ohel sarah: a break in our regular programming

The majority position is that women don’t say kaddish yatom. The minority position is that they may. ArtScroll ‘paskens’ that it’s ‘generally frowned upon’. They are adamant enough about this that it’s mentioned at every opportunity. The thing is, there’s this book that I have called the Torah. In it there’s this commandment (Shemot 22:21-23) that God seems pretty serious about. It’s called not tormenting widows and orphans. Isaiah (Chapter 1 – it’ll be the Haftarah in a few weeks, and it’s a pretty ugly one) had a lot to say about people who were concerned with their own personal worship (in those days, sacrifice; today, prayer) to pay too much attention to the widows and orphans. Isaiah compares their insensitivity and selfishness to that of the destroyed city of Sodom. I don’t know about you, Reb Art, but I try to make it my habit not to ‘frown upon’ orphans. You want to take a position that women shouldn’t say Kaddish? Fine. But to generate a sense that one who does is doing something wrong, and to insure that any woman who does will draw the glares and frowns of everyone in the women’s section who happens to be using this siddur, well, read your own commentary on Chumash. I know, the Stone Tanach isn’t up to Yeshayahu yet, so we can’t expect your readership to be familiar with it.

- ADDeRabbi, 2005

don’t judge me i’m on rumspringa

I’ve been doing this since I was about 18 or 19. That’s really weird to think about! So far “all of my adult life,” as they say, has been Judaism-themed. Or, at the beginning, philosophy-themed and philosophy of religion-themed. It’s very strange! I wonder if other people’s lives have themes. Probably not. I mean, if you got really into your major your life could become themed. I was really into theater for a while and I guess that kinda became a theme. I just assume that people pick majors that they don’t care about that much (English is a popular default), and that’s it.

I’m just more into Judaism, academically speaking at least. That has been exponentially exploding into an all-consuming hobby. Jewish sociology. I asked for Becoming Frum: How Newcomers Learn the Language and Culture of Orthodox Judaism for my birthday, and The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World and Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the ArtScroll Revolution for xmas. (Last xmas I asked for some halacha book I’d found on feldheim or something.) It feels quite strange to still be reading so much about it when I’m all otd now. The BORDERLANDS! It’s like cultural appropriation now.

It’s kind of stressful because I am still a Jewish Studies major. Well ok, it was still weird even then. Especially when jews would ask me: “So, what’s your major?” “I’M STUDYING YOU PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Just awk.

So I’m on rumspringa. I mean i know I haven’t made a completely clean break, as evidenced by the fact that I’m reading Orthodox by Design right now. But no one’s really mentioned it as much as I thought would happen. Of course, there was my friend’s “So you’re not Jewish anymore?” which couldn’t have been worded more terribly but whatever. I guess if people see you wearing pants they pretty much assume and don’t have to ask questions.

I’m feeling the pressure both to go back as it were (because of my jewish studies degree like what else am I gonna do), and to never do that again (which is both external and internal, mostly internal because I don’t know how I got to the way I was and I don’t know how I’d go back to the way I was…also, not being FFB is a huge strike against your future happiness and integration, at least in new york).

I always kept saying I “didn’t like institutions,” but I have to admit that without certain institutions (drisha, hadar, and i’m just assuming NHC and perhaps pardes among others) I wouldn’t really have much reason to try anymore. And maybe that would have been a good thing.

Might as well keep plowing on and stop over thinking it..

Kratsmach post: Three year anniversary!

This leads to the obvious question at this time of year as to whether there is a heter to pronounce the name of Xmas, as opposed to Kratzmach or some other such corruption. It is exceedingly difficult to function in the modern workplace without uttering this word.

Aishdas. I love it.

Anyways, I started blogging Dec. 25, 2009. It was a fateful day. It was a philosophy blog on posterous.com. I didn’t know what blogging platforms were then, apparently. Here’s my first post! Maybe it was my second. It’s from Dec. 27, and I could have sworn I started on Dec. 25. Oh, well.

And I wondered why no one read it.

I am such a shape-shifter I don’t know when it will end. My sister told me a couple of days ago: “You always change your interests!” The RCA rabbi told me: “People your age frequently change interests.” Well, he was right. I’ve changed my major like 6 times and I’m still in the middle of changing my minor. From Music to Women’s Studies to Computer Science. I didn’t even like Computer Science until a couple of weeks ago, and now apparently I like it enough to make it my minor.


time for a champion (unofficial review of ‘the evolution of god’ by robert wright)

I’m torn between having this blog either be completely objective, throwing myself out into the world and seeing what happens, and documenting everything, including things that people might not like; or censoring certain things because I’ve had some surprising readers so far and who knows who might read it next? I don’t need the wrong person taking something completely out of context and getting the wrong impression.

Well anyway, that’s one of those decisions that I’m probably going to ignore anyways. I guess I don’t have much of a filter.

I’m getting pretty excited about my autobiographical graphic novel, which is currently in its planning stages. It’s supposed to be about 200 pages when it’s done, but it’s also my first one so who knows how it’s going to come out, maybe like five pages for all I know. And unlike with novels, where it’s like “Oh, here’s my autobiography even though I’m not famous,” I feel like if you have a decent story, autobio graphic novels are pretty standard fare. Anyway, the whole motif will be middleness and “losing everything,” as it were. It’s going to be pretty dramatic as soon as I decide how to dramatically end it. I have super high hopes. The working title is Get Ready for Love, after the Nick Cave song with an eerily similar theme.


