Friday, June 28, 2019

Age before beauty: A glitch in our Kabbalat Shabbat experiment plans

After my mother died about 10 years ago, I went to minyan faithfully every morning for the traditional 11 months to say kaddish for her.

By the time my father died almost two years later, I was no longer able to do that--I found that waking up at 5 AM to get to the subway by 6:30 for the commute to the nearest egalitarian minyan at 7 was quite literally making me sick.  I had to substitute an extra psalm or some online Torah study between work assignments for minyan attendance.

I was reminded of that problem last weekend, when we stayed up late on Friday due to going to BJ's Bo-i Kallah service and then woke up early on Saturday to make a minyan at our home synagogue--by Saturday afternoon, I was too sick to return for Mincha-Maariv services, and by Sunday, I had lost my voice.  I missed an entire week's work.

The bottom line is that I really shouldn't leave our neighborhood more than twice a month, at most, to attend Kabbalat Shabbat services because I get home late and still have to get up early the next morning to go to shul, and I'm probably too prone to sleep-deprivation-related illness to do that too often.  It's a disappointment that I can't "burn the candle at both ends" anymore without getting a cold, but if getting a cold is my worst health problem, I can't complain.

May we all be blessed with good health, or some reasonable semblance thereof.

Shabbat Shalom.


Monday, June 24, 2019

Kabbalat Shabbat experiment: Bo-i Kallah at BJ

B'nai Jeshurun's Bo-i Kallah "Sefarad-Yerushalayim" egalitarian service is delightful.  Since we're Ashkenazim, we knew almost none of the tunes, but are eager to learn them, and hope to get to this roughly-monthly alternative service every month or two.  The space is small, and doesn't allow for dancing, but the music is a joy, and the instrumentalists (on guitar, hand-drum, and something that may or may not have been a clarinet) are good, though, as stated previously, I do have to learn how to harmonize around musical instruments.

P.S.  Make sure to use the BJ Community House entrance at 270 West 89th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue, or you'll end up in the main service.


Friday, June 21, 2019

The ancient rabbinic imagination is still harmful to some Jewish women

For this year's B'haalot'cha/Behaalotecha/Behaalotcha (whatever) post, see here.

See part one, The ancient rabbinic imagination could be harmful to women.

I'm going to jump right in and post my source:

Sources Regarding Kol Isha [the rule, sometimes observed with exceptions, sometimes not observed at all, forbidding a man to listen to a woman sing] by Gil Student [of Hirhurim].

There are two main talmudic passages that deal with kol isha.

1. Berachos 24a

Rav Yitzchak said: A tefach [Shira: I think that's roughly 2 inches, or see here] of a woman is nakedness ('ervah).

For what? If you say for looking at it, Rav Sheshes said: Why did the Torah count outer ornaments with inner ornaments? To tell you that anyone who looks at the small finger of a woman is as if he looked at the obscene place. Rather, [Rav Yitzchak is talking about] one's wife an[d] kerias shema [the reading/recitation of the Sh'ma, a biblical quotation affirming the oneness of God--I think the reference is to a man getting sexually distracted while reciting the Sh'ma].

Rav Chisda said: The thigh of a woman is nakedness as it says (Isaiah 47:2) "expose a thigh to cross a river" and it says (ibid. 3) "your nakedness will be exposed and your embarrassment will be seen."

Shmuel said: The voice of a woman is nakedness as it says (Song of Songs 2:14) "for your voice is sweet and your countenance comely."

Rav Sheshes said: The hair of a woman is nakedness as it says (ibid. 4:1) "you hair is like a flock of goats."

2. Kiddushin 70a

[Rav Nachman said to Rav Yehudah]: Would you like to send regards to Yalta [Rav Nachman's wife]?

He [Rav Yehudah] said: Shmuel said: The voice of a woman is nakedness."

All of this may sound entirely irrelevant to 21st-century Jews, but for many Orthodox women, it is not.

The problem is not only that these rabbis' game of one-upmanship was blatantly sexist, since these men were, apparently, trying to figure how many parts of a woman's body could be "proven" to be obscene.

