Archive | November, 2010

Limmud NY will make you smarter and more attractive

OK. So maybe the title is a bit of an exaggeration, but Limmud NY is pretty damn great.

It’s an annual gathering of hundreds of Jews of every age (tots to college students to twentysomethings to  families to retirees) and background (Orthodox to Renewal to non/post/trans-denominational to Conservative to Reform to secular to whatever the hell else you call yourself).

We’re there to learn, sing, hang out, drink, teach and bask in the glory of the broadest definition of Torah you can conjure up.

This year it’s MLK weekend: Jan. 14-17. And it’s at the Hudson Valley Resort in the Catskills.

At Limmud NY, everything is volunteer-run and everyone is a learner and a teacher.

You can register here. Fees go up after December 16. And there’s always scholarship money available, so don’t be discouraged by prices.

And you can check out some of this year’s confirmed presenters here.

Here’s everything I’ve ever written about Limmud NY.

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Yes, it’s an Irish holiday.

I get questions about my tzitzit a lot–mostly from other Jews.

Moments ago, here at the San Diego airport, I went through the full-body security theater scanulator.

My belt, which I usually use to hold the fringes in place, was not on because it has a terrorist belt buckle and was on the freedom-conveyor belt. Because of this, my fringes were flying all over the place.

So naturally, one of the members of the crack liberty team present asked, “Is it an Irish holiday?”

“No. He’s Jewish,” an even crackier member of the patriotism platoon said.

“Oh, it’s a Jewish holiday?!” the first one cleverly deduced.

“The fringes?” I said.

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“Browsing for free” on, with commentary

Crossposted to New Voices

I’ve been bemoaning my singleness to my friends a lot lately. Being a college senior who knows he’s gonna move–but not very far–in May is a weird position to be in. People keep telling me to try online stuff, which I don’t have any problem with, philosophically. It does, however, seem odd to me to do online dating while I’m in college. But last night I was slightly convinced by a friend.

So I went on JDate a few minutes ago to see what’s what. I clicked on “BROWSE FOR FREE” and quickly realized that there was commentary to be made. So I started over, typing up my comments as I went.

jdate-1-you-are-a-looking-for-a2I suppose it’s quite convenient that JDate predicted that I’m a straight male. Is it magical or does it assume everyone’s a straight male?  What happens to people who want to identify themselves as something other than a [Man/Woman] seeking a [Man/Woman]?

jdate-2-type-of-relationship-and-current-status1I have questions. Not snarky questions, as regular readers will no doubt assume, but real questions from a place of curiosity. Are there actually people who look for a “Friend” on dating sites? Or is “Friend” a codeword for something? And what activities might one engage in with an “Activity Partner?”

jdate-3-habits-and-kashrutI’m sure I’m more concerned with the finer points of Jewish ritual/denominational/philosophical/ideological/etc identity than most, but I these kashrut options seem limited. Where’s eco-kashrut? And why do we insist that kashrut is a matter of degrees? It’s not as though there’s a definitive list of things that one does to keep kosher, and some people do all of them and some people do none of them and some people are on a spectrum in between.

And how do I indicate which of these things I care about? I drink regularly with friends, but I don’t care how often she (whoever she is) drinks. I don’t smoke, and I care a lot about whether she does. And I care some, but not a whole lot about whether she keeps kosher. I wish there was one of those “Indicate how strongly you feel about X, by choosing a number 1-5, where 5 is ‘I care a lot’ and 1 is ‘I don’t care at all'” things.

jdate-4-education-work-and-ethnicityIf I’m graduating in May, how misleading is it to claim that I have a BA?

Without wading into the issue of what constitutes an ethnicity, this list of possibilities is beyond outrageously limiting. It assumes that all Jews are either Ashkenazi or Sephardic or don’t care enough to list an ethnicity. Obviously, most Jews in America are Ashkenazi-descended, and if you add Sephardic, that takes care of almost everyone. But it doesn’t account for all Jews by birth.

And what about converts? Am I “Mixed Ethnic” because one of my parents converted and the other is Ashkenazi? Or did she become Ashkenazi when she converted (whatever that would even mean!)?

Is the implication of this that Jews only wanna date Jews from a similar background? I again find myself wanting some way to indicate how much each of these factors matter to me.

I have settled on “Will tell you later” as a way of protesting this question, which feels pretty silly.

jdate-50-backgroundAt this point, I’m pretty sure I’m not doing this in the spirit any of it was intended, but this stuff is important enough to me that I’d like be able to indicate it with more accuracy than the available choices allow me to.

Literally, my “religious background” is Reform, but the wording of some of the options here seem to indicate that this question is not actually about background, but about current practice. Many of these could be backgrounds, but “Baal Teshuva” isn’t a background as at all, but a conscious choice that one might make after childhood–childhood being what the word “background” suggests to me.

