Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Hon Ika, Yo.

It may be parody, but it's the best Chanuka music I've heard this season. Yo.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

On poverty

I subscribe to a livejournal community called "Poorskills" The community gives tips on how to save money on various things, ways to do things better or more cheaply, and so although I'm not today poor, I find these skills valuable.
Today I woke up to see this post.

The poster talks about how this country has gone from at least tolerating the poor ( of course, there wouldn't have been any need for Reverend Jackson to do something like this if there hadn't been some stigma even then) to a time when something like this is seen as totally out of nowhere. And it's true - today, to do a piece like this, where someone publicly led the poor in chanting that they had inherent worth, would be pretty much unthinkable - even on Sesame Street.

What has happened to us as a nation? Even in the comments, I notice a few people talking about people gaming the system - and sure, there are people doing that, but people end up gaming the system when the system can't meet their needs. It's not great and fun to be on welfare. You don't live well, and it's not luxury. People who are lying to receive more benefits are doing it because they can't get along any other way.

And we are so judgmental about who is on welfare. But there's not way to know who is really on welfare, or who will need it. The Torah tells us that when our hands are open the poor will disappear from the land. Our hands should be open, because all of us are just a few bad days away from welfare and charity ourselves - a car accident, your health insurance refusing to pay up for a serious condition (or disenrolling you after years of honest payment, because they don't want to pay out for your condition), a job loss (which in this economy people should understand, but somehow don't seem to) a job that doesn't pay enough - there are people out there working two or three jobs and still not really making enough to pay for rent and food, let alone health care.

I wish for more generosity of heart for all of us. Not just because any of us, at anytime, could need help - indeed, that is the very premise of religion - all of us depend upon God's grace - the Torah says that when we are wealthy, we will come to believe that our comfort is the result of our hands and the work of our hands, but that we are wrong. None of us own anything, no matter how we fool ourselves.
But even if we did, those who didn't are still, all of us, God's children.

By the way, I had occasion to meet the Reverend Jackson once,and the man is just enormously tall.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yes,. Jewish

It's funny, but is it me, or is the object of the joc-slap not consistent throughout the joke?
I do like the idea that Jews of color are stepping out and not taking being an oddity or whatever anymore - it's not like there's any good reason for it; aJew is a Jew, whatever color, and Ashkenazim aren't the color that our ancestors in Egypt were, that's for sure.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When the Chickens Went on Strike

kapores Although most modern Jews have abandoned the practice of Kapores, in some parts of the community, it is still common. I'm not sure what the Masorti movement thinks it will accomplish by joining with the SPCA -Tel Aviv, ince the parts of the community that are practicing kapores aren't the parts likely to care what the masorti movement does, but all in all, it can't hurt.

In the story from which I took this post's name (an adapted tale based on the original story by Sholom Aleichem) the author in fact points out that the practice of taking a chicken (male for men, female for women) swinging it over one's head to "catch" one's sins, and then slaughtering it, is not exactly halacha ( Jewish law). And while in general one ought not to depend on fiction for accurate portrayals of Jewish law, in this case, it happens to be correct. Not only is "Where is it written?" a good response, but where it is written, the rabbis aren't too happy with it, considering it (Like many folk customs which have become embedded in Jewish practice) akin to idolatry, or at lest very improper.

And reasonably so, while it might be a midat chesed (act of mercy) to buy a chicken which one will then donate to the poor to eat (although that does raise some questions about how that came about... really? We're giving our sins to the poor to eat? Hmmm. I hear a sin eater story in here somewhere for those of us familiar with that southern custom), the problems with the ritual as a whole are numerous. For now, let's set aside the problem of tzaar ba'alei chaim - the requirement not to be cruel to animals (in this case, by packing them in itty bitty crates sitting around in the sun all day until it's time for them to be grabbed and swung around by the feet) and concentrate on the symbolism of the custom itself.

