Archive | October, 2007

Substance later. For now, this:

On October 26th, people searched Google with the following terms and clicked through results to my blog.

The Lorax related to Tikun olam
jewish themed tattoos
can reform jews have tattoos?
bagging a smoke dector from keeping it g
why carbonated beverage explode freezer

Shabat Shalom.

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Coming soon I’ll be blogging more about liturgy. Maybe there will be a couple of posts later this week or early next week on the topic. For now, you’ll have to with this.

Childish though it may be, one of the things I really looked forward to during high school were those frequent occasions when something incensed me. This would necessitate a quickened heart rate, visits to school administrators and more than a few general rants. If you know me, you know I love to hear myself give a good diatribe. Here at Drew University, I’m finally given reason for one of these. From Jeremy Dery, one of the co-Presidents of Hillel I received this evening the following email:

Some important events have just occurred regarding Drew University and Israel. Drew is now planning on removing all Israeli universities from the approved study abroad list. This is due to a US State Department warning against travel to Gaza and the West Bank. The issue that specifically addresses Israel states that the State Department simply “urges U.S. citizens to remain mindful of security factors when considering travel to Israel and Jerusalem at this time”.

I have written to President Weisbuch in regard to this issue, and have asked to meet with him. I feel that there are other methods to pursue instead of completely removing Israel. This action has clear and negative ramifications for the Jewish Studies Department and Jewish life in general here at Drew. Hopefully Drew will consider alternative actions instead of this bold move. I will keep you all updated on what happens.

Needless to say, my head just about popped off while reading this. This, by the way, comes after Jeremy has already been approved for next semester in Tel Aviv. They may even revoke the approved status of his trip.

Excuse me while I go yell a lot.

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Coke on Sunday

One of my housemates here at Spirituality House is a devout Catholic, Ren. Ren noted today that she was feeling rather hyper for two reasons. The first being that she had gotten about ten hours of sleep and the second being that because it is Sunday, she has had several Cokes. This perked me up for a moment.

“You’re drinking Coke because it’s Sunday?”

“Yes. I like Coke so I drink it on Sunday because Sunday is a celebratory day.”

We compared notes on this for a moment. The conversation wandered around to the nature of the Sabbath. I know for a fact that Christianity moved the Sabbath to Sunday to take advantage of already established pagan celebrations. Ren, however, offered a far more interesting backwards projection of an explanation.

The Sabbath in this case, is not being celebrated as the seventh day. On the contrary, she agrees with Judaism that Saturday is the seventh day. Instead, Sunday is being celebrated as the EIGHTH day! Why? Jesus rose from the dead on the eighth day. Why, I inquired, not just say that Jesus rose on the first day of the week and call Sunday the first day of the week. The number eight, for reasons I could not fathom, she explained is important. Why? She explained it me in terms of circumcision. Circumcision, entrance into the Jewish covenant, is conducted on the eighth day of a Jewish boy’s life. If Jesus’ died for everyone’s sins and in doing so created a new covenant, eight days is an important symbol because the Jewish covenant, that which is being superseded by this, also sees the eighth day as important.

You learn something new every day.

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Nadlerisms of the day

I was pretty excited for Nadler’s class today. Last class he said that today we would begin to cover early German Reform Judaism. The witticisms that I imagined ensuing from him were quite exciting. Though he is now a professor, in his previous life he was a Rabbi. As such, he still teaches like all Rabbis I know (Rabbi S. excepted) in that most of the time is spent on some tangent or anecdote or another. Due to this talmudically wandering stream-of-consciousness teaching style Nadler has, we barely finished covering the Napoleonic Sanhedrin this morning. When we got to Napoleon’s deal-breaker question about whether Jews can intermarry, a marvelous tangential story began, carrying us through to the end of class.

The progression through different topics went like this: Can Jews intermarry?–> Just like Catholics, no we cannot.–> Other similarities between Catholicism and Judaism. –> Irreversibility of a Catholic baptism is similar to the fact that Jews cannot cease to be Jews.–> One time….

One time many years ago when Nadler was a Rabbi in an orthodox community, it was discovered three days prior to a Bar Mitzvah that the young man in question’s mother had not been Jewish at the time of his birth. The caterer and florist had been paid. The sanctuary was reserved and Nadler was to be the Rabbi. The ball was rolling. As Nadler, ever punny, put it, once you’ve paid the caterer, you’re really loxed in. All this in mind, Nadler had to tell the parents that this 13-year-old boy would need an emergency circumcision. Luckily, he had already had one and the parents felt confident that this was enough.

