Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More on Women in Science

Today's New York Times Science section has a lengthy article on women in science. The article addresses some important issues, such as the difficulty of raising children while maintaining a career in academia; advancing one's career along with that of a spouse who is also a scientist; and latent predjudices that lead to women being judged less competent than their male peers, or too aggressive when they actively pursue advancement.

Still, it irritates me to no end that the New York Times, and apparently the organizers of panels and conferences on this subject, feel the need to dismiss out of hand the possibility of cognitive differences between men and women. One would think that scientists and other highly educated people would be open to all reasonable hypotheses, that they would appreciate the possibility of a single phenomenon having multiple causes, and that they would understand that statistical trends need not have implications for individuals.

Also not addressed is the possibility that affirmative action is one of the causes of the assumption that female scientists are less compentent than males -- in other words, that what is supposed to be a solution has become part of the problem.

On the bright side, the article does offer some anecdotal evidence that attitudes toward women in science have improved significantly over the past few decades. DH also suspects that this is the case. Since it takes many years to reach the top echelons in academia, and since tenured professors tend to keep their jobs for quite some time, there is inevitably a significant lag between changes in attitude and changes in the position of women in the profession. However, I think there is reason to be optimistic.

Previous comments/rants on this subject here, here, and here.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Selling the Bible

This week's New Yorker has an interesting article on the American Bible business. An excerpt:
The popularization of the Bible entered a new phase in 2003, when Thomas Nelson created the BibleZine. Wayne Hastings described a meeting in which a young editor, who had conducted numerous focus groups and online surveys, presented the idea. “She brought in a variety of teen-girl magazines and threw them out on the table,” he recalled. “And then she threw a black bonded-leather Bible on the table and said, ‘Which would you rather read if you were sixteen years old?’ ” The result was “Revolve,” a New Testament that looked indistinguishable from a glossy girls’ magazine. The 2007 edition features cover lines like “Guys Speak Their Minds” and “Do U Rush to Crush?” Inside, the Gospels are surrounded by quizzes, photos of beaming teen-agers, and sidebars offering Bible-themed beauty secrets:

Have you ever had a white stain appear underneath the arms of your favorite dark blouse? Don’t freak out. You can quickly give deodorant spots the boot. Just grab a spare toothbrush, dampen with a little water and liquid soap, and gently scrub until the stain fades away. As you wash away the stain, praise God for cleansing us from all the wrong things we have done. (1 John 1:9)

“Revolve” was immediately popular with teen-agers. “They weren’t embarrassed anymore,” Hastings said. “They could carry it around school, and nobody was going to ask them what in the world it is.” Nelson quickly followed up with other titles, including “Refuel,” for boys; “Blossom,” for tweens; “Real,” for the “vibrant urban crowd” (it comes bundled with a CD of Christian rap); and “Divine Health,” which has notes by the author of the best-selling diet book “What Would Jesus Eat?” To date, Nelson has sold well over a million BibleZines.

The success of the BibleZine was all the more notable for occurring in a commercial field already crowded with products and with savvy marketing ideas. This year’s annual trade show of the Christian Booksellers’ Association, in Denver, brought such innovations as “The Outdoor Bible,” printed on indestructible plastic sheets that fold up like maps, and “The Story,” which features selections from the Bible arranged in chronological order, like a novel. There is a “Men of Integrity” Bible and a “Woman, Thou Art Loosed!” Bible. For kids, there’s “The Super Heroes Bible: The Quest for Good Over Evil” and “Psalty’s Kids Bible,” featuring “Psalty, the famous singing songbook.” The “Soul Surfer Bible” has notes by Bethany Hamilton, who lost an arm to a shark in 2003. “2:52 Boys Bible: The Ultimate Manual” promises “gross and gory Bible stuff.” In the “Rainbow Study Bible,” each verse is color-coded by theme. “The Promise Bible” prints every one of God’s promises in boldface. And “The Personal Promise Bible” is custom-printed with the owner’s name (“The LORD is Daniel’s shepherd”), home town (“Woe to you, Brooklyn! Woe to you, New York!”), and spouse’s name (“Gina’s two breasts are like two fawns”).

I feel like I should have an opinion on this phenomenon, but I'm just amused. Anyone who buys a Bible for the beauty tips deserves what she gets.

See the slide show, too.

(Hat tip to Jewish Atheist)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Teshuvot Are In

The responsa on homosexuality discussed at the last CJLS meeting are now available online. I hope to read them and offer a few comments some time in the near future. In the meantime, DH has some preliminary observations.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

SHF #28: Sugar Art - Painted Sugar Cookies

I have a few friends I thought deserved some cookies about now, but until recently, I hadn't decided what kind to make. Then I saw that this month's Sugar High Friday theme is "Sugar Art," and I took it as a sign that it was time to try Nancy Baggett's edible tempera paint recipe and make some personalized cookies.

I didn't want to post the personalized cookies for SHF, so I made some more generic ones, too. Here are some Chanukah cookies:

And some non-denominational cookies:

The verdict: The cookies are tasty and the art project was fun, but it would have been more fun with a kid, and I'll probably wait until I have one before doing it again. (The cookies look like a kid made them, anyway.)

Here's the recipe (adapted from Nancy Baggett's All-American Cookie Book):
All-Purpose Sugar Cookie Dough
3 cups all-purpose white flour, plus more if needed.
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened
Scant 1 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon milk
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon lemon or almond extract
Edible tempera paints

In a large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In a large bowl, with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, milk, vanilla, and lemon or almond extract if using, until very well blended and smooth. Gradually beat or stir in the flour mixture to form a smooth, slightly stiff dough. If it seems soft, stir in up to 3 tablespoons more flour. Let the dough stand for about 5 minutes, until firmed up slightly.

Devide the dough in half. Place each portion between large sheets of was paper. Roll out the portions a scant 1/4 inch thick; check the underside of the dough and smooth out any wrinkles that form. Stack the rolled portions (paper still attached) on a baking sheet. Refrigirate the dough for 45 minutes, or until chilled and firm, or freeze for 25 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease several cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.

Working with one portion at a time and leaving the remaining dough chilled, gently peel away, then pat one sheet of wax paper back into place. Flip the dough over, then peel off and discard the second sheet. Cut out the cookies. (If at any point the dough softens too much to handle easily, transfer the paper and cookies to a baking sheet and refrigirate or freeze until firm again.) Using a spatula, carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Reroll any dough scraps. Continue cutting out the cookies until all the dough is used.

Edible Tempera Paints
(These paints are made with raw eggs, but they are applied before the cookies are baked, so they're perfectly safe to eat.)
2 large eggs (divided)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (divided)
Liquid food coloring

Using a fork and working in a small bowl, beat together 1 egg, 1 egg yolk, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of powdered sugar until the sugar dissolves. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve (a tea strainer is fine) into 3 or 4 custard cups or small bowls. In a separate small bowl, beat together the remaining egg white and the remaining 1/2 tablespoon powdered sugar. Strain this mixture into 1 or 2 custard cups or bowls. Stir in the food coloring to obtain the shades as follows: For blue, red, or purple (blue + red), add the food coloring to the egg white mixture. For all other shades, add the food coloring to the egg yolk mixture.

Using pastry brushes for larger areas and small artists' brushes for fine details, apply the paints to unbaked cookies. Apply a light coat of paint for a "wash" effect; apply a little more heavily for a smoother, more opaque, enamled effect.

Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, in the upper third of the oven for 8-11 minutes, until lightly colored on top and slightly darker at the edges. Reverse the sheet from front to back halfway through baking to ensure even browning. Transfer sheet to a wire rack and let stand until the cookies firm up slightly, 1 to 2 minutes.

Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 2 months.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Surprise Surprise

As expectehttp://beta.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifd, the Conservative movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards just approved three contradictory responsa on homosexuality. The best summary I've seen comes from Andrew Sullivan (of all people):
Conservative Judaism will now allow congregations, seminaries and synagogues to have gay rabbis - or not.

Seriously, though, I think everyone involved knows where the movement is headed on this issue. It's just a question of how much time Chancelor Eisen decides that decorum requires before the new policy is implemented.

