Thursday, July 30, 2015

A people divided

I grew up in the South Jersey suburbs, in a Jewish community that, while far from miniscule, certainly didn't match the New York City metropolitan area in terms of either size or diversity.  We were too small to worry even about differences between Ashkenazim and Sefardim, much less with what a person covered--or didn't cover--his or her head.  When I say that there were three Conservative synagogues, one Orthodox synagogue, and one Reform synagogue in our area, I'm referring to the entire county--not a single one of these shuls was within walking distance of any of the others.  So coming to New York, and, later, becoming a blogger, really opened my eyes--it had never occurred to me that the Orthodox community might be just as fragmented among left-wing, centrist, and right-wing factions as my own Conservative one.  I'll just link to "Is Orthodoxy on Brink of Historic Schism?" without comment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not my idea of a leader

Harry Maryles said something in the comments to this post of his that kinda freaked me out.

Who are the living modern orthodox "rabbinic greats" in your opinion?

Rav Hershel Shachter is the only one I can think of today. Although I might put Rav Mordechai Willig in that category too. Until a few months ago, it was RAL [I assume he's referring to the late Rav Aharon Lichtensten]. He had no peers.

Fiery Chulenthmarylesa day ago
Wow, that's slim pickings. One person. I guess if Rav Shachter is not your man, you're just out of luck. Those charedim are practically rolling in gedolim! Lucky blokes!

Rav Herschel Shachter is your idea of a Modern Orthodox Gador HaDor ("Great One of the Generation)?!”  This is what I had to say about Rav Schachter almost 11 years ago.

But you don't have to take just my word for it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tisha B'Av tales

Anything for a buck :(
There's no point complaining to the shul president about the fact that the sanctuary is now rented out at just about any time except Shabbat (Sabbath) morning and the Yamim Noraim (High Holidays).  All he'll say in return is "You figure out where to find the money to pay the bills!"  This is what happens when the entire membership of the synagogue is reduced to fewer than 50 people.  And that's why we chanted Eicha (Book of Lamentations) downstairs in the "dungeon" (windowless basement chapel) to the accompaniment of loud music coming from a party upstairs in the so-called sanctuary.  Yep, even on Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, we had a rental.  Sad, indeed.  :(

But before then, I got a . . .

Pre-fast surprise
See here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Pre-Tisha B'Av notes

I intend to republish these notes, copied from previous posts, annually, adding new notes as I learn more.

In 2015, the observance of Tisha B'Av (postponed by one day to avoid Shabbat/Sabbath) begins this coming Saturday night, at sundown. I strongly advise those healthy enough to fast for 25 hours to:
  1. start eliminating coffee, tea, and chocolate as soon as possible--if you're going to have a caffeine withdrawal headache, you'll want to have it before the fast;
  2. avoid salty food all day Saturday, especially at your pre-fast meal, since salty (and, for some people, very sweet) food may make you thirsty.
  3. drink plenty of water all day Saturday--we have one friend who drinks a cup of water every half hour before a fast day--and;
  4. eat your pre-fast meal on Saturday early enough before sundown to get to Minchah/Afternoon Service at synagogue, if possible, or to pray Minchah at home.  [Sorry--I don't know the rules for Seudah Shlishit/the traditional Third Sabbath Meal when Shabbat goes right into Tisha B'Av.  Please enlighten me in the comments, if you can.  Thanks!]

Those with access to the Internet on Tisha B'Av may want to register for the Orthodox Union's Tisha B'Av webcast.

Notes, as promised:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011/Tisha B'Av update: It's a good thing that they announced at our local synagogue that we'd be having a Mincha (Afternoon) Service just before the beginning of Tisha B'Av, because I'd completely forgotten--again!--that one is supposed to eat one's final pre-fast meal (seudat hamafseket?) before davvenning/praying Minchah and almost davvenned Minchah at the office, as usual! So I'm adding this note to my pre-Nine-Days prep. post as a reminder for next year and future years.

Um, never mind--I'm copying and pasting those Tisha B'Av Minchah notes here, so that I don't miss them:

Good thing I just checked Minchah in our OU/Koren-Lookstein/Soloveitchik Kinnot--I see that the Shir shel Yom/Psalm of the Day gets moved from the end of Shacharit to the beginning of Minchah/Afternoon Service, after one puts on tallit and tefillin (which are also moved to Minchah). And don't forget the following changes in the Amidah prayer of Minchah: 
  • add the Nachem paragraph to the V'liY'rushalayim brachah/blessing in the Amidah at Minchah, and say the Tisha B'Av version of the chatimah (closing) of that brachah.
  • add Aneinu to the Sh'ma Koleinu brachah.
[Sat., July 13, 2013, 10:52 PM note:  The best way to avoid errors seems to be to davven (pray) using a Kinnot (dirges) book, if possible.]

