Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“HH”: Remembering my shul-choir-member days

I have fond memories of the years—over a decade—that I spent in the alto section of my former synagogue’s volunteer choir. I loved the music that I learned and sang. In fact, I chose my blogger name to honor Salamone Rossi, possibly the first, and certainly one of the finest, Jewish multi-part choral composers since the days of the Bet HaMikdash/Holy Temple.

Some of the HH—High Holidays/Yamim Noraim—choral selections had their good and not-so-good points. One of the last pieces I learned and sang was a four-part U-n’taneh Tokef with multiple solos. It was absolutely gorgeous—but it was also probably at least as long as Kol Nidré! What on earth was the conductor thinking, asking a mixed-age crowd to stand for so long right before the K’dushah? Of all the compositions that we sang, that one was almost certainly the most obviously composed as a concert piece. The more halachically-inclined might also object to all the word-repetition in that particular composition—our current synagogue’s last rabbi always said that one is not supposed to repeat words when davvening/praying.

That said, I have very fond memories of HH in the choir box (which, fortunately, was on the main floor and completely visible—I can’t stand those “angels-singing” hidden choirs). The music and camaraderie were a pleasure. And my HH choir days left me with a long-term benefit—I’m much better acquainted with the Machzor(im)/prayer book(s) of Rosh HaShanah/New Year and Yom Kippur/Day of Atonement than I would have been had I not spent years in the choir box. Thank you, Mr. Rossi, Louis Lewandowski, Salomon Sulzer, Ernest Bloch, Sholom Secunda, Cantor Charles Osborne, and company, and thanks to that old choir gang of mine.

For your pre-holiday enjoyment, and with thanks to MyJewishLearning and the Zamir Chorale of Boston, I present here snippets of two of the songs by Rossi that I used to sing in choir. (And yes, there are two separate groups from the same choir singing this Adon Olam--when my old choir sang this, I sang alto in the second group. For parts of this song, the two half-choirs combine and sing in eight-part harmony. It's gorgeous!)

Shanah Tovah u-m’tukah, Have a good and sweet year.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Parshat Nitzavim-Vayelech, belated

You can read the basics of Nitzavim here, and the basics of Vayelech here.

Just two comments and a story:

First, I'm getting rather tired of Moshe's/Moses constant complaints about this alleged kingdom of priests and holy people being a nation of backsliding sinners, though I suppose that's appropriate for this time of year.

Second, what's all the song and dance about why Moshe died when he did? Why can't we just accept the notion that he died of old age? If Moshe himself can admit that he's too old to get around very well anymore (see Deuteronomy, chapter 31:2), why can't we?

(My husband's less in-your-face take on Moshe's death was that the Jewish People had to grow up and learn to assume responsibility for our own actions, rather than expecting "Daddy" to intercede with HaShem on our behalf. Not a bad drash for the Shabbos before Rosh HaShanah.)

And now, for the story: The rabbis really gave G-d a run for His money with Deuteronomy 30:12, as you can see in the Talmudic tale of the oven of Achnai.

Shanah Tovah u-M'tukah, a Good and Sweet Year to all. May you be blessed with health and happiness.

Friday, September 23, 2011

No, it's not your imagination--

--like a chulent left to cook overnight, my posts very often look better the next day.

I have to reformat many of my posts on my home computer because, for reasons unknown, many of my formatting corrections simply don't "take" on my office computer.

And lately, just to make blogging more challenging, I've found that the "editor's pencil" no longer appears on my office screen. I have to edit by clicking on the Sign-In tab (even though I've obviously already signed in), then the Edit Posts tab, then the individual post. Deleting a comment requires clicking on the Sign-In tab, then the Comments tab, and I have to be particularly careful when deleting a comment because the display in the Comments window doesn't even separate the comments by post.

The biggest pain, though, is that I can longer edit old posts except at home. I can no longer simply find an error, click on the "editor's pencil," and make the correction and/or addition. Now, I would have to search through literally months or years worth of Edit Post pages to get to the post in question.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

[Actual publication date Sunday, October 23, 2011.]

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I wish this would work for Shalit

“Fattal and Bauer were released earlier Wednesday on bail of $500,000 each and their sentences for spying convictions were commuted, Iran's judiciary said, according to government-run Press TV. The departure of the two from Iran effectively meant the bail money will be forfeited and kept by Iran.”

I was delighted and relieved to hear that these young men were finally freed. I only wish that $500,000 “bail” would be enough to secure the release of Gilad Shalit. Fat chance. Israel can’t even buy Shalit’s freedom--assuming that he's still alive--no matter how much the Palestinians cry poverty. And, given the fact that the last proof that Shalit was alive dates back almost two years, I’m sorry to say that I no longer assume that he's still alive. :( So much for Pidyon Shvuyim.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fashion fiascos (in honor [?] of Fashion Week)


I truly don’t understand a trend among some—thank goodness far from all—young men to buy pants so oversized that they fall below the hips and expose the underwear. With just one clothing choice, these guys manage to look sloppy, indecent, and immature, all at the same time. Sorry, guys, but running around in your underwear is for pre-schoolers.