(FYI, in addition to the three rabbis mentioned in the JTA article, Rabbi Joel Roth has apparently resigned. He will be missed, but it's time for the movement to move on.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ginger Snaps

My friend and former roommate Ayelet is an avid baker and makes many delicious desserts, but my favorite by far are her ginger snaps. She baked them often when we lived together, and the whole suite would fill with the warm frangrance of ginger. I could barely wait for them to cool.

I often use Ayelet's recipes now, but the ginger snaps have never come out quite right. Usually, the dough is too crumbly and the cookies are dry. The results were somewhat better when I monitored the temperature of the eggs and the shortening (which Ayelet never did), but they were still inferior to hers. Finally, I decided to switch to a new recipe. The one I use now comes from Lisa Yockelson of the Boston Globe (March 1, 2006). The flavors are the same, but I find the dough more workable. (Yockelson recommends preparing the dough five hours in advance to allow it time to firm up in the refrigirator, but I have not had trouble rolling the cookies while the dough is soft.) The cookies always come out well, and they are a big hit at Thanksgiving dinner.

Here is the recipe, slightly edited:
3 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter or margarine, softened*
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons molasses (Yockelson recommends light molasses. I use dark.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in a large bowl.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium speed for 3 minutes. Gradually add the sugar, beating all the while.

Add the whole egg and egg yolk. Beat only until incorporated. Blend in the molasses and vanilla.

On low speed, add the flour mixture in 3 additions, beating just until the dry ingredients are incorporated.

If the dough is too soft to roll, place it in a covered dish and refrigirate several hours or up to 2 days.

Sugar Coating
1/2 cup granulated sugar**
dash ginger

In a wide bowl, combine the sugar and ginger.

Take heaping tablespoons of dough into your palms and roll them into balls, then in the sugar mixture until lightly coated. Set them on the baking sheets, arranging them 3 inches apart.

Bake 8-10 minutes for soft cookies, or 12-13 minutes for crisp cookies. The cookies will rise slightly, then settle. The tops will be cracked. Let them stand on the sheets for 2 minutes, then use a wide metal spatula to transfer to wire racks. Store in an airtight container.

*If you use salted butter or margarine, omit the 1/2 teaspoon salt. (I used Earth Balance last time, and it was fine.)

** The original recipe called for 2 cups of sugar, but that was much more than necessary.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

How to Lose Your Appetite in 30 Seconds

I found a hilarious website today: James Lilek's Gallery of Regrettable Food. It's a collection of humorously annotated recipe books from the bad old days (mostly the 40s, 50s, and 60s) when Americans apparently thought that the best way to prepare any food was to suspend it in gelatin.

My favorites are the Knudson recipe books (especially the second) and the Ten P.M. Cookbook.

Keep a barf bag handy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Still Alive

Just checking in to say that I'm still alive, and I passed. (Yey! I passed!) All that's left now is the dissertation.

I'm going to a conference now, but I'll post about something substantive as soon as I, um, feel like it.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Morbid Interlude

I'm in the middle of exams, but I had to post this YouTube video before Google purges it:

I'll be back for real in about a week and a half.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I've been blogging way too much and I have other things to do, so I'm going to have to take a few months off. Shanah Tovah!

Kosher Cooking Carnival #10: Sweet New Year Edition

Previous Carnivals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

On Today's Menu:
Holiday Recipes
General Recipes
Menus and Anecdotes
Kashrut Issues
New Blog
Next KCC

Holiday Recipes
Actually, there weren't many submissions geared specifically toward the holidays, so here are some of my own recipes:

Foolproof Matzo Balls One of the secrets DH inherited from his mother
Italian Style Pot Roast A special brisket recipe for special occasions
Sweet Potato Apple Tsimmes Vastly superior to the carrot-and-prune variety
Flourless Honey-Pecan Cake Great for those with wheat or gluten sensitivity -- and everyone else, too
Indian Rice Pudding An exotic ending to a holiday meal
I also noticed this interesting-looking recipe on ShalomBoston.com:
Chicken With Apples and Honey According to the food editor, it's a year-round favorite, and not as sweet as you'd think.

Here's another delicious-looking brisket recipe from Doug Behrman:
Nanny's Brisket

1 4-5 lb. brisket(1st cut only)-contact your local lender for current mortgage rates
2-3 large onions
onion powder
garlic powder
salt & pepper

Grate onions in food processor until slightly liquidy
rub both sides of brisket with spices -don't be stingy!
slather both sides with onion puree
put in roasting pan and add water to come 3/4 way up side of brisket(NOT side of pot!)
roast at 350 for 3-4 hours until soft but not falling apart.
you won't be sorry.

Finally, two recipes involving pomegranate from Norman's Steak'n Burger (27 Emek Refaim, German Colony, Jerusalem*):
Chicken in Pomegranate sauce

1 large chicken, quartered
3 tbs olive oil
1 onion chopped
250 g coarsely chopped walnuts
4-6 pomegranates
The juice of two lemons
1 tbs sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large heavy skillet brown the chicken pieces quickly in hot oil. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken and in the same skillet saute the onion until nicely browned. Add the walnuts and continue to saute over low flame, for 2-3 minutes longer.

Cut the pomegranates in half, scoop out the seeds and discard the pith. Place the seeds in a blender and blend for 3-4 seconds and then strain the juice into a bowl, pressing to squeeze out the juice. (This should yield about 1 cup of juice).

Pour the juice into a skillet, add the lemon juice, sugar, 2/3 cup of water and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a bare simmer, stir, return the chicken pieces to the skillet and cook, uncovered until the chicken is very tender (45 minutes to 1 hour).

Taste and correct the seasoning with more lemon or sugar to taste. If the sauce is too thick, thin with a little water. Serve piping hot. Enjoy!

Pomegranate Ices

1 cup sugar
1 cup pomegranate seeds, lightly crushed
6 tbs lemon juice
Mint leaves to garnish

To a saucepan with 4 cups of water add the sugar, and boil for 5-6 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the flame and let cool. Refrigerate until the syrup is lightly chilled and then add the pomegranate seeds and lemon juice. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays and place in the freezer.

When the mixture is half frozen, stir well and then stir again every half hour until you have stirred the mixture 4 times in all. Pour the mixture into individual sherbet or dessert cups and let freeze solid. Transfer to the regular refrigeration compartment about 10 minutes before serving, and serve garnished with mint leaves. Enjoy!

General Recipes
I've grouped all the submissions containing recipes in this category, but most include anecdotes as well.

Let's start with dessert:

Blueberry Streussel Muffins A parve adaptation from Sarah
Dutch Butter Cake A simple recipe with a touching story, from ATBH
English Caramel Custard A luscious dessert recipe from ATBH, with historical background
Lemon Sorbet Submitted by Sarah, with a picture of fruit flan (the flan was prettier than the sorbet :))
Little Chocolate Cherry Cakes From TallLatte, along with the menu from her wedding
Berry Meringue Torte From Yours Truly. (This should appear in Sugar High Friday, which promises to be scrumptious, if not necessarily 100% kosher.)

Now, for savory:

Chinese Chopped Meat Casserole An easy recipe from Rebecca, embedded in a mouth-watering post on the joys of cooking and baking

Here's an interesting recipe from Robin:
Turkey Loaf

1 lb ground turkey more or less
bread crumbs or matzah meal more or less
1 egg
teriyaki sauce
cornflake crumbs or bread crumbs

Mix the ground turkey with some bread crumbs or matzah meal and 1 egg. Put it in a baking Dish bigger or smaller. Shmear mayonnaise on top and then pour some teriyaki sauce on it. Sprinkle corn flake crumbs. (Bigger dish makes the turkey loaf thinner and perhaps more mayo and teriyaki/cornflake crumbs flavoring). It looks a bit like Southern Fried chicken.

