Wednesday, December 29, 2004


I don't know how to respond to the recent catastrophe, so I am going to pass the buck. Below is a list of links to posts on the subject by Jewish bloggers. (Feel free to mention any that I missed in the comments.)

The Fourth Rabbi has a story from a relative in Thailand and some reflections on the fragility of human life.

Strange_Selkie has a characteristically moving theological post.

Chayyei Sarah shares some thoughts on hester panim (God "hiding his face") and tikkun olam ("repairing the world"), as well as a poem by a friend.

Out of Step Jew muses on monotheism and natural disasters and references a collection of responses by other religious bloggers.

Allison Kaplan Sommer reports on Israelis vacationing in Sri Lanka, shares an incredible personal account of the disaster, and gives us the depressing (though unsurprising) news that Sri Lanka has refused to accept an Israeli aid delegation. She also reminds us that donations to help the victims can be directed to the American Jewish World Service.

Rachel Barenblat has some more details on the AJWS emergency appeal, as well as other organizations offering aid.

Reb Yudel has a post on the same topic.

Miriam Shavit reports on a telling error in the Vatican newspaper.

In case that isn't enough for you, Judith at Kesher Talk has a few more links.

And now for something completely different...

The Christian Science Monitor is running a poll on whether U.S. based churches should divest from companies that do business with Israel. The anti-Israel position currently has a significant lead. Companies' overall perception of public opinion is likely to affect their decision-making, so your vote may make a difference. (All right, so it probably won't, but it only takes a minute to vote. What's the harm?)

For the sake of the technologically illiterate, I'll make this simple: Click here to vote.

(I realize that I'm making an assumption about the opinions of my readers. Needless to say, which side to vote for is up to you.)

UPDATE: One more post from Allison Kaplan Sommer on Israeli aid to South Asia. This one's more lighthearted. (Very funny, actually. And sad.)

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: The Vatican's rebuke was not directed at Israel but at Sri Lanka, for refusing to accept Israeli aid. I've read bad translations before, but this is ridiculous.

UPDATE 2: Bloghead discusses responses to the disaster by religious Jews. Gil Student cites Psalm 46. Allison Kaplan Sommer has an update on Israeli aid efforts. Hatshepsut bashes the media for failing to notice.

UPDATE 3: Andrew Silow-Carroll has an excerpt of a fax from the Sri Lankan government, apparently distributed by the Israeli Consulate. The government of Sri Lanka thanks the "government and people of Israel" for their assistance and explains that their earlier rejection of an Israeli rescue team was "due to the lack of accomodation available in the country at this point and skilled manpower required for medical attention becoming adequate for the present in many areas." I think that means that they didn't need or have room for any more helpers. I'll believe that when I hear about the rejection of rescue teams from other countries.

Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan government is clearly trying to undo its earlier decision, and that sounds like good news to me.

Thursday, December 23, 2004


A while back (December 11th, to be precise), Jim Davila of PaleoJudaica wrote that he was inclined to stop using the term "biblioblogger" for bloggers who deal with the Bible:

I don't remember where it came from, but it's confusing: it looks like it could mean "bibliography blogger" or "book blogger" or "Bible blogger" or maybe even something else. "Bible blogger" ("academic Bible blogger," if you want to be precise) is much more straightforward and I think that's what I'm going to say from now on.

Ed Cook of Ralph the Sacred River objected that "Bible Blogger" has "overtones . . . of 'Bible Thumper,' 'Bible Believer,' and 'Bible Christian.'" This prompted a slew of alternative suggestions, including "biblablogger," "Bible scholar blogger," "biblicoblogger," "biblicablogger," "Bib-Lit blogger" (alternatively "BibLit Blogger," "BibLitBlogger," "Biblit Blogger," or "Biblitblogger"), "Scriptoblogger," "CryptoBlogger," and "antiquiblogger." (Cook suggested "biblogger" -- pronounced "bye-blogger" -- but that apparently sounded too much like "bisexual blogger.")

Personally, I'm somewhat partial to "BS Blogger," but then, I'm not really much of a biblioglioggerer (or whatever), so maybe it's not my place to proffer an opinion. (I'm not really a "postbiblioblogger," "transbiblioblogger," or "metabiblioblogger," either. "(Biblio+)blogger," maybe, but that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.) In any case, it's beginning to look like the bibliobliggerigs are going back to plain old "biblioblogger." So that may be the end of that.

In other news, US News & World Report has a special "collector's edition" out entitled Mysteries of the Bible. Thoroughly entertaining. Skip the timeline, though.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


My DH has started a Live Journal. He calls himself "elfsdh." Very creative.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

An Excuse to Eat Cheesecake

The RaMa (Rabbi Moses Isserles, c. 1525-1572) writes of a custom to eat cheese on Chanukah. The practice, he says, is meant to remind us of the milk that Judith served to a Greek general in order to put him to sleep, thus enabling herself to put him to death. This is curious, since the book of Judith (in its present form) has nothing to do with either Chanukah or dairy products. The story takes place during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar, over 400 years before the Hasmonean revolt commemorated on Chanukah, and the heroine lulls the enemy general to sleep with wine, not milk, before decapitating him.

The version of the legend involving milk is apparently the result of a conflation of Judith's story with that of Yael (Judges 4:17-31; 5:24-28), setting us back another 600 years or so. (Yael, according to the biblical narrative, lulled a Canaanite general to sleep with a bottle of milk before driving a tent peg through his head.) The Mishna Berura (Sh"A 670) harmonizes the two as follows:

She [Judith] was the daughter of Yohanan the High Priest. There was an edict that every engaged woman should sleep with a nobleman first, and she fed the head of the oppressors cheese to make him drunk, and cut of his head, and everyone fled.

The cheese apparently made the man thirsty, causing him to drink large quantities of wine.

Most scholars date the composition of the book of Judith to the Hasmonean period, and some suggest that it should be understood as an allegory for the Jewish struggle against the Syrian-Greeks. If this is the case, the story of Judith may be related to Chanukah after all, albeit not in the manner presumed by later Jewish tradition.

This, however, is not why I try to observe the custom of eating dairy on Chanukah. I do it because it provides an opportunity to tell the story of the story of Judith, a wonderful example of the continual re-creation of history within Jewish tradition.

That, and I really like cheesecake.

*Sort of. The author seems to have thought that Nebuchadrezzar was Assyrian, so one can't take the historical setting all that seriously.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Choosing Life

(I didn't come up with the biblical reference, but I like it.)

Our Hillel had a visit last week from the president and founder of the Halachic Organ Donor Society. Did you know that Jews have the lowest percentage of organ donors among all ethnic groups worldwide? If we valued life as much as we claim to, the opposite would be true. Organ donation has been judged halakhikally permissible by R. Moshe Feinstein and many Orthodox authorities after him, as well the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the governing bodies of the Conservative and Reform movements. Some consider it obligatory. Our failure to donate is completely unjustified.

You can register for a donor card here. One of the more important things that I learned from the lecture is that in the United States, it is illegal to harvest a victim's organs without the approval of a spouse or family member. Many Jews oppose organ donation for all sorts of emotional and superstitious reasons, and sometimes because of misconceptions of halakha. If your emergency contact is one of them, your donor card is useless. You have to ask. (If a religious family member needs convincing, refer him or her to this page or this page.)

It's probably a lousy time to bring this up. But then, it usually is. Here's how I try to look at it: we take out insurance to protect ourselves from all sorts of eventualities that we hope will never occur. We don't like to think about these possibilities, and in most cases, the odds are that they will not happen. That doesn't stop us from doing what's necessary to protect ourselves. This is the same thing, except that it's for someone else. That doesn't make it any less urgent.

Full disclosure: DH and I haven't registered for cards. We're troubled by one aspect of the HODS form, which is its requirement that all preparations for transplant be made in consultation with a family-appointed rabbi. This seems like an unnecessary delay. If brain-stem death has been determined by a medical team, and if your family's rabbi views brain-stem death as halakhik death, what can he (or she) possibly have to contribute? (This is a serious question. Anyone?)

One last thing: HODS seems to be trying to arrange for lectures at synagogues, Jewish organizations, and high schools. Those of you in Jewish education and/ or the rabbinate might want to look into that.

Okay, that's all for now. We should all have good health, as they say. Happy Chanukah.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Okay, So I Lied

I just learned about the New English Translation of the Septuagint series from PaleoJudaica. This will be the greatest publication since Bernard Taylor's Analytical Dictionary of the Septuagint. (Translation: My Greek sucks.) In the meantime, there's Perseus.