While there seems to be some kind of yearning for authenticity as played by certain elements of the Jewish community which favor dress styles not native to Israel, but rather early modern Europe, I've never been able to fathom why people attach their sentiments to these kinds of customs (including within the community, but without it as well). There's somehow a sense that it looks or feels more authentic - but how could it be? If Judaism and our peoplehood is based upon our connection to God through God's commandments, as the Torah tells us, then one couldn't possibly repent by swinging a chicken around.
I far prefer the formulation of the Talmud (Brachot 17a) (See the bottom of the post) which likens the fat that one loses during a fast to the fat offered as a sacrifice in the times when the Temple stood. That makes far more sense to me.

Most importantly, if w are repenting, we cannot hope to shed our sins elsewhere without the ful act of teshuvah that goes with it. Whether we are speaking of ourselves as individuals, our individual communities, or Israel as a whole, our own sins cannot be displaced by any symbolic act, whether we're talking about swinging a chicken or saying that the other party involved has done bad things and so they have to repent first. NO, we are responsible for the sins of ourselves, and the sins of our people. If we wish for peace, we have to act first to recognize and admit our sins; to make reparation to those whom we've harmed; to confess to God - because in doing so, we humble ourselves and take into our hearts that our acts, whether accidental or intentional, whether preemptive or retaliatory, were wrong; and then to not do it again when the opportunity presents itself.
Stop building settlements, stop demolishing homes, stop blaming others for acts over which we have agency. Goldstone isn't our enemy, and taking on against him, as the Rabbinical Assembly has just, entirely ridiculously, done, will not bring peace.
As long as we treat acts for which we need to repent as thought they were public relations bloopers which can be addressed if we only change our spin, there will not be kaparah, atonement, no matter how long we fast on Yom Kippur, no matter how many chickens we swing. We have to do the work ourselves.

(From the Yom Kippur Haftarah Isaiah 58:2-7)
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 "Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?"
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

When R. Shesheth kept a fast, on concluding his prayer he added the following: Sovereign of the Universe, Thou knowest full well that in the time when the Temple was standing, if a man sinned he used to bring a sacrifice, and though all that was offered of it was its fat and blood, atonement was made for him therewith. Now I have kept a fast and my fat and blood have diminished. May it be Thy will to account my fat and blood which have been diminished as if I had offered them before Thee on the altar, and do Thou favour me.. (Brachot 17a)


Thursday, September 17, 2009

10 Ten Weirdest Muppet Shows of all time

I had forgotten what a great show it really was...I don't even remember these, but there's just as many not mentioned here... and really, weren't Statler and Waldorf the best part of the show?

In the spirit of the season

I apologize for being such a slacker this past year in posting. (New job and all that- not an excuse, but still).

Still, this morning I find myself with an embarrassment of riches, which I will try to cover over the next few days.

Today's topic: a terrific post reflecting on tshuvah, and using the teachable moments recently offered us in public by politicians sports figures and musicians for how not to apologize.

I've noticed, myself, the spreading plague of people who "apologize" if I have hurt your feelings, implying that it is the victim who is oversensitive to a rather minor slight, or worse yet, implying that they have done nothing wrong at all, and the victim is to blame.
I actually blame the politicians for this one - the non-apology! It all started as a way for them to seem to apologize without actually taking responsibility for what was done wrong.

I would like to note that this is not really an apology.

In Judaism, we say that tshuvah has a number of steps:
First acknowledge that one has done wrong. This is not a qualification met by "if I have done x," or "if I have hurt you"
The next step is to make amends Again: one cannot get to this steps without first acknowledging the wrong. But should one manage to eke out a sense that one is responsible for a particular wrong behavior - or more often a slough of them, which include not only the wrong itself, but others' feelings about it, then one is not off the hook until one has cleaned up the mess created. This may mean raising money to clean up that oil spill without cutting all one's employees' salaries while giving oneself a bonus.

After all that, you also have to be committed to a new course of action - that means, when the opportunity presents itself again - DON'T TAKE IT. And by the way, that also means, for example, don't do other things that are slightly different, or that are kinds of different. Or that have a different character, but are essentially the same in meaning. You get my drift here?

Then, once one has made amends to others, and genuinely turned away from the old path, one may (then and only then) make confession to God. Yes, you have to acknowledge your responsibility twice. All those preachers down on their knees letting us know that God forgave them for being caught en flagrante with male prostitutes - sorry - that's not the first step. I don't know how you worked it out with your wives, but I would bet it would be a good first step to also apologize to all those "homoSEXuals" you're always sending to hell in a handbasket.

