A Kinder Gentler Chad Gadya

Image: A baby goat. Photo by ChristianGeorg.

Sometimes it’s time for an update on an old tradition. I repost this because (1) Rabbi Fuchs wrote a swell update to an old seder favorite and (2) he models the way to respond to a reasonable request. So often we are tempted to get defensive when someone points out the flaws in a beloved tradition. Rabbi Fuchs demonstrates a better way. Enjoy!

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

Since I was a child, Chad Gadya has been one of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder. Its catchy melody and its underlying message always resonated with me.

Singing the song was such fun as we outdid each other to remember the words and sing them as quickly as possible until we came to the refrain, Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, My father bought for two zuzim, Chad Gadya, Chad, Gadya.

The people of Israel were the Chad Gadya, Aramaic for the innocent little goat, devoured successively by one power after another. The ultimate hope of course is that one day the Eternal one would destroy “the Angel of Death” and the human propensity for conquest and violence. Israel would live in peace and harmony with her neighbors, and all would be right with the world.

For those unfamiliar with it the lyrics are:

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, (An…

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Passover Prep for Beginners

Image: Feather duster and cleaners by stevepb.

Four years ago I wrote a piece about Passover preparation called “Begin in Egypt.” It was, I think, one of my best ever for this website, because it addressed the situation of beginners when preparing for Passover. I repost it today, because I still think it’s my best on the subject:

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Cleaning for Passover: Begin in Egypt

Rabbi Tarfon taught: It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.  [Pirkei Avot 2:16]

It is very tempting to take an “all or nothing” approach to mitzvot.   Some of us are overachievers, and we want an “A” in everything we do.  Some of us are worried about the opinions of others.  Some worry that if a commandment is not fulfilled properly, there was no point in bothering.  But to any beginner in Jewish observance, my first word of advice about almost everything is: Start Small.

The journey of the Exodus began in Egypt.  The Hebrews could not keep the commandments; they had not yet received the commandments.  Anyway, they were slaves:  they were not free to keep the commandments.

So if this is your first time cleaning for Passover, do not think, “I must do all of this perfectly,” because you are in Egypt.  You are only beginning the journey! If this is your first time cleaning for Passover, think:  What can I reasonably do this year to observe Passover in my home?  Here are some ideas for beginning your journey to Passover, one step at a time.  Even if you do only the first step, or the first two this year you will have made a good beginning.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for official standards on how to prepare a proper kosher-for-Passover home, and you are already an old hand at this, you will be much better served by the Pesah Guide published by the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative Movement.)  This post is for those who are new to the mitzvah of preparing for Passover.

1.  LEARN ABOUT CHOMETZ.  Chometz / Chametz / Hametz (all spellings are transliterations, all are the same thing)  is a product that is made from one of five types of grain (wheat, rye, spelt, oats, or barley) that have been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than eighteen minutes.  Chometz is sometimes defined as “leavened products” which is confusing, since that makes modern people think of leavening agents like baking powder and yeast.  But no, chometz is basically wet grain,  or grain that may have been wet at one time.

In short, anything in your home that contains one of those grains (wheat, rye, spelt, oats, barley) and may have had any moisture get to it (on purpose or by accident, no matter) is chometz.  Ideally, a Jew will find and get rid of all the chometz in the places under his or her control before Passover begins.

You can learn more about chometz and Passover observance in an article at My Jewish Learning.  There you will also learn that Ashkenazic Jews also dispose of rice, millet, corn and legumes like beans and soy [kitniyot]because those things often behave like the forbidden grains. Sephardic Jews do not get rid of those things.

If this is all you can do this year, that’s OK.   

2.  CHECK YOUR CHOMETZ.  The Hebrew name of the process of looking for chometz is bedikat chometz, literally “checking for chometz.”  The first step is to figure out where the chometz is.  You can’t get rid of it if you don’t take stock of it, right?

Go into the kitchen, open the cabinets, and make note of all the chometz products you normally own and use.  There may be bread, and flour, and mixes, and cereals.  There may also be processed foods that contain grain products.  Notice what they are, how many they are, how basic to your cooking and consumption these products are.  Notice, also, all the beer and spirits and other grain-based fermented products you may have: those, too, are chometz.  Then close the cabinets, and move on.

Go into the rest of your home, and think about all the places that crumbs can hide:  sofa cushions, carpets, pockets, shoes.

Contemplate the ubiquity of chometz:   It’s really everywhere.

If this is all you can do this year, that’s OK. 

3.  GET RID OF BIG CHOMETZ.  I said “start small” but at this stage of the journey, we’ll just get rid of what I call “big chometz.”  Set aside all thechometz in your kitchen and say, “what can my household consume before Passover?”  All the rest of the chometz will need to go for you to complete this third step.  Eat it up, give it away, or throw it out:  those are the chometz choices between Purim and Passover.  Locate a donation dropoff for your local food bank, and use it.