It’s weird, you know? A couple of weeks ago I got this book The Evolution of God by Robert Wright, because now that I’m “over it” I wanted to get the very kind of book I’d been avoiding for the past two years. It’s all about the sociology and development of religion, from  “hunter-gatherer societies” to Christianity and Islam (not much on Judaism past the point where Christianity starts, no big surprise there). Of course, he spells out ykvk approximately 30 times per page, which I hate, and he just got done talking about how Josiah invented monolatry or whatever, which I already heard about and still hate, and I started to wonder. Why do I hate it? Why am I even resisting? Why am I writing passive-aggressive comments in the margins?

So much for being a non-biased reader.

I originally got this book (And God: A Biography by Jack Miles) because I wanted to make a clean break and I was already feeling myself being all “Oh, it’s not so bad, I’ll just be religious again,” and getting pretty nervous about this, and I’m also reading Becoming Frum by Sarah Bunin Benor, which is reeeeally bringing me back. (“The ‘hesitation click’ is a linguistic feature of Orthodox Jews.” I laughed when I first read that.) And I wanted to be like, “I should know the truth anyways, why should I be scared of the truth?”

I did take History of Ancient Israel taught by the biggest heretic ever, but lately I’m kind of into the idea of God evolving. I’ve had this cycle of questions for a while now: How can we say that God is so nice and forgiving and actually cares about us, when that’s not exactly in the texts at all? Can whatever we invent to be true of God actually come to be true? Does he react to whatever our conception is of him? These questions, as far as I’m concerned, are pretty pressing, and I’ll gladly get my answer from secular sources if need be.

The Evolution of God seems more like the usual JEDP explanation of historical events though, rather than anything too original, but then again I’m only halfway through the book. Maybe I’m just bitter because I just read 200 pages of how the Torah was written by Josiah. I had to keep reminding myself to be objective. Realistically, of course, I shouldn’t be taking it so hard. I’ve heard it all before. And, after all, “progressive Jews” believe in the JEDP theory and know all about the “multiple authors” over “many generations” and they’re fine with it. And somehow, they think the Torah is still an “inspired document,” even, rather than the result of political factionism and rebellions and whatnot. (Interestingly, Wright says the oft-quoted “light unto the nations” phrase was referring to aggressive takeover, not “gently helping the other nations learn from the Israelites,” as some would have it.)

But I’m also not about to get down with Wellhausen just because he’s in vogue. I just don’t know who to believe these days.

I don’t know how they do it–if God was invented out of El and Baal and had tons of consorts until the upper echelons decided it was tearing the country apart, and meanwhile the Israelites were only rebelling against other gods because the other nations kept putting them into vassalage, how could take it out of its political context and say, “OK, THIS text is divinely inspired (by a god invented out of El and Baal), even though it was changed to fit the different ideologies of different kings, and just happened to evolve into monotheism, even though that wasn’t exactly the point of it at all and it’s all a mistake and a huge coincidence.”

I can get into the idea that the Israelites were polytheists. But I don’t love the idea that polytheism was the actual doctrine allllllll the way up to Josiah, nor do I love the idea that devarim was a political strategy. In theory, I’m following the idea that “God works through the political strategies,” as progressive Jews say, but I am just feeling really resistant to a lot of it. (The El and Baal thing is an example.)

Because, he works through political strategies to…what? The usual line is to be a “light unto the nations,” but…I’m with Wright on that one. I don’t really think the Jewish mission is martyrdom. The whole idea sounds kinda Christian, if you ask me. But what is the mission? What is anything?

I’m feeling so 22 right now. I can feel everything crashing down to be built up again. On what? Who knows?

i don’t get children

OK so, during my time here I’ve spent my fair share of time in different people’s houses for shabbos. The majority of these people have small children. Oddly, they’re rarely over, like, ten. Maybe they get self-conscious about making guests actually have to interact with teens. I know when people think of “family” they think of small children usually, not teens. Just like when ladies say “Oh I really want a baby!!!” I always thought it was weird that they never thought about the fact that after it’s a baby you’ll still have to deal with it and stuff.

Anyway, after all this interaction with small children, I am still highly awkward around them. The awkwardness increases when a family is audacious enough to think that their guests want to see their children sing or perform or whatever. That happened once, and it was as terrible as it sounds. I felt like I was intruding in on their family moment. I hear that when people first get into Judaism and go to some family for shabbos, they’re generally taken with how it’s so nice that they have the whole family atmosphere and stuff eating at one table and other things most families don’t do no’ mo’. But for me, that particular atmosphere kinda gets me down. Children whining, babies crying, you can’t understand what they’re saying, and OK I’m going to offend some moms here but they all seem similar to me. I can’t tell children apart, OK? Yeah, that’s what it’s like.

Also, being here and in other family-oriented places has made me even more confused about the benefits of having children. They’re just…I don’t know, boring, I guess. What do you do with them? You take care of them, like a cat, and then they grow up and maybe they get slightly interesting after, like, eight or something.

I know I’m not a woman. I’ve never fawned over a baby. Sorry.

Conversion Tips ‘n’ Tricks Aggregate

I just realized, re-reading some of my older posts, that I’ve come a lot farther than I thought. And it’s weird, because two years have gone by and I’m technically no closer to converting. It’s disheartening, but at the same time I know that I did learn some things that will hopefully make me look like not a beginner.

I did write a “You Know You’re Over Conversion When…” post in August, and I think it was pretty timely, and had such sage observations as “When you’re angry with God but it’s time to daven, you don’t get an existential crisis, you just angry daven” and “You’ve stopped wondering whether it would be ‘good for you’ to join Sisterhood.”

But we all know that could never be enough. So here’s some advice for anyone who might be reading this and is having their own conversion journey. It might be bad advice. It might even be good advice. YMMV.

