It’s going to happen.

I just had an email exchange with my rabbi.

It looks like my mikveh date will be in September before the High Holy Days if all goes well.

Let us hold firmly to all going well.

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God grew up

This morning, a Quora person responded to an answer I’d given about God. I have to give some background, now.

The original question was posted by someone who is probably Muslim, from their name. They were distressed about atheists not showing respect for God, or for other people’s beliefs about God. My response to that question was:

My God is strong enough to take the mockery from people who don’t believe. I really find it tiring when so many of my fellow theists get bent out of shape by people who don’t believe.

Why is it such a big deal to you? Do you think God can’t take it? Why do you feel you have to defend God? Do you really think God needs defending? Is your God that weak?

I don’t know about you, but my God can take criticism and even denial or rejection just fine, because my God doesn’t need to worry about what people think. My God doesn’t need me to attack people for not believing. God’s far more mature than that.

I got a few good responses. Then, this morning, I got the first jerkheaded one:

WTF? What god are you talking about? You’re Jewish but you don’t believe in the incredibly sensitive, nasty, vindictive god of Abraham?

*sigh* Adonai spare me from the literalists.

See, this is the thing. The literalist mindset (“the way it is written is exactly the way it was then AND STILL IS NOW”) is prevalent among two groups, as far as I can see:

1. Rabid atheists, like Dawkins and those who follow him

2. Rabid fundamentalists, like the Haredim at the Kotel

Neither of these groups gets that there are layers and levels of meaning in the Torah (or, indeed, in any holy book – I’m sure there are also levels and layers of meaning in the Qu’ran and the Christian Bible). They want to read the words as if the words are all there are. I get this mindset. I used to have this mindset – and I’ll admit that in many places I still have it, about many things. Breaking a habit of forty years is hard to do.

But let’s look just at the text of the Torah for a few minutes here, okay? Because I think the key is my comment that God is more mature than the literalists give him credit for (because they are still looking at him in his early years).

God punishes Adam and Eve rather severely. This is like a young parent who overreacts when their too-young-to-understand child does something that irritates the parent.

God punishes the world rather severely in the Flood. This is like a young parent who’s gotten used to being severe.

But then, God’s going to punish Sodom, right? And Abraham calls him on it. Abraham says “Hold up, Adonai. What if I find a few people in Sodom who aren’t sinful? Don’t you have to take them into account? Are you going to punish them, too?”

And God listens. And instead of zotting Sodom with a big lightning bolt, he backs down. (Genesis 18:16-33)

This indicates an increasing maturation on the part of God, doesn’t it?

The fact of the matter is that the Torah is, in many ways, accounts of a young God. It is an early God. It is a God of petty ambitions and jealousy.

That’s not the God I experience. That’s not the God who’s sent me spiritual helicopters. The God I believe in doesn’t care whether people believe in him – he believes in us.

So the only conclusion I can come to is that God grew up.

The fact that the literalists have not is not a reflection on God. It’s a reflection on them.

Maybe someday they’ll grow up too. Until then, all I can do is be patient and wait.

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The Rules Lawyers

Michael Benami Doyle said, in his description of his conversation with the beit din, that there is a prophetic element to being a Jewish convert. I’m experiencing that this week since the Women of the Wall managed to actually read from the Torah and dance with it at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5775.

One of the jobs of a prophet is to draw attention to what’s wrong and how it can be repaired. Prophets are often disliked when they do this; people don’t like being told that what they’re doing is wrong.

And yet. And yet.

It is still wrong to deny Jewish women the right to pray at the Kotel, as the Haredim continually try to do.

It is still wrong to deny Jewish women access to the Torah at the Kotel, as the Haredim continually do.

It is still wrong to harm anyone who helps Jewish women have access to the Torah at the Kotel, as the Haredim did on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, when they beat Charlie Kalech and Alden Solovy.

This Haredi man continued insisting "sefer sheli!" (my book!). Yeah, no. The Torah belongs to ALL Jews.