The problem is that this game is taken to be the "word of God," as part of the Torah sheh-b'al-peh (the so-called Oral Law, which has long since been written down.)  This can happen when one takes Jewish tradition not only seriously, but also literally.

Back in olden times, before practically the entire "Jewish blogosphere" moved to Facebook, I read quite a number of laments on Orthodox married women's blogs that keeping their hair covered whenever they were in public meant that they had low-grade headaches quite literally every day.  Some also complained that, no matter what kind of kisui rosh/head-covering they chose, they invariably suffered from hair loss.  Whoever said that covering all or most of one's head for most of one's waking hours was healthy?  Yet, in some circles, it's considered to be the only acceptable behavior for a married Orthodox woman.  I can think of eight Orthodox Jewish married women in my office who cover all or most of their hair, and only two who do not.

Then there's that "kol isha" business.  Though I've blogged ad nauseum about kol isha, one thing I've never written about is how it affects some folks in my office.  One of my co-workers has been renting an apartment in someone's house for well over a decade, and has never once felt free to sing in her own apartment, lest her landlord hear her singing.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to feel constrained never to sing z'mirot (Sabbath songs) in my own home.  

The ancient rabbinic imagination has been counterbalanced, to some extent, by both non-Orthodox and Orthodox rabbis who choose to rule in a meikil (lenient) manner on some matters of halachah (Jewish religious law) that harm women.  I haven't forgotten the story of an Orthodox married female blogger who was in so much pain from her head-covering that her husband, an Orthodox rabbi, told her to take it off.  I'm in favor of any interpretation that results in better health for women and less stifling of women's self-expression.

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The ancient rabbinic imagination could be harmful to women

For this year's B'haalot'cha/Behaalotecha/Behaalotcha (whatever) post, see here.

The fearless leaders of our local Jewish Justice Text Study group had a few interesting things to say about Sotah (see (last Shabbat's reading, Parshat Naso, Numbers 5:11-31) in the source sheets that they distributed.  They referred us to Mishnah Sotah, where I read this:

אִם אָמְרָה טְמֵאָה אָנִי, שׁוֹבֶרֶת כְּתֻבָּתָהּ וְיוֹצֵאת. וְאִם אָמְרָה טְהוֹרָה אָנִי, מַעֲלִין אוֹתָהּ לְשַׁעַר הַמִּזְרָח שֶׁעַל פֶּתַח שַׁעַר נִקָּנוֹר, שֶׁשָּׁם מַשְׁקִין אֶת הַסּוֹטוֹת, וּמְטַהֲרִין אֶת הַיּוֹלְדוֹת, וּמְטַהֲרִין אֶת הַמְּצֹרָעִים. וְכֹהֵן אוֹחֵז בִּבְגָדֶיהָ, אִם נִקְרְעוּ נִקְרָעוּ, אִם נִפְרְמוּ נִפְרָמוּ, עַד שֶׁהוּא מְגַלֶּה אֶת לִבָּהּ, וְסוֹתֵר אֶת שְׂעָרָהּ. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, אִם הָיָה לִבָּהּ נָאֶה, לֹא הָיָה מְגַלֵּהוּ. וְאִם הָיָה שְׂעָרָהּ נָאֶה, לֹא הָיָה סוֹתְרוֹ:

If she said, “I am defiled to you”, she gives him a receipt for her ketubah and goes out [with a get]. But if she says, “I am pure”, they bring her up to the east gate, Nicanor’s gate, where they give women suspected of adultery the water to drink, purify women after childbirth and purify lepers. A priest seizes her clothing if they are torn, then they are torn, and if they become unstitched, then they are unstitched, until he uncovers her bosom, and he undoes [the braids of] her hair. Rabbi Judah says: if her bosom was beautiful he does not uncover it, and if her hair was beautiful he does not undo it.