If you have gotten to this stage, you will also need to think about “What will my household eat during Passover?”  This does not mean that you must buy many specialized products for Passover.  Maybe you will choose to buy matzah, and otherwise stick to unprocessed non-grain foods for the week of Passover:  salads, fruit, meat, fish, etc. If you live with other people, you need to include them in the menu-planning for Passover week.  The average child (or adult, for that matter) will not feel loved if you simply announce that we are out of Cheerios and will be out of Cheerios until next week, tough luck!  If you have animals, you will need to plan for them as well.  However, keep in mind that an animal that eats grain needs proper nourishment:  consult your rabbi if you have questions about how to meet the needs of pets during the holiday.

If this is all you can do this year, that’s OK.   

4.  DISHES AND UTENSILS  If you are even more serious about keeping a kosher for Passover home, you will want to seal up or pack up all your usual utensils and dishes, and use either “Passover dishes” that you keep boxed up the rest of the year or use disposables.  This is more or less expensive depending on how you go about it.  My everyday Passover dishes are not particularly nice (they were on sale at Target)  and I only have a few of them, since other than the seder, I don’t entertain during Pesach.  However, I only look at them for one week a year, so I wasn’t picky.

Another possibility is to buy a package of paper plates. This is less wasteful if there is some way to compost them instead of putting them in the landfill after use. During Passover, I use more disposable products than at other times of the year, but I try to use them responsibly.

If this is all you do this year, it is more than OK. 
 

5.  FIND AND DESTROY HIDDEN CHOMETZ.  This brings us to something that looks suspiciously like “spring cleaning.”  Remember the chometz you thought about back at #1:  the crumbs in the carpet, your pockets, the car, the back of cabinets?  At this level of cleaning for Passover, you will get rid of as many of those as you can.  Take a moment to think a grateful thought for  all the clever inventors of the vacuum cleaner.  Most observant Jews will get their carpets cleaned in the week before Passover. Wipe surfaces down.  Dust everywhere.  Vacuum out the shoes in the closets.

If this is all you do this year, it is more than OK. 
6.  RECONSIDER “CHOMETZ  There are Jews who observe Passover by refraining from eating chometz, and who may or may not be meticulous about cleaning out their houses, but who take other understandings ofchometz very seriously.  To learn more, consider these articles on the web:
7.  REMEMBER, LIFE, LIKE EXODUS,  IS A JOURNEY.  In the beginning, start small.  Don’t tear your home up and then collapse in despair.  Pay attention to the mitzvah that you are doing, to whatever degree you can perform it.  Remember that at different stages of life, our abilities are different:  a beginner, starting out, will not approach Passover in the same way that a person who has grown up in a kosher observant household will approach it.  In a year with illness, or money troubles, or other challenges, our ability to observe the mitzvah will change.
Instead of judging ourselves for what we cannot do, and comparing to others who “do more,” we accomplish the most when we approach the task with kavanah [intention] and do what we can to the best of our ability.   Remember the words of Rabbi Tarfon that opened this post:  It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.

Blow Up Yer TV

Image: Foot about to step on a banana peel. Photo by Adriano Gadini. Public domain.

Oy, oy, OY!

I love teaching. And I’ve learned to love teaching online. But some days the tech just drives me bonkers. Today was one of those days.

I wound up scaring the dog with audio feedback howl, dumping a bunch of students in the bit bucket, having to split the recording in two, and losing my train of thought. I am never, ever, going to hit that particular button again!

When I have a very frustrating day with my computer (BAD computer! BAD, BAD, BAD computer!) there’s a song I like to sing. It might have something to do with the fact that I can never remember anything but the chorus, and the chorus begins “Blow up yer TV.”

After I sing the chorus a couple of times, I can’t resist listening to the maestro himself playing it, which always cheers me up.

Are you familiar with Spanish Pipedream, by John Prine?

(Yeah, yeah, I know that bit about Jesus sounds funny when a rabbi sings it, but this song heals my soul.)

What do you do to cheer yourself up from frustration overwhelm?

What Being Institutionalized As A Trans Person Made Me Realize

#LGBTQ issues and #MentalHealth issues are an ongoing concern for me. In Jewish tradition, all human beings are “B’tzelem Elohim” [in the image of God.] I’m reblogging this article by Sam Dylan Finch because he addresses a critical intersection of Trans and Mental Health issues.

Let's Queer Things Up!

Back in the days just before I started testosterone, I used to say, “If HRT were to start causing problems with my bipolar disorder, there’s no question – I’d stop the hormones.”

I swore, over and over again, that I would never sacrifice my sanity for my transition. But this is not what I said in the psych ward, when the psychiatrist asked me, “Would you be willing to stop testosterone?”

