Sunday, August 1, 2010

Shabbat Links from the Weekend

Michelle Gerdes writes about observing Shabbat as someone who actually needs to work until relatively late on Friday night. Interestingly, she compares the hunger she feels for Shabbat to her husband's lack of desire, and explains it in terms of her Jewish background..  I have a hunger for Shabbat, but I didn't grow up Jewish. 

There were some extremely troubling things that came up and were saved by my news filters and agents during Shabbat.

Here is a story about what we can expect to happen when the Chief Rabbinate in Israel continues to consolidate power. Apparently, to them, one's Jewishness can be destroyed like a document in the course of ethnic cleansing. Insofar as understand being Jewish, it's distinct from the Rabbinate's understanding. Obviously, the Rabbinate's "standards" are self-serving. They're for theocratic discipline.

The most disturbing was this New York Times Story about the ADL's decision to oppose the mosque/Muslim community center near Ground Zero. Here's the troubling quote.


“Survivors of the Holocaust are entitled to feelings that are irrational,” he said. Referring to the loved ones of Sept. 11 victims, he said, “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted.”
I wondered if getting involved in opposing recognition for the Armenian Genocide is one such irrational feeling Mr. Foxman legitimizes. Indeed, I wonder how Mr. Foxman feels now that Turkey has turned against Israel, anyway. Perhaps others will learn that doing things for an assailed group's (in this case Israel's) perceived interests, when they are the wrong things to do in every other respect, benefits no one. What one does is turn other groups such as Armenians, New Yorkers, or Muslim-Americans into political footballs. And in doing so one empowers the worst folks - Turkish Nationalists, Americans who hate New York enough to show 9/11 destruction porn at a political convention while roundly abusing its inhabitants as responsible for the country's financial mess and moral degradation, and religious bigots everywhere.

And, finally, some good news. Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky were married in an interfaith ceremony with a Rabbi and Methodist Minister both officiating. Mazel tov!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Shabbat Plans 7/30 - 7/31- Take Out Shabbat

Okay, this week we're really disorganized. We're going away soon, so we're trying to prepare for that. Other things are going on, but we're not commenting on that yet. The end result is, we're getting take out tonight. Take-out Shabbat? That's like being Jewish on Christmas. I'd post more, but I really need to get work done.

We're going to attend services at a local egalitarian Conservative Synagogue this weekend because the Torah service is going to be conducted by a local Renewal Rabbi I've been in touch with. I'm leery of going to a Conervative Synagogue, because I grew up down the road from one, and never felt comfortable there, for various reasons I won't go into now. Still, it is there that we'll continue our shul-shopping.

After that, we'll be going on vacation. But that won't mean vacation from the Shabbat Dabbler! I'll be bringing books with me. While away, I'm going to try to pull together DIY resources for Shabbat observance in the home, focusing - in particular - on Friday Night. If any reader would like to help, please comment or send me an email.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I'm not a Jew? (David)

Today I had meant to write about punk Shabbat. Sasha saw it used in a couple of posts, and wanted me to explain it. Fair enough. I'll do that.

But I was railroaded today by a bit of news. I might not be Jewish. Really? My mother is Jewish, born in Israel (actually before Israel), and immigrated to the U.S. as an adult. Naturally, she's a secular renegade from the established Orthodox Judaism of Israel. My father is of mixed Anglo-Celtic heritage. He grew up Catholic, but was lapsed by the time he married my mother. I was raised going to the occasional Unitarian Universalist service, and, of course, the now-extinct UUHF Renaissance Faire.

The only time I went to a Synagogue was during a friend's or family member's Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah. These were generally at Conservative Synagogues on Long Island - not traditionally accepting places of people from interfaith families. My mother did not feel comfortable at these Synagogues, and (therefore) neither did I. Some of that also had to do with my mother's politics, which is dovish Israeli.

Anyhow, I'd always been told that I was Jewish, because my mother is Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish Law.  My friends told me that.  My parents, even my father, told me that. At first, this puzzled me. How was Jewish law binding on me? Don't I have some say about that?  

