Sunday, February 29, 2004

Some of my recent posts and comments may have been polemical without being clear. I've allowed some confusion to develop between the issues of same-sex civil marriage and Jewish commitment ceremonies. I happen to be in favor of both, but they are distinct issues and it is of the utmost importance that they remain distinct.

Fleurdelis28 points out that civil marriage has already undergone tremendous changes. In most states, the law simply registers partnerships and leaves all major decisions regarding those partnerships in the hands of individual couples. Couples can dissolve their marriages at will; the law requires no justification. Adultery is no longer illegal due to a growing sense that it is not the government'’s place to legislate morality.

To my mind, it should be easy for members of religious communities to accept this policy of individual discretion, since we have other institutions to tell us how a marriage should work. I see no reason to view gay marriage as any more threatening than the relaxation of divorce laws. Nonetheless, the term "marriage" bears such cultural weight that many feel that its meaning cannot be stretched any further. That is why I agree with those who would have the term "marriage"” dropped from the law books altogether and replaced with a less pregnant term, such as "civil union."

Religious marriage is another matter. The Jewish term for marriage, kiddushin, describes a specific process by which a woman becomes a man'’s wife. There is no reasonable way to extend either the term or the process to same-sex unions. However, there may be other options.

A man I met recently suggested that halakha was meant to be an evolving system, but that it was never meant to change as quickly as our current globally integrated society demands. If we attempt to ignore changes in society, we risk cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world. If we embrace change too readily, we risk sacrificing the integrity of the system. Different Jewish communities have found different ways of dealing with this issue, though none does so without a struggle. Judging from precedent, I would say that it is time for the Conservative movement to seriously consider commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples. I would not make such a suggestion for Orthodoxy.

This does not mean that Orthodox communities should ignore or dismiss the plight of Jewish homosexuals. Stigmatization of gay people must not be tolerated. It certainly should not be defended by the statement, "the Torah forbids homosexuality."” The Torah does not forbid "alities."” It does not outlaw people. It outlaws acts.

Every Jew should internalize the statement of Hillel, "“Do not judge your fellow until you stand in his place"” (Pirqe Avot 2:5). Straight Jews should try to appreciate the struggles of gay Jews who wish to remain faithful to halakha. Orthodox Jews should watch Trembling Before G-d and read "Gayness and God,"” by Rabbi Yaakov "Levado" Greenberg. Those who are prepared to accept creative psak should regard homosexuality as a priority as high as that of freeing agunot. The stakes are essentially the same.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Okay, so that wasn't my last blog about The Passion. This article is too articulate to miss. If you can handle any more, read Andrew Sullivan's comments, too.

Religion and Politics: Sullivan has posted dozens of e-mails on the amendment travesty. I found this one particularly insightful:

"We've witnessed a shift in Republican politics. The Republican establishment used to pay lip service to religious conservative interests while openly courting independent voters with moderate policies because it knew it could get the religious conservative vote regardless (who were they going to vote for, Clinton!?). But now, it seems Bush is paying lip service to independent interests while openly promoting religious conservative policy. Who are we going to vote for, Kerry?

Well, yes."

Unfortunately, Kerry has no backbone. Edwards, as usual, is confused. Am I alone in finding our options downright depressing?

That's about as far into politics as I'm willing to venture in this blog. Although, knowing you guys, there will soon be a strand of about fifty comments.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Anyone who is unconvinced that religious communities should find ways to recognize same-sex unions ought to read this article by Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan takes terminology very seriously, and he is correct to do so. I don't think it's possible, at this stage, for halakhic communities to accord gay unions the same status as heterosexual marriages. Once we've grown accustomed to sanctifying same-sex relationships and "alternative families" -- that is, once the "custom of Israel" has changed somewhat -- we may be able to revisit these issues and come to different conclusions. But, one thing at a time.
Hopefully this will be my last post about The Passion before someone I know actually sees it. By far the most thorough discussion of the movie and its critics that I've seen is at Keshser Talk. If you're not sick of the subject by now (I realize that the movie's been out a full two days already), Kesher's the blog to follow. For the best background I've seen, read this ancient post by Naomi Chana. Finally, if you're actually planning to see the movie, I request (no, plead) that you go prepared to address the following questions:

1. How faithful is Gibson to the Gospels? (Please reread the portions of the Gospels that narrate the Passion, if necessary.)
2. When forced to choose between Gospel narratives, what sorts of choices did Gibson make? Why do you think he made these decisions? What is the overall affect of his choices?
3. Did Gibson employ extracanonical material, and if so, how freely? (Please read up on the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich if you have not already done so.) What is the overall effect of these embellishments?
4. Did you notice any anachronisms?
5. Did the movie make you "really want to kill a Jew?" (If so, I hope you're not in the Boston area.)

I realize that I'm being very demanding, but think of it this way: you're suffering through the movie out of love for me and all the other geeks awaiting your feedback.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

So, The Passion of the Christ is finally showing in theaters. This is exciting for me, not because I have any intention of seeing the movie (I'd probably keep my eyes closed through most of it), but because by now I'm quite tired of critiques based entirely on hearsay.