Repeatedly, day after day, doctors would ask me about stopping HRT and my answer was the same every time.

“That’s not an option.”

My self of six months ago would have been aghast if he knew I was refusing to stop HRT despite being institutionalized.

But it wasn’t six months before. It was present day.

Present day, under a 5150 – wishing I weren’t alive, hearing voices that told me I was better off dead, and drinking more than my fair share…

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Shabbat Shalom! Shmini

This week’s Torah portion‘s name is a great example of how the transliteration of Hebrew is an inexact science. You may see it listed as “Shemini,” “Shmini,” or as “Sh’mini” – all are more or less correct, none of them are quite right. This portion is properly spelled שמיני and it means “eighth,” from the first line of the parashah: “And so it happened on the eighth day, that Moses called Aaron and his sons.”

The first word of the portion is Vayehi ( וַיְהִי) which translators render in many ways, most of them awkward: “And it came to pass” or “And so it happened,” “Thus it came to pass” – you get the idea. Probably the most literal translation is more like “And it was [on the eighth day]” which is also quite awkward.

What’s that about? Biblical Hebrew has some subtle tricks that we don’t have in modern English. The “and” here is a way of saying that this passage is connected to the passage before it. It also takes the future form of the verb “to be” and turns it into something that works like a past form. This gets even fussier when you realize that in Biblical Hebrew, there really isn’t a past or a future, just a finished or an unfinished action. There is no way in English to say succinctly that this passage is connected to the action before it, and that it denotes events that happened once but still have significance. That’s why the translations sound stilted – or, as one of my students pointed out, “like the Bible.”

For some drashot on the passage that aren’t entranced with fine points of spelling and grammar, try these:

Are You Really Eating Kosher? by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopez Cardozo

Why Parah Adumah (Red Cow) Now? by Rabbi Amitai Adler

Savor Every Joy For We Never Know When It May Suddenly End by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

More than Just a Nosh by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Refining Our Souls by Rabbi Joshua Levine Grater

Back to Basics by Rabbi Ruth Adar

The Kosher Animal Song by g-dcast (VIDEO)

 

 

Jerusalem LGBT Pride Murder Impacts the Reclaiming of Zion Square

“Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.” – Psalm 126:5

The murder of Shira Banki z”l is not forgotten. Instead, we have this news from Israel, as reported in Melanie Nathan’s excellent world LGBTQ news blog “O-blog-dee-o-blog-da.”

While nothing can restore Ms. Banki to her family and nation, perhaps change is possible. The dedication of Zion Square in Jerusalem to such change is a step in the right direction.

O-blog-dee-o-blog-da

Zion Square Zion Square gathering, Jerusalem.

Zion Square, one of the landmarks of Jerusalem in Israel, is set to undergo a redesign project, embracing pluralism and tolerance, evolving through circumstances and the passionate activism of several organizations and individuals.

Diverse organizations, ad hoc groups and activists have worked together to bring this extraordinarily progressive plan to fruition, by meeting each Thursday night for over a year and a half, in Zion Square, where they have engaged in informal dialogue and created visibility.

According to an article in Haaretz, “Gay pride murder inspires grassroots movement to reclaim Jerusalem landmark”:

The Jerusalem municipality has decided that, as a major component of its call for a competition for a planned redesign of the square, Zion Square will be turned into “a place that promotes connections, tolerance and mutual respect.”

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 9.12.24 AMThe decision to brand and design the square this way was motivated in large…

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Traditions of Judaism Starts Sunday!

Image: Israeli President Ezer Weizman greeting Ethiopian Jews celebrating the Sigd Festival at Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade. Photo: SAAR YAACOV, GPO. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported.

A new online Intro to the Jewish Experience class starts Sunday at 3:30pm Pacific Time. As always, I’m excited.

The Spring segment of the class is “Traditions of Judaism.” We look at all the different communities and traditions within Judaism today, and how we came to have those various communities. We’ll look at Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi traditions, the Movements (Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, etc), American Judaism and why it is unique, the Prayer Book [Siddur] and the service, and finish up with Jewish food customs. Given that this is an election year, we may talk a little about American Jews and politics, too.

The class is also available by via recordings if you have a schedule that makes that time impossible. To sign up for the online class, go to its page in the Lehrhaus Judaica catalog. If you are interested in the offline, Wednesday night class, it has a different page in the Lehrhaus catalog.

This class (either on- or off-line) is the Spring portion of a three part series that can be taken in any order. Every class also works as a stand-alone entity, for those who already have some knowledge of Judaism but want to enrich their learning on a particular area. (Fall: Lifecycle & Holidays, Winter: Israel & Texts, Spring: Traditions of Judaism.)

I love teaching “Intro” – it’s my passion. If the subject above interests you, I hope you’ll join us!