Tuesday, January 31, 2012

It's that time of year again :(

See Not going there, literally :( . I'll be skipping Tehillim (Psalms) Group today, because I do not wish to "davven" "Parshat HaMan." I'll read it as part of Parshat B'shalach, this week's Torah reading , but I won't davven (pray) it--I don't believe in segulot, which, in my opinion, is just a fancy word for superstitious practices.

ADDeRabbi gets the last word.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Allure of the Burka (Jewish Daily Forward)

Lenore Skenazy indentifies three theories as to why religious fundamentalism aims to keep women covered up, from Israel to Iran.

The short version:

"Theory No. 1 involves power. “Basically, demanding that women dress more and more modestly is a form of bullying,” said Constance Talmadge, Dallas-based author of the “Green Stone of Healing” series of novels . . .

Theory No. 2 of burka-dom: Guilt. Religious male guilt.
Many religious guys feel guilty when their bodies react to women in a way they think is not only unspiritual, but also sinful. There are two ways to remedy this. One is just to feel less guilty, which is what most psychologists, sex ed teachers and anyone who lived through the 1960s recommends: a modern-day shrug. The other remedy, California author and artist Nancy Hand explained, “is to remove the temptation that prompted the natural but unwanted reaction.” Hide away the women, or at least cover them up."

Theory No. 3: When you do live in a world of dot-XXX sites, women’s rights and every kind of social, sexual and religious liberation, fundamentalism actually flourishes, because it is the yin to society’s ever more open-minded yang.. . .

. . . fundamentalists flamboyantly reject the things that are most obviously modern, like women’s rights — and especially women’s fashion. “One of the symbols of the Enlightenment is the liberation of women, so that would be one area where you’d really signal to the mainstream that you were dissenting,” said Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London and the author of the 2011 book “Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?”

. . .

Related: How "modesty" turns women into sex objects

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Parshat Bo, 5772 (Jan. 2012)

[I'm going to try to remember to date my parsha posts by year--I should have done that from the beginning, but better late than never.]

[Monday, January 30, 2012 update at end.]

You can read the basics here.

And the answer to the question, "Does "Yeter," an alternative, and probably scribal-error-based, name for Yitro, mean anything?" is "Yes, it means "the rest, over- , excess." Now why didn't I think to look it up in my trusty Hebrew/English dictionary/milon until I read it again in this week's parsha, in Sh'mot/Exodus, chapter 10, verse 5? That word just jumped off the page when I heard it during the Torah reading at minyan this morning.

My husband has a book about major and minor Jewish holidays called The Jewish Festivals (UAHC, 1938). The author thereof, Hayyim Schauss, posits that Passover/Pesach was originally two separate holidays, one for the shepherds (hence the lamb sacrifice) and one for the farmers (hence the matzah). That's fairly visible in the text of this parsha, where the sacrifice and the matzah are described separately, as if they were not entirely related. It was the genius of the ancient sage Hillel to combine the two practices into one "Hillel sandwich," with the lamb sacrifice eaten on matzah.

Here's DovBear's latest Bo post: No one could move during [plague of ] darkness?

Here are some oldies of mine:

  • Quick thought on Parshat Bo:"Coming out" as Jews (Monday, February 02, 2009) Highlight: G-d commanded us to put blood on our doorposts just to see who'd be willing to announce publicly their identity as Hebrews.

  • G-d lied (Monday, January 18, 2010) Highlight: Aharon (Aaron) never once spoke alone to Par'oh (Pharaoh) on behalf of Moshe (Moses) despite G-d's assurance to speech-impaired Moshe that Aharon would do the talking.

  • Parshat Bo notes (Tuesday, January 04, 2011)
    Highlight: "Check out Parshat Bo, Exodus Chap. 10, v. 8-13: Moshe tells Par'o [Pharaoh] that they're taking the whole gang to make a sacrifice, but when Par'o objects, saying that only the men should go, HaShem sends another plague! So we women are indispensible for worship!"

  • A Parshat Bo link, slightly belated (Thursday, January 13, 2011)--A link to Rabbi Barry Leff's post ["Moses, Pharaoh, and Wikileaks"], plus an old [related] post of mine.

