Square Park
May 3, 2011

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Inside info :)

Shira's Shot
Greeley Square
April 28, 2011

See also Flowers, where? Greeley Square

Monday, May 16, 2011

Communication technology poses challenges

A challenge for the left

The rabbinical staff of a Modern Orthodox synagogue sends an e-mail to their congregants informing them that there will be a second minyan on a Friday night in a room other than the main sanctuary, at which second minyan a woman will lead the Kabbalat Shabbat section of the service. All it takes is one congregant clicking the "Forward" button, and what was supposed to have been a simple message to that one congregation is "broadcast" to the four corners of the earth, bringing, if memory serves me correctly, an official rebuke by the Orthodox Union.

Bottom line: The role of "mara d'atra, master of the place" (halachic decisor for a congregation) is being challenged--it's becoming increasingly difficult for any rabbi to make decisions for his/her own congregation without being second-guessed by some "higher authority" who/that, in the pre-Internet era, might not even have heard about such decisions until days (or longer), rather than minutes, after the fact. One of the most egregious examples of this problem is, of course, the nearly-complete usurpation by the official Israeli Rabbinate of the right to determine a person's Jewish and/or marital status. The Chief Rabbinate in Israel can now just as easily dictate the terms of conversion for a would-be Jew in Sioux Falls, South Dakota as in Sde Boker.

A challenge for the right

A chareidi publication chooses to remove from a White House photograph, by photo-editing, two high-ranking U.S. Government officials who happen to be women, giving new meaning to the old phrase "the shot heard 'round the world."

About the only thing that this story and the story told above--both true--have in common is it doesn't seem to have occurred to any of the parties involved that their actions would become known outside of their own congregation/community.

Sorry, folks, but we're all going to have to get used to the new "global village"--for better and for worse. When it comes to communication(s), there's no such thing as "private" anymore.

See also Yom HaAtzmaut: Technology influences observance.

Sunday, May 15, 2011 review: Women re halachah

The last time we visited Larry and Malka Esther Lennhoff, they were kind enough to lend me their copy of Jewish Legal Writings by Women, edited by Rabbi Micah D. Halpern and Dr. Chana Safrai. It was quite a lot to plow through, I must confess, since I'm not the studious type. But I managed to read the whole thing (minus the chapters written in Hebrew), except for "Red Strings: A Modern Case of Amulets and Charms," which I found just plain annoying and dumped halfway through, since I don't believe that such nonsense has any effect on one's health.

Naturally, I was particularly interested in Aliza Berger's "Wrapped Attention: May Women Wear Tefillin." The answer, as I should have expected, is that it depends on whom you ask. (1) Rama, R. Moshe Feinstein: No. (2) Yes, during the Sh'ma and the weekday-morning Amidah prayer, or for a minute. (3) Should be protested, per Aruch haShulchan text, based on Rama, who ruled that wearing tefillin should be done "only under conditions of obligation." (4) Yes, based on Maset Binyamin Ravaz, and the majority of Rishonim.

One objection seems to be that women cannot maintain a sufficient level of physical cleanliness. However, this also seems to be the reason why men no longer wear tefillin all day--that level of cleanliness is difficult to maintain. (Flatulence is not permissible while wearing tefillin. There's no really delicate way to say this: Just how long can any human being go without, um, "breaking wind?") Another objection seems to be that women are not obligated to wear tefillin, since it's one of the time-bound mitzvot (commandments) from which women are exempt. However, even men are only obligated to wear tefillin during the Sh'ma and the weekday-morning Amidah prayer, yet they put them on long before the Sh'ma and (generally) wear them for all of Shacharit (Morning Service). In addition, some Ashkenazim now have a custom that boys start wearing tefillin about a month before they become Bar Mitzvah (and are therefore not yet obligated), and Sefardi authority Rabbi Ovadia Yosef even permits boys to wear tefillin a few years before becoming B'nei Mitzvah. So much for the "only when obligated" argument.

I was also particularly interested in Chanah Henkin's "Women and the Issuing of Halakhic Rulings." The short version is that, yes, women are permitted to issue halachic rulings (rulings on matters of Jewish religious law). That said, Mrs. Henkin protests against the use of the term poskot (plural for poseket, a female halachic decisor). I confess to being somewhat skeptical about her insistence that the use of that term is not accurate, and am more convinced that her other argument, "constructive changes will not be made in the glare of spotlights," is her primary logic. She states that she is not interested in "empowering women," but only in "enabling women to observe mitzvot meticulously."
Rabbanit Henkin's own Keren Ariel Yoatzot Halacha program trains Orthodox Women to help mostly other Orthodox women. It does not train them to rule on matters of halachah (Jewish religious law) in general. Rabbanit Henkin appears to have absolutely no interest in training a woman to be a rabbah (female equivalent of a rav/rabbi) who would serve the entire community as a halachic decisor in all matters. I can't help wondering whether she's sincere about this, or whether she truly believes that it's more effective in the long run to sneak women in through the back door. In Mrs. Henkin's defense, there's something to be said for making an end-run around the right wing--I am rather amused that the Riverdale Jewish Center avoids a good scolding by the Rabbinical Council of America and/or the Orthodox Union by calling its Yoetzet Halachah a member of the "Klei Kodesh/Holy Vessels" (roughly translation: clergy), rather than a member of the rabbinic staff.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Parshat Behar--more info re shmittah restrictions

