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?