lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I'm thinking of spending three weeks this summer studying at yeshiva, probably either the Conservative Yeshiva or Pardes Yeshiva.

Any views or advice?

Any tips for finding accommodation in Jerusalem for a month this summer?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
As I said, [personal profile] kerrypolka and I have been learning Talmud together. I thought this section was screaming out of a Venn Diagram and was surprised I couldn't find one when I Goggled, so I made it myself.

The Dangers of Entering a Ruin )
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
My, it has been a long time since I have updated. I'm still reading my reading page every day or so, but life has been just the right combination of busy, happy and uneventful to keep me from writing posts with any regularity.

I thought I'd give you an update on my spiritual PDE efforts.

I have now read my way through the whole Tanach in translation. I think it has given me an appreciation of how the bits that pop up as haftarahs fit in with the whole. I commented to a friend that it was a bit like actually sitting down to watch the box set of a show you've previously just caught the odd repeat of when flicking through TV channels. I've found the reading on my commute method every week quite useful, so I've bought The Observant Life on Kindle and have just started reading that. In terms of Talmud, I'm continuing going to Talmud study at my rabbi's house about once a fortnight and I've also started doing chavrutah with [personal profile] kerrypolka on the alternative weeks. We're doing about one daf (page) a go in English, which means that it will take over a 100 years for us to get through the Babylonian Talmud at this rate. I don't think we're going to make it.

I have done less well with the Hebrew. I've only attempted any translation about three times in the last more than three months. I just can't seem to bring myself to get into the habit of studying it regularly. Grammar exercises are boring but translation at my current standard is a massive slog, looking up the majority of the vocabulary and trying to remind myself of the verb and noun forms. I think another obstacle is that I need a grammar book and a big dictionary to have a hope at translating anything, which means that Hebrew practice can't be done on my commute, which is a shame because I find that the easiest time to slot in learning (the Tanach was read almost exclusively on the Northern Line). I'd welcome suggestions for ways to brush up my Biblical Hebrew other than just sucking it up and getting on with doing it on a regular basis.

I'm starting to think more about children. Don't jump the gun with the 'mazel tov's, but as a happily married non-childfree woman in her thirtieth year, they're beginning to become less of a far off hypothetical. I've been thinking about the kind of Jewish upbringing and eduction I'd like to provide for my children. Now, I hate the 'Judaism as a giant intergenerational ponzi scheme' but I think that, just as 'what would you do if you had a million pounds?' can be a useful thought experiment, 'what kind of religious example do you want to give to your children?' can be a useful thought experiment to work out what you'd like your religious life to be. This has motivated me more to improve my Hebrew. It's also made me want to explore prayer. Aside from shul, I almost never engage in set prayer. I think when (G@d willing) I have children, I'd like to encourage them to start and end the day with prayer. Many times in the past I've had a go at praying regularly, but I've never kept it up. This time I'm having a go at starting small. Really small. I'm trying to get into the habit of saying Modah Ani when I wake up in the morning. I'll see how I go at that.
lavendersparkle: (Ood)
My following of [personal profile] liv's challenge, inspired by [personal profile] siderea's post about building community to post 10 linky posts, 3 diary posts and 1 long thoughtful posts by 15th May has resulted in precisely 0 comments. Maybe it's because the links I've been posting have been to websites rather than specific articles, or maybe it's because no one is reading this blog any more (cue violin music).

Today I move into dangerous territory by posting links to articles united by the theme of trans issues, which is particularly a bit of a mine field for unintentional FAIL. Hopefully I've avoided this by two of the articles being by trans women and the other one avoiding some of the most common sources of FAIL (correct pronouns, no pictures of the women pre-transition, no mention of their previous first names). Feel free to tell me about how wrong they are in the comments.*

First, 19 Terribly Interesting Tips On Raising A Trans Kid (From A Trans Kid) Does what it says on the tin. Offbeat Mama

Secondly, a piece on two new memoirs by transsexual Jews in Tablet Magazine** I love the way it explores the use of Jewish and other ideas and mythologies to explore ideas of gender and identity. I think something that a lot of people don't realise about religion is the richness of the metaphors and frameworks it gives you to play with in making sense of life. As so often with these things, don't read the comments.