We already know that God opposed the making of the film, and we've heard that the Pope rather liked it (though Vatican officials deny that he expressed any opinion). Now, we can finally address the truly important question: what do Boston Globe columnists think of The Passion?

James Carroll, the liberal Christian, offers a predictable response: the film is an obscene perversion of Jesus' legacy. Jeff Jacoby, the Orthodox Jew, is ever so slightly more charitable to the movie, but less charitable to Jesus' legacy:

"To be sure, there is a good deal in Gibson's movie that is not in the New Testament. . . But there is no getting around the fact that the parts of "The Passion" that are the most unflattering to Jews -- the bloody-minded and hateful Temple priests, the Judean mob howling for Jesus' death -- come straight out of the Gospels."

Jacoby faults Gibson not for hatred of Jews but for ignoring the cruelty that so many passion plays have incited. "It is not unreasonable," he writes, "to worry about the effect of a movie like 'The Passion' at a time of surging anti-Semitism."

On this score, at least, he is probably right.

(I thank Fleurdelis28 for the link to the CNN article.)

Monday, February 23, 2004

These have been a strange few days. At the very start of what is supposed to be the happiest month of the Jewish calendar, we were greeted with this horrible news. Yet the Purim preparations continue.

I've been a rather awful student lately. Most of this morning was devoted to reading teshuvot (responsa) on homosexuality, courtesy of Zackary Sholem Berger. None of the material to which he links is new, and some of you may have read it already. It was all new to me, though, and I thank him for the resources.

Berger and I seem to have different ideas about what a Conservative teshuva should look like. Personally, I think that Rabbi Simcha Roth has the right idea. (His teshuva is posted on the Keshet site). I'll blog more about this later. (Really. This won't go the way of biblical theology.)

Friday, February 20, 2004

Looks like the "James Ossuary" and "Yehoash Inscription" controversies are about to be laid to rest. Things that seem too good to be true usually are.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Tonight, a few entirely unrelated comments:

(1) Long ago (in internet time), Naomi Chana related her frustration with those who insist that baking is a "science." Here's a more reasonable approach, from yesterday's New York Times. Frank, sensible observations all around -- except that bit about cakes lasting all weekend. What is she talking about?

(2) Avid Protocols readers may have found themselves exploring the Forward's website recently. (Username and password "protocols" -- you didn't hear it from me.) This article caught my eye. DH believes that the response of the New York Jewish community would have been different, and he is probably right. Still, very interesting. . .

(3) I haven't been able to kick the urge to apologize for my inability to spell. (I know, Dad, I apologize too much.) In the past, I pooh-pooed those who decried spellcheck. Now that I'm using comment features that don't correct my spelling, I'm feeling the burn. If you're as nitpicky as I am, you may have also noticed that my transliterations are inconsistent. The system used by semiticists is a pain, and I haven't settled on an alternative. For now, my fellow nitpickers, you'll just have to deal.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Way back in January, Naomi Chana suggested that her fellow Book Schnooks create LiveJournal accounts. I've taken her up on it. This way, people who aren't interested in the books we're reading don't have to read about them, and people who for some strange reason aren't interested in my random thoughts don't have to read about them. You'll find my comments on A Simple Story here. (There's not much yet, but more will come.)

On a different note, Zackary Sholem Berger seems to have his own understanding of Conservative halakha, and he's going to try to apply it to the most controversial issue facing the Conservative movement today. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

Monday, February 16, 2004

DH just called from outside what he described as a "really happenin' biophysics party." I delivered some exciting news from the home front: I found the isopropanol (yey!) and I'm still working on the same batch of spaghetti. I'm sure you all wanted to know that...

Before I shut down for the night and go read some Agnon, a few things I think are worth looking at:
Cathy Young on the Gibson controversy, and Martin Kramer on Jewish philanthropy and Middle Eastern studies.

Lawrence's comment on my previous post made me think that I ought to discuss my opinion of Conservative halakha in a bit more depth. Since the CJLS (Committe on Jewish Laws and Standards) has not yet publicized all of its responsa, these comments are based solely on what I happen to know.

It seems to me that there is a basic methodological problem at the heart of the Conservative movement's decision-making process. JTS is full of theorists, and they are constantly producing lovely little treatises about combining tradition with modernity -- not unlike many of the speeches one hears at (Modern Orthodox) Edah conferences. However, I don't think the CJLS has come to any sort of a consensus on how this is to be accomplished.

Some of the unresolved questions: How much weight is to be given to traditional sources? If we consider Talmudic law binding, what about later legal codes, such as Maimonedes' Mishna Torah or the Shulchan Aruch? If we say that these later sources are "less binding" than the Talmud, when and how might they be overridden? Or do they simply have the status of suggestions? What about previous Conservative responsa? Are Orthodox responsa binding at all? What about responsa from before there were "movements" in Judaism? What about contemporary conceptions of justice and morality? When these values come into conflict with Rabbinic tradition, do we reject that tradition, or do we do our best to "reinterpret" (i.e. twist) it, ultimately allowing ourselves to be bound by its authority? Or is "reinterpretation" against the rules? If we allow ourselves to reject Rabbinic law when we see fit, what about Biblical law? What is Biblical law, anyway? Are we to interpret the bible according to the principles followed by the Rabbis, or are we to follow a more modern approach to the text? (If you think that no Conservative rabbi is so radical as to disregard aspects of Rabbinic law and revert to the Bible, think again.)

