Archive | January, 2011

The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music

According to JTA, the Reform cantorial school has been renamed The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music:

Rabbi David Ellenson, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, made the announcement Jan. 27 in New York at a memorial tribute to Friedman, who died Jan. 9 at 59.

Friends of the late singer-songwriter have made possible an endowment to the school, which will be known as The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, Ellenson said.

Here’s the full article from JTA.

Also, the article says:

Her most well-known composition, “Mi Shebeirach,” a Hebrew-English version of the Jewish prayer for healing, is now part of the Reform liturgy.

I can’t even begin to describe the aneurysm I’m having about the notion that any individual piece of music could be a Never mind that. It is, in fact, a part of the Reform liturgy. I just found it in Mishkan T’filah on page 109.

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The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System explained and expanded

I’m refining the Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System and I’m also creating this as a post I can link back to whenever I give a rating out so that folks can have something to look at and know what I’m on about.

The Five Ballpoint Pen Rating System is my system for rating the services that I attend and write reviews of.

Why ballpoint pens? Because there’s usually one behind my ear during services so I can take notes–unless I get told to cut it out.

There are four categories in which I give ratings:

Music and Ruach: One Ballpoint Pen in this category means awful, incompetently led music and a limp, disinterested congregation. Five Ballpoint Pens indicates first-rate music, nusach, chazanut, whatever, etc. and an involved kahal singing along loudly.

The Chaos Quotient: One Ballpoint Pen in this category can mean one of two things: Either the service is a carefully orchestrated performance with no sense of personality, or it’s so chaotic that no one can follow what’s going on. Five Ballpoint Pens in this category indicates that the service and the community have some personality and that there is a comfortable, charming layer of chaos and eccentricity buzzing along just beneath the surface of the service.

Liturgical Health: One Ballpoint Pen in this category indicates a total disregard for the structure of the service such as cutting prayers here and there for no reason. It also means that the kahal is visibly ignorant of the order and proceedings of the service and that none of them brought their own siddurim. Five Ballpoint Pens in this category indicates a community with a conscientious approach to the liturgy, from the leaders on down. It may also indicate that the community is full of people who care enough about their liturgy to bring their own siddurim.

Welcoming Community: One Ballpoint Pen in this category indicates that I was not greeted when I arrived or at any point before, during or after the service. Five Ballpoint Pens in this category indicates a very visibly welcoming community. This one may be hard to judge in some cases when I already know many people at the service, but I try to take a look at how newcomers are treated.

There is also an Overall Quality rating that is mathematically totally unrelated to the other five–it’s not an average or anything. It’s just my general feeling about and judgement of the service. One Ballpoint Pen in this category means that I hated the service and Five Ballpoint Pens means I loved it.

These ratings are not meant as pats on the back, nor as mean-spirited critique, but as a guide to like-minded readers of this blog. In an ancillary capacity, it may also serve as a helpful outside critique of the service for the community in the review.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Book notes | “Jewish Literacy” #112, Baruch Spinoza

Since the beginning of last semester, “Jewish Literacy,” the tome of short entries on everything a Jew should know by Joseph Telushkin, has been my bathroom book. It’s perfectly suited to that because it’s dived into one- to three-page summaries of each topic.

In entry #112, Baruch Spinoza, Telushkin writes (emphasis mine):

Spinoza’s excommunication by the rabbis of Amsterdam when he was in his mid-twenties was caused by his denial of angels, the immortality of the soul, and God’s authorship of the Torah. Communal leaders warned Spinoza the desist from such heresies, and when the warnings went unheeded, they issued this ban: “Cursed shall he be when he goes out and cursed shall he be when comes in. May the Lord not forgive his sins. May the Lord’s anger and wrath rage against this man, and cast upon him all the curses that are written in the Torah. May the Lord wipe his name out from under the Heavens; and may the Lord destroy him and cast him from all the tribes of Israel…”

Which is darkly hilarious, if you think about it. Today, Spinoza is widely studied and known, both by Jews and non-Jews. His name is far from wiped out? But who can name any of the rabbis that excommunicated him?

Shabbat Shalom.

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OneShul. Yeah.

Without commentary–or editing–here are the notes I typed while “attending” the online Kabbalat Shabbat at

30 second ad for the new james cameron film, sanctum.

there’s a logo up. the service has not started. unfamilar guitar-camp sort of music is playing. there are 9 other viewers. i can log in to chat. i refrain.

now we’re at 10. a minyan has arrived.

below the screen and the chat field, there is a siddur called “OneShul Community Siddur” it’s the same thing as indie yeshiva pocket thing. which i will be attempting to use. not that koren is far out of reach, but i’m making an effort here.

we’re down to 9 viewers. back to 10. back to 9. back to 10. up to 11! what is going on? and 13.

Google ads keeping popping up.

holy crap, the tune is country roads.

down to 12.

oooh. it’s starting. and it’s stopping. and it’s starting? and it’s stopped again.

it’s very choppy. there’s lots of discussion of how choppy it is. and it’s better. and now the whole thing is gone.

Well, in the midst of all the choppiness, we were all welcomed and they mentioned that they were about to do something involving a Shabbat dinosaur.