I'm going to get back to writing my paper now.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Taking a Break

After this brief burst of blog and livejournal activity, I am going to take a little break to write a paper. I'll be back in December.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Bombs and Brimstone

What do you do when someone seriously -- and repeatedly -- advocates genocide at your table? I've blogged about this sort of thing before, but when it came up, I barely said anything at all. In part, this was because I was sitting all the way at the other end of the table (there were 9 of us), and I didn't feel like yelling. It was also in part because arguing seemed unnecessary. Everyone else was protesting, and the guy obviously wasn't going to change his mind.

On the other hand, it was my home. DH was mostly silent as well, and this bothered him. He told me later that he should have mentioned the Torah portion, in which God declares that he won't destroy Sodom if there are as many as ten innocents in the city. But that raises the question of whether we can legitimately discuss, in this sort of context, the "Torah perspective" on genocide. It isn't wrong because the Torah seems to imply that it's wrong (or at least, because it seemed to imply that last week). It isn't wrong because, as a rabbi I know once said, no major poskim [legal authorities] have permitted it. It is simply wrong -- deeply, morally, unquestionably wrong -- to murder noncombatants. I'm sure our guest realized this when he read the horrible news from Tel Aviv this morning. How is killing Palestinian civilians any different?

But here I am trying to make a rational argument again, on a subject that doesn't deserve to be granted this degree of legitimacy. So back to the practical end of things: what should we have done? Should we have risen in righteous indignation and refused to serve the next course until he recanted? Should we have shown him the door? Or should we simply have changed the subject?

Mom's Latest Book Design

An animated ad for Yiddish with Dick and Jane. (Gevalt!)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


This may seem like a lame topic to choose after a month of not blogging, but it's important to me. Cabot cheeses certified kosher by Tablet-K now bear the Tablet-K symbol on their packages, so we won't have to request a copy of their certificate every year. More importantly, Cabot sharp and extra-sharp cheddars are now kosher. (The extra-sharp cheddar is fantastic.) Most Cabot cheeses are also certified Halal, and the rennet used at the Cabot plant is certified by the American Vegetarian Society. (No, they're not paying me for this.)

A recent comment thread on Kosherblog suggested that Cabot bar cheeses may at some point be certified by the more widely-accepted OU. It looks to me like the process is being held up for strictly financial reasons, but of course, one can never be sure.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Yom Kippur Post-Mortem

I wanted to provide an update on our plans for Yom Kippur services before they actually happened, but things got a little bit crazy, and then they kind of stayed that way. On the whole, services went pretty well. Many thanks to those of you who suggested sources for readings. Special thanks to Rachel Barenblat, who provided an original poem entitled "Kol Nidre," which we used. I'd also like to thank Brother-in-Law if he is reading this. He worked very hard to make these services happen.

I led the kol nidre/ ma'ariv service,* which was held in the Moot Court [insert sarcastic comment here]. I could have done better, but I certainly could have done worse. The remaining services took place in the Hillel building. DH lead shacharit and neilah, I lead mussaf, and Brother-in-Law lead mincha, both before kol nidre and before ne'ilah. Pesukei d'zimra was (were?) lead by a local student. Other students read the Torah portion and the haftarah.

Planning the service was actually a lot of fun. We had to use the Birnbaum machzor, an Orthodox prayerbook published in 1951, and we wanted to adjust the service for our community without creating too much confusion. We referred to four other machzors for guidance: the Conservative Silverman machzor, published in the 1948, the Conservative Harlow machzor, published in 1972, the Reform machzor, called Gates of Repentance,** and the infamous Artscroll, the Orthodox machzor du jour. None of these alone would have been quite right for our purposes. For starters, none uses inclusive language or accommodates a female shlichat tsibbur. Gates of Repentance and Harlow preserve too little of the traditional text; Artscroll and Birnbaum preserve too much. Birnbaum and Silverman have positively awful translations. Only Artscroll has a complete set of instructions. Here's a little summary of the various ways in which we attempted to deal with these issues:

Piyyutim: Traditional High Holy Day prayerbooks are full of medieval liturgical poems, or piyyutim. These accumulated gradually over the centuries, and different communities used different selections of poems. Phillip Birnbaum and Rabbis Scherman and Zlotowitz (otherwise known as Rav Scroll) edited their respective machzors with the apparent intention of including every piyyut ever written. I'm all for comprehensiveness, but reciting every piyyut in either Orthodox machzor is a bit silly. Some of the piyyutim are in fairly difficult Hebrew, and even those that aren't are difficult to grasp when you're ripping through them at breakneck speed. Our rule of thumb was to omit piyyutim that don't appear in Silverman and to replace a number of the remaining piyyutim with English readings on similar themes. We used one reading from Gates of Repentance, a few from Harlow, and a few from S. Y. Agnon's Days of Awe.

Slichot: Each of the five Yom Kippur services contains a version of slichot, a set of confessions and prayers for forgiveness. The extended versions recited during ma'ariv, mussaf, and ne'ilah include a string of piyyutim surrounding a refrain centered on the "thirteen attributes" of Divine mercy. Artscroll and Birnbaum repeat the refrain seven times in each set of slichot. Harlow and Silverman have it recited once. We decided to repeat the refrain three times, following the custom in our home community. Some of the piyyutim were replaced by English readings.

Avodah: The mussaf service includes a recitation/ partial reenactment of the Temple service for Yom Kippur. In Ashkenazic tradition, the avodah takes the form of a lengthy and difficult piyyut. (I am told that Sephardim use a piyyut that is considerably easier to understand.) Rabbi Harlow had the brilliant idea of replacing the piyyut with a reading consisting primarily of selections from the mishnah on which the piyyut is based. We used his version, reading most of it in English, but switching to Hebrew for the confessions of the High Priest and the prostrations.

Martyrology: The avodah is traditionally followed by a piyyut relating the (largely apocryphal) tale of the death of ten sages at the hands of a Roman emperor. The practice of reading the martyrology at this point is rooted in the (somewhat disturbing) idea that since the destruction of the Temple, Jews attain atonement through the "blood of the righteous." Naomi Chana suggested reading the midrash on which the piyyut was based instead of the poem itself, and she recommended the translation in Stern and Mirsky's Rabbinic Fantasies. I had never read the midrash before this year, so I am very grateful for the recommendation. It is a fascinating, theologically complex piece that certainly deserves to be read in its entirety, as Naomi Chana suggested. However, the midrash is quite a bit longer than the piyyut, and the martyrology is not supposed to be the centerpiece of the mussaf service. We included the entire midrash in our source packets, but we did not read it all aloud.

Additional Readings: None of us is very good at public speaking (although we were fortunate enough to have a student present who was willing to speak briefly before mincha and ne'ilah). In place of a Kol Nidre sermon, we recited Rachel Barenblat's poem. We included a reading from Harlow on fear of sin to get people into the mood for the u'netane tokef prayer, and we read a story from Days of Awe before ne'ilah.

I have a few things to say about this, but not right now.

Okay, folks, it's almost Sukkot. We're going to visit the in-laws in New York, and I have to pack. Chag Sameach.

* Here is some basic information on Yom Kippur and its liturgy. It includes definitions of several of the terms that I use in this post. Others are defined here.
** We also referred to the British version, Gate of Repentance, which is more or less the same.

Monday, September 20, 2004

My Jihad Against Idiocy

From Roland Merullo's impressively unenlightening column on liberals and conservatives in today's Globe:

I began to form the impression then that the conservative mindset springs from what, for lack of a better term, might best be described as an Old Testament world view: Life is harsh, God is angry, enemies ought to be treated without mercy. An eye for an eye. There is good and there is evil, and the distinction between them is as clear as the line between sin and righteousness.

This is not the first column I've read that uses "Old Testament" as shorthand for "cruel, violent, and unenlightened." I find this usage offensive, not only because it misrepresents the Hebrew Bible, but because it slights those of us who regard the "Old Testament" as scripture and aren't so morally and theologically simplistic.

Meanwhile, "jihad" has replaced "crusade" as the favored metaphor for overly zealous, often foolish and destructive endeavors. "Crusade," of course, can be used in a positive sense as well. But when was the last time you heard of a "jihad" for the environment or civil rights?

There are, admittedly, Muslims who make "jihad" seem like a pretty awful concept, and they've managed to call a lot of attention to themselves. Christian fundamentalists (l'havdil?) are also pretty high profile. That doesn't make it acceptable for columnists to use words like "jihad" and phrases like "Old Testament world view" without the foggiest notion of what they're talking about.

