Tag Archives | Ballpoint pen

Stowing my pen and covering my head

If you’re a regular reader, you know two things: First, that I hate putting on a kippah and, second, that I like to take notes in my siddur during services.

It has become increasingly clear to me that these preferences of mine are not well received in some communities. As the range of places I’m willing to daven has expanded–or drifted to the ritual right, as it might be more accurately put–I’ve had to deal with this issue more and more.

My first attempts at dealing with this involved complaining about it to people I know a lot and complaining about it even more here on this blogOne such blogged complaint in particular didn’t turn out so well. That blog post turned into a minor fiasco–which was, in the end, entirely of my own making.

Then I started trying this thing where I’d walk into a place where I suspected they’d want me to wear a kippah with my head uncovered and wait for someone to correct me. I’ve only ever met with success using this method. Either no one tells me to put one on or they do. It’s not like I’ve ever been ejected for this. (It hasn’t even cause a blog post fiasco. Yet.)

While I was using the better-to-ask-for-forgiveness-later-than-permission-now approach to covering my head, I was using a similar approach to note-taking. I’d keep the pen in my pocket and try to take notes really discretely. Now that I’m actually writing this down, it occurs to me that I’ve never actually had bad luck with this method either, though I’ve only tried it in pew seating situations where it has some chance of success.

The risk associated with taking notes during services is that it has become compulsive. If I have a pen on me, I will make note of every little thing–when they switch leaders, what tunes they do for everything, liturgical oddities, the presence of other people I happen to know, the date, various architectural features of the space, etc. I could go on. It is this compulsion that has made posts like this exhaustive catalog of the minhag of one community possible.

Which means, as many–Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, most prominently–have pointed out to me, that I risk not noticing the forest because I’m taking a rubbing of the bark of every damn tree. I’m like those hordes of Japanese tourists that can’t possibly have seen one inch of Europe until they go through their photos once the vacation is over. I have pretended that this problem doesn’t bother me, but it has begun to–though this is certainly the first I’ve mentioned it here.

Now I’ve moved to South Orange and I’ve found Beth El, a nice shul that makes me want to stick around. I’m fairly mortified to find myself on the verge of considering the possibility of maybe eventually inquiring about membership at a *gasp* Conservative shul. And I want these people to refrain from ejecting me from the premises.

Which means that I have been leaving my pen at home and putting on my kippah before I go in. Of course, I wait until I’m at the door to put it on. And as soon as I’m out the door, I take it back off. But still.

(“If that’s the case,” you’re wondering, “how did he produce this blog post about services at Beth El?” My new method is to fold over the corner of any page in the siddur on which I want to remind myself that something of note happened. So far, it’s seems to be working.)

I feel, on the one hand, like this is all probably pretty good for my problems with ego and humility. On the other hand, I feel like I’m losing some battle. Being that asshole who takes notes in services has become and identity issue for me.

And, just as an aside–and maybe as a last word of protest on the issue–I have noticed that Beth El refers to itself as a Conservative egalitarian congregation. If that’s the case, why don’t the women have to cover their heads? I have noticed that many women, probably more than usual, do cover their heads, but the sign on the bin-o-kippot does say “all males” must cover their heads.

And, just as a final complaint on the topic in general, I don’t know why it matters to anyone else what is or is not on my head. I have to wonder what would happen if I went to Beth El for shacharit and failed to put on a talit. Would that matter? Or only on the bimah? Would anyone chastise me if I showed up on a weekday and didn’t wrap tefilin? Why is everyone so bizarrely attached to this one little minhag?

Alright. That’s all. I meant for this post not to turn into a rant, but it’s only been like a week so far. I’m still working on being over this stuff.

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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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Index to the 13 Limmud NY Notes posts

I went to my fourth Limmud NY this weekend. It was great. There are 13 15 posts about it. Hopefully, this post will help you navigate which, if any of them, you want to read.