I became an atheist, but not for that reason. The halachic claim had only this bearing upon me: as part of others' (not only Jews!) claims that by doing-or-not-doing-x I was a bad or self-hating Jew - a traitor to my people. That hurts, whether one accepts halacha or not. Usually it involved political disagreements (e.g. the Middle East), but not always.  Sometimes it was in the context of disapproving of intermarriage.  I've been told that as a Jew I should disapprove of my family.  Think of how my mother felt!  She protected me from that (and that, in a way, does make me, through her, Jewish).  

I don't want to intimate any sort of identity crisis. I'm no longer an adolescent. I've learned that when someone uses an identity-based ad hominem attack to make a point against one's politics, or especially one's family, self-reflection is not the proper response.  Invite the offender to walk the remark back. If that doesn't work, walk away. Flip the bird, whatever. No problem. Life is too short.

Still, I thought that according to Jews I was Jewish even if I was not Jewish according to me.  I understood it to be true that with a Jewish mother, I could come back any time, welcomed with open arms. Of course, I'd have to deal with all the bad-Jew stuff, but whatever.

It turns out that this may be true for Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis and their congregations. But what they say is no final world.  My closest spiritual, philosophical, and political brethren are Jews of some or other progressive movement.  And here's where it gets interesting.  According to Reform, Reconstructionist, and other Progressive Rabbis and their congregations I may not be a Jew.  From the Reform Movement's Resolution on Patrilineal Descent:
The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.

Depending on circumstances,1 mitzvot leading toward a positive and exclusive Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant, acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation).2 For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity, other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted after consultation with their rabbi.
How about that?  If our family decides to do more than dabble, I'll have to do something or make some declaration as directed by a Rabbi. It might involve study or ceremony.  It might not.  Who knows?

I feel good about that.   It turns out that adolescent-me was right.  I was not a Jew.  Officially, I am not a Jew, but I'm more Jewish now than I was then.  It makes sense from another perspective, too.  Were I to assert a birthright over people who studied hard to become Jews, that would be arrogant and unfair.  When I go to shul, I have no idea what is going on half the time.  I read stuff, and I study, sure, but I still can't navigate the Siddur much less more challenging things.  I carry some tunes, but fill them in, when I'm lost, with a semi-harmonic (Celtic) drone. So, it's only right.

What does this mean for me in the near future?  Very, very little.  We're still shul-shopping and Shabbat dabbling.  I'm studying, and I want to learn through books, organically with my family, and with a congregation.  If and when we decide to join a shul, my non-Jewish status will become relevant.  It will be up to the Rabbi what I need to do in order to "activate" that status. But not until then, and we don't know for sure where or when that will happen.    

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why observe Shabbat? (David)

"Why observe Shabbat?" seems an odd question considering the point of this blog. The obvious answer is that our reasons for observance will show in our practice.  Our practice, and our reasons will evolve over time. To put it Wittgenstein's way, the answer is to be shown, not said.  It is self-contained, in a way, a form of life.

I have a different interpretation of "Why observe Shabbat?" in mind. This interpretation relates to a question posed by Reb Zalman Shacter-Shalomi, the first Rabbi of the the Jewish Renewal movement, in his book Jewish With Feeling. Reb Zalman asks, in the final chapter, "Why Be Jewish?" He rejects Jewish triumphalism, the view that Jews are better, and Judaism is more correct, than everyone else and their religions, but that's barely notable. Many Jews, even Modern Orthodox Jews, have rejected triumphalism by buying into something similar to dual-covenant theology. That idea, I suppose, is that God made different covenants with different peoples, each of which may be valid for them. But Reb Zalman's rejection of triumphalism is different. He rejects both the relativism endorsed by dual-covenant thinkers, and their attendant tribalisms.

Only by rejecting tribalism can Reb Zalman state the question, "Why be Jewish?" in a way that can have an informative answer. The tribalist's answer is that one is Jewish because one is halachically Jewish, or underwent a halachic conversion process.  Reb Zalman doesn't give that answer.  Instead, he explains how features of Judaism, its ability to survive in the diaspora, its understanding of time, make indispensable contributions to humanity.  Part of his answer to that question is that one should be Jewish because of Shabbat.  Earlier in the book, he suggests that Shabbat forms the core of Jewish practice, especially for people who want to become more Jewish.  