Am I being petty?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Flourless Honey Pecan Cake

My gluten-free, three-ingredient Rosh HaShana dessert worked out, and now that I'm not starving, I can share the recipe. It's good for Passover, too.

3 eggs, separated
3/4 cup honey
12 oz. pecans, finely ground

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-inch pan (nonstick spray is perfect) and sprinkle with corn starch, potato starch, or confectioners' sugar. Set aside.

Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. In a separate bowl, combine yolks, honey, and pecans. Fold in whites. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake in preheated oven about 40 minutes, or until golden brown and firm. Cool before removing from pan.

Funky Grammatical Issues

For those who haven't figured this out yet, apikursus is an Aramaicized Greek word in its Ashkenazic (Eastern/ Central European Jewish) form. In Jewspeak, it means "heresy." An apikoris is a heretic, which, I suppose, is what I am, but I haven't been able to figure out what the correct feminine form of the noun would be. Imshin suggests epikorsit, which, as she concedes, is a (modern Israeli) Hebraicism. Opinions?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Words of Torah

Before beginning, I'd like to request forgiveness from any of my readers whom I've hurt, offended, mislead, misrepresented, etc. I will try to use this medium responsibly in the future. I wish everyone a sweet new year and a gmar chatima tova.* To all who will be observing Tsom Gedalia tomorrow, I wish an easy fast.

Now, to the point: I'm not very good at giving divrei torah (sermons, essentially). Shiurim (study sessions), I can do. I am always pleased to be asked to teach a mishna on Shabbat morning. But ten-minute speeches on the Torah portion can be really tough. How am I supposed to engage the text and make a point that's religiously meaningful to contemporary Jews in that amount of time?

My particular problem is that I feel the need to present the peshat, or plain meaning, of the text as I understand it. I have no problem with midrash, medieval exegesis, or modern Jewish philosophy. The Torah can be interpreted in many different, interesting, and (I concede) legitimate ways.** But my way is to start with peshat, which for me means interpreting the Torah as an ancient Near Eastern document. Other approaches make me uncomfortable, at least when I'm the one speaking.

I do believe that studying the Bible in its original context can yield insights that are meaningful to contemporary Jews and Christians. However, this approach is not conducive to producing sound bites. Speaking on the High Holy Days is particularly challenging, since I am not addressing the usual Jewishly literate crowd. No, I'm addressing the usual Jewishly literate crowd plus about 100 others. Their conception of Judaism may actually be affected by what I say. To make matters worse, these people are smart. I can't talk down to them. They won't tolerate logical leaps. It's horrible.

I shared these concerns with a friend, after having written a speech for the second day of Rosh Hashanah with at least two glaring logical disjunctions. She said, people will have other things on their minds. They won't be worrying about whether the d'var torah hangs together. I should be thinking about keeping their attention, making a point, and wrapping it up before they drift off.

So that's what I tried to do. I made a few jokes, glossed over the leaps of logic, and escaped the bima as soon as possible. My basic point (in case you're curious) was that the story of the binding of Isaac isn't fundamentally about obeying God even if it seems immoral, but about obeying Him even if it hurts terribly. There were a few references to Levenson's Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son, and I managed to stuff in a quote from Micah and a few lines about gemilut chassadim, "sacrifices" that benefit our fellow human beings. A few Jewish education types seem to have genuinely liked it, and I didn't notice anyone averting their eyes from me afterward, so I guess it went okay. I got some practice speaking before a large audience, and discovered (yet again) that I could use a lot more practice. I also learned (yet again) the Number One Rule of d'var torah delivery: keep it short, and people with thank you.

* I don't know how to translate this phrase. It expresses the wish that God evaluate the listener (or reader) positively and reward him or her with a happy year. The theory behind the saying is that God issues something along the lines of mid-term evaluations on Rosh Hashanah and determines our final grades on Yom Kippur. I guess I don't mean it literally.

** See the VR's sermon on the Binding of Isaac (which is much more polished than mine).

(I hope Naomi Chana doesn't mind that I've been using her footnoting technique.)

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

In Defense of Agnosticism

While browsing Kol Nidrei sermons on the web, I came across this very unusual drash, delivered by Rabbi Ethan Seidel in 2002. 2001 was a difficult year for Rabbi Seigel, as it was for most of us. Aside from the September 11th attack, he endured the death of a friend, and this precipitated what he describes as "theological depression."

I don't mean to make light of clinical depression - that's serious business, and my condition was just not that serious. But for a Rabbi, at least, a theological depression is a problem. I'm paid to believe in God. If I'm suddenly convinced that all is chaos, how is that helpful to my congregation?

Rabbi Seidel relates some of the thoughts that plagued him during this period, thoughts that are very familiar to me. Then he gives us his reason for self-disclosure, and it's one of those simple truths, the kind that is as shocking as it is obvious:

I wonder if you all realize how common such a theological crisis is, even among us Rabbis? Maybe you think that there are some people who have perfect faith, and that you with your imperfect faith are somehow a defective Jew. I'm here to tell you not to think that.

It gets even more outrageous:

I think that there is something pareve, even unhealthy about both the atheist and the fundamentalist. How can they be so sure of themselves? They live in a world where everything is known. But is that 2-dimensional world reality? I ask the atheist: is goodness really just a human invention, just a matter of opinion? And how can the fundamentalist ignore the chaos that seems to permeate the world? Reality is incomprehensible. And I mistrust . . . those who claim to understand life.

There is, admittedly, a certain arrogance to this approach. How can he be so sure of himself? How can he declare something that others claim to know to be fundametally unknowable?

But I understand. I think that way, too.

Anyway, it's a good read. Somewhat comforting, if you're one of those Jews who struggles privately with the fundamentals.

Belated Arrival Day Post

The Head Heeb has asked his fellow bloggers to contribute their thoughts on the future of American Judaism in honor of Arrival Day, the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in New Amsterdam. I've been trying not to spend too much time on the internet lately, but I'd like to add my two cents before it's really too late. In brief:

The American Jewish community is more religiously diverse today than it has ever been. We have Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Chassidim and so-called Mitnagdim, Conservative Jews, Reform Jews, Reconstructionist Jews, Humanist Jews, pagan Jews and Bu-Jews. Frumster lists over ten varieties of Orthodoxy, ranging from "Black Hat Yeshivish" to "Flexidox." Perhaps as a consequence of this ridiculous proliferation of labels, an increasing number of American Jews are choosing not to affiliate with any "denomination." Our generation has seen the birth of "non-denominational" congregations, day schools, and rabbinical schools. These are institutions that, though they may have their own philosophies, do not accept the authority of external organizations. They tend to promote the idea that we have a responsibility to educate ourselves, and, ultimately, to decide what Judaism means to each of us. Jewish identity and practice are viewed in very personal terms.

There can be no doubt that the current conflict with radical Islam will influence the development of American Judaism. We may see a shift away from the idea of personal autonomy and toward a more conservative, ethnocentric, nationalist approach to religion. We may see a revival of the fight against intermarriage, a new interest in conversion, and increased emphasis on aliya (moving to Israel) as a Jewish ideal. The trend toward ever-increasing diversity may reverse, as Jews seek refuge from adversity in a more unified, clearly defined religious identity.

Whether or not these changes occur will depend both on events in the Muslim world and on how the United States chooses to manage its relationship with Israel. Either way, I am relatively certain of one thing. The terms "Orthodox," "Conservative," and "Reform," which defined American Judaism for so long, are well on their way to becoming entirely meaningless. We will have to continue to find new ways of articulating who we are and what we believe.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Who's Being Untsniusdik Now?

I wonder what Rav Shachter was thinking last night when Rebbetzin Jungreis delivered a "benediction" before the entire Republican National Convention. He was probably proud to see an Orthodox Jew standing up for the president. For some reason, modesty is only an issue in Orthodox settings. Keep women behind a curtain in shul, and the rest of their lives is irrelevant.

I suppose one should be grateful for small things.

Update: Simcha says:

Don't be silly. Rebbetzin Jungreis has been condemned for years for precisely this issue. She is persona non-grata in many places in the yeshiva world. But you wouldn't know that from reading The Jewish Press.

All right, then. I was trying to give Rav Shachter the benefit of the doubt. Frankly, I'd prefer a little hypocrisy to what is apparently "centrist" Orthodoxy's actual attitude toward women in public roles.

