Friday, September 30, 2005

Vigilante Atonement

Pesiqta Derav Kahana is an anthology of homiletical midrashim, which were assembled probably some time during the 5th century CE in Israel, by a rav named Kahana. It goes through the Jewish yearly cycle (starting with Hhanuka, interestingly enough) and comments on the special Torah and Haftara readings of the year.

Pesiqta Derav Kahana: pisqa 25
introduction to the haftara Shuva

(a homiletical midrash)

טוב וישר ה' על כן יורה חטאים בדרך
God is good and honest; therefore, he shoots sinners in the street
(Tehillim 25:8)

They asked Wisdom:
"A sinner — what is his punishment?"
It answered:
Evil pursues those who do evil (Mishley 13:21)

They asked Prophecy:
"A sinner — what is his punishment?"
It answered:
The sinning soul — it will die (Yehhezqeil 18:4)

They asked Torah:
"A sinner — what is his punishment?"
It answered:
He can bring an asham sacrifice, and atonement will be achieved —
this is what it means when it says
"[the sacrifice] will be accepted to atone for him"
(Vayiqra’ 1:4)

They asked God:
"A sinner — what is his punishment?"
God answered:
He can repent, and atonement will be achieved —
this is what it means when it says
טוב וישר ה' על כן יורה חטאים בדרך
(Tehillim 25:8)
My child, what do I ask of you? Seek me and live!

Ribbi Pinhhas said:
What does it mean, that God is both good and honest?
על כן יורה חטאים בדרך
God shows them a path by which they can repent,
and therefore Hosheia‘ warned Israel, saying "Repent, Israel..."

I taught this midrash to one of my Parshanut/Midrash classes today. It was good. They loved the grammatical ambiguity whereby יוֹרֶה can mean either he shoots or he will guide. It also brought up all kinds of philsophical questions about reward and punishment, which must be discussed sometime. For now though, shabbat shalom v-shana tova!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Monsey Moment

This Shabbos I went up to the Ohr Somayach yeshiva in Monsey, NY, to visit a friend (the one I refer to as "my progressively-more-Yeshivish friend") who's studying there for the year. And I was very impressed. Ohr Somayach saved the reputation of the whole Qeiruv ("Kiruv") movement in my eyes.

In high school, I tried going to NCSY for a while, since they're the "Orthodox Youth Group" and I was an Orthodox Youth. I found them silly and a bit useless, though, and eventually realized that they didn't really care about me — they were only interested in kiruvafying the kids from public school. And the chapter advisor seemed a bit too hhareidi (not that there's anything wrong with that).

During my time in Israel, I had a friend who was taking a year off from college to learn in yeshiva. He started off in one place, and then switched to Aish Hatorah. I went with him to a Friday Night dinner there (after davening at the Kotel omg as i write this the sun is rising over har habayit!), and I was very disappointed. First of all, one guy there asked me for my name, and when I told him, he was like "No, what's your real name?" I understood what he meant — I had given him my English name, and he wanted to know only my Hebrew name — so I told him it (and, like most people, it was too complicated for him; hence why I went by my easier-for-Israelis English name). Afterwards, though, I thought up some good responses I should have used, like Hey buddy, that is my real name. Just because it lacks religio-ritual significance doesn't make it any less a part of my identity. Don't make me go all Diqduq Geek on your butt with my mad cunning Linguistics skillz!

There was also a rabbi from the yeshiva there, who was running the meal. He gave a fluffy, contentless devar Tora, which I had no problems with, since after all this was a kiruv yeshiva, which needed to inspire students with little background. What I didn't accept, though, was the needless slandering of other Jewish and Semi-Jewish groups. He would just throw in nasty comments about Karaites and Reconstructionists at random times. That was so uncalled for. They should be inspiring newly-observant Jews with messages of "isn't Torah great?!" not with messages of "those heretical people suck!" Sigh. And while I am neither a Karaite or a Reconstructionist, I felt very uncomfortable sitting through his speech. I was nervous, as if I was worried he would take out a verbal stick and beat Modern Orthodoxy with it too!

And I won't even mention here my experiences with Chabad...

Ohr Somayach, on the other hand, was pretty cool.

This was neither an "in" nor an "out" Shabbos — the students davened in the yeshiva, and had kiddush and shaleshudes there, but ate outside, either with Ohr Somayach rabbis or with members of the Greater Jewish Monsey (as in parallel to "Greater Jewish Flatbush") community.

My Progressively-More-Yeshivish Friend (henceforth: MPMYF) had warned me about the weirdness of the yeshiva mínyan, but it really struck me when I was there — they had a really confusing way of singing. Instead of singing the words of prayers, for example Lekha Đoði, they would sing the tune niggun-style, without words — and then mumble the words to themselves. And the hhazan was singing the words, or something, and pausing, and I was very confused. Can anyone explain this minhag to me? Rav Bechhofer?
Speaking of which... CHECKLIST!
Friday Night, me and MPMYF ate by one of his teachers. The meal was really great, and we all (us, the teacher, and his family) discussed the parasha and played word games. In the morning, shul was once again *wierd, and there was a nice small kiddush for the students in MPMYF's program. Then me and him went to eat by some community members, who were also really nice and made really good food (bison cholent!). After the meal, we went back to the yeshiva and took Shabbos naps.