Finally, Political Conference Background Checks – Putting Our Case to the Lib Dem Federal Conference Committee explaining some of the problems background checks can cause for trans people. I think one of key things that is involved in combating "isms" is raising awareness of the experience of minority groups and how things which seem to be relatively innocuous to members of majority/privileged groups can be a massive problem for other groups. Lots of men don't get how women experience street harrassment, lots of non-Jews don't realise how prevalent antisemitic violence is, lots of cis people aren't aware of the problems background checks can cause trans people.

*Now I have an evil urge to post incredibly offensive articles in the hope of getting comments.

**Not to be mistaken with The Tablet.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I am knackered. I'm probably going to heat myself up some dinner, light candles, eat dinner and flop into bed.

Before then I thought I'd post some pre-Shabbat links to websites I like for Jewish stuff.

Most people have heard of Chabad but the bit of their site I use the most is their candle lighting times. You can also use their site to find all halachic times for places all over the world, which means that if you have want to know when sunrise is going to be on a particular date in a particular place you can find it here, regardless of your interest in Judaism.

A very useful website to talk about some aspects of Judaism that don't get such a public airing is Nishmat. 'Women's Health and Halacha' is a euphemism for Jewish law to do with vaginas. It's a very useful resource to learn about this sort of stuff and a cool example of Orthodox feminism as it's part of a project to train women to be halachic advisers on certain topics.

My Jewish Learning is a good go to website if you want a short accessible website about pretty much anything to do with Judaism. They also have blogs and a website on Jewish parenting called Kveller.

Added bonus, another thing I love on the Chabad website is the Itche Kadoozy show. It is by far the best low budget, fundementalist religious childrens shows I have ever seen.
Visit Jewish.TV for more Jewish videos.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
At work we have just been through the PDE process. I have to confess that I'm not quite sure what PDE in this case stands for (and Wikipedia in this case wasn't much help). Basically at the start of the year we sit down with our line manager and set some goals for the year. These are divided between work type goals (I will deliver this set of National Statistics on time) and development type goals (I will improve my skills in verbal presentations). The form and how we fill it in are a bit clunky but we're supposed to narrow them down into SMART goals. Over the course of the year you review your goals every so often and they can be adjusted in response to changes in your role and circumstance. Then at the end of the year review how well you did at them and come up with a new PDE for the next year inspired by your review of the previous year.

I reflected last Yom Kippur, that Yom Kippur is rather like this process. You use Elul and the Days of Awe to review the year just gone and try to improve in the next year. It struck me that it might be useful to go through a similar process of setting myself some SMART goals for my Jewish life and even making a record of them to review every so often.

At Yom Kippur I just didn't really have the head space to do this. Settling into a new home, new job, new shul; my head was spinning too much to set myself those kinds of goals and try to achieve them. Now I'm finding that over the last few months my minds been thinking about Jewish observance in a bit more of a serious development way, so maybe it's time to have a go and setting some SMART religious goals in a mid-year PDE to be reviewed in Elul and Yom Kippur.

One thing I have been thinking more seriously about is Jewish Learning. Living in North London gives me a lot more opportunities than I'd have in most other places I might live in the next few decades. At first I started by just going to a lot of classes at my shul. Now I've started to think a bit more about what's manageable and what learning would be the most useful to me, not just what happens to be available and convenient.

Last year I decided to try to read the whole Tanach in a year. Well, I say the whole Tanach, I decided to make it easier on myself by calling the Torah done as I'd heard it all in shul. I stuck to just the Neviim and Ketuvim. I sat down, counted how many chapters there were in total and worked out how many I'd need to read a week on average to get through the whole thing in a year. I then set myself a schedule, dividing longer books into multiple weeks and grouping together shorter books into the weeks. It actually only boils down to an hour or so's reading a week, which I can do on my Monday commute. I've managed to keep to that schedule and I'll finish the Neviim in a couple of weeks.

I've started doing Talmud study. Studying Talmud is something I've always wanted to do and I've always seen as serious learning for serious Jews. Not just hearing the story of Honi the circle maker every Tu B'Shevat, but actually sitting down with a page of Talmud, with all the blocks of Mishnah, Gemara and commentaries on it, and going through it making sense of the argument. Luckily my shul has started a fortnightly evening class which does just this which I've started going to.

The Talmud class has made me realise a big area of need for Jewish development: Hebrew. I've learnt Biblical Hebrew at various places at various times but it's never been that amazing and it's certainly gotten rusty since the days a couple of years ago when I knew my pual from my piel. I can see that this is a barrier to Jewish learning and participation because I can't study texts in Hebrew and I feel a bit embarrassed about it. Answer: I'm spending half an hour to an hour a weekend working through The First Hebrew Primer which I already had on my bookshelf from a previous set of Hebrew classes. Once I get to the end of it I'll see where my Hebrew is and reevaluate where to go next. I might move onto another textbook or I might just sit with my BDB and some verb tables and try to translate a bit of Bible each week.