This Haredi man continued insisting “sefer sheli!” (my book!). Yeah, no. The Torah belongs to ALL Jews.

Nothing excuses the behavior of the Haredim in these instances. They are fundamentally wrong. They are extremists, and they are damaging the Jewish faith far more than women who pray at the Wall, wear tallitot and tefillin, and read from Torah. They are, to borrow a term from gaming, rules lawyers.

Rules lawyers miss the spirit of the law by adhering so hard to the letter of the law. They never see the bigger picture.They never win in the long term, but they do a lot of damage in the short term. The Haredim are harming themselves and don’t know it. They are harming Judaism and they don’t know it (or perhaps they don’t care).

Regardless of their justification for their actions, I cannot see Adonai supporting the behavior of the Haredim towards the Women of the Wall or the men who helped them. Adonai is not a petty God who needs defense against people who want to worship him. If their God is, well – then the only conclusion I can draw is that their God is not Adonai.

Lo yisa goy el goy cherev, lo yil’madu od milchamah. 

Perhaps the Haredim should look at that verse and think about their behavior.

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Filed under Current Events, Identities, Jewish Practices

In Praise of the Women of the Wall

I found myself singing along.

Yasher Koach to all these brave women and the men who stood in solidarity with them, and shame on the Haredi man who tried to stop them from praying and reading Torah.

A religion that does not change is a religion that will die out. The Haredim are just hastening the death of Orthodoxy with their behavior.

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Chag Pesach Sameach!

As my husband says, we went to two and a half Seders this week. The first one probably doesn’t “count” as a Seder, which is why he is saying “a half.”

First was our practice Seder with our Intro class. That happened on Wednesday night. Rabbi walked us through it with a haggadah that I don’t think my husband and I will use; it’s aimed at families with young children, and we don’t really qualify. Mostly, that Seder went all right. We brought our own gluten-free matzah and nobody had a problem with it. We also brought a salad (my husband put it together). Of course, Mr. Christian had to interject inappropriate questions and comments, but we’ve gotten used to that. We also brought three jars of horseradish to use as maror. Note to self: jarred horseradish is mild compared to the maror we had later in the weekend.

Then we held our own Seder for a few friends on Friday night. It came out well, but I’m not using the Maxwell House haggadah again – it’s just too preachy. As it was, my best friend and I spent a lot of time changing, editing, and taping-in changes over the text, and it was still too much. I have one started at haggadot.com for next year’s Seders. We made the mistake(?) of using fresh, refrigerated pureed horseradish for the maror; when I took my tablespoon of it I couldn’t hear anything for a minute or so as I struggled not to show that it hurt. It made my eyes water and my ears ring, and wow do I know that I have sinuses now. It’s almost as bad as my friend’s dad’s completely fresh ground-that-afternoon maror – oy!

Our Seder plate (center of the table) had:
– Italian parsley for karpas
– A lamb shank that my best friend roasted and brought (z’roa)
– A roasted hard-boiled egg that we roasted here (beitzah)
– A tangerine (we couldn’t get oranges) for inclusiveness
– Endive for hazeret
– A spoonful of my charoset
– A spoonful of the fresh-jarred horseradish, for maror

On the individual Seder plates, we replaced the lamb shank with chicken wings that had been roasted in the oven along with the roasted boiled egg. Those were easy: toss them with olive oil, three spoonfuls of minced garlic, salt, and pepper, and then just put them on a cookie sheet and bake for an hour at 375F. I know that on some Seder plates, gefilte fish is traditional, but I’m allergic to what they make it with, so we substituted.

Here’s my charoset recipe.

2 Asian pears
1/2 cup dried cherries, minced
1/2 cup pinenuts
1/2 cup pomegranate pips
1/2 cup kosher red wine
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon each of ground cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, and 1/3 teaspoon of ground ginger

Dice the Asian pears fairly small, and mince the dried cherries. Combine all the ingredients and refrigerate. That’s it!