Rina offers two marinade recipes from Kathy Casey, whom she describes as "a culinary icon in the Pacific Northwest and a leading proponent of Northwest cuisine on the national scene." Rina says:
Although she recommends this Garlic Marinade for flank steak, I have also used it on salmon, chicken, and even veggie burgers. The best part about this recipe is that it uses ingredients that are readily available in most kitchens. After marinating the steak with her Garlic Marinade and grilling it, Kathy Casey tops her creation with a Blue Cheese and Herb Smear (the recipe for which I have included below). Obviously, using it on meat is a kosher no-no, but I have used it on salmon with good results (of course, that all depends on the availability of kosher blue cheese in your area--which in Seattle can be rather unpredictable). ENJOY!

Kathy Casey's Garlic Marinade
Recipe makes enough marinade for 1 to 2 pounds of meat or fish

1/4 cup kosher or vegetarian worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons minced fresh garlic (or I have used Dorot frozen crushed garlic)
1/4 cup olive oil

In a small bowl, combine all the marinade ingredients. Pour marinade into a plastic bag, press out any air, and zip close. Move meat or fish around in the bag to marinade. Refridgerate for an hour minimum or preferably overnight.

Kathy Casey's Blue Cheese and Herb Smear

1/3 cup of blue cheese crumbled
3 Tablespoons salted butter (room temperature)
1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish
1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh basil (or I have used Dorot frozen chopped basil)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Combine smear ingredients together in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Refridgerate until ready to serve. Bring to room temperature about one hour before serving.

Menus and Anecdotes
Batya shares a sumptuous Friday night menu and writes about a visit with family in NY and its gastronomic highlights.

Kashrut Issues
Is it just me, or has there been an unusual amount of kashrut controversy in the blogosphere this month? Most recently, a Monsey butcher was accused of selling non-kosher chicken, eliciting a flood of commentary from Dov Bear et. al. and commenters (link, link, link, link, link, link). Hirhurim linked to a letter about Glatt meat in the Forward, eliciting 156 comments as of this posting. And Batya reports on a class-action suit against Elite-Strauss regarding the gelatin used in their products.
We report, you decide (or something).

New Blog
The J-Blogosphere reaches a new height of nichiness with the advent of Two Heads of Lettuce, a blog devoted to tips and recipes for pluralistic Jewish dairy Shabbat potlucks. (For the food blogosphere, on the other hand, this is nothing. In the brief time I've spent perusing food blogs, I've discovered a blog devoted to vegetables, a blog devoted to cupcakes, and, most recently, a blog devoted to bananas.) Being mostly vegetarian and an attendee of occasional potlucks myself, I've been enjoying Two Heads of Lettuce immensely. Pay it a visit!

Next KCC
The next Kosher Cooking Carnival will be held at me-ander. To submit an article or recipe, you can:
1. E-mail Batya (shilohmuse at gmail dot com) or
2. use Conservative Cat's handy form, or
3. use the Blog Carnival form.
There's more info. here.

Chag sameach to everyone, and happy cooking!

*For those of you in the Holy Land, Norman's also has a special holiday take-out menu. Their telephone number is 972-2-566-6603.

Monday, September 11, 2006

September Diary

Like prayer, memorial seems a basic human need. I'm not sure what the point is, but today, with millions of Americans, I remember.
Yesterday morning I went to class as usual and discussed Deuteronomy until 10:30, blissfully unaware that hours earlier, my world had changed.

I saw the footage on the student center television while on my way to check my mail. A great explosion, and the World Trade Center crumbled to the ground. I gaped, unable to digest the information before my eyes, unable to conceive of the New York City skyline without the Twin Towers. Then I thought, "my sisters!" They were at Stuyvesant, only a few blocks away. For the first time since I was younger than I can remember, I sucked my thumb.

I tried to call home but the circuits were overloaded. I tried to call [DH]; same deal. I called [Rymenhild], who hadn't heard the news. When I told her, she said, "This just doesn't fit my conception of the world."

Two planes hijacked. Thousands killed -- passengers, business people at the World Trade Center, pedestrians on the street. And all I could think was, "my sisters."

[. . .]

I met Rabbi [B] in the cafeteria and spoke with him briefly. He and [the Rebbitzen] don't know many people in New York or D.C. They know people in Israel, though, where nearly every day lately a shooting or a bombing sends them to the phone, checking to make sure that their loved ones are still alive. I'm sure he wasn't thinking this, but, in part because of my own guilt, I read it in the Rabbi's eyes: "Now you know what it's like."

[. . .]

The irony, the irony. It almost makes me believe in God -- this is just the kind of fucked-up thing He would do.

[. . .]

[Middle Sister] was crying over the phone. [Youngest] saw the second tower go down from chem lab, she said. They saw people jumping out of the windows. Their classmates were crying, "My parents work there!"

[. . .]

They walked home together, from Chambers to 72nd street (all transportation was down), through the screaming and the carnage and the debris. [Middle Sister] kept looking back, and [Youngest] said, "don't look back" -- "I'm surprised you didn't turn into a pillar of salt," I said --

"Please come home. I'd really like you to come home," she sobbed. I started sobbing, too.

"All right."

So now I am home.

I didn't stop crying that night. I put away my books and went for a walk, through the parking lot, across campus, then back to the chapel where סליחות [the Penitential Prayers] were beginning at 12. I stood outside in the shadows while people filed in, trying to stop up the tears. The service began, אשרי, and then, in the awesome tune of the ימים נוראים [Days of Awe],

יתגדל ויתקדש שמה רבא
[May His Great Name Be Magnified and Enhanced!]

I turned and walked home.

[. . .]

Years ago, on a rainy morning, the tenth of [Av], I wrote of the ashes of the [Holy Temple], still smoldering. I wrote of the rain, succumbing to the temptation to use hackneyed water metaphors -- I said that the world was crying. Well, it is raining now, and like any torrent of tears, it is making matters worse. Rescue workers continue to work in the smoke and dampness, trying to save a few lives, under the cold grey sky.

This is a time of high character -- tragedy does that. My sisters say that a shoe store owner stood on the sidewalk Tuesday, handing pairs of sneakers to women in high heels to help them get home. ([Youngest] broke down when she saw a pair of abandoned pumps lying in the street.) My sisters offered their beds to the hospital Tuesday night, but they weren't needed -- people weren't making it to the hospital; everyone was dying. So, too, the American Red Cross is overloaded with people across the country volunteering their blood, money, medical supplies, and time. If only they needed us now; we are all so eager to help. The tragedy is that they really don't need us.

[. . .]

[Rosh Hashanah] is Tuesday and Wednesday. I was going to stay in school to avoid missing French and Akkadian Monday, but it seems trivial now. I came home Thursday night; I am here for a week. School, only school. . . it is inessential.

[. . .]
I walked downtown with my mother today. It is out of character for both of us to want to survey the scene of a disaster, but this event remains so unbelievable that even we feel inclined to look, again and again. (I went down to Riverside Park last night and stood at the end of the pier, staring at the giant cloud of smoke that still hung in the place where the towers stood less than a week ago.) On Christopher Street, a small crowd has been gathered since Tuesday, cheering on the rescue vehicles with flags and roses and signs that say "Thank You" and "You Are Our Heroes." Flags hang everywhere, at half mast, including at porn shops, one of which sported a sign reading, "God Bless America." (My mother said she wished we could broadcast that in Afghanistan.) I have never before seen New Yorkers -- or anyone else, for that matter, on such a grand scale -- being so patriotic or generally so well-behaved.
[. . .]

[. . .]
בין דין לדין [between Judgment and Judgment], everyone in this secular empire with the slightest glimmering of faith is at prayer, awaiting the next phase of this horror. So I, too, am starting to pray.
[. . .]

The Day I Wasn't There

What I remember most about September 11, 2001 is that I wasn't there. My mother and sisters were in lower Manhattan and I was miles away, emotionally as well as physically. It is difficult even to imagine my sisters' panic as they fled from the rubble, or my mother's terror, not knowing where they were. For my own part, I don't remember feeling anything as I dialed their number again and again, coldly contemplating the unthinkable. This was probably what they call a "defense mechanism," but I'll never know for sure. All that I know is that I wasn't with them, and I should have been.