Lawrence cites the ruling permitting the consumption of meat with fish as one of the CJLS' more sensible decisions. I agree, but that was an easy one for them. There is a general consensus among Conservative authorities that rulings based on mistaken scientific premises are to be rejected (and some Orthodox authorities would agree). Moreover, the "prohibition" of eating meat with fish is, as Lawrence notes, post-medieval; hence, it carries minimal halakhic weight. In the same category is the CJLS' recent (more controversial) responsum permitting the use of electricity on Shabbat.

But how is the Conservative movement to deal with more difficult issues? What happens when our contemporary mores run directly against the grain of tradition, and there is no clear way out? Do we sigh and say, "the law's the law?" Do we "reinterpret" our sources until their original meaning is completely obscured? Or do we cite Psalms 119:126, assuming that God's will is identical to our own, and reject tradition entirely?

I don't presume to have the answers.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Q: How many Orthodox feminists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Ten, but they're not a minyan, and the change has to happen very slowly.

Steven I. Weiss is in the process of producing a detailed series of posts on the current JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) conference for Protocols. As much as I support the organization, Weiss' posts have only made me more glad that I am no longer in the JOFA world.

Some people are under the impression that I began to pray in egalitarian settings because I am a "feminist." Not so. I went egal because I was sick of being a "feminist." As a member of an Orthodox community, I couldn't escape the "feminist" label. Eventually, I embraced it, going to "feminist" conferences, praying in all-women "feminist" settings, joining the ranks of the protestors every time the Orthodox advisor made a decision that curtailed women's participation in the minyan. I even headed a "feminist" club for a while and scheduled a number of "feminist" gatherings, including some "feminist" services.

The problem was that I didn't have the personality to be an Angry Woman. Whenever an actual conflict arose, I passed the buck to another "feminist" or sighed and did as I was told. I required a tremendous amount of emotional support from other women to suggest even the most modest change in the infrastructure. I am very obedient, you see; I'd rather follow the rules than join a revolution.

In the end, I did what made the most sense for someone like me: I joined a community with different rules. Now I can be obedient and still read from the Torah, lead services, and express opinions that were once regarded as radical. No one at Egal thinks of me as a "feminist," and let me tell you, that is very liberating.

As I remember JOFA conferences, just about every idea expressed therein was either not quite Orthodox or not quite feminist. I mean no disrespect; after all, they are trying. Every Conservative ruling, it seems to me, is either not quite halakhic or not quite progressive. Yet I've joined a Conservative community nonetheless. I'd rather be in a community that accepts egalitarianism and struggles with halakha than the other way around. That is my personal choice.
I'm trying to distance-shop the YU Seforim Sale through Meredith. I'm primarily interested in Miqraot Gedolot, since all I have now is an itty-bitty one-volume chamisha chumashim with commentaries in virtually unreadable Rashi-script. (I am not proud of this.) Does anyone know the name of the new critical series with the silver and magenta covers? Also, is $66 a good price for Torat Chayim? Any help would be appreciated.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Religion and Politics: When news of the pending French head scarf ban first broke, DH said that the article's headline should have read, "Muslims, Christians, and Jews Agree About Something in France."

Many Americans are worried that we are on the verge of losing our religious freedom, either to the secular Left or to the evangelical Right. In spite of these (sometimes legitimate) concerns, there's no denying that what's happening in France simply would not happen in today's United States. That is because, with all our differences, most citizens of this country continue to view freedom of religion as a basic American value.

Thank God.
Shavua tov (and happy Valentine's Day, if that means anything to you). DH just left for the Biophysical Society conference. He'll be away until Wednesday. I haven't spent this much time alone since we were married. Here's hoping that I manage to wake up on time and feed myself properly without him. (Those who have lived with me know what a long shot that is.)

Speaking of food, I've been using frozen pie crusts lately. My general philosophy on pies is that it's what's inside that counts, but it does bother me a bit that I haven't yet succeeded in making a decent crust from scratch. It occurred to me that I might be able to use a food processor as a pastry cutter. The most difficult part for me, though, is rolling the dough. When I try to roll it between sheets of wax paper, the paper bunches up like crazy. Any suggestions, O experienced ones?

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I posted a comment on Protocols' Feb. 7th entry that some of you may have read. The post referred to a Jewish Press headline, and my comment went something like this: "The Jewish community would be a lot better off if we all ignored this and everything else published in the Jewish Press."

This comment, as might have been expected, ignited considerable ire. DH will be disappointed in me for saying this, but I take my statement back. We shouldn't necessarily ignore "everything" printed in the Jewish Press. Often, Jewish Press articles exhibit irresponsible, heavily biased journalism, but that is not always the case. In fact, the paper is so disorganized that it runs contradictory articles all the time. Which is precisely the problem: there seems to be no one in charge to ensure journalistic integrity.

