Friday, March 30, 2007

מְהָרְסַיִךְ וּמַחֲרִיבַיִךְ מִמֵּךְ יֵצֵאוּ؟؟

You have GOT to be kidding me.

One particular section of Greg at Presence's summary of R' Yitzchok Adlerstein's Scholar-in-Residence Shabbos jumped out at me:
R. Adlerstein closed by answering questions. I asked how the rabbonim in Israel, who themselves speak either Yiddish or Hebrew, and little English, became aware of a book [=R' Slifkin's] written in English. R. Adlerstein acknowledged that the rabbis banning the book did not read it, and that this was not an issue that was at all pertinent to their communities. What happened was that two overzealous YU guys read Slifkin's work and started shopping it around in an effort to get it banned. After failing to get any traction in Monsey and Lakewood, they took it to B'nei Brak and Israel and finally found someone that would listen to them.

רחמנא ליצלן מנפשנא.

Okay, so I heard a while ago that there are lots of wannabe Yeshivish guys at YU, and a whole bunch of rebbeim who don't actually believe in Torah uMada‘, Torah ‘im Derekh Eretz, or any other Modern Orthodox ideology. But to think that right there at the supposed heart of the Modern Orthodox world there are people who are so anti-worldly, so vindictive, so ignorant of Jewish tradition that they would literally 'shop around' from Hhareidi community to Hhareidi community trying to ruin a man's life and precipitate the Great Orthodox Schism of the 21st Century?!

There's got to be a break someplace in the telephone chain here.

I can't believe this.

And I really hope I'm right.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Something's Fishy (Or Should Be)

כִּי הֶעֱלִתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם
וּמִבֵּית עֲבָדִים פְּדִיתִיךָ
וָאֶשְׁלַח לְפָנֶיךָ


תרי־עשר מיכה ו:ד

A Miriam Fish on the Seder Plate?

Read all about it!

This Wikipedia article claims to be able to identify which food represents which prophet, but I'm not sure I trust it.

belated hat-tip: Thanbo

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

More Matza Symbolism

On Monday night I went to a lecture at Yeshibat Hhobebei Torah (sorry guys, for some reason your name always comes out in a syrian accent). It was about understanding the story of Yetzi’at Mitzrayim (the Outgoing from Egypt) and the obligations of Pesahh in general and the Seider in particular according to paradigms of personal spiritual, personal physical, national spiritual, and national physical redemption.

The lecture involved the Four Terms of Redemptionvehotzeití... vehitzaltí... vega’altí... velaqahhtí... (and maybe veheiveití...), the Four Cups of Wine, the Three Obligatorily-Mentioned Objects, and the Five Prohibitions on Hhameitz.

There was a lot there, and I'm not going to put it all up here now, even if I can recall it all. Hopefully they'll upload a recording soon, if one was made.

One particular point I noticed was one view of the symbolism of matza — or more accurately, the symbolism of anti-matza, a.k.a hhameitz bread.

Matza was the food of slaves. Fast to produce, easy to make, low on taste and dense on [somewhat weak] nutrition. So if matza is the food of slaves, what did the slavemasters eat? 'Regular' leavened bread, of course! So on Pesahh, as we relive the slavery and salvation of our ancestors in Egypt, we also reject hhameitz as the symbol of the decadent, immoral and abusive society that murdered and oppressed us there.


And here's another alternate read of the matza~hhameitz contrast, from last year (well technically two years ago).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Quit-niyot? Barukh Hamaqom!

‘Arutz Sheva‘ has an article about how the rabbis of Machon Shilo, an organization dedicated to creating and re-creating a unified Israel-centered Halakha, declared that qitniyot are no longer forbidden on Passover for those [mostly Ashkenazic] communities which have considered them so for the past thousand years or so.

Now, I don't really care much about qitniyot. Like the Rav Without A Cause, I don't feel oppressed by my lack of rice on Pesahh. The ever-expanding list of qitniyot, on the other hand, is a bit annoying. Take quinoa (which I made for this past Shabbos), for instance. Luckily, my family has a tradition to not refrain from qitniyot-based oil...

ANYWAY, what I'm really interested in in this article isn't the issue of qitniyot, but this quote:
Rabbi Avigdor Nebenzahl, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem’s Old City, also said that it is forbidden for Ashkenazi Jews to eat Kitniyot. He took issue with the assertion that the minhag hamakom (local custom) in Israel is to eat Kitniyot. “The Land of Israel belongs to all of the Jewish people and not just Sepharadi Jews,” he said. “There are many customs and there is no minhag hamakom that prevails in Israel.”
If that's the case, why do people go around saying that it's prohibited to put on tefillin on Hhol Hamo‘eid in Israel? Why do the Israeli siddurim claim that one may not use special blessing-ending formulas such as ‘oseh hashalom on ‘Aseret Yemey Teshuva, or she’otekha levadekha beyir’a na‘avod before Birkat Kohanim?