Monday, January 30, 2012 update:

In Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 10, verse 29, Moshe tells Par'oh that Par'oh will not see his face again. Yet, in chapter 11, Moshe first tells the Hebrews to raid the Egyptians (for booty or back pay, depending on whose opinion you follow), which they do, and then he warns Par'oh about the death of the firstborn. Clearly, he's left Par'oh's presence and later returned. Either Moshe changed his mind about Par'oh not seeing his face again, or else this is a case of Documentary Hypothesis.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Parshat Vaeira catch-up

You can read the basics of last Shabbat's parshat here.

Here's a little something that I spotted this year: What's the story with Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 6, verse 15's statement that Shim'on's/Shimon's/Simeon's/Simon's son Shaul/Saul is the son of a Canaanite woman? Who the heck did the rest of B'nei Yaakov (the sons of Jacob) marry?

On a broader theme, it's all a matter of pollution--once the Nile turns red/becomes polluted, all but the last plague (the death of the firstborn) pretty much follow as a result. It's natural for the frogs to bail out if the water's polluted, then die of whatever got under their skin (literally). The insects follow the mass death of the frogs, and disease results from the insect infestation. Naturally, I can't find the video, but the History Channel telecast a theory that the death of the firstborn was caused when a natural body of water released trapped gas, which killed only those privileged few who slept on close-to-the-ground beds (firstborn sons and high officials) rather than those sleeping higher up on rooftops (the majority of the population), who were at a high-enough elevation that the poisonous gas passed under them. Traditionalists shouldn't be alarmed by this interpretation--all of these natural phenomena could have been caused by G-d.

The haftarah (Ezekiel chapter 28, verse 25-29, verse 21) is not one of the more pleasant readings--("And I will put hooks in your jaws . . . "), and also has the most difficult Hebrew of all the haftarot that I chant.

See also:

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Limmud NY 2012 Conference link round-up

Also missing are photos and/or videos. Let me see what my husband and I managed to shoot--I haven't had time to upload anything yet.


Missing at Limmud: Zimun and z'mirot

There were so many courses being given during meals at the Limmud NY 2012 Conference that many, if not most, people, just ate quickly or grabbed a take-out box and ate in class. Unfortunately, this embarrassment of riches actually pitted study against song on Shabbat/Sabbath. I was a bit taken aback by the fact that no one stayed at a Shabbat lunch table long enough even to make a m'zuman for singing Birkat HaMazon/ Grace after Meals (as opposed to reciting it silently as an individual), much less long enough to sing a zemer (Shabbat table song) or two. It's a sad state of affairs to be spending a Shabbat with hundreds of Jews and not be able to sing Birkat HaMazon aloud after lunch.

In my opinion, this is one area in which the week-long National Havurah Institute has a clear advantage over the four-day Limmud NY Conference. Since the Institute lasts for an entire week, giving it five full days for classes, there's plenty of time on Shabbat to actually experience some oneg/delight. (We didn't go last summer, but, if memory serves me correctly, there are no classes on Shabbat itself.) I have fond memories of a large group of people sitting around an Institute table singing z'mirot for ages. I wish I could think of a way to encourage more singing on Shabbat at Limmud.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Limmud lesson: Tefillah b'tzibbur is a gamble :(

I was so looking forward to enjoying a nice, leisurely Shacharit (Morning Service) with lots of congregational singing on Shabbat (Sabbath)--and was very upset when we ended up with a speed-davvenning baal tefillah (prayer leader) who led P'sukei D'Zimrah and Shacharit at roughly the same breakneck pace that I've become accustomed to on a weekday morning. Leaving aside the fact that I obviously couldn't keep up, what kind of Kavod (respect, honor) does it show to Shabbat to pray at the same speed on Shabbos that one uses when trying to get to the commuter train on time?

There are some drawbacks to Limmud's reliance on volunteers to lead services. Those responsible for arranging services may have no idea how well prepared a baal/baalat tefillah is or what his/her "davvenning (praying) style" is. I'll grant you that there's such a thing as too slow, but it's a shame that, even on Shabbat, I can't count on a tefillah b'tzibbur (prayer service with a community) to meet me halfway. What am I supposed to do, go back to davvenning up to Hotzaat HaTorah (the Torah service) bi-y'chidut (by myself)?


