Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Parshat Tetzaveh, 5772/2012 thoughts

You can read the basics for Parshat Tetzaveh/Tetsaveh/T'tsaveh (whatever) here.

I guess I was particularly struck, on this reading, by the fact that Aharon/Aaron and his descendents were awarded the hereditary priesthood/k'hunah for, apparently, no reason other than that Aharon was Moshe's/Moses's brother. It would appear that good old-fashioned nepotism is a pretty ancient method for assigning jobs and status.

I also find it ironic that the blood from the slaughtered animals, sprinkled on Aharon's and his sons' priestly garments, helped sanctify both them and their garments. Under most other circumstances that I can think off, natural bodily fluids, when outside of the body, make a person ritually impure.

See my previous Tetzaveh post, Parshat Tetzaveh: P'til techelet, & other mysteries (Thursday, February 10, 2011). Highlight:

"Note that, as I kvetched/complained previously in discussing Parshat Terumah, we (still) have no definition of an ephod or a breastplate. We also have no actual description of the "mitre," though it seems to have had a pure-gold "Holy to HaShem" sign attached to it.

The breastplate was attached to the ephod by a p'til techelet, a thread of blue, and the gold "sign" had a p'til techelet on the front, as well. (See chapter 28, verse 28 and verse 37.) What was the significance of techelet (blue) in general, and of a p'til techelet (blue thread) in particular, that it was considered sacred enough for use in the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple . . . " See the comments to that post for a nice discussion on the use of a blue thread in tzitzit in our day.

Some good news from Israel

"Female rabbinic scholars and Orthodox rabbis have formed a group to push for a greater role for women in interpreting Jewish law."Read more:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Photographers' presence influences what's shot

Trep posts video by anthropology student/photographer showing that the presence of photographers influences the behavior of those being photographed.

From Trep's/David Bogner's post:

"This past week there were a lot of attacks on vehicles along the route I take to work. And when I passed the site of one of the more serious attacks, I noticed that the photographers had not finished packing up their gear. There was so much equipment and so many photographers that it looked like a location shoot for a Hollywood movie or TV series.

Here's a photo that appeared in the media after the ambush was wrapped completed for the day:


What the photo shows is an Israeli woman (a school teacher named Zahava Weiss who lives in a community not far from me), being attacked on her way home from work by a bunch of Arab teens. In the photo it is clear that she (like several of the cars before and after her) was attacked with large cut stones and bricks... not harmless pebbles as the apologists and useful idiots would have you believe.

What you don't see is the group of photographers who had received advance notice of the ambush, and who had set up their equipment on the opposite side of the street from the stone/brick throwers... far enough back from the street to avoid being hit by the overthrows and ricochets, but close enough that their high powered lenses could capture every detail of the repeated attacks.

Here's where I my thinking goes sideways.

How can it be that any civilized society can grant actual or de facto immunity to a segment of the population from having to report foreknowledge of violent attacks that can reasonably be assumed will cause damage to property, serious injury and even loss of life?"

Friday, February 24, 2012

Breaking the taboo against discussing miscarriage

Why I Want You to Know I'm Pregnant.

Sybil Sanchez writes, "the convention of waiting three months to announce a pregnancy hurts; it obstructs my access to social support in multiple ways.

If, G-d forbid, I have another loss, how can those who don’t know help? Who should I tell first when no one knew that I was pregnant to begin with? As I nervously nurture my first trimester, avoiding travel and recalculating my plans, how do I explain my lack of ability to commit to dates, complicated by the fact that nine months are not even a given for me?

To hide this liminality between life and death is to hide everything.

I refuse to perpetuate an outdated, harmful social norm by hiding my personal battle to have a biological family as if I am ashamed of my fertility challenges."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Parshat Terumah/T'rumah, 5772/2012 notes

You can read the basics here.