Thankfully, I think we missed that due to the choppiness and the outage because we’re back and this guy Michael is doing candle lighting. interesting, that we can all sort of light candles together, in a way. I already lit mine, which are now burning next to the computer.

The Shabbat dinosaur is back. It’s a little girl in a blue dino outfit.

And the nusach their using to light the candles is for Chanukah. *facepalm* Then Michael reads the bracha again in English.

After some puttering about and brief discussion, we’re singing Shalom Aleichem. I feel a little silly sitting in my dorm room singing along with this.

Patrick Aleph says, “Adonai Malach yirgzu amim.” Now Michael is reading it in English.

Now Michael is doing a devar and Patrick has joined the chatroom. “lets talk smack during the dvar” he says. AviEarnest says “Michael needs a dinosaur prayer shawl.” Goodness gracious.

Michael is talking about how Mishpatim takes slavery, a despicable institution, and tames it.

“michael is more spiritual than me in this way. he can take text and really work it well” patrick writes.

There are 18 viewers by now.

Michael is done now. Patrick says they’re gonna take some questions from the chat.

coco765: “How can you look for G-d?? I’ve been doing that all my life and I haven’t found G-d. Any ideas????”

Michael, apparently in Rabbinical school, answers.

I’m struggling to be open-minded right now. Realllly stuggling. Oh my goodness.

20 people now. comments are flying.

coco says, “PunkTorah=my new bff!!”

Michael is talking about Art Green. In theory, this goes from 7 to 8. (michael mentions reb zalman now.) It’s already 7:25 though.

can we get on with this service? one or two more questions, Michael says.

aaaand we’re on the barchu.

we’re halfway through maariv aravim. I’m gonna leave it there and tune out from the service. This is not Shabbat-conducive. The amount of judge-y in my head right now is no good.

Shabbat Shalom.

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Biblical Hebrew, Tanakh tabs, etc.

Aside from the Biblical Hebrew independent study, I'm also taking Digital Photography, so let's hope the quality of these photos starts improving.

I’m doing an independent study this semester in Biblical Hebrew with an adjunct from the Theological School, our United Methodist seminary here at Drew. Her name is Suzanne Horn. She’s a Christian, so I think we’ll end up learning plenty from each other.

Anyway, for the independent study, I ordered a Koren Tanakh–the Hebrew-only variety. Above, you can see it on the left. Next to it is my JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. I bought that trusty little volume before I went to Israel for the fall semester of my senior year of high school, which means I’ve been toting it around in my bag for four and half years now. It’s looking, as you can see, a little worse for the wear.

When it was about a year old, I bought the Bible tabs you can see lolling about on the edges of the pages. They’re one of the most useful little investments I’ve ever made. At the Chavurah (hit mute on your computer if you click on this link!), when we’re all flipping about trying to find the Haftarah, I’m always the first one there.

But I’d really like to get Hebrew tabs for my new Koren Tanakh. As far as I can tell, no one makes them. It seems like JPS should, but they don’t. And it seems like Koren could, but they don’t either.

I could make my own by buying some binder tab things from an office supply store and then printing them out on my computer, but they wouldn’t be small or durable enough.

So, does anyone know if someone makes them? And does anyone have any thoughts on fabricating them nicely?

PS–That’s my Moshe Rabbeinu non-piggy bank to the right of the monitor in the picture above. He has a slot in his back where you can put coins. And on the base it says INVESTS, but Jesus may save, but Moses… well, you know.

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Would you read this if I made it available for download?

As noted here, I just got a couple of papers back from last semester. Among them was the 20-page “Commentary on the Weekday Morning Amidah” I wrote by way of writing a final paper for my Jewish Spirituality course.

If I made this available for download or online viewing or something, would any of y’all want to read it?

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Psalm 137 vs. Psalm 126: Shabbat and yom chol in Birkat haMazon

When I came back to campus this week from Winter break, there were a couple of graded papers waiting in my mail box from Yehezkel Landau, my professor for Jewish Spirituality last semester. (I previously wrote about that course here and shared a short reflection paper from that course here.

On a short reflection on the topic of sacred time and the Jewish calendar, Landau had written:

Shabbat is also and experience of messianism now, a rehearsal for, & harbinger of, a redeemed future–cf. Psalm 137 before BIRKAT HAMAZON on yom chol vs. Pslam 126 on Shabbat: DREAM of REDEMPTION MADE REAL, EXPERIENTIALLY

So I have investigated. I began by checking my various benchers. None that I own include Psalm 137 before Birkat haMazon, but all include BhM’s familiar Shabbat opener, Pslam 126–“Shir hama’alot. Beshuv Adonai etc.”

So I googled. And Wikipedia kindly informed me:

Psalm 126, Shir Hama’alot (Song of Ascents), which expresses the Jewish hope of return to Zion following their final redemption, is widely recited before birkat hamazon on Shabbat…. Less common is the recitation on weekdays of Psalm 137, Al Naharot Bavel (By the rivers of Babylon), which describes the reactions of the Jews in exile as would have been expressed during the Babylonian captivity….