Limmud reminders for next year

Here's the fun part. And now, to business.

  • My husband's idea to take our bag of light-switch covers, a timer, and a nightlight was brilliant. The timer's plug didn't fit the outlet, so we used the nightlight, which may have saved me from breaking another wrist or two--it was pitch-black in our room after sundown, and that ottoman in front of the armchair at the foot of the bed was almost impossible to see! (For future reference, remember to turn the night-light's shade to face the bed, in order to cut the glare and make it easier to sleep.) And we used the light-switch covers to help us remember to leave the foyer light off, the bathroom light on, and that noisy bathroom ventilation fan off.

  • Don't forget your neck-roll pillow, next time--a rolled-up tee shirt doesn't work quite as well.

  • It was a good idea to leave the apartment with both your camera and your Chai necklace already around your neck, so that you wouldn't have to figure out where to pack them and would have easy access to the camera. It was also a good thing that you remembered to recharge both camera batteries.

  • It was not a good thing that you completely forgot that you should never travel with a pocketless skirt, because a gal always needs pockets in which to put things that should be easily accessible, such as a room key, tissues, and, after Shabbat/Sabbath, a cell phone. Next year, take your navy skirt that does have pockets and doesn't have belt loops (because you're going to enjoy someone else's cooking too much), and the gray knit jacket with lapels, which also has pockets, matches that skirt reasonably well, and is heavier than your gray jacket without pockets. (Don't take the pocketed gray skirt--it's at least an inch shorter, and the hotel is freezing!)

  • Before Shabbat, be sure to open a bottle of the shampoo provided by the hotel--you can use the shampoo as liquid hand soap.

  • Remember to look for balloons or other markers indicating tables for those wanting to sing z'mirot at dinner on Erev Shabbat.

  • Get up early enough on Saturday to davven/pray from the Birkot HaTorah/Torah blessings through the "Rabbi Yishmael omer" quote. Include the full three paragraphs of the Sh'ma, so that you can grab a small bread-free breakfast before Shacharit/Morning Service. This early davvening will kill two birds with one stone, since not only is breakfast scheduled before Shabbat/Sabbath morning services, but also, the traditional egalitarian minyan seems always to start the public service right after Rabbi Yishmael omer, at Mizmor, Shir Chanukat HaBayit, L'David (Psalm 30). Note that a good place to davven bi-y'chidut (by oneself) is in the relatively untraveled corridor leading to the Bentley room, which is in an obscure spot off the beaten track and invisible from both the lobby and the elevator bank. An employee told me that the windows there face east.

  • There's pepper in the egg salad, so you'd best avoid it.

  • Remember never to put anything irreplacable in your Limmud bag--one poor soul accidentally exchanged her own Limmud bag for someone else's, and lost her cell phone in the process!

  • Get to the daily Shacharit early, so that you'll have time to put on your tallit, lay tefillin, and davven through Rabbi Yishmael omer before the service begins.
I may add more reminders, if I can think of any. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Limmud NY 2012 Conference: Some highlights

Surprise, surprise: Friday night's dinner was chicken. I found that quite unexpected, given the number of vegetarians in attendance. For the record, even I, a meat-eater, could see that the vegetarian stuffed-pepper entree was unacceptable because it contained no protein source. Nu, adding a few beans to the "stuffing" would have killed you? I sincerely hope that all of the vegetarian entrees will be both tasty and nutritious next year.

Kudos to the Limmud volunteers for arranging for vegetarian and vegan options, "simple food" without spice or sauce for those who needed it, a gluten-free and "allergy" table (providing such goodies as gluten-free corn thins [yum!] and peanut-free almond butter [double yum!] in the dining room), and gluten-free goodies outside the dining room at the coffee bar.

Okay, on to the study sessions.