What can you do.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Shabbat Dinner Preview

We discovered that we were having a vegetarian over for dinner after we'd decided to make chicken. We needed a parve, vegetarian side dish with whole protein, so I decided to make mengedarrah, but I dressed it up a bit for Shabbos. While the onions were cooking, I added two teaspoons each of ground cumin, coriander, paprika, cinnamon, and ginger. I just tasted it, and I am very pleased.

By the way, you do need to add an additional 1/4 cup of water if you're using brown rice. It should take 40-45 minutes to cook, but check on it after 30.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

In Which I Finally Convince the World that I Have Exchanged Judaism for Tiflus

In another venue, I mentioned that I've been idly composing liturgy for a same-sex wedding/commitment ceremony for no one in particular. Andrea asked to see it, at which point I decided that I may as well "come out of the closet" on this issue. Yes, I am a silly, empty-headed liberal Jew with the audacity to make up blessings. Sue me.

Now that that's over with, some background:

A halakhik wedding ceremony consists of two components, ארוסין or קדושין and נשואין. Combined, these procedures change a woman's sexual status from "forbidden to all men" to "permitted to her husband." Of course, this is not the ultimate essence of marriage, but it is its halakhik essence, and that is reflected in the blessing that accompanies ארוסין.

I believe that there are halakhik grounds for permitting sexual relationships between two men or two women, but, short of a rabbinic edict (which is impractical for a variety of reasons), there is no way to effect the sort of status change that takes place in a Jewish heterosexual wedding. Therefore, the terms ארוסין, קדושין, and נשואין are inappropriate in this context, as is the blessing traditionally recited over ארוסין. I see no problem, however, with applying the English terms, "marriage," "wedding," "bride," and "groom," or the Hebrew terms חתן and כלה (groom and bride). These terms are of primarily cultural, rather than halakhik, significance, and the concepts that we associate with them are perfectly applicable to same-sex unions.

I have heard that Rachel Adler, in Engendering Judaism (which I have yet to read), proposes a union ceremony that has the halakhik function of merging two people's property. This seems to me like about the right idea. Ideally, the procedure would involve an exchange of rings, which, in my understanding, it very well could.

The bit that I've been working on (if you can call it "working,") is a version of the "Seven Blessings" (שבע ברכות), which are traditionally recited as part of the נשואין ceremony and at meals througout the following week. My goal was to change as little as possible while ensuring that blessings be appropriate for this new context. Below are the blessings, in Hebrew and English, followed by explanations of the changes. (My translation is heavily influenced by Adler's.)

ברוך אתה ה אלוקינו מלך העולם שהכל ברא לכבודו.
1. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who created everything for your glory.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם יוצר האדם.
2. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, shaper of humanity.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם אשר יצר את האדם בצלמו, בצלם אלקים ברא אותו, זכר ונקבה ברא אותם. ברוך אתה ה יוצר האדם.
3. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has shaped human beings in Your image, creating male and female. Blessed are You, Lord, shaper of humainity.

.שוש תשיש ותגל העקרה, בקבוץ בניה לתוכה בשמחה. ברוך אתה ה משמח ציון בבניה.
4. May the barren one exult and be glad as her children are joyfully gathered to her. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens Zion with her children.

שמח תשמח רעים האהובים, כשמחך יצירך בגן עדן מקדם. ברוך אתה ה משמח רעים אהובים.
5. Grant great joy to these loving companions as You once gladdened your creations in the Garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens loving companions.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם אשר ברא ששון ושמחה, חתן וכלה, גילה, רינה, דיצה וחדוה, אהבה ואחוה ושלום ורעות. מהרה ה אלקינו ישמע בערי יהודה ובחוצות ירושלים קול ששון וקול שמחה, קול חתן וקול כלה, קול מצהלות חתנים מחפתם
ונערים ממשתה נגינתם. ברוך אתה ה משמח רעים אהובים.

6. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who created joy and gladness, groom and bride, merriment, song, dance and delight, love and harmony, peace and companionship. Lord our God, may there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the rapturous voices of the wedded from the bridal chambers, and of young people feasting and singing. Blessed are You, Lord, who gladdens loving companions.

ברוך אתה ה אלקינו מלך העולם בורא פרי הגפן.
7. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.


1. This blessing is unchanged.

2. This blessing is unchanged. Hebrew אדם, like English "man," can be either exclusive or inclusive of females. I've followed Adler in using the translation "humankind."

3. The original blessing is based on Gen. 2:22. It emphasizes the complementary roles of male and female, suggests that woman comes from man, and may also refer to couples' ability to perpetuate God's image through procreation. This version is based on Gen. 1:27. It emphasizes the essential sameness of man and woman and our common divine origin. It also suggests that where the word אדם ("man," or "humankind") occurs in these blessings, it should be understood in a gender-neutral sense.

4. This blessing is unchanged. (While it poses certain theoretical problems in this day and age, they have nothing to do with the gender of the couple, so I've left the blessing alone.)

5. I've replaced "bride and groom" with "loving companions," a reference to the Song of Songs. (The Hebrew literally translates, "beloved companions," but I think this translation conveys the meaning more accurately.) The first occurance of the phrase in the blessing is original. So, yes, I've rendered it redundant. I don't think this is a problem. (Compare the original versions of blessings 3 and 6.)

6. This blessing conveys the hope that Jerusalem will one day be filled with happy brides and grooms. (Again, a bit of a problem, but not particular to this context.) It reflects the language of Jeremiah. I see no reason to alter the terms "bride" and "groom" in this context. However, the end of the original blessing ("who gladdens the bridegroom with the bride") is inappropriate. I've replaced the bridegroom and bride with the "loving companions" of the previous blessing, but I'm not sure I like it. Suggestions?

7. This blessing is unchanged.

Feedback is welcome.

Monday, August 23, 2004

A Call For English Readings

My brother-in-law is running High Holy Day services in Montreal (with a little bit of help from others, including DH and me), and he has apparently had trouble finding English readings that are accessible without being completely vapid. This has left me thinking about why appropriate readings are so difficult to find.

Part of the problem is that our situation is so far from ideal. It would be nice if everyone could read the traditional prayers in their original language. It would be nice if everyone were sufficiently familiar with the liturgy to be able to invest it with meaning on their own. It would be nice if we could count on everyone to be 100% present, ready to be intellectually and emotionally invested in the service. Since none of these is the case, we is stuck trying to find texts in the vernacular that relatively apathetic congregants might find meaningful on their first and only reading.

Another problem is that the readings that exist are found mainly in Reform and Reconstructionist prayer books, and they are generally unsatisfying. Just as liberal Jews seem to have trouble achieving a sense of grief on Tisha B'Av, they seem to have trouble promoting guilt and remorse on the High Holy Days. Liberal spiritual leaders want to make worship a positive experience. They want to emphasize God's mercy and unconditional love for all humankind. They don't like the idea of divine judgment. That's all very well, but in the final analysis, there can be no repentance without remorse, and without repentance, the quest for spirituality is rather vacuous. We have to start by feeling bad about ourselves.

A third problem is the literary quality (or lack thereof) of most contemporary "creative liturgy." The Conservative prayer book is filled with horrid compositions by committees of rabbis, which sound like translations even though they aren't. Stilted language can be distracting.

Now that I've made the task seem completely insurmountable, does anyone know where we might be able to find quality English readings? They don't have to be perfect. The more material we have, the better, even if we don't love all of it. Contemporary poems by actual poets are good (I look to the VR here). Excerpts from works of Jewish philosophy, ancient or modern, are good too. Translations of traditional prayers are great if they're readable. (Does anyone know where we could find a halfway decent translation of the High Holy Day piyyutim?) Midrash, psalms, biblical passages . . . whatever. Variety is the spice of life.

Thanks for your help.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Why I "Do Halakha"

This started as a Live Journal meme (originally from Smartphil, via debka_notion), but the topic seemed blogworthy.

Smartphil presents a number of possible answers to the question, "why do you do halakha*?" The reasons come from Rabbi David Golinkin's "Halakhah of Our Time," and are summarized here. The following are my current thoughts on why I choose to lead a (more or less) halakhik lifestyle. I've used the summary of Golinkin's work as a guide. (Note: These are today's thoughts. My reasons may be different tomorrow.)

A. Theocentric Reasons

In my understanding, there can be no halakha without the presumption that (1) God exists, (2) God cares about human behavior, and (3) human beings can, at least to a certain extent, discern God's will. Without these presumptions (we can call them "postulates," for DH's sake), you might have something that looks like halakha, but the essence of halakha is missing. (We call that something "tradition.")