הָיְתָה מִתְכַּסָּה בִלְבָנִים, מְכַסָּהּ בִּשְׁחוֹרִים. הָיוּ עָלֶיהָ כְלֵי זָהָב וְקַטְלָיאוֹת, נְזָמִים וְטַבָּעוֹת, מַעֲבִירִים מִמֶּנָּה כְּדֵי לְנַוְּלָהּ. וְאַחַר כָּךְ מֵבִיא חֶבֶל מִצְרִי וְקוֹשְׁרוֹ לְמַעְלָה מִדַּדֶּיהָ. וְכָל הָרוֹצֶה לִרְאוֹת בָּא לִרְאוֹת, חוּץ מֵעֲבָדֶיהָ וְשִׁפְחוֹתֶיהָ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁלִּבָּהּ גַּס בָּהֶן. וְכָל הַנָּשִׁים מֻתָּרוֹת לִרְאוֹתָהּ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (יחזקאל כג) וְנִוַּסְּרוּ כָּל הַנָּשִׁים וְלֹא תַעֲשֶׂינָה כְּזִמַּתְכֶנָה:

If she was clothed in white, he clothes her in black. If she wore gold jewelry or necklaces, ear-rings and finger-rings, they remove them from her in order to make her repulsive. After that [the priest] takes a rope made of twigs and binds it over her breasts. Whoever wishes to look upon her comes to look with the exception of her male and female slaves, since she has no shame in front of them. All of the women are permitted to look upon her, as it is said, “That all women may be taught not to do after your lewdness” (Ezekiel 23:48)."

According to this passage from the Mishnah, not only did the priest strip the Sotah half-naked, he tortured her, and she was displayed to other women as a threat--you, too, will be tortured if you make your husband jealous.

In other words, the rabbis took a humiliating ritual and added sadism.  If this actually ever happened, it was a literal horror show.  If this text was just a product of the rabbis' vivid imaginations, it certainly doesn't say much for their opinion of women.

It's no wonder that Rabbi Dr. Sarra Lev described Sotah this way:

"Sotah: Rabbinic Pornography?
Even while the average woman may understand herself to be watched, particularly by the
anonymous masses who may relate her seclusion with the other man to her husband, this watching
alone is not enough for the Rabbis to ensure her proper conduct and normative behavior. The Rabbis,
in their vision of the entire project, introduce corporal punishment into the picture as well as stripping
her and making her drink, thereby inscribing the crime on her (not yet guilty) body. One marvels at the rabbinic mind in this particular tractate, which seems so extreme in its treatment of the woman who may or may not have strayed. But perhaps these Rabbis are perfectly aware of the power of being watched, and fully understand that the ritual will not take place. Perhaps it is this very matter — the fact that they already exert complete control on her watched body —- that explains just how far they allow themselves to wander in writing this ritual."
Sotah: Rabbinic Pornography? by Rabbi Sarra Lev, Ph.D. from The Passionate Torah

The source texts that we read indicated that the Sotah ritual was already not being performed while the Bet HaMikdash/Holy Temple in Jerusalem still stood.  Apparently, some of the rabbis came to their senses.

Mishnah Sotah (190-230 CE)
When adulterers multiplied, the ceremony of the bitter waters ceased and it was
Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai who discontinued it, as it is said, “I will not punish their
daughters for fornicating, nor their daughters-in-law for committing adultery, for they
themselves [turn aside with whores and sacrifice with prostitutes]” (Hosea 4:14).

But that doesn't mean that the ancient rabbinic imagination doesn't still harm some Jewish women to this day.

See my next post.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Parashat B'haalot'cha/Behaalotecha/Behaalotcha (whatever), 2019/5779 thought

Copied from my comment to Conservadox's latest post, Dvar Torah- Behalotecha
[See specifically
Chapter 11, especially verse 5, quoted below.]

"I’m surprised to see that I’ve never posted about this (and will try to remember to do so), but what about the rest of the Israelites’ complaint:

ה זָכַרְנוּ, אֶת-הַדָּגָה, אֲשֶׁר-נֹאכַל בְּמִצְרַיִם, חִנָּם; אֵת הַקִּשֻּׁאִים, וְאֵת הָאֲבַטִּחִים, וְאֶת-הֶחָצִיר וְאֶת-הַבְּצָלִים, וְאֶת-הַשּׁוּמִים. 5 We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic;

Give the poor Israelites a break–they were complaining about malnutrition. Not only does a human not live on bread alone, they also don’t live on just bread and the occasional bit of meat alone, either. What they wanted was not just quails, but also fish, vegetables and fruit, or, in other words, a healthy diet."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

To my Christian readers, if any: Sharing a heritage can be challenging (part 3)

Part 1

Part 2

This post is about a song that makes me sad . . .