  • I was, apparently, too tired after packing, schlepping to Manhattan, spending two and a half hours on a bus, checking in, and rushing to prep for Shabbat/Sabbath to remember much of what I did after Shabbat dinner. My apologies to Shai Held, for not being able to "retrieve" much of what he said at his interesting session on the Midwives. But I do remember him making the point that the story of the Midwives (Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 1, verses 15-21) is (one of) the earliest recorded instance(s?) of civil disobedience, making it an appropriate discussion topic for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend.

  • We learned from Joel Hoffman that the first b'rachah (blessing) of Birkat HaMazon (Grace after Meals) is just as problematic as the closing quote that "I've never seen a righteous person hunger, or his children asking for bread" (rough translation, from memory): Does HaShem really provide bread/food for all flesh? One class participant said that HaShem provides, but we humans interfere, due to politics, business decisions, distribution (dis)arrangements, etc., which was an interesting point.

  • The next session that I attended was the "Women's Rights under Fire in Israel" panel discussion was very enlightening. (My husband studied How Pirkei Avot Can Save Judaism.) Meesh Hammer-Kossoy was upset that the initial television report on the conflict at the Orot Banot girl's school in Beit Shemesh was telecast on a Friday night/Erev Shabbat/Sabbath Eve, thereby making it impossible for the parties directly involved--the Dati Leumi/Religious Zionist community and the fanatics from among the Chareidim/"fervently Orthodox"--to participate in the discussion. Liz Nord said that she's received phone calls quite literally in the middle of the night from Chareidi women who don't dare express their opinions in public, lest their children be declared off-limits as playmates, telling her how grateful they are that the treatment of women in and/or by the Chareidim community is coming under fire. My discussion with Regev Ben-David after the session was, well, awkward. I asked what we in the Galut/Diaspora could do to support tolerance, and, if I understood correctly, he seemed to indicate that the problem was an internal matter to be worked out among Israelis.

  • After dinner, I went off to try to make sense of International Law and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, which American-Israeli lawyer Anne Herzberg did her best to clarify. Oy. I don't have that much brain-power on a Saturday night. But I seem to recollect that she does think that the blockade of Gaza is legal.
We spent most of Sunday at three different Israeli folk dance sessions. It was a good antidote to a day of sitting. :) But we did get to this interesting learning session:

  • Rachel Friedman's "Deborah: The Power of Prophecy and Song" was pretty powerful stuff. Rachel pointed out that Devorah is one of the very few female Biblical characters whose identity is not tied to any man--she's not a matriach, not a powerful male character's sister, not a queen, not a princess, etc. She served as a leader and judge of her generation before she herself recruited Barak to fight the necessary battle. Like Moshe/Moses, she remains off of the battlefield itself, lending morale and courage. And like Moshe, but unlike his sister Miriam HaN'viah/the Prophet, she begins a song, rather than putting in a short appearance at the end.

  • Since my husband had volunteered to staff the Help Desk--Limmud is run almost entirely by volunteers--and I was keeping him company and attempting to make myself at least semi-useful, we missed almost all of Joel Hoffman's "The Story of Hebrew." More's the pity, because what little we heard sounded fascinating. Joel said that Eliezer Ben Yehudah promoted the Sefardi pronunciation of Hebrew because he didn't want to use the Hebrew pronunciation--Ashkenazi--that he associated with the Eastern European yeshivot. (Yeshiva, roughly translated, means "school of Jewish studies." Contemporary pre-college yeshivot usually offer secular studies, as well.) He also said, if I understood correctly, that there was no proof of which pronunciation of Hebrew that is currently in use is closest to the ancient pronunciation of Hebrew, Yemenite Jewish claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Many thanks also to whoever pointed out that Yaakov/Jacob seems to have had only limited interest in the children of his unloved wife Leah and the concubines, while being practically obsessed with Yosef/Joseph and Binyamin/Benjamin, the sons of his beloved wife Rachel. This may be one logical explanation for his seeming indifference to the rape of Leah's daughter, Dina.

And there you have a taste of the Limmud NY 2012 Conference, Hillel-style (standing on one foot).