Here's the e-mail that I sent to my husband yesterday:

"Is this another case of Documentary Hypothesis? :)
Exodus Chapter 20 (Yitro)
כ מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה, תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ, אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ; בְּכָל-הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ. 20 An altar of earth thou shalt make unto Me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace-offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen; in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come unto thee and bless thee. כא וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, לֹא-תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית: כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ, וַתְּחַלְלֶהָ. 21 And if thou make Me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stones; for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast profaned it.
Exodus Chapter 27 (Terumah)
א וְעָשִׂיתָ אֶת-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים: חָמֵשׁ אַמּוֹת אֹרֶךְ וְחָמֵשׁ אַמּוֹת רֹחַב, רָבוּעַ יִהְיֶה הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וְשָׁלֹשׁ אַמּוֹת, קֹמָתוֹ. 1 And thou shalt make the altar of acacia-wood, five cubits long, and five cubits broad; the altar shall be four-square; and the height thereof shall be three cubits. ב וְעָשִׂיתָ קַרְנֹתָיו, עַל אַרְבַּע פִּנֹּתָיו--מִמֶּנּוּ, תִּהְיֶיןָ קַרְנֹתָיו; וְצִפִּיתָ אֹתוֹ, נְחֹשֶׁת. 2 And thou shalt make the horns of it upon the four corners thereof; the horns thereof shall be of one piece with it; and thou shalt overlay it with brass [copper?].

[End of e-mail.]

So nu, is the altar suppose to be made of earth or uncut stone, or is it supposed to be made of brass-plated acacia wood?

See also:
Highlights: " . . . one of those "vocabulary parshiot."

Re haftarah, "That was one heck of a "draft" that Shlomo haMelech/King Solomon instituted, sending thousands of men to L'vanon (Lebanon) to help in preparing the raw material for the construction of the Beit HaMikdash/Holy Temple. (See I Kings, chapter 5, verses 26-32). Note that the haftarah conveniently fails to mention whether or not the draftees got paid for their hard labor."
Highlight: "Where did this "ephod" thing come from, all of a sudden? What is it, or, better yet, why are we expected to know what it is without any explanation, . . . "

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A taste of their own (lack of) medicine

More on health care (see my previous post), with a major dose of gender politics added:

"As members of Georgia’s House of Representatives debate whether to prohibit abortions for women more than 20 weeks pregnant, House Democrats introduced their own reproductive rights plan: No more vasectomies that leave "thousands of children ... deprived of birth."" See CNN article here.

Half naked

Made you look, didn't I? :)

Unfortunately, what I'm writing about is the sad fact that most American health insurance plans provide only partial coverage, if any, for dental, vision, and hearing care.

I've had the dubious privilege of acquiring two crowns--and the royal-sized dental bills to go with them--since this past October. Insurance covers only the basics--cleanings, x-rays, and fillings--at the dentist's office. Once you go for something more "exotic," such as a crown or, heaven forbid, root canal, you can pretty much kiss your coverage goodbye. I've paid my dentist well over $2,500 in less than six months, and expect to receive, at best, only a few hundred dollars in reimbursements from our insurance.

Now you know why I'm walking around in glasses with scratched lenses and chipped-finish frames. It doesn't help that there's no coverage for refraction, as if the patient is expected to figure out what strength and type of lenses she or he needs without any professional assistance. It also doesn't help that the insurance company tends to balk at paying in full for "fancy" lenses, such as "blended" trifocals with a scratch-resistance coating and protection from ultra-violet light. I suppose I should give up on buying frames of my choosing and learn to live with the frames for which the insurance gives a financial break. It's either that, or I can affix the lenses to my face with tape. :)

As for hearing aids, all I can say is "What?" Rare, indeed, is an insurance policy that covers more than half the cost, if it provides any coverage whatsoever.

[Off topic: Let's not even discuss the non-existent coverage for nutritional supplements, even when they're being taken to help alleviate such serious medical conditions as osteoporosis.]

And I'm one of the lucky ones--I actually have health insurance.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Slightly belated reminder re special Shabbatot

Here's the reminder that I should have posted yesterday (oops) regarding the pre-Pesach (Passover) Shabbatot (Sabbaths) with special readings.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Parshat Mishpatim, 5772/2012 thoughts

You can read the basics here.