. . .  and about some responses to that song that made me even sadder.

Here's the Israeli duo Yonina singing a song that they wrote, "Mamtinim (Waiting)."  Be sure to click on "More" for the lyrics and English translation, and, if your Hebrew comprehension is as poor as mine, be sure to click on CC for captions.

When Yonina composed and made a video of "Mamtinim," I'm sure they never expected some viewers of that video to post comments such as these:

Unexpected Comment #1:
"Love this music, because to see the songs is the wonderful presence of the Holy Ghost :)"


Unexpected Comment #2 (excerpt):
"Yonina...i love your are a blessing!"

. . .

The commenter then proceeds to quote from "Yochanon."   The Hebrew name Yochanan is generally translated as John.


Unexpected Comment #3 (excerpt):
"This is indeed a very beautiful song, that touches the soul,. . .

. . .

The commenter then writes about "his infinite mercy, in the work he performed on the tree of atonement, . . . and talks about "when the Mashiach returns.  Yeshua ha Mashiach . . . shed his innocent blood . . . "


Judging by both their clothing and the songs that they write and/or sing, the duo Yonina--Yoni and Nina Tokayer--are Orthodox Jews.

Therefore, I can guarantee you that they did not and would not ever write any songs about the Holy Ghost, because we Jews do not believe in the Holy Ghost.

I can also guarantee you that their "Mamtinim" is not about the return of "Yeshua ha Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah)", because (a) according to Jewish tradition, the Messiah/HaMashiach has not yet come, and, therefore, cannot "return," and (b) we Jews do not believe that Jesus was, is, or will be the Messiah.

I would also like to remind my readers that the Gospel of John, quoted in Unexpected Comment #2, is part of the Christian Bible.  Why did Comment #2's writer quote from the Christian Bible--did they not notice that the male singer in this video is wearing a kippah / yarmulke / skullcap?

As a Jew, it seems to me quite clear that Yonina's target audience for "Mamtinim" was their fellow and sister Orthodox Jews, or, at least, Jews with some knowledge of Jewish sacred literature.  The proof is that they quote repeatedly--the quote is embedded in the chorus--from a text by the Jewish scholar Maimonides that I suspect many Christians don't know.  I will spare you an internet search for "The Thirteen Principals of Faith"--you can read the entire list here.

"I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah,
and though he tarry

אחכה לו בכל יום שיבוא

Achakeh lo b'chol yom sheh-yavo [This is quoted in the chorus.]

I will await him each day."

The commenters not only meant no harm, they believed sincerely, no doubt, that their comments were compliments to Yonina.

But that, in itself, is a problem:  There are Christians who do not understand, as the comments above demonstrate, that Judaism is not just a miniscule denomination of Christianity with adherents who share Christian beliefs but observe some unusual customs--they seem to be unaware that Judaism is  a completely separate and independent religion with its own beliefs.

Judaism is the parent religion of the Church, not one of its many children, but it's not necessarily treated that way.

There is hardly any aspect of the Jewish religious civilization--whether it's something as ancient as the Jewish Bible or something as contemporary as a Jewish song that was just published on YouTube in 2018--that is not susceptible to being completely reinterpreted by some Christians.

That sometimes makes this writer wonder whether we Jews actually own our own Judaism anymore.


To my Christian readers, if any: Sharing a heritage can be challenging (part 2)

Part 1

It sometimes seems to me that reinterpreting the Jewish Bible in accordance with Christians beliefs comes as naturally to some Christians as breathing.

What may not be so obvious to some Christians is that, when Christian interpretations of the Jewish Bible make the Jewish Bible almost unrecognizable to us Jews, we Jews are not always happy about that.