I do not believe that the entire Torah, let alone the Babylonian Talmud, was dictated to Moses at Sinai. I do, however, like to think that the Torah, the Talmud, and the expressions of Judaism that came after them contain some element of divinity. I would rather not be any more specific than that. This is all speculation.

As Naomi Chana once said somewhat more articulately, I don't think God really cares whether or not I mix meat and dairy, but I do think He cares that I care. (Sorry, I'm old fashioned. My God is a He.) Halakha offers a means to demonstrate my commitment to God's will, even if I can't be sure exactly what it is that He wants.

B. Ethnocentric Reasons

To be honest, I don't quite understand the argument that Jews should adhere to Jewish law simply in order to preserve Judaism or the Jewish people. There's no sense in trying to preserve something unless it has inherent value. And I don't buy the argument that Judaism is worth preserving simply on account of the ethical principles that it imparts. Certainly, Judaism has contributed certain ethical values to the world (or, at least, certain expressions of those values), but there can be ethics without Jews or Judaism, and, sadly, there are nominally religious Jews with little regard for ethics.

That said, the specific ways in which I observe halakha have a lot to do with tradition and community. I want to strive to live in accordance with God's will, but I don't want to do it alone. I want to be a part of the "evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people" (as the Reconstructionists put it), and I want to be a part of a living community.

C. Anthropocentric Reasons

Golinkin offers two very different anthropocentric reasons to observe halakha:
(1) It encourages self-discipline, and
(2) It brings joy.

With regard to (1), I would say that self-discipline is only valuable insofar as it is applied to inherently valuable pursuits. It is quite possible that if I prayed more regularly I would also exercise more regularly, study more diligently, arrive on time for appointments, and be more cautious about my diet. I was once better at all these things, and I daresay they were connected. It wasn't so pleasant, though. People were always telling me to "loosen up." Maybe instead of loosening up I should have learned to hide my stress. (Something to think about over this season of repentance.)

As for (2), well, this seems like a good opportunity to plug Naomi Chana's recent posts on prayer. For my own part, I admit that one of my primary reasons for observing Shabbat as I do is that it makes me happy. I like having a chance to rest, take a break from what I normally do, wear nice clothes, eat good food, and chat with friends. I attend synagogue partly out of a sense of religious obligation, but also because I genuinely enjoy it. Missing services puts me in a lousy mood.

I certainly don't enjoy all mitsvot. Waking up early to pray is pretty unpleasant (unless I'm joining the wonderful egal minyan, in which case it's not too bad), and when I'm not in a religious setting, restrictions on eating and movement can be very awkward. I suppose the true test of my commitment to halakha is the extent to which I observe the mitsvot that I don't enjoy. But I don't think that getting pleasure out of mitsvot** is inherently bad. Like the Chassidim, I like to think that God wants us to be happy.

* Jewish law/ religious observance
** Commandments.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

My Response to Schick's Response to Goldberg

My mother sent me a link to this Jewish Press column by Joseph Schick. The column is a response to the New York Times column by Jeffrey Goldberg to which I linked earlier this week. (Sorry, folks. The NYT column is no longer available for free.)

Schick writes:

The clear message from Goldberg`s piece is that Jewish settlers, with the tacit support of some Orthodox Jews and rabbis, want to kill Ariel Sharon. Unfortunately, this charge is not completely baseless. As I wrote in my last column, there are fanatics who have called for, or implicitly condoned the idea of, Sharon`s murder. Especially in light of Yitzhak Rabin`s murder at the hands of an Orthodox Jew, there is an obligation on all Jews to condemn the fanatics and not to ignore the danger they present.

However, Goldberg never distinguished between the fanatics and the other 95 percent of Yesha residents. Instead, he defamed all of them. He completely ignored the Yesha Council`s repeated statements that it unequivocally opposes any and all forms of violence in the framework of opposition to Sharon`s unilateral withdrawal plan. He also ignored the pact signed by Yesha Council leaders two weeks ago, in which they agreed that IDF soldiers would not be asked to disobey orders to dismantle settlements and that no form of violence was acceptable. And though Goldberg highlighted Avi Dichter`s concern about 150-200 extremists, he disregarded that Dichter also emphasized that the extremists were in no way representative of the general settler public.

I never had any doubt that these fanatics were in the minority. Residents of the settlements tend to be politically right-wing, but they are generally peaceful people. It is easy to be opposed to settlements; that is how supporters of Israel show that they are "moderate." But the issue doesn't seem that simple to me. There are some very well-established Jewish communities in the West Bank, and, after all, there are Arab communities in Israel. Why not Jewish communities in a Palestinian state?

Nonetheless, I am uncomfortable with Schick's article. It raises an issue with which I often struggle when I post on matters relating to Israel in this blog. On the one hand, I agree with Schick that the secular media is often unjust in its depiction of settlers, and that is a problem. On the other hand, I don't think readers of the Jewish Press need to be reminded of that. Ditto for readers of my blog, who (I surmise from the comments) are almost exclusively religious Jews who support the Jewish state.

I am grateful for media watchdog organizations such as CAMERA and Honest Reporting, but I seldom visit their websites or read their newsletters. I don't think there's much to be gained by nurturing feelings of victimization. Jews like to point out that Palestinian extremists are more numerous and more prone to violence than Israeli extremists. That is true, for a variety of reasons (none of which has to do with Arabs being evil or Jews being nice). But the violent Israeli extremists exist, and we, as Jews, should be more disturbed by that than by any bias we perceive in the media. It is our religion that they are perverting.

Anti-Semitism and Homophobia

Jason Kuznicki of Positive Liberty has written a thought-provoking post on the parallels between anti-Semitism and homophobia. These thoughts were apparently triggered by Martha Nussbaum's essay on disgust, with which I don't entirely agree, but Jason's comments are, in my view, very reasonable. He focuses, in particular, on the relationship between nineteenth-century attempts to convert Jews and contemporary "conversion therapy" for gays:

In these phenomena, we can see the disastrous results when disgust-as-morality turns inward, upon the self, for many of the most outspoken advocates of both movements have been converts.. . .

The modern drive to "repair" homosexuality is of course different in some ways from its nineteenth-century counterpart, but it shares three main traits with our ancestors' desire, as they termed it, to "regenerate" the Jews:

--Hypothetically, the main argument of these movements may well be true: If Jews or gays successfully converted, they might well be happier. At least some of them.

--Objectively, it is a fantasy. Change in one's sexual orientation does happen from time to time, but engineering it is still a utopian dream. Change in one's religion is probably almost as hard to achieve through human design. People hold religions based on faith, and faith is inscrutable. Conversion does happen on occasion, but planning for it is absurd.

--Morally, they both reek of condescension.

Read the whole thing.

To All of You With Blog Experience

I've been thinking about switching from Haloscan because of the annoying character limit, but I haven't been able to find anything better. I don't like the new Blogger comment feature because it forces anyone who doesn't have a Blogger account to post anonymously. Does anyone know of a free, Blogger-compatible comment service that:

1. has no character limit, or a limit of 3000 characters or more,
2. accepts and stores contact information from all commenters,
3. allows the blogger to edit and delete comments,
4. accepts HTML, and
5. opens links properly, in a separate window.

If not, please answer this: which of these features would you, as a blogger or commenter, most readily do without?

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I Kinda Miss the Levys

Now I'm getting updates on former neighbors via links to articles on random blogs. Not sure what to think.

Ah, well. The news is: the Levys have disposed of their TV. The kids are doing wonderfully, according to Chavy. I'm glad to hear it. They really needed a bit more exercise.

DH says he has no objection to individuals deciding not to watch television, but he thinks that communal pressure to pull the plug is a Bad Thing. The message is that frum Jews can't handle contact with the outside world.

"The Satmars go a step further," he says, "by teaching their kids in Yiddish."

I guess he's right. Still, there really isn't any worthwhile programming for kids Tehila and Aharon's age. We rarely watch TV ourselves, and I can't say I miss it. If you ask me, life without the boob tube should be considered by all parents, frum and otherwise.

The internet, on the other hand. . . Well, we'll leave that for another time.

This One's For Dad

The Canadian Jewish News reports on the growing popularity of single-malt scotch at kiddush clubs. Neil Nathan says,

"The absolute best thing to eat with scotch is shmaltz herring. When I come home from work, I may have a glass of scotch and some herring before I decide what to have for dinner."

Hat tip to Danny at B'nai Akiva's Blog.

