Archive | December, 2010

William Berkson is smart. Read “Pirke Avot: Time Wisdom for Modern Life.”

JPS sent me this new commentary in Pirkei Avot like two months ago, “Pirke Avot: Timeless Wisdom for Modern Life.” It’s by William Berkson, one of my favorite internet-friends.

It’s very good. I like Pirkei Avot a lot, but it’s never been better than it is in this commentary by Berkson.

There’s a real review of it coming here soon, but I got side-tracked in the middle of reading it by some other stuff. I felt it was a bout time at least wrote a little bit about it.

If you’re looking for a belated holiday season gift for your favorite Jewish textophile, get this. It also features William’s own font, a revival of the classic Caslon font called Williams Caslon, which is quite nice.

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Never a bad time to complain about ArtScroll

There's also this book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm very excited for it.

Here at The Reform Shuckle, I pride myself on always bringing you, my dear readers, the best and latest in not liking ArtScroll.

Today, someone with a blog called “⒜ Ⅎℜℹ℮ℕ∂ﬥⓎ ⓓⓞⓢⓔ ◕∫ ✡” (no, I can’t decipher that either) posted about not liking ArtScroll. She (?) linked to a post of mine, saying, “I really do hate that ArtScroll is under the impression that women need a separate siddur.” Me too, fellow blogosphite, me too.

She also points out a 2007 Jewschool post called “Warning: Artscroll Women’s Siddur,” which includes a lovely lambasting of the ArtScroll women’s siddur by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance that I had not read before. It’s quite good.

And there’s mention of this, from On the Contrary:

ArtScroll wants to have their cake and eat it, too. They’ve created an entirely new genre, an entirely new custom for women’s prayer, and taken it upon themselves to present complex and disputed issues in a one-sided manner, ignoring age-old customs and halakhic positions, and yet market the thing as though it’s something that your alter bubbedavened from.

Check out the full post about not liking ArtScroll (and about liking Koren, also an important topic around here!)

There hasn’t been anything new at What’s Bothering ArtScroll in ages, but it’s always worth a look–if for the name alone more than anything else!

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Hey, you got your jingoism in my liturgy!


And next, we’ll sing the already gratuitous prayer for our country to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner….”

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The codex is dead! Long live the codex! -or- Why Jews will never fully switch over to e-readers

Crossposted to New Voices and Jewschool

The Atlantic has this piece up this week about Shabbat observance issues surrounding e-readers like the Kindle. The article’s worth reading.

Three thoughts:

1. Acts of writing should not be at issue here. From the article:

E-readers are problematic not only because they are electronic but also because some rabbis consider turning pages on the device – which causes words to dissolve and then resurface – an act of writing, also forbidden on the Sabbath.

That’s completely absurd. Writing is forbidden because its an act of creation. God’s rest on the first Shabbat was a rest from the work of creating the world. We follow suit, by avoiding acts of creation. The equivalent of turning the page on a Kindle is just that–it’s the equivalent of turning a page! The electronic equivalent of writing is typing.

2. That doesn’t mean Jews who observe a high number of ritual prohibitions on Shabbat are going to start davening from an e-siddur. They’re still electronic!

3. Who cares? Codex technology came into being and we retained the scroll. Now e-readers have been invented and we’ll retain the codex (fancy word for book) too.

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A review of a new minyan in Austin–and how a Christian gospel tune wound up there

I have previously written about this tune’s use by Jews here.

The review of Minyan Kol Zimra at Congregation Agudas Achim is toward the bottom. I begin this post with some history about the bizarre liturgical wanderings of this song:

I first heard “Lord Prepare Me” at Kutz, the Reform movement’s high school-only summer camp, in the summer of 2006. A girl’s cabin was leading services and they sang this song to begin services:

Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary / Pure and holy, tried and true / With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you / etc.

After that, I heard it multiple times in Reform youth settings. I have heard it sung in English, sung as a nigun and I’ve heard it used as a tune for Hinei Mah Tov–and as combinations of all of the above. I’ve also heard a version where the line “V’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham (Build me a Temple so I can dwell among you)” is used as the lyrics.

Recently, I started hearing it in the indie minyan world. According to notes in the margin of my Koren Talpiot Siddur, I heard it on Nov. 19 at Kol Zimrah on the UWS of NYC. It was used as a tune for Mi Chamochah. A quick survey of two people sitting with me found that neither of them knew the origin of the tune. A bigger survey at dinner revealed that no one I asked about it knew where the tune was from.

I’m also pretty sure I’ve heard it in some other indie minyan setting, but I can’t recall where.

