Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Late, as Usual

Apparently, today was Blog Day, described as follows by its creator, Nil Ophir:

In one long moment In August 31st, bloggers from all over the world will post a recommendation of 5 new Blogs, Preferably, Blogs different from their own culture, point of view and attitude. On this day, blog surfers will find themselves leaping and discovering new, unknown Blogs, celebrating the discovery of new people and new bloggers.

I like the idea, so I will post five recommendations, even though it is technically past midnight:

1. Raising Yousuf: a diary of a mother under occupation. Like everyone else in the J-blogosphere, I discovered this blog via Chayyei Sarah. Different culture: check. Different point of view: check. Different attitude: check. A difficult read, for someone like me, but ultimately worthwhile.

2. Life at TJ's Place, also via Chayyei Sarah. By Kevin, the assistant manager of a gentleman's club in the Midwest. Different culture? Definitely. It's an entertaining read, and all the strippers and bartenders come off seeming very human and sympathetic.

3. House of Joy, also via Chayyei Sarah. (Anyone noticing a pattern here?) The author is originally from Long Island and is now a resident of the West Bank. Different point of view? You betcha. But generally quite sympathetic, and always worth reading.

4. Frummer, a frequently conflicted Chassid from Stamford Hill. Always thoughtful.

5. The Wooden O, "being the abstract and brief Chronicle of Wm. Shakespeare, gent." Different culture? We're not even from the same century!

Off to bed now. Happy reading!

Friday, August 19, 2005

For Shabbat Nachamu

Be comforted, be comforted, my people
Says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem
And declare to her
That her term of service is over,
That her iniquity is expiated;
For she has received at the hand of the Lord
Double for all her sins.

Behold, the Lord God comes in His might,
And His arm wins triumph for Him;
See, His reward is with Him,
His recompense before Him.
Like a shepherd He pastures His flock:
He gathers the lambs in His arms
And carries them in His bosom;
Gently He drives the mother sheep.

~Isaiah 40:1-2, 10-11

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Prayers for the Pullout

It is becoming difficult not to say anything about the Gaza pullout, even though I have little to add. I am not attached to the "greater Israel" idea, and I support efforts to create a democratic Palestinian state, but it is still unclear whether this move will bring us any closer to peace, or even Palestinian statehood. It has already resulted in tremendous suffering and a few depraved acts. One can only hope and pray that the ultimate outcome is positive.

I pray for the evacuees. May those who remain to be evacuated prevail over their evil inclinations, and may they all succeed at building new homes and resuming their lives with minimal trauma.

I pray for the soldiers. May they remain unified, strong, and safe.

I pray for the Palestinian residents of Gaza. May they eschew violence and succeed at building homes and constructive institutions from the rubble of the Jewish settlements.

May the One who creates peace in the heavens create peace for us, and for all Israel, and all the inhabitants of the world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Blogs, Journalistic Ethics, and Kosher Food at Dartmouth

It recently came to my attention that my blog had been quoted in the Dartmouth Independent, in an article entitled "The Economics of Observance," by Jared S. Westheim. The article deals with the kashrut ("kosher") standards of the Pavilion (apparently the kosher dining hall at Dartmouth University), which is supervised by Rabbi Rafael Saffra of the "Tablet-K" kashrut organization. Apikorsus is quoted on the subject of Saffra's standards:

Josh Gajer at Columbia, a former ’06 and mashgiach (religious supervisor) at the Pavilion, pointed out that “in the world of kosher supervision, this guy doesn’t have exactly a sterling reputation for high standards.” Numerous weblogs and local Orthodox practitioners concurred. One blog called Apikorsus, which is concerned with the intimacies of kashrut, stated that “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.” A significant number of others doubt the rigor of his work with Cabot.

First of all, some context: the quoted post (which you can read here) is actually about why I do eat Tablet-K cheeses. More importantly, as those of you who read this blog regularly know, I do not deal extensively with the "intimacies [intricacies?] of kashrut," nor do I represent myself as an authority on such matters.

There are legitimate and illegitimate ways for a journalist to make use of weblogs. Non-anonymous blogs by professional journalists, academics, etc. can be quoted as expert commentary on various subjects, although it is always preferable to contact the blogger and give him or her a chance to put the quotation into context. Non-anonymous blogs have about the status of "man-on-the street" interviews. In the context of this article, it might have made sense to quote Orthodox Dartmouth students, but a quotation from an anonymous nobody from God-knows where (e.g. Yours Truly) is of little value. It is particularly irresponsible to rely on such a source when a person's reputation is at stake.

