Friday, July 29, 2011

Parshat Masei

You can read the basics here.
  • Why does the record of our ancestors' 40-year wanderings in the wilderness come so late in the story? (See Numbers 33:1-49.)
  • Note that the Negev south of the Yam HaMelach (Salt Sea/Dead Sea) is not part of the original Promised Land. (See Numbers 34:3.) I had read that the farms there don't come under the rules of the Shmittah Year because this area is not part of the biblical Eretz Yisrael/Land of Israel.
  • Did anyone ever figure out what Nachlah/Nachal Mitzraim (the Brook of Egypt) is? See Numbers 34:5 and here.)
  • The Cities of Refuge were an excellent idea. (See Numbers, chapter 35.) It's also nice to see some provision being made for the Leviim/Levites to make a living outside of the sacred precincts.
  • While it's true, and to the credit of biblical law, that the land of the deceased father who had no sons became the property of his daughters, it could also be argued that the daughters themselves became the "property" of their father's tribe. See Numbers, chapter 36.) You win some, you lose some.

Pockets: A vanishing breed in women's clothing

Once upon a time, the pockets in my skirts were nice and deep. Then, some companies started selling skirts with pockets so shallow that, as I once posted, "whenever I had the unmitigated gall to actually put something in the pockets, the items landed directly on, rather than below, my hips, making me look as if I were wearing a meatloaf on each hip." Currently, some of my skirts have pockets so narrow that everything simply falls out of them. I've lost three combs and a tissue packet since Monday--thus far. Some days, I don't even get from our apartment to the subway station--roughly a 15-minute walk--without having something fall out of my pocket.

This assumes, of course, that my skirts have any pockets at all.

It's discrimination, I tell ya! I don't think men ever have this problem.

This post is the latest addition to my "design" series.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Learning curve

There I was, looking at all those interesting podcasts on the Mechon Hadar website, with absolutely no idea how to take a podcast from the Internet and download it onto my iPod. :( I couldn't find anything from Mechon Hadar in iTunes. Was there any way to download directly?

After several days of mumbling and cursing my fate as Ms. Tech-Challenged, I happened to be back on the Mechon Hadar website when I noticed a button that said, "Subcribe in iTunes." Hmm. What did I have to lose? But what, exactly, would subscribing to a podcast do? Would I end up with links in my inbox?

Meanwhile, as a person in my year of aveilut (mourning) for my father, I'm trying to avoid listening to music. But, since I was afraid that, if I didn't recharge my iPod, I'd have to download everything all over again next June, after my father's first yahrzeit (anniversary of death), I plugged the iPod into the computer. While I was there, I wandered around the iTunes window and decided to try searching for Mechon Hadar in the Podcast tab again. Lo and behold, I got a list of 140-something podcasts! Oh, so that's what happens when you subscribe to a (group of) podcast(s)!

But where's the Download button? When you buy something from the iTunes store, there's a Buy button, so why isn't there a Download button? Clicking the arrow just made the podcast play on my computer. I want to listen to these on the subway, not at home. Darn it, where's the Download button?!

For lack of an alternative, I clicked on the Free button. Several times. And ended up, much to my surprise, with over six hours worth of Niddah podcasts on my iPod. Eek! Okay, I now have about 15 Mechon Hadar podcasts downloaded. Now, if only I could figure out how to delete . . . not to mention when the heck I'm going to listen to this stuff, given that I still have books to read on my Nook.

Fortunately, I've made some progress since I wrote this--I've uploaded plenty of videos in the interim. But I still haven't figured out how to set up a new blogroll, though has been gone for months. I fear I'll always be technology-challenged. Sigh.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Mechon Hadar's free study offerings for this week

Check them out. Rabbi Daniel Landes, of Pardes, will be speaking tonight at 7:15 PM, and the Open Beit Midrash continues tomorrow night at 7:15 PM. If you're in the area, I hope to see you there.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Minyan: A love/hate relationship

On the one hand, davvenning (praying) with a minyan still drives me almost as nuts as it did when I was saying Kaddish for my mother roughly two years ago. I’ve long since given up any hope of being able to keep up with the “speed davvenners.”

