Thursday, December 29, 2005

Tearing Toilet Paper on Shabbos

This post here led to some interesting comments and questions both online and off. One of the questions that garnered some attention was this one.
"Um? Could someone please explain the tearing of toilet paper comments to me?"
As an answer someone provided this link which I reviewed as I do all links that come across my blog. Now I find a lot of this to be interesting, but I have to admit that trying to explain somethings such as this and the reason that they are encouraged or discouraged to be tough.

Let's look at this section:
What about tearing toilet paper when there is no option?
Obviously one must prepare toilet paper before Shabbos. The problem arises when one has depleted the supply of tissues, torn toilet paper etc. or one is in a place where there is no pre-torn paper.
For obvious reasons we will not discuss the various technical options that are on hand when there is no toilet paper available, but when those options are exhausted and/or one’s only practical option is uncut toilet paper, the following is the correct procedure:
One should tear the toilet paper by resting one’s elbows on the sheet of toilet paper and tear it with one’s elbows. This is called tearing kilachar yad – in a backhanded manner, and is only an issur d’rabanan. [6]
This is one of those things that I cannot explain without shrugging myshoulders repeatedly because it just doesn't make sense to me. Now perhaps I am missing something but this is a necessity that you cannot do without, unless you are in the woods and all you have are pinecones in which case you are in big trouble.

Ultimately what I find is that there are areas such as this in which I cannot provide a reasonable explanation as to why they are necessary. Some of these things are acceptable to me and some are not. Yes, I am picking and choosing but that is part of life and when it comes to matters of faith I think that we often reach places in which we are forced to use our gut instinct instead of our heads.

That is not a value judgement but an observation.
(Crossposted on Jack's Shack)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How I got to where I am

It is sometimes tough to look at yourself honestly and realistically, especially with regard to religion. From my point of view, there is lots I know I should be doing, but dont do, and it is hard to think about that descrepancy, without either becoming very depressed, or radically changing one's life. In any event, here is the story behind how I came to find myself in the place that I am.

My father speaks mostly Hebrew to me. He always has. Although he was born in the US, he grew up speaking Hebrew, and his relationship to Judaism was very much the intellectual one, rather than extensive practice. We drove to the orthodox shul on Shabbat, built the only sukkah in the neighborhood(we didn't live in the Jewish area), kept kosher, learned gemara in 4th grade, and kept all the holidays. I didn't get my first pair of tzitzit(and didn't know we had to wear them) until 5th grade, had no idea what Asher yatzar was(the blessing said after using the bathroom), didn't know any halachic reason for washing hands on awakening, and was unaware of a lot of the little things that Jews are supposed to do. On the other hand, I was tutored by some very august rabbis, spoke fluent Hebrew, and , when I finally did start day school, was far ahead of my classmates simply because I could understand the plain meaning of chumash, whereas they had essentially zero hebrew skills.

I decided to wear my kippa all the time when I was in 5th grade(even though one of my teachers insisted I had to wear two if I was going to wear a kippah srugah(crocheted one). I got detention when I asked him to show me where this was codified. After 2 years of day school(the education was horrible, both Jewish and secular) I wound up in public school, then a few years of prep school, all the time being the identifiable jew because of my kippah. It never occured to me to go to Israel to learn, I was in a hurry to get on with life.

Through college and past I identified with the Modern Orthodox, keeping kosher, shabbat(strictly), attending various shiurim and lectures, but never seriously studying anything in particular or in depth, amassing a kind of superficial knowledge of what and how but not a whole lot of why. When I finally finished the education process, having picked up a wonderful wife in the process, and settling in a community, I needed to know more. I started learning gemara in earnest, reading as much as I could, using the mishna brura that I had gotten as a bar mitzva present(I think I had opened it up maybe twice).

