Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Separate But Equal?

A death in the family. The deceased's family needs to mourn, and so services are held. The majority of the room is filled with the deceased's friends and acquaintances, but her closest relatives - father, brother, and husband - are relegated to a couple of chairs (sometimes even standing) against the back wall in their own living room, because they might disturb the others. They are asked to remain silent except at a few specific moments, listening to others chant and pray and sing words they are not allowed to use, again, because they might disturb the others present.

Sounds crazy, doesn't it?

Change father, brother, and husband to mother, sister, and wife - that's what I saw, what I took part in over the last few days.

While this may have met the needs of the Orthodox wife, there was something truly painful about hearing someone's mother ask if she were allowed to be in her own living room to mourn her son's death, with a bunch of people she doesn't know, who disrespect her path in Judaism. She, of course, was the picture of grace and hospitality.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Veggie "Glatt Kosher"?? Help!

I need to make a meal for a mixed group of family members sitting shiva. One side does organic vegetarian or free range meats, one does organic vegan "glatt kosher" (whatever the heck that means if they're vegan) and another does plain "glatt kosher." OMG.

I'm thinking of some nice whole-wheat bread and a curried lentil soup (both pareve). If I buy a new pot, cutting board, knife, and stirring things, will this be enough to make it kosher for them? (I'd buy the bread)

(Bad Cohen also suggested I just bring them bagged salad and a bunch of baked sweet potatoes... yumm)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oink Oink

My son has the weirdest sense of humor. Apparently, finding daddy lying on the floor with him (where he can reach and pull daddy's hair) is hysterical. So is seeing the cat playing with a toy.

But not much can compare to hearing mama read the books with little animals *and making animal noises.* Our home has thus been inundated recently will moos, quacks, clucks, baaas, gobble-gobbles, and oinks.

Yes, oinks.

Even ribbits.

Oh dear, am I corrupting his little ears with the sounds of non-kosher animals?
Will he spend his grade-school years corrupting other tiny talmidim with treif noises?

Lest you think EVERYONE would find this as ridiculous a concern, check out this wonderful (old) post on Canonist addressing a letter to the Yated Ne'eman about eating "kosher" animal crackers in the shape of bears.

Even better: The Mail-Jewish Digest online has this post archived in a discussion from 1993:

"Rabbi Isaiah Horoiwitz, a prominent kabbalist around the 16th century, in his book Shnei Luchot Habrit (SHELAH for short) cites a custom not to frighten children by telling them that a cat or dog or other unclean animal will get them. This is because there are mazikin (destructive influences) with the names of unclean animals who may be called up by these names. These may cause harm to the child. The point is that you should be very carful (sic) about how you speak and what words you use."

Evil spirits of the Piglets, begone!

The Problem with Peace Protests

... is that they're more schmooze-fest than action.

My mother took me and my son to a Mother's Day anti-war peace walk yesterday. It was supposed to start at 2:30 and be a walk along the path by the river, eventually crossing the river at one of the footbridges. Beautiful sunny day, river rushing past, why not? We figured my son would take his afternoon nap in the stroller as we walked, since he was about ready to doze off.

Well, at 3:00pm (with my son getting VERY fussy), after hanging around talking to several of my mother's friends, watching the crowd grow, etc., we finally saw an elderly woman walking up to the semi-circle of microphones. (??!? - why were there microphones here? Weren't we leaving here to go on a walk?) She announced that they would soon be ready to give some short speeches, and then we could start the march - and in the meantime, keep enjoying the marimba band.

Umm, ok. So either my mother didn't have a clear picture of what was going to happen, or they advertised poorly, or they figured, what the heck, it's not like people have anything else to do, so let them sit around for an hour while we chat.

We decided to take our walk by ourselves, and crossed the river to the duck pond, and had a lovely time. By the time we got back to the car, they were *just* packing up all their stuff. All I can think is, if the organizers are mothers, it's a wonder their children ever got anywhere on time.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Jewish Mothers of Chazal

How do we know that there were Jewish mothers influencing Chazal (our sages of blessed memory)?

Gemara: Chullin 105a. Mayim rishonim (the washing done before a meal) is a mitzva, while mayim acharonim (done after the meal) is an obligation. Rav Idi bar Avin reiterates that there are two reasons for washing the hands - one, because of terumah, two, because "it is a mitzvah."

As a mitzvah de rabbanan (from the rabbis), why is it a mitzvah?
Because it is a mitzvah de oraita (from the Tanakh) that you should honor your father and mother. And your mother says,

"Wash your hands before you eat!"

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I am a Jewish Mother

Warning - this is sappy.

Oh dear. My very first Mother's Day as a mother, and I turn out to be a Jewish mother. You know:


"That's a good story! Now tell me where you've really been for the last forty years."


Is one Nobel Prize
so much to ask from a child
after all I've done?

But stereotypes aside, where should we look for models of Jewish motherhood?

Hannah wept for children - this Jewish Wanna-B-Ima is the basis for tefillah. Chava, "Life" herself, Introduced motherhood, with its attendant pain - both birth itself, and the pain of watching your children do things outside your control. Devorah, Rivka's beloved nurse, is a model for adoptive mothers.

Although the mothers in the Tanakh are all different, all with their own charms and foibles, their different relationships to HaShem, they have one thing in common - they are defined in the text by their relationships to others - fathers, sisters, husbands, children.

For a contemporary woman, this is problematic. We are individuals, we have opinions and knowledge and skills, and want to find models for ourselves and our own lives when we look to the tradition. But, although I love my job, my friends, my community, I find more and more that what centers me in the world these days is coming home to my (irascible often righteously indignant, wonderful) husband, my beautiful, perfect, snuggly son. I imagine in the future, as he grows up, and I move through different stages of my life, this will change again. But for now, I am actually quite happy to think of myself as a Jewish mother, much like my ancestors.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Shabbat, Kashrut, and Taharat Ha-Mishpacha

The Big 3. HaShem's ultimatums. The line beyond which "You shall not pass."

These mitzvot are held up by (most in) the Orthodox community (at least the online Orthodox community) as those which divide "real Jews" or "Torah-True Jews (TM) " from the rest of us. I have long wondered what the fixation is about - why these, rather than honoring your parents, or writing a Torah scroll for yourself, or not to put any Jew to shame...

Well, the obvious answer is that if you are defining your community in opposition to others which might be confused with it (by the unwary, the unholy, or the ger), you need a line somewhere.

  • Kashrut is a line about fellowship - if you can't eat their food, you are limited in socializing with them.
  • Shabbat is a line about faith - if they don't leave the lights off (or on), they either don't believe in the Divinity of Tanakh or its interpretation by the sages and later rabbanim.
  • Taharat Ha-Mishpacha is a line about propriety (as well as a barrier to marriage) - who knows what other weird things they may do, if they don't even follow basic norms about married relations.
Which implies that the most basic mission of the Orthodox is to set up such a boundary, and maintain and defend it - as CG might say, havdala bain kodesh l'khol.

In a discussion of aliyah, Rafi G claims:

"It is presumptuous for anyone to say they know the value of mitzvos and some are more important than others and some make your practice into real Judaism and some don't."

Without diminishing the importance of those mitzvot, here are *my* big 3:

  • Lashon HaRa: Not to wrong any one in speech
  • Torah: To learn Torah and to teach it
  • Tzedakah: To give charity according to one's means

Avoiding Lashon HaRa is the basis of all respectful social interaction between Jews (and others), and, despite yesterday's naughty post, a sign that Judaism is a societal system, not "just" a religion.

Learning Torah requires patience, humility, diligence, and critical thought. Teaching Torah requires patience, humility, and faith. aside from cultivating these character traits, studying Torah reverently leads one to all other mitzvot.

Tzedakah - not just in the money sense, but in its framework of justice - reveals the underlying Torah truth that we are all in this together; what you have is not yours to "own" but to steward for the entire community (and the earth). it is incumbent upon you to use these gifts wisely, for the good of all.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

DovBear is no Bad Actor

Oh well, I tried. Either he actually had work to do, or couldn't be baited into coming over here to stomp on a dear enemy who made "slanderous lies" concerning DB's alleged approach to Torah. (Note: the quotes signify that I'm actually quoting DB, not that I'm being sarcastic.)

Wow - I can't believe I just had to explain my punctuation.

BoTH - I think you made comments that never got published b/c I took the post down; feel free to add them here if you want. I've turned off comment moderation and hereby resume the (snail-paced) free-for-all that is my comments thread. :-}

Update: Chaim G. has trounced himself for you, DB:
"an idiotic blogger with no life and no blog of his own."