On the other hand, it’s a pleasure to be able to say all the prayers that one is not permitted to say without a minyan: the Kaddishes, plus Bar’chu, and the Kedushah (though I rarely catch up in time to join in the Kedushah). It’s also nice to be able to do the Torah reading from an actual Torah scroll, rather than from a printed book (as is the minhag/custom at our local synagogue when we don’t have a minyan and, therefore, can’t read from a scroll).

And every now and then, we get to celebrate a simcha (joyous occasion) together. Recently, a young man had his first aliyah at my “kaddish minyan.” His big-shindig Bar Mitzvah celebration will take place this fall, but the rabbi wanted to make sure that his first aliyah took place when he became 13, rather than a month or two later. Simchas are always a pleasure, and there are some s’machot/simchas that one can’t celebrate without a minyan.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Parshat Matot

You can read the basics here.
  • It's rather sad that a woman of the biblical era had to be protected from the right and ability of her father, or, after marriage, her husband, to prevent her from keeping her vows. But I suppose that her being excused from keeping a vow was better than being held responsible for actions that she was not allowed to take. Apparently, the only females of any age who were considered independent agents free to make and carry out their own decisions were widows and divorcees. (See Numbers, chapter 30, verses 2-17.)
  • Isn't there something missing in Numbers, chapter 32? The tribes of Reuven and Gad promised to lead the battle to conquer the promised land in return for the right to remain on the east bank of the Jordan, where they'd found good land for grazing, but the half-tribe Menasheh/Manasseh made no such promise. So how did Menasheh get cut in on the deal?
  • As of Tuesday's sunrise-to-sunset fast, the 17 of Tammuz, we're now in the Shalosh HaShavuot/Drei Vachen/Three Weeks preceding the full-day (25-hour) fast of Tisha B'Av, so we'll read the first Haftarah of Rebuke (Yirmiyahu/Jeremiah 1:1-2:3) this Shabbat/Sabbath. (Some communities may have other traditions as to what text[s] they read for the haftarah.)


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Real Peoplehood Problem, by Daniel Septimus

This article from the Jewish Daily Forward makes some good points, in my opinion. Peoplehood can't be created artificially--it has to grow out of shared experiences.

"Supersizing" makes me sick--literally :(

I'd barely arrived home from morning minyan today to drop off my tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin and leave for work when Mother Nature attacked. No, it wasn't the two oranges that I'd eaten at work (since I still haven't recovered fully from my Independence Day [and week] cold), nor was it the choose-your-own-ingredients salad that I ate before last night's lecture, or the kiwi (also high in Vitamin C) that I ate when I got home, or the "Cherry Pie" Larabar (complete list of ingredients: dates, almonds, and unsweetened cherries) that was my last treat before bedtime. It wasn't even the eight glasses of water that I drank in preparation for today's fast. Nope, the culprit was none of the above--it was the 12-ounce bottle of apple juice that I stupidly bought to drink with the salad even though my husband wasn't able to join me and share it, which I even-more-stupidly drank all by myself. Doesn't anyone make 8-ounce bottles of anything anymore? This "supersizing" is quite literally making me ill.

Recommended post & video

I recommend this post on Aliza's blog regarding agunah, conversion, and Sefardi/B'nei Edot HaMizrach issues, with an accompanying video regarding a connection among kashrut, Zionism, and what some of my frequent commenters might describe as "religious exhibitionism."

Monday, July 25, 2011 update: Those without access to Memoirs of a Jewminicana, Aliza Hausman's blog, might want to check out The Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals for material from the same source.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Dragged,kicking&screaming, into the 21st century:)

Not only has our son persuaded me to join Google+, he's also persuaded his dear old parents that it's time to follow his example and start shifting as many of our bills as possible to Direct Payment (withdrawn directly from our checking account) or online payment. I've been hesitant for years due to a fear that records of our payments might be lost. But reports of such problems date back several years. Now that online and direct payments have become so commonplace that our son has never used his checkbook, I think we're safe. So why waste money paying for checks and postage when we can pay many of our bills for free, especially since we're looking forward to my husband's retirement from his tax and accounting practice next spring?

