Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hayyai Sarah: A deeper look!

First off, mad props to Blogger for finally setting up the blog-o-sphere so that comments can be tracked (I was really bad about going back to places I'd left comments to see if there was a response, not to mention that CoComment did weird things to my browser, so I got rid of it).

Secondly, I seem to have this weird problem. There's another Jewish woman in my office. I'm nearly positive she's Orthodox, though I'm pretty sure she's Modern Orthodox. The problem is that we never talk. I mean, we should have things to talk about, right? I don't mind saying "Yo! I'm Jewish!" to other people, but for some reason, things are not as easy with this gal. We were both in the copy room today for like 10 minutes together and nothing beyond "How are you?" "Fine, and you?" "Fine, thanks" was said. How awkward ... anyone have any icebreakers for Jews?

Thirdly, and most importantly, I find myself reading Torah very differently than I did even a year ago. This week's Torah portion is Hayyai Sarah, which is one I recognized immediately. It's the portion where Sarah dies, she's buried, and Abraham sends his servant out to find Isaac a wife and he comes back with Rebekah and then Abraham dies and is buried with Sarah. It's pretty basic and there isn't a whole lot of depth to the portion -- but I gather that this is because several things I might question (the oath by genitalia, love after marriage, the discrepancy in the storytelling in each version) I questioned last year in my blog and thus answered. I also find that I question things differently; I ask questions in the style of the sages in Talmud! I think this is a reflection of reading Rashi's Daughters, as the amount of commentary and discussion that takes place is too much to count! I say this because the questions I derived from my Torah study this evening were not answered in my chumash, like many of the basic question's answers are. Thus, these provide more room for exploration, which makes me wish I were a Talmud chacham. I find myself exceedingly jealous of the children raised Jewish with Talmud learning and especially Rashi's daughters, who were so learned ... jealousy!

My queries on Hayyai Sarah:
  • At the beginning of the portion, how did Abraham choose the land to buy in which to bury Sarah on? He very quickly and explicitly chose the cave on the land of Ephron, but what was the significance of the spot? We know that the purpose of buying the land was to establish residency so he would no longer be a stranger in the land, and also because he knew that the land would someday be theirs, as given by G-d ... so establishing a sense of ownership was important. But why the cave on the land of Ephron? What was special about this space?
  • In Gen. 23:10, did Abraham inadvertently violate the law that says one may not approach the land owner directly, but must first deal with the "people of the land"? I ask this because when Sarah dies and Abraham is talking to the Hittites about needing to procure land, he says he wants the cave on the land of Ephron. Without knowing it, Ephron is in the crowd and responds to Abraham. However, this violates the law I guess. But what are the repercussions? If any? (There were none in the Torah, of course, but I'm speaking about the "what if" here.)
  • How much land was there with the cave in the deal Ephron made? It was a 400-shekel deal, but there was no speculation in my chumash about the size of the land. It also didn't discuss what the land was used for. Was it worked by the Hittites? Was it barren? If there's all this land with a cave amid the community, wouldn't it be used for something?
  • In Gen. 24:16, and throughout the story of the servant and Rebekah, there is a discrepancy of the well versus the spring. I imagine the two words could be interchangeable, as a spring is a source of water from the ground and a well is a hole dug to create a water source. But in this verse it says that Rebekah "came up" from the spring ... would one have to "come up" from a well? Maybe I'm not familiar with biblical well-going, but that seems awkward. I suppose it could be chocked up to different authors or translations?
So that's my Torah babble for this week. Stay tuned ...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A productive, thoughtful Shabbat!

Although Shabbat quickly draws to a close ... I wanted to toss out something I just read in "To Life!: Prayers and Blessings for the Jewish Home" by Rabbi Michael Shire, which I just bought off the sale table at the local Borders.
Shabbat ... is the mainstay of Jewish family life, offering a weekly respite from work, and a time to be rather than to have. Ahad Ha'am, the famous nineteenth-century Jewish esasyist, poignantly remarked: 'More than Israel has kept the Shabbat, the Shabbat has kept Israel.'
I think what I like most about this is the "a time to be rather than to have." This is the essence of Shabbat, and it would appear that this Shabbat has been most insightful for me. Not only did I fill up three pages of my notebook on notes/thoughts/commentary on this week's Torah portion (Va Yera), but I also did some reading in Isaac ben Abraham of Troki's "The Strengthening of Faith" (Chizzuk Emunah), which basically defends Judaism and sort of goes point by point (and citation by citation) as to why the Christian disputation of Judaism is wrong, wrong, wrong! It was a productive afternoon, by golly. I'll likely post my Shabbat comments tomorrow (a little late, but better later than never!), as I"ll be heading out for the night shortly.