To my Christian readers, if any: Sharing a heritage can be challenging (part 1)

I can usually ignore the "street evangelists" trying to convert everyone to Christianity.

But this particular one really got my goat when they started quoting from the Jewish Bible.

I don't need anyone's permission to get upset when someone tries to use my own sacred text as a weapon to turn me against my own religion.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Why I Won't Apologize for Having Fun While Chronically Ill (Denise Reich)

I saw a link to this on Facebook, and wanted to share it.  You can read the entire article here.  The following are some important points.

"Whenever ill people do — well, anything — it’s taken as “proof” that we’re bluffing about our condition. Many of us are confronted by complete strangers on a regular basis when we go out in public, on everything from using parking placards to requesting ADA accommodation at events."

. . .

Social media photos and observations of chronically ill people smiling and looking “normal” or doing errands have even been used to deny or remove disability benefits, which is quite possibly the most troubling thing of all. It’s hard to understand that disability determination specialists, doctors and government benefits administrators — people who supposedly are knowledgeable about a wide range of health conditions — don’t accept the concepts of good days, payback and invisible illnesses that do not always have linear trajectories.

Nobody ever seems to consider what’s happening outside and around that Facebook photo they’re snarking about. The fact that it might have been the first time in weeks that chronically ill patient got to do something really fun eludes them. They don’t realize how much those activities cost in terms of pain, fatigue and reduced function. They look at one photo or one Facebook status about one day and think they’re an expert on your life."

A comment to this article:
"Great article I can so relate to all of it. My symptoms very from bed ridden for a matter of days to having some days in a row where I am in pain but can work through it. I have children, I want to be a part of their lives and don't want them to remember me just as "mom who was in bed sick all the time" I will be strong for them and I will try to do things with them when I can. If you happen to see me on one of those days you are catching me on a non-bedridden ok day. That doesn't mean I am cured, it doesn't mean I am well enough to hold down a regular job, and I do not have to apologize for trying to enjoy my better days."

I have family members and friends with chronic conditions, and I don't think they should be prisoners of their problems.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Why this Askenazit can't speak Ashkenazi Hebrew anymore

When I first moved to New York City, I joined a synagogue that was not just Zionist, but militantly so.  They didn't use the (an?) Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew just to be modern (or whatever), they used it as a matter of Zionist principal.  We actually had an incident, back when I was a member of the Ritual Committee, in which a congregant petitioned for the right to chant a haftarah in Ashkenazi Hebrew.  The decision of the Ritual Committee was that a person would be permitted to chant a haftarah in Ashkenazi pronunciation, but not to lead the congregation or read the Torah in Ashkenazi, the principal being that only when performing a ritual that did not involve another person or persons was anyone allowed to use Ashkenazi.

This militant approach to Hebrew pronunciation has had a lifelong effect on my own personal practice.  Though I credit my parents with having ensured that I knew how to read Hebrew and knew about all of the major Jewish holidays, I learned roughly 75% of what I know now about Judaism as an adult.  I'm actually almost entirely self-taught when it comes to prayer and ritual, and I learned all of this while, or after, I was a member of my original New York City synagogue.  The result is that most of what I know, I never learned in Ashkenazi in the first place, and, as a result of my having been a member of a Sefardi-pronumciation-only congregation for over a decade, it simply never occurred to me to maintain my ability to go back and forth between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Hebrew pronunciation.  So it throws me to hear recordings of Israeli singers singing prayers set to original music in Ashkenazi Hebrew, and it also throws me to hear people my age or younger leading services in Ashkenazi Hebrew.  Only recently did it finally dawn on me that, for many Zionist Ashkenazi Jews, it's perfectly normal and natural to use Ashkenazi Hebrew for prayer and Sefardi Hebrew for everything else, and that I'm the one who's weird.

[Friday, July 12, 2019:
I should probably mention that this post was inspired by a trip to the Hadar website, where I heard Rosh Beit Midrash Dena Tannor Weiss, a woman vastly more knowledgeable than I but probably not more than half my age, chanting/teaching nusach in Ashkenazi Hebrew.]


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