I find it rather sad that a slave who was given a wife and had children with her could not take his wife and children with him when he was emancipated, and that the only way he could keep his family was to volunteer to become a slave for life. (See Sh'mot/Exodus, chapter 21, verses 1-6.)

See also my Parsha catch-up: Parshat Mishpatim (Wednesday, February 02, 2011)

  • Anyone who doesn't believe that halachah (Jewish religious law) evolves has only to read Exodus chapter 21, verses 23-25. "Ayin tachat ayin, An eye for an eye," was interpreted by the rabbis to refer to monetary compensation at a point in Jewish history so long ago that I wonder whether anyone actually knows whether this law was ever carried out literally.
  • I'm sure I learned this from someone else: "Naaseh v'nishma, We will do and we will hear," (Exodus chapter 24, verse 7) is the way that human beings develop--as children, we "do" first, and only understand why later, when we're old enough."

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Parshat Yitro 5772/2012 catch-up

You can read the basics here.

My husband and I are both intrigued by the mystery (to us) of the origins of Jewish Sabbath observance. Though the name Shabbat may be related to the Babylonian bad-luck day-of-rest Shabbatum (here's an explanation, of sorts), the notion of a joyful day of rest seems to have originated with the Jewish People, but the details seem to have been lost in the mists of time. In the Torah sections recounting the lives of the Avot/Ancestors/Patriachs and Matriarchs, there's no mention of Shabbat by that name, nor is any semblence of Shabbat observance mentioned (to the best of my recollection). Did I miss something, or is Shabbat mentioned for the first time by that name in Parshat B'shalach/Beshlach, Exodus chapter 16, verse 23? The whole notion (see chapter 20, verses 7-10 in Parshat Yitro) seems to have sprung up after (during?) our years of slavery in Mitzrayim/Egypt. No matter the origin, I've said for years that the idea of a weekly day of rest is one of the Jewish People's greatest contributions to the human race.

I'm also suitably impressed that our ancestors didn't hesitate to accept good ideas from foreigners: In chapter 18, verses 13-26, Moshe (Moses) adopts Yitro's (Jethro's) suggestion for establishing a justice system with different levels of courts.

I should also note that Haftarat Yitro (for Ashkenazim), Isaiah 6:1–7:6 & 9:5–6, contains that phrase made famous by Handel's Messiah ("For unto us a child is born . . .") Our Christian neighbors just translate it differently. They translate "Kel gibor" as, "A mighty G-d," whereas, in this context (which is as a person's name), we would translate it "Mighty is G-d." To them, the child is G-d, whereas, to us, the child's name honors G-d. To say that that's a huge difference in understanding the text is an understatement. That's what happens when the presence tense of the verb "to be" is absent in a language--you either infer "to be's" presence or you don't, and your decision can change your understanding of a text completely. :(

See also Parsha catch-up: Parshat Yitro (Monday, January 24, 2011).

Monday, February 13, 2012

A mourner missing in action :(

"Long life. I'm sorry about your loss. Who are you saying kaddish for?"

Apparently, I've been absent from morning minyan so frequently that this infrequent Sunday morning minyannaire, who, apparently, showed up for davvening/praying because there was a synagogue choir rehearsal after services, had never seen me before, and gave me a welcome generally traditional for those just out of shiva and saying kaddish in synagogue for the first time.

Oy. :(

So I had to explain the whole business about my poor attendance resulting from my trying to avoid getting sick from losing sleep in order commute to minyan.

She was not impressed with my logic, and said that I really should pay someone to say kaddish for me if I couldn't get to a minyan at least once a day.

Double oy.

On the plus side, we got to talking about my husband's and my possible future move to her neighborhood, and she told me that my second-choice synagogue, a Modern Orthodox one, is located much closer to this Conservative synagogue than I'd thought.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Button up, so to speak

Tzniut/modesty isn't the only reason for buttoning up--I recently found out the hard way that one can get one's tzitzit/ritual fringe entangled around a button. It took me about three minutes to free my tallit. Now, before I put on my tallit and tefillin, I roll up my cuff twice, which is just enough to turn the button up and tuck it safety away under the cuff, where nothing can get caught on it. I strongly recommend this precaution for those who lay tefillin--I haven't yet had this problem on a Shabbat/Sabbath or Yom Tov/holiday, when tefillin aren't worn.