Again, as with the ethnicity question, anyone outside of the other options offered up here is forced to pick “Another Stream of Judaism.” That would include anyone that is observant (broadly defined), but prefers “Just Jewish” and anyone that goes with something like Pluralist or Post-Denominational. It also strikes me that this is probably the more appropriate place for Sephardic to be an option, given that all of these denominations are outgrowths of the Ashkenazi sphere.

This is a seriously troubling question to me. As I’m writing this, I’m waffling back and forth in my mind about selecting Reform or “Another Stream.” I call myself Reform, but most wouldn’t look at my observance and call it Reform, so that’s potentially misleading. “Another Stream” is probably closer to what I outwardly appear to be.

I want to be able to check off boxes and I want one of them to read “Other” and give me space to type a couple extra words. Why doesn’t this question give the option of “Will tell you later?”

I think I’ll take the question literally and pick Reform.

jdate-55-how-often-to-shulWhat about people who go more frequently than “Every Shabbat?”

Then it asks me for my country and zip code. Whatever.


OK. I haven’t had a username for something other than my real name since the last time I used AIM, which was probably in eighth or ninth grade. I’m a total loss. I also don’t know how to “pop” in such a way that it will help elucidate “what makes me ME” (to use their abuse of capitals).

After ten minutes have passed and I’ve consulted with a few housemates, I’ve made a decision. But I’m not going to tell any of you want it is.

Also, it would be pretty awesome if you could list your Hebrew birthday on JDate.

Then there’s e-mail and password. Whatever.

jdate-7-describe-myselfYeah, this part is completely nerve-wracking. There are two kinds of people in the potential audience for this:

1). There are people who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and think, “This guy sounds like an asshole” or “This dude just sounds boring,” but would actually like me if they met me. I know this because I know real people who fall into this category.

2). There are people–fewer than there are in group 1, but they exist nonetheless–who would read an accurate description of my personality and interests and actually be interested.

The question is how to craft a description that plays to both of these groups of people, both of which I’m interested in. This has stopped being a slightly humorous exercise and become significantly intense.

OK, an hour and help from three housemates later, I’ve written something that isn’t completely objectionable about myself.

Now I’m gonna think about whether this is worth spending any real money on.

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New Koren, future Korens

My new personal size, softcover Koren Talpiot, with some girl’s Blackberry for size

I just got my new Koren Talpiot Siddur. This edition is new to me, though it was originally published last year. I’ll start by talking about this edition in particular, and continue with some speculations about where Koren’s English offerings seem to be headed.

Baruch She'amar is always my favorite page in a Koren Siddur. Of course, KTS preserves the usual elegant Koren fonts and layout from the original Israeli editions. KTS, however adds English instructions, as you can see at the top right.

The Koren Talpiot Siddur varies from the more common Koren Sacks Siddur (more on KSS from me) in that it provides no commentary and no translation, though the content of the prayers is the same as KSS. The familiar Koren fonts and layout are, of course, intact. Though it doesn’t have commentary or translation, KTS has English introductions, halachic guides to the year and to visiting Israel and so forth–in short, the same appendixes Koren Sacks has. It’s meant for an English-speaking Diaspora audience that is comfortable enough with liturgical Hebrew that it doesn’t need translation, but still wants minimal English instructions. I’m not sure if I quite fall in that camp, but I’m planning a road test of KTS for Friday night, so we’ll see how that goes.

Oh, hey, Koren. You've lost weight.

Because it doesn’t have translations or commentary, it is noticeably slimmer than most American siddurim. The page size of the personal size edition I got is the same as my Koren Sacks, but KTS ends up about twice as slim, making it a perfect size, as far as I’m concerned. It also reminds me of the most notoriously small of the pocket size Israeli Korens. (I mean, it’s not as skinny as those Israelis are, but… this joke is going nowhere.)

However, as you can see in the photo of the spine to the right and in the photo of the cover below, the gold printing has been offset–and not because it looks cool. This is a little disappointing coming Koren, from whom we usually expect excellence in design. I don’t mind it on my copy because it adds character, but it was pretty surprising to see such a production error from Koren.

You can see the sturdy, but flexible cover as well as the mistake with the offset gold printing

KTS has a couple of nice features with the cover that my Koresn Sacks doesn’t have, though I think the more resent copies of Sacks have had these features added. Like a hardcover book, KTS’ cover is slightly taller and wider than the pages themselves. This not only looks nice, but it will add some protection to the pages in a cluttered backpack like mine. The cover is also thicker and feels sturdier. I’m not sure how obvious this is in the picture above, but the cover is flexible, but slightly stiffer than the cover on my Sacks. This is also gonna help this siddur out in my backpack. KTS also has a dark blue ribbon bookmark built in, which is great. (I recently bought some ribbon and went on a rampage making these for some of the my other often-used siddurim so I appreciated that.)