I see that Rabbi Gil Student mentions checking the back (or front) of one's Kinnot book for the laws of Tisha B'Av. The OU/Koren-Lookstein/Soloveitchik Kinnot has a nice round-up of laws regarding not only Tisha B'Av, but also the Three Weeks in general, the Nine Days in particular, and the day before Tisha B'Av specifically.

Learning on Tisha B’Av (TUESDAY, JULY 20, 2010)
The rabbis established limits to what Biblical and/or Rabbinic texts we're allowed to study on Tisha B'Av, lest we derive too much pleasure from our studies. (You can read about those limits, and other information about Tisha B'Av, here.) Me, I spent some time cracking my teeth trying to learn Psalm 137, Al Naharot Bavel--By the Waters of Babylon, which seemed an appropriately mournful thing to study. You can find it here, though, in the Hebrew, most of the punctuation is in the wrong place.


  • Mechon Hadar, 190 Amsterdam Ave., New York, NY

Join Us in the Beit Midrash

On Sunday, July 26th we will be commemorating Tisha B'Av in partnership with Kehilat Hadar.

9-11 am:      Shaharit and Kinnot
11-1:30 pm: Appropriate learning for the day 
  • "I Am the Man Who Has Seen Affliction": Exploring Eikhah 3 with Rabbi Shai Held
  • Responding to Tragedy: The Eish Kodesh on overcoming suffering or yielding to it with Dena Weiss
1:40 pm:      Minhah

At 3:30 Summer Faculty member Raffi Magarik will be teaching on Silence and Speech in the Presence of Suffering at Drisha located at 37 West 65th Street. 

For Tisha B'Av programming taking place on Saturday night, we invite you to join Kehilat Hadar for Arvit and Eicha at 9:30 pm. Services will be taking place at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan: 805 Columbus Ave. For more information please click here.

Please note that it is customary not to greet people on Tisha B'Av, so please do not be offended if people don't say hello. It is also customary to sit on the floor or low stools. You are invited to bring a pillow or mat to sit on if you wish. Finally, we have some siddurim, but if you can bring your own, that would help.

To hear a dvar Torah written by Dena Weiss, click here.

  • Drisha, 37 W. 65th St., New York, NY

Prepare for 
Tisha B'Av
with our
Online Learning


Tisha B’Av Program

Co-sponsored by Drisha and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School
10:15am – Study and Recitation of Kinnot (Poems of Lamentation)led by David Silber, Wendy Amsellem, Daniel Reifman, and Drisha/YCT/Nishma students
1:00pm – Questions From the Long Night: Selections from the Responsa of Rav Ephrayim Oshrywith Dov Linzer (YCT)
2:15pm – Rabbi Akiva and an Ethic of Painwith Wendy Amsellem (Drisha)
3:30pm – Silence and Speech in the Presence of Sufferingwith Raphael Magarik (Mechon Hadar)
4:45pm – Perceiving Tragedy Through the Lens of the Book of Eicha
with David Silber (Drisha)
Our Tisha B’Av program is coed and all are welcome to attend.


Recommended reading from

Random ramblings

The new sexy? :(
The guy walking in front of me was wearing an untucked shirt with three shiny gold stripes placed smack across his backside.  Why not just put a bull's-eye on your butt?  Not exactly my idea of t'znua (modest) clothing.  I call 'em as I see 'em, male or female.

All's quiet on the not-home front :(
See here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Parashat Matot-Maasei, 5775/2015 thought, slightly belated

See these previous posts of mine:
~ Parshat Matot (2011)--How did the half-tribe of Menashe get a free ride?
~ Parshat Matot-Maasei (2012)--An Ir Miklat/City of Refuge was the functional equivalent of "house arrest" and/or protective custody.

And now, for something completely different--on the subject of vows, as discussed in Parshat Matot 30:2-17, I refer you to Parashat Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:14:

יד  לֹא-תְקַלֵּל חֵרֵשׁ--וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר, לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי יְהוָה.14 Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling-block before the blind, but thou shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD.