This is an issue that bothered me greatly during my years in yeshiva in Yerushalayim, and which still bother me. As R' Nebenzahl said — Israel belongs to ALL of the Jewish people. Especially when it comes to ancient minhagim of the ‘Eidot Hatzafon, which originally came from the customs of the Talmudic centers in The Land — how dare anyone say that we can't bring them back Home?!

Friday, March 23, 2007

"It's a Process of Rehumanization"

The Rehumanization theory of Aveilut
(according to my brother)

First, let's review the stages of mourning:

stage #0: Aninut
Between the death and the burial, the mourners are released from all halakhic obligations aside from taking care of burial of the deceased.

stage #1: Shiv‘a
After the burial, the mourners go home and sit on low chairs, don't go to work, and among other things, cover up all mirrors in the house.

stage #2: Sheloshim
After getting up from shiva, one can go back to work, use mirrors, and sit on normal chairs, but (once again, among other restrictions) not get a haircut, trim or shave.

stage #3: Yud-Bet Hhodesh
After the first 30 days are up, some of the communal celebration restrictions are lifted, as well as the prohibition on cutting hair.

So, according to my brother, what's going on here is a process of rehumanization. At first, you don't exist at all — with no mirrors in the house, you can't quite see yourself. There's no mē videō, ergo sum; no 'seeing is believing' proof to your own existence. After shiva, you exist; you remove the cloths from the mirrors and can once again see yourself. You exist, but you "let yourself go" by not grooming yourself. Mourning blocks you from re-embracing social norms of proper appearance until shloshim is over. At that point, you can once again groom yourself, but you can't participate in the "upsides" of social life. It takes until the rest of the first year has passed to once again be a full member of human civilization.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

More Thoughts About Kaddish Styles

As I mentioned before, the shul I usually go to maintains the old Ashkenazic custom of having only one person say Qaddish at a time. Possibly because of this, they include an extra mizmor of Tehillim after Shahhris in the morning, and three extra ones after Ma‘ariv at night, so that more people have an opportunity to say Kaddish before, after, or in between each 'reading'.

Most other synagogues, on the other hand, follow the originally Sefardic custom of everyone who needs to or wants to saying Caddish all at the same time.

So far, as expected, I've come to the conclusion that I prefer the Old Ashkenazic custom. Especially with the traditional Western Ashkenazic tune they use for Qaddish at the Yekke shul, and the one person going up in front next to the sheliahh tzibur (or ohrer-forrer as Lipman, MarGavriel, and I sometimes say) and calling out the call-and-response prayer loud and clear. It's fairly dramatic. It's how I imagine the 'original kaddish' was — an unambiguous declaration of praise and awe for God. Even now, after for hundreds of years since it first became associated with death and mourning, becoming seen as a mourner's prayer, or prayer for the dead, in this setting I really feel its striking declaration — [even when life sucks,] God is great; [even when life sucks,] I will praise the Creator, though even all the songs in the world could never come close to truly and accurately describing God.

Compared to that, mumbling haltingly in unison is nothing but melancholy. It breaks the flow of the service. It stops and starts in fits and jumps. It polyphonically rumbles, each mourner lost in their own paticular grief, moving to their own pace. This isn't a negative statement I'm making; I appreciate the melancholy, although I prefer the dramatic. The dramatic is showy; the melancholy is personal. It makes you stop what you're doing. If the Dramatic-style Qaddish is shouting from mountaintops, Melancholy-style Caddish is a meditative pause in the mud at the side of a creek. It lacks tune. It lacks passion. It rips away all the dramatic, artistic, self-conscious trappings of communal prayer, and leaves you alone with your loss and your self.

Dramatic Kaddish makes me feel like I'm doing something for my father.

Melancholy Kaddish drops his memory on my chest like a megalithic cairn.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Steg=Mashiahh? No, Not Quite...

Once upon a time, I stole the idea of videoblogging from Rabbi Josh Waxman. Now I'm copying his "Fun With Moshiach Crosswords" posts. Maybe putting our names into these boxes and seeing what can come up will become a full-blown 'meme'.

















According to this chart, Steg (שְׂטֶעג) is associated with עייט (eagle) and טייע (traveler/trader). Does this mean I should leave hhinukh and take up eaglemongering?

















