Friday, September 03, 2004

Another day another wedding picture.

For the anthropologists in the audience, we present this photo of a Jewish groom who appears to be keeping at least three of the more unusual wedding customs. Aside from the kittel and candles, which, of course are present, this groom is wearing an overcoat, the overcoat is half on, and his shoelaces are untied.

I confess. My first reaction was: Look at the clown! Who let him out of the dressing room with his clothing half-on?

But L, my native guide, tells me that some grooms approach the chuppah partially undressed to suggest that they are incomplete people until they are married. L says this is a big inyun, but L also says that kugel on shabbos is a big inyun. In fact I once saw him fish a piece of kugel out of the garbage ("It was on top!") when he arrived at a kiddish after all the kugel had already been consumed. “I couldn’t go through a kiddish without kugel,” he said. “It’s a big inyun.”

So his big inyun might not be ours.

L did not have an explanation for the overcoat, and he delivered one of his perfected Withering Looks of Disdain when I suggested that the overcoat custom might have begun when some wedding host forgot to pay his heating bill. L did concede that a half-dressed bride would jazz up the proceedings, but he did not know, if brides perform the same ritual.

I think it is only a matter of time.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

They are outside, and the sun is shining. Why do they need candles?

MoChassid promised an explanation. This is his reminder.


Next Week on Baynonim: The shteeble decides to install a Board of Directors.

I don't mean to pick, but... (updated 9/8/04)

Does the Jerusalem Post* need a history lesson? In a post yesterday the Hasidic Musician quoted this passage from the JP: "In his interpretations of biblical commandments, the 17th-century Polish rabbi known as the Chafetz Chaim had harsh warnings against entertaining hateful feelings."

Uh, no. The Chofetz Chaim was late 19th and early 20th century. Not 17th.

The Hasidic Musician's post, of course, scores. A grand slam. Jews shouldn't be glorifying revenge and violence, and songs that glorify revenge and violence shouldn't be packaged and sold like the latest Brittny hit for the kids to groove on.

It's unseemly. It's ugly. Worst of all, its brainless.

Jews are so much better than that.

*Correction: in the original post I criticized the Hasidic Musician, not the JP. I mistakenly thought that he was the one who got the dates wrong. I was wrong. The mistake was actually in the Jp article he cited.

Great. Now Luke Ford is a GOP tool.

I'm referring to a link posted without comment or explanation on Protocols, that leads to a list of weapons John Kerry supposedly voted to kill during his twenty years in the Senate.

Here is the truth of the matter: Kerry did not vote to kill these weapons because none of these weapons ever came up for a vote, either on the Senate floor or in any of Kerry's committees.

Shouldn't Luke do a little research before he picks up a link? True, if Luke were to exercise discretion, it would be almost impossible for Shmarya to get his links on Protocols and I'd be deprived of my daily chuckle. But how can Luke continue to rail against sloppy Jewish journalism, if he is going to reprint lies like the one about Kerry?

At the end of the day, I don't care who gets your vote. Just don't let an obvious lie cloud your thinking and influence your choice.

Not my best work, but I think the stream of questions at the end deserve some consideration....

I confess: The idea for this entry came from a comment on Barry Katz's daily diatribe. I'd gladly give the poster credit, but he called himself Anonymous. Also, he doesn't sound like a very nice person

Do you find that when people say they've gone back to Judaism, they almost always mean the Judaism practiced by Hasidim? The strange and diverse tapestry that is my neighborhood includes a few Baal Teshuvahs, or returnees to the faith. Aside from the two or three BT women who've married OMJs, all of them have taken on some hasidic customs. A few are fully Lubovitch. Others practice upshurin, or refrain from g'broks on Pesach. Others daven sefard. All of them send their kids to Chunyucki Chaim yeshivos, or Frummah Freidah schools for girls.

