Monday, December 28, 2020

One of our better weekends, given the pandemic

First, our son realized that it would be easier to bypass the difficult-to-use "smart" part of our smart TV, so he made it so--he fiddled with (programmed?) his tablet to transmit a movie directly to our TV, and treated all three of us to the second Wonder Woman movie, WW84 (or Wonder Woman [19]84, for us old-fashioned folks).  We enjoyed it thoroughly.  No spoilers!  :)

Then, since we'd had a nice Shabbos (Shabbat, Sabbath) nap and were still awake, we took a trip to  Chava Mirel's Facebook page, scrolled down to the soon-to-disappear Mazon benefit concert video, and topped our movie with a musical night-cap.  Delightful, and with lots of lights--it's actually a Chanukah concert, but wonderful even after the holiday.  I encourage you to watch it (if it's still available online) and make a contribution, if you can, to Mazon:  A Jewish Response to Hunger.

As we were about to go to bed, I took a quick tour of Facebook to try to see whether I'm missed anything I would want to see, and sure enough, I had--Eliana Light had had a sudden yen to sing z'mirot this past Friday, and had posted a spontaneous z'mirot session just before she lit Shabbat candles.  We ended up watching it on Sunday afternoon, of all times, but it was fun, and we hope to participate in future z'mirot sing-alongs with Eliana, preferably on the proper day.  :)

We ended our weekend on a serious note, watching a panel discussion, "Descent into Danger: Jewish Law and the Climate Crisis," presented by the Modern Orthodox Yeshivat Chovevei Torah rabbinical school.  Bottom line:  According to Halachah/Jewish Religious Law, there is an an obligation to save the planet.  If you're serious about a Jewish approach to the unfolding ecological disaster, this is certainly an important video to watch.




We rarely leave our neighborhood these days, since we don't own a car and don't use public transit unless we have a medical appointment--we wish to avoid unnecessary exposure to COVID-19.  But the rest of the world seems to be coming to us, instead.


Possession of a television and a computer and access to the internet are real godsends, and I am very grateful that we're fortunate enough to have them.

[If my spacing looks weird, it's because I'm having great difficulty editing this post, and adding extra spacing where I don't want to add it seems to be the only work-around.  The post seems to have become corrupted, so some words are missing even though *I* can see them on the Edit screen, and there are extra dots, for some unknown reason.  Sorry.]



Wednesday, December 23, 2020

An Isru Chag, of sorts--my gluten-free sufganiyot finally arrived yesterday . . .

 . . . a mere four days after Chanukah ended.  Nu, I was supposed to eat those donuts *on* Chanukah, not after it!  Oh, well, I guess I'll just add my calories belatedly.  :)

Isru Chag

Sunday, December 20, 2020

There's no "tooth fairy" for seniors (sigh): Round 2, but with park pictures

. . .

Shira flossed down 

and lost that same crown

and the curse-words came tumbling after



(Round 1 here.)

On the plus side:

~ I spent only about 15 minutes--and no more money--at the dentist.

~ I got an excuse to take the subway into Manhattan again--we've been avoiding public transit during this pandemic except for medical appointments--and this appointment was early enough in the day (11 AM this past Friday) that I could walk across Central Park South (where my dentist is), take some photos of Central Park under a blanket of snow, then hop on a bus and stock up on meat at Kosher Marketplace.

Remind me, though, to take my shots from the downtown/south side of Central Park South because the snow gets cleared from the sidewalks in front of the buildings, but not necessarily from the sidewalks on the park side.  I had to walk super-slowly to keep myself from falling.

This is why I didn't go into the park--not all of the walkways were cleared very well.

This is why I should have stayed on the downtown/south side of Central Park South--it was slippery territory on the park side.

I'm not sure what that structure is, but it's pretty.

Here I am at the southwest entrance to Central Park.  I made it!

Greetings from the entrance statues, and, of course, a pigeon.  :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

I chose some bright dreidlach/sevivonim from my collection to brighten up this dismal year

The view from our window tonight

Monday, December 14, 2020

There's no "tooth fairy" for seniors (sigh)

 . . .

Shira bit down 

and lost a crown

and the bill came tumbling after

Halachah & COVID-19--how precedent, denial, and stubbornness can endanger us


The rabbis of old took a midrash that seems to have no basis in the text of Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther) itself--the notion that Mordechai and Esther were not only first cousins, but were also husband and wife--and derived from that interesting tale a ruling that a married woman who's forced to have sex with another man against her will is not held accountable for adultery.  While I applaud this decision, obviously, I must admit that I can't quite understand why the rabbis needed to base it on a midrash.  Can't a halachic decision be made just because it's the right thing to do?  Must p'sak (a halachic ruling) always be based on a text, a tradition, and/or a precedent?


In the early years of the development of electricity, the rabbis made a ruling that one could not turn an electrical device on or off on Shabbat (Sabbath) because electricity was a form of fire and/or a form of building (construction), and both starting a fire and building are forbidden on Shabbat.  Good luck getting either explanation past our son, who has a PhD in physics--he has always adamantly insisted that the rabbis were just plain wrong because, according to science, electricity is neither a form of fire nor a form of building.  Yet I have noticed a tendency among the more traditional--it seems difficult to admit that a posek (a halachic decisor) is just plain wrong.  