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Ineffable Tetragrammaton*

The four-letter name of the Israelite Deity, called the "Tetragrammaton," was, to all appearances, once pronounced freely. Over the centuries, however, it has become shielded by many degrees of what scholars creatively call "Tetragrammaton avoidance." When the Bible was translate into Greek around the beginning of the common era, the translators substituted the word κυριοs, "Lord," for the Divine Name. By the time the biblical text was fully vocalized, the Tetragrammaton had been replaced by the Hebrew word for "Lord," adonay, in liturgical readings. To indicate the correct reading of the Divine name, the Tetragrammaton was written with the vowels of adonay (yielding the erroneous transliteration "Jehovah"). More recently, Jews began to avoid even adonay in non-liturgical contexts, substituting euphemisms such as hashem ("the Name"). The Tetragrammaton is also avoided in writing. An early substitute consisted of two yods (the first and third letters of the Tetragrammaton). That, however, was too close to the original for comfort, so today, the letter hay, representing "Hashem," is a more prevalent choice. The very pious will avoid even hay, since it is one of the letters of the Tetragrammaton, preferring dalet, the letter preceding hay in the Hebrew alphabet. Sometimes, even non-Hebrew names of God are regarded as too sacred to be written. Many Jews substitute "G-d" for "God;" DH has even seen "Hash-m."

At this point, no one really knows how the Tetragrammaton was originally pronounced, although scholars have their (highly speculative) theories. There is, however, a conventional pronunciation used in academic circles, based on what one might call an educated guess. This places scholars with traditional Jewish leanings in an awkward position. There are times when using a proper name for the Deity is warranted, and departing from the convention to use circumlocutions or alternative euphemisms can be extremely distracting. One Jewish scholar of my acquaintance pronounces the Tetragrammaton on the grounds that he is certain that the conventional pronunciation is incorrect. Another occasionally uses "Hashem" at the risk of sounding unscholarly; a third is reputed to have said, "I'll just call him Jimmy."

I have yet to come up with a personal solution, and this has, on occasion, resulted in considerable awkwardness. Once, I was asked about a book with the Tetragrammaton in the title, and I stood there, dumbly, as though I couldn't remember it. Recently, I became so frustrated at my inability to communicate that I abandoned my principles and pronounced the Divine Name. Later, I reassured myself, noting that I hadn't articulated the medial hay, and in any case, I didn't see how the final vowel could possibly be a long /e/, and even if was, it would have been pronounced as short /i/ when the Name was actually used, etc.

All of this, of course, entirely misses the point. "Tetragrammaton avoidance" is supposed to be about regarding the Deity with a certain degree of reverence -- something that biblical scholars and aspiring scholars rarely do. Most of us are religious in some sense, but at some point, tearing the Bible to shreds and attempting to reconstruct the vowels of the Tetragrammaton does take its toll. The sense of mysterium tremendum so essential to religion inevitably begins to dissipate. Then, when we need it -- say, on the Jewish Days of Awe -- it is ever so difficult to recapture.

* DH thinks that this would be a good name for a rock band.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Carnival Time!

The next Kosher Cooking Carnival will take place right here, at Apikorsus Online. Please send kosher recipes, links to posts or articles about kosher food, pictures of kosher food, odes to kosher food, etc. to Batya (shilohmuse at gmail dot com) or me (navelofwine at comcast dot net), or use Conservative Cat's form or the Blog Carnival form. (You don't have to have a blog to submit recipes or essays by e-mail.) You can also get a little widget at the Blog Carnival site that will direct you the Kosher Cooking Carnival wherever it is, whenever it is. (If you scroll way, way down, you will see that I have two in my right sidebar.)

This month, I'm particularly hoping that people will send holiday recipes. Please submit material by September 10th so that people have a chance to see the recipes before they have to do their Rosh HaShanah cooking.

Here are some links to previous carnivals: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

(Newcomers: It's the Kosher Cooking Carnival, not the Kosher Kooking Karnival, and that's a man in a gorilla suit, not a man in blackface. Relax.)

Brownie Update II

I posted a second update on the brownies at Kosherblog and forgot to cross-post it here. The gist of it is, ignore everything I said in my last post and use canola oil.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Brownie Update

I've made these brownies several times since I posted the recipe, and I've started to realize that, while the dairy version is indeed the ultimate, the parve version could stand some improvement. The main issue, I think, is that the saturated fat in butter gives the brownies a lush, moist texture that the margarines I've used don't match. Hydrogenated oils should theoretically provide the same texture, but Fleischmann's Unsalted Margarine probably doesn't have enough. (It is significantly softer than butter at the same temperature.) Recently, I tried Smart Balance, and the brownies were downright dry. In this case, I think that the issue was simplify fat: Regular Smart Balance is 67% fat, while butter is about 80%. The package says that Smart Balance is "great for cooking and baking," but don't be fooled.

One option would be to switch to Crisco vegetable shortening, a favorite of a friend and former roommate of mine. Vegetable shortening (like regular margarine) is somewhat out of favor right now because it is high in trans fat, which, though once thought to be more healthful than saturated fat, is now generally believed to be worse. Nonetheless, as I've been implying, it takes a bit of saturated or trans fat to achieve that butterlike texture. Vegetable shortening has less water than most margarine, so it may be just right.

Anyhow, I'll keep you posted. Not right away, though. I really do have to cut back.

(Cross-posted to Kosherblog.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tisha B'Av Reading II

Rahel on Wouk
Dovbear on Judah Ha-Levi
Gil on the Holocaust theodicy
Soferet has the words of Rabbi Itzchak Marmorstein on transforming our inner wickedness.
The Velveteen Rabbi has a roundup and a story.
Rabbi Riskin on the hope for truth and peace.
Am Echad poses the question his own way.
Tzvi presents a paradox.
Dovbear on Judah Ha-Levi.
Soferet on the nature of the true tzaddik.

Tisha B'Av Reading

It is traditional not to read for pleasure on Tisha B'Av, or even to engage in Torah study that is not directly related to the themes of the holiday. On the other hand, as much as emotionally heavy reading comes with the territory, it can be difficult to handle intellectually heavy reading when you're fasting. Appropriate blog posts seem like just the right thing, so for the past few summers, I've been keeping my eyes open for Tisha B'Av reading in the blogosphere. Here's what I've found:


The "miscellaneous" category usually comes at the end of a list, but these are some of the best Tisha B'Av posts I've read, so I'm listing them first:

This essay by Rabbi Joshua Yuter addresses the historical significance of Tisha B'Av (or lack thereof). Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman addresses a number of issues in this lengthy but worthwile post, including divine and human justice. He discusses the haftarah for Tisha B'Av morning here, Maimonedes' laws for the final meal here, and Psalm 137 here. All are, characteristically, very good reads.

The Contemporary Problem

For many centuries, I believe, mourning for Jerusalem came naturally to most Jews. Their experience was one of continuing exile, and they longed to return to the glorious past in which the Jews were a nation with a homeland, a respected leader, and a central place of worship. The Enlightenment, with its promise of emancipation, complicated matters as many Jews began to see more promise in the ideal of integration than in the old messianic dream. Another wrinkle came in 1967, when that dream was partly fulfilled. Notwithstanding all the problems that have plagued Israel and Jerusalem since then, it can be difficult to mourn the destruction and loss of a city that now stands intact, well-populated, and generally prosperous. The problem is expressed poignently in this post by Out-of-Step Jew.

One contemporary approach to Tisha B'Av is simply to mourn less, either by de-emphasizing Tisha B'Av in various ways, or by shortening the fast. (The Conservative Movement, characteristically, has two official responsa on the subject, one calling for the fast to be shortened and one prohibiting any such change.) In this post, BZ explains why he finds both the Zionist and Enlightenment arguments against observing a full day of mourning equally uncompelling. His approach to Tisha B'Av is, I think, similar to the one that I articulated last year.

Those of us who continue to observe Tisha B'Av as a full day of mourning may relate most easily to the human suffering described in Eicha (Lamentations) and the kinot (liturgical laments). This is the basis for the way in which Orthoprax relates to Tisha B'Av as an observant atheist, as well as the (obviously distinct) way in which Rachel Barenblatt relates to it as a Reform Jew. It is also central to the way in which I related to the fast two years ago. Viewing Tisha B'Av through this prism can be constructive if it encourages us to help alleviate suffering, as Rachel suggests here, here, and here, and as Mishkaneer suggests here. It also has its drawbacks, however, as it ignores the more particular aspects of the holiday.