On another note: Going to Borders is so dangerous for me ... I went with the express purpose of buying a workout DVD (which I bought) but then also picked up Ani Difranco's "Canon" (eeep!), not to mention "To Life!" I also collected two or three other books on a list to add to my Amazon Wish List, including:
Feel free to get me anything you deem necessary ;)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blogs and books.

Talk about the big leagues! At least it feels like it. The JewsbyChoice group blog got a mention on the other day, and that, to me, feels like a big deal. I've been getting e-mails from readers with questions and comments, and the conversations on blog posts have been incredibly active. The website has come alive, and I couldn't be more happy to be a part of such an undertaking.

On another note, I just finished reading the first of the Rashi's Daughters series by Maggie Anton. The book (about the eldest daughter, Joheved) seems torn between being a historical text and a love story. I, myself, am particularly drawn to the Talmud commentary and discussions about Torah and ritual. The love story aspect of it is interesting enough, but seems almost forced. There are portions of the book that read as fluid as warm honey and others that dry up as quick as rain in July (fun comparisons, no?!). I often gush over Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent," which is based more on fiction than on fact, considering the historical nature of it. Rashi and his daughters are a little bit more present, of course, but the facts and historical documents aren't as prevalent as documents from even 300 or 400 years ago were (think Gluckel of Hameln!). Likewise, the insertions of "oui" and "mon cherie" into the otherwise English and Hebrew tests grates on my nerves of consistency and plausibility. It reminds me of Dora the Explorer or Passions (the former NBC soap opera), where every now and again one of the Latino family members will toss in a "gracias" or "dios mio" or some other recognizable Spanish phrase, just so we can remember that they're Latino. At the same time, I recognize that the book could be in French, it could be in Hebrew. It could be in English, and it is. I wish I knew French as well as I once did, so I could read the book in French -- perhaps the language it should be entirely written in! But I will pick up the second book (based on the next youngest daughter, Miriam) with wide eyes and a hopeful disposition. The historicity of the books, including the details about the way things are made or performed, is enough to keep even the greatest romance-loathing bookworm like me interested!

Note: I finally got internet at home, so expect some more in-depth Jew-related blogging in the near future!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Weekly Potpourri.

Tonight I'm heading to shul for a special event about living as an Israeli, which I hope provides me some insight and something to blog about, perhaps. Not that I'm short of things to blog about, of course. After all, I recently blogged over at the blog with a little parshah commentary.

I'm finding that I waste a lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing, and after picking up my copy of "The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living," which I pick up just about every year and never get past the first few weeks, I realized that I need to pay more attention to the time I'm wasting. Telushkin, in the first-day comments for Week 3, notes the importance of keeping track of the time wasted, when you could be devoting that time to Torah study. He tells of a time when he was in yeshiveh when he kept a notebook with him at all times, keeping tallies on what he was doing and when. He shone with pride the day he spent more than 10 hours studying (among shul, etc.). On the train ride in this morning, I sat, doing nothing. Just riding. I realized my wasted time and got out my book, "Rashi's Daughters: Joheved." Although it isn't Talmud or Torah, it surely is a book in the realm of study. The amount of Midrash and Talmud talk could probably be considered a day's work (for the ladies anyhow).

I also picked back up my Intro to Hebrew Bible text last night, and began re-reading the text I haven't looked at since I took the course several years ago.

It's obvious that my thirst for knowledge and academics is overflowing. Frasier couldn't satisfy me last night, but these books could. I'm trying to make an effort to fill my day with learning. Fulfilling learning. I can't remember the exact quote that Telushkin uses, but he talks about a man who on his deathbed realizes all the time he wasted in his life. He says something along the lines of, it's easy to realize that you are wasting your life in the beginning, it just hurts more in the end. Something along those lines. In sum: Don't wait till the end to say "oops, wasted that there life I had doing a whole lotta nothing."