So that’s interesting. 137–you know, the one Bob Marley wrote–is a sad remembrance of expulsion and diaspora, while 126 is a joyous vision of a return and redemption.

Each week, we get kicked out of our redeemed state and our day of rest and back into our everyday drudgery. And each week, we get sing Psalm 126 as we get to return to the joys of Shabbat.

If I actually said BhM after every meal, I think I’d start adding Psalm 137.

PS–Dear bencher editors, what gives? Where’s 137, huh?

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Lost nusach of the Beit haMikdash

The Open Siddur Project

Over at The Open Siddur Project, Aharon has posted a summary of a known piece of nusach from The Temple:

Once upon a time, according to the Mishnah, it was the nusaḥ (liturgical tradition) of the Cohanim in the Bet Hamikdash[1] for the Ten Commandments to be read prior to theSh’ma.

He also gets into why we don’t read the Aseret haDibrot before the Shma any longer. It’s cool. Read it.

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Join me online for Kabbalat Shabbat

Against my better judgement, I shall be attending an online service on Friday night.

It is being run by OneShul, a project of Punk Torah, neither of which I think very highly of.

But I wanna see what this is like. A full review, of course, will be made available here a day or so later.

Or maybe I’ll live-blog it? I dunno. That seems much too silly. We’ll see what happens. Anyway, tune in at 7pm EST on on Friday night if you’re feeling as stupid as I am.

Oh, and you may recall my review of the Punk Yeshiva Whatever Siddur from last year. That was the same folks.

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Mincha x2: My afternoon adventure

There’s a bunch of photos in this post. If you’re viewing in a reader, I recommend going out to the post to see it properly.

I’m currently staying with some friends in Astoria, Queens. They go to work all day. So I went on an adventure today. And ended up hitting to different minyans for mincha!

You can’t see it here, but if you look up, you can see the spire of the Empire State Building above J. Levine.

My first stop was J. Levine. The store has been family-operated for five generations and has thrived in recent years by diversifying its offerings. The siddur shelves–which I’m know kicking myself for not taking pictures of today–have everything from multiple editions of Mishkan Tefilah to a full line of ArtScroll siddurim.

I happen to know the current Levine-in-Chief, Danny, who acts as conference bookseller during Limmud NY every year.

I was there to get a klaf for my current hosts’ mezuzah, which they hadn’t hung yet–call it a housewarming gift. But while I was there, I couldn’t resist wandering back through the narrow, cluttered store to the siddur shelves. And it took everything I had to resist the urge to buy any.

I noticed one woman–behind the counter–and maybe five or so men scattered throughout the store. I heard one of them walk past me muttering something about starting mincha soon.

Next thing I knew, one guy chant/calls out: “Ashrei! Yoshvei veite… mumble mumble selah mumble mumble mumble.” Ashrei had begun.

Oddly, when I looked up, I saw at least a dozen Orthodox men had materialized. One was shopping, flipping through a children’s book while muttering the words of the prayers to himself! Several of the new arrivals were full-on black hatters.

I got my klaf–the woman behind the counter had not stopped to daven–and got out before they were halfway through the Amidah.

I next made my way up to the Upper West Side to meet up with the Soferet, Jen Taylor-Friedman. Jen has a fun thing lying about that we’ve been to meet up so she can give me for ages. She said she’d be hanging around at Yeshivat Hadar this afternoon so I decided to meet her there. In the end, she couldn’t find the thing to bring it to me.

I arrived a little before she did, just as Mincha was starting! Ethan Tucker, one of the roshei yeshiva, was on his way and said hi to me. I told him I was looking for Jen and he said she hadn’t been in, but that one of the Hadar fellow was about to give a devar and that after that, the yeshiva becomes and open study space and that I was welcome to hang around.

So I decided to hang around for the devar, which, it turned out, was being given by a friend of mine, ASB. Here he is giving the devar:

ASB is the one in the middle, perched on the chair. One of the little heads to ASB’s left is my number one fan, Alex.

Anyway, Jen arrived just as ASB had finished up. Despite not being to find the thing she was gonna bring me, I had a good time checking out her latest project:

In a play on the tradition of a megilah where each column of text begins with hamelech, the king, Jen is creating a megilat Ester where each column begins with the word  hamalkah, the queen!

And now, a few words on the beautiful space that Yeshivat Hadar learns in. They study at the West End Synagogue, a Reconstructionist shul, (though Hadar itself is far from Recon!).

In the photo of ASB giving his devar above, you can see their sanctuary. Apparently, WES used to be a public library, so there are still bookshelves all around, which makes for a nice atmosphere for the yeshiva. There are many more chairs stack at the back, which I assume the yeshiva unstacks at the end of the week when WES is preparing for Shabbat services. The funny thing is seeing the yeshiva fellows sitting around in these chairs, which all have pockets on the back with copies of Kol Haneshama, the Recon. siddur!

There is some great not-stained-but-textured glass at the back of the sanctuary:

The doorway at the far right is at the top of the stair that lead into the sanctuary/yeshiva. I think it’s a really nice space. I’m considering adding WES to my list of places to pop into one week for services.

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