Who knows, maybe my cousin will finally persuade me to join Facebook. But I refuse to waste my time on Twitter.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

RabbiYitzGreenberg lecture at Hadar,Mon.7:15 PM

If you're from the New York City area, I hope to see you there.

"Halachic" decision-making, non-Ortho style

Background: Years ago, I heard that Orthodox Jews in Paris rode the metro (subway, underground) to synagogue on Shabbat/Sabbath. How did they justify this, given that halachah/Jewish religious law forbids the use of both money and transportation on Shabbat except in life-or-death emergencies? Actually, it was quite simple. (1) They bought their tickets--the metro was then using paper tickets--on Friday before Shabbat, and told the ticket booth attendant that they'd be riding that evening and/or the next day. When they showed up at the metro on Shabbat, they explained to the ticket-taker that they'd already paid their fare. Apparently, the ticker-takers were sufficiently used to this that these passengers were allowed ride on trust. So no money was used on Shabbat. (b) They reasoned that, since the metro train stopped in every single station anyway, the trains weren't running for their benefit alone, and, therefore, it was permissible to ride one on Shabbat. (I think that the same logic might apply to riding an escalator on Shabbat, provided that it's a continuously-operating escalator that's not activated by an electric eye.)

Fast-forward about 40 years.

It occurred to me that I could use the same logic to ride a bus to the subway on Shabbat if and only if another person were already standing at the bus stop when I arrived, since the bus would not be stopping for my benefit. Finally, no more 15-minute walk to the subway to ride to my favorite egalitarian synagogue in Manhattan!

My glee didn't even last long enough for one bus ride. Okay, granted, the 30-day metrocard is prepaid, so I wouldn't be spending any money on Shabbat. But aside from the obvious halachic problem that I would still have to carry the metrocard on Shabbat in a neighborhood without an eruv, there's also the problem that I would have to dip the metrocard into the bus's fare box, tripping an electrical signal and thereby violating the prohibition against turning an electrical device on or off on Shabbat. It's bad enough that I have to trip an electrical signal to turn the entrance turnstile at the subway. Why violate the Shabbat twice when I can get away with once? Oh, well, 'twas a thought.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Is there life after social media?

My son invited me to join him on Google+, probably because he can choose to put me in a different "circle" from his friends and show me only what he wants me to see. :) But I barely have time to blog, especially now that I've decided that my health requires me to get to sleep at a decent hour. (Hmm, gotta relearn to set the DVR so I can watch Jon Stewart while eating dinner.) When do people have time for all this stuff? I haven't even bothered to accept my numerous invitations to join LinkedIn (on the assumption that nobody's going to hire a 62-year-old female anyway, so it's not worth worrying about professional networking). All of you folks who "post" (or whatever) on Facebook and tweet on Twitter, etc., when do you have time for live people and real life?

More shut-eye for Shira

I learn everything the hard way, and this lesson is no exception--unless I get at least six and a half hours sleep per night, I'll continue to be tired all the time and prone to illness. Twice in the past six months, I've been sick enough to be out of work for a week. It was no fun sneezing and coughing my way through the Independence Day fireworks. So, from now on, my bedtime will be absolutely no later than 10 PM, unless I go to a lecture or other activity. (I've warned my poor husband that we may be having a lot more cold dinners in the future.) Which leads me straight into my next subject . . .