I think three ongoing Jewish learning projects at a time is probably just about right to keep things going and not get overwhelmed. If I have time I might post about ideas for goals in other areas of Jewish life.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I disapprove of Chanukah presents. Part of this is that the presents are my least favourite part of Christmas. I'm not very good at buying presents. I don't enjoy spending December traipsing around overcrowded shops buying stuff which I know in my heart of hearts probably aren't what the people I'm buying for will want. Then there's the awkwardness of opening the gifts we've all got for each other and trying to hide our disappointment and sometimes outright confusion at each others' gift choices. I don't want all of that imported into my own religion.

I've found someone else on the internet who shares my dislike of Chanukah presents and states it rather bluntly in The case for Jews giving Christmas presents:
Do I give "Hanukkah presents?" Of course not! Why? Because "Hanukkah presents" are an ignorant, spineless evil practice, as I will discuss below....

Picture this: You are a Jewish mom, it is the end of December, your child's friends get presents, and you don't want to be a meany. But you can't give a Christmas Present! What would your grandmother say? So you give a "Hanukkah Present," rationalizing it to yourself. Shame! You're too weak not to give presents, and you're too gutless to admit that you're doing it because the Christians are doing it. How can anybody be this way and have self-respect? As I said earlier, I give Christmas presents. I am secure enough to admit to myself and others that I am bending to my society, and taking on a Christian tradition. I know people who don't (for one reason or another) participate in end of year gift-giving at all. That takes a different kind of strength, and I respect that. But to give Christmas presents, pathetically calling them "Hanukkah Presents" reminds me of a sniveling sidekick in a bad adventure movie. Grow up.


Nov. 1st, 2010 09:02 am
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
Yesterday I discovered this amazing song.

I'll be honest, I discovered it because a bit of it is used in the Radio 4 comedy show The Secret World and I liked that clip and Googled to find where it came from.

I really like it and I realised that one of the things I like about it is that it reminds me of Megillat Esther, or more specifically the way we chant it. The don't sound similar but both of them do this thing, where they sound sort of superficially happy and then there's a phrase with a slight change in something (I don't know enough about music to know what) and suddenly it sounds so mournful and just as you think it's going to break your heart it lifts again.

It's like it says: This is a happy ending, as much as there are happy endings. We survived this time, but the world is still broken and perils like this will come again. All victories are partial and few can be gained without some kind of compromising of ones integrity. But still, we are alive now, so we shall sing in all of the ambiguity.


Aug. 17th, 2010 02:50 pm
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
After my long post about the dangers of forgiveness, this morning I awoke to find a succinct line about the nature of teshuvah on this post on Dave Hingsburger's blog. I had to share it.

Change is the only apology that means anything.
lavendersparkle: (Candles)
This post is a muddle of Christian and Jewish ideas about forgiveness because my life is a muddle of Judaism and Christianity and the experiences I'm particularly drawing upon involve Christians I know.

We are now in the month of Elul, the month when the Shechinah is said to be most accessible, the season of introspection, repentance and renewal which began in the darkness of the fast of Tisha B'Av and crescendos in the Days of Awe and the transcendent fast of Yom Kippur. My thoughts naturally turn to repentance and forgiveness, but as I mull over the events of the last year I can't help but think about the ways that the principle of forgiveness can be misused in ways which are incredibly harmful.

In my pootling around the internet I found a report on domestic violence presented to Methodist conference in 2002. I think that many people might be surprised by what aspects of Christian theology cause problems for victims of domestic violence. The report, as one might expect, found that Methodists tend to stay in abusive marriages longer because marriage is regarded as a lifelong commitment. A more unexpected and more troubling problem comes from a different theological source:
"Christian forgiveness was mostly seen to mean continuing to welcome an abuser as a member of the Church while an ex partner was excluded from Church attendance by fear."

This was very much the experience of my friend Ellie, and part of the reason for why she no longer feels comfortable worshipping Methodist churches (although her situation was complicated by the fact that her abusive ex-husband is the son of a senior Methodist minister, the Revd Peter Pillinger who is the District Chair for the Plymouth and Exeter District). Some members of her congregation would admit that the thought it was wrong that her husband beat her, but they refused to 'take sides'. They thought that it was wrong of her to get the police involved and, oddly enough, the forgiveness which poured out for her abuser was not forthcoming for her 'sin' of securing her protection.