In a recent discussion of halachah/Jewish religious law at Mechon Hadar (or perhaps it was on one of his Responsa Radio podcasts), Rav Ethan Tucker happened to mention in passing that a person can "take a vow" to become a vegetarian.  Exactly when in the development of halachah did the simple act of making a major decision and/or performing an action on a continuous basis become a vow?  And how?  And why?  Isn't the very definition of a vow, from a halachic perspective, a promise made to G-d, or at least, in G-d's name?  Where does G-d come into play in a decision to become a vegetarian?  Or to eat only fish, but not "fleish" (meat and/or poultry)?  Since when is such a commitment made to G-d, or at least, in G-d's name?

Speaking as someone who did not receive a yeshiva or Jewish day school education and who has a husband and many friends in the same boat, I think this is a classic case of "lifrei iver lo titen michshol (in front of a blind person, did not put a stumbling block"), as interpreted by the rabbis of old:  " . . .  one should refrain from tempting a person to sin or  leading a person to sin out of ignorance."  How many of us non-yeshiva graduates would have any idea that we would need to have our "vow" annulled if, for example, we realized that being vegetarian was incompatible with our personal metabolism, and that we would have to eat meat in order to be healthy?  It would never have occurred to me that a decision to become a vegetarian (and, presumably, at least some other major decisions) constituted a vow if I hadn't heard Rav Tucker mention it as an example of one.  And surely my generation is not the first in Jewish history to include amei ha-aretz, Jewishly-under-educated Jews--the rabbis' own definition of "iver, blind"--so they should have known better than to assume that every Jew would understand.

I honestly forget whether it's the Written Torah itself or the rabbis of old that/who caution(s) that it's better to avoid making a vow than to break one.  Yet rabbinic law seems to have turned decisions into vows even though no actual vow was made!  In all seriousness, does an adult man who's been wearing a black hat, black suit, and white shirt all his life need to get permission from a Bet Din (Jewish religious court) to switch to a s'rugi (crocheted kippah), blue suit, and yellow shirt?  Why would the rabbis go out of their way to create a category of sin where, to the best of my admittedly-limited knowledge, none existed previously?  (Is this what's called a "chiddush," an innovation in halachah?  Or is it a chumrah?)  Am I missing and/or misinterpreting something?

Labels: ,

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Snapshots for Sunday (and more)

An interesting entrance . . .

. . . with arches inside arches

Counting heads, literally
Every Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holiday), it's the same story--we rarely get a minyan in time for the Bar'chu (Call to Prayer), and must often skip the Chazarat haShaTz (repetition of the Amidah prayer by the Shaliach Tzibur/representative of the congregation/prayer leader) for the same reason.  It's just a matter of time before we don't get a minyan at all and must read the Torah reading from a printed Chumash rather than from a handwritten sefer Torah scroll.

And while we're on the subject of counting heads . . .

Some people are absolutely serious about refusing to bentsch (do Birkat HaMazon/Grace after Meals) :(
Start here.

"Why are you in such a rush?"  "Because we want to bentch while we still have a minyan."

In response, the questioner and one other person actually picked themselves up and left the shul building.

I was thoroughly offended.  


More bad news re goodies
My husband goes into By the Way gluten-free dairy-free kosher bakery to check their ingredients list, and finds that all of their chocolate products contain soy.  No more chocolate-chip cookies for him, and no more chocolate-chip mini-cakes for me.  Phooey.  :(

And to top it off, I don't like the taste of the palm oil in Enjoy Life crunchy cookies.

Which leaves a grand total of three items as my preferred Shabbat and Yom Tov treats:
~ Enjoy Life snickerdoodle soft-baked cookies
~ By the Way biscotti
~ By the Way almond cookies

Less-frequent favorites:
~ Macaroons
~ Homemade baked goods, which I hesitate to make too often lest I eat too many!  :)


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Surprise, surprise

One of the most interesting aspects of having such a large proportion of our staff crammed into two floors in one building (as opposed to the former multiple floors in multiple buildings) is that people with whom I used to have phone contact almost exclusively, or no contact at all, in our previous location are now rarely more than a short walk from my desk.  Among other things, that means that I now know a lot more staff members than I used to know.

Sometimes, however, I don't yet have a name to pair with a frequently-seen face.  Last week, a staff member from another department dropped by to discuss some business with another member of my boss's staff.  Taking advantage of the situation, I jotted down that person's name and extension while s/he was here.  As the person left, s/he wished us an easy fast.  "How nice," I thought. " I guess this person's been working for our (Jewish non-profit) organization long enough to have learned about Tisha B'Av."  I'm embarrassed to say that it took a few minutes for me to realize what a mistake I'd made.  "Dunkoff! (Dummy)!  You thought that s/he wasn't Jewish just because s/he's not white?!  With a name like that, what else could s/he possibly be?!"  Stereotypes die hard, even for someone who already knows several other non-white Jews.  (And no, they're not all converts.)  'Scuse me while I wipe the egg off my face.