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Parshat Pinchas

You can read the basics here.
  • What on earth is this b'riti shalom/My covenant of peace? And as for the everlasting priesthood, didn't El'azar/Elazar/Eleazar already have that, as a grandson of Aharon/Aaron, the original priest? See Numbers chapter 25, verses 11-13.
  • Another !#$%^&*!!! census! Genig, shoen/enough, already! On the plus side, the census, plus the "sacrifice readings," make for a relatively easy Torah reading for the baal koreh/leiner/Torah reader :), since such readings are extremely repetitive.
  • Good for B'not Tz'lofchad/the Daughters of Zelophehad (see Numbers chapter 27, verses 1-11) for standing up for their rights (and/or their father's rights)!
Nice haftarah (1 Kings 18:46-19:21)--I like the notion of HaShem being in the still, small voice, rather than in the fancy sound-and-light show.

Monday, July 11, 2011

A happy camper: My husband's at Hadar

Some of my North American readers may remember a recent television commercial about a woman who receives some kind of financial reward from her bank or credit card company (I forget which). She uses the money to send a loved one to camp. But the loved one isn't her child, it's her husband, and the camp is a guitar camp for would-be rock stars.

We found ourselves in a similar situation recently when the Social Security Administration compensated my husband for having underestimated his monthly pension. So when my husband started sighing over Yeshivat Hadar's Executive Seminar, I encouraged him to enroll.

He's now engrossed in studying the Talmudic Masechet (tractate) Sanhedrin, perek shemini (chapter 8) with a chevruta (study partner) from Chicago, learning about what halachah (Jewish religious law) permits and does not permit for the purpose of saving a life. And that's just in the morning. In the afternoon, there are shiurim (classes, lectures) about such topics as "Who is a Jew?," "The Philosophy of Abraham Joshua Heschel," etc.

My husband has always been interested in study opportunities. We hope to be able to send him back to the same "camp" next summer.

A reminder for New York City metropolitan-area residents: This summer, through Aug. 2, Hadar is offering free classes and lectures on Monday and/or Tuesday evenings at 7:15. I'll be attending Amit's class on the siddur/prayer book this evening. Hope to see you there!


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Parshat Balak

You can read the basics here.

Bil'am and his donkey (Numbers, chapter 22, verses 23-30)
From my perspective, the two puzzling things about the incident of the talking donkey are that (a) Bil'am doesn't seem the least bit surprised by the fact that his donkey has suddenly acquired the power of human speech, and (b) Bil'am's donkey never says that she can't move because there's an angel with a sword in his hand blocking the way. Seriously, HaShem, why bother giving an animal the power of speech if the animal's not going to say something helpful?

For the record, that's one mean prophet, threatening to kill his donkey just because she'd "mocked" him by disobeying.

Foreign influence enshrined in the siddur/prayer book
Those who would have us believe that there have never been any outside influences on Judaism must be hard-pressed to explain the inclusion of the blessing of the non-Jewish Bil'am in our siddur. Numbers chapter 24, verse 5 ("Mah Tovu") is traditionally recited upon entering a synagogue.

The plague of Baal Peor (Numbers, chapter 25)
Not one of our finer moments, but, as usual, the number of people reported dead sounds preposterous.

Nice ending to the haftarah
See verse 8 here.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Saved by the, um, Bar Mitzvah invitation

Certain types of challenging situations don't go away, but simply keep recurring in different forms. Consider the invitation that we received to a barbecue that was supposed to have taken place yesterday, when I was still in Shloshim for my father. Regretfully, I explained that I could not attend. Now, we've just gotten word that the barbecue has been rescheduled--for next Shabbat/Sabbath at 3 PM. Oy. Traveling there on Shabbat would be only half the halachic problem (the problem in terms of halachah/Jewish religious law)--the other half would be that all the food would be cooked on Shabbat. Isn't it fortunate that we just so happen to have received a Bar Mitzvah invitation for the same date. That spares us a lot of explaining.

Patriotic compromises

Yes, we watched the Macy's Independence Day Fireworks Show on television, despite the fact that I'm still in Shloshim for my father until tomorrow night. No, I didn't hear Beyonce, etc., sing because I turned the sound off for the pre-fireworks performances. Yes, I turned the sound back on for the fireworks show, out of consideration for my husband.

