Archive | April, 2010

Big movement Judaism should be happy about this

At Jewschool, Aryeh Cohen has a great piece up recapping the recent Mechon Hadar Indie Minyan Conference (or whatever). Some highlights:

I think that the independent minyan phenomenon (not movement) is an important phenomenon for what it says about Judaism outside the Orthodox orbit. There have been independent minyanim in the Orthodox world forever. […] These Ortho independent minyanim (OIM) live in a similar tension with the established large Orthodox shuls which we are seeing in relation to the independent minyan phenomenon outside Orthodoxy. The similarity with the OIM is that there is a level of self-confidence that is needed to go off on one’s own and decide to establish a minyan rather than be catered to by an existing structure. On this basis, the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements should exult in the phenomenon since it shows that they have succeeded in educating a generation of Jews who have that self-confidence. Of course they (the movements, that is), on the whole, don’t.


What I missed at the conference was an actual discussion about the why of creating communities. How and if any minyan sees itself in relation to a larger Jewish/general community. What community means. There were a lot of minyanim that defined themselves as specifically not communities (“We are not a full-service minyan.”) in ways which seemed to support the mainstream notion of community. There were minyanim that obviously had no intention to challenge the prevailing concept of community in their territory, but just wanted to daven with more joy. These differences needed to be aired and debated and pushed. This is the place at which the current phenomenon might or might not be related to the Havurah movement of the 70s. Are we making a claim about what a community should look like or do we just want to daven in the little room off to the side with a little more singing and dancing? I am signed up for the former.

Check out the rest of the post here.

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Trip to Kol Zimrah; ambitious mistakes made

I’ve previously written about Kol Zimrah here.

As has become my custom during this, my junior year, I spent a good deal of the beginning of Shabbat on trains getting to and from Kol Zimrah on the Upper West Side. KZ meets on Friday night once a month and it’s a nice breather from school. There’s singing, good davening, good people (including many blog-y or internet-y friends and many Limmud NY friends) and a generally pretty good pot luck after.

Miscellaneous observations from this month’s KZ:

Finally got to meet Ben Sales, editor of New Voices Magazine. I’ve been running New Voices’ twitter account for a couple of months now and I’ll be at NVM’s National Jewish Student Journalism Conference next month attending sessions and speaking in one about balancing coverage of local and national/international news in student media. If you’re a Jewish student journalist, whether you’re journalisting about Jewish news/content or not, you should think about registering. Just about every time I go to KZ, I end up meeting someone in the meatspace who I know here, on the internet or on a blog.

Speaking of people like that, internet friend-turned real life friend Aharon Varady, creator of the Open Siddur Project was there. We chatted about Judaism (or potential lack thereof) in fantasy, Harry Potter in particular. Continue Reading →

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Mashiach ben Gerim?

It has often been pointed that King David is the descendant of a convert, Ruth, often called the first convert. And the most common tradition for the messiah is that he will be Mashiach ben David, a descendant of David.

There’s a less widely known tradition (I don’t even rightly know where it comes from) of Mashiach ben Yosef, that the messiah will be a son of Joseph.

During beit midrash time while I was visiting Hebrew College yesterday, we were reading closely through part of the Joseph narrative and it occurred to me that both messiah traditions have the messiah descended from non-Jewish women. Ephraim and Menasheh are born to Joseph’s Egyptian wife, Asnat, which would make any of their descendants of partially non-Jewish stock.

I’m not pointing this out because I think it’s troubling, but because I can’t be the first person to have thought of this. Anyone know of any drashes or teachings or anything about this?

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I visited Hebrew College and here’s what happened

Before I talk about Hebrew College itself, I’ll say a bit about why I might want to be a rabbi:

I want two things. First, I want more access and skill with text than I have. A lot more. I want to be able to wonder about something and go look it up and see what different corners of halachah have to say, in the original Hebrew or Aramaic. Part of the reason for that is personal and part of it is because I really enjoy the thrill of helping someone figure something out. I want to be able to help other people figure these things out and I want to teach in the community (broadly, vaguely defined) as well. Second, I want to work in the pluralist, non-denominational world. If becoming a rabbi at HC is what will give me those two things, then that’s what I want to do.

I first became aware of Hebrew College at my first Limmud NY, in 2008, when I first began to seriously question not just the nature of my Reform identity–I’d already been at that for a while–but also whether I had a real Reform identity any more. I made a friend at Limmud NY that year, Getzel Davis, product of the Reform movement–as they call us–who was about to begin the rabbinical program at HC. Despite our distinct differences–Getz calls himself a neo-Chasid and I’ve been known to call myself a neo-Litvak–he started trying to convince me to come visit him at HC. At the time, I was still pretty convinced that I wanted to go to Hebrew Union College.

Two and a half years later, I got over fears that HC would be too woo-woo kumbaya, and went for a visit. I should say that my fears that there would be some sitting in circles and sharing positive messages were completely justified, but I’ll get to that. Continue Reading →

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Counting the Omer’s digits digitally

Crossposted to Jewschool

Today is the fifteenth day of the Omer.

As we move from the freedom of Pesach to the responsibilities delivered to us on Shavuot, we count out the 49 days of the Omer period. If the practice is unfamiliar to you, I recommend My Jewish Learning’s intro to it.

If you consult the sidur, you’ll be told how to count it out loud at the end of your evening prayers as each new day of the Omer begins.

But today, there are many ways to count using the internet. Last year, I blogged every single day of the Omer. This year, Rabbi Andy Bachman is doing the same thing at his blog, Water Over Rocks.

Myself and several fellow Jewschoolers are using our Facebook statuses this year:


You can also count along with @TweetingTheOmer.

How are you counting this year?

BTW, the awesome art above can be found here.

And if you’re looking for a tasty, hands-on way to do it, check out the candy Omer counter.

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You say Shabbat. I say Shabbos. Let’s call the whole thing off.

It is fashionable in the Reform Movement world that I grew up in to adhere to Israeli/Sephardic pronunciations of Hebrew. So on Shabbat morning, we would wear a talit, rather than wearing a talis on Shabbos. We put the emphasis in the last syllable, not the first. We prayed to Adonai, not Adonoy. Etc.

The first time I can recall noticing a difference was at my cousins’ conservative shul in St. Louis, where I noticed that Kadish suddenly sounded wildly different. It sounded like a pit of hissing snakes, as scores of T sounds became S sounds.

Eventually, I came to hold two things be true: One, that the Ashkenazi way that my grandparents pronounced everything sounded silly, and two, that there was an ideological reason to go for the T’s. I became convinced during my four month stay in Israel during high school that the existence of Israel was a sign that the main stage of Jewish history was once again the land of Israel. I thought that Jewish history now only happened in Israel and the rest of us out here in the Diaspora were just a sideshow. Not that I wanted to make Aliyah, but I had some persuasive teachers while I was abroad.

And then came college. And New York. I became disenchanted with Israel and my Zionist fervor became Zionist frustration and defeatism. And after spending a considerable amount of time around New York Jews from non-Reform backgrounds, I found a foreign and distasteful couple of words in my mouth. I found myself recently saying wishing people “Good Shabbos” and complaining when I got to shul, rather than synagogue or temple, that I had left my talis at home.

But I guess that’s all in line with who I am in relation to Israel and the Diaspora these days. I don’t buy that Jewish history has returned exclusively to Israel. Rather, it has stagnated and become an inbred clot in Israel.

I’m more free to be the Jew I want to be in Texas or New Jersey than I will ever be in Israel.

So. Good Shabbos.

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