An example of the innovative newspaper-style line that refers you to the appropriate next page

There’s also one more feature that I’ve never seen before. When you read English sections of siddurim that are printed right-to-left, Hebrew-style, you (and by you, I mean me) can get confused about which page is the next page. KTS has, at the bottom of each English introduction page, a little indicator of what the first words are on the page that is meant to be read next. Has anyone seen examples of this before?

Koren is my favorite publisher of Orthodox siddurim–and my favorite of all in terms of visual elegance. It is the outgrowth of Eliyahu Koren’s classic 20th century Hebrew typefaces. The fonts are elegant, and from them, Koren created an elegant line of siddurim, probably the most popular in Israel.

The full line of Koren Sacks Siddur editions. That red one is the Canadian one. Mine is the smallest size.

In the summer of 2009, the Koren Sacks Siddur arrived. (Mine, which you can see around the middle of the banner image I’m currently using at the top of the blog, is looking a little worse for the wear–point is, I like it a lot and it gets a lot of use.) It was a major challenger to the ArtScroll monopoly on Orthodox publishing in America, featuring Koren’s elegant design, and translation and commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of England (or of Great Britain or of the United Kingdom… or whatever his position actually is).

Man, this ad really got my hopes up. Needless to say, it did not come out this spring. It's now slated for March of 2011.

Next year–I hope, but the date keeps getting pushed back–they’re coming out with the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, which will include the commentary of “The Rav” himself, Joseph Soloveitchik. I’m very excited about this. They already have the Kinot HaRav, a Tisha Be’Av siddur with his commentary, though I don’t have it and I haven’t had the chance to flip through one yet.

What’s interesting is how consciously they seem to be positioning themselves to overtake ArtScroll. People–including me–keep saying that they will overtake ArtScroll, but they haven’t yet. ArtScroll has a broad appeal to many streams of Orthodoxy, while Koren is targetting only Modern Orthodox Jews. This much is clear from their special attention paid to luminaries of the center or center-left Modern Orthodox communitie like Sacks and Soloveitchik–especially Soloveitchik.

The plainer cover of the standard Israeli Koren siddur

They’ve also changed their visual style to compete with ArtScroll. In Israel, Koren’s siddurim have remarkably plain covers. Yet, here they’ve settled on a more ornate cover, usually grey-blue with an embossed design, gold details (which they share with some of the Israeli editions) and the block of red in the middle. Though this is the standard, there are variations now, like white with gold (some ArtScroll titles are also available in this style) and leatherbound editions. And the prominently displayed Orthodox Union logo on the spine is no sublte reminder of the official endorsement that ArtScroll either never sought, or never got, despite being common in many, if not most OU shuls. [UPDATE: Apparently, all of the new copies being printed in Israel these days have the fancy cover style too. So never mind that…]

The full English instructions Koren Talpiot Siddur series--now in more colors!

Koren’s English offerings are being billed so far as useful in both Israel and America (and Canda–yes, there’s a Canadian version of the Koren Sacks). They have complete guides to the minute differences in prayer in Israel and in the Diaspora.

ArtScroll, however, has been at it longer and has a wider variety of siddurim and styles. They have siddurim with translation and commentary and transliterations, as well as linear and interlinear versions of everything. Meanwhile, Koren has two different versions of the same linear Hebrew-English siddur with different commentaries, and now the Talpiot, which is Hebrew-only, but includes English instructions and guides. ArtScroll has machzorim, of course, but Koren doesn’t have that yet in English. ArtScroll also offers Sephardi versions of some titles, but Koren is all Ashkenazi in their English titles so far.

But, if the fact that they identify themselves as Ashkenazi on the spine is any indication, Koren has plans to publish other nuschot in English as well. They do have Hebrew editions on nuschot Sephardi, Sefard and Moroccan. (Don’t know about Edot haMizrah, though.) I know that they’re working on adapting Sacks for a Sephardi edition, I’d guess that most of this is farther out on the horizon. They’ll want to gain more penetration in the larger Ashkenazi market in America first.

So we’ll see what happens.

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Shir Chadash–a new egal minyan in Crown Heights

Crossposted to Jewschool. More liturgical minutiae from the first meeting of Shir Chadash here.

We were planning on heading out to the Kane Street Synagogue on Friday night, but a last-minute email from Jewschooler Kung Fu Jew had us heading out into unfamiliar territory–Crown Heights–for the first ever meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan. I called KFJ to ask for details. He didn’t have many. He didn’t know if musical instruments would be allowed. (He didn’t even know if my ballpoint would be allowed–luckily, no one seemed to mind.)

For future reference, my answer to the question, “Do you want to go to the first meeting of a new egal minyan?” is always yes.