The word Tshuvah doens't really mean "repentance," but "return." "Return" means that rather than saying one is sorry and moving on to the next wretched remark, one has to realize that one has walked way off the right path, turn around and walk all the way back. It is insufficient to apologize and move on, becasue usually, the things that we do wrong are not single mistakes in an otherwise unblemished life. No, we humans are creatures of pattern and habit, and that eans those mistakes that we make aren't just about a one-ff. THey are usually part of a larger pattern of behavior which we need to observe and reform. That is one of the reasons why Judaism is based on laws - halakha- not feelings: tzedaka, not caritas, for example-
psychology confirms what the rabbis have been telling us for centuries: peoples' behavior is not driven by rational choice making, but rather by impulses often driven by habit, which are then after the fact justified. Which means that more important than good intentions are good habits, good patterns.

BUt there's one more thing to add here. Sometimes one really does do wrong by accident, or by mistake. In our society today, we often try to emphasize intent and show tht our action was not intended to do harm - that is, in part, the origin of the non-apology. BUt in Judaism, accidents, too require tshuvah - how do we know this? In the Torah, sacrifices are offered for unintentional sins, moreover, check your high holiday liturgy - you may notice that accidental sins are listed there too. In our society, that is counter-intuitive - if it's an accident, why do we have to say sorry? BUt accidents too, are often not done in a vacuum - they, too, often result from patterns of behavior that result in outcomes that - while we may not have intended them- are inevitable, and results of our actions.
You may not have intended to fall off the roof and land on someone and kill them- but why were you up on a roof without safeguards? Do you tend to behave in risky ways? YOu didn't intend to get drunk again? Well, why were you hanging out with your drinking buddies and depending on them for a ride?

So, I say to all non-apologizers - cut it out! You too, must do full tshuvah. yes, it's not easy, but take some responsibility. And when I say "you," I mean "me, too."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Monday, September 07, 2009

Warning signs

Jack over at his shack posted this pretty recently, but I can't help but share it... This is just mind-boggling. Are there really men out there who are this er, self-confident and yet simultaneously completely unaware of what blathering fools they are?
I've dated a few unpleasant guys, but when they give off the "I'm an a******" signals before they even get you to agree to the first date, that's impressive.

DO listen through to the second voicemail. It is in a class by itself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There Shall Be No Hoarding

I admit it. The reason I haven't posted up until now on the amazing new book by Rabbi Jill Jacobs is only partly because I've been reading it slowly. Really, a big part of it is that books this good just don't come around all that often, and I'm feeling kind of 1st gradish about sharing. But we all have to grow up sometime. Or at least, if we don't someone will come along and make us share our toys. Ahem.

SO, Rabbi Jill Jacobs wrote, There Shall Be No Needy: Pursuing Social Justice through Jewish Law and Tradition for all of us. Framed by a foreword from the utterly menschlikh gadol Rabbi Elliot Dorff, and prefaced by Simon Greer, Jacobs wrote the book during her tenure at Jewish Funds for Justice as rabbi-in-residence.

Grounded deeply in Jewish text, Rabbi Jacobs begins with her own journey to understanding how Jewish canonical texts are actually far more deeply invested with the everyday experience of poverty and need than most of us will (God willing) ever be, and how allowing the midrash, the talmud and other of our classical works to really enter us, not as something which we read for fun or education just because they're important texts, but to really become doors to a perception of God and our fellow human, can cause us to be transformed through those texts, in the way that the rabbis meant us to be.

While she does this, Rabbi Jacobs also takes on the imprecise... well, let's be honest, the complete meltdown of "Jewish" terms such as "Tikkun Olam," "Tzedek" (as in the ubiquitous, and so therefore now nearly empty, verse "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof," the favored phrase of Jewish organizations that don't know -or at least can't be bothered to find- any other text, no matter what the topic under discussion) and "Prophetic Judaism" into the utterly meaningless and restores them to a Jewish and more faithful context (And can I say, thank you thank you thank you).