I think that the difficulty is that humans have a tendency to distort religion to suit their own prejudices, whether that be an Orthodox Jew assaulting a woman for performing rituals which are halachically permitted or a liberal priest justifying sexually harassing a congregant on the grounds that G@d is very nice and only nasty bigots disapprove of his sexual behaviour. Generally people don't want to have to confront the reality of domestic violence within their community and so some Christians use doctrines of forgiveness to avoid confronting domestic violence, in ways which hurt victims within their communities. It's difficult to address but let's begin with talking about what forgiveness is and isn't.

Forgiveness is not saying that what the person did was OK.
Forgiveness is the opposite of that. There is no need to forgive actions which were not sins. Forgiveness requires confronting an action head on, in all it's horror, acknowledging that justice would require that this action resulted in punishment, and still forgiving.

Forgiveness is not saying that what a person did was justifiable or excusable.
Forgiveness should be available at all levels of culpability and so unless someone was completely not culpable, and therefore not in need of forgiveness because they were not to blame for what happened, excuses are not relavent.

Forgiveness does not mean putting the interests of the perpetrator above the needs of the victim.
Loving people equally, despite their sins, does not mean treating them all the same. People have different needs and sometimes those needs conflict and when they do you need to come to a solution which causes the least harm. Generally it is more harmful for a victim to be excluded from her community because they refuse to rebuke her abuser or take her suffering seriously, than for an abuser to be excluded for the safety of his victim.

Allowing an abuser to continue to abuse is not loving to the victim or the perpetrator.
Care must be taken to not make a situation worse and to respect the autonomy of the victim, but as a general principle, if it takes exclusion from his community, restraining orders, convictions or prison time for an abuser to stop abusing his victim, then that is better for the abuser as well as the victim. The abuser will one day have to confront his sins, in this world or the next. Better for him to have been stopped before his sins grew further.

Repentance is not just words.
Many abusers love to say sorry. They'll beat the shit out of their wife and then show up the next day with flowers and tears begging to be forgiven and promising they'll never do it again. How could a Christian wife refuse just because that's what he did the last x many times before when "love keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5) and she should forgive her brother "seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22)? Repentance is not just saying that you're sorry, it also resolving to not to sin again. Someone who is genuinely repentant should be willing to give their victim some space, seek treatment for any issues contributing to their abusiveness and allow their victim to be open about what she has experienced. Someone in a position of power should be willing to renounce it for the sake of their flock.

I think this long post was better summarised by Isaiah 1:16-20:
Wash yourself clean;
Put your evil doings away from my sight.
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourself to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Come let us reach an understanding,
says the L@rd.
"Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece."
If, then, you agree and give heed,
You will eat the good things of the earth;
But if you refuse and disobey,
You will be devoured by the sword.
For it was the L@rd who spoke.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I'm being a bit inspired by the blog On Being Both as I've just started reading through it over the last few days. I have quite different approaches to the author to Judaism and interfaith marriage. I hope she doesn't take these posts as attacks, it's more that her posts have inspired me to articulate some of my views on the things she writes about.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I dislike the way that interfaith dialogue often relies upon manufacturing superficial levels of agreement and papering over differences. One of the ways that this happens in relation to Jesus. The general party line is to describe him as a wise teacher and good man, if you're a non-Christian (Muslims have this easy because he's a prophet to them).

I thought about this when I read the post:
But go and ask ten of your Christian-born friends if they believe that Jesus is their personal savior. If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to make an educated guess that most of you born or raised Christian think of Jesus as a role model, an important historical figure, a revolutionary rabbi, an inexplicable mystery, or even an inspiring myth. Or as the son of God, in the sense that we are all sons and daughters of God. All of which works for me just fine.

Actually the first thing which struck me in the post was the idea of Christians not really believing that Jesus is their personal saviour. Alec dislikes the term 'personal saviour' because it's the kind of term used by people who seem to think that Jesus is their boyfriend. However, Alec, and almost everyone I know who describes themselves as Christian, would say that they thought Jesus was the Messiah and G@d incarnate. I didn't think that that was such an unusual view for Christians married to non-Jews to have.