Slowly but surely, our shul's shutting down :(

This past Shabbat, our synagogue held its annual "barbecue." Of course, since the barbecue had been rescheduled from a weeknight to Shabbat/Sabbath morning, the (non-Jewish) cook had to do all the cooking (reheating?) indoors, and the "barbecue" was served after kiddush and motzi. But rumor has it that this may have been the shul's last big bash ever--our president, a retired kosher caterer, is simply not in good enough health to organize full-meal kiddushim anymore. So maybe I should put the word "annual" in quotation marks, too.

That's only the beginning of the end.

At first, when the sanctuary was rented on a Shabbat or holiday evening, the president would claim that it was a mistake on the part of the office staff. Now, he doesn't even bother. This past Friday night/Erev Shabbat, our sanctuary was rented out, and we're assuming that it won't be the last time. So now, it's Erev Shabbat services downstairs in the "dungeon" (our chapel being a small room with no window).

Adding insult to injury, our Sunday morning breakfasts after Shacharit/Morning Service were also discontinued as of yesterday. My husband says we'll discontinue our Sunday Shacharit when less than three people show up. He put his foot down, though, when the president suggested that we cancel Erev Shabbat services also.

The only time that the congregation itself is using the sanctuary for prayer is Shabbat and holiday mornings. (See "Evicted" here.) What else is left to cut?

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Parshat Chukat, take 2

Take 1 is here.

Who's on first?

The statute of the Red Heifer (Numbers, chapter 19) is weird enough, but the manner in which it's presented makes the parties involved unclear. On the one hand, El'azar the Priest is not going to live forever, so why does the text specify that the Red Heifer is to be killed in his presence, if this is supposed to be an eternal statute? On the other hand, who's the priest who's supposed to do the actual burning? As far as I know, the only priests in existence at that time were Aharon/Aaron and his (surviving) sons, El'azar and Itamar. And who's the "ish tahor," a man who is ritually clean, who's supposed to gather the ashes and take them out of the camp? Could this ritual task be done by any "clean" man, or was this task restricted to Kohanim/Priests, and, if it was restricted, why doesn't the text say so? And what about the "clean person" who was to sprinkle the water/ash combination? Again, was this act restricted to Kohanim, and, if so, why doesn't the text say so?

On an unrelated note, if this ritual were to be reinstituted, it would wreak havoc with the laws of shivah as currently observed, since the mourner would be forced to leave his/her home on the third day to be sprinkled with the water-mixed ashes of the Red Heifer.

The "teflon" priest is finally punished--for someone else's sin?
The text does not make clear exactly who said "Hear now, you rebels . . .," (see Numbers, chapter, verses 1-13, especially verses 10-12) but it does make clear that Moshe/Moses, not Aharon, struck the rock. So why does Aharon, the same guy who was never punished for building the Egel HaZahav/Golden Calf or for joining Miriam in criticizing Moshe for having "married out," suddenly get condemned to death for this?

Friday, July 01, 2011

Say It Like You Mean It: Prayer as Text (class)

Amit Gevaryahu's Mechon Hadar class, "Say It Like You Mean It: Prayer as Text," has been very interesting and informative thus far, and I'm looking forward to his future classes. We've been discussing the first b'rachah/blessing of Maariv/Arvit/Evening Service, known as HaMaariv Aravim (roughly translated, "Who brings on evenings"). First, there was the interesting question of whether HaShem "brings on evenings" directly or indirectly--if memory serves me correctly, the Palestinian Jews said yes, whereas the Babylonian Jews said that He used "agents" such as His word (d'varo), His wisdom (chochmah), His understanding (t'vunah), and His will (r'tzono). Then, there was the, to me, even more interesting question of why, if reciting the Sh'ma is a mitzvah (commandment), we never use the standard b'rachah-before-performing-a mitzvah formula "asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzivanu . . ./who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us . . ." Note that this omission also applies to the Sh'ma recited in Shacharit/Morning Service and to the Sh'ma al HaMita/Bedtime Sh'ma. Hmm. Stay tuned, and/or we'll see you next Tuesday.

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