Welcome to the Blogosphere

Two of my livejournal (and real-life) friends, Lawrence and Fleurdelis28, have created their own blogs. Now they can waste just as much time as me! (Bwah-ha-ha!)

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Journalists Say the Darndest Things

"Many biblical scholars believe that the Jezreel Valley will be the site of the penultimate battle between the forces of God and Satan, with the final conflict and return of the Messiah taking place in Jerusalem."

From the Washington Post via PaleoJudaica.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Jerusalem Dreamers

From Leah:
I have mixed feelings about the fence. I would rather it weren't there.. . . On the other hand, the wave of terror has been reduced tremendously and this could be because the wall has been built in certain areas.. . . Unfortunately, many innocent Palestinians are suffering because of the wall too. They have no work, their kids don't have easy access to schools, shopping isn't as much fun or as easy anymore.. . . And some Palestinian Israeli cities voiced some happiness at having the wall because they have less crime from their non-Israeli neighbors who used to come into their towns more easily. So I wish we didn't need it, I wish we could bring it down, I wish there'd be no terror at all, once it's down. Then we could really talk.

From Sarah:
It was a bit surreal, when I stopped to think about the fact that I was having a great time swimming in this beautiful pool with an incredible view, and it's in the West Bank.. . . Especially since, as far as I know, the Arabs in those parts do not have access to a pool (I might be wrong. I don't know.) Swimming pools are so important in places where it gets so hot hot hot. I felt a bit guilty.. . .Maybe if they ever figure out what Arafat did with the money he stole, they can use some of it to build nice swimming pools? It might seem frivolous, but when you stop to think about it, it's not. There are reasons that crime rates in New York go up in the summer.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Folks, Can We Stop Being Racist?

I don't want to write this post. I really, really don't want to. But I'm starting to feel like I have to.

I've spent time in a variety of Jewish communities, mostly various flavors of Orthodox and Conservative. There are certain trends that one notices as one moves further to the right of the religious spectrum, one of which is an increasing tendency toward what can only be called racism.

I'm sorry guys, but it's true. The sorts of things that one hears about "the Arabs" in so-called frum communities would make a decent person's skin crawl. People talk casually about "wiping them out." Sometimes they make jokes about it. If these same people heard American Muslims saying similar things about Jews, they'd be calling the ADL in no time. I don't think they'd be reassured to hear that it was only a joke.

These are the very circles in which one most often hears of the "rising tide of anti-Semitism," of madrassas preaching hatred of Jews. They say, this is different. We're not directly inciting people to kill. Well, neither are the vast majority of American Muslims -- even the sort that we call "fundamentalist." It's all talk. But we recognize that it's dangerous talk, that talk can have consequences.

We recognize it when it's them. What about when it's us?

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Just a Chip off the Old Blog

Many thanks to Rabbi Josh Yuter for alerting me to the fact that today is National Chocolate Chip Day. (It's also his birthday. Happy birthday, Rabbi Josh.)

I haven't made ordinary chocolate chip cookies in a while. They just aren't very exciting. However, I have been adding chocolate chips to peanut butter cookies (yes, Meredith, I got the idea from Jenn) and to oatmeal raisin cookies (yes, Erica, I got the idea from William Shetterly). Raisins and chocolate chips may seem like an odd combination, but the best oatmeal cookies I've eaten have had both. As for chocolate chip peanut butter cookies, well, they're made with chocolate and peanut butter. Need I say more?

Monday, August 02, 2004

Jews For Kerry

Globe staff writer Frank Phillips interviews Steve Grossman, former chairman of AIPAC, and Alan Solomont, Kerry's New England finance chairman.

Solomont and Grossman say the Democrats have strong arguments to make to the Jewish constituencies that are enticed by Bush's policies toward the Mideast. They say the defense of Israel is only one issue of concern to the community and that Democrats offer other policies that they say provide more social and economic equity, traditionally a major focus of Jewish voters.

Ok, so Kerry's policies have some appeal for un-American, liberal, commie traitors like me. But what about Israel?

[Solomont] also said John Kerry's record on Israel is ''perfect" and that the senator has traveled a number of times to the region and familiarized himself with the issues and its leaders.

If only he didn't change his mind about everything every other day, Kerry's voting record might be significant.

As I've said before, I don't think that support of Israel is sufficient reason to vote for Bush over Kerry. The Democratic candidate obviously cares about the Jewish vote, and, if elected, he will continue to care about it for the next four years. As a senator from Massachusetts, he has shown himself willing to support pro-Israel policies, for whatever reason. It is even possible that he has genuinely changed his mind on certain issues, in Israel's favor.

But I don't trust the man, on this issue or any other. I may vote for him regardless, but I won't be happy about it.

Prospective First Lady Disavows Cookies

"Somebody at my office gave that recipe out and, in fact, I think somebody really made it on purpose to give a nasty recipe," she said. "I never made pumpkin cookies -- I don't like pumpkin spice cookies."
More on this critical issue here.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Looking Back on Tisha B'Av

DH tells me that he decided to begin fasting on Tisha b'Av when he first paid attention to the words of Eicha. It was not the laments over the loss of the Temple that moved him, but the descriptions of human suffering: people falling by the sword, dying of starvation during the siege, mothers eating their children. When I have cried on Tisha B'Av, it has not been for the Temple, either. It has always been for the same parts of Eicha, and for the kinot that we read in the morning, about the victims of the sack of Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, the Holocaust . . . It is a lot to handle in a single day.

I wrote about this aspect of Tisha b'Av a while ago. But after reading the book of Eicha this year, after reciting the kinot (lamentation poems), and, of course, after reading a few thoughtful blog entries, I began to see things a little bit differently. Tisha B'Av is fundamentally about Jerusalem and the Temple. To turn it into a day of general reflection on human suffering -- or even on Jewish suffering -- is to neglect what was the heart of Tisha b'Av for millennia.

Our present situation is very different from that of past generations of Jews. They could dream of the resettlement of Jerusalem, which would, naturally, be accompanied by the rebuilding of the Temple and bring an end to all their suffering. Today, it is possible to listen to Eicha in a beautiful, rebuilt Jerusalem, full of Jews. At the same time, it is evident that our troubles have not come to an end. Traditional Jews have redirected their focus from the resettlement of Jerusalem to the rebuilding of the Temple, which, it is believed, will usher in the messianic age. But most of us -- even those who truly believe that the Temple will one day be rebuilt -- are not particularly energized by the idea. (I must admit, the very thought of the infighting that would ensue when we tried to reinstate the Temple service makes me shudder.)

This is not only an issue on Tisha B'Av. One of the central themes of the Jewish liturgy is our hope for the restoration of the sacrificial order, and our sadness at having to substitute mere words for cows and goats. Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist prayer books alter, downplay, or omit the portions of the liturgy that emphasize this theme, but the idea is too pervasive to be completely eradicated.

Out of Step Jew asks, "can we still cry for Jerusalem? And if that answer is no – then have we lost some of our Jewishness?" Perhaps. But I would rather think that this aspect of our "Jewishness" has simply changed in nature. If we are unable to pray for redemption in exactly the form that our ancestors envisioned it, what can we pray for instead? What should we mourn for on Tisha b'Av? And what is the role of Jerusalem in all this -- real, physical, contemporary Jerusalem?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Yuter On Tisha B'Av

This is worth reading.

Another Darfur Post

They heard how I was sighing, yet there was none to comfort me.
--Lamentations 1:21

ZSB posted a few words on the crisis in Darfur yesterday. A friend of his, who works for Concern, apparently told him that the best one can do to help, aside from donating money, is to "just keep talking about it." Well, my blog doesn't get much traffic, so I doubt it'll make any real difference, but I am certainly willing to do my part as far as that goes. I'm good at talking.

אין כל חדש תחת השמש -- There is nothing new under the sun. Human nature doesn't change. At least we can try not to repeat our mistakes. As a nation, we've ignored this sort of thing too many times. As individuals -- well, I can only speak for myself, but I know I've never put much effort into tikkun olam. It's time, isn't it?

To those who will be observing Tisha B'Av tonight and tomorrow, have an easy and meaningful fast.
As always, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, and the world.

Friday, July 23, 2004

In one of my "typical American Jew" moments...

To the Editor:

In the July 22nd article, “Israel continues barrier work despite UN resolution,” Ramit Plushnick-Masti reports both Israel’s claim that the fence is needed for security and the Palestinian claim that it is a “land grab” intended to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Plushnick-Masti then offers support for the Palestinian position, noting that “in some areas where the barrier already has been built, Palestinians have been cut off from their land, schools, and other towns and villages.” If the report were even-handed, it would also note that since the construction of the fence began, the number of annual terrorist attacks has decreased by approximately 90% (

Unfortunately, the most reliable source I could find for the statistics was an Israeli government website. What can you do?