I woke up with about an hour to spare before Minhha, and MPMYF and his roommate were still asleep, so I decided to do a little exploring. A few weeks ago, when first talking about this visit, I had plugged the address of the yeshiva into one of those internet mapping programs, and found out that it's only about a mile away from where I used to live in one of the neighboring towns when I was little. So I went on a little walk. I found the street, and I found the house, but while I was standing out in front second-guessing myself as to whether I remembered the number of the house correctly, an obviously observant Jewish guy came out of the house and greeted me. So I said gutshabbos, and introduced myself, and told him that I wasn't sure which of these two houses I had lived in, but I think it was his. And guess what? It was the same guy who had bought the house from my parents all those years ago, and he recognized my name and invited me in! So I got to meet him and his family, and see what they've done with the place. And then when it was time to leave for Minhha, I found out that he was going the same place I was (back to the yeshiva) — because he teaches there, and was going to give a shaleshudes speech to the bokhrim in MPMYF's program! So we walked back together, and talked more about how his family is doing, and how my family is doing, and how Monsey has swallowed up all the neighboring villages like a giant Jewwy blob.

After Minhha, Rabbi Bechhofer complimented me on my blog receiving a haskama from the Godol Hador, and I told one of MPMYF's friends about RYGB's amazing monster chart of the philosophies of four modern (sic) Orthodox movements.

Then there was Ma‘ariv, and Havdala, and another friend who was visiting someone else there was nice enough to give me a ride back to NYC.

Oh, and contrary to MPMYF's dire predictions, nobody tried to stone me for teaching in a Conservative yeshiva high school. So there.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

From New Yarrrk to Haifarrr!

In honor of my Israeli pen-pal, who loves reading books about piratim, I wish you all a happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

What's a Jewish Pirate's favorite holiday?

What's a Jewish Pirate's favorite food?

What's a Jewish Pirate's favorite Biblical book?

Avast, ye maties — there be a fleet of bad Pirate jokes off the port bow! And a horde of untzniudikly-dressed Pirate wenches off starboard! Now let's have a grog lehhayim, cap'n!

Monday, September 19th, 2005
The 4th Annual International Talk Like A Pirate Day

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Checklist!!! Checklist!!!

(as the RenReb would say)

OrthoMom — X
Mar Gavriel
Chazarmaveth — X (my fault) »»»UPDATE»»» √*
Alan (not Scott) — √!

= have met in RL
√! = met in RL before knowing about their blog
√* = met in an unplanned situation in RL, stalker-style
√? = pretty sure met in RL, but no independent verification
√~ = communicated with by an RL medium, but no physical encounter
X = almost met in RL

Thursday, September 08, 2005

In Which Steg Teaches Tay-ra (Sorta)

For those of you as yet unaware, I came back from Israel at the beginning of the summer and got a job teaching Jewish Studies (a.k.a. Limudey Qodesh) in a Conservative Jewish high school in the New York area. Since, after all, as pointed out by my brother, everyone hires from their right-hand side. The Modern Orthodox hire Hhareidim, the Conservatives hire Orthodox, and the Reform hire Conservatives. So much for instilling your values in your children. But hey, we're all Jews, we all care about Yahadut as we see it, and my Conservative school is a good place. And I'm certainly not going to bash my school for hiring me!

Today was my first day of teaching. My first day on the job. My first day as a full-blown Jewish Edumacator. And I have only one thing to say:
Oh My God, Becky, Look At H—
Whoops, i mean...
Oh My God What A Rush!

So, there were some rough parts. That happens on the first day, especially when you're teaching 7 periods, almost straight through the whole day, of 5 separate classes. (Two of the courses meet twice on Thursday, if that makes things clearer.) And there were rowdy 9th graders (or "freshies" as we used to call them back in the day) who haven't quite realized that they're in High School now, and need to act a bit more Mature. To their credit, though, they were one of my double periods, and their behaviour improved markedly from the first period to the second. Markedly indeed, since I suspect it may have had something to do with my informing them that they get graded on participation each class period.

But overall, it was a Good Day. And tomorrow, with only one class to teach, will be (iy"H) an Easy Day. Kein yehi ratzon, venomar 'amein'. After that, the real fun/work begins. These first few days are pretty much just about getting to know the students and getting them to know what the class is about and what you expect of them. After that comes the actual Content!

Good luck to all the other teachers out there, especially my brothers and sisters in the Jewish Education world!

לא הביישן למד ולא הקפדן מלמד

(but the Goblin King still discusses his lesson plans with nobody!)

PS: If my blogging/commenting activity takes a nosedive, you can blame my jorb.