1.) Anything I say about conversion might not even resonate with you. I don’t like all these “And at two months, you should feel this, and at one year you should feel this” lists, and even more so I don’t like this out-of-nowhere idea that “Once you feel like you’re not ready, only then will your rabbi know you’re ready!” People will try to get in your thoughts. Get them out.

2.) I was so serious in the beginning! Don’t be so serious! It’s like when you’re a kid and you take your mistakes so seriously, but then you look back and you’re like “Oh I was such a cute little cocoa puff! Why was I so hard on myself?”

3.) Your life might go through stages. Or themes, if you will. It may make you wonder what your core personality actually is anymore. For example, first I was like “Everyone must like me!” then I was like “F you people; I’ll do what I want!” and currently I feel like a yeshiva bochur on the inside; I have internalized Matisyahu. Also, at first I was pretty adamant about being Conservative, but then I decided I didn’t like Conservative, then I decided I wanted to be non-denominational, and currently I’m Against Injustice. A couple of things that changed my life recently are 1.) The Orthodox kiruv on our campus, 2.) The documentary Trembling Before G-d, which for some sick ironic reason made me want to be frum even more, probably because of how those people stayed even though they had adversities, but it also made me want to be against injustice even more, cause those people tried so hard. You also might make “My Life Changed” lists such as this.

4.) Your experience will be radically different depending on what denomination you’re trying to go through. If you’re looking for ease, go for whichever place offers a class. Those are so easy. The two I’ve been to were Reform and Recon, though, and Reform is explicitly into converting people, which is weird to me. Anyway, if you feel like Conservative and Orthodox people are wary of you, it’s probably true. They don’t really have classes. This is probably politically incorrect, but this documentary made me think of it. Those people gave me weird “They still seem Christian” vibes. I think there are two groups of converts; those who are really going to struggle and never quite fit in, and those who will eventually fit in. I’m sure you, my readers, are the latter group. But I’ve seen quite a few potential converts who couldn’t handle it. So, that’s probably what they’re expecting of you, too. I don’t really know if I have vibes or not yet. (If I have Christian vibes, I’ll just die.) Don’t let them tell you who you are. You know if you can make it.

5.) You should learn Hebrew. There’s no question. So many doors will open; everything will make so much more sense in life. I know you might not think you “need” it. It’s like when my sister was five she used to think she wouldn’t have to learn how to read. But you must! Last year, I was really into speed davening without pausing to think about what the words meant. But now that I know a bit more it makes it much more meaningful. You might not believe this, but if you learn Hebrew, the English translations will pale so much in comparison. How can I say this enough? LEARN HEBREW.

6.) There will be easter eggs! For me, this was realizing I could understand (a lot of) what I was saying in the siddur, which happened this morning, and it was amazing. Just like that, suddenly I was like “Wow I recognize that, it’s hifil.” Did I mention you should learn Hebrew?

7.) On a sad note, you might have to deal with people who seem to want nothing but your demise. This could be fellow congregants who want to suck you into their toxic gossip, it could be a rabbi who doesn’t like you, it could be a congregant who makes sure you never dare to think you’re “one of them” yet, it could be someone who laughs at your observance, or someone who has no reservations disparaging your preferred denomination right in front of you etc. Everyone will have an opinion. Don’t let them get you down.

8.) The second year of holidays are much easier. It was so disorienting the first year; it was very weird to think of the holiday year as an endless cycle, each holiday meant to represent something totally different, and it was just too bizarre. I was used to my mom going “I cannot bear to have Christmas without a tree!” and dragging the thing out of the basement, and that only lasts one day! It was just too weird to have all these crazy eight day long holidays, with things like “customs” involved. (My family’s holiday custom, by the way, is to drive past people’s houses at night and look in their windows. It’s a cherished tradition.) But now that I’ve been through Passover already, for example, it wasn’t as bad. And I didn’t feel like such a nerd learning as I go. But I wasn’t used to holidays being such a big part of life. There’s always a holiday. But anyway, the second time around was a lot less stressful for me because I knew what to expect, I guess.

9.) If you’re getting tired of certain platitudes (usually accompanying descriptions of the holidays), like “We’re standing again at Sinai” or “On Tisha B’Av, we should also think about our impact on the environment,” stuff anyone could think up, and you’re getting frustrated with its lack of originality, well, you’re not alone there. Don’t worry, there is a lot more to things than that.

10.) I know it’s easy to get caught up in other people’s opinions and the politics and appearances, but don’t forget why you’re doing this. Also, God is there for you even when no one else is. He is on your side. He wants you to succeed.

I will that you tell me what “will of the community” means.

Wow you guys, I just checked out of life for the past ten days. The past couple of weeks have been kind of a haze; I’m sure the reason is because now that I know I’m leaving I can’t handle my everyday life, and I do this often. I just made a list and I’ve counted thirteen places I’ve lived, and eleven schools. And now it’s just like “get me out of here.” Nineteen days, world. I’ve done my job here. No reason to leave the house anyway.

So, for at least the past ten days, although it may have been more and I just wasn’t paying attention, I spent most of my time sleeping, skipping class, not doing homework, and watching documentaries about things like “Medicated Kids in America” and “The Suburban Wastelands” for six hours a day at least. Oh, and eating ice cream because it was either that or another block of matzah.


Anyway, so thusly I haven’t had that many interesting things to say. I have a couple of things, but nothing that needs repeating here. I’m kind of just waiting it out. And it’s making me realize that it’s a good thing I’m not staying here another year, cause look how far down I’ve spiraled already! I am a wreck!