This is an instance of Plato's Euthyphro dilemma.  Does one observe Shabbat because one is Jewish, or is one Jewish because one observes Shabbat (among other things)?  I don't mean to suggest a clear answer to this question, merely that there is value in, at least provisionally, embracing the view that one is Jewish because one observes Shabbat (among other things).  Only then can we ask the second question, "Why observe Shabbat?" and consider those answers as reasons for being Jewish.

It feels to me that Shabbat is something that I need, and needs are reasons.  I defy anyone who wants to call that self-theraputic.  So what if it is?  It's a way of life.  Punk Shabbat! 

Friday, July 23, 2010

Check out Rachel Barenblat's Mother/Shabbat Poem (David)

I really like this poem by Rachel Barenblat, aka The Velveteen Rabbi.  I enjoy the following image, especially.
a voice says cry out!
and you cry out
bewailing the tragedy of separation
until I gather you to my breast
I find the motherhood/Shabbat metaphor more familiar and therefore much more evocative than both the queen/Shabbat and the bride/Shabbat metaphors.  That is, the idea of Shabbat as coming home to the comforting embrace of a parent speaks to me in a way that Shabbat as the coming of a queen does not.  Partially, that's because I'm a new father, and I can almost understand the literal meaning of these lines.  It's not only that.  I guess I'll reflect on what else.

There was another theme for this poem relating to Shabbat Nachamum, literally a Comfort Shabbat relating to the Torah reading.  I don't know much about that.  Maybe we'll learn about it tomorrow.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Shabbat Plans: 7/23 - 7/24 2010 (David)

Here's how we're going to plan our Shabbat observance this weekend. As we're starting slow, it's not going to fill up too much with stuff. Here's the highlights.

Food
We normally go grocery shopping on Saturday morning. One of us drives to Fairway in Red Hook, while the other stays home with Lanie. In order to drive to Fairway and get back home without spending an inordinate amount of time, we have to leave early. Otherwise, food shopping takes a significant part of the day.

We're going to skip Saturday morning shopping. With shul (see next), it just doesn't fit in. And, to say the least, shopping doesn't fit very well with Shabbat.

So, here's our plan. Sasha is going to Sahadi's to get hummus and tabbouleh, and to the Damascus Bakery to get pita. We've got cheese, vegetables, and olives aplenty. We've also got chocolate. We're pescatarians, so there's no question about going to the butcher. I'll get a bottle of wine, maybe a vinho verde, for Friday night.

We'll have this food for Friday night dinner. Yeah, I know that doesn't sound all that special. But you'll only say that if you've never had Damascus Bakery Pita!

Cleaning
I'm going to come home on Friday night and clean before it gets dark. It's so much less stressful being in an apartment when it's clean. And we'll be in our apartment a bit - if it's 90+ degrees outside, it may be unbearable to be anywhere else.

Shul
We're currently shul-shopping. Last week we went to a local Reform Synagogue - one of several in our area of central Brooklyn. It was a sparsely attended service, led by one of the members, as the Rabbi is on vacation. We enjoyed it, but it was difficult to get a sense of what it was like. This week we're going to another local shul, one that's closer to home. The Rabbi is also on vacation at this shul, but the services will be conducted by a student Rabbi.

Visits
Sasha's brother is in town, and we'll be spending Saturday afternoon till Sabbath's end with him. Great planning!

Other Plans
We have no other plans but the above. We'll probably take Lanie to the park, and to the swings. Maybe we'll watch a movie. There's no real time for much else, Shabbat is actually short!

This is going to be our second attempt at a Sabbath. We may try integrating some other things. But mostly, it's going to be about play and rest.
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The Shabbat Dabbler (David)

Hi, and welcome to The Shabbat Dabbler. The point of this blog is to describe my family's attempts to observe Shabbat.

The idea is simple, as is the reason behind it. We have a new family. I've been married to my wife, Sasha, for a little over two years. My daughter, Lanie, was born a little over a year ago. As a new working father, time is at a premium. I have keep in my mind what I have to do next, along with what I'm doing now.  It's much the same for Sasha. The trouble is that through focusing on tasks, we become disconnected from our reasons for actions - primarily (but not only) the people in our lives. We're going to try dabbling in observing Shabbat with the thought that we'll connect better with family and friends.

I'll, especially, try to connect better with  friends, as I have structured my life so that my nuclear family are often the only social relations I have in a given week.  Any spiritual benefit that comes as a result, is gravy.  That's what this this blog is about.
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