So what do I think about Jesus? I don't really know what to think. I think it's a good bet that he existed. It would be odd for such a large sect to grow so quickly based upon the teaching of someone who was entirely fictional. I don't think that he was G@d or the Messiah. As a child I read the prophesies of Isaiah and came to the conclusion that the Messiah promised in them had not yet come. The problem with coming to any further conclusions is that all that we have to go on are the writings of the builders of a religious sect, written decades after he died. Trying to work out what Jesus was like based upon the Gospels is like trying to work out what Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson was like based upon the writings of Messianic Lubervitchers. It's not going to be a balanced historical picture. So maybe he was a good teacher or a wise rabbi who was just a bit misunderstood by some of his followers. On the other hand, he could equally have been a charlatan or a lunatic. There's no way of knowing. There's no way of knowing how much the Gospels even bear any resemblance to what he actually said or did.*

The thing which really annoys me is the reason for the adoption of the 'Jesus was a wise teacher' approach, which is basically to avoid pogroms. I object to having to adopt positions to placate the religious privilege of others and to avoid the threat of physical violence. That's not a paranoid view, it's the reality of over a thousand years of Jewish-Christian relations. For centuries Jews kept their less complimentary views on Jesus hidden from Christians in Hebrew religious texts. When European Christians became aware of these texts it led to book burnings, blood libels, host desecration allegations and massacres. No wonder today most Jews aren't even aware of the Talmudic passages which describe Jesus in Hell in a pit of boiling excrement and it's only mentioned in antisemitic websites and academic papers.

I am a stubborn, stiff necked person. I can't bear to be blackmailed or threatened. I can't bring myself to tell you sweet nothings about your Messiah, whilst I feel that there's a gun to my head. Talk of Jesus the role model makes me think of accounts of his actions in the Gospels which I find morally objectionable. Talk of Jesus the important historical figure makes me think of the thousands of my co-religionists killed in his name. Talk of Jesus the revolutionary rabbi makes me think of the German feminist Christian theologian who equated Judaism with patriarchy and Fascism. Talk of Jesus the inspiring myth makes me think of how often I bang against people who don't even realise the extent to which their views are dependent upon a Christian world view.

I'm not as angry and bitter all that sounds. I have lots of Christian friends and relatives and, of course, a Christian husband, and we can all get along and love each other whilst acknowledging that we believe different things. I love my husband, who has dedicated his life to Jesus, so much. Even more amazingly he loves me, even though I don't accept his Messiah and even though it means that he can't avoid confronting the ways in which his religion has created the antisemitism which now endangers his wife and future children. I think that it's more worthwhile to stare into these ravines together, rather than try to paper over the cracks.

*For example, I'm rather suspicious about whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There doesn't seem to be any other historical documents backing up the census and mass movement of people which is supposed to have resulted. On the other hand there are prophesies that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, which are a bit awkward if your Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. It all seems a bit too much like a convenient plot devise to get Jesus born in the right place.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
A while ago a friend of mine, who is sort of patrilineal, possibly matrilineal and either way planning to convert, asked whether I ever thought that being a Jewish convert was oddly like being transsexual. There's the feeling that ones internal identity doesn't match the way one was originally perceived; trying to convince big important gate keepers of the validity ones identity; holding oneself to behavioural standards far beyond those of people who had your identity from birth; trying to 'pass'; getting into pointless counter productive hierarchies over who's a 'better' Jew/woman/man based on (among other things): being a bit Jewish to begin with (based on ancestry), who was a bit male/female to begin with (based on hormone levels/physical characteristics), who's frummer, who's more feminine/masculine, who was younger when they made the decision; and finally, for some, there's the genital surgery.

Another way in which they're similar is in the importance of accepting and respecting people's identities and the labels they use for themselves. Every so often you get someone in a queer/progressive/feminist circle declare that gender is just imaginary and doesn't really exist and ze is going to only use gender neutral language from now on and anyone who thinks they're a particular gender is just a schmuck to patriarchy and actually reinforcing it through their actions. This tends to be responded to by a transsexual pointing out that she wouldn't have gone through all of the cost and pain and hassle and side effects and loss of cis-privileged of transitioning if gender didn't fucking matter.

Sometimes, in discussions of religious matters, I feel like the pissed off transsexual woman. Sometimes during cuddly, cotton candy, 'we're all the same really' interfaith dialogue I feel like screaming "No, no actually. We're not all the same. I wouldn't have gone through the expense, hassle and exposure to antisemitism of becoming Jewish if all religions were the same really and it didn't really matter. It matters a fuck load to me."*

Things get a bit more complicated because there are some people who are genderqueer/intersex/don't really care about gender, who have been really hurt by a binary system of gender. They need to advance a concept of gender which is more fluid and muddy and liminal. Similarly, there are people who come from interfaith families or have an interfaith religious identities who find the binary of Jew/non-Jew limiting and advance a more fluid concept of Jewish identity and claim for themselves identities such as interfaith/multifaith and half-Jew.