Speaking of electricity, the rule seems to be that a minyan must consist of ten people who are all in the same room, which means that a service conducted by Zoom (or a similar online "meeting") is not a minyan. 

Yes, I can certainly think of other reasons for the rules about electricity.  Using just about any communication device or "screen," be it a phone, a television, a computer, or a gaming device, on Shabbat interferes with the face-to-face communication that is a hallmark of Shabbat observance.  That's why we, ourselves, avoided using the phone or any "screens" on Shabbat until the pandemic.  And I can also understand the concern that allowing people to attend minyan via Zoom might discourage people from showing up in person. 

But denying the place of electrical devices in contemporary life places "a stumbling block before the blind (Parashat Kedoshim/Genesis 19:14)."    First of all, it makes praying with a minyan difficult or impossible for many elderly people and many people with disabilities.  Second--and especially during an air-borne pandemic--it defies what I understand to be a rabbinic tradition that one does not make rulings that the people will not follow.


Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, a rabbi told a story (online, I believe) about their attempt to continue holding daily minyanim in person by moving the minyanim from the small chapel/bet midrash to the much-larger sanctuary, to give room for social distancing.  Much to their dismay, they found that people for whom coming to synagogue was not necessarily safe--older and/or health-compromised congregants--came to the relocated minyanim because they thought it was safe.  In the interest of preserving lives, the rabbi quickly cancelled all in-person minyanim and took their congregation's services online.  

We all know that it's safer to davven bi-y'chidut (pray alone) than to pray in a group during an air-borne pandemic, yet we also know that many folks insist on attending in-person services anyway, to the possible detriment of their health and the health of anyone living with them, as well as others with whom they come in contact.  Stubbornness is in our DNA--we're Am K'shei Oref, a stiff-necked people.  But stubbornness is in the DNA of our rabbis, as well.  The stubborn rabbinate of observant Jews hasn't give them any choice--either they risk their health or they pray alone, since observant rabbis won't permit Zoom minyanim.  This results in what appears to me to be the blatantly obvious problem that observant people who feel that they have an obligation to say kaddish for a deceased parent must show up in person, whether they think it's safe or not.  To put it bluntly, the stubbornness of observant rabbis is putting peoples' lives at risk just because they won't admit that they might be wrong about electricity.


Here's a quote from the Orthodox Union--"Pikuach Nefesh: Concern for life is a paramount value in Halacha. We are compelled to violate most halachic prohibitions when confronting a possible risk to life, or a possible opportunity to save a life."

I can't see any justification for putting a prohibition against using electrical devices for making a minyan above saving lives.  If this isn't a good time for an "emergency ruling" (hora'at sha'ah?), I don't know what is.

And if a rabbi insists on following a precedent, they have one--it's called Chanukah.  The halachic leaders of the era of the original Chanukah ruled that one is permitted to violate Shabbat to defend oneself if one's life is threatened.  The only difference between the enemy of that era and the enemy of this one is that the threat to life comes not from an army, but from a virus.

To observant rabbis:  The lives of many observant--and, granted, sometimes stubborn, but also elderly and/or disabled--Jews are in your hands.  Either you allow a group of 10 praying on Zoom (and similar online "meetings") to be counted as a valid minyan, or you continue to put people's lives at risk.  The choice, and the responsibility, are yours.

The floor is open.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Awkward :(

Start here.

I can't forget the words of a cantor whom I heard speak at a panel discussion:  "I am the curator of my congregation's music."  One fine Shabbat, several months before the pandemic, our cantor asked me to teach him some Debbie Friedman songs.  While I was happy to know that he was even interested, I couldn't help thinking, "You're the cantor.  Aren't we paying you to teach us new songs?"

So there are two issues involved.  One is that we put up with our cantor doing only part of his job for close to 25 years.  *Now* we're upset?!  He's more than old enough to retire!

The other issue is that I think the cantor is feeling competitive and/or threatened by our current approach of going around him to add new music to the services.   (Yes, I said "our."  Did I mention that my husband is our synagogue's acting rabbi?)  After we had led Adon Olam with new tunes for several weeks, he insisted on teaching a version that he originally said was new but then said was only new to us and was actually about 50 years old.  Sometimes he sings along (or did, before we went on Zoom), but sometimes he jumps in first, and I'm never quite sure whether he's doing that automatically, or whether he's trying to cut us off.  In the interest of keeping the peace during Elul, the High Holidays, and Sukkot, I was careful, after a couple of false starts, to wait to see whether he was going lead an old version of Lulei He'emanti Lir'ot or let me lead my, um, slightly rearranged (shorter and easier) version of Eliana Light's If Only (Lulei).

I'm sure it doesn't help that he knows I auditioned for cantorial school.  (In defense of Hebrew Union College, New York City campus, I have some memory of how I sounded on my second and last audition at age 30, and frankly, even I wasn't impressed by my voice.)  So I really can't blame him if he sees me as a competitor.

Have any of you any advice on how we might best continue to bring new Jewish music into our services, given the cantor that we have?

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