Unfortunately, since he was not Jewish at the time of the circumcision, it was not valid. He would need to be checked to see if the medical circumcision had been as complete as that performed by a mohel would be. To check this, the penis needs to be erect. The parents were not pleased with how this was playing out. To ascertain all of this, three other Rabbis would also have to be present to examine the organ in question. The circumcision, they announced, was complete. Unfortunately, for this boy, he still needed an emergency conversion before the Bar Mitzvah. This means that a pinprick of blood would have to be taken from the penis since it was already circumcised.

As it turns out, this very small operation on the day before the Bar Mitzvah made for a very uncomfortable gait on the bimah.

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God’s new name

I want a piece of liturgy praising Adonai, God of Linguistics and Etymology.

I once had a Rabbi of whom I am not a big fan try to explain God’s name, יהוה, YHVH. The name is seemingly unpronouncable, yet one Rabbi explained what he thought was the incredible poetry of this name. He said that there is some evidence to suggest that the letter ו, vav, was formerly pronounced more like a W is in English today. That in mind, he asserted that God’s name was intended to be a breath in and a breath out. “Yaaaahhhhh… Waaaahhhhh…”

Right. I’m definitely not on board with that theory. But here, from the Jerusalem post via Jewschool’s Yehudit Brachah, is an explanation for God’s name that I can really get behind. Not only is it a good historical explanation, but it involves etymology, a pet interest of mine.

Yehudit beings by saying:

An interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post this month about the development of the Hebrew alphabet: as opposed to the Phoenician system of lettering, the Hebrews developed vowels, which allowed people to read out loud their texts, contributed to the spreading of the Bible, and the lasting impact of Judaism. Also, we loved it so much we named our god after the achievement.

Then she quotes JPost:

In short, the patriarch, matriarch, and deity of the Hebrews all get their names by adding a heh to convert otherwise common words into special ones. The Hebrews used their vowel-letters not just to make writing possible, but to create their most important names.We find a four-letter name for God, the tetragrammaton (which means “four-letters” in Greek). The four letters are yud, heh, vav, heh. Common pronunciations such as “Yahweh” or “Jehovah” miss the point. What really matters here is the remarkable fact that this name consists entirely of the Hebrews’ newly invented vowel letters, each included once, with the particularly special heh repeated.The tetragrammaton is unique in ancient Hebrew, in that its pronunciation seems divorced from its spelling. It also seems to lack any plausible etymology, and is unattested in similar ancient languages. Now we know why. The Hebrews paid homage to the vowel letters that made it possible to spread the Word of God by using those letters to refer to God.

I wish I could find the full article. The link given at Jewschool didn’t work and I couldn’t find the article on the JPost site.

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It has been nearly a week since my last post and for that I apologize. My living situation has changed considerably in these six elapsed days since I wrote here about my virtual m’zuzah. Another big change here is a new blog layout and a new logo. I prefer my new look to the old one greatly.

As for my living situation, one Saturday night I slept in room 212 of Welch and as of Sunday night, I now live in a new room, Asbury 315. Asbury brings with it many advantages. I have new roommate, Sulia (pronounced Sulay), who I get along with much better than my previous one. The room itself is much larger. The building is farther from campus dining, but closer to my classes, which makes rushing off to class less of an issue. Asbury is also at least 100 years older and brings with it all of the potential quirks and charm and drafts that such an age suggests. But best of all, the third floor of Asbury is known as Spirituality House.

Drew University has six theme houses, La Casa, Earth House, Umoja (African studies theme), Asia Tree House, Womyn’s Concerns House, and Spirituality House. To get in, I had to interview for one of four spots for which there were reportedly ten applicants. I was quizzed on personal belief, motivation for applying to the house, and on the difference between spirituality and religion.

Less than a week later, I received an email notifying me that I was in. We had today and Monday off this week to study for midterms and I was asked if I could move in by the end of the long weekend. Excited as all hell, I moved in Sunday afternoon.

One of the cool aspects of Spirituality House is that the kitchen here has two ovens. One is a regular oven and the other is a kosher meat oven. Not that I keep kosher, but it is cool nonetheless. As I was putting up my m’zuzah as I was moving in, it struck me that despite a kosher oven, the house itself is not kosher because it doesn’t have m’zuzot on either of its two entrances nor does it have one on the kitchen entrance. This to me posed a problem, but the folks here have been generally receptive so far to contributing part of the house budget towards purchasing these if I can find reasonably priced m’zuzot, which shouldn’t prove too much of a problem.

In other news, today (the evening of the 16th of October through the evening of the 17th of October) is the 5 of Cheshvan, the anniversary of the passing of my grandfather, Sol Wilensky. Though Grandpa is now a highly mythologized character in my head, being that he died when I was in the fourth grade, he is an important character in my Jewish life story. See this for more. As such, I needed a yartzeit candle to begin burning this evening. Having none and only realizing this as the sun was already setting, I needed a quick fix. Enter the Muslim.