The upshot is, if there's a columnist you like who publishes in the Jewish Press, go ahead and read his or her column. If you enjoy the divrei torah, read the divrei torah. If you get some kind of peverse pleasure from reading the bizarre frummie advice column, by all means, read that as well. But if you're looking for reliable information on world events, please, don't read the Jewish Press.
Considering my preoccupation with Jewish heresies, I can't but refer to this story, regarding the death of the Samaritan high priest. I am indebted to PaleoJudaica for the link.
Here's a golden opportunity for those of you who like to make fun of me for planning meals months in advance: I noticed this recipe in today's Food Section and thought it would be a great dish for shabbat parshat toldot (Nov. 12-13 2004). The accompanying article suggests using half the water to make a curry rather than a soup.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Tomorrow is study card day, and I still haven't chosen a fourth class. This semester's choice of courses has begun to seem utterly pathetic. If I end up taking a third semester of Genesis with Professor L (as much as I love him), I may go insane. I haven't fulfilled my ancient language requirement, I have no concentration, and it doesn't appear that I can even begin to remedy either problem this spring. Meanwhile, my advisor has no time to meet and hasn't yet responded to my e-mail. I can't stop thinking that when he does write back, the message will say, "I showed your e-mail to my colleagues, and we're in general agreement that you don't belong in this program." It's that kind of week.

On the bright side, my paleography class is going to be a blast. Remember that story about the earliest known alphabetic inscriptions, discovered at Wadi el-Hol? Professor H printed this photo and asked us to practice drawing the letters. The ultimate goal is to gain a sense for the gradual development of West Semitic scripts.

No biblical theology tonight. I'm far too nervous and confused, not to mention busy. I will try to blog about the article by the end of the week.

Good night.

Monday, February 09, 2004

And the Tablet-K certified Cabot cheeses are (*drumroll*):

Monterey Jack
Pepper Jack
50% Reduced Fat Cheddar
75% Reduced Fat Cheddar
5 Peppercorn Cheddar
Garlic and Herb Cheddar
Tomato Basil Cheddar
Habanaro Cheddar
Parmesan Cheddar
Sweet Pepper & Olive Cheddar
50% Reduced Fat Jalapeno Cheddar
Sage Cheddar
Roasted Garlic Cheddar
Smoked Cheddar
Chipotle Cheddar
Organic Cheddar
Taste of Tuscany Cheddar
Pasteurized Process Cheddar

The Organic Cheddar Cheese is made with kosher calf rennet. All the rest are vegetarian.

After this, I promise to take a break from blogging about food. I read an interesting article on biblical theology yesterday that I'd like to discuss.
Happy birthday, Satya!
You may be wondering why I keep commenting on my own posts instead of composing new ones. Or maybe you're not. In any case, if you'd like to read a relatively lengthy discussion of issues relating to kosher Worcestershire sauce including several comments by Yours Truly, click on the "comments" button under the "Pomegranate Chicken" recipe.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Dinner was generally successful. The only dishes we haven't tried before were the pomegranate chicken and the fig pseudo-newtons, both of which were pretty good. I've had a request to post the chicken "recipe." I've only made it once, and it was pretty experimental, so I will suggest a few modifications. I take no responsibility for unforeseen consequences :-)

Pomegranate Chicken
1 large chicken in pieces
2 15-fluid oz bottles pomegranate juice
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup fresh treyf mint leaves, chopped
8 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of salt

1. In a saucepan, combine juice, honey, mint, and garlic and bring to a boil. When the mixture reaches a full boil, add salt and reduce flame until it bubbles gently while uncovered. Continue to cook until the mixture is reduced to a thick syrup. (Note: I cooked the sauce for half an hour, at the end which it was still pretty thin. It tasted fine, and there was enough sauce for the chicken and a half that I was preparing, but the thick glaze called for by the recipes I've seen would probably have been better.)

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash and skin chicken. Place in roaster pan.

3. Pour sauce over chicken pieces and bake covered 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until juices run clear.

Heretics that we are, DH and I never turn our chicken. You can flip it over halfway through baking if you wish to adhere to the letter of the law.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Look, everybody: I've been Protocoled!

I've been thinking for the past week or so that it's time I added Protocols to my list of links. It's become a hugely popular source of news on Jews (and a reasonably good one), which is impressive given that the "elders" are a bunch of upstart YU boys ;-). I've also decided to add a few links to other Jewblogs that I've come to enjoy. I will try to keep my list from becoming unwieldy, but I expect it to continue to expand.

If you've taken interest in the preceding discussion of kashrut standards, you may want to read a recent post about Hebrew National in Zackary Sholem Berger's blog. Berger is the first to have begun posting on S.Y. Agnon's A Simple Story for Baraita's online book club, "Book Schnooks." (Well, he hasn't actually written about the book yet; the post is more of an introduction to Agnon. But he's ahead of the rest of us.) I am currently waiting for a copy of Hillel Halkin's translation from Obtaining the Hebrew original will require a trip to my least favorite library -- the one with the mazes and underground tunnels and man-eating book cases. I'll get there eventually.
Meredith is getting very impatient. She notes that, technically, it is erev shabbat, and I can't argue with that. So here it is: my husband's best-known work. He wrote this in response to a specific request, so I suppose you might call it a teshuvah.

