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.

 

Language at Drisha (Language for all)

Crossposted at Jewschool

Words are pretty cool. Sometimes they stay in one place, and sometimes they cross state lines. Sometimes certain types of words spread like wildfire. I don’t mean gossip; I mean words like “cat” or “bank.” For example, I was born in Connecticut, so I still say “pocketbook.” I brought “pocketbook” all the way down to Virginia, where my “pocketbook” encountered everyone else’s “purses.” It was barely a fight. I haven’t traded my “pocketbook” in for a “purse” yet, and it’s been years.

Still, in other environments, some words enjoy an almost guaranteed takeover. When I was at Drisha over the summer, nothing in the kitchen was free for the taking. Lot of things were hefker, though. “Ownerless.” It seemed that as the summer wore on, more and more things were hefker. And kal vachomer, if we were saying hefker we were definitely saying davkaDavka was thrown around like a baseball at Drisha. Once it showed up in our sugya, and once our gemara teacher started saying it, everyone in our class started saying it. Heikhi, how does this happen? Well, for one thing, our class wasn’t picking up much from Talmud 3 down the hall. Our class was together three and a half hours a day, and words tend to spread that way. I don’t know what the other classes talked about but we, Talmud 1, were learning ben sorer u’moreh, the rebellious son, and that’s where our vocabulary came from.

For that month, our life was the ben sorer u’moreh. Our jokes were ben sorer u’moreh-themed (maybe that was just me). On the last day of class, we bought OU Dairy bacon and grape juice, as an elaborate joke based on the fact that for someone to be a ben sorer u’moreh he must meat and drink wine…but only if he stole it from his parents first (both of whom must look and sound the same). We expanded this into a bigger joke, saying that his parents only owned one item, the clock in our own classroom. When the clock went missing one day, we said the ben sorer u’moreh had stolen it.

Drisha just worked like that. Most of the girls had just come from seminary, so it was an opportunity to re-enter an immersive “Torah everything” environment for them. But for people like me, this was a completely new concept. Of course you’re not going to ask if those donuts are free; you’re going to ask if they’re hefker.

I’m reading a book called Becoming Frum by Sarah Bunin Benor. It’s about the language of ba’alei teshuva; when, why, and how certain words or styles are acquired. Not surprisingly, her frumspeak hierarchy is: Periphery, Community, and Yeshiva. As BTs become more involved and invested, she explains, their way of speaking changes accordingly. This isn’t so surprising; after all, if everyone around you is using sav, eventually you will have to decide if sticking with tav is worth making you different. And vice versa. Some BTs enjoy emphasizing their differences from FFBs (she actually opens and closes the book with Matisyahu, naturally). Some want nothing more than to blend in.

It’s easy and linear when someone raised Modern Orthodox is joining a yeshivishe community. It’s a little more interesting to put people from secular, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and Chasidishe backgrounds into a non-denominational place like Drisha. More than once did I respond to “Shabbat shalom” with “Good shabbos,” which violates all natural laws of language, seeing as I was raised far less observant than anyone else I knew there, and should have used “Shabbat shalom” like the child of secular Reform intermarriage I was. I didn’t start saying “Shabbat shalom,” but they didn’t have to start saying “Good shabbos,” either. Reading from Tanach was interesting. It didn’t default to Modern Orthodox pronunciation as one might expect, but rather a mix. However, the exceptions prove the rule, as far as I’m concerned. Where “Good shabbos” didn’t bring us together, davka did instead.

It’s not limited to words, of course. When I read “the ‘hesitation click‘ is a feature of Orthodox communities,” I knew immediately what Benor meant, and I laughed. She writes that it is a feature of Israeli Hebrew, but as I hadn’t heard it until coming to Drisha, I thought it was just one person’s idiosyncrasy. It spread rapidly, though, and (as I delightfully noted) across denominational lines.

Drisha is one place where language isn’t necessarily correlated with ideological or denominational lines. It’s like its own microcosm.