And in English, it seems to predict that at some point STEG GETS to EDIT the TIDE. Woohoo! That's much better than being mashiahh. Unless it means that I am the mashiahh, in a the earth will be full of the knowledge of God as waters cover the sea kind of way...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Great Miracle Happened There [in Egypt]

I have a little matza
I made it out of wheat
And when it's dry and crunchy
A matza I will eat
Oh matza matza matza
I made it out of wheat
And when it's dry and crunchy
A matza I will eat...

Unless, of course, it's SOFT MATZA from Brooklyn!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

(About) 30 Days Before

Shulhhan ‘Arukh « Orahh Hhayim « siman 471 « se‘if 1-2 —
It is forbidden to eat [seemingly unleavened] bread from the 10th hour and onwards [the afternoon before Pesahh], in order to eat matza [at the seder] with an appetite... And before the 10th hour it is permitted to eat 'rich' matza. [R' Moshe Isserliss] comments: But it is prohibited to eat the matza with which we fulfill our obligations at [the seder] night the entire day of the 14th [of Nisan]... And there are those who have the custom not to eat bitter lettuce on ‘Erev Pesahh, in order to eat the bitter herb with an appetite(?!). And so the first day of Pesahh, as well, to eat it on the second night with an appetite, and some have the custom to decrease the amount of matza eaten the first day for that reason as well. And there are those who are even stricter, not eating fruits, in order to eat the hharoset with an appetitebut there's no reason to pay attention to that custom (because he thinks it's absurd?).

What if it's my family's custom not to eat anything on ‘Erev Pesahh that will be eaten at the Seder, whether it's matza, maror, hharoset, or a random mundane food from the meal?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Abdicating Responsibility

I'm a fairly independent person. Although I generally respect societal structures and communal norms, and show deference to people who have earned the respect of their peers, it's not like I go around asking other people to tell me what to do all the time.

Especially when it comes to Halakha. I hardly ever ask shailas. I prefer to research questions and issues myself, and to make my own decisions based on the sources.

When it comes to this whole aveilut (mourning) thing, though, I can't do it. I didn't have the time I thought I would to research how aveilut works before it pounced on me. And I don't trust myself to navigate its incredibly complicated webs of law and custom. I don't have the skillz. I don't have the resources. And I certainly don't have the objectivity.

I lean leniently on one issue, and I'm in danger of guilty feelings. Am I disrespecting my father by 'trying to get out of it'? Am I trying to bend the system and escape instead of experiencing shiv‘a (first week), sheloshim (first 30 days), and yud-bet hhodesh (first 12 months) as they're meant to be?

On the other hand, leaning strictly has its own dangers — going too far; wallowing in negative emotions; taking that which is permitted and stigmatizing it as forbidden. Ruling leniently could make me feel guilty... but what if feeling guilty is the reason I end up ruling strictly, instead? Making halakhic decisions according to the buffeting winds of emotion doesn't sound like such a safe path to take.

And so I decided that when it comes to this area of life, this realm of Jewish law, custom and tradition, I am abdicating my responsibility for making my own decisions. There's too much room here for irrationality, remorse and second-guessing. Let someone else deal with it. I found a rabbi that I have some manner of connection with, and already when I was an onein during the day-and-a-half before my father's burial started asking him all my aveilut questions.

It's all much easier this way; he just tells me what to do (or more often, not do) and I follow the pesaq. I'm just worried that I'm bothering him with too many questions all at once. I can't imagine what it must be like in communities where they ask their rabbis for "da‘as torah" on every single move they make.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Sitting Low

An Aveilus GeMa"Hh organization called 'Misaskim' was kind enough to drop off siddurim, books on the laws and customs of mourning, and low shiva chairs by my uncle's place. Interestingly enough, some time on my way either from my parents' apartment to drop off one of my father's taleisim at the hhevra qadisha, or from the hhevra qadisha to my uncle's house the night before the funeral, I saw a van belonging to Misaskim, and wondered what it is they do. Now I know.

This is what the shiva chairs looked like:
(with a regular chair for comparison)

They sawed off the bottoms of the legs of plastic lawn chairs.

Is it just me, or does this seem like too much? I remember the days of cardboard boxes and milk crates. What happened to the stools? I felt way too comfortable lounging around and leaning back in my big plastic chair with armrests(!) when I felt like I should be sitting on a small wooden stool with no back, or a milk crate whose plastic mesh hurts your butt. Maybe we should've just gone back to sitting directly on the floor.