[As promised, I snuck in a post when possible. :) This will probably be my last opportunity today. Shabbat Shalom.]

Too busy to blog

Sorry. Will sneak in a post when possible.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Drying up: Climate change & Israel's ecology

In honor of Tu Bi-Sh'vat, I'm linking to Jay Michaelson's article about some not-as-green-as-we'd-like news.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Mourning: A clash of halachic principles

On the one hand, the Torah sheh BiCh'tav (Written Law) says "kabed et avicha v'et imecha/honor your father and your mother."

On the other hand, later tradition has established that one of the principle ways of honoring one's father and mother is to say the kaddish prayer three days a day for 11 months after their deaths.

On the third hand (you should pardon the expression), going to daily minyan is making me sick because I'm not getting enough sleep.

So either I say kaddish whenever I've had enough sleep to go to minyan without literal ill effect, or I pay someone else to say kaddish on my behalf three times a day.

My conclusion: I decided long ago that I show more honor to my father (and, previously, showed more honor to my mother) when I say kaddish whenever I can than when I farm out my chiyuv/obligation to someone who never met my parents.

But I do understand that some other folks think it's more important to ensure that kaddish is said three times daily than to worry about who's saying it.

The pitter-patter of not-so-little feet :(

For the first time since the death of our upstairs neighbor and the completion of the cleaning out and repair/renovation of her apartment months ago, we heard footsteps directly above us yesterday. Apparently, the apartment immediately upstairs from ours is now being shown to potential buyers. Ah, well, we've enjoyed the relative peace and quiet, but, of course, we didn't expect it to last.

Friday, February 03, 2012

How Planned Parenthood Became a Liability

The Susan G. Komen Foundation just today reversed its decision to withdraw its financial support from Planned Parenthood, but much of what this article by Sarah Seltzer in the Jewish Daily Forward has to say is still valid.

"Women’s health will always be political, because we still live in a patriarchy, one in which every gain is met with backlash. As Ehrenreich notes, wryly, about breast cancer — even its current lack of politicization is political, its wide mainstream support a safe alternative to radical critique of our society and its effect on women’s health:

'…after all, breast cancer would hardly be the darling of corporate America if its complexion changed from pink to green. It is the very blandness of breast cancer, at least in mainstream perceptions, that makes it an attractive object of corporate charity and a way for companies to brand themselves friends of the middle-aged female market. …as Cindy Pearson, director of the National Women’s Health Network, the organizational progeny of the Women’s Health Movement, puts it more caustically: “Breast cancer provides a way of doing something for women, without being feminist.”

In the mainstream of breast-cancer culture, one finds very little anger, no mention of possible environmental causes, few complaints about the fact that, in all but the more advanced, metastasized cases, it is the “treatments,” not the disease, that cause illness and pain.'"

Ex-Haredim Sue Israel for 'Financial Damage'

For your amusement

See here for shidduch/spouse-hunting advice. :)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Parshat B'shalach/Beshalach (whatever), 5772/2012

You can read the basics here.

Regarding the haftarah (Judges 4:4-5:31), Rachel Friedman pointed out (see Limmud 2012 Sunday sessions notes here), that Devorah starts the song, she doesn't just show up at the end, as Miriam does. And the verb, va-tashar, makes it pretty clear that she was singing, not speaking. (See Judges 5:1.) Methinks the Kol Isha prohibition forbidding men to listen to a woman singing (a rule with various interpretations and observed to various degrees within the Orthodox community) was a much later innovation. I'd love to say that verse 12, "Awake, awake, Deborah, awake, awake, utter a song" supported my thesis, but the verb is "dabri," from the infinitive l'daber, to speak, so it's more difficult to prove that Devorah was being asked to sing.