Another way to approach Tisha B'Av is to focus on the call for repentence that is so intimately linked to the threat of destruction and promise of redemption in prophetic writings. Dr. Mendel Hirsch, son of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, viewed the moral imperative stressed by the prophets as the most important aspect of Tisha B'Av. Dovbear discusses his teachings here and here. (It is surely relevant that S. R. Hirsch devoted his career to combatting the challenges posed by the Enlightenment.) Josh Yuter takes a similar approach in this d'var torah.

DH proposed a more existential approach to Tisha B'Av last year, in a post that stressed the sense of helplessness that we so often feel in the face of history. He related this idea to his feelings about the Gaza pullout, but I think it has even greater resonance this year, with the latest series of foreboding developments in the Middle East.


The traditional Tisha B'Av liturgy is frought with difficulties for the modern Jew. The most obvious problem is that the kinnot are very difficult for the average synagogue-goer to understand, even if he or she is generally familiar with Jewish liturgy. They are written in medieval Hebrew that is often quite different from both modern Hebrew and the Hebrew of most Jewish prayers, and they are so replete with biblical and midrashic references that some can be baffling even in translation. Another issue is bringing the liturgy up to date. Most traditional communties recite kinnot for the Crusades, the Inquisition, and various pogroms in addition to the destruction of the two temples, but some are reluctant to add lamentations for Holocaust and other recent tragedies. Finally, parts of the nachem prayer recited in the afternoon amidah seem inappropriate now that Jerusalem is under Jewish sovereignty.

Menachem Butler provides an excerpt from Rav Soloveichik's writings in which the rabbi discusses his opposition to introducing new kinnot. Leaving aside his actual argument (to which), I tend to think that it is more important for liturgy to mean something to the worshipper than to be artistically or even spiritually refined. However, finding appropriate kinnot for the Holocaust is not so easy. We chose an English poem this year, which I may write about later.

Yehonatan Chipman has posted some versions of the nachem prayer that account for the current political situation. This post by Rabbi Gil Student discusses the positions of some prominant Orthodox rabbis on making such changes. (Note that most of the rabbis cited seem to subscribe to my position #2.)

Personal Reflections

The ways in which individuals relate to Tisha B'Av emotionally can be very different. This poem by Chaim Nahman Bialik describes the poet's encounter with an abandoned beyt midrash (house of study) in the language of Lamentations and Isaiah. (Adderabbi discusses the poem here.) We J-Bloggers tend to be a bit more prosaic, literally and figuratively. Estelle Feldman shares her thoughts on the destruction of the two Temples after visiting the site the Twin Towers. Naomi Chana describes a moment in Rome in which she became seriously pissed at Titus. Fleurdelis28 writes of the difficulty of seeing other people's points of view and relates the Jewish exile to Les Miserables. Soferet began to truly mourn after receiving a blessing from a British rabbi. Barefoot Jewess laments the destruction of her homes and the distance she feels from her community.

Is all this really relevant to Tisha B'Av? I'm not sure. I still feel that the ancient paradigm is broken, so I tend to seek meaning in random, disparate places. Each of these posts seemed as moving or thought-provoking at one point or another. I hope that others find something in them as well.

Monday, July 31, 2006

And Everybody Hates the Jews

Sometimes I think that Jews over-emphasize anti-Semitism, but there sure are a lot of people out there who hate us. Anti-Semitic rhetoric from the Muslim world has become so ubiquitous that we hardly notice it. Then some deranged monster shoots up the Jewish Federation building in Seattle.

And of course, there's Mel Gibson. Ever since I heard about his "incident," I haven't been able to stop thinking about the South Park episode, "The Passion of the Jew." Especially Kyle's last line: "Oh, dude, I feel so much better about being Jewish now that I see that Mel Gibson is just a big wacko douche."

You have to find the humor in these situations whenever you can. If you don't laugh, you'll cry.

UPDATE: More bad news from Australia and Florida

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Food for the Nine Days

Today is Rosh Chodesh Av, the first of the nine days of mourning that culminate in Tisha B'Av. There is a custom* not to eat meat during this period (except on Shabbat), so I've been posting recipes for easy meatless meals over at Kosherblog. They can be found here, here, here, and here.

Writing up these recipes, I realized how much DH and I have learned from each other about cooking. Before we started eating meals together, for example, he had never made anything with tofu and I had never cooked fish. Fortunately, we both had good training -- our mothers are excellent cooks, albeit with very different styles. Still, I feel that I have a way to go before I reach my full potential.

For better or for worse, however, that is not my top priority right now. Maybe I could learn something from DH's work ethic. . .

*Not, as the Wikipedia stub implies, a law. Someone should change that.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In Defense of Democracy

There's a particular argument that I've been hearing rather frequently lately, and it's beginning to get on my nerves. Here is one articulation, from the Shaigetz:
Democracy, the doctrine that claims to allow the masses to determine the general direction of their governance, has replaced religion for many as the panacea for all the worldÂ’s ills. A peek at the Middle East today should be enough to shake even the dimmest of brains out of that reverie....A group of bloodthirsty savages, believers in the Ashariyya doctrine - that because all that happens is caused by God anyway it is legitimate to kill innocents, will not suddenly turn into cuddly lambs just because they were empowered through a ballot box.
All right. Here's how it's supposed to work: The people vote and elect whomever they choose. If the elected leaders decide to interfere with the peace of other nations, those nations have the right to respond aggressively. After that, if the citizens of the new democracy don't like the consequences of their decision, they can elect new leaders who are more likely to protect their interests. It isn't neat. It isn't pretty. And, so far, there haven't been many signs that it is going to work in Iraq, Lebanon, or the Palestinian territories. But let's not forget that the old Mideast policy -- propping up dictators -- didn't work out too well, either. At least with democracy there is the possibility of peaceful change.

If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I've been ambivalent about the Iraq war from the outset. I am ambivalent about most matters of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, which is one of the reasons why you won't find much discussion of them here. All that I mean to say in this post is that I don't think the current situation in the Middle East warrants the conclusion that Arabs, Persians, etc. are inferior races incapable of self-government. (The liberal version of this claim is that we shouldn't interfere with other cultures -- because apparently oppressive, fundamentalist governments are fine and dandy as long as they aren't composed of white Christians. To this I say: When other cultures interfere with us, we have a right to interfere with them.)

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I'll probably retreat back into the comfortable world of dessert recipes. For good, first-hand takes on the war, I recommend An Unsealed Room and On the Face (both blogs that I thought were fizzling out before the conflict). There are also some good reads on this Lebanese blog aggregator, including LP and Rampurple.

Also from Lebanon: A satirical TV clip making fun of Nasrallah. It apparently caused riots, which is all the more reason to watch it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Ultimate Brownies (Really!)

If Chanit can blog about food under these circumstances, I guess I can, too. And there's good news from Elfland: I think I finally found my brownie recipe.

I've tried quite a few recipes for brownies, and, with one notable exception, none of them were bad. Still, they didn't live up to my idea of what great brownies should taste like. The closest were "Fudge Brownies Supreme," from Nancy Baggett's All-American Cookie Book, but they were too sweet for my taste. This modified version of Baggett's recipe yields rich, lucious, intensely chocolately brownies that satisfy like nothing else.

1/2 cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons butter or margarine, or 1/2 cup canola oil
5 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan or coat with nonstick spray.

In a large, microwave safe bowl, microwave the butter and chocolate until the butter is completely melted (about 2 minutes). Remove from microwave and stir to finish melting the chocolate and blend the two ingredients. (Alternatively, melt in a saucepan over low heat). Let cool to warm.

In a small bowl, thoroughly stir toegether the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside. Stir the sugar and brown sugar into the chocolate-butter mixture until well combined. Add eggs, one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add vanilla and stir until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is well blended and smooth. Stir in the flour mixture until evenly incorporated. Turn out the batter into the baking pan, spreading to the edges.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out moist but clean. (It's okay if the bottom 1/4 inch is still a bit fudgy.) Cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares, wiping the knife clean between cuts.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.