I find that I am much more serious about mitzvot than I ever was, and wonder why I didn't put more emphasis on even the little things. I am trying to infuse my children with the desire to learn and to do. I know that I am becoming more "frum" in the recent years. However, "more frum" in this case means not showering on Shabbat, making sure to say brachot before and after all meals, making sure my few hours of scheduled learning are more important than the few hours of basketball, and not accepting the answer that its ok because "everyone in the community does it."

I look up the sources for what I do and don't do. I don't want to be machmir for machmir's sake(strict). I think there is a perfectly good halachic rationale for my wife not covering her hair. However, if I didn't think there was, it would bother me. Previously, I would have thought "whatever, hair covering isn't that important."

Thus I look at what I do(and don't do) and realize that by halacha there is a lot that I dont (and should ) do. Making the committment to change, and keeping with that committment takes a lot of work, and doesn't always work. It also sometimes conflicts with prevailing family practices. Looking around at prevailing modern orthodox practice, I am now a little towards the right side of the community. However, I am happy there, and can now adequately voice the reasons why I am there, and why it is the best place for me, and hopefully for my kids.

Mixed Feelings About Chanukkah

What we have here is a holiday whose name we can not spell. Look, Yom Kippur isn’t that hard. Even Rosh Hashanah – manageable. Pesach. Easy. But…

Chanukah Chanukkah Chanukka Hanuka Hanukka Channukah Channukkah Hanukah Hanukkah Chanuka Chanukka Hanuka Hanukka Channukah Channukkah Hannukah Hannukkah Channuka Channukka Hannuka Hannukka Kannukah Kanukkah Kannuka Kanukka Ckannuka Ckanukka Ckannukah Ckanukkah

Could we just make up our minds? I know it’s a Hebrew word transliterated and transliterations are all over the map. But this is ridiculous.

OK, next problem. We all know that in comparison to the High Holidays and the Shalosh Regalim (Succos, Pesach, Shavuos), Chanukkah is a minor holiday. And yet, because of it’s proximity to Christmas, and maybe because we just like to light candles on the darkest days of the year, it has become a major big deal. Also, over the past few decades, more and more Jewish families, even Orthodox ones, have started giving Chanukkah gifts.

Now I’m reading that Chanukkah is actually, historically, not a victory over the Greeks, but a commemoration of a civil war, Jews fighting Jews. I guess I always knew this on some level -- that it wasn’t Greeks the Hasmoneans fought but Hellenized Jews -- but this article spells it out quite clearly.

Read in its historical context, however, the Hanukkah story is really about a revolt against the Hellenized Jews who had fallen madly in love with the sophisticated, globalizing superculture of their day. The Apocrypha's texts make it clear that the battle against Hellenization was in fact a kulturkampf among the Jews themselves....

That's the clash of Hanukkah. Armed Hasmonean priests and their comrades from the rural town of Modi'in attacked urban Jews, priests and laity alike, who supported Greek reform, like the gymnasium and new rules for governing commerce. The Hasmoneans imposed, at sword's edge, traditional observance. After years of protracted warfare, the priests established a Hasmonean state that never ceased fighting Jews who disagreed with its rule.

I like Chanukiahs. I like lights. I like latkas. Honestly, I don’t care for jelly doughnuts, but that’s OK. Personally, don’t care too much for civil war or theocratic rule. Generally do enjoy going to the gym. The truth is, had I lived back then, I could easily picture myself on either side. I’m pretty sure that there was much I would enjoy in Greek culture. Though, as a woman, not sure I was invited to the party, if you know what I mean. On the other hand, the Hasmoneans were a tad harsh.

It’s kind of sad that the general knowledge of Chanukkah is basically zilch. “Judah Maccabee riding on an elephant,” as the Grace Adler character says in Will & Grace. (Macabbee? Maccabee? Makabee?) In my youth, we celebrated the concept of the Jewish soldier and warrior (still a newish Jewish thought, in the 1960’s). Judah the Macabee was seen reflected in the faces of handsome young IDF soldiers. That’s a good instance of taking fuzzy history and turning it into a symbol. Inspiring, but hardly accurate.