["Hidden" here to keep this post off the top of my blog--actual date of publication Mon., July 27, 2015.]

Sunday, July 05, 2015

All's quiet on the not-home front

It's an annoyance that I can rarely post from the office anymore because, due to the acoustics of our relatively-new office, it's easy for someone to sneak up on me and catch me in the act--I literally can't hear 'em comin'.  Sorry about the dirth of posts.

["Hidden" here to keep this post off the top of my blog--actual date of publication Thurs., July 23, 2015.]

Diet ditched, and other health-related news

Those bored with my "health" posts are cordially invited to read about the recent ordination of Orthodox Women as rabbis, instead.

I was hoping that going on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet would help me with my FODMAPS problem--almost all of the foods that give me grief (cabbage, gluten, dairy, dried fruit, and nuts) are on one FODMAPS list or another. (Lists from different sources are not consistent.)  But the Specific Carb Diet is really intended largely for people whose health condition gives them chronic diarrhea, and since my problem is currently more episodic than chronic, this diet had me going in the opposite direction (or rather, not going much at all).  One good piece of advice that I got from Jordan and Steve is to listen to one's own body--if the diet says that a certain food is permitted but you react badly to it, ignore the diet and avoid that food.  In my case, my body said that avoiding grains was created a problem that I didn't have previously, so I listened to my body and ditched the diet.

But I did learn a few good things from my two and a half weeks on the Specific Carb Diet.  One was that I really have to be much more careful about my consumption of sugar (which is forbidden on the SCD).  I've been cutting back for over a decade, due to infections and leg cramps, restricting my sugar consumption mainly to weekends, and, more recently, to Shabbat (Sabbath) and Yom Tov (holiday).  I've now decided that, particularly since the gluten-free oat rolls that I use for the motzi blessing (which is required on every Shabbat and Yom Tov) have so much sugar in them (and are so high in fat) that they practically pass for cake, I should have no more that two cookies or one small piece of cake (such as one quarter of one of my beloved chocolate chip mini-cakes from good old gluten-free, dairy-free By the Way kosher bakery) on a Shabbat or Yom Tov.  Yesterday, I ate only half of a biscotti and one other cookie.

Speaking of chocolate chip cake and listening to my body, another thing I learned was that I really must stop eating so much chocolate (cocoa being forbidden on the SCD), which has been giving me acid reflux and/or heart palpitations for years.  No more chocolate pig-outs on Shabbat or Yom Tov--a little or none is much better for my health.  Yesterday, I had no chocolate at all.

In better news, I got some very useful information from Elaine Gottshall's Breaking the Vicious Cycle (the "Bible" of the Specific Carb Diet), namely, a list of high-lactose (forbidden) and low-lactose (permitted) cheeses.  I was first diagnosed as lactose-intolerant when I was a college sophomore, so knowing what products to avoid and what I might be able to eat is very helpful.  Forbidden are all processed cheeses (goodby, American cheese) and all soft cheeses (including cream cheese, ricotta cheese and regular cottage cheese). My formerly-beloved mozzarella sticks are now permanently off of my diet.  Permitted are cheeses from which most of the whey has been removed and which have been "cured" of (most?) lactose by the addition of a bacterial culture.  I'm still not sure about the permitted dry-curd cottage cheese (sold in this part of the U.S. under the name "farmer cheese"), which doesn't seem to sit that well in my tummy.  Swiss cheese, on the other hand, might now be my new friend.

My husband chimes in with another health concern
After much research online, my husband has concluded that non-fermented soy products have a deleterious effect on one's health, and we've begun to purge our diet of all of them.  This is discouraging, as we originally started eating soy foods decades years ago, and only stopped on a chiropractor's advice a few years ago, in the hoping of reducing our cholesterol intake.  Unfortunately, with newer research, it now appears that unfermented soy products create more problems than they solve.  Soy's phytoestrogens increase women's chances of getting breast cancer and decrease male hormones.  Soy, which is forbidden on the Specific Carbs Diet, is also considered one of the eight most common allergens.  (Heavy soy consumption made a vegetarian friend of ours quite ill.)  Therefore, with great regret, we have bid farewell to both Mary's Gone Crackers cookies and Lucy's, and will be sticking with Enjoy Life for our cookies. Good-bye and good riddance to non-fermented soy products.

My apologies for posting about food on a fast day--maybe I was trying to distract myself from the fast.  :)
<< List
Jewish Bloggers
Join >>