One Fine Shabbat: A Detailed Guide to Violating Every Aspect of Shabbat in 25 Hours

I know about your quest to violate all of Shabbat. Hence, I have compiled this list, which, if strictly followed, will help you to violate Shabbat in the most expedient manner in just 25 hours - one day! This is a very daunting task, so, sleep well beforehand, because, you won't be getting any on Shabbat (as a side benefit, that means, no menucha for you). This will assume a Candle-lighting time of 8:30PM, Friday, and havdalah time of 9:30PM, on Saturday. Adjust as appropriate (if you need a little less time or more time, you'll see when you can adjust it).
8:30PM - Candle lighting time. Get ready! Light a candle, out of spite. Remember not to say a berachah! As you might know, there are 18 minutes of uncertainty time between the published candle lighting time and the time Shabbat actually begins. Take this time to review your activities for the next day.
8:48PM - Start off easy. Be sure you're in a place without an eruv. Put a pen in your shirt pocket and put some money in your pants pocket. Walk outside. Even if your town has an eruv, these objects are muktzeh, and you've just started on your way.
8:53PM - Go back inside. Turn on your oven.
8:55PM - Strike a match, then extinguish it, just for some pyromaniacal fun.
8:56PM - Start cooking dinner. Use the oven. Be sure to include some uncooked solids and liquids in the stuff you heat up ... just to be sure you're doing it right. If possible, cook non-kosher meat. If all you can get is kosher meat, include some kosher milk or milk product (cholov yisrael preferred, just to be absolutely sure!) in the cooking. If you're a vegetarian, you're on your own.
9:20PM - While you're waiting for dinner to cook, write a short story. Correct any mistakes. If you didn't make any, or, you're just a completely uncreative dumb-ass, write your name 20 times, and erase it. While you're at it, write God's name 20 times, scream it out at the top of your lungs, interspersed with obscenities, then erase it.
9:55PM - Remember to turn off your oven.
9:56PM - Eat dinner. Just in case you think you won't be violating Shabbat during the next 20 minutes, eat a watermelon with dinner, and pick out the seeds. Remember, don't eat bread (we don't want this to be a meal), don't wash your hands, don't say any berachot (unless the food's not kosher).
10:20PM - Spilled something on your clothes while eating? Didn't and just want to violate Shabbat? Do your laundry.
10:30PM - Laundry's in the wash and you're bored. Wash your dishes. Be sure to use a sponge. Wipe them with paper towels. Tear them off as you need them. Also, be sure you don't need them any other time during Shabbat.
11:00PM - Put the laundry in the dryer. Wring water out of anything that's too wet.
11:05PM - It's getting late. Now, it's time to get creative. Draw a picture of your favorite deity.
11:20PM - Picture's not good enough. Take some clay or paper mache. Make yourself a 3D statue of the deity.
12:00AM - Thinking of joining the navy? Get a good book and learn how to tie a proper knot. Untie it too, just for the hell of it.
1:00AM - Boy is it late! Pick up the laundry. Then, kill someone. Really. Nobody will notice.
1:30AM - Uh, Oh! Someone did. Blame your friend. Sign a sworn affidavit.
2:00AM - Time to pray to your new deity for forgiveness. But, naked deities suck. Get yourself some cotton or wool. Comb it to get it ready.
2:30AM - Spin it to make thread.
3:00AM - Dye it the appropriate color. We suggest red, but it's your choice.
3:30AM - Make your deity some clothes. Be sure to do all of the following: spinning thread, weaving, unravelling woven material, sewing, warping, chainstiching (whatever the hell that is)... this may take you a while. If you're a professional, use this time for other things. While you're at it, put together some wicker baskets for him too.
4:30AM - It's bright and early in the morning. Go out into your yard. Dig some holes. Bury the murder victim, if you haven't otherwise disposed of the body. Pick some weeds. Pick some of that grain you've
been growing. Haven't been growing any grain? Steal some from someone else's field.
5:30AM - Thresh and winnow (separate) the grain. While you're at it, milk a pig. Pick some fruit. Separate the good ones into those baskets you made, for your god.
6:00AM - Plow the soil.
7:00AM - Plant something new.
8:00AM - You've had a hard night, with the murder and the agricultural work. Time to make yourself a nice breakfast. You've got plenty of grain. Grind it into flour and make dough. Bake some bread.
9:00AM - While you're waiting for your bread to bake, call your parents and scream obscenities into their phone or answering machine.
9:40AM - Eat breakfast. Take some food for later, in case you get hungry.
10:00AM - All this strain has had a nasty effect on your house. Do some remodelling work. Drive some nails.
11:00AM - Uh Oh! You messed up, undo some of that assembly work you just did.
12:00PM - Go out where there's some wildlife. Don't walk there, drive. Pay as many tolls as possible.
12:30PM - Set some traps, and catch a large animal. While you're waiting, scope out some of the nice halachically married Jewish women in the closest Jewish neighborhood. Take notes (the more you write, the better). You're going to need this information later.
1:30PM - Got an animal! Kill it. Skin it. Shear the hair/fur/feathers off the skin.
2:30PM - Tan the animal's skin. Score lines in it, to prepare it for cutting.
3:00PM - Cut that skin up. Make something nice.
4:00PM - Done? Go home.
4:30PM - You must be hungry! Eat some more non-kosher food. Use a pepper mill as much as possible.
5:00PM Wash up, and put on something nice. May I suggest your new animal skin jacket?
5:30PM - Time to go cruising for chicks. Remember the married woman you scoped out before? Time to find her.
6:10PM - Seduce her. I'll give you some time for that. If you're good with these kinds of things, then now's the time to catch up. (Chances are, if you're good at this, you're a little behind on the agricultural stuff anyway).
7:30PM - While you're at it, make sure you really want her, and her husband's car, and his donkey.
8:00PM - Have some adulterous fun (notice how much time I'm giving you for this...I don't want to be disappointed!).
9:30PM - Shabbat is over. Congratualations! You've just violated all 39 avot melachot, some rabbinic injunctions, and, as a bonus, all 10 commandments! Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.