There wasn’t a lot to the cooking; the charoset was the hardest part. We had two roasts in the crockpot that I’d marinated since Wednesday with ground ginger, cloves, some red kosher wine, salt, pepper, and dried onions. Those cooked all day in a little more red wine and were fall-apart tender when we got them out of the crock (we still have one of them in the fridge!). My husband made his amazing salad, our friends brought gluten-free egg noodles that had been tossed with garlic and olive oil, and I made a quickie asparagus that I’ve always been good at. And of course, we had matzah.

Gluten-free matzah doesn’t hold its shape very well. It’s more brittle than regular matzah, and it tends to show up if you have it shipped with no whole pieces. In four boxes, we found three whole matzot. Next year we’ll buy it from a local Jewish grocery my husband found in our city. (I recommend the Yehuda brand matzah; the Manischewitz is very, very dry and bland.)

Running the Seder was stressful for me but worth it. Like I said, though, we need a different Haggadah. I also need to learn when it’s okay to skip ahead; that’s an art form, I think. It was also really awesome to have my friend D there – he’s Israeli, and he read the Hebrew flawlessly. (Someday….) I asked a couple of questions that didn’t really go anywhere – what is your personal Pharaoh?, for example. Eh. I’ll get better at it, I’m sure. Still, we got through it, and we still have leftovers.

Last night we went to the last Seder we’re going to go to during this Pesach. It was at my best friend’s father’s house. This was the Seder that my husband and I went to last year at this time, when I was just beginning to think that Judaism was for me and my husband was humoring me and going because I was going. This time, we showed up with our kippot on our heads, our Mogen Davids around our necks, and ready to fully participate instead of just spectate. Everyone who was part of the regular Seder group congratulated us both on our decision and on our wedding (157 days ago today, by the way) as we got in the front door, and several of them wanted to make sure that we hadn’t felt pushed or proselytized into it by them or anyone else. (Such a refreshing thing, that was.)

My charoset was very well received, and the maror hurt all of us (my friend’s dad grinds his own from fresh horseradish root while wearing an Israeli gas mask made in Germany). After Friday, I’d learned my lesson and I think the bit of maror I put on my plate was about the size of a marble. My husband loves horseradish, however, and he had so not learned his lesson – he had tablespoons of the stuff. However, he had been struggling with a knee injury, and after having two or three tablespoons of the maror he said “well, my knee doesn’t hurt much any more…” A, one of the seder regulars, opined that it was because the fresh maror kills off the nerves that tell you something hurts.

My friend’s dad runs the Seder by having people read bits and pieces in a round-robin sort of way. I did something like that at our Seder, but I wish I’d had a better haggadah. Eh. I have to get off that topic.

Anyway, one of the seder regulars asked about how we had time to take all this wealth away from Egypt but not bake full loaves of bread or get any provisions together. I pointed out that any culture that holds slaves has much of its wealth invested in those slaves, and perhaps what we took away as wealth was ourselves. That got raised eyebrows and some good discussion.

At one point one of the other seder regulars misread “beasts” as “breasts,” and she and my husband got laughing so hard that we were worried that he’d choke or something. That was probably the high point of the seder for me, watching him laugh and eventually laughing with him.

During the festive meal, my husband and I both talked about our intro classes, and people asked questions, and it was good. It felt very much like “this is my place and these are my people,” to me.

At the end of the Seder, when we came to the point where it talked about the Omer, one of the other guests asked about that, and my friend’s dad looked to me and said “Go ahead, tell it.” I was kind of shocked, but I explained about the Omer as best I could, and it seemed to go over fine. That meant a lot to me that he was willing to let me talk about it.

Finally, when my friend’s dad was trying to read his paragraph of “Chad Gadya” and kept blowing it, my friend (sitting next to him) took away his wineglass, and then for good measure I reached over and took away the wine bottle, and everyone cracked up. So there was a lot of good laughter and fun and teasing, which made it fun.

Her dad said to both of us, “We’ll see you next year.”

Today is the second day of the Omer. Hayom sh’nei yamim l’omer.

Chag sameach, everyone.

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Why I became religious

Someone on Quora asked if people only become religious because they’re weak, or because they lack confidence. Here’s my answer.