Of course, I also bear some responsiblity for putting unsubstantiated, potentially harmful information in the public domain. The original version of the above quote included a specific allegation against Rabbi Saffra, which I removed because it was an unsupported rumor, clearly lashon hara (gossip) and possibly motsi shem ra (slander). I now realize that what I did write is almost as bad. I ought to have written, "there may be legitimate reasons not to trust Tabet-K," period.

One of the purposes of a university newspaper is for students to learn responsible journalistic practices, which they often do by making mistakes. I am clearly still learning responsible blogging practices, so I am sympathetic. At some point, however, we all have to take responsiblity for our actions.

I am e-mailing Jared Westheim with a link to this post, to give him a chance to respond if he sees fit to do so.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Blogburst Reminder

Shanna Giora-Gorfajn points out that my previous post is relevant to the current Kesher Talk blogburst. I've notified Judith of the post, and it seems only reasonable to include a reminder here, for any of you who might want to participate in the blogburst or read the essays that emerge from it.

Acceptable topics for the blogburst include (in Judith's words):
- the ongoing Temple Mount destruction and efforts to mitigate it
- the history of Jewish Jerusalem and Jewish residence in Israel (preferably that which can be corroborated by artifacts and documents)
- the disinformation campaign to falsify Middle Eastern history to erase the Jewish presence
- controversies about future Jewish and Muslim activity at the site
- Tisha B'Av: its rituals and many meanings
- personal experiences at Har Ha-Bayit

Read the original post for full information.

UPDATE: And here it is. Judith was good enough to use separate posts for the various topics listed above. Tradition severely limits Tisha B'Av activities, so it's good to have some relevant stuff to read.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Toward Tisha B'Av

The rabbinic system, according to the esteemed professor Shaye Cohen, is one that perpetually declares itself inadequate. Built into our prayers, laws, and customs, is a pervasive theme of mourning for Jerusalem, and of prayer for a future time, when Jerusalem will be reinhabited, the Temple rebuilt, and the Jewish people forever free of suffering and oppression.

Today, we live in a time when the model of the Jewish future on which the rabbinic paradigm is based has been shattered. History has presented us with a paradox: a national homeland with Jerusalem as its capital, but no return to Temple worship and no end of suffering in sight. What are the implications of this situation for modern Judaism? Must we abandon the rabbinic myth, or can it be effectively reinterpreted? I raised similar questions around this time last year. Below is a summary of some of the approaches that I and others suggested then, and the reasons why I find them all ultimately unsatisfactory.

1. The establishment of the State of Israel was a mistake, and has nothing to do with ancient Jewish dream, which will be fulfilled in the future by supernatural, rather than human, means. This is the predominant anti-Zionist Orthodox approach. It is not very popular nowadays, and probably has no adherents among readers of this blog. Therefore, instead of taking the time and energy to dispute it rationally, I will simply remind you all of an old joke about a man who put his faith in God.

2. The rebuilding of the physical Jerusalem is incomplete. According to this perspective, when we mourn Jerusalem, we are actually mourning the Temple, which, when rebuilt, will usher in the true messianic age, and with it, the fulfillment of our people's dreams. This is the predominant approach among Orthodox Zionists, for obvious reasons. It maintains the traditional myth virtually intact, only drawing its fulfillment out for a somewhat longer period than our ancestors might have imagined.

My primary objection to this approach is historical. The existence of the modern state of Israel provides us with an opportunity for re-examining the past in light of the present, and realizing that, while there are many advantages to national autonomy, autonomous periods in Israel's history have never been utopian. This was equally the case whether or not a temple stood in Jerusalem.

A second objection is the implication that the type of worship that took place in the Temple would be appropriate outside an ancient context. Animal sacrifice was very common at the time that the Israelites practiced it, but most modern Jews would, I think, agree that its replacement with prayer was a change for the better. Further, we may reasonably question whether centralized theocracy should be regarded as an ideal form of government (this book notwithstanding). Again, in the ancient world it may have seemed the only option. But times have changed.

3. The emphasis that we place on the physical city of Jerusalem in an error. Instead, we should focus on the ideas with which Jerusalem has traditionally been associated. My understanding is that the Jewish version of this idea originated in pre-Zionist times,* but it continues to have adherents. Rachel Barenblat's "Diaspora Grrl" is a particularly thoughtful contemporary articulation.