Many thanks to the OU for providing the list of avot melachot, without which, we wouldn't know what to do on Shabbat.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Adina recently discovered Aaron Macks' Akkadian Verb Parser and posted a link from her blog, and I've decided to do the same. I do this mainly so that the Brandesians among you can revel in the glory of Aaron's handiwork, but I'm sure that it will also be very useful the next time you have an Akkadian verb to parse. (You can thank me then.)

The cookies are a lot like Fig Newtons, but worse-looking and better-tasting.
A land of wheat and barley, grape and fig and pomegranate; a land of oil-yielding olive and [date] honey.
-- Deuteronomy 8:8

Tomorrow night begins Tu B'Shevat, New Year's day for the trees. Though not all of the "seven species" of Deuteronomy 8:8 grow on trees, the verse is often associated with the holiday. I decided that it might be fun to have a "seven species" theme for this week's Shabbat dinner. As usual, I planned the menu far in advance. DH is standing by, ready to take orders.

The meal will, of course, begin with wine and challah, which will take care of of wheat and grapes. But that's too easy, so I thought I'd make whole wheat challah with raisins, just to press the point.

Next, there will be gefilte fish and salad with balsamic vinaigrette made with extra-virgin olive oil. Then we'll have Grandma's vegetable-barley soup. (We picked up the soup-after-fish practice from Chabad.) Our entree will be pomegranate chicken with garlic and mint, and the side will be brown rice with whatever embellishments DH feels like adding. For dessert, I am preparing rolled cookies with fig and date filling. I asked our guests to bring some fruit so we'd have something fresh that actually came from a tree.

I don't know why this sort of thing excites me, but it does. It's nice to have some reprieve from reality.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

I'm back! (All right, I never really left.) Anyhow, I thought I should announce that Andrea is now a Master of Arts. All hail!
As always, my first day of classes has left me excited, nervous, and confused. You'd think I'd be over all that by my third semester of graduate school, but no.

Better get some reading done. Good night, all.
Yoel touches on some of the reasons for my reluctance to blog on Israeli politics. Always such difficult, difficult issues. Always, it seems, inevitable tragedy.
Religion and Politics: The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts stands its ground. At last, some people are beginning to realize that the state has no business regulating a religious institution.
The OS has been reinstalled, and my computer is happy.

I know that everyone's all wrapped up in the primaries, but I've promised myself not to get into the habit of blogging about politics. Instead, back to the subjects of Judaism and food.

Lawrence writes, "something really has to be done about the kashrut culture in this country. Some things are just kosher, even if nobody puts a hekhsher on them. The moment we gain the ability to engineer a banana that grows brown spots in the shape of an O-U as it ripens, we'll probably see the end of ordinary fruit in frum households."

While my sympathies are with him, I think it's worth noting that the trend toward ever-increasing stringency existed in Judaism at least as early as the Second Temple period. And have you read Leviticus? We have been glorifying OCD since ancient times.

As much as it hurts, I will venture one further defense of kashrut standards in the U.S.: If you think we're bad, you should visit our brethren up north. The Montreal Vaad Hair is deeply concerned by the prevalence of insects and worms in modern-day vegetables:

"Due to this serious problem and the great effort required to check them properly, only certain vegetables are permitted for use in MK establishments. Others have restrictions and can only be used after the vigorous cleaning and checking procedures set forth below. . . Should you wish to use these products in your private home, please consult your Rabbi." (Your rabbi may recommend a fluorescent light box of the variety used by Mrs. Maimonedes.)

Certain questions aren't worth asking your rabbi. Don't even think about eating artichoke hearts, for example: "Heart of Artichoke may not be used at all even with Hashgacha. This applies to fresh, frozen or canned."

And, I hope you like stems: "Fresh Asparagus may only be used if the whole floret is cut off, the sides peeled and all brads have been removed. . . Only fresh broccoli stems may be used and must be washed with a brush under running water."