Call me old-fashioned and I’ll plead guilty as charged, but I can’t for the life of me comprehend why any woman would want to wear a pair of pants with a brand name, or anything else, sewn or printed (or whatever) all the way across her butt. I prefer the path of moderation in clothing: I see no good reason for a woman to hide her figure under a burka, but neither do I see any good reason for advertising one’s assets, or, for that matter, letting any other individual or entity use those assets for his/her/its own advertising.

The apparel business

One of the “finer” (read: more expensive) stores in New York City sent me an e-mail inviting me to a sale on their suits. So I checked out the sale. Aside from the fact that, even with the substantial price reductions, the suits were too expensive for me, I was dismayed to discover an additional problem: When I clicked on Size 10-12, the names of most of the designers disappeared. What do they think I am, a walking faux pas?

Even when I was still in my twenties, weighed less than 120 pounds, was still 5’3” tall, and had no potbelly whatsoever, I can’t remember ever having been smaller than a size 8. How light in weight must a woman be, and how small on top and bottom, to be considered a “normal” size rather than a “fat-lady” size?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My pots are going to pot :(

This is the second time in probably less than a decade that I've burned a pot so many times that the seam joining the aluminum-cored, stainless-steel-clad bottom to the rest of the pot has popped open, forcing me to put the pot into the recycling bin. My mother is probably having a conniption fit in heaven, wondering what on earth I'm doing to the pots that she gave us before making aliyah. I really must be more careful about using a timer. Being a "housewares hazard" is becoming hazardous to my financial health.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Parshat Ki Tavo, slightly belated

You can read the basics here.

The good part is Deuteronomy, chapter 26, parts of which are quoted in the Haggadah.

It's mostly downhill from there, since the tochachot (curses) for defying HaShem's laws far outnumber the b'rachot (blessings) for obeying them.

As for the ending, Moshe's (Moses's) claim that our ancestors wore the same clothing and shoes for 40 years (see Deuteronomy 29:4), is, in my opinion, as preposterous an exaggeration as his claim that he stayed on Mount Sinai for 40 days without water.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The laws of mourning: Designed to depress?

It’s not bad enough that I lost my father? It’s not enough that I’m showing respect to his memory by hopping on a subway headed in the opposite direction from my office in order to pray at a synagogue that has a minyan and say kaddish for him? I’m also supposed to refrain from listening to music and going to concerts, movies, the theater, simchas/s’machot (joyous events, such as weddings), and parties for an entire year? The laws of mourning seem to prohibit just about any activity that could help a mourner cheer up, as if to ensure that he/she remains in a prolonged state of depression.

A good friend recently asked me why, in recent years, I’ve insisted on observing details of halachah/Jewish religious law that really upset me. Good question. I may have reservations about Conservative Judaism, but Orthodoxy isn’t necessarily the answer for me. Yes, Orthodox Judaism provides a consistent structure to one’s life, but it’s also unkind to gays and agunot. Is this really the way I want to live?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Anatomy lessons

People have shoulders
Some of the cars in the New York City subway system were designed with "bucket" seats. Unfortunately, the designers failed to take into account the fact that people are wide across the top, as well as across the bottom, and the "bucket" seats prevent us from sliding sideways to make the necessary accommodations. The upshot is that we end up literally rubbing shoulders with total strangers, whether we want to or not. This is a case of quite literally putting the squeeze on us riders.

Yes, men and women are different
Let's just say that it has been tactfully explained to me that men often find it uncomfortable to put their knees too close together. But some guys take "getting some air down there" to an extreme. I can't tell you how many times I've felt, when riding the subway, that if I put my knees any closer together, they'd get glued to one another. Sometimes women simply conclude that expecting to be left enough room to sit in some reasonable semblance of comfort is a lost cause, and choose to give up their seats and/or stand for the rest of the trip.

Ah, the joys of subway riding. On the plus side, at least we don't have to pay for gas.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A lesson from the War on Terror

From the comments to Heshy's Lessons I learned from 9/11:

Telz Angel September 12, 2011 at 1:27 PM

The lesson I learned from the US lead war on Terror: There is a huge legal difference between the targeted killing of Osama Bin Laden (plus the irrelevant collateral victims in his house) and the targeted killing of any Palestinian terrorist in Gaza, the “West Bank” or elsewhere (plus the tragically innocent people who were murdered while reading poetry together with him).

The difference is that first is a victorious accomplishment worth celebrating, and the second is state-sponsored assassination and terror worthy of international condemnation. Why? The difference is obvious: Bin Laden promoted the killing of Americans.

This is about as clear as a lesson as any.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Americans just call it 9/11. We know what that means.

Here's the way I remember the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, September 11, 2001.

Ten years. In the interim, has the world changed for the better, or for the worse?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Parshat Ki Tetze/Ki Teitzei, Ki Tétzé, Ki Tétsé. . .