While Rachel does not advocate ignoring or abandoning the physical city of Jerusalem, her philosophy would logically seem to lead to that approach, which makes me uneasy. I was educated in a strongly Zionist tradition, and in spite of everything that has been going on in Israel lately, I still believe that the existence of a Jewish state is integral to the well-being of Jewry as a whole. For this reason, it seems to me that it would be worthwhile for the idea of a Jewish homeland to remain a part of Jewish mythology.

4. The Book of Lamentations and the kinot that we recite on Tisha B'Av focus primarily on human suffering. For Jews, the destruction of Jerusalem is paradigmatic of human cruelty and suffering, and that is what “mourning for Jerusalem” is really about. I made this suggestion last year, and I still think that there is something to it. Still, I've come to find it dissatisfying for the same reason that I find the previous approach dissatisfying: it undermines the significance of Jerusalem itself.

Perhaps what we really ought to be mourning is the lost dream of a simple, complete, glorious redemption, both physical and spiritual. We should mourn the fact that the physical Jerusalem has turned out to be so unlike the Jerusalem of Jewish dreams, and that the world after the creation of the Jewish state is so unlike the messianic age that we long envisioned. And we can ask ourselves what we can do in this imperfect world of ours to bring the Jerusalem of our people's dreams closer to reality, both in the physical city of Jerusalem and elsewhere.

*For some reason, I associate it with Martin Buber, but then it wouldn't be pre-Zionist. Maybe it was Mendelsson's idea? Maybe I'm really mixed up and should do some more reading...

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tofu Salad

This intellectual and emotional heavy stuff is starting to take a toll on me, so I've decided to break it up with a recipe. Tofu salad is perfect for cold summer lunches and is convenient for picnics and potlucks. This particular version is adapted from the Moosewood Cookbook, but it's very similar to a variety that my mother makes, which is always a winner, even among carnivores.

4 tbs sesame oil
5 tbs rice or cider vinegar
1 tbs sugar
3 tbs soy sauce
2-3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt (to taste - and really unnecessary, IMO)
crushed red pepper or chili oil, to taste
1 tsp minced fresh ginger

1 to 1-1/2 lbs. extra-firm tofu, well drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
8-10 medium mushrooms
1 small carrot, shredded or cut into small, thin pieces
1 small bell pepper (preferably red*), minced
finely shredded cabbage
1-2 minced scallions
a handful or two of fresh mung bean sprouts

Optional Toppings:
minced fresh cilantro
diced fresh, ripe tomato
a sprinkling of sesame seeds

Combine marinade ingredients in a large, shallow bowl or pan. Add remaining ingredients and stir gently. Cover and let marinate for at least two hours, preferably overnight. Add toppings, if using, and serve cold or at room temperature.

*When I double the recipe, I like to use one red and one orange.

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Dragon's Fine, Thank You.

I've avoided discussing my theological struggle on this blog until recently, for various reasons. At this point, I think it would be best to articulate one of those reasons, even though it's kind of silly. You see, for whatever reason, most of my readers are to the right of me on the religious spectrum. As a result, I often find myself defending liberal Judaism. (This is somewhat ironic, given that my religious practice is to the "right" of the vast majority of American Jewry, but never mind.) I've often thought: what would it say about liberal Judaism, if its defender turned out not to be a believer at all?

The truth, I've come to realize, is that it doesn't say anything about liberal Judaism. All it says anything about is me. I've met Orthodox Jews who seriously doubt God's existence, and I've met Reform Jews with deep, unquestioning faith. And, while it's true that my doubts were partly responsible for my shift toward a more liberal interpretation of halakhah, I know others who have moved in a similar direction for entirely different reasons. Movements are made up of many individuals, each with his or her own distinct spiritual history, convictions, and doubts.

It should be clear by now that, notwithstanding my doubts about God, I am, in my own way, still deeply committed to Judaism. I've never questioned that fundamental commitment, any more than I'd question my love for and commitment to my husband and family.

So, about that dragon: It may be invisible. It may not even exist. That won't stop me from putting out milk and cookies, and otherwise making sure that my garage remains a comfortable place for an invisible, heatless fire-breathing dragon to live.

(Please, spare me the observation that I don't have a garage.)