Are you a fan of berries? Sorry to break it to you, but raspberries and blackberries are completely off-limits; so are certain varieties of blueberry. Fresh herbs? Parsley, dill, and oregano are trayf, but basil may be eaten if soaked in detergent (yum). Brussels sprouts are forbidden, as are the green portions of scallions and leeks. Spinach and most other types of lettuce are, of course, a problem, but you will be happy to learn that Boston and iceberg are acceptable if properly inspected.

In conclusion, I highly recommend that any God-fearing Jews among you visit the Solgar website immediately and purchase some Kof-K certified vitamins. I wouldn't want you to get scurvy.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

The German exam is over. I didn't finish my translation, so no pass this time, but it was easier than I expected. If I go to the German workshops this semester and practice at home, I should have no trouble passing in May.

I should clarify: this wasn't a "final." It was a "pre-general" exam. My department requires students to take four pre-general exams over the course of their first two years of graduate work. German is the only one that I have yet to pass. They work like road tests: it doesn't matter how many times you fail, as long as you pass once. We're allowed to use dictionaries, so I don't actually have to "know" German -- I passed the French exam without "knowing" French. I simply have to understand German grammar and syntax and have enough of a vocabulary to be able to translate one page of text within an hour.

What troubles me is that, while I came close to passing the exam, I still can't make head or tail of any "real" German article with which I've been confronted. Will I ever be sufficiently proficient in German to be able to use it for my academic work? I suppose I will, because I must.

Translating declined languages into English can be fun. It's like a puzzle; you rearrange words until, gradually, the sentence begins to make sense. At least, that's what it's like until you're really competent.

So I guess I'm on vacation. Until 1 PM tomorrow, that is, when my first class of the semester begins. I'm using my "vacation" to back up my hard drive and reinstall Windows. What would I do without DH?

Monday, February 02, 2004

Here's one for the Tolkien geeks. It's obviously meant to undermine everything I do, but I love it.

On that note, I'm off to bed. Wish me luck on tomorrow's German exam. I'll need it.
I was clicking through the links on Yoel's page a little while ago and was directed to this blog, by a certain Rabbi Josh Yuter, who happens to be the son of Adina's hometown rabbi and the cousin of a woman with whom I went to college who is now in my field. Rabbi Yuter links to both Meredith and Baraita. Those of you who have been in the blogosphere for some time probably don't think this is even worthy of comment, but I am a newbie and I find it a bit disturbing. Jewish geography was bad enough before the internet.
The New Republic's Omer Bartov has some dark words about Hitler's second book and contemporary anti-Semitism. Worth reading, if you can stomach it.
Through the mystifying channels of Jewish internet geography, I came across the blog of my high school classmate, Yoel Oz. Yoel offers some interesting thoughts about life, the universe, and blogging, as well as an inside view of New York's Yeshiva University. A good read.
I figure anonymous e-mail forwards are pretty securely in the public domain. Here's one of my favorites, courtesy of Ayelet W.:

Oy, Mars?

Message Houston (JTA) - In a stunning development, it has been learned
that there is life on Mars-but not the kind that had been anticipated.
The first indication, based on the current U.S. space mission, came
when the small roving vehicle called Sojourner spotted a sign on the
rocky terrain of the Red Planet that read, "Welcome To Chabad
House-Bring Moshiach Now." The sign, in English, thrilled and confused
NASA scientists at the NASA Space Flight Centre in Houston,who had no
idea what it meant.

Only after thorough research did they learn that it revealed the
presence of a dedicated and particularly hearty group of Lubavitch
Chasidim, known for their tireless efforts to reach Jews in the most
remote regions, urging them to perform mitzvoth. "We've been here for
some time now doing our work," said a cheerful Rabbi Lou Steinwalker,
mission commander of the spaceship "Mitzvah 613", in an exclusive
phone interview.. When asked how long he had been on Mars and how he
got there, he said only, "where there's a will, there's a way."

He then excused himself, explaining that it was time for prayer and he
was looking for a minyan. In a subsequent phone call, the Rabbi noted
that in recent days another synagogue has been formed on Mars - -- a
Reform congregation that he would not set foot in. Following up on
that information, we contacted Rabbi Uri Negev, a Reform leader in
Israel, who said that when he had met secretly with the chief rabbis
of Israel in Jerusalem recently, they told him that if Reform Jews
wanted to pray in peace, they should go to Mars.

"So we did," said Rabbi Negev, "and no one has bothered us, except the
local Conservative congregation that keeps trying to borrow our
membership list." A Conservative congregation on Mars? Yes, it is
true, acknowledged a leader of the Jewish Theological Seminary. "We
discovered that blending Jewish law and modernity just doesn't work on
Earth, and we're always looking for new venues," explained Rabbi
Ismore Sources. The rabbi complained bitterly of financial competition
from the United Jewish Appeal's Interplanetary Division, which has
been scouring Mars via satellite in search of potential donors.

Stephen Solomon, the chief executive of the charity acknowledged that
highly motivated fund-raisers have been active throughout the galaxy
for several light years. "We've determined through a Strategic Planet
Plan that our most compelling marketing strategy is rescue," he said.
"The trouble is that we haven't found anyone out there to save!"