I didn’t become religious for affirmation or for strength. It has nothing to do with how confident I am.

I became religious because I need ritual, and poetry, and a shared community, and stories that make me think. I became religious because I need connection. I became religious because being part of something bigger than myself gives me solace and satisfaction.

So no, religious belief is not for the weak. (It’s also not weak to admit that you cannot do everything entirely on your own without any help or support – it’s realistic. The only entities who believe that they can do everything all on their own are house cats and libertarians – neither of which realize that they do, in fact, rely on other entities in order to survive and thrive.)

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A further update on Mr. Christian, and other updates

Apparently he doesn’t hear very well. Yesterday, once again, he was back to his old ways of relating everything in the class to his religious views.

Husband and I are considering what to do. We’ll probably be writing a letter to the rabbi.

—–

Our Seder and Matzah plates arrived! So did our four boxes of Manischewitz gluten-free matzah – but every single one was broken. I’ve been told that there’s a GF grocery that sells them (hopefully NOT broken).

We’re going to be holding a small Seder for a few friends from the Bay Area who can’t get back home for their own Seder this spring due to work schedules. It’ll be the first one I’ve ever tried to run. My best friend is going to help with prep and setup, but I need to get a Haggadah that works for me. I haven’t found a good one yet.

Other news as I have time; this is going into the busy season for me with my work.

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Why I Will Simply Accept Intermarriage

Adam:

This is worth a read. He’s right: the Conservative position isn’t even internally consistent.

Originally posted on A Humanistic Jew in Indianapolis:

Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky has an op-ed piece in the USCJ’s most recent issue of Pravda in The Forward, about his refusal to accept intermarriage. Rabbi Kalmanofsky essentially reiterates the Conservative Movement’s basic line on intermarriage: it weakens Judaism out of misplaced compassion.

Let’s tease this apart, because I don’t think you should buy what he’s selling. (Warning: kind of rant-y.)

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Update on Mr. Christian

It’s been a busy few weeks, so I haven’t had time or energy to post here. But here’s an update on what’s going on with Mr. Christian in our Intro class.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, we got out of class (a great class on Purim). As my husband and I were leaving, Mr. Christian … not quite confronted us. He was asking about the “next class,” meaning the one being held for the people who are converting after the Intro class is over. It’s going to be a fairly intense seminar and only (I hope) for the people who are actually going through conversion, which wouldn’t include him since he’s not converting. He seemed very disappointed when my husband and I both said that it was probably only for people who were planning to convert. 

Then he said, as we got to our car, “Am I monopolizing the class?”

So I was honest with him. Uncomfortably so, and not aggressively so, but I did say the following.

“The thing is, it’s a class on Judaism. Many of the people here came from Christianity and we’re not interested in hearing about that. We’re interested in learning about the religion we’ve chosen. It’s hard when you keep mentioning Jesus. I know that you are very passionate about your faith, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but several people in there, including me, came from a Christian background and found it lacking or abusive or both. I admit it does make me uncomfortable when you bring up your religion, because I’m not here to learn about your religion. I’m here to learn about my religion.”

He chewed that over for a moment and then said “So I should dial it back about ten notches.”

When I said “That would help,” he said, “Maybe twenty notches.”

So we’ll see. I spoke my truth to him, at least, and maybe now he’ll realize how much he’s made people uncomfortable. We’ll see. There was no class on Purim (last Wednesday) so we’ll see how it goes tomorrow…

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Sometimes I wish…

1. That Americans would realize that Netanyahu is a political leader, not a religious one, and that he runs a political state, not a religious one;

2. That Netanyahu does not speak for all Jews;

3. That non-Israeli Jews have very little control over what Netanyahu does, says, or thinks;

4. There’s an election coming up in Israel soon. Let’s hope they vote in a majority party that doesn’t want a PM who’s a war-happy Cheney clone this time.

I admit that as an American Jew, I am conflicted about Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. I feel a two-state solution is best, but from here, I have no control over what happens in Israel.

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