“i got no choice, i got no choice at all”

I said I was gonna leave Judaism forever. That’s pretty funny. I was hoping to avoid all the questions. It didn’t really work. How could I even begin to explain? I don’t even know how to explain it to myself. Then I decided I would just be cultural, you know like the people I used to think were so lazy, I made latkes.

But life with religion is much stranger. Judgmental OCD people who use religion as an excuse to boss you around. Ladies who daven weird next to you in shul and you make fun of them in your mind but then you feel guilty but then they look over at you with glaring eyes cause you’re not singing the songs and you go right back to making fun of them in your mind. Feeling like EVERYTHING that happens to you must have a rhyme and reason…but trying to figure it out gives you an angry headache. Feeling guilty all the time over everything. Wondering why you put yourself in a community that’s 70% retired people and 30% really, really “normal” people who like to wear earrings and floral print dresses on shabbos. And sometimes velvet house robes. Not being able to cook for three day yontifs because your roommate takes over the stove, even though you don’t care at all and would cook all yontif long if she wasn’t home. And being with people who literally can’t stop talking or thinking about religion for ten minutes was really a culture shock, even though I was and possibly still am that person.

-Me, circa October 2012

I found myself wanting to go around the block for another round. I don’t know why. Maybe cause I’m in the same environment I was in where this all started; if I couldn’t handle New York then how do I know it’s not just me being an exhibitionist where I know I’m the only one so I can really do whatever I want all day long? It’s a different set of rules when you’re somewhere where there are, like, other Jews who actually know what they’re doing etc.

Here’s something stupid. I know this is stupid; that’s why I’m saying it actually. I remember when I first came to W&M and I was still trying to find a room; I remember deciding the logistics of davening in front of a roommate. (And by roommate I mean roommate, not housemate.) Would I wait till they left? Would I tell them what was going on? I had decided I would just daven in front of a roommate. And I thought about it a lot. And I started to get pretty excited about it. I don’t think I knew how to differentiate “being a complete religious exhibitionist like the worst of the worst” and “doing necessary administrative details because there is no private realm and there is no public realm.” And I decided I was a terrible showy ostentatious person, look at me not only being a flaming BT but being a flaming BT in front of the goyim like that is just plain pointless really, and then I wondered why the christians tried to talk to me about it all the time.

I guess it was disgusting but necessary part of the journey to be like that, I look back now and I was really flaming and judgmental, at least I know I wasn’t the only one in the world. It’s always extremes with me. Of course I was gonna try to leave Judaism forever. (EDIT: I was so hilarious though!!!)

I kind of knew immediately that wasn’t going to happen.

It’s weird to think about.

I’m writing a book, by the way. No, really.

It sounds so dumb. I know it does. For one thing, why am I so sucked in? Also, I think I had a pretty solid theological reason for leaving religion forever? How can I just crawl back cause I’m remembering how good it was? What about the bad times, eh? Do I have to feel bad now about all the bad things I did before?

Does this mean I’m back on the derech now? I’m not keeping kosher or anything. I’m really not doing much except for a bunch of solitary contemplations.

I want to daven again but I don’t know if or how I could go back just like that. Would the whole cycle start all over again? After all, I’m about to start W&M in January…aaaaaaaaaaall over again. (Well, OK, i’ll be a senior this time.) Why am I doing this?

So I want to daven again but when I get in the mood it’s not even zman anymore. How do you deal with that one? I don’t know what to say without my siddur, man. I’m not gonna start saying maariv anyways. And then what? If I do that do I have to start getting up for shaharis all the time again? I can just see it all over again…the cycle of guilt (“oh no I didn’t get up for shaharis!”) At least it’s not like last time where I didn’t know what I was doing so I felt like it had to be more methodical. I really, really, wanted to get into the habit of getting up for shaharis. Maybe that was what was stressing me out. Well nonetheless, I’m not so methodical these days of course.