This isn't to say the book is completely without flaw. Like the tradition of leaving in tiny flaws to prove that a human creation cannot be perfect, there are some minor quibbles I have here and there. Primarily, I think that Rabbi Jacobs occasionally slides between "we can say that..." and the assumption of the supposition. Or that there doesn't seem to be much room for the individual and national relationship/ communion with the divine in any context other than social justice. But these are minor quibbles in a book so terrific, that I will be buying it for all my friends. How can I make any complaints about someone who at least implicitly supports my observance that, while everybody loves Hillel, it is Shammai who in his grumpy stringency, is actually the one who is more concerned for the disempowered and helpless (p. 32).

Rabbi Jacobs' book also includes an excellent, concise introduction to the canonical texts, meaning that even the beginner can make sense of what Rabbi Jacobs writes, and I hope, that reading her work, will come to see that Judaism and social justice cannot be untangled from Judaism and Jewish law - that the system is a holistic one, and that Judaism does indeed give us a mission.

As Jacobs herself states in the conclusion, wrapping up her fine book with a brief codicil about Judaism in the public sphere, ""What is a real public discussion about how Jewish law and tradition might address contemporary policy questions... when Jews engage in the public discourse as Jews, we should bring Jewish law and principles into the conversation in such a way as to enrich... discourse...The commitment to living our Judaism publicly should then push us to take public action on these principles, both as individuals and as a community... We will witness the emergence of a Judaism that views ritual observance, study and engagement in the world as an integrated whole, rather than as separate and distinct practices."

As God and the rabbis meant it to be.

xp Jewschool

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Future of Marriage

IN light of the recent upholding of Prop 8, I offer a few tidbits about marriage... first of all, a very interesting piece from the Cato Institute in which the author points out that historically marriage was more about land and property than love, that marriage gave little protection to most of the people engaged in the family - i.e. only men really got any benefit from it - women and children were essentially property dependent upon the good will of the patriarch- and that the idea of marrying for love appalled many people when that newfangled idea began to be more common.
In the 1970's even more changes began to take place -and major destabilization in marriage took place - divorce increased as people struggled to make marriage more equitable for all involved - a process we still have not yet completed even for those of us theoretically allowed government privileges associated with marriage.
But her main point is that marriage is no longer the only option for people - more people are delaying - or avoiding marriage altogether. Sexual initiation is no longer linked -for the majority of people, including religious ones- with marriage.
And marriage itself has changed:

Marriages used to depend upon a clear division of labor and authority, and couples who rejected those rules had less stable marriages than those who abided by them. In the 1950s, a woman’s best bet for a lasting marriage was to marry a man who believed firmly in the male breadwinner ideal. Women who wanted a “MRS degree” were often advised to avoid the “bachelor’s” degree, since as late as 1967 men told pollsters they valued a woman’s cooking and housekeeping skills above her intelligence or education. Women who hadn’t married by age 25 were less likely to ever marry than their more traditional counterparts, and studies in the 1960s suggested that if they did marry at an older age than average they were more likely to divorce. When a wife took a job outside the home, this raised the risk of marital dissolution.

All that has changed today. Today, men rank intelligence and education way above cooking and housekeeping as a desirable trait in a partner. A recent study by Paul Amato et al. found that the chance of divorce recedes with each year that a woman postpones marriage, with the least divorce-prone marriages being those where the couples got married at age 35 or higher. Educated and high-earning women are now less likely to divorce than other women. When a wife takes a job today, it works to stabilize the marriage. Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not, according to sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke. And the Amato study found that husbands and wives who hold egalitarian views about gender have higher marital quality and fewer marital problems than couples who cling to more traditional views.

And this brings me back to prop 8. It is ridiculous at this time, to worry about marriage changing. It has changed, it has been changing for hundreds of years now, and perhaps it never really was a static system -it would be surprising if it were - nothing else has been.

Gay marriage will come because marriage is no longer really about just having children, or getting enough to eat because certain persons don't get paid for their labor, or even about building relationship with other family groups - we can do all of these things without marriage.
I come from a tradition that recognizes that marriage is companionate, but the truthis that marriage is not a finished product. There will continue to be changes - and it may be that while I speak of marriage in terms of sanctified companionship andthe raising of a family, there probably will be other ways to understand marriage, ones that I haven't thought of yet. Maybe I'll like them, maybe not, butthey're coming. And we can't stop them. Thank God for that.