Some oldies but goodies:
  • "V’rachamav al kol maasav,” including Amalekim? (Sunday, March 04, 2007) Highlight: "Apologetics, courtesy of Conservadox. I thought this was a pretty decent explanation, until it occurred to me that the attack* being avenged** had taken place literally centuries before. For that matter, was all the slaughter mentioned in Megillat Ester really necessary?"
  • Bewildered by B'Shalach (Monday, January 25, 2010) Highlight: "DB wants to know how thousands of people could have sung the same previously-unknown song spontaneously and simultaneously. I've been wondering how on earth Shirat HaYam could include a reference to a sanctuary that hadn't even been mentioned yet, much less built."
  • Some interesting points from Parshat B'Shalach (Saturday, January 30, 2010) Highlight: "Parshat B'Shalach seems to me to be the first place in the Torah (Pentateuch) in which B'nei Yisrael (the Children of Israel) are given instructions concerning how to observe Shabbat (Sabbath). (See Exodus, chapter 16, verse 4-30.)My husband had a few thoughts on the subject. He said that our ancestors were taken out of Mitzrayim (Egypt) for a reason, and that part of that reason was to observe Shabbat, which was a revolutionary idea in that era. "What other civilization had a day off from work?"
  • Parshat Beshalach (Tuesday, January 11, 2011) Highlight: "Note the grammatical construction of the Hebrew: "lahem"
    Last I heard, that would be the masculine form of the third person plural. In other words, Miriam sang to the entire camp, not just to the women. So much for Kol Isha.*"
Monday, February 6, 2012 update:
Where the heck did the newly-freed slaves get weapons with which to fight the Amalekim/Amalekites at the end of this parsha? There's no mention of the slaves despoiling their soon-to-be-former masters of weapons.

Book review:"Esau's Blessing," by Ora Horn Prouser

I've now read "Esau's Blessing," which we discussed at Limmud a few weeks ago, and found it quite an eye-opener. As mentioned, much of Esau's/Esav's behavior can be explained if we assume that he had Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. I have also heard theories for years that Isaac/Yitchak may have been mentally retarded, which could explain why he went so docilely to his own near-sacrifice, quite possibly not understanding what was about to take place, and could also explain why his father felt it best to find for him a wife who would marry him sight unseen. But I must admit that I never thought of Joseph/Yosef as a gifted child, just a show-off who happened to be articulate. And Samson/Shimshon as a person with Conduct Disorder was also an eye-opener. The biggest surprise, though, was Dr. Horn Prouser's theory that Jacob/Yaakov, after having been injured by, er, whomever or whatever wrestled with him all night, was changed for life, and not just in name. Whatever happened to the guy who conned his brother out of his birthright and blessing, and managed to outsmart his exploitative uncle and strip him of most of his wealth? He's now hesitant to follow Esav not only because he doesn't trust him, but also because, with his newly-acquired limp, he can't keep up, and doesn't want to admit it. He says that it's the kids and the animals who'll slow him down, but it's also his injury! And what happened to that brave fellow who stood his ground against Lavan? When his daughter Dina is raped, he won't even say anything until his sons get home. And when Shim'on and Levi take their revenge against Dina's rapist and kill all the men of Shechem, Yaakov's only complaint is that they've made the neighborhood unsafe for him?!

One thought that occurred to me was that Yitzchak's difficulty in finding a new blessing for Esav--and the blessing that he finally made up, which was guaranteed to encourage enmity between the brothers--may be another indication that he had an intelligence challenge.

Thursday, February 2, 2012 update:
Another thought that occurred to me was that Yitzchak may have had Down Syndrome--having a visibly-disabled newborn could prompt an older, long-barren woman to exclaim that "everyone who hears will laugh at/with [mock] me."

Wednesday, February 01, 2012


Golly gee
Happy birthday to little old(er) me
Just two more years to Medicare
and I'll be med-bill free

I never thought the day would come when I'd look forward eagerly to getting older, but given the size of my medical bills (and thank goodness I have medical insurance, or they'd be thousands of dollars higher), I can't wait until I turn 65 and am eligible for Medicare. I've seen so many family members and friends become chronically ill, need surgery and/or hospitalization, need daily assistance with bathing, etc., be injured, and/or become disabled before the age of 65 that it's downright frightening.

In the meantime, I intend to cheat on my diet today. :)
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