Ideally, this shouldn't cause problems. The fact that one person is genderqueer doesn't mean that another person isn't a woman, even if she wasn't identified as female when she was born. Just because one person is interfaith doesn't mean that another person isn't a Jew, even if she was born to gentile parents. The problem comes when that in our attempts to assert our own contested identities we can over step a mark and start denying each others identities. A Jew with a non-Jewish father might assert "You're either Jewish or you're not Jewish and I'm as Jewish as fucking Tevyeh". People campaigning for acceptance of interfaith and half-Jewish identities may sometimes claim people as the one of theirs regardless of how those people identifies themselves. I'm sure you can imagine equivalents for gender. It's further complicated because, simple as it should be to understand that people with similar backgrounds often have different identities, inevitably we're going to get labelled with each other's labels, even if we don't do it ourselves. That doesn't stop being mislabelled smarting. And of course there's the age old problem that we're all arguing over the scraps from the master's table and it's really tempting to try to get up the ladder by treading on each other's heads.

I don't really have a solution other than to appeal to us all being a little bit more careful and considerate with each other. I'm not perfect in this because my approach to Judaism is really binary and I struggle to fit half-Jews into it. I'm just saying that I'm not interfaith or multifaith or half-Jewish or Jewish identified or both, and I'm going to get pissed off if you call me those things. I'm a Jew and I'm a convert. I'm a Jew-by-choice but I'm going to get pissed off if you use that term and then go on to refer to Jews-by-birth as just 'Jews'. Now to the deliberate mistake in the title. Lots of women who are perfectly open about being transsexual get pissed off by the term transwoman because almost everyone who uses it doesn't use the term ciswoman when referring to women who aren't transsexual. If your fluid concepts of identity are contesting the identities of people whose identities are already marginalised and contested, more than people whose identities are reinforced by existing power structures, you're probably making a mistake somewhere along the line.

*There's a whole n'other issue about the way that so much interfaith dialogue relies upon ignoring differences between religions. Ignoring the ways in which I differ from you is no more accepting than ignoring the ways in which we're similar.
lavendersparkle: (Lamentations)
Tisha B'Av will be upon us in less than two hours. Tisha B'Av commemorates many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people over the millennia. This year, at the front of my mind are the tragedies which have befallen one of my oldest friends.

Three summers ago my friend married.

Two summers ago she and her husband attended my wedding.

Last summer she revealed that he had violently attacked her repeatedly, including in the days before my wedding. She finally pressed charges.

The trial begins this Thursday.

Please hold her in your prayers and fasting.

May HaShem help us to heal the brokenness of this world.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I have a friend who's going to become a priest. He's a liberal on issues of gender and sexuality. He believes that women should be ordained including to the episcopate. All the same, he's glad that he's going to get ordained before the first female bishop is finally consecrated within the Church of England, long after the majority of its members decided that such a thing could be G@d's will. He's glad because it means that he can have his cake and eat it. He can support the ordination of women and feel good about that but at the same time his ordination will be seen as valid by all of those who disagree with him on that issue. If he were ordained at some point in the future when he could have a female diocesan bishop, his ordination might be seen as no more valid than that of his female colleagues.

I mention this because I think a similar thinking runs through a lot of non-Orthodox Jews. Whilst they don't believe in Torah min HaShamayim and may scoff at some of the beliefs and practices of Orthodoxy, but they like to know that the Orthodox establishment views them as one of the tribe. They may even take measures to protect this recognition, such as marrying in an Orthodox ceremony so there's an Orthodox ketubah to act as a pass for their children into Orthodox institutions.

This reassuring confidence that we'll be accepted has allowed non-Orthodox Jewish communities to be dependent upon Orthodoxy. Who writes our Torah scrolls and mezuzot? Who bakes our matzahs? Who runs most of the British Jewish state schools? Who ensures that there's somewhere Jewish students can go for Shabbat dinner? Who inspects for kosher certification? Who circumcises our children? This works fine and dandy for most non-Orthodox Jews because they're Jewish by Orthodox standards and the Orthodox are willing to cooperate, either for the money or the sake of ahavat Israel.