Cross-posted to Kosherblog.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

No Hekhsher Required

A recent Kosherblog post by Jabbett discussed the ethics of kashrut agencies certifying products that do not actually require rabbinic supervision. The post focuses on rubbing alcohol, which clearly does not require certification, as it is inedible (and also toxic). However, there are many edible products that do not require certification, either -- some less intiuitive than others. It is mainly due to ignorance that the very observant (even many rabbis) tend to insist that all processed foods be certified kosher.

This ignorance is fully understandable. Distinguishing between products that require rabbinic supervision and products that do not requires thorough knowledge of both the laws of kashrut and modern food processing techniques, and the latter may change at any time. In the age of the Internet, however, there is no reason why the kosher-keeping public should not be kept up-to-date on such matters. So I was happy to discover this site, via a comment by Jabbett on his own post. Rav Eidlitz is a renowned authority in the area of kashrut and is not affiliated with any particular certifying agency. His site contains a great deal of valuable information on keeping kosher, including a list of products that do not require rabbinic supervision. Here are a few that may surprise some readers:

Coconut Milk (not from China)
Corn (plain and cream style - frozen or canned)
Couscous (unseasoned)
Miso (unflavored)
Rice Pasta (containing only rice flour and water)
Wasabi Powder

There are certainly some things on Rav Eidlitz's site that are debatable, but for basic information on kosher products, it's a great placed to start. (While you're there, you should read the Kosher Alerts, although they are sometimes upsetting.)

Oh, and stay tuned: Jabbett is planning to post a more comprehensive list at Kosherblog.

UPDATE: DH says that he has known about this site for "a long time." Thanks for telling me! (J/K)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Fast of the Fourth

Today is the Seventeenth of Tammuz, a fast day commemorating the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C.E. The Seventeenth of Tammuz is intimately linked to the Ninth of Av, which occurs three weeks later and commemorates the destruction of the temple.

The book of Zechariah, which takes place in the years following the Jews' return from exile in the fifth century B.C.E., relates that a number of prominent individuals asked the prophet whether they should continue to mourn the destruction of the temple in the month of Av now that the Jews had been restored to their land and the temple was being rebuilt (Zech. 7:3). In classic Jewish fashion, Zechariah answered a question with a question:

When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and seventh months all these seventy years, did you fast for my [God's] benefit? And when you eat and drink, who but you does the eating, and who but you does the drinking (7:5-6)?

The prophecy proceeds to relate the story of the preceding exile and restoration in theological terms. Before the exile, God sent prophets to tell the Israelites to "execute true justice; deal loyally and compassionately with one another" (7:10). Because they did not heed the prophetic message, the people were exiled. Now, however, they have been restored.

For thus said the Lord of Hosts: Just as I planned to afflict you when your fathers provoked Me to anger and did not relent ... so, at this time, I have turned and planned to do good to Jerusalem and to the House of Judah. Have no fear! These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, judge honestly, and render judgements of peace in your gates (8:14-17).

Though admittedly ambiguous, Zechariah's response seems to suggest that his questioners are missing the point. Fasting and mourning are merely human responses to tragedy. The divine imperative is to act justly and thereby avoid the conditions that led to tragedy in the first place. The prophet seems optimistic that the new Jewish commonwealth will be blessed with truth and justice, peace and prosperity, and the admiration of surrounding peoples. Thus, he declares:

The fast of the fourth month, the fast of the fifth month, the fast of the seventh month, and the fast of the tenth month shall become occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love truth and peace (8:19).

The four fasts mentioned by Zechariah are traditionally taken to refer to the four fasts commemorating the downfall of the first commonwealth: the Seventeenth of Tammuz (the "fast of the fourth month"), the Ninth of Av (the "fast of the fifth month"), the Fast of Gedaliah (the "fast of the seventh month"), and the Tenth of Tevet (the "fast of the tenth month").

The rabbis of the Talmud, turning to this text for halakhic guidance, were understandably perplexed. Focusing on the wording of Zech. 8:19, they ask (b. Rosh Hashanah 18b), "They are called 'fasts' and they are called 'occasions for joy and gladness'" -- which is it? The Gemara answers that these days are to be observed as happy occasions in times of peace and as fasts in times when there is no peace. Rav Papa adds that when the situation is ambiguous, "if they wish, they shall fast; if they wish, they need not fast."

Rabbi Yehonatan Chipman notes that, while the fasts were observed by nearly all Jewish communities after the destruction of the second temple, some prominent rabbis considered changing the custom following the unification of Jerusalem in 1967. All agreed that the Ninth of Av should continue to be observed as a fast day, since the temple had not been rebuilt. The other fast days, however, commemorated the loss of Jerusalem, and Jerusalem had been regained. On the first Seventeenth of Tammuz following the Six-Day war, many Jews in Israel and abroad made festive meals. The abolition of the fast, however, did not ultimately take hold in observant communities. And so here I am today, observing the fast.

Is this as it should be? From a halakhic perspective, Chipman notes, there are arguments to be made on either side. Rashi interprets the Gemara's "times of peace" as a reference to Jewish sovereignty, which would suggest that all the fasts (including the Ninth of Av) should be observed as feasts today. Maimonides and Rabbeinu Hannanel, on the other hand, suggest that these days should all be observed as fasts as long as the temple lies in ruins. In a less traditional vein, I would suggest that the fasts should continue to be observeded because the society that Zechariah envisioned -- one of truth and justice, international recognition, and above all, peace -- has not become reality. At times, it may seem that that the fulfillmentnt of that vision is within reach, and that may justify a relaxation of the traditional mourning rites. This week, sadly, is not one of those times.

With seven Israeli soldiers killed, two kidnapped, and the beginning of what Yossi Klein Halevi calls "Israel's next war," there is a great deal to pray for. Avraham Hein offers a psalm as well as the official prayer for IDF soldiers, which can be added to the traditional fast day prayers or recited at any time.

May the One Who Releases the Bound return the captured soldiers to their families. May the One Who Comforts Mourners console the bereaved among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. And may the One Who Makes Peace in the Heavens bring peace to Israel, now, speedily, and soon.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bread of Affliction?

Have you ever been tempted to buy Ezekiel 4:9 Bread just because of its name? I haven't.

When God tells Ezekiel to make bread from wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, He's describing the type of food that the Jews would be forced to eat in exile. Normal bread would have been made from wheat flour alone, as it is today. This bread, in contrast, is made from all kinds of garbage. It's supposed to taste like crap. Ezekiel even cooks it over crap (though in those days, that was considered normal). The bread is actually supposed to be cooked over human crap, but the prophet manages to wriggle out of that one and upgrade to bovine crap.

At any rate, it isn't supposed to be good.

The producers of Ezekiel 4:9 bread explain why we should be expected to eat this stuff:
We discovered when these six grains and legumes are sprouted and combined, an amazing thing happens. A complete protein is created that closely parallels the protein found in milk and eggs.
Of course, they could have created the same whole protein from any combination of grains and legumes. But never mind; they decided to follow God's recipe, and the result is, in fact, quite nutritious, with a full 4 grams of protein per slice in addition to three grams of dietary fiber. So when a friend left town and gave me her leftover Ezekiel 4:9 bread, I was willing to try it.

Truth be told, it doesn't taste like crap. It tastes pretty much like bread. There's a mild sourdough-like flavor in the background and a hint of sprouts that I think I might even develop a taste for over time. Or not. But I'll certainly finish the package.

This experience has led me to reconsider Ezekiel's so-called ordeal. He got to lie around for a year and a half and eat reasonably decent, high-protein bread that he didn't have to cook over human dung after all. Compared to marrying a cheating prostitute (Hosea) or walking around wearing yoke-bars (Jeremiah), that really doesn't seem so bad.

Cross-posted to Kosherblog.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Camping Pics

DH has great pics from our camping trip. FYI, that brook is our shower. How cool is that?! (Okay, DH didn't think it was very cool either.) Swimming in Laurel Pond is definitely cool, though. I love that pond. And the froggies. Not the mosquitoes, though. (I'm still itchy.)