I wonder if the closest thing we’ve experienced to the Hasmonean revolt was the attempt by religious settlers to remain in Gaza last summer. No elephants, however, were involved. And the sad spectacle of Jews fighting Jews was not something anyone wanted to celebrate. We did celebrate, and rightfully so, moments when settlers hugged soldiers, when the two groups prayed together. Maybe we’ve come a long way.

Meanwhile, it’s winter time, even here in Texas. OK, it’s sunny and 80 degrees, but they tell me it’s winter time. We open our drapes and light the Chanukiah, making sure the lights are clearly visible to anyone walking their dog along our block. So today, it’s mostly about that little demonstration.

Down the street is a 18-foot high Santa Claus. (I wish I was exaggerating!) Manger scenes dot the main road of our subdivision. There is no Santa Claus or manger scene in our yard. We have two chanukiahs in the window. It’s a gentle statement that says, “We are Jewish” and “There is light here in the darkness.” Maybe someone walking by will pause to wonder what that means. I know I do.

(crossposting at Mirty's Place)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Not My Judaism

So last night (Christmas Eve), I went down to the university campus, to watch Ushpizin. We were in a tiny theater that seats fewer people than my Dad's old Buick and, needless to say, the audience was listening and the audience was Jewish. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.

It's a beautiful movie, infused with spirit, and wonderfully acted. And I, personally, think it has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism.

Sorry, folks. Not my Judaism.

In my Judaism, if you are poor, unemployed, and living in squalor, when $1,000 drops "min hashamayim" into your lap, you go enroll in technical school and get yourself some skills so you can get a J-O-B.

That's right. It isn't about relying on G-O-D. Because G-O-D gave us brains that can calculate Pi, arms to lift things, legs to move around, and the heart to go out into the world and get things done. So move it! Get a job!

I'm sorry. I should be more accepting. They are Breslau. They live by faith. Someone has to.

Someone has to?

No. Our avot and amahot did not live by faith. Avraham and Yaakov built wells, herded sheep, built communities. They were active forces in the world. They were not secluded in a slum, impoverished, desperate. Is that what God wants? For us to do nothing, to cry like babies to Him for every little thing?

The world is a growing environment. We have everything we need right here. Everything to make our lives worthwhile. It's crazy to think our role is just to sit and say Tehilim, that that is what our Creator wants from us. No. I don't believe that for a second.

When my stepkids ask me questions, I often say: "Look it up. You can find the answer." When they ask me for things, I say: "Get it yourself." Am I a mean stepmother? Maybe so, but I don't see any point in raising lazy kids. Why would God want anything different from his own children? You need money? Figure out how to get it. (It's no big secret.) You want to have a baby with your wife? Quit smoking, your sperm count will go up.

All right. It's their life and they are free to live it as they choose. It is moving and makes a beautiful fable of faith and hope, but it's not real to me. And the deeper question is -- Is it real Judaism?

ADDENDUM: The question was raised in a comment at my blog whether it is necessary or appropriate to discuss the vision of Judaism in the movie. It's a good movie, so why not leave it at that? Well, I don't know. Probably seeing it here in Texas affects me as well. So few Jews here, and so few Jewish movies shown, that there is a sense that each one may be seen as standing for the whole. That probably is an unfair burden to place on any movie. On the other hand, this particular movie seems designed to engender discussion on matters of faith and belief. Or am I just reading that into it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Some Posts That Are Worth Looking At Again

Hi all,

One of the challenges with building a blog is that sometimes some of the early posts get lost in the shuffle. So I thought that it might be nice to provide a couple of links to a few that I think are pretty good, or maybe it is just my own ego speaking.

Without further ado may I suggest that you review the following:


Davening for Dollars

The Long and Winding Road Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

I hope that you enjoy them. Leave a comment and let us know.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

How the Moshav Band changed My Life.

One of the sad things about the frum world is that certain types of music are looked down upon.