I've asked the BTs about this, and, more or less, they all say the same thing: They didn't think the more modern expressions of Judaism were sufficiently scrupulous, and they didn't see enough evidence of pure devotion in the way the modern Jews lived their lives. To them, the Hasidic approach is the authentic approach, and the more they can do to imitate it, the better Jews they will be.

This bothers me on a few levels. First, the leniencies that hasidic Jews enjoy are well known. Does this suggest that Hasidic Jews are unscrupulous? Of course not. All it means is that their rabbis have read the law differently. Like the Hasidim, modern jews have their own Rabbis; relying on the lenienicies of their own Rabbis is no less legitimate. So why is one group thought to be "unscrupulous" and not the other?

Second, well, here I have to quote the commenter I mentioned above. He said:

Why don't you consider going back to the Judaism of the Geonim or the Spanish rishonim. Sure it's not as much fun as wearing black, and singing songs around the tish... sure in order to live like a Spanish rishon you need to actually know a few things about talmud, and science and the outside world... and sure, to be like a Spanish rishon you have to give up the mysticsm mumbo jumbo and the superstions... but still give it a shot, buddy. Unlike haisdut, they represent authentic, genuine unadulterated Judaism. So try it, you might like it.

Important disclaimer: I don't agree that the Hasidim aren't genuine. I don't think their Judaism is "adulterated." I wouldn't attribute all of their unique customs to superstition. I recognize that many Hasidim have a deep and exacting knowledge of Talmud. I think the tone is disgusting.

Still... Still... Still... It put some interesting questions into my mind. Here they are, in no particular order:

When people go back to Judaism, why is it almost always 18th and 19th century Judaism? When people call YU the bastion of "modern" Judaism, why don't they see that YU, in fact, can trace it's heritage to 13th century Spain? If "authentic Judaism" is really code for "old" Judaism, why aren't the Spanish rishonim widely imitated? Why are their books (Kad haKemach is one; the moreh nevuchim, is another) in much narrower circulation than works of Hasidic masters such as the Tanya and the Shem mee Shmuel?

And if the answer is,"The Rishonim are too hard to understand; we prefer Achronim" why do we, largely ignore Shimshon Rephael Hirsch, an achron who, in Horeb and the 19 Letters, announced that his goal was the revitalization of the Spaniards? Where are his discoverers? Where are his immitators?

To put it succinctly, if Judaism values the old-fashioned ways above everything else, why are the Jews of medieval Spain in such disfavor?

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Was chatting with an RN recently about his background.

I grew up in a Young Israel, he said, but hurried to add, it was a frum Young Israel.

The mind reels. What is a non-frum Young Israel? What was he trying to tell me?

Lables. They obscure more than they reveal. Worse, once the label has been assigned thinking ends.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Went to the big soccer game with the big pediatrician. He's a fan. I am not. Still, experiencing foreign cultures is broadening. Or boring, which also begins with "B."

The game wasn't awful. The second half was exciting, in fact, and not because I knew we were almost on our way to dinner. Soccer gets a bum rap. It isn't boring at all. There is plenty of action, and because play never stops, there are also plenty of faked injuries. It's the only way a player can catch his breath. The referees, however, are on to the scam, so unless the player is bleeding or uncounsious they keep the game going and let the player writhe on the grass, screaming for last rites.

The trip taught me a few things, shared below in the hopes of broadening, not boring, you.

1 - The Italians don't sing many soccer songs.

2 - Though the English sing a great many different soccer songs, none contain more than one word.

3 - Chanting "Liverpool" 6 or 9 million times leads to a fierce migrane. Also, the word begins to sound mighty strange. You start to wonder: is it billiards or swimming, and what do either have in common with liver?

4 - You can't keep the soccer ball if it is kicked into the seating area. Bulky security people enforce this rule with extreme prejudice.

4 - Girl soccer fans are more attractive than girl baseball fans. I confess: I thought we'd find a stadium full of gardners and housekeepers. Not so.

Of course, this is yet another unfortunate example of stereotyping, the very evil a trip to a soccer game can help to defeat.

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