Thursday, June 01, 2006

Hiatus

This is a heads up that the blog will be on hiatus until after I finish taking the bar and return from my post-bar vacation in mid-August. I just can't study for the bar and be a good wife and write stuff for my blog.

Have a happy Shavuot! I forgot to count the omer last night, so I guess I made it to 47 days. Not too bad for a first timer. I hope. :-)

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Yay for me.

I graduated! I'm officially a lawyer...albeit one who cannot practice in my state, but a lawyer nonetheless.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

When Will My Status as a Ba'alat Teshuva End?

This is something I have been wondering about. Rabbi Mordechai Y. Scher of Beyond BT has an interesting answer.
In this view, the individual and generation must do their cheshbon nefesh and measure themselves against Hashem’s Torah; but there is no need to worry about indicators of having ‘made it’. Everyone, all of creation, are working on the process of t’shuvah. The concern for the individual isn’t so much accomplishment and integration, as it is growth and contribution.

I think that throughout observant Jewry, talmidei chachamim (Torah scholars) and their wives are universally seen as role models to emulate. This is absolutely as it should be. But a vision of t’shuvah that calls for real, practical, national development and refinement requires other contributions as well. If all the tools of a culture must be brought to bear on the task of t’shuvah, then one can be making a fine and important contribution in the army, in the professions, in the trades, even in government or diplomacy. This is probably why I and my chevra didn’t feel this pressure or stress over ‘integrating’. We already were integrated just by virtue of participating and contributing.

Signs of Frumness

Last Sunday my family had a picnic at the beach to celebrate Mother's Day. I forgot to put sunscreen on and now my skin is burned in three places: from my feet to my calves, from my hands to mid forearm, and my face and neck to my collar bone. It's sort of a Jewish version of a Farmer's tan. ;-)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

White Wine for Shabbat Kiddush

After my gleeful realization that my brother is coming for Shabbos tomorrow, I started rumaging around my apartment, making sure I had enough of everything. My brother is bringing the challahs, which is good, because I forgot to special order the small ones I like (my husband and I can never eat all of the big challahs). Then I start to check out the wine situation and realize that I only have white wine. I wonder to myself, can you use white wine for kiddush? No one in my family has ever used white wine for kiddush. Even though most of my family is not observant, we always used either kosher red wine or grape juice. I don't want to trek down to the wine store (which interestingly has a large selection of kosher wines) so I put "white wine for kiddush" and the word 'Shabbat' into google and this is the first result:
The gemara (Bava Batra 97a-b) says that wine for Kiddush must be fit for nesachim (libations). The ensuing discussion on applying that rule appears to reveal that grape juice and white wine are marginally fit for nesachim and fine for Kiddush. However, the gemara concludes by bringing a pasuk (Mishlei 23:31) that indicates that wine is classically red. In order to deal with the apparent contradiction, the Ramban (ad loc.) distinguishes between red wine with a tint of white (apparently, rose), which is kosher, and pure white, which is not. The Yerushalmi (Shekalim 3:2) implies that it is proper to use red wine, but that other wine can be used as well.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 272:4) brings two opinions and writes that the custom is according to the more lenient opinion that permits the use of white wine for Kiddush. The Mishna Berura states (272:12) that if the white wine is very white and red wine is available, the red wine is preferable, in deference to the Ramban’s position. If one does not have red wine available or if the red wine is of a significantly inferior quality, one can use the white wine without compunction (ibid.). There are many opinions that, during the day, one may use anything which is categorized as chamar medina (whose exact definition we don’t have room to discuss here), and this includes all types of wine (Shulchan Aruch ibid.:9). Therefore, if one who has red and white wine of similar quality, it is preferable to do one of the following. 1) One can choose the red wine for the night and the white wine for the day. 2) Drinking wine is (if done in moderation) a positive part of the festive meals of Shabbat and Yom Tov (Shulchan Aruch, OC 250:2). Therefore, it is perfectly normal to make Kiddush on red wine and enjoy some white wine during the course of the meal. (We respect those who feel that, for educational reasons, they do not want their children to see them drinking wine beyond the minimum required by halacha. There are different, valid educational approaches on this and other issues.)

If a guest brings white wine as a gift and might be insulted if it is not used for Kiddush, this is reason enough to use it.


Huh. Go figure. It look like it might be okay. Since I think it is probably not a good idea to rely on a website I've never heard of before (although it looks legit) I think I'll ask my Rabbi at shul tomorrow night and pick up some grape juice just in case he says not to use white wine.

Shabbos Candle Lighting Times

So, I just got an email from Hebcal letting me know that I should light my Shabbos candles at 7:26pm tomorrow night. My first thought: Hmm, 26 is my lucky number, that must mean that tomorrow is going to be a good Shabbos. Then I remembered that my brother is coming over for Shabbos dinner and going to shul with me. Good Shabbos indeed. :-)

Monday, May 08, 2006

In Defense of Stage Direction-Free Prayer

I came across an interesting post at Jewschool which sort of dovetails with my post about my cousin's Bar Mitzvah.
Jews are leaving liberal Judaism because they are tired of being preached at, sung to, undereducated, underestimated, and treated like they have no potential for spiritual or technical growth in prayer. Modern Jews are also hungry for authentic and compelling prayer experiences. A new approach to tefilah that includes reducing or eliminating stage directions in favor of some focused praying and some good educational efforts might— in some communities— help stem the tide.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Thought on Blogs

It occured to me when I pushed the "Publish Post" button of my last post that I was consciously talking to the people who might read my blog as opposed to writing down my own thoughts for my own purposes. I started this blog because I wanted to write down my thoughts from the begining of my attempts to be observant because I thought it would be interesting to see how much I had changed (or how much I had stayed the same) in six months or a year or five years. I was writing for myself, not for an audience. But maybe that's not quite right, maybe I wasn't being honest with myself. If I only wanted to keep a journal for myself, then why blog, why not just save the entries on my hard drive? Is it self absorbed to think that others would want to read my journal entries? Is it weird to want others to read my journal? Is it voyeristic to read other people's personal blogs? Why do I want to put private parts of my life out on the internet for everyone to read and yet not tell my readers who I am? Thats a really weird thing to do when you think about it. "I'll share my personal failings and greatest successes with you, but I don't want you to recognize me if you pass me on the street or happen to sit next to me in shul."