So that's what I'm doing. Fill it up with books, fill it up with literature. Fill it up with the things that spark your mind to thirst for more, so that you might never be empty.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some updates.

So here I am. I am alive! My first post on got a lot of responses, and I thank everyone who had kind words to say and personal stories to offer. The world is such a big place full of Jews here there and everywhere, and it's nice to at least make connections in the ways that we can.

And now the new stuff: I've moved.

I guess that's the only major change in my life, but it's an important change. I'm waiting to get my Internet set up at home (cheap-o AT&T!), and until them I'm lurking in coffee shops and the library around the corner. The moment I get Internet, I'm going to focus on two graduate school applications: University of Connecticut and University of Michigan, the latter which I was accepted to last year but neglected to defer (life changes quickly). Why, you ask, must I wait till I have web at home? Being out and about, there's a lot of distractions. People, drinks, things and stuff. In the comfort of my own home, I can spread out on my vintage table and really dig in to the applications and the essays.

Yes, I had spent a long time planning on doing Hebrew College online for graduate school, but what it comes down to is that I just flat don't want to. If I'm going to school, I'm going to school. I'm sitting in a classroom and raising my hand and harassing professors during office hours and really getting in the face time to make people say "damn, she'll do great things one day."

This means that when (or if) I get in, I'll be moving -- again. This time, elsewhere, and I'm completely stoked about it. I love Chicago, but when you gotta go, you gotta go. I've been here briefly, but you gotta do what you gotta do (cliche, cliche, cliche!).

So there's that. In addition to school and moving, I'm also a lot closer to my synagogue. This means going to Saturday morning Torah study (G-d willing!) and also to the Adult Ed classes on the weekend and the Tuesday night Jewish movie at temple, too. Talk about stoked. If I'm going to fill up my time, it better be with all the Jewish things that make my world go 'round.

So the world keeps spinning and I'm hopefully moving closer to goals of personal fulfillment. I'm 24 years old now, and it seems like everyone back in Nebraska who I knew in high school is married, and if not married, then engaged. I have a hard time with this because I'm only 24, it doesn't seem like there's a huge rush, but it's stressful. I'm not one to set myself up to those around me, but it's like watching your friends fall in combat (extreme comparison, but you can sense the idea of loneliness). It's definitely Midwestern ideology, but that's how it goes I guess. But I'm going to try to get everything else in order before I start REALLY wondering "when?"

In unrelated news, I picked up Maggie Anton's first book in the Rashi's Daughters series, this one about Jochaved. It's definitely a far cry from the fluid storytelling of Anita Diamant's "The Red Tent," but I can still appreciate the years and years of research and work that went into Anton's efforts. It feels forced at times (it's as much an entertaining read as it is a historical approach that attempts to educate the readers about Middle Ages Jewry and Jewish customs), such as when explaining certain aspects of Jewish life. But how does one really casually explain certain customs and practices of Jewry without feeling forced anyhow? Maggie Anton is speaking here at a congregant's house at the beginning of November, and I'm pretty stoked. If anything, it'll be interesting to see how she traced the genealogy and compacted all of the history and customs into the texts.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ann Coulter strikes again!

In my humble opinion, I think Ann Coulter is probably the worst thing to happen to women, and perhaps to punditry (after folks like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, etc.). I take anything and everything she says with, well, not even a grain of salt. It's like reading the tabloids or staring through a window at a white wall. But it's also like a trainwreck -- sometimes you just have to look. Curiosity is piqued, and you want to know "who are you, and when are the aliens coming to take you home?" On that note, I'd like everyone to head over to to this little gem of a transcript from Ms. Coulter's recent interview on CNBC with Donny Deutsch, who just so happens to be Jewish. She basically says that Jews need to be "perfected" and that Christianity is the one true way because they follow the laws and that the Jews lose because G-d was always pissed because we couldn't figure out how to follow all the laws, thus making Christians G-d's favorite child and the Jews those folks who just haven't figured it out yet!