Anything that doesn’t involve an Oy or a Vey or a combined Oy Yoi Yoy Vey is considered “goyish music” Let’s give this a try and you play along at home ok?

"Oy ... Yoy ...La La, Lah, Ai Yai Yoy … Vey Vai Dee Dum Dum …"
Jewish Music or Goyish Music?

If you answered Jewish Music YOU are CORRECT!

Ok, next round ....

“Return Again, Return Again, Return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, return to what you are, return to where you are, born and reborn again.”

Are those English words? Is this Israeli?Are these boys religious? No Piano or Horn section? And that’s a guitar they are sturmming in the background? What doe they mean by "reborn?"


Wanna play one more time? Yes you do! … Come on, you know it. Ready?

Alright, Jewish or Goyish …

"Rachaim .. Oy Yoy Vey … Rachaim … Kvetch, Cry, Kvelt … Rachaim .. Vey Oy Vay …"

JEWISH! … Ding Ding … Correct!

Next …One last round ...

"Hot, sun is going down, my wheels are off the ground, the clouds up in the sky are in my face, until I come back … whoh, L-rd, the things you can’t afford. But I will find that road, I will find my way back home again.”
What part of Tehilim is this from?? Which “L-rd” is he talking about, why didn’t he just say Hashem? Thing you can’t afford? What is is this what cant he afford? What road are talking about here? Is that a guitar again? And still no Piano or Horn section? GOYISH.

Seeing a trend?

Growing up in a very religious household, and later going through school and yeshiva, there was only one selected music called “jewish music” anything that strayed from the basic Oy and Yoy’s were termed Goyish. Even if it was soulful and had thoughtful English lyrics.

During the time I’ve referred to in past posts here as my “religious crisis of faith” I was very heavy into grunge and rock. There was something very calming about it. My family was going through a lot of personal stuff and me being away, couldn’t do anything to help. I often felt helpless and somehow this type of sound was very settling.

As things got better, I still hung on to the music that got me through it. Even today, when I pop in a CD I like to hear loud, noisy, rock music. Maybe it reminds me that things could be worse. They have been worse, and that life is what you make of it. I can’t begin to explain the effect music has on a person. We can all atest to that on our own.

During the same time I was hanging around Chabad house a lot I started dating this girl. She was also very into the same types of music I was into. One year on my birthday she bought me this CD as a present. I had no idea what it was, and had never heard of it before. The cover did not look impressive, and I had a hard time believing it was going to be any good. she said "trust me, you'll love it."

A couple days later while making a long drive I checked it out. Wow, I really loved this music. It was like... good Jewish music. Could that be? I knew that in Yeshiva this CD would never be allowed. Most Jewish CD’s have one English song, and the lyrics are so cheesy as not to offend anyone. All Hebrew words are left Hebrew, nothing is translated, and the usually contain words like, Yearn, Soul, Hashem, Western Wall and Moshiach.

Not only that, but the songs in this CD don’t all come directly from Tehilim, or some cutesy Gemara piece. They are soulful, real lyrics, with a point, a story, a message and they rock too.

Believe it or not, and I’m sure this was not the only reason, but when I was listening to this band, the spark of which I always talk about, seem to have been ignited. I was enjoying something Jewish. I felt like this band was my little secret. A good Jewish CD. Jewish folks, singing Jewish songs, and they rocked. Imagine that.

A month later I bought the rest of their CD’s and since then have purchased anything they produced.

If you know anyone that wants to hear something Jewish, but thinks all Jewish music stinks. If they prefer Nirvana to Shloime Dachs, offer them this CD. Who knows, it may really return them home.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Conservative Judaism- Which Way Does It Go

Rabbi David Wolpe has an interesting idea about direction for Conservative Jewry. I am going to grab a couple of excerpts from a piece in The Jewish Journal for your review:
"Many of us have learned that Conservative Judaism is either a complex ideology (at least we never get a straightforward explanation) or simply a movement that stands in the center between Reform and Orthodoxy. An early classic of Conservative Judaism was titled, “Tradition and Change,” but tradition and change is a paradox, not a banner of belief.