This week, my dad and I went to check out Minyan Kol Zimra (no relation), a new chapel minyan at our local Conservative shul, Congregation Agudas Achim. Rachel Kobrin, their young new assistant rabbi, started the monthly minyan a while ago (meaning she’s been there a year, I became aware of the minyan this summer, but I have no idea when it started). She bills it as a musical, community-led minyan. Clearly, she’s trying to replicate the feeling of an indie minyan.

To some extent, it works. To some extent, it doesn’t. She tried to get people to get up and dance with her twice, with very limited success. She said at one point that people often shout out a new tune or nigun and the leader will adjust to follow the spontaneous change. Yet, I observed that on the couple of occasions that this happened, it was just Kobrin starting up with something and leader following suit.

One of the nigunim that she lead (and there were many) was a nigun of “Lord Prepare Me.” She also used it as the tune for the Musaf Kedushah, which only kind of worked.

Overall, I liked MKZ. It was spirited–mostly. There were a few stumbles where the majority of people–including myself–seemed complete confused as to where we where in the tune or the nusach, which was mostly because tunes from anywhere and everywhere in the Carlebach-indie-etc-whatever repertoire were being applied to pieces of liturgy they weren’t necessarily made to fit. But that was fine.

The level of chaos was off the charts. My dad and I love chaos in a service, especially in Shabbat morning, but even we were surprised by the level of chaos achieved by this group. Which isn’t a criticism. We loved that aspect of it. And the group was as warm and welcoming as a high level of chaos usually indicate.

I have one major criticism: The service began with Shacharit. We skipped right over Morning Blessings and Pesukei Dezimrah and went right to Nishmat. From there on out, it was a full Conservative service–though we did use the “Heiche Kedushah” business where you don’t do a repetition of the Amidah or Musaf. You might think that excluding the whole beginning of the service and the Reader’s Repetitions, only doing Shacharit, Amidah, Torah Service and Musaf would shorten the service. Yet, MKY managed to drag the service out from 9:40 or so all the way until noon! This is probably because of excessive niguning and the terrific chaos.

EDITED 12/21/10 around noon: Apparently, for the first nine months of Minyan Kol Zimra, they did Pesukei Dezimra. It was a new experiment this week to replace is with some niguning.

I give Minyan Kol Zimra at Congregation Agudas Achim three ballpoint pens.

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Annual Tzitzit check-up

It’s been four years and one month since I started wearing tzitzit daily. A few times a year, I do a little check-up on my tzitzit practice here at The Shuckle.

The latest is actually a comment that I just wrote in response to a comment on this recent post about the TSA and tzitzit.

Isak BK Aasvestad asked:


Why do you refuse to wear s kippah?

Don’t you get weird looks from other Jews trying to figure out a guy who wears tzitzit out, but goes bareheaded? (I’m not saying that avoiding weird looks is a reason in itself to wear a kippah, but to me the two goes together like a horse and carriage…)

And my response was:

Reason #1: I hate being told what to do. No one will ever tell you to use this siddur, not that one you brought with you. No one will ever tell you that you can’t daven in this community or that community if you don’t have tzitzit on. There is no reason I can find as to why this ritual, out of all of the Jewish rituals out there, has become a line in the sand. Yet, kippot have come to occupy a bizarre emblematic place in Jewish life, which leads me to the second reason….

Reason #2: The kippah seems to occupy a mere symbolic place in Jewish life. Despite what everyone says about being reminded that God is above you, there is no consensus on the historical reason for kippot. I don’t like doing things for no reason. And if the only reason we can come up with is that kippot symbolize God’s location at a higher altitude than us, then I am not interested in engaging with this ritual. It becomes a theological absurdity.

And as for the notion that kippah and tzitzit are a natural pair, let’s consider first that they have no relationship whatsoever, except that both are articles of clothing. One is a biblical injunction, the other a minhag–albeit a minhag with tremendous traction. (But, given my distaste for the literal application of minhag hu halachah, I’m not interested.)

Isak, it is interesting that you think the two articles of clothing are tied together. Most Jews I meet think it’s totally ordinary–whether they think it good or not–to wear a kippah, but not tzitzit. So it’s normative, in the collective Jewish consciousness, to engage in a particular minhag, but to ignore a full-fledged law that bears a resemblance to the minhag. That brings me to my third reason….

Reason #3: Not only do I not think that there’s a whole lot in the discussion of tzitzit and kippot that makes no sense, but I also think that people have an obligation to point out things to make no sense. So, in wearing tzitzit, but no kippah, I am a living testament to why the whole thing makes no sense.

As an aside, on this historic occasion of my four-years-and-a-little-more-than-one-month anniversary, here is the best of my tzitzit-related blogging, starting with the post I wrote on the first day that I wore them: Continue Reading →

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