Among the gems of the article are the following:
COULTER: No, it’s true. I give all of these speeches at megachurches across America, and the one thing that’s really striking about it is how utterly, completely diverse they are, and completely unself-consciously. You walk past a mixed-race couple in New York, and it’s like they have a chip on their shoulder. They’re just waiting for somebody to say something, as if anybody would. And —

DEUTSCH: I don’t agree with that. I don’t agree with that at all. Maybe you have the chip looking at them. I see a lot of interracial couples, and I don’t see any more or less chips there either way. That’s erroneous.

COULTER: No. In fact, there was an entire “Seinfeld” episode about Elaine and her boyfriend dating because they wanted to be a mixed-race couple, so you’re lying.

DEUTSCH: Oh, because of some “Seinfeld” episode? OK.

Obviously she digs Seinfeld; maybe her and Jerry should sit down and have a heart to heart about perfecting themselves?

COULTER: No. I’m sorry. It is not intended to be. I don’t think you should take it that way, but that is what Christians consider themselves: perfected Jews. We believe the Old Testament. As you know from the Old Testament, God was constantly getting fed up with humans for not being able to, you know, live up to all the laws. What Christians believe — this is just a statement of what the New Testament is — is that that’s why Christ came and died for our sins. Christians believe the Old Testament. You don’t believe our testament.
COULTER: No, no, no, no, no. I don’t want you being offended by this. This is what Christians consider themselves, because our testament is the continuation of your testament. You know that. So we think Jews go to heaven. I mean (Jerry) Falwell himself said that, but you have to follow laws. Ours is “Christ died for our sins.” We consider ourselves perfected Christians. For me to say that for you to become a Christian is to become a perfected Christian is not offensive at all.
Let it be noted: This woman is a babbling moron.

West Bank Story!? OMG!

I have stumbled upon perhaps the greatest short film ever made. Yes, the greatest short film ever made. Not only did "West Bank Story" win an Academy Award ... but come on ... it's a musical about competing falafel stands in the West Bank. How could it NOT be the greatest short film ever? Cheers to Ari Sandel for winning Best Live Action Short Film!

Here's the trailer:

Here's the first 4 minutes of musical bliss!:

Change is a comin'!

So there is a lot I really should talk about, among them being the fact that I'm moving on Tuesday across town to a nice neighborhood called Buena Park. Also among them being that I spoke on the phone today with the head of a certain Judaic studies department in the Northeast about my possible future at their school. Things are changing, so quickly!

But I wanted to write a quick note to let everyone know that I'm part of this amazing project/website,, which is meant to be an ultimate resource for Jews in Training, Jews Returning and everyone in between. So please, PLEASE check it out. I just posted a piece over there about my name and how it affects me as a Jew. I've been wanting to blog about it for months now, but I was saving it for the JBC website. So please give it a read and comment away if your heart moves you to do so.

Look out for a full-fledged future talk, which should come soon friends. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

The Ultimate Goal.

"I have set God before me at all times" (Psalms 16:8)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The Year ends, The Year begins.

So I've changed my little book tally on the right sidebar there to now list Books Read in 5768, as it's a brand spanking new year and I just finished my first book of the year. I've been a little slow on the reading, despite having oodles of time on the commute. I haven't been quite as awake as I'd like lately, and the buses have grown crowded with teenagers heading to school. It just isn't as cozy as I'd like. On that note, I present to you the books (that I could remember) read in 5767:
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • The World to Come by Dara Horn
  • The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
  • My Holocaust by Tova Reich
  • Mara by Tova Reich
  • Women and Jewish Law by Rachel Biale
  • Turbulent Souls by Stephen Dubner
  • Rashi by Maurice Liber and Adele Szold
  • Neighbors by Jan Gross
  • Among the Righteous by Robert Satloff
  • Fabulous Small Jews by Joseph Epstein
  • Lipshitz 6 or Two Angry Blondes by T. Cooper
  • Mona in the Promised Land by Gish Jen
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Ladies Auxiliary by Tova Mirvis
  • The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Of those, I'd have to say "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close," "The Ladies Auxiliary," "The World to Come" and "The Chosen" were my top picks. "The Kite Runner" would be on that list had it not turned into a Schwarzenegger action film in the last portion of the story.

So feel free to pick up any of these books. They all rock, really. I wouldn't have read them if they didn't! Now on to more books for this year ...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

More on the new Reform siddur.