Progressive Faith Blog Con

I often neglect to check the e-mail account that I use for this blog, so I just found out about the Progressive Faith Blog Conference, which will be held at the Montclair State University conference center on the weekend of July 14th. I won't be able to make it personally, and, truth be told, that's a bit of a relief. Although I do sometimes embrace a genuinely progressive theology, most of the time my religious side is not very progressive and my progressive side is not very liberal. Being around real religious liberals tends to make me more aware of the inconsistencies of my position and send me hurtling to the right, which I'm not really up for right now.

However, the con looks like it will be a lot of fun for those who are less schizophrenic than me. It also seems to be pretty well organized. This is the website, and this is the blog (of course there's a blog!). If, like me, you won't be attending in person, stay tuned: there may be a live chat during the con, and there will undoubtedly be updates from the participants.

Monday, June 26, 2006


A friend loaned me a copy of Chaim Potok's In the Beginning. I read it before she left town, and now I wish that I'd copied a few bits of dialogue before returning it. The novel is flawed in some ways, but it touched me, and there are parts that I wish I remembered in greater detail.

Since the book was published over thirty years ago, I don't think it's giving too much away to say that it's about an Orthodox Jewish boy who grows up to be a Bible scholar. Certain parts of David Lurie's intellectual development were achingly familiar to me: the first stirrings of doubt in a deeply religious soul; the joy of discovering a new way of reading the Bible; the fear of where it might lead. When David first begins to be convinced of the validity of the Documentary Hypothesis, he abandons his biblical studies and enrolls in a rabbinical program, hoping to find intellectual satisfaction in the study of Talmud. I remember a time in my life when I, too, was looking for something other than Bible to study -- something equally compelling, but less dangerous. In the end, I had to concede that nothing less dangerous could be so compelling. The study of the Bible appealed to me, and still does, because it touches on the origin of Who I Am and Where I Come From in ways that I still can't fully articulate. When David is asked why he insists on a career that will alienate him from friends and family, he struggles to explain his decision, but the reader, who has followed his story from the very beginning, understands. David has always loved studying the Bible, and he doesn't love it any less now that he has come to understand it differently. He has to go wherever it takes him.

Like many of Potok's characters, David is a genius. I am somewhat ashamed to say that at this point in my life I find geniuses exceedingly annoying, and only slightly less so when they are fictional. As much as I relate to David, I feel more of a kinship with his younger brother, Alex, who, as a child, slams shut a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, declaring "I hate it!" because it is above his reading level. All beginnings are hard, but they are harder when you aren't as bright as you would like to be. Some beginnings can seem to drag on forever.

These days I spend a great deal of time accomplishing very little, and I often worry that going into academia was a big mistake. Usually I worry that I'm not smart enough or talented enough to be successful, but in other, more sinister moments, I worry that I don't have passion I used to have. Then, once in a while, I read something that reminds me why I wanted to be a Bible scholar in the first place. Usually, it's a work of scholarship; sometimes it's a biblical text. Much more rarely, it's a work of fiction.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Days

In Israel, Memorial Day is a time for grieving and somber reflection. Everyone knows someone who has been lost in battle, and when the siren wails, many people cry.

Here in the United States, Memorial Day is an occasion for sales, barbecues, and trips to the beach. I've never been sure whether to be grateful for or ashamed of the degree of complacency that this aspect of our culture reflects.

It's hard to tell, but after three years of war, things seem to be a little bit different. Memorial Day is still, first and foremost, a long weekend, the beginning of summer. But in the media, at least, it has also become a time for talking about the costs of war and remembering the fallen.

It is strange to be a citizen of a country at war in a time without a draft. In some sense, the soldiers who have died have done so in our stead. The least that we can do is have them in our thoughts one day a year.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Last week, DH and I had a chance to sample what is perhaps the only kosher New England delicacy: fiddleheads! (No, it's not always spelled with an exclamation point.) Fiddleheads are edible ferns with an extremely short growing season. They get their name from their shape, which looks like the handle of a fiddle:



Handle of Fiddle

Handle of Fiddle

In flavor, fiddleheads most closely resemble the dark outer leaves of an artichoke, though there is also some resemblence to asparagus. To prepare fiddleheads, first rinse them under running water, rubbing off the papery outer layer, if it is still attached. Cut off the ends, then plunge the fiddleheads into rapidly boiling water for about five minutes and drain. After that, you can marinate them, saute them with garlic, or do what we did: eat a bunch plain and put the rest in a salad.
Yum :)

(Cross-posted to Kosherblog.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Strawberries & Rhubarb

Rhubarb has a fairly short growing season in New England, and it happens to be now. This is also a great time to get fresh strawberries, which may be one reason why the strawberry-rhubarb combination is such a classic. It's also quite delicious.

My parents like to end meals with a chilled strawberry-rhubarb compote, which is very refreshing. Their formula: Combine strawberries, rhubarb, water, and sugar in a saucepan, simmer, and continue adjusting ingredients until it tastes good. (If you prefer a bit more precision, start with this recipe and adjust to taste.) Rhubarb is quite tart, so you will need a fairly high proportion of sugar, but bear in mind that cooked berries become significantly sweeter as they cool.

When I have guests, I like to show off a bit with a strawberry rhubarb crisp, served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream or a parve substitute. I use a modified version of a recipe in the New Moosewood Cookbook:
Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
2 pounds rhubarb, cut into bite-size pieces
2 pints strawberries, sliced
1/3-1/2 cup granulated sugar*
1 1/2 cups (1 1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
a dash each allspice and nutmeg (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup whole wheat flour mixed with 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (or 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour)
2 cups rolled oats
real or parve vanilla ice cream (not optional!)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.

Combine rhubarb, strawberries, and sugar in an 11 x 13 inch baking pan.

Place the butter or margarine in a large, microwave safe bowl and microwave 1 minute or until melted. (Alternatively, melt in a saucepan over low heat, then transfer to a large bowl.)

Add brown sugar and spices to the warm butter and mix until well blended. Gradually mix in flour, then oats. (Toward the end, it will be easiest to use your hands.)

Distribute oat mixture evenly over fruit. Bits of fruit will peek out from under the topping.

Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes or until fruit has begun to bubble. Allow to cool slightly. Serve in bowls, topped with ice cream.

*Made with 1/3 cup sugar, the crisp is quite tart.
(Cross-posted to Kosherblog)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Liturgy for Yom Ha-Atzmaut

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, religious Jews of Zionist persuasion have struggled to create a liturgy for Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). The most widely observed religious custom for Yom Ha-Atzmaut is the recitation of Hallel, based on the Talmudic injunction that Hallel be recited when the Jewish people is delivered from distress (Pesahim 116a). To add anything more, however, entails finding a traditional paradigm suitable for a modern holiday, and there is little agreement as to the appropriate paradigm.

One early model, suggested by Yom Tov Lewinski, was for Yom Ha-Atzmaut to be observed in a manner similar to that of the festivals mandated by the Torah (Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot), with the lighting of candles, cessation from labor, recitation of kiddush, and the insertion of ya'aleh veyavo into the amidah prayer and the blessing after meals.* It was not to be, however; Orthodox Jews were reluctant to give a modern holiday the status of the ones in the Torah, and the national celebrations that eventually developed in Israel were incompatable with the traditional festival restrictions. Another model is based specifically on Passover, and includes readings from a haggadah retelling the story of the modern-day redemption. A number of haggadot have been composed for Yom Ha-Atzmaut, but none has gained widespread acceptance, perhaps in part because the atmosphere on Yom Ha-Atzmaut in Israel is so incompatible with a family seder.

Some of the liturgies currently used for Yom Ha-Atzmaut are not based on any particular paradigm, but these can seem a bit random and therefore lacking in force. The Israeli rabbinate, for example, authorized the recitation of certain psalms and the reading of a selection from the Prophets, but not from the Torah. A service that I heard in college consisted of an odd hodgepodge of texts taken from sources as diverse as kabbalat shabbat (the Friday evening service) and Naomi Shemer (a modern Israeli songwriter). The Reform movement has its own service for Yom Ha-Atzmaut, comprised mainly of original compositions -- fine for people who like that sort of thing, but again, I think it lacks force.