  1. Lost Versions of Havdalah is about a session Elie Kaunfer taught about a longer version of Havdalah preserved in the Talmud and in the Cairo Genizah.
  2. Miscellaneous is about the continuing Askenazification of my speech, blog sightings, news about my book, networking, nusach Hadar, Kiddushin bishtar and Joe Rosenstein.
  3. Sunday musical Mincha-Maariv with BZ is a review of the Sunday afternoon-evening service with guitar and awesomeness led by fellow Jewschooler and Mah Rabu blogger BZ.
  4. Mahzor Lev Shalem with one of its editors is about a session about MLS, the new Conservative machzor and my favorite machzor. The session was taught by Rob Scheinberg, one of the members of the committee that created MLS.
  5. Debbie Friedman and the Reform Jews is about Havdalah at Limmud NY 2011, the lack of Reform Jews at Limmud NY and the music of Debbie Friedman.
  6. An excuse to get four smart Jews to talk to each other is about a panel that featured a discussion between a Reform rabbinical student, a black hat rabbi, a Renewal rabbi and a recently married woman with an eclectic religious background about Shabbat.
  7. Hey, Nakedhead! The David A.M. Wilensky Story is about a deranged man who said “Hey, nakedhead!” to me in the middle of the Haftarah on Shabbat. It’s also in the running for the new name of this blog.
  8. Pirkei Avot 2:15 is about Pirkei Avot 2:15. I mostly wrote it for the benefit of Shir Yaakov, who gets a lot of shout-outs on this blog today.
  9. Communal Kiddush is about why having communal Kiddush on Friday night at Limmud NY is a mistake from the pluralism perspective and includes a proposal for something different we could do instead.
  10. More on communal ritual issues–electronics on Shabbat etc. is about issues of communal space and ritual observance at Limmud NY–again, from the perspective of wanting to enhance the pluralistic atmosphere of Limmud NY.
  11. Yes, I went to a Renewal service. And yes, I liked it. is a review a Renewal-style service I went to on Friday night. Spoiler alert: I give the service three and a half ballpoint pens.
  12. The ballpoint pen saga’s poetic conclusion and some other observations from a Hadar service is about the beautiful, joyous conclusion to the Hadar ballpoint situation and about how I got to have the coolest aliyah of the whole year. And about how Ethan Tucker reads Torah like a badass.
  13. Shabbat as labor law and An alternate Kiddush are about a session from Will Friedman about how Shabbat is a labor law and about how he thinks Deut. 5 should be used for Kiddush.
  14. A panel of experts on how college students should give Tzedakah is about a session called “‘Just’ Giving,” in which some interesting thoughts about how to give when you don’t have a lot to give came out.
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Limmud NY Notes: The ballpoint pen saga’s poetic conclusion and some other observations from a Hadar service

I went to Limmud NY 2011 and wrote a lot of posts about it. Here’s a guide to them.

The whole ballpoint pen service rating system thing started at Hadar on Yom Kippur when I was asked to stop taking notes in the margins of my siddur and asked to put a kipah on when I went up to dress the Torah. That full story can be read here. It’s big fun.

Shirat Hayam, from sofer.co.uk

So I arrived on Shabbat morning to the Traditional-Egalitarian service (read: the Hadar service) on time for the beginning of Pesukei Dezimrah. A Hadar Fellow, Hannah something (also mentioned here), offered me the fourth aliyah. Given that it was Limmud NY and not actually Hadar, I fully intended to take notes as I usually do. And I did.

It turned out that this was the coolest aliyah of the year. I got to bless before and after the read of Shirat Hayam. It was big fun. The gabbai was Will Friedman (also mentioned here and here). Halfway into the aliyah, I realized that there was a ballpoint pen behind my right ear, as there usually is. Also, my head was naked.

It has come full circle, friends. And it feels good.

Also, Ethan Tucker (also mentioned here) read the fifth aliyah. Since I got to stay up there during the fifth aliyah, I noticed something interesting–Ethan does not use a yad when he reads. Rather, he uses one of his tzitzit. I thought it was pretty badass, or at least as badass a thing as one can do while reading from a sefer Torah.

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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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