I was recently in the room of Affan, the only Muslim on the floor. Affan and his roommate, Joe, who is Jewish, were hosting a little get together the other night. I noticed two things there that helped my with yartzeit candle conundrum. This problem has two parts. First, I need a candle. Second, I need to radically circumvent Drew’s policies on forbidden objects. One of the forbidden objects is candles and the smoke detectors in each dorm room are hypersensitive. During my visit to Affan and Joe’s room, I saw people smoking hookah in the room and a number of large candles, which would work perfectly as yartzeit candles. Wondering at how it was that the fire alarm was not going off, I glanced up at their smoke detector, around which was a securely tied plastic bag.

So, sun quickly setting, I paid Affan a visit. I explained why I needed a large candle immediately and he said of course I could borrow one. I would just have to get it from Sarah, a Catholic who lives across the hall from Affan who currently had the candle he had in mind. I got the candle, opened the window and set the candle next to the window. I climbed up precariously on a chair and rubber banded a grocery bag over the smoke detector.

And that is how a Muslim and a Catholic helped this Yid commemorate his Grandpa’s yartzeit.

Zichrono livrachah. May his memory be a blessing. This post is in memory of Sol Wilensky, Shlomoh ben Shmuel.

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…and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates…

In the Torah, though perhaps more familiarly as quoted from the Torah in the Sh’ma, we are commanded to, among a number of other rituals, affix the words of the Sh’ma to our doorposts.

The entire thing Sh’ma is formulated in the fashion of many other ancient near eastern documents. These documents are legal and social contracts between rulers and their subjects. We are subjects of God and this contract stipulates what we should do to mark ourselves as subjects of God, just as these other documents did for the subjects of earthly rulers. Among the things we and many other ancient peoples in the area did to mark ourselves as the property of a particular lord are to wear a particular variety of fringe and affix copies of the contract to our doorways to mark our homes as part of the geographical area covered by the contract. Hence, tzitzit and mezuzot.

Clearly, the legal nature of the Sh’ma is now far-removed from us, a metaphor that can no longer hold meaning. Yet we modern Jews continue to seek meaning in these things. Aside from kashrut, which appears elsewhere in the Torah, and the practice of wearing kipot, which does not appear anywhere in the entire Tanach, these things in the Sh’ma are the absolute most outwardly visible and some of the most emblematic things Jews still do. As such, we seek constantly still to find meaning or personal attachment to them.

In what she considers a move of incredible ritualized hilarity, my mother used a wood-burning tool to burn the exact Hebrew of “these words, which I command you this day” into her backyard gate. Regardless of how funny or flippant it may be, my mother enjoys playing with words and meaning and grammar in this way. As such, it is a vibrant, if silly, and highly personalized way of observing the injunction regarding doorposts and gates.

I for one, and I think this is probably common amongst many contemporary Jews, see these commandments as reminders to behave correctly. When I enter a room with a m’zuzah on the doorway, I am reminded that in this space I have just entered, as in all spaces, there are ways in which I must behave to maintain my moral and ethical as well as Jewish character. As such, my dorm room has a m’zuzah on the right side of the doorpost. My laptop has a car m’zuzah on it on the right side of the edge that opens, because my laptop is gateway to virtual places where I interact with people and where correct behavior is as necessary as it is elsewhere in life.

A few months ago, I read on some blog or another an interesting idea about online m’zuzot. Forgive me for nor remembering where I read this. The idea attempted to connect the act of touching a m’zuzah as one enters a room and then kissing the hand with which one just touched the m’zuzah to social action. The idea was then that one would use as a m’zuzah for the internet a website such as THE HUNGER SITE. For those not familiar with this most righteous of websites, there is a prominent button on this site which one clicks to give x amount of food to the hungry.

If I gave money to a conveniently-placed beggar every time I entered a room with a m’zuzah affixed to it, I might buy this parallel, but in my opinion the idea flops. Besides, at the time I had, and still have, a m’zuzah on my laptop to serve the purpose of an online m’zuzah. Since then, however, I have resumed blogging. The idea has fermented in my mind since I first read about the online m’zuzah concept. If the entrance to the web is my computer, which I have enough control over to affix a m’zuzah to, then it should have a m’zuzah. But what about my “home” on he web? What about my blog?

At first I thought about adding a picture of a m’zuzah to one of the columns of my blog, but then it occurred to me that I would then have only the image of the shell of the ritual, but not the meat of it, the words. So I settled on what you can now see in the top right hand corner of my blog. It has the words, as I arranged them in Sidur Eilu D’vareinu, as well as a little m’zuzah-like image so that the meaning of the words is obvious without having to read them. As soon as I uploaded the new header image and saw it in place, I said the appropriate brachah.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אדוני, אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּנוּ לִקְבּוּעַ מְזֻוּזָה

Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha’olam. Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu lik’bo’a m’zuzah.

Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the World, who sanctifies us through commandments and commands us to affix the m’zuzah.

So welcome to my home on the web. Be sure to kiss the m’zuzah on your way in.

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Day-Dayeinu! Day-Dayeinu! Day-Dayeinu! Dayeinu Dayeinu! Dayeinu! (v’gomer…)

This week, I wrote a mediocre paper, had an incredible misadventure at the bank, stressed out about various things and bought a printer that didn’t come with the USB cable is requires to be used properly. It was not the best of weeks. That being said, I am pleased to announce that I am having one the best Shabatot I can remember.

I led services for Hillel last night for the first time. Not only did I lead, but I was privileged to lead from the new service that I created for Hillel. Everyone seemed to like it. One fellow freshman, Matt, had never used a sidur with transliterations. He found for the first time that he was able to say the Hebrew along with his fellow pray-ers. That alone would have been enough to brighten my week. Dayeinu.

Also present at services were two members of and the Rabbi of Madison NJ’s only congregation, Chavurat Lamdeinu. They were lending us their Torah so that we could have a bit of Torah reading for Simchat Torah. The Rabbi rather liked my service as well and told me so. It would have been enough. Dayeinu.

So inspired by the presence of the chaverim from Chavurat Lamdeinu was I, that I decided to trek into town this morning to the Madison Masonic Lodge, home of CL. I arrived just in time for Torah study and stuck around for services. The crowd is mostly older, but their prayer style is loud, egalitarian, heavy in Hebrew and thoroughly fulfilling. They pray at the top of their lungs in a way I have found uncommon outside of Orthodoxy and NFTY. They use a sidur called Sidur Eit Ratzon, a creation of the chavurah movment. I liked it well enough and have decided to purchase my own copy. It has problems enough though and I still prefer my own creation, Sidur Eilu D’vareinu. More is to come about Sidur Eit Ratzon on this blog after I buy a copy. I was offered rides by several people and eventually accepted a ride from Henry, a co-founder of CL who was going in the opposite direction of Drew, which was perfect because I needed to go that way to buy a USB cable for my new printer. Dayeinu.

Henry, who is emblematic of the cogent way in which seemingly all members of CL are able to discuss liturgy (a rare community, indeed), dropped me off across the street from Staples, where I intended to by the USB cable. Lo, and behold! There was a Burger King across the street from the Staples. For those of you not in the know, Burger King is the only place in the world where Icees are served and one of the flavors of Icee is always Coke. Truly, the Coke Icee is the Messiah of Shabat Cokes. So, on my way to Staples I picked up a Coke Icee. Dayeinu.

The salesperson I encountered at Staples knew exactly which cable I needed and directed me to it quickly. There was 100% recycled paper available, which I picked up a package of. Dayeinu.

The whole morning was topped off by lunch at a diner. Hot corned beef on rye with a slice of swiss chesse. It was more than enough.

So Shabat Shalom and I hope everyone has a Shabat as fantastic as mine!

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I drank Coke today

This is what happened last time I drank Coke on a weekday. That was a little over a year ago, shortly after I declared that I would only drink Coke on Shabat from thence forth. I have now broken that rule a second time. No explosions have yet occurred.

Last night I was sitting the office of the Acorn, the University’s newspaper, copy editing. I was doing this straight through to the wee hours of the morning. One of the senior staff members announced that she was going out to a vending machine and inquired if anyone would like anything. I announced, quite without thinking, that I would like a Coke. I felt a sudden craving for my Shabat beverage. She went to get the Coke. I started to worry. As noted, last time I drank Coke on a weekday my head was nearly removed from my neck and some drapes became severely stained. She returned. I drank the Coke. Nothing happened.

Here’s my reasoning for why this entire episode is not as dishonest as I was worried it is: It’s Sh’mini Atzeret, the final day of Sukot and a holiday unto itself. Correct me if I’m wrong, but does that not mean that today is actually a Shabat, thought not the Shabat? If so, then I think I was completely right to drink Coke last night.

And right now. I’m drinking Coke right now.

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“A replacement to Artscroll monopoly”?

I don’t want to name names, but someone involved in my newly-created Erev Shabat service for Hillel who has also taken a look at my personal sidur, Sidur Elu D’vareinu, said the following:

“I had a chance to look through both your Hillel Siddur and your own personal one. You have done a masterful job at both. Who knows, over time, your siddur might become the Rinat Yisrael pocket size for the Liberal Community. The Jewish world is in definite need of a replacement to Artscroll monopoly.”

I am stressed out to all hell this week so the email was much appreciated. The Hillel service will premiere this Friday at our parents weekend/Simchat Torah celebration.

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