Parsha catch-up: Vayechi, Sh'mot, etc., 5772

Some thoughts from reading Sh'mot this past Shabbat:
  • Miriam is one gutsy kid--she's not only a slave girl approaching the daughter of Pharaoh, but she's, essentially, backing Bat Pharaoh/Pharaoh's daughter into a corner by suggesting that Bat Par'oh send her to fetch a nursemaid. Note that Bat Par'oh, while showing pity for poor little Moshe/Moses, had not said that she planned to adopt him. (See chapter 2, verses 1-10.)
  • In Sh'mot/Exodus chapter 2, verse 18, Moshe's future father-in-law is called Reuel; in chapter 3, verse 1, he's called Yitro/Jethro, a classic case of Documentary Hypothesis, in my opinion. New for me this year was noticing that, in chapter 4, verse 18, Yitro is called Yeter, a name whose spelling in the original Hebrew differs by exactly one missing letter. I think that's a simple scribal error, but I would be interested in knowing whether "yeter" exists as an independent word.
Here are some more oldies:
And note that I've added more links (and "highlights" notes) to Parshat Sh'mot/Shemot (whatever).

Yes, I will, eventually, get around to blogging about Limmud NY 2012, but that may take a bit more time.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Less yacking, more packing: We're off to Limmud!

Maybe I'll have time to blog while we're there, and maybe not, but I'm sure it'll be a fascinating and fun weekend.

Parshat Sh'mot/Shemot (whatever)

You can read the basics here.

Here are some oldies of mine, which I tried to line up in chronological order/order of posting. Some of them also include references to future parshiot (parashot?), but I'm posting them here, lest I forget. I'm going to be a bit busy for the next few days.
[Jan. 6, 2013 update--I recommend that you read the whole post, which has too much interesting info in it, comments included, to summarize in a short highlight.]

"Haftarat Sh’mot
. . . For Ashkenazim: I said this years ago in a d’var Torah ("word of Torah," Torah discussion) and I’ll say it again—“For with stammering lips and a strange tongue shall it be spoken to this people” describes the speech of a person with a speech impediment. This may be the sort of thing that’s more likely to catch the eye of the mother of a hard-of-hearing child who spent sixteen years in speech therapy."
"Call me a faithless coward, but if someone, or even The One, told me to grab a snake by the tail . . ."
"Parshat B'reishit (the very beginning of the Bible) and Parshat Sh'mot (the beginning of the book of Exodus) are similar in that they squeeze quite a lot into one weekly reading. In Parshat B'reishit, we go from the creation of the world to . .. HaShem's decision to send a flood. In Parshat Sh'mot, we begin with a list of the names of the sons (yes, sons--whatever happened to Dinah, anyway?) of Jacob who went down to Egypt, . . . [and end with Moshe] enduring the complaints of the Hebrew slaves that he'd just made matters worse."
"My husband was puzzled. If, as some theorize, Y’tziat Mitzrayim/the Exodus from Egypt took place at the time of the massive eruption on Thera/Santorini, then Moshe Rabbeinu/Moses our Teacher couldn’t have picked up the idea of a sole god from Akhenaten, since the Exodus would have taken place prior to his reign. So where did he get it from? “Why are you looking at Akhenaten when Moshe spent at least enough time with a Midianite priest (Reuel, Yithro/Jethro?) to father a child?,” I asked. Unfortunately, my husband was not able to unearth much information about Midianite religion. But he did point out that Moshe’s time as a shepherd would prove mighty handy when he had to lead the people in the escape from Egypt and help them survive in the wilderness for forty years."

How "modesty" turns women into sex objects (Forward)

Debra Nussbaum Cohen said it better than I could. (And better than I did.)

Sigh. Even in prehistoric 2007, some Chareidim didn't understand how offensive to women their attitudes were--see A Simple Jew's Shmiras Einayim Forum. (It took considerable hunting to find that post, and even more to find my reaction post, Moderation in Modesty.)

Monday, January 09, 2012

With apologies to Robert Frost . . .

. . . I'm considering embarking on "the road not taken," Jewish-style. See the comments.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Parshat Vayechi

You can read the basics here.

And here's an oldie but goodie of mine regarding the B'nei Yaakov/B'nai Yaakov/Sons of Jacob (and yes, I do mean "sons") that'll take you right through the end of this week's parsha.

Have an easy and meaningful fast.
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