You can read the basics here.
The sons of favored wives get no special favors, according to Deuteronomy 21:15-17 (see here). Of course, this rule would have forbidden the behavior of Yaakov Avinu/Jacob Our Father, in Sefer B’reishit/the Book of Genesis, in favoring Yosef/Joseph, the older son of favored wife Rachel, over his older brothers, who were the sons of Leah and both concubines. It’s a good thing that we have a tradition that chronology is irrelevant in the Torah (“There’s no ‘early’ or ‘late’ in the Torah/Ein mukdam u-m’uchar baTorah,” if I have the spelling , er, transliteration correct). :)
Ben Sorer u’Moreh/a stubborn and rebellious son (Deuteronomy 21:18-21—see previous link). Oy. In the long run, the rabbis made so many rules defining the Ben Sorer u’Moreh that it became, for all practical purposes, impossible to put a rebellious teenager to death, which is fortunate for us descendents, because some of us might not have survived our teenage years, otherwise. The rabbis claimed that no child ever suffered this punishment, I’ve heard. Whether or not that’s actually true, it’s good to know that, already in Talmudic times, this rule was considered so repugnant that it was legislated out of existence.

Sorry, was working on major projects at the office and got home late--no more time to write before Shabbat.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Al chet sheh-chatati/for the sin that I committed . . .

. . . by being self-centered and insensitive.

Call me an idiot and you'd be right--I did not realize how upset some of my posts about my friends had made them. Effective immediately, my "personal" posts will be about me only. I expect to spend a few evenings on the phone apologizing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Unwanted lessons in practical halachah :(

We were walking under a tree on the way home from synagogue this past Shabbat/Sabbath when I felt something fall on my head, and asked my husband to investigate.

Oy. :(

"You'll have to wash your hair."

"But it's Shabbat!"

"You can't go back to shul with bird poop in your hair."

End of debate.

It got even better when we arrived home--after taking my jacket off, I saw that the little flyer had "let fly" on my jacket, as well. The only good news was that the dirty bird had missed my fancy pink and cream kippah with the braided edge--good luck cleaning bird poop out of a braid made of knitted yarn--by maybe half an inch.

Long-time readers of my blog know that I didn't get along particularly well with the last rabbi of our local Conservative synagogue, but I'll give him credit for what I learned from him. One of the things he taught us was that, if no pre-torn paper is available, one is permitted to use regular toilet paper on Shabbat "for the sake of dignity," but one has to tear it with a shinui, a change from one's usual method. (His preferred shinui was to tear it with his elbow. I find that too difficult, and prefer a karate chop with the wrist.) So I applied the principle of shinui--instead of getting into the tub, turning on both cold and hot water, and using shampoo, I washed the dirtied section of my hair at the sink using cold water and liquid hand soap. And I patted it dry instead of rubbing it vigorously with the towel, brushing it instead of combing it.

Sigh. Having already broken the prohibition against wringing liquid out of anything on Shabbat, I then had to break the prohibition against selecting, in order to wear a poop-free jacket back to Minchah-Maariv (Afternoon and Evening Services).

Not my favorite lessons in applied halachah/Jewish religious law. :(

See also The 39 melachot ("work" forbidden on Shabbat).

Friday, September 02, 2011

Happy 7th blogoversary to me, & thanks/gifts

I'm delighted to have my blog back in one piece, after this week's mischief, in time to celebrate my seventh blogoversary today. Many thanks to my helpers:
  • Larry, who backed up my entire blog. (I'm afraid to open the file--I think my computer is acting funny enough already, lately. It's time to call in the geek squad, I fear.)
  • Rich, who offered to do "surgery" on my blog's template.
  • Sheyna and Eliyahu, who pointed out what the offending code might be.
  • Rich again, who, when I copied a pile of code from my template and sent it to my helpers, wrote back almost immediately to tell me exactly what to delete.
Thanks for the blogoversary presents!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

"Cognitive Warfare"

Parshat Shoftim

You can read the basics here.

A few things caught my eye in reading Parshat Shoftim. One was the principle that one must have a minimum of two witnesses to inflict capital punishment (see Deuteronomy, chapter 17, verse 6).

Another phrase that caught my eye here, which I’ve read in other parshiot, is “HaCohanim HaLeviyim/the Priests the Levites.” This could have two distinct meanings—either we could accept what I assume is the current interpretation, which is that all Cohanim were members of the Tribe of Levi, or this phrase might indicate that all the adult males of the entire tribe of Levi were priests, at some point in ancient Jewish history.

I particularly appreciate the biblical ruling that a false witness should receive the punishment that he/she sought to inflict (Deuteronomy 19:15-19. :)

Chapter 20’s rules excuse a man from war for various reasons, right down to actual cowardice, are fascinating, but not really workable. That’s a heck of a lot of draft exemptions. But the viciousness with which our Torah says that our ancestors were to conquer the land is rather hard for me to stomach.

On the other hand, I’m glad there’s a prohibition against cutting down fruit and/or nut trees to use as siege weapons (see verses 19-20). We Jews have been tree-huggers for a few thousand years. :)

Publishing from my home computer. I hope this works. Then I'll follow up with the offers of assistance.

Verdict: Yes, I can still publish from my home computer--but the blog disappears within seconds after I click on "View Blog." Sigh.

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