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Unanticipated Consequences of Egalitarianism

I first began to wear a tallit gadol when I was married, about a year ago. It was a full tallit, in plain white: not particularly feminine, but not too masculine either. I figured it wouldn't clash with any of my outfits.

I assumed that it would take a while to get used to wearing a tallit, but I didn't anticipate the degree of difficulty I'd have keeping it on. When I stood up, it slid off. When I sat down, it slid off again. What was particularly strange was that I'd learned how to put it on from my husband, and he didn't seem to have this problem.

Finally, I realized what the trouble was: my shoulders aren't broad enough. See, I'm a chick.

As the months went by, I seemed to be getting better at keeping it on (although when I was given hagbah or gelilah, I had to pretty much wrap it around my neck if I didn't want it to end up on the floor). Then summer rolled around, and suddenly I had major slippage problems again. It took another woman who wore a full tallit to explain that silk and satin blouses are particularly condisive to slippage. Unfortunately, all my dressy summer blouses but one are silk or satin. (I have four in total. I really need to go shopping.)

Today, I finally went to Brookline and bought myself a clip. It was the cheapest one they had, in a yellow metal, to match my rings. I hope it helps.

Update: The clip helped a lot :-)

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Story By Me

In honor of everyone I know who works at a shul, has worked at a shul, or plans to work at a shul, here is a short story that I wrote with my father. (He wouldn't want to take any credit, but he helped a lot.)

Monday, July 19, 2004

Our Good Friend Michael Moore

Cathy Young assures us that this quote is not distorted:

"Of course many Israeli children have died too, at the hands of the Palestinians. You would think that would make every Israeli want to wipe out the Arab world, but the average Israeli does not have that response. Why? Because in their hearts, they know they are wrong, and they know they would be doing just what the Palestinians are doing if the sandal were on the other foot."

Oh, I see. Israelis oppose genocide, which proves that they're wrong. Palestinian leaders who preach genocide must be right, then. I'm glad he cleared that up.

The more I read about this guy, the more he seems like the Ann Coulter of the Left. Is it any wonder that I don't want to see his movie?

A Recipe for Every Occasion

It seems that every Jewish occasion is somehow associated with food. The Jewish cookbooks that I own even have special sections for Yom Kippur and other fast days, because, well, du'h: you have to eat before and after the fast. They wouldn't want that we should starve.

It is customary to refrain from eating meat during the nine days before Tisha B'Av (except Shabbat) as a sign of mourning.* However, mourning (like Yom Kippur) has positive gastronomic traditions as well. Lentils and hard-boiled eggs are often eaten on account of their round shape, which symbolizes a closed mouth and/or the cycle of life. Mengedarrah, a simple combination of lentils and rice, is a traditional Nine Days food among Middle Eastern Jews. (Egyptians call it koshari.) This information,** and the following recipe for mengedarrah, come from Gil Mark's World of Jewish Cooking. (I've tried it. It's good.)

1 pound (about 2 cups) green or red lentils
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cups rice
4 1/2 cups water
About 1 1/2 tsp salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Fried onions or yogurt for garnish

1. Rinse the lentils and soak in water to cover for at least 2 hours. Drain.
2. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and saute until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the rice and saute until well coated, about 1 minute.
3. Add the lentils, water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until tender and the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the heat and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Stir with a fork to fluff. Transfer into a large serving platter and scatter fried onions over the top or serve with yogurt.

*The Nine Days began today.
**Meaning, the information relating directly to lentils and mengedarrah.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Charity Doesn't End at Home

I posted something to this effect on Hirhurim, but Simcha appears to have removed his comments feature. In any case, I think it's worth repeating.

The question that arose was, should Jews commit time and money to causes that don't specifically benefit other Jews. I think there's a case to be made for either side. None of us have unlimited supplies of time and money. We can't help everyone. There is merit to the notion that "charity begins at home;" if each community took care of its own needy, the world would be a much better place.

On the other hand, many needy people are not cared for by their own. While I think that it is respectable for a Jew to decide to donate primarily to Jewish causes, he or she must be careful not to allow that policy to become an excuse for ignoring the suffering of non-Jews. What does it say about me if I turn away from the local homeless man because he isn't Jewish? Will the quarter I didn't give him go to a worthy Jewish cause, or will I spend it to upgrade to a larger size caramel latte? How much time does it take to send a few letters on behalf of the residents of Darfur? What will you do with that time if you don't send the letters?

As always, I intend this mussar for myself as much as anyone.

Simcha did not remove his comments feature. For some reason I was simply unable to view the comments the last time I visited the site.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

How to Help

The Velveteen Rabbi has posted on the crisis in Sudan a number of times, and she's linked to Passion of the Present, which is full of information and resources. In her most recent post, she links to this Forward article, which discusses efforts by Jewish organizations to address the crisis. As I tend to be skeptical of human rights organizations, I was pleased to discover this appeal, by the American Jewish World Service. I haven't done any real research on AJWS, so I can't vouch for it, but they claim that "[a]ll emergency appeal funds (minus a five percent overhead) go directly to supporting relief efforts." Just as importantly, the appeals are compartmentalized, so you can choose to donate exclusively to the relief fund for the Sudanese.

The site also has a pre-written letter that can be sent electronically to George Bush, Colin Powell, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Negroponte, as well as to your senators and representative. As Lawrence has reminded me a number of times, paper letters are more effective than e-mail, so it's even better if you make a few copies of the message and drop them in a mailbox.

That's my two cents for the day. Shalom.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I could have stayed home and baked cookies. Oh, wait...

It would be disingenuous to suggest that I disapproved of cookie baking, by First Ladies or anyone else. (The same goes for other desserts. I even briefly -- very briefly -- considered contributing to the Edwards campaign during primary season in exchange for the senator's mother's recipe for peanut butter pie.)

That said, when it becomes a matter of public relations importance for publicly successful women to prove that they can also produce tasty, homespun baked goods, something has gone seriously awry. Where does the impetus come from? Don't Americans realize that these women have other things to do?

I wouldn't want to deprive the world of Laura Bush's Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies or Teresa Heinz Kerry's Pumpkin Spice Cookies. It's just that I don't understand why they, in particular, should be stuck in the kitchen. Why not have a vice-presidential bake-off instead? I wouldn't mind a recipe for Dick Cheney's Chocolate Chippers, or John Edwards' Jelly Thumbprints. In the meantime, we might be able to get an interesting debate out of Laura and Teresa. How about it, America?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Entering the Three Weeks

Once, I went to large suburban Conservative shul for Tisha B'Av. It was the least sad Tisha B'Av service I've ever attended, mostly because no one seemed to know exactly why they were there. This included the rabbi, who delivered a (mercifully short) sermon addressing the age-old question: Why should we mourn the destruction of the Temple?

Every year, I'm sure, many rabbis in many synagogues deliver sermons on this subject. The question is particularly troubling to leaders of progressive congregations who tend to think that the termination of animal sacrifice was a good thing. So they think about it, like good intellectuals, and they come up with answers like the one that this rabbi came up with: it's not the building itself that we're mourning, but the unity that it symbolized.

Now, I'm all for unity, and some of my closest friends are vegetarians. But I'll be frank: if that's the best answer you can come up with, you've either never read Eicha (Lamentations), or you've forgotten it.

Eicha is about the destruction of the Temple, yes. And it's about the loss of unity and national pride that the Jewish people suffered as a consequence. All this is very important, and we should think about it on Tisha B'Av. Most of all, though, Eicha is about the unspeakable suffering that human beings inflict on one another. That is why, no matter what you think of Jewish nationalism or animal sacrifice, you can't read Eicha without grieving.

I mention this now because we've just entered the Three Weeks, a period of mourning that begins with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz (this past Tuesday), and culminates in Tisha B'Av. It is during these weeks, in the year 586 B.C.E., that the transition from a long and painful siege to full-scale slaughter took place. These weeks are related to the destruction of the Temple, but they're not quite about it, so if we are going to focus on the human side of this historic tragedy, now is the time.

There is a lot to think about. Every day, war and terrorism claim more victims. There is a slow-motion genocide going on in Sudan. When we read Eicha this year, the words will resonate.