It seems to me** that the most reasonable liturgical paradigm for Yom Ha-Atzmaut is that of Chanukkah and Purim. Since these holidays comemorate events that occurred after the composition of the Torah,*** they don't have the status of the major festivals (which means fewer religious restrictions), but they do have their own liturgies including readings from the Torah and Prophets, and they are accomanied by a generally festive mood. The main liturgical innovation for Chanukkah and Purim was the al ha-nissim prayer, which thanks God for delivering our ancestors from their enemies. Versions of al ha-nissim for Yom Ha-Atzmaut have been composed for the religious kibbutz movement, the Conservative movement, the Masorti movement, and the Israeli Reform movement. (Yehonatan Chipman has a number of the texts with insightful comments. Avraham Hein adds the version from the Conservative Siddur Sim Shalom.) Communities that recite al ha-nissim generally also have a Torah reading (Deuteronomy 7:12-8:18 or 30:1-10) and a Haftarah (Isaiah 10:32-12:6).

Certain problems inevitably arise when a preexisting paradigm is applied to a new situation. The various versions of al ha-nissim, for example, all use the language of the al ha-nissim for Chanukkah, which describes a battle in which the "wicked" are delivered into the hands of the "righteous." (The Reform version substitutes "members of your covenant" for "righteous," which is a bit better. The Sim Shalom version uses "guilty" and "innocent" in its "translation," but the Hebrew is the same as in the others.) Now, there is no doubt in my mind that the Israeli War of Independence was a just war, but that doesn't necessarily mean that all the aggressors were "wicked," and it certainly doesn't mean that all the victors were "righteous." The Torah readings open with the same implication of Jewish righteousness, and one of them (Deut. 7:12-8:18) becomes more problematic as it proceeds: "You shall destroy the peoples that the Adonai your God delivers to you, showing them no mercy . . . You shall cast the images of their gods into the fire" (Deut. 7:16, 25). The choice of Haftarah, meanwhile, seems to have been motivated by the view that the establishment of the state was the beginning of the messianic era, which I find troubling on a number of levels. (Admittedly, the Haftarah doesn't have to be read in that sense in this context, but it would not have been my first choice.)

In spite of all this, I am not inclined to diverge from the existing liturgies. Chanukkah and Purim were controversial in their times precisely because they were new, but they eventually gained the acceptance of the Jewish community as a whole. I don't know what it would take to achieve the same degree of acceptance for Yom Ha-Atzmaut as a religious holiday, but some semblance of a standard liturgy couldn't hurt.

*Rabbi Irving Greenberg, Living the Holidays (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988), p. 388. Greenberg references Lewinski's Sefer Hamoadim, vol. 8, Y'mai Moed V'Zikaron (Tel Aviv: Dvir, 1956), p. 486.
Yehonatan Chipman agrees.
***Whether Purim actually comemorates an "event that occurred" is not really relevant here; clearly, those who composed the Purim liturgy believed that it did.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

For Every Purpose

I'm a bit ashamed of that last post. It's so egocentric. But then, most of are. I think.

In any case, it appears that I won't have to take those exams just yet. Which is well and good, since this has been a pretty crazy few weeks.

My grandfather and another individual close to my heart are currently recovering from sudden, serious medical conditions that could have taken their lives. Today, a good friend's father, who was relatively young and in fine health, died of a stroke. I had been thinking that contemporary Judaism, with all its rituals and prayers for supplication and mourning, doesn't provide sufficient means for giving thanks for a loved one's recovery. Now I am thinking that what it really doesn't provide -- and perhaps nothing can -- is a means of coping with the strange combinations of joy and grief that life sends our way.

I have a tendency to react strongly to minor events and respond with relatively little emotion to more serious matters. When tragedy strikes, I tend to ignore it for as long as I can. Right now, for example, I am going to watch the Daily Show. Tomorrow, I'll go to the funeral.

Barukh Dayyan Ha-Emet.

Monday, April 17, 2006

No King But You

Like many Jewish women, I have a love/hate relationship with Passover. True, it isn't like the olden days; I have a husband who is willing to do at least as much cooking and cleaning as I am. But the knife cuts both ways: I have obligations outside the home, and the cost of neglecting them can be high.

I know that I bring some of this on myself. From a strictly halakhic perspective, it probably isn't necessary to clean as thoroughly as we do. But you know how it is -- you move a piece of furniture, discover enough dust bunnies to fill a petting zoo, and decide that you'd better check behind the next piece of furniture as well. Then the next thing you know it's four in the morning and you're picking crumbs out of your bridge chairs with a Q-tip, and you'll be damned if you show up for that morning meeting.

There are other things that don't have to be done. I could stay home from shul and study -- no prohibition there, as long as I don't take notes. But as often as I say that I'll spend the holiday studying, I never pull it off. It just isn't yuntif if I work, and, say what you will, studying is work.

Passover is often called the festival of freedom, but this isn't quite accurate. In the biblical story, when the Israelites leave the service of Pharaoh, they do so in order to serve their God. There is no total freedom in this life; the closest we come is having the freedom to choose our masters. I may have some major exams coming up, but when push comes to shove, I'd rather be a slave in the kitchen for a few weeks in honor of the festival than a slave to my exams. And when the festival arrives, I would rather enjoy the freedom of restriction from labor than take advantage of the opportunity to increase my odds of passing by a miniscule margin.

I remember sitting down next to my mother at the seder table several years ago and seeing her smile and say, "this is my favorite holiday." At the moment, I was feeling resentful of the work time I'd lost, and hearing this from someone who had worked twice as hard as I had preparing for the holiday was nothing short of shocking. But then, as the seder began, I remembered that it was my favorite holiday, too. No amount of lost work time could change that.

Two days of yuntif have passed, and there are two more to go. The time in between is just long enough to work for a few hours, then shop and prepare for the next set of meals. Or it would be if I hadn't stayed up all night worrying about those silly exams.

I'm over it now. There are more important things in life.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Passover Kugels

Perhaps they were influenced by the Rosh Hashanah edition of the New York Times. At any rate, this year's Passover edition of the Boston Globe Food section has an emphasis on kugel. There is a relatively uniformative but innocuous article on Passover kugels, along with recipes for potato kugel, mushroom, onion, and farfel kugel, and festive fruit kugel. (The paper also includes some Passover desserts: coconut and almond macaroons with chocolate coating and flourless mocha cake.)

Inspired, I've decided to share my own favorite Passover kugel recipes. The first is a savory farfel kugel that's so simple and easy to make, you'd think it couldn't possibly be good, but it really is delicious. The second is a vegetable kugel that's as beautiful as it is tasty. The farfel kugel recipe is from my mother. I found the vegetable kugel recipe on the internet and have subsequently seen it in a number of kosher recipe archives. DH and I make it all year, but it is appreciated most on Passover.

Farfel Kugel
2 cups diced onion
1/2 cup oil
1-pound box matzah farfel
4 eggs
5 cups chicken broth or parve substitute (onion broth works, too)
chopped fresh parsley (optional)
black pepper to taste (optional)

Pour all ingredients into a 9 x 13 pan and mix well. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for 1 hr, or until light brown and firm.

Confetti Vegetable Kugel
3 medium zucchini, unpeeled (1 lb.)
3 carrots, peeled
2 sweet potatoes or 3 large potatoes, peeled (about 1 lb.)
2 medium onions
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup parsley leaves
3 to 4 tbsp. chopped fresh basil (or 1 tsp. dried)
4 eggs plus 4 egg whites (or 6 eggs)
1/2 cup potato starch or matzo meal (or all-purpose flour if it isn't Passover)
1 1/4 tsp. salt (to taste)
1/2 tsp. pepper (to taste)
2 tsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit. Grate zucchini, carrots and sweet potatoes. (Can be done in the food processor.) Finely mince onions, garlic, parsley and basil. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and mix well. Spray a 3 quart rectangular or oval casserole with non-stick spray. Add vegetable mixture and spread evenly. Bake at 375 degrees Farenheit for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until golden brown and firm.

(Cross-posted to Kosherblog)