And then what? Do I have to start keeping kosher again? Maybe just sort of (I like those steamfresh vegetable and cheese sauce packets, dammit). Should I, like, bentch again?

I already did hanukkah, really just cause it’s like the light of my childhood, not cause I’m trying to be religious. I don’t want to rush into things. After all that, you know. I don’t even know what I’d do first if I wanted to try to be frum again. What’s even the point anyway. I live in RURAL VIRGINIA!

I like Nick Cave; I don’t even care.

I love tzitzis and glitter and skateboard helmets, I love them especially all at once

“Where are my presents?”
“You got your present.”
“What present?”
“That the Hanukkah Man gave you.”
“That thing from last year?”
“Yeah.”
“I’ve been gypped by the Hanukkah Man!”

So, I came across this picture:

poo

Those were good times, yet terrible times. They were the best of times and the worst of times.

I look at myself and think: “Why didn’t they ship me to hadar immediately?” Then I think: “How did I get to a place like w&m?” Then I think: “How did w&m get someone like me?”

Want to know what those pins say? They say: “Moshiach, we want moshiach now” and “Tzitzis, we want moshiach now.” They were a gift, OK? (Once, a guy in Prospect Heights saw one of my pins and said, “So, you want moshiach, huh?”)

I don’t try to be eccentric, you know? I am a walking collection. For instance, my mom got me a skateboard helmet for my birthday and so I was sitting there like derp listening to Matisyahu wearing my skateboard helmet. And now I have glitter because the “hanukkah man” aka my mom gave it to me aka she re-gifted it from when I didn’t want it last hanukkah. Also, I collect stickers on the back of my computer. Look closely and you can see a real live leopard.

DSCF0152

DSCF0154

I don’t want tzitzis to be a fashion accessory. I don’t want it to just be a part of my collection of things I seem to acquire. But I know from experience that–unless you’re a halachically jewish orthodox man–there’s absolutely no threshold you can cross where you won’t still be questioning your motives. (I say orthodox cause it’s not really expected so much outside of orthodoxy.)

Honestly, I have no way of knowing whether I’m just trying to have a fashion accessory, and I don’t think anyone else does, either. When I look at a woman with tzitzis I don’t think: “She just wants a fashion accessory.” I think she must be really dedicated to put herself out there like that. I look at that picture of me and I think “Why was I so hard on myself?!” If it were someone else in my situation, I would have judged them favorably. If they showed that kind of dedication, I wouldn’t have done all that, like, pilpul. I wouldn’t care what their lineage was, either.

I’ve had friends who consider themselves gentiles converting to judaism, and I’ve had friends who consider themselves jews converting to judaism. I think the way you see yourself makes you see your conversion quite differently. Maybe it was being in new york, but I don’t think you can dismiss subjective experience so easily anymore. There’s no “official answer,” which I was in denial about for a long time. Of course, though, not having a right answer doesn’t mean there are no wrong answers. I’ve known people who wanted to convert–who believed they had jewish lineage, even–but whose resolve and tenacity I doubted. Oh, don’t think I don’t still judge people! If someone told me they wanted to wear tzitzis and then in the next breath told me they’ve decided to follow Jesus/the Buddha/whoever, I will probably doubt their dedication.

But I also have friends who are converting, whom I wouldn’t doubt for one second, and whom I treat as jewish.

This, so far, is working better for me in everyday life than my outdated system of judging people solely by halachic standards as if I were their conversion rabbi. A conversion rabbi, of course, is concerned with the integrity of the system, but this is sometimes to the detriment of a person’s psychological well-being. I know this well. I can’t know which way of looking at people is the right one. Maybe I really am compromising the integrity of the system. But if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, all we can do is guess. And if God isn’t about to come down and tell us, we can’t exactly feel bad about making a best guess. That goes for anything, really.

And that’s all well and good.