I can’t find the article about shmittah that I was reading yesterday—that’s what I get for not saving the link—but this should give you the general idea:

"Kedushas Shevi’is
Fruits, vegetables, grains, herbs, etc. that grow during the Shmita year have a special kedusha [holiness] inherent in them and therefore have restrictions placed on them even in cases where one acquires them in a permissible way. Produce cannot be wasted or used in a manner not typical of the item. . . . . In terms of typical use, for example, cucumbers which are customarily eaten raw cannot be cooked. . . ."

The article that I was reading yesterday specified that plants that are usually eaten cooked must be cooked, and plants usually eaten raw must be eaten raw. An example given was that one may not add orange sections when cooking meat because, while the orange sections may improve the taste of the meat, the cooking process degrades the oranges, which is a violation of their Kedushat Shevi-it [seventh-year sanctity]. What, you mean that, if I lived in Israel, I wouldn’t be able to cook with fruit for an entire year?!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Housekeeping note after Blogger problem

Users and/or readers of Blogspot/ know that there was a temporary outage from sometime yesterday until roughly this afternoon, first blocking all access to posts, then displaying only those posts published before sometime Wednesday. All of my posts are now visible again, but I seem to have lost all comments posted after sometime Wednesday afternoon. If I have a minute, I'll try to copy them from my Word archive, but I should warn you that I wasn't able to copy all of them before the Blogspot outage. So please don't be offended if you find that some of your comments have gone missing.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mazal tov, you're Ashkenazi :( :( :(

"Ethnicity. Although whites have the highest risk of the disease, it can affect any ethnic group. If you're of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, your risk is even higher."

Any delusions that we may have had that our son's Crohn's Disease was not a serious medical condition were pretty much demolished when he told us that oral medication is no longer an effective treatment for him--he must now inject himself every two weeks. :( :( :(

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Parshat Behar

Here's the summary.

Oy. What was the Author or author(s) of the laws of shmittah (the sabbatical [year]) and yovel (the jubilee year) thinking? If the year before sh'nat ha-shmittah (the sabbatical year) happened to be a year of draught or other agricultural problem(s), what were the people supposed to do for food? And how were the farmers supposed to support themselves for an entire year without crops to sell? In my opinion, the laws of shmittah are just a disaster waiting to happen. And attempts to mitigate these problems have created other problems. What's worse, ignoring the laws of shmittah, which is anathema to many religious people, or getting around them by selling the land temporarily to (a) non-Jew(s), which is anathema to many Zionists (both Orthodox and non-Orthodox)?

Certification smackdown: Kashrut *and* ethics

Agudath Israel Statement on Magen Tzedek (hat-tip: EFink)

Magen Tzedek responds

Funny, I haven't heard any complaints from Agudath Israel about Tav HaYosher. Maybe that's because it's run by Uri L'Tzedek.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A homemade Tefillah Chagigit for Yom HaAtzmaut

The synagogue where I went last night to observe first Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day), then Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day, which always takes place the day after Yom HaZikaron) had an interesting Tefillah Chagigit (Festive Prayer) Maariv (Evening) Service. None of the homemade pamphlet showing the added prayers was translated, and it was a bit confusing for Ms. Late-Bloomer, but, from what I could figure out, some of the chagigit part of the tefillah was taken from the Hallel psalms and a bit from the liturgy of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), of all things (the Sh'ma, HaShem Hu haElokim three times, then a t'kiah g'dolah blast on a shofar). One prayer, in a rather creative move, seemed to consist of some of the verses of L'cha Dodi (a Sabbath evening hymn) combined with a chorus consisting of a verse from Hallel, "Ze hayom assah HaShem, nagilah v'nism'chah vo, This is the day that HaShem has made, Let us rejoice and be glad on it" (Psalm 118, verse 24). It was a most interesting service. And the mangal afterward didn't hurt, either. :)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Yom HaAtzmaut:Technology influences observance

Rabbi Gil Student has something interesting to say about how instantaneous communication has influenced the choice of the day on which Israel Independence Day is observed.

"Initially, R. Levine followed R. Soloveichik’s ruling on this subject and instructed his congregants to always recite Hallel on the fifth of Iyar. However, the internet forced him to change his position. If I understand correctly from our brief conversation, R. Levine’s reasoning was that, in the past, Yom Ha-Atzma’ut celebrations were local, taking place in synagogues and schools with perhaps some articles in the Jewish newspaper. It was easy for a community to determine its own date to celebrate.