Conservative Judaism is crying out for renewal and revitalization. Some of the most spiritually charged, socially sensitive prayer groups and institutions in the country choose to not affiliate themselves with the Conservative movement. Yet they are led by rabbis ordained by the Conservative movement and attended by congregants who grew up in that movement.

In synagogues that do define themselves as Conservative, the congregants often expect halachic observance from their rabbis, yet they are not moved to emulate them. Conservative Jews are increasingly confused and uncertain about their spiritual direction.

As I posed these problems and questions, some turned the question back to me.

“Who are you, and what do you believe?”

When I reflect upon the beliefs with which I was raised and how I have grown in my faith, I realize that the word “Conservative” does not best fit who I am and what I believe.

I am a Covenantal Jew."

Ok, what does that mean.

"Covenantal Judaism is the Judaism of relationship. Three covenants guide my way — our way: The covenant at Sinai brings us to our relationship to God, the covenant with Abraham to our relationship with other Jews and the covenant with Noah to our relationship with all humanity."

The article elaborates on all three covenants. It is too long to post in its entirety but I do think that it is important to highlight a couple of things so here are a few more excerpts.

First Covenant: Relationship to God

The Jewish relationship to God may be seen as a friendship, a partnership, though of obviously unequal partners. In the Midrash, God swears friendship to Abraham, is called the “friend of the world” (Hag. 16a) and even creates friendships between people (Pirke D’Rabbi Eliezer). Friendship is one aspect of the Divine-human connection.

The Torah speaks of God as a parent, a lover, a teacher and an intimate sharer of our hearts. When we speak of friendship or partnership, all of these relationships and more must be understood.

The terms of all friendships are fixed by history — we define our partnerships by our memories. One friend can speak a single word, “Colorado,” and the other knows that the word refers to a trip taken together 15 years before. However, vital friendships do not dwell solely in the past. They are always creating new memories, entering new phases and enriching what has gone before.

Some Jews believe that everything important in the friendship between God and Israel has already been said. The Torah, the Talmud, the classical commentators and codes have said all the vital, foundational words. Our task now is simply to fill in a few blanks, but otherwise the work is done. We are the accountants of a treasure already laid up in the past.

This is not a covenantal understanding. It is a Judaism frozen in time, as though all the clocks stopped in the 18th century.

Conversely, there are those who think the past weightless, because times have so radically changed. This is a friendship that tries to recreate itself each day, dictated by the demands of the moment. While the past is acknowledged, it is seen largely as something to be overcome, not to be cherished and integrated into the present. This creates a relationship with predictably thin and wan results.

Covenantal Judaism believes in the continuous partnership between God and Israel. When we light Shabbat candles, God “knows” what we mean — we have been doing it for thousands of years. It is part of the grammar of relationship. Our past is the platform from which we ascend. The covenant at Sinai is the first, reverberating word."

I can relate to this as I believe that it is important to have a living, breathing and flexible Judaism.

Second Covenant: Relationship Between Jews

"All Jews are involved in the Abrahamic covenant — not only those Jews whom we like or those of whom we approve but all Jews.

Jews have always fought within our own community, and undoubtedly, we always will. Devotion to Torah does not free us from the constraints of human nature.

Still, a Covenantal Jew seeks active dialogue with Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist, as well as secular Jews. The covenant does not depend upon movements or ideologies; it is a covenant of shared history and shared destiny."

Exactly. We are all responsible for each other.

Third Covenant: Relationship With the Non-Jewish World

"The first covenant was not made with the Jewish people. God sent a rainbow in the time of Noah as a sign to the world, to all of humanity. Noah lived 10 generations before the first Jew.

The meaning is clear: We have a responsibility toward others of whatever faith; we have a covenantal relationship to the non-Jewish world."

What do you think?