I don’t know what all this means for me, though. I don’t know my own motivations most of the time, but I tend to believe that I should (like most of us, I presume?) And so I analyze it to death, a sound and fury signifying nothing. If I wanted to wear my tzitzis again, it’d have to go beyond “which mitzvos a non-jew can do” and “what does patrilineal mean philosophically.” It would have to go deeper. I’d have to enter a whole new system. I know I can’t be orthodox, and I know I can’t be conservative, reform, or recon either. It’s kind of an open field right now. Everything is free for the taking. I could be anything. I could be renewal (I’m not). I wish I didn’t have to convert (and therefore pick one…currently it’s RCA and currently I don’t want to change that). I wish I could just be. You know, in the margins. Like I do. I don’t feel like a convert. I don’t want to continue acting like I’m converting. I don’t want to be a gentile. I don’t want to be a righteous gentile. I davened like a jew. I learned gemara like a jew. I went off the derech like a jew. I came back like a jew.

Something has to change here.

Well, I went to a Bulgarian Orthodox church today. It was only a matter of time, right?

Basically, I was dragged into it by a Spiritually Seeking Friend (TM). She says she’s using her “emotions” to “guide” her to the right denomination, which is completely foreign to me, but OK to each their own.

The first thing that struck me when walking into the little one-room church was the utter solemnity. Like, I didn’t even want to rustle (hello Reform temple). I tried to decide whether that was just because it was my first time, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, and let me tell you why.

Everyone was standing, ladies on the left and men on the right, all the ladies had their hair covered and were wearing long skirts and bad shoes. There aren’t any “pews” in Eastern Orthodox, I learned. Every once in a while they would start singing “Lord have mercy” etc. and I must admit they had a nicer communal singing voice than I ever heard in shul or anything. It was like they were the freakin hired choir or something. Sometimes people would come in (slowly and tentatively, of course), and take candles out of this “candle bin” attached to the wall, and cross themselves like a hundred times and one lady kissed three icons (on the feet, naturally). I couldn’t really see the men, but the women were standing with their hands politely folded in front or behind them, and obviously I was standing there in the very back with my friend with my arms folded looking like a nervous wreck in that place but whatever.

The priest looked like he motorcycled in his spare time, and I think one of his assistants (beacon? deacon? wtf) went to my high school. Notwithstanding that, they read a lot of stuff. And when they did it was in this annoying churchy monotone. It only ceased when the priest gave his sermon, which was totally weird and seemed out of place given the supposed ethereal ideal that place was supposed to have (there was incense).

There were icons literally covering all the walls…and of course I was standing right in front of the scariest Jesus in the whole church…freakin no-chin Jesus staring me down with his beady eyes in that scary picture.

So yeah, we’re standing in the foyer/hallway facing the main room, and I look up and suddenly see this looking back at me:

"I'm here to save you."

“I’m here to save you.”

I’m not sleeping tonight.

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is this: I don’t get this about Christianity, culturally speaking. The whole “be serious in church,” “church is somber” thing. My friend said she liked it (it gave her a “good feeling”), but I thought it didn’t make any sense because it seems like that just serves to keep religion contained inside the church. Like, I get trying to make it like the altar or whatever with the incense and stuff, but once you get outside, what do you do? Go to Country Cookin’?

I mean, I know for Eastern Orthodox those ladies were wearing their long skirts and stuff, and I guess that stays with them, and I’m guessing they, like, say their Christian version of daily tehillim or whatever, but still. It’s kind of like saying “God is mostly in here, and in everyday life just minimally.”

I like that in Judaism for better or worse, it’s not like it’s “everyday life” outside and then “SUPER SERIOUS GOD TIME” inside. Like, I hated it at the time that no one was paying attention, but when I was at that shul in Flatbush ladies would be setting up tables like right next to me and people would be in and out and kids would be walking around and you stand when you want and you sit when you want and so on and so forth. And it doesn’t end as soon as you walk outside, indeed it improves when you leave because you get to go to someone’s house and eat free cholent, which if you don’t know already is basically the food of the heavens as far as I’m concerned. And, here’s my favorite part, that’s just as important as shul.