I'm not sure if this came out before, or if this is new stuff. An article came out a week or two ago about a controversial prayer that was re-added to the new Reform siddur, which I wrote about here a month ago. The new prayer book -- Mishkan T'filah -- is expected to be out and about pretty quick here. The ins and outs of the new siddur can be found on the URJ website here.

But the reason we're here -- the restoration of a controversial prayer! Way back when, when Judaism was splitting all over the place, one of the great diverting theologies was over the idea of the resurrection of the dead. This goes back to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, with the former supporting resurrection theology and the latter rejecting it for not being explicitly mentioned in Torah. The idea of resurrection even appears in Maimonides' 13 Principles of Faith. "Traditional" Jews still very much support the idea of resurrection, which foresees that at the coming of the messiah (since the Jewish messiah has yet to come), the righteous will be resurrected to enjoy the fruits of their righteous efforts.

There are some within Judaism who consider this theology to span to the idea of reincarnation of the soul, continuing on the work that was promised at Sinai in an effort to perpetuate and satisfy tikkun olam. These stories and ideas are largely held within Chasidic sects, and interestingly this idea is most definitely apparent in Chaim Potok's "My Name is Asher Lev" when Asher begins to question whether his divergence from the family trade is somehow harming the soul traveling from generation to generation within his family (as he's tormented by his great ancestor in his dreams).

But what does this all mean for Reform Judaism? In 1885, the Pittsburgh Platform explicitly DENIED bodily resurrection, as it seemed irrational and contrary to logic. Then there's this:
In prior Reform prayer books, the traditional blessing of God as the one who revives the dead — in Hebrew, “m’chayeih hameitim” — was changed to “m’chayeih hakol,” literally “who gives life to all.” The new prayer book includes the modified version, but also offers worshipers the ancient formulation as an alternative.
And more than 120 years later, here we are.

The new siddur, as I mentioned, is completely about inclusiveness. It's shooting at the whole body of Reform folks -- religious, non-religious, secular, non-Jewish spouses, etc. So by including the revamped version and the historically "traditional" version, the authors are hoping to pique the interest of curious parties and perhaps those who are aiming to be more traditional.

If anything, the inclusion of the traditional prayer and perhaps some accompanying gleanings can offer the reader -- religious or not -- a perspective of constant restoration of the self and of the soul. On Yom Kippur we're restored, no? The article has some interesting takes on the importance of the prayer, resurrection and messiah theology. Read it!

I'm really excited for the new prayerbook (though my opinions of resurrection theology are undeveloped, at best), because I've grown weary of the constant "return to tradition" that includes nothing more than a little more Hebrew in the service. I'm hoping this book will offer some truly more traditional takes on Judaism that hold to the tenets of a progressive Judaism, while also maintaining the roots and history and meaning of the thousands of years of Jewishness that preceded us.

In my eternal struggle to place myself on the spectrum of Judaism, I'm looking at the new prayerbook positively and hoping it'll keep me excited and searching.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Birthday funnel cake!

Yesterday Ian and I went to the Lincoln Park Zoo -- probably the best zoo I've been to second only to the Omaha Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska (I've been to Denver, Springfield, Tulsa, Kansas City, Washington D.C., etc.) -- for my birthday. And the Lincoln Park Zoo is FREE. Yes, it is FREE, folks. Not a penny is put out when you walk into one of the many wide-open entrances. It was clean, the animals were aplenty and lively, it was just beautiful. Here are a few photos of my favorite exhibits at just about every zoo: meerkatz and gorillas.

Then there was this guy, a red panda, that completely posed for me; it was beautiful!

Then we went up to Northwestern to this little peninsula with a beautiful view of the downtown skyline, not to mention some snazzy rocks that are decorated with proposals and other happy things and lots of boats.
For more fun photos of my zoo and Evanston adventures ... visit my Flickr!

Today (my actual birthday) wasn't so much fun. Lots of things swirling about resulted in me sleeping much of the day and only really enjoying the day long enough to hit up Wildfire for some dinner, which was wonderful; the joint makes me feel like I'm in the 1940s and should be wearing a snazzy cocktail dress. Ian made the weekend truly great for me, and for that I thank you.

So here's to possible massive changes in the near future. Cheers to all!