That's been a problem, as well, for Abraham Loxsmith of the B'nai
B'rith Anti-Defamation League. "We are prepared to open a major branch
on Mars, and we've already ordered the press releases and fax papers.
But, so far, no one has defamed us." Loxsmith is considering whether
the lack of defamation may be due to a form of active, even hostile,
disinterest in Jews that qualifies as anti-Semitism.

All this sudden interest among Jews about Mars has motivated Malcolm
Phoneline to form a new umbrella group, the Conference of Presidents
of Major Martian Jewish Organizations (CPMMJO). He said the group has
already received several calls from anonymous rabbis inquiring as to
whether there were any Pell grants available on Mars.

Meanwhile, a number of kosher-for-Passover tours have scouted out the
Red Planet as a unique alternative to places like Palm Springs and
Hawaii for jaded holiday vacationers. One tour operator noted that
Rabbi Orson Vells has already been hired to conduct and broadcast the
communal Seders, to be called "The War Of The Words," and that space
stations are under construction to transport large supplies of oxygen,
horseradish and shmura matzah for the eight-day festival. "It will be
out of this world," the travel expert said, "and, I assure you, very
tastefully done.."
There have been a few comments about Cabot and Tablet-K, so I figure I may as well throw in my two cents.

There are probably legitimate reasons not to trust Tablet-K. Rabbi Saffra, who runs the organization, has a habit of jumping to certify products that others won't, and he seems to do most of his business hekhshering cheese and seafood.

There is more than one issue involved in determining the kashrut status of cheese (see Star-K on "Kosher Cheesemaking"). Personally, I think the gevinat aku"m issue is a bit silly. I also don't particularly care whether the Cabot farmers (even those who are Jewish) observe Shabbat. (Note the title of my blog!)

The folks at Cabot can probably be trusted when they claim not to be using animal rennet. Their non-animal enzyme is approved by the American Vegetarian Society (see FAQ's) and Terri tells me that a friend who is allergic to animal rennet finds Cabot cheeses very reliable.

Tablet-K does certify cheeses that contain rennet from kosher animals, but this is noted in the certificate, so people who prefer to eat only vegetarian cheeses have the option of doing so.

In this instance, Tablet-K is good enough for me. I don't mean to tell anyone else what to do.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

And I thought tefillin was a bizarre custom! Here's the Rev. Brendan Powell Smith's interpretation.
Since several people have asked, I should probably explain that DH stands for "Dear Husband." I learned the abbreviation from an internet message board. Sorry I didn't make that clear earlier.

Mystery of the Day: OU-certified ham glaze. Why?
I made a very nice bread pudding today; possibly the best I've ever made. I learned the basics from my mom, but I eventually came to the sad conclusion that the texture is nicer if you add a little fat. This is another of those quick-and-easy recipes, worth knowing in case you ever have leftover challah and aren't in the mood for French Toast. Good for breakfast or dessert.

Cinnamon Bread Pudding

1 medium challah, broken into pieces (slightly stale OK)
4 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (skim or lowfat OK)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbs butter
1/8 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs lightly with a fork.
3. Add milk, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar. Blend.
4. Divide butter into 3 slices and distribute evenly down the center of a loaf pan. Place the loaf pan in the oven and heat 5-10 mins, or until butter is completely melted.
5. In the meantime, place challah pieces in the bowl and press down, so that the bread is completely covered with liquid.
6. Remove loaf pan from oven and spoon in challah mixture. Press down. Butter will rise along the edges.
7. Bake 30 mins. Serve chilled.

The challah mixture should have absorbed the liquid by the time it is poured into the loaf pan. This may require waiting a bit between steps 5 and 6 or perhaps reversing 4 and 5. Remember, I've only tried this combination once. In any case, the buttered pan should be kept in the oven until the mixture is ready to be transferred.
Baraita offers some thoughts on the art of baking. Maybe we are long-lost cousins.
Today is a very special day: It is the day that Cabot Cheese renews its Tablet-K certification. I will post a list of this year's certified cheeses when we receive our copy of the certificate. (Yes, the list does expand.) If you e-mail Cabot requesting your own copy, they will also send coupons.

For those who may not know, Tablet-K is not a pill. It is a certification that a product is kosher, generally indicated by Michelangelo-style tablets with a "K" in the middle. Cabot cheese, for whatever reason, does not print the symbol on their packages, so the only way to find out which cheeses are certified kosher is to request a certificate.

A certain amount of controversy surrounds the reliability of Tablet-K. The suspicious are encouraged to join the Kosherblog squad in their search for quality cheeses with less controversial hekhshers.

On the fleichig side of things, the most recent Kosherblog post redefines "all you can eat." Hope you're hungry...
My mother was just introduced to my blog. I'm not too concerned, since my parents are cool, but I thought this would be a good time to refer everyone to Blogger's excellent tutorial, "What to do if your Mom discovers your Blog."
This past week has been difficult for many people. Here's hoping that the coming week brings only good news. Shavua tov.