And on that note, some good news

oh, yeah, and:

Learning to read?

Yahoo answers posts a heartening question from a student asking whether it's okay to do something "illegal." - She is, actually running an illegal lending library out of her locker at school. And this is where it gets interesting. Apparently she goes to a Catholic school which has banned a whole host of books that portray the Catholic church in some negative manner.
The girl was "appalled" to learn that many many classics appeared on the list. She provides a partial list which includes things like

The Perks of Being a Wallflower
His Dark Materials trilogy
The Canterbury Tales
The Divine Comedy
Paradise Lost
The Godfather
Interview with the Vampire
The Hunger Games
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Animal Farm
The Witches
Shade's Children
The Evolution of Man
the Holy Qu'ran
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Lord of the Flies
Bridge to Terabithia
East of Eden
The Brothers Grimm Unabridged Fairytales.

She notes that Twilight was also on the list, but she didn't want to pollute her library. She writes, "Anyway, I now operate a little mini-library that no one has access to but myself. Practically a real library, because I keep an inventory log and give people due dates and everything. I would be in so much trouble if I got caught, but I think it's the right thing to do because before I started, almost no kid at school but myself took an active interest in reading! Now not only are all the kids reading the banned books, but go out of their way to read anything they can get their hands on. So I'm doing a good thing, right? Oh, and since you're probably wondering "Why can't you just go to a local library and check out the books?" most of the kids are too chicken or their parents won't let them but the books. "

So this dear girl is
learning about disobeying unjust laws
exposing her fellow students to literature
developing some great organizational skills.

Girl, you rock. Carry on.

Hattip neatorama

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Oseh Ma'asei Beresheit

On my way to lead the sium bechorim (study session for those fasting prior to Pesach because they are first born, in order that they can eat today) which was to be (and was) preceded by our communal blessing of the Creator on the day when the sun moves to its original position when God created it (this only happens once every 28 years), I was pondering the maasei beresheit.

Normally, throughout the year, I miss living in Southern California. Maryland's weather, although it's not as extreme as some places, just doens't compare.
The one thing that does really make up in some way for it is spring. While lots of temperate climes have nice springtimes, the DC area has one thing that really stands out: the cherry blossoms. While these blossoms are relatively fragile, and don't usually last long, they are lovely, and they are, in this area, planted extravagantly all over the place.
Normally my preference in flora is useful plants: herbs, vegetables, fruit, and then secondarily scented flowers. For example, I'm not clear about what the difference is between southern magnolias (I think Magnolia magnolia) that bloom later in the summer and the pink ones that also grow here (I think magnolia yuliana, but I could be wrong) other than the fact that the pink ones have no scent, and drop their petals everywhere after blooming where they get slimy very quickly, but I just don't care for the pink ones. To me, they're fakers, because they don't have that wonderful smell.
Flowers that have had the scent bred out of them in favor of more perfect petals or colors are -to me- ridiculous (roses without any scent? Why? Carnations that smell like plastic? Ick).
But I nevertheless have an appreciation of cherry blossoms. Perhaps it's their bravery - like the shekdia, that blooms first, around Tu Bishvat in Israel, cherry blossoms peek their heads out early - and almost always a little too early really. It's still windy and cold here, and some years, the blossoms only last a few days.

I also appreciate the variety -some bloom a week later, some a little earlier, some are weeping, some straight, there are some variation in color, and together it's a bit like pink snow in some of our neighborhoods by this time of year.
And then of course, the other trees decide if the cherry blossoms can do it, they can too, and the pears and apples and crabapples start to bloom - and while the pear blosoms don't smell good, the crabapples do, and all of them together fill up the streets with masses and masses of blossoms.

It almost makes it worth living here. Or at least visiting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Today's theme: music that makes me happy

Hi all,
I know you've been wondering what's happened to me - I suppose the answer is just regular life. Job has taken over. Nevertheless, I once again am hoping to get more on track and start posting again.

For today, I begin with a musical interlude - first: who knew that Chinese instruments were so amenable to the wonderful sounds of - bluegrass?

And this is just pure fun and weirdness:

ht to boingboing