III. The Global Village

Today, however, advances in communications have turned celebrating a holiday into a global event. We not only receive e-mails and newsletters from around the world, announcing when and how others will celebrate the day. We see and hear live feeds from other communities. We join their festivities! We no longer celebrate locally and, therefore, a synagogue cannot determine its own date for the holiday but must observe the international date. Therefore, in recent years R. Levine had his synagogue follow the official Israeli date for Yom Ha-Atzma’ut."

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Yom HaZikaron--Israel Memorial Day

An empty-nester's Mother's Day

Hey, any excuse to eat someone else's cooking is fine with me :), but it does feel a bit weird to enjoy a Mother's Day meal in a restaurant with the child in question nowhere in sight.


The price of observance

I just paid our gas bill, which was higher than usual. Gee, I can't imagine why. [Insert roll-eyes emoticon here .]

That's what happens when one leaves a stove light or two, and/or an oven, turned on for the first two and last two days of Pesach/Passover because one is not permitted to light a fire from scratch on a Yom Tov/Festival. Nobody ever said that being observant (or some semblance thereof) was cheap, and the cost goes beyond the added expense of keeping kosher.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Parshat Emor

Here are the basics.

Here's a mind-blower:

יב וּמִן-הַמִּקְדָּשׁ, לֹא יֵצֵא, וְלֹא יְחַלֵּל, אֵת מִקְדַּשׁ אֱלֹהָיו: כִּי נֵזֶר שֶׁמֶן מִשְׁחַת אֱלֹהָיו, עָלָיו--אֲנִי יְהוָה.

12 neither shall he go out of the sanctuary, nor profane the sanctuary of his God; for the consecration of the anointing oil of his God is upon him: I am the LORD.

Was the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) a prisoner of the Temple?

Thursday, May 05, 2011

More reasons why Sefirah & I don't get along

Writes Rabbi Ari Enkin in this post, “The entire issue regarding whether or not music is permitted during Sefira derives from the Magen Avraham who writes that one may not dance during Sefira.” (For the curious, the Magen Avraham lived during the 1600's.)

I'm a veteran Israeli folk dancer (and my husband is, if anything, even more of a hard-core folk dancer). For us, dancing is not only recreational, it's also our favorite (and just about only) form of regular exercise. So we consider dancing not just fun, but also vital to our health. Going seven whole weeks without dancing . . . well, to put it in polite terms, it's not going to happen.

And another thing: I asked my husband to shave off his mustache as a tenth anniversary present to me--I hated getting scratched while kissing. Now, because of Sefirah, he's supposed to go unshaven for weeks on end? Not on my watch!

Apparently, I'm not the only "unhappy camper"--my favorite comment to Rabbi Enkin's post is this one:

    1. misunderstood on May 3, 2011 at 9:21 am

    I love how there is a footnote for everything in the article except for this statement:
    “While all authorities agree that it is forbidden to enjoy live music during Sefira”

For my previous objections to the illogical semi-mourning practices of Sefirah, see here.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Post-Pesach "party"

What fun, looking for all the stuff we put away before Pesach (Passover). Not. (Sigh.)

Those watching at home will be happy and/or amused to know that I finally found the rice-steamer last night (see the comments to Curses, foiled again :)). It was hidden behind something else on the living room floor. Next year, I'll try not to do such a good hiding job.

The "joys" of being a "rebbitzen"

My husband is currently our local Conservative synagogue's acting rabbi, for lack of a better description for a guy who gives weekly "sermons" without benefit of even a Jewish day-school education, much less s'michah (rabbinical ordination). I guess that makes me the acting rebbitzen (rabbi's wife), or least, that seems to be the way that some folks see me. Since my husband's far from a trained speaker, I've been known to chime in during his divrei Torah (Torah discussions), if for no other reason than to suggest that he cite his sources--he frequently quotes rabbis. This raised the ire of a couple of gossips in the row behind me last Shabbat (Sabbath) morning. "She always has to put in her two cents." "Yes, isn't it awful?" So I turned around at the first opportunity and "apologized" for putting in my two cents, saying that I didn't know I was being offensive. I was actually being sarcastic, but it went right over their heads. At any rate, I'll be davvening (praying) elsewhere next Shabbat morning.

For the record, I asked my husband whether he minded me putting in my two cents, and he replied that he was actually trying to get a discussion going.

In defense of the wags in the next row, I will admit that, since my husband has no rabbinical or public-speaking training, I do tend to treat his divrei Torah as if we were having a conversation around the Shabbos table (or at a chavurah service), whereas some congregants seem to expect a sermon such as they would get from a rabbi. I would remind them, though, that my husband is not being paid.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Tree competes with towers

. . . or "flowers vs. towers"

or maybe "blossoms vs. buildings"

In my book, the flowers win--trees only blossom for a couple of weeks, but these buildings are always there.

Shira's Shot
Madison Square Park, April 21, 2001

Monday, May 02, 2011

Yitamu chataim min ha-aretz . . .

. . . u-r'shaim od eynam--Let sinners cease from the earth, and let the wicked be no more." (Psalm 104, verse 35)

Since the rabbis warned us not to rejoice in the death of our enemies, perhaps it might be best to say, on the occasion of Bin Ladin's death, that justice has been served.
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