I don't know what it is, but it strikes me that there is something very odd behind the thinking of an anonymous blogger, myself most definitely included. Obviously I have some sort of desire to share my life with other Jews, to seek their encouragement and advice and approval. But I don't want you to know who I am in case you think I have said something stupid or you disagree with something I've done. That's rather sad. Basically I am willing to admit to my most private personal failings so long as I don't have to suffer the consequences of public knowledge of my failings in my "real life." But the logical extension of that thought is that by admitting to things here that are probably not unique--many people have probably done what I have done and felt as I have felt--I am assuming that if my real identity was known I would suffer. That people would judge me negatively if they knew that I wasn't perfect. My thinking is so obviously bizarre that I am embarassed to admit to it even if I am anonymous. None of us are perfect. And yet, I don't think I am the only one who tries to present a perfect facade in real life, never admitting my fears and personal failings. Maybe that is the real role of the blog: a way to get everything off my chest in a totally safe way without risking anyone in my real life thinking less of me. ::laughing:: This blog is a crutch to allow me to pretend to be perfect in real life. Weird.

The Committed Marriage

I'm reading Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis's book The Committed Marriage. It's well-written and thoughtful and...inspiring. I have a built in distaste for "self-help" books, so I admit I started reading the book with skepticism. In fact, if it hadn't been in the Jewish section, I would have never even seen it in the book store because my usual route through the bookstore takes me through all of my favorite sections (cookbooks, fiction, current events, magazines, history, biographies, art books, legal books, Jewish books) and purposely avoids the babysitter's club section, the new age section and most importantly, the self-help section. It's not that I don't think it possible to learn anything from a book that might help someone make positive changes in their life, it's just that I am tired of all the fads and gimmics. There is only one way to lose weight: eat less and exercise more. If you married a shmuck, you can't read a book about men and fix everything.

Anyway, I digress. I highly recommend the book if for no other reason than that the sureness Rebbetzin Jungreis has that the Torah way is the right way is inspiring and reassuring.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Thought(s) on My Cousin's Bar Mitzvah

It was the most meaningless Shabbat service I have ever attended. And I think it was meaningless for all who attended, not just those of us that usually daven at Orthodox shuls (which, as far as I know, included me, my husband and my uncle).

(1) The cantor (chazzan) sang all the prayers at a note that the vast majority of the congregation couldn't reach, which caused most people to just listen to her (yes "her," there was a lot of estrogen on the bima) instead of praying. My uncle leaned over to me and asked if he was supposed to clap after she was finished singing. I felt like I was at a musical, not praying.

(2) Not only was there a piano, there was a drum. The sort of drum that you pound with your open palm. The instruments added to the musical-not-worship atmosphere. At one point, when the drum was going full force, I thought some of the congregants were going to jump up and do a lap of the conga around the shul.

(3) I get the reason behind praying in English. And it's totally okay with me that some people pray in English. I am sure G-d understands people in whatever language they are capable of praying in. But the congregation recited the English prayers in a dull monotone, like zombies who were bored out of their minds. I doubt one person in the shul was contemplating the meaning of the words that they were saying nor felt any of them in their heart. What's the point of praying in English if people aren't going to concentrate on the meaning behind the words? They might as well pray in Hebrew so that everyone at least memorizes the Hebrew and then can pray in any shul in the world. Not that anyone there would ever seek out a shul while in a foreign country. All the people there only showed up to celebrate the bar mitzvah. There wasn't a single person there because it was their regular habit to daven on Saturday mornings (other than the three previously mentioned people who usually daven at an Orthodox shul).

(4) On multiple occasions the prayers inlcuded words that most of the congregation doesn't believe to be true or the Rabbi said things that she doesn't believe nor did any of the congregation believe. For example, the Rabbi, the father of the bar mitzvah and the bar mitzvah boy himself mentioned that becoming bar mitzvah means that one is now responsible for all 613 mitzvot. Why in the world they said such a thing is beyond me. These are all people who drove to shul that morning, who never keep kosher, who hired a videographer to tape the service, who are nowhere near shomer shabbos, etc. Every single one of them, if asked, would have told you that they don't think the Torah came directly from G-d and that the commandments contained within it are not binding on modern people. Also, some of the prayers mentioned the coming of the moshiach, but the translation changed the word into things like "leader" or "king." From what I remember of my sunday school classes, Reform Jews don't believe in a moshiach, at least not in the same way that Orthodox Jews do, so why do they have prayers that mention the coming of the moshiach?

I am totally convinced that Reform Judaism (at least the variety practiced at my family's "temple") is just a social club for people who are culturally Jewish. I think they'd get more out of it if they fired their rabbi (who talks to the congregation like they're five years old and speaks Hebrew with a valley-girl accent) and cancelled services and replaced them with 13th birthday parties and Saturday morning luncheons.

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UPDATE: I just got an email from my parents' shul stating that the Rabbi will be conducting Torah studies on Saturday mornings. Interesting. Maybe it *will* become some of their congregants' habit to be at shul on Saturday mornings. That would be nice.