A bigger problem comes from those of us who can't ride on Orthodoxy's coat tails. People who have to find a mohel willing to circumcise a baby with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother. People who want to give their children a Jewish education which won't teach them that their mother's conversion isn't valid. People who want to immerse in a mikvah to purify themselves for their non-Jewish spouse.

I think if we want the conversation about how the Jewish community can serve Jews in interfaith families to move beyond talk of welcoming or performing weddings, we need to actually notice the things we take for granted which are inaccessible to a larger and larger proportion of our communities.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I love this quote from a post on the The Jewish Outreach Institute's blog". It's a bit of a Frankenstein quote of a quote, so I'll just put it in:

'the “problem” isn’t that Jews are falling in love with non-Jews, “it’s that Jews are not falling in love with Judaism.”'

One of the problems with blaming intermarriage for everything (apart from, you know, alienating Jews who don't like hearing that their marriage is worse than the Shoah) is that it allows the Jewish community to ignore the ways in which it's failing to give Jews a positive reason to get involved with Judaism. They can go on thinking that the synagogues would be full of happy engaged Jews if it weren't for those damn shiksas. I have Jewish friends who were estranged from Judaism long before they got interested in the opposite or the same sex. However, as long as they're still included on their parents' synagogue membership they'll be regarded as good non-assimilated Jews until they marry a non-Jew.

I think part of this is that a lot of Jewish organisations don't have much of an answer to the question "Why be/stay Jewish?" apart from Hitler and all that. It turns Judaism into a giant Ponzi scheme where the whole point of Judaism is to produce more Jews. I think Judaism is worth practising as an adult, whether on not you have or ever intend to have children. Do I, with a Christian husband, have a higher regard for the merits of Judaism than most Jewish community leaders?
lavendersparkle: (Good little housewife)
Last weekend I ended up mooching about in an Early Learning Centre. A friend was having her hair done and I decided to pootle about the shopping centre rather than sit and watch. I headed for the ELC for a number of reasons. One is that I am a creepy crazy broody lady. I more respectable reason was that several blogs I read, which combine my love of babies and grumbling about the patriarchy, had talked about how children's toys are becoming increasingly gendered and girl's toys are becoming increasingly sexualised and promoting the idea that women's primary roles in life are to shop and be pretty.

Surely not the ELC, I thought. I remembered it from my own childhood. A haven of sensible educational toys, usually with a big wooden train set in the middle you could play with whilst in the shop. I remember the adverts they used to run featuring a Barbie and an action man trying to break into the shop because they weren't the sort of things ELC would stock. I walked through the door into a world of pink and blue. Again and again I saw the same toy in two versions: one pink (and possibly green) and one blue (and possibly red). Separate pink and blue vacuums. Separate pink and blue toy cash registers. Separate pink and blue paddling pools. No other colour options; just pink or blue. The boxes helpfully tell us who the toys are meant for. The blue toys have pictures of boys playing with them on their boxes and the pink toys have pictures of girls on the box playing with them. I spotted one girl on the box of a boy toy, but no boys on the boxes for pink toys because you wouldn't want them to catch teh GAYZ! The item which really took the biscuit: gendered stacking cups. Heaven forfend that a six month old might because confused about their gender identity by stacking and blue cup (if a girl) or even worse and pink one (if a boy). Stacking cups! For fuck's sake!

I wonder about whether it's a cunning way to get parents to buy even more stuff. With three older brothers, I played with a lot of Lego* and star wars toys as a child. I had some 'girl's' toys: some dolls, some My Little Ponies**, a dolls house. However I also had a lot of hand-me-downs. Maybe ELCs cunning plan is to get parents to buy completely new versions of everything if their second child appears to be a different sex to their first.

Anyway, here are four toys I would like to get if (G@d willing) we have children, regardless of their gender assignment at birth:
Non-gendered stacking cups
Sophie the Giraffe. Sophie's made of natural rubber and painted with non-toxic paint. She's designed to be grabbed and chewed by babies and squeeks.
Uncle Goose Aleph-bet blocks. I'd like to be an anti-consumerist parent but I think my weakness will be Jewish/Hebrew toys. I guess I can justify them as I'd be growing up outside of a large Jewish community. Uncle Goose make blocks in lots of different alphabets, as well as ones with presidents and insects on. They're made in the US from farmed wood and child-friendly non-toxic inks.
Kathe Kruse Ikibar Dragon. He's made of 100% organic cotton and is machine washable. He also rattles. I like the idea of a cuddly dragon because I'd like a Puff the Kosher Dragon themed nursery, with a big mural of Puff's bar mitzvah in the middle, filled with mythical animals wearing kippot and tallits (yes, I am trying too hard at this Jewish thing).

*And not the special girls' Lego.
**However, my My Little Ponies were roughly pony shaped unlike the deformed anorexic horse whore shaped ones they sell today.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
There's been a bit of discussion on the Jewish blogosphere lately about what to call non-Jews who are involved in the Jewish community. The discussion really centres upon whether we need a better term to describe non-Jews who are married to Jews, raising Jewish children and active in Jewish communal institutions. One of the terms being thrown about as a possibility is the term ger toshav, a biblical term for someone who isn't an Israelite and isn't bond by all of their laws but is loyal to the Israelites and observes certain rights and obligations.

I don't think that we actually need a better term for non-Jews and I think that attempts to develop one could be more exclusionary than just calling people who aren't Jewish 'non-Jews'. The main problem is that for a new term to be meaningful it has to refer to a different set of people to the term 'non-Jew'. You're going to have to decide where the boundary is of who counts, as put well by Rabbi Elyse Wechterman in an article about the use of the term 'ger toshav':"There are so many different gradations in the community, it's so subtle," she said. "With 112 families [in my congregation], how do you define which is a Ger Toshav or a supporter in the community?"

I think the problem with trying to designate some people as a special type of non-Jew isn't just one of gradation (how many synagogue quiz nights you're allowed to miss before you get booted back into being a run of the mill non-Jew) but also that there are all kinds of ways that non-Jews get involved with Jewish communities. I don't think a single term, or even a couple of terms would be able to capture and do justice to the ways that non-Jews are relating to us and our institutions. Maybe it's living in a university town but I've met and heard about all kinds of non-Jews involved in the Jewish community. There's the spiritual seekers, exploring Judaism but not yet ready to commit to a formal conversion path. There are the Jew-ish people, with a Jewish ancestor (but not the 'right' one) who don't necessarily see themselves as Jewish but like going to the occasional event that reminds them of their zayde. There are the Judeophiles, who somehow end up heavily involved in the Jewish society despite being a practising Christian, perhaps just because they happen to get in with a particular group of friends. There are the friends of Jews who'll go along to their the occasional Friday night dinner because they want to learn about their friend's culture. The non-Jews who went to Jewish schools and now feel homesick without a bit of yiddishkeit about the place. The Asian shopkeepers who discovered a gap in the market and became the main suppliers of kosher food, thus getting to know most of the observant Jews in the area. Our shabbos goys, I can see those non-Jews washing up in the kitchen on Friday evening. Our au pairs, who do a lot of the raising of Jewish children. The odd non-Jew who gets a job at a Jewish organisation. The birth families of converts, who have to get used to their relative's new behaviour. Spouses of Jews who are active in the Jewish community. Spouses of Jews who are supportive of their spouse but have their own separate faith community. Non-Jews who are raising Jewish children on their own. Spouses of Jews who aren't too keen on Judaism but can't really escape that aspect of their partner.

I don't think that we can or should come up with a term which decides which of these people are our special non-Jews. I think that adopting a special term would be exclusionary to the non-Jews who didn't make the cut. It would also be too prescriptive to those who did, whereas how people relate to communities and identities are organic and fluid and tricky to pin down. So in the mean time, if we don't like 'non-Jew', how about rather than going for ger toshav we go for Alec, or Alice, or Becky or Arun.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
A Christian friend of mine asked me about the book of Ruth and this is what I wrote. I apologise if bits of it aren't quite accurate.

I did this with my Sunday school kids the week before last. The book of Ruth is read as part of the Jewish festival of Shavuot (Pentecost). The book has three themes in common with the festival. The first is that the spring harvest plays a crucial role in the plot of the story, and Shavuot was originally a spring harvest festival. The second is that the story ends with the genealogy leading to King David, and according to Jewish legend King David died on Shavuot.

The third similarity is that Shavuot, as well as being a harvest festival, is the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mt Sinai. I'm trying to think of the best way to explain the next bit because it's a bit thelogical. There's an idea that all Jews became Jews at Mt Sinai. Before then there were individual covenants with the patriarchs, but it's at Sinai that the people present agree to the covenant, which is the covenant which Jews today view themselves as part of. There's an idea that in some spiritual way, every Jew who would