A perfect storm of Jewschoolers, former leaders of Kol Zimrah and some former leaders of at least one DC minyan are now living way the hell out on the far reaches of the 2 and the 3. For a long time, folks have been talking about starting a new traditional egalitarian minyan for the area.

Finally, last week, after a lot of talk, one guy–Brian Immerman, a fourth-year Reform rabbinical student and a former teacher of mine–decided to just go for it. He e-mailed some people and by the middle of Lecha Dodi, about 20 Jews were in his living room to daven.

My notes on the first meeting of Shir Chadash: Continue Reading →

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Shir Chadash–liturgical minutiae (13 siddurim present, Nushach Achid, the five ballpoint pen rating system and my first experience with Metsudah)

On Friday night, I was at the first meeting of Shir Chadash, a new egal minyan in Crown Heights. This post is a list of related liturgical minutiae and blog business. If you’re a regular Reform Shuckler, you may enjoy this post. If not, you may just wanna stick to the main post about Shir Chadash.

PEOPLE KNOW ME: For the second time, I was spotted not by name, but by face. A Reform rabbinical student (identify yourself in the comments, if you wish to be identified, new friend) outed himself to me as a fan of The Shuckle. So, hey there. Alex, you may have some competition for number one fan.

FIVE PENS: I’ve decided to institute a rating system for services here at The Shuckle. This is based partially on Jesse Paikin‘s suggestion to me last year that this blog is like a Zagat for minyans and shuls and partially on all that brouhaha from Yom Kippur about my use of pens to take notes during services. So, when I review a service, shul or minyan, I will now use a scale of one to five ballpoint pens to rate the service. The first meeting of Shir Chadash, by the way, got five ballpoint pens!


SIDDURIM: Yeah, you knew this was coming. In the main post, I wrote:

Siddurim present are a combination of what the leader has on hand and what a few others brought with them. I count 13 different editions of 11 different siddurim in use.

Without further ado, here’s the full list:

  • Koren; microscopic black edition (Modern Orthodox Israeli)
  • Koren Sacks; compact American edition (Modern Orthodox Heb-Eng Israeli-American w British commentary)
  • Mishkan T’filah; full-size, hardcover (new mainstream American Reform, the only fully-transliterated siddur presnt, along with the next one on this list)
  • Mishkan T’filah for Travelers (a compact edition of the previous one in this list)
  • Ha’avodah Shebalev; the compact, brown, all-Hebrew edition (Israeli Reform)
  • Hadesh Yameinu (Montreal Reconstructionist, but reads like Conservative with lots of English readings)
  • Rinat Yisrael; full-size, Ashkenazi (Orthodox, Israeli government-sponsored)
  • Sim Shalom; one copy each of the big one and the little one (American Conservative)
  • Metsudah Linear Siddur (Modern Orthodox American–see below for more on this siddur)
  • Siddur Tefilah Lechayalei Tzahal; the tiniest edition of a siddur ever (Israel army-issued Nusach Achid–see below for more on that!)
  • ArtScroll; little brown edition (semi-fascist Orthodox American)
  • ArtScroll; big black Rabbinical Council of America edition (Orthodox American, but approved by the RCA[!])
  • At least one Koren Tanach that was briefly mistaken for a siddur

NUSACH ACHID?: I learned this at Shir Chadash for the first time. Apparently, in the early days of the State of Israel (or right before, the guy who told me wasn’t sure), there was so much excitement about having Jews from all over back in the same place that some people created a new nusach–Nusach Achid. Nusach Achid–as the word achid suggests–was created a unified nusach that took from many different nuschot to create what some hoped would be a single Israel nusach. Needless to say, this didn’t catch on.

However, the army siddur I saw at Shir Chadash siddur–published recently from the looks of it–was printed in Nusach Achid. Our guess was that the army rabbinate believes it’s sometimes the easiest thing to do when you need a minyan on an army base or in the field. It’s also a great example of something that’s a compromise for so many people that no one will use it.

METSUDAH: I brought my Koren Sacks with me to use at Shir Chadash, but ended up using the Metsudah Linear for most of the service. I’ve flipped through one before, but never had the chance to use one. It’s not a particularly pretty siddur, but it’s commentary is great.

Most siddurim with commentary have one or both of two goals–they either want to make the service comprehensible to an unfamiliar or novice reader or they want to provide an exhaustive guide to the laws of prayer. Metsudah does a bit of that, but that doesn’t seem to be its aim. The aim of the commentary appeared to be to give classical sources and commentary throughout. Radak, Rambam, Rashi and all the other usual suspects made appearances.

The layout of the page and the translation, however, is clearly mean to aid novice readers. Rather than going for a graceful translation, Metsudah goes for a translation that matched the Hebrew line-for-line so that one can go back and forth between a direct translation and the Hebrew.

I may have to get one.

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