Isaiah (58:5-7) tells us that when we focus exclusively on fasting and mourning, we're missing the point. We're supposed to be feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and freeing the oppressed. I'm not very good at remembering to do these things, but maybe if you all plug your pet tikkun olam projects in the comments, you'll embarrass me into taking action. God knows, the world is desperately in need of repair.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Making it Yontif

"The Zionist dream is shattered. It doesn't energize us as it once did. The American dream, too, is shattered; the 4th of July used to be such an important yontif [holy day] for me! What will fill these gaps?"
--R. Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (via the VR)

With all due respect to Reb Zalman (and I mean that sincerely), I don't think the situation is that bleak. All people are flawed; nations are more so. But we don't give up on the people we love when they make mistakes, and I'm not giving up on the U.S. or Israel, either.

We've all heard Winston Churchill's line: "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried." I think that the Americans among us can probably agree about a few things. First, we're very fortunate to live in a country where a place like Elat Chayyim can flourish. Second, we're fortunate to be able to criticize this country openly, as Reb Zalman has. Finally, we ought to be grateful for the opportunity to change the our country's course every four years.

I'm sorry if I sound preachy. Right now, my goal is simply to make July 4th the yontif it ought to be. DH and I made patriotic cupcakes for Shabbat. Tomorrow we'll watch the fireworks. Little American rituals that don't seem to signify much, but I think they're important.

THERE'S MORE: This year is the 350th Anniversary of American Jewry. Stephen Whitfield reminds us how good we've had it.

Monday, June 28, 2004

News From Oz

The Land of Oz has a new look, and Yoel has posted a moving tribute to Naomi Shemer, who passed away this past Shabbat. I can't hope to put it any better than he has. Just thinking of her music brings tears to my eyes.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Important Correction

I've corrected the previous two posts many more times than I have ever corrected a blog post after publishing. It had gotten to the point that if someone had posted a comment saying, "please add the words 'elf is a poopyhead'," I probably would have done so.

To clear up some of my own confusion, I decided to re-read the review of Luke's autobiography, XXX-Communicated: Rebel Without a Shul. I admit that, given Luke's general depravity (yes, I am still convinced that he is depraved), I suspected at first that he might be the author of the review (which is generally not positive) and that the book might not exist at all. But it is apparently a real book. It has a cover and everything. So I assume that this review is as reliable a source as any on the history of Luke.

As the title of this post suggests, I made a grave mistake. I learned about Luke gradually, getting little snippets of information from here and there, and somehow I became convinced that he had been denied an Orthodox conversion. That does not appear to be the case. What I thought were references to being denied a conversion were actually references to getting kicked out of shul (which apparently happened to him several times; hence the title of the book).

I owe Luke an apology. Luke, if you're reading this, I apologize. (If you're not reading this, it's probably for the best.)

I would like to make two additional points before (hopefully) putting this subject behind me once and for all:

1. I have nothing against crazy people. Most of my friends are crazy. Not as crazy as Luke, but crazy nonetheless. It is true that I find Luke's particular brand of long-winded craziness rather irritating, but I have nothing against insanity per se. So don't regard the word "depraved" as too much of an insult.

2. Unless you're sensitive to sexually explicit material, I recommend that you read the review. I found the bit about the adult video with readings from Dennis Prager a complete gas. Talk about depravity!

Monday, June 21, 2004

A Global Shtetl

I was chatting with a friend recently and some Protocols-related gossip came up. I realized afterward that I probably shouldn't have gotten into the subject of intrablog politics. I'm not deleting the post, because... well, to be honest, it took a long time to write. I have, however, deleted some information that DH found inappropriate.

After this, it's back to the abstract (religion and morality) and the mundane (food). No more gossip.

UPDATE: I've deleted a few more lines from the previous post on the basis of some information from Steven I (below, in the "comments"). There may be more deletions. The moral of the story is: don't believe everything I write.

I will add one more clarification. I heard from Miriam yesterday, and she said that the guest bloggers were told that their official stints were for one week each, but that they could continue to post indefinitely. This does provide a slightly different perspective on what Luke's been doing.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Spice Blends

We made the famous red lentil soup this week, only with black lentils (it's isn't Shabbat Parshat Toldot, after all) and as a curry to serve over rice, rather than a soup. Here's what gets me: the recipe calls for cumin, coriander, turmeric, curry powder, and chili powder. Now, there are a number of ways to make curry powder, but I believe they all include cumin, turmeric, coriander, and some form of hot red pepper. Chili powder also contains cumin and hot red pepper. See where I'm going with this?

Every time I come across a recipe of this nature, I wonder, does this have something to do with the proportions of ingredients in the blends, or were the people who came up with the recipe just throwing together whatever spices they had in their pantries, without paying attention to their contents?

One of the many things that I like about the Moosewood Cookbook is that it never calls for spice blends. Speaking of Moosewood, a bit of advice: if you don't have it, get it. And if you do have it, try the Mushroom Curry. It's wicked good.

A bit of work to prepare, though.

Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

H is for Heresy

I have no idea who "H" is, but he (or she) has posted some interesting comments to OOSJ's blog.

OOSJ has been arguing that Judaism ought to be more of a "moral force" in Israel:

"The concern of many of our religious leaders (haredi and religious-Zionist alike) is so dedicated to the minutiae of the Halakhic observance of their often closed communities that religion is only used as an argument in the public square when it concerns the "mitzvah performance" of those communities.... [B]y concentrating on the material aspect of Jewish life that is halakhic performance they are ignoring the rich moral and ethical tradition that our non-halakhic literature and history has produced."

H contends that religion is "never a 'moral force:'"

"Morality is independent of religion, since religion can be so easily interpreted to fit your own morality."

In a later comment, H elaborates:

"[W]hen religion goes wrong, as it was (largely) wrong 50 years ago about women's rights and is (largely) wrong now about gay marriage, it's secular thought and basic human empathy which leads the way.... Empathy and religion both say "Love thy neighbor," but halakha for example says that gay sex is an abomination and that marrying a non-Jew is sinful."

H has a point. There are at least as many people for whom religion serves as an incentive for callousness and hatred as people for whom it serves as an inspiration for compassion and ethical behavior. However, based on my limited experience, it doesn't seem that "freethinkers" (as they were once called) are any more apt to be compassionate and ethical than their religious counterparts. Not everyone is empathetic by nature, and secular thought is as often cruel as religious thought(think of Social Darwinism).

In the end, I think, each of us is on his or her own when it comes to morality. (This is not a comforting thought.) However, I also think that those of us who lead religious lives can find positive moral guidance in our religious traditions, or in the simple belief in a just and merciful God. And I think that that can have a positive impact on the way we approach the world.

Take a look at the Heretic. Would she be ministering to the sick right now if she didn't believe in God?

Or maybe not.

Friday, June 04, 2004

Why bother?

I've decided to follow Erica's advice: up to three posts a week, and I won't try to make them particularly "good."

Along those lines, here's a comic strip to which "Old Timer" introduced me a while back. It's incredibly corny, but it makes me giggle. (It has gotten a little bit raunchy lately, but I doubt that will bother many of you.) Don't miss the testimonials.

Shabot Shalom!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Welcome Back, Meredith

Meredith is public again, this time as "Fluffy Little Sheep Girl." This should please the old fans.

I warmly welcome her back to my links list.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

I'm Ba-ack!

Sort of.

It's been a lousy few weeks (with the exception of one wonderful wedding). I'd like to say that I've been working my butt off, but I'm not sure that sitting in front of the computer and sobbing counts. I have an unfortunate tendency toward depression -- unfortunate particularly because my life is so blessed. All this sadness seems a terrible waste.

I have managed to produce one paper that I think is more or less acceptable (meaning that I expect to let off the hook with a B). Another dealt with a subject in which I have very little interest, and it shows. For the third, I demanded an incomplete ("I really don't think you want to see what I've written so far") and agreed to hand it in by the end of June. I still have a paleography project to finish, which my professor will end up with about six hours to grade. If I ever have students like me, I may go insane.

I have been reevaluating the whole blogging enterprise. I've enjoyed it, and it's helped me keep in touch with old friends and make some new ones (of the internet variety). On the other hand, if I'd spent all that blogging time working on term papers, I probably wouldn't be in this mess.

Instead of leaving off blogging altogether, I'm going to try a little experiment this summer. There will be one or two posts a week (maximally three), and I'll try to make them good. Maybe I'll even proofread. I'm sure that there will be fewer comments, which is a shame (I enjoy your comments), but what can I do.

All right. Back to paleography.