Regarding Conservative Judaism, my independent study is effectively over. I started it because of you people trying to tell me Orthodoxy was “invented” in America, and also because I wanted to know the difference between Conservatism and Orthodoxy, and I wanted to take one last really long look at whether I made the wrong decision in not wanting to affiliate Conservative; and although I have much to show for it I have to say that I’m perhaps even more unclear on what the ideology is, really. Think about it. It’s really vague. Someone asked me last night and I think I gave a pretty good answer. First, I said that Conservative Jews tend to characterize themselves as “Not Orthodox, and not Reform. We’re not them, but we’re also not them, heaven forbid.” So that’s one layer of it. But regarding the ideology, I offered things like “Torah isn’t regarded as an absolute, they follow the will of the community when making decisions.”

“What’s the difference between that and Reconstructionist?”

Then I said something like Recon takes the idea of the will of the community and runs with it. I might be making this up right now. But what I do know now is that Conservative is more like Recon than Orthodoxy, even though I definitely don’t think it started out that way or that they meant for it to end up that way.

I thought, for the longest time, that Conservative, deep down, was about Torah being an absolute, and the only thing making it different from Orthodoxy was, basically, its conclusions on halacha, which they come to using equally valid methodology as halachic decision-makers always had. Well, that idea was shot down with the last book I read (see last post…or just see this quote:  “We can no longer speak of Torah as embodying eternal, absolute, and monolithic truth.” He mentioned Torah being studied at the Seminary as a “cultural document” a lot). I don’t know exactly what positive historical Judaism is, but I suppose it has something to do with the fact that there’s apparently still a really big emphasis on history and context and stuff when they’re making decisions. And then I learned that the way they make decisions changed to the majority/minority format, allegedly to make it more authentic, but really (I learned) it was probably because they gave up on having the people actually follow the rules.

But that’s immaterial. The point is, can’t you see? Every time I try to say “What underlies Conservative rulings is this,” or “The Conservative ideology is this,” I run up against a wall. Surely there has to be one. There wasn’t at first, but now Conservatism is a MOVEMENT, a real THING! I get “pluralism” and “academic freedom,” but those can’t be the only selling points. Conservatism says it follows halacha. It says halacha is essential. Binding, even. But how? How can one call the Talmud or Shulhan Aruch or anything binding when halacha as at the “will of the community”?

Who wants to tell me what makes Conservatism different from Recon?

Tzitzis sighting in: COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG, VA!

I was just in the bookstore, minding my own business, looking for some new headphones, when all of a sudden I see this guy with a white shirt and black pants and the first thing I think is “that must be an employee. Maybe he can help me find some headphones.” Then I see crazy strings hanging out the sides of his shirt, so obviously I think to myself “Must be some kind of employee’s apron.” So I went on my way.

Back downstairs, near the register, I spotted the same guy! It couldn’t be! But then I got closer. He looked a bit like Rabbi Ham, the Orthodox rabbi/possible Aish rep, so I got in closer (I know you think this sounds creepy but I’m good like that). No! It wasn’t Rabbi Ham! It was just some tourist! And behold, I spotted kippa! And behold, I looked closer and I confirmed, his employee’s apron was tzitzis.

Now, this is exciting to me because remember where I live. Recall that our rabbi once told me “You are the only person in Williamsburg wearing tzitzit.” Here! Here! I thought to myself: Why would orthos choose Williamsburg, VA? Why would anyone? Moreover, why did I put my Rashi sefer away? We needed to bond! I wanted to “accidentally” drop it and be like “oh, b”h it didn’t fall into a puddle,” then the guy would be like, “Oh let me help you” and that would be the beginning~

But alas, I just walked away speedily hoping he would see my WE WANT MOSHIACH NOW pin and then he would feel at ease knowing that others exist. Here. In Williamsburg, VA.

Then I glanced at his friend/wife/lady companion pushing a stroller, and naturally, my delight turned to anguish. Because I can’t just have a happy moment. Because I am a feminist. And being me, I wasn’t depressed about the normal thing. I wasn’t depressed over the stroller. I was mostly depressed because that lady looked so utterly plain that I was quite disappointed in the fact that had that guy not been there, I would have taken her for a regular lady. But seriously, it was so regular. That guy had like a cool uniform. But obviously ladies are too “spiritual” to “need” to wear a white shirt and black pants and tzitzis and the employee’s uniform etc. Just wearin’ a plain grey pencil skirt, no big deal. Men always get to look like they’re a part of something. (I also hate ladies’ business fashions.) Even ladies’ sheitels, the most interesting part, makes hair look SO NORMAL?!?! (Or as my sister would say, “Caucasian.”)

Maybe it was exacerbated by the fact that I’d spent the morning before class ruminating on why ladies are so regular all the time. Like, even in science, they say that psychologically men are more likely to be “at the extremes,” so that’s why there are more men with autism than women, and likewise more geniuses who are men than who are women. They’re just there to take care of babies and people. It’s like when you put my stupid cat somewhere she’ll just lay in whatever position you put her in. A lady’s just like “oh a baby, let me just whip out my maternal instinct.” But men have varying reactions to things like babies. You can never tell. But with ladies, you always know you’re going to get a reaction out of the following things: Dogs, babies, and marriage. It’s just…regular.

And then, cause I’m kind of an asshole just in general, I thought to myself, “I wonder if that lady would even be fun to hang out with. I bet if I was a man I’d hang out with that guy and talk about stuff like the sugya and our bright futures, but if I hung out with that lady, it’d probably be all about lending me some recipes and I’d be like “let’s go daven” and she’d be all “oh, I don’t daven,” and I’d be all “so the daf today, man” (LOL @ me reading the daf) and she’d be all “oh I don’t read the daf” and I’d be like “You are just a regular lady! I can’t relate to you.” I can’t relate to most women, anyway.

But anyway, the whole spotting left me feeling violated. It was kind of horrible seeing actual Orthodox people knowing I was just playing the game. Man or not, I know we wouldn’t have actually bonded over anything. I’d start stuttering and then he’d be like “Are you OK, little Reform girl?” And then they’d go home and have real Passover and I’d go home and try to learn that thing where you remove the chametz with a candle and try not to feel totally lame but do it anyway.

If I Were a Rabbi~

My very ancient argument with the crazy old man at my old Conservative synagogue runs deep, you know. I often think about how to balance inclusiveness with not perpetuating a “beginner’s Judaism.”  I know this is the ultimate problem as far as Conservatism is concerned, but it ought to be everyone’ problem. I briefly considered going to Conservative rabbinical school (actually, lol @ that; by “briefly” I mean “constantly since summer 2010 and still occasionally entertain thoughts of it”)…but it’s weird to me to think about the ideological inculculation that would inevitably happen at any rabbinical school. I mean, I know about quality control, but I also know now that Conservatism only became an actual “movement” with “fans” in the 1940′s. And really, get yo’ factions out of my religion. There is pettiness when factions happen.

But I digress. Let’s say I became a rabbi. Let’s say I made it through. And then, let’s say that I could do whatever I wanted. I know what my movement would tell me, but let’s say I was rebellious, which obviously would never happen because I am obviously a Tov Soul (I hate that I know about this). Anyway, assuming I wasn’t kicked out after a day, I would first make some aesthetic changes. I would give newcomers a piece of paper saying page numbers and such instead of halting everything to say page numbers. I’d want the newcomers to know that even though we care about their comprehension, we are not an education program. Ideally, I’d direct them to a beginner’s minyan which if it were my shul we’d have one of those if I had to do it myself. Ideally, before the main service so they could utilize their knowledge.

Next, I’d move the bimah or whatever to the mid-front of the room and face the front. I know that no one would actually want to sit in front of said structure, but I would try to make it not a big deal that no one was in front of them. Or, even, better, I would do what my rabbi did once when it was just me and this other guy one morning, he just hung out in a regular seat for twenty minutes and took it from there. It was really great cause it eliminated the “spectatorship” aspect. I would try to minimize the idea that the congregation absolutely must be in the same place at all times. That is one thing I would really try to get rid of, which the page numbers thing would help with too.

Speaking of adjustments, I would probably separate men and women, but really only for practical purposes. I don’t want lovers making out in the audience (which I’ve sat next to). I don’t want back-rubbing (which I’ve sat behind). I don’t want couples talking about their bills and kids and junk. And honestly, I’m never going to get over all the times some old man came and sat directly behind me when there were a million other empty seats. I just don’t want to deal. And I don’t fundamentally think that mixed seating is the only way to give women rights, I feel like some people think this. But regarding that, there would still be the problem of having separate seating in a shul which I would explicitly make sure was variant-friendly. And naturally I know that the ~male gaze~ problem in such a shul isn’t exactly going to be eliminated with separate seating, if you know what I mean. Personally, I would be distracted in an all-women’s section. I like the trichitza idea. Allegedly, this was used in ancient times (I should really cite my source on that one). I suspect that it would be less weird without an actual structure, but who knows. I’ve never actually experienced mechitzas, so I don’t really know their deal that well. I’m not sure if having a mechitza is really halacha or just blown out of proportion. I mean, I’m a rabbi, I should know this.

My basic thing would be trying to make people feel like they can belong in a traditional setting without having to have the politics. What I mean is, I would want people to know that separate seating doesn’t “mean” women don’t have “rights.” Furthermore, I would make sure people know the processes that went into making certain ritual decisions. For example, I don’t have an ideological problem with women leading services, and I would also encourage lay-leadership. So when people sign up to do a certain thing, we would go through their ideas and everything before they actually led services. So with that in mind, I would make it clear that while anyone is welcome to lead lesser parts of the service, I would ask that those who wanted to lead straight-up Shaharit be upstanding and be qualified to lead devarim shebikdusha, which for women would mean that they’ve committed themselves to minyan. Ideally, that would encourage people to come more often, cause if it were me I would consider Shaharit a more fun thing to lead than, like, kiddush or something. Which anyone could do, by the way. I would also make sure this hypothetical beginner’s minyan emphasized the difference between the important and less important parts of Shaharit, and make it sound like it would really be like an honor to lead Shaharit, so therefore they better learn some stuff so they can lead it.

Hebrew. I would not have transliteration. I would probably use the Koren siddur. No, actually, I would tell people to bring their own if there is an eruv, and if there’s not, perhaps I would have a nice mélange so people can have their crap Sim Shalom or whatever. The service would be entirely in Hebrew and wouldn’t include Readings For American Soldiers or responsive readings or anything, well I know that Readings For American Soldiers has become popular lately but I’m just not into it. I would hope that no one noticed. It’s important not to disrupt an accumulated atmosphere by suddenly being all “God sits in judgment over the world. ALL RESPOND: HE SITS IN JUDGMENT.” And it just so happens that I just start getting into it when something like that happens. It’s just another way to keep the congregation focused on the leader and on keeping up rather than their own experience.

So yeah, I’ve been writing this for a day now and I can’t think of anything else. Anything else?

I’ve had it.

I’m taking a leave of absence from my school, even if Brooklyn College doesn’t accept me for the fall, because I seriously need to get out of here and figure out my life already. I can’t keep making posts like this one or this one from the safe haven of suburban Virginia, and the reaction to posts like those are making me realize that everything I have to say given my utter lack of experience is going to be basically worthless testimony. I have to find out already if I still even want to live in an Orthodox community after actually living in one, and not from the safety of my bedroom. It’s for my sanity (and I literally have huddled in my bed many times, totally depressed about this desperate situation). If I “wasn’t meant to be Orthodox after all,” I have to know now.

EDIT: If I hate it I’m moving to Portland.

A new playlist for a new year

If there’s one thing I like to do, it’s make playlists. If my CD player wasn’t broken right now, I might even burn this one because I think it’s pretty good. I put it on Grooveshark for you. It includes artists like Popol Vuh, Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson, Nick Cave, Sleater Kinney, and Idan Raichel.

I listen to like half Israeli/Hebrew and half American/English music (for obvious reasons, it was harder to find my Hebrew music on Grooveshark). Story of my life. I remember reading some article (probably on Beyond BT or something) where it said that BTs will never fit in entirely even if they talk the talk and do everything “right,” because they don’t have the background. They will always remember pop culture and recognize secular music. It almost made it sound like BTs could never be “real Jews,” although obviously that’s not what it was trying to say explicitly.

After reading that, I briefly considered deleting all of my non-Hebrew music out of iTunes (I didn’t even think about my record collection, weirdly). I did get some stuff deleted (I hated the Beatles anyway), but a couple of days later I thought about how dumb the whole scene was. I’m proud of my music collection. I’m pretty forthright about the fact that I don’t listen to “everything,” but I’m pretty knowledgeable about the stuff I do know, I think.

I keep going back between Torah and my secular joys. For most people, this is no problem, and maybe I’m just making it a problem, but I really sometimes feel like I’m the only person trying to mix the two. And maybe it’s just because the “secular” stuff I’m trying to mix is really reminiscent of my rebellious atheist days in high school, so it’s strange to me. Like, for instance, I used to really want to be a musician in high school, writing songs against religion. So now, I guess, trying to pick up the old keyboard again still has a trace of that feeling. When I’m reading a shiur about the kzayis I really, really don’t care about anything else, and I really, really think I could live in that world learning Torah all day. But when I’m listening to my Violent Femmes or watching True Life: I’m Transsexual, I feel like Torah is just keeping me down. I’m really torn.

This isn’t new or anything, but it used to be an exciting adventure, and now it’s just giving me an ulcer.  I guess someone could say that it’s not Torah that’s keeping me down, but machmir interpretations of it, but still I can’t help but wonder whether just ignoring things I don’t like is a great thing to do. It’s not really things like “Who should I listen to?” so much as “What’s really there?” For example, deciding how long your skirt ought to be is obviously up for interpretation (and I’m against letting old men decide such things), but I feel like whether you can wear pants is a more divisive issue. Similarly, I used to wear boys’ clothes in high school. Bad? Like, in my mind there’s no inconsistencies, but in real life I have to wonder if I’m just being idealistic.

The thing is, I can’t just leave it at that. Part of the journey is supposed to be “the struggle,” I guess, but I feel like that doesn’t apply to converts, particularly Orthodox converts. If you’re born Jewish, you don’t know how easy you have it, because you don’t have this “end goal” you have to get ready for. You don’t have to sell yourself to the rabbis. You don’t have to worry about whatever arbitrary thing they won’t like you for. And you don’t have to worry about whether your slate is untainted enough. You think they’d call someone who cares about transgender rights, would rather go to yeshiva than get married, and listens to music from 1996 (from headphones attached 24/7 like a limb) a good conversion candidate? Sometimes it seems that if I’m not 100% certain that I can get rid of all my less-than-compatible beliefs and traits, it’s no use converting (and since I’m like 60% Lithuanian, I also eternally look like I’m twelve. I can just imagine it now—I’ll be 30 and they’ll still be saying “You’re too young, far too young”). Why should I even want to convert anyway, if Orthodoxy means submitting yourself to Torah, when I’m so obviously not willing to?

Other things are less daunting. Like, for example, I don’t find it weird to listen to Sleater-Kinney “Do you think I’m an animal? / Am I not?”, then Matisyahu “Chabad philosophy / is the deepest wellspring”. That is just me and that’s probably not changing. After all, I decided that Judaism doesn’t really come alive in the synagogue surrounded by old people you don’t know, probably, for most 21-year-olds. Many times—and I know this sounds lame—my music is a more religious experience than making challah or going to shul on Yom Kippur or whatever else you’re supposed to do. It’s not a really Jewish thing to “listen to music,” and I’m not really an advocate of syncretism or anything, but that’s just the way. But part of me still wonders whether I’m really committing correctly, like I can’t tell if I’m in it to win it or not. At what point is it too much to “want it my way”? If I don’t like to do it “the Jewish way” every time, who am I helping by converting? But those are just fears, I think. I usually like to push them away. I mean, I don’t mind dressing different and doing different stuff, but what if I actually have to be different?

To clarify: I still don’t think my way of livin’—at its element, anyway—is incompatible with Orthodoxy. I just think that, as a conversion candidate, I’m going to be questioned a whole lot. I don’t exactly have a refined, ladylike personality. In case you couldn’t tell. I’m worse in person. And I say things like “I’m just going to be Catholic instead” or “I’m in love with Carrie Brownstein” and I don’t think that will really go over well with most people I’m going to encounter.

Wherein I answer viewer mail

Search Views :
crystaldecadenz 215 : You’re in the right place.
crystal decadenz 80 : I really want to know why you’re typing my site name into the search bar…
zera yisrael 10 : This is a (new?) halachic (?) category advanced by a (Israeli?) rabbi, referring to patrilineal Jews who, while not halachically Jewish, should be encouraged back into the fold.
messianic site:crystaldecadenz.wordpress.com 4 : Uh, what? This is not—I repeat, NOT—a MESSIANIC site. Jews for Jesus are not Jews, and I don’t wish to be polite about it.
why it’s always happen , i hate 2 : That sucks, man.
the morning tefillah may be said any time 2 : It can be said until midday, which is basically noon or 1:00, depending on if it’s Dayling Saving or not.
why am i mean 2 : Good question. Probably because people suck.
is artscroll bad 2 : Yes. Yes, it is.
mark levin christmas music 2 :I’m glad someone else noticed this.
why shouldn’t non jews wear a tallit 1 : Because it’s not a mitzvah for non-Jews.
i m having a jewish identity crisis 1 : Dude, I can relate.
extreme judaism 1 : Judaism is pretty extreme. I wonder what else you’re finding with those search terms.
hide my tzitzis 1 : It’s hard, isn’t it?
i am a gentile woman who wants to wear a tzittzit 1 : Good luck, cause that’s a really dumb idea. Ask yourself “why am I doing this?” before you try it.
conversion revoked not wearing kippot 1 : That’s kind of ridiculous.
religion for skeptics-william b silverman 1 :It’s a good book; I recommend it.
kriat shema al hamita 1 : I don’t know why this exists; I always thought it’s there just in case you say ma’ariv before it gets dark, which is when you have to say shema again after it gets dark.
why do some men when reciting the shema kiss tzitzit and some don’t 1 :It’s just a custom.
non-pauline christianity 1 : See, Jews for Jesus wouldn’t be so annoying if they would just admit they are just “Non-Pauline Christianity.” That’s all it is.
we’re all jewish 1 : We are not all Jewish. So what? We don’t all need to be Jewish. Also, once I saw a book that was called Judaism is for Everyone. Seriously, it’s not for everyone.
am i worthy enough to wear tzitzit 1 : Go for it.
what does conservative egalitarian synagogue mean? 1 : Well, in the Conservative platform, technically, if a congregation doesn’t want to be egalitarian (count women in the minyan, give women aliyot, etc.), they don’t have to be. Conservative Judaism technically allows for a very big tent. But anyway, most Conservative synagogues do allow those things, so they’d be called egalitarian. You can have egalitarianism and not have to be Conservative (or Reform).
difference between ortodox halacha and kitzur shulhan 1 : Kitzur Shulhan Aruch was written in Hungary in the 1800′s (?) by this really strict guy who was definitely living in his times. I think Orthodox halacha follows the regular Shulhan Aruch generally.
explain why intermarriage was an issue in ezra 9-10 nehemiah 13 1 : Were you in my class?
what’s good about judaism 1 : Lots of things. It doesn’t require a Jesus, it doesn’t have a catechism, it doesn’t reply on belief for its sustenance, it doesn’t reply on personal scriptural interpretation, it is old, and it is beautiful.
electricity on shabbat conservative movement 1 : I don’t know what the “normative stance” is, but there are plenty of teshuvot allowing electricity on Shabbat, mostly going off the idea that “electricity isn’t fire.”
orthodox conversion if you have conservative conversion 1 : I hear that it’s harder? Ironic, isn’t it?
am i allowed to participate in a mincha if i’m not jewish 1 : Yes, but you can’t count in the minyan.
i like plato 1 : He’s a pretty cool guy, I guess.

Hebrew Names: Another look

So we were at Target yesterday, and I spotted a baby name book, and like always of course I had to look at it for about half an hour. Since I am currently hating my (theoretically meaningful, if you like that sort of thing) Hebrew name lately, I decided to have a look. Especially since, all things considered, I don’t think that name is legally binding. No one wrote it down. Probably no one remembers it, particularly the rabbi, who didn’t even ask me until we were literally hovering over the Torah in front of everyone.

So here’s what I gleaned from this book. Actually, despite the fact that the book had weird definitions for things, it also had some names that oddly were never to be found online, and believe me I looked at every name there ever was. I could tell you what any name means. No, really.

But anyway, I spotted some names, and now that this is my new hobby, I will list my favorites for you. Alas, I only looked under “L” and “Y,” but nonetheless.

1.) Laadan: Apparently, this is a boy’s name or something, and I don’t really know what it means, it seems to have the word “judge” in it, but then again it probably doesn’t.

2.) Lael: This means “to God” or something, which is pretty self-evident, but this is one of the names that wasn’t to be found online, which I found strange. Also it sounds too much like “Yael,” which as we all know is a more popular name.

3.) Laish: This name is pretty cool, because I’ve been looking for a name that properly corresponds with the name of the name I was named after, my long-lost grandfather. “Laura” is a bad representation of his name; apparently my family found it a good idea to just name the first letter of their children’s names after grandparents. That’s weird. My poor sister didn’t even get a relative’s name because I think we ran out of good relatives. That really kind of sucks. But anyway, I’m fairly certain one of my cousins was named after him too, and my other cousin was named after my grandmother. There are lots of “L”s and “W”s in my family, therefore.

The point is that his Hebrew name starts with an “L” and means “Lion,” and this name starts with an “L” and means “Lion,” and that’s all I ever really wanted, because frankly I’m not into picking my own name, and this one seriously just fell from the sky.

According to the Bible, it’s a boy’s name, but according to the baby name book, it’s a girl’s name as well.

I hope it’s not like “Kefira,” which also means “heretic.”

4.) Yair: I’m pretty sure I only like this name because it reminds me of Rabbi Meir, which reminds me of my hero Beruriah. I don’t actually know what it means.

5.) Yamine: Seriously, I would name myself after the Song of the Sea. Seriously. I mean, I really do want to think about God’s right hand overtaking the spoils of the enemy, and I happen to like remembering the Egyptians dead at the seashore every morning.

6.) Yana: I think this means “God answers” or something, which I don’t love because who says he did answer you? I need a name that means “God’s giving me problems.” Also, it sounds too much like Yanni.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

7.) Yeriel: I don’t remember what this means either, weirdly I expected to be able to re-find the definitions of these names after I got back home. The internet tells me “founded by God.” That also makes me wonder “founded what?” Am I a building now?

8.) Yoella: This means “God is willing” or something. The book must have made it sound better, because as soon as I remembered that this is what it actually means, I got disappointed.

Anyway, enjoy all that. I’m not sure I improved my name list from last time…

EDIT: Eliraz.

I don’t understand Twitter and suddenly I feel left out

So, I was checking my stats like I do occasionally to find out what amusing search terms people use to get here (apparently lots of non-Jews want to wear a tallit), and then I decided to find out where most of my traffic comes from. Well, it comes from here and there, but to my shock, thirty-one views came from Twitter.

I’m not on Twitter. Nor @doiunderstand #anyofthis. So anyway, someone called @itsdlevy once led thirty-one people here, so thanks, @itsdlevy! (I know your real name; I just like my sentences to look like I’m writing LaTeX code.) But in undertaking this adventure, I was led into a strange land full of incomprehensible things that I’ve never seen before in some strange layout that seems to lead me to things I never clicked on. But I did click on who @itsdlevy was following, and he seems to have pretty good taste; I mean he’s following Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, Y-Love, Matisyahu, David Wilensky, JewschoolKung Fu Jew from Jewschool, a guy who’s the co-chair of NHC, and a bunch of people who claim to be rabbis and Jewish educators and other things I would ideally like to be with this unmarketable degree I’m getting. I’m not sure if I’m only searching in the “Jewschoolers” list or not. And what’s a “list”, anyway? You have to organize who you’re following?

It all seems like a pretty cool gang but I don’t really know where I’m going with this because I’m not interested in your reactions to the hurricane or your cat or whatever else fits into a sentence. Where are your websites? Where is your knowledge? Apparently Twitter is its own microcosm and websites are a thing for another time and place. Either that, or I’m already supposed to know their websites. I’m a little scared to venture away from @itsdlevy’s “Following” page lest I never make it back. Some people are following thousands of other people—how can I keep up?

I don’t really think I’m missing that much, but it’s still like that party you should have gone to even though at the time it made sense to stay at home with your cat. Everyone’s all in one place; it’s all very tempting.

William & Mary: a Community Report

I’m reminded of the art school I went to when I was seventeen. The atmosphere is exactly the same; it’s great. The beginning of school—i.e. before classes start and immediately after classes start—is that time when everyone is so ridiculously friendly you know it will never last. I keep wondering how long this “We are all in this together!” thing they keep bringing up will go on when it comes down to crunch time.

W&M Flickr

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t only our Orientation leaders saying “We are a community!” A couple of people from our group (or rather, the group I left my own group to join…I will never change) started getting really involved in this concept. After being herded through a Diversity seminar, in which we were given such orders as “If you are Hindu, Muslim, or Jewish, please rise,” and “If you or someone you know has cancer, please rise,” and “If you are a first-generation college student, please rise,” the point being to show that we’re not alone etc., we had a “debrief”, which meant that we sat in a circle outside and talked about it.

As this debrief, first and foremost I was a little shocked as how reasonable and not ultra-PC like my philosophy teacher warned—everyone seemed to agree that having seminars like these only serves to shove minority groups into an ever more insulated class. One girl said it “stratifies,” which was shock #2 people use big words here in everyday conversation (it makes me feel like I have to really get in the game and start reading big philosophy books again). The conversation ended with someone saying it makes it like Us Against Them, and We need to help Them, to which everyone agreed, and some older guy who was a Physics major said that we shouldn’t categorize people like that because “We’re all William & Mary!” It was cute. And it actually happened. On our fourth day there already. (And honestly I’ve seen so many international students here that I don’t see how we need to be reminded that we have diversity.) I don’t think you’d hear “We are all Christopher Newport University!” Maybe I’m wrong. Do other schools do this? Tell me!

My art school didn’t have a big investment in community cohesion, but I guess we do.

Also, later on we took a detour from all the programming and decided to go look at this enchanted grotto that this one kid found; he wanted to attach a rope swing to a tree over the campus lake (“It will be there forever! History in the making!”). So anyway, this kid told us his plans and one girl got really excited about the theoretical implications of this. “I like how we don’t only respect each other’s diversity, but we respect each other intellectually,” she said, which is a true quote, but I think she was trying to say that here you could tell people you were going to build a rope swing and you would actually trust them to do it right. More likely, she meant that you can trust people you’ve never met to lead you into the woods.

I mean, even the bus drivers are nice to us (students). I got into two conversations with the trolley drivers, and one with a bus driver, I don’t know, maybe because it’s a tourist town.

But anyway, here’s the question. Classes are starting on Wednesday. Will this idealistic world cease? Everyone’s really friendly now, as I suppose they are at most schools during the first few weeks (I’ve been to about ten different schools by now, so this is quite a familiar phenomenon to me), and maybe it’s because I’ve been mostly amongst fellow transfers, but I wonder if everyone will start getting really cold and angry once they start getting stressed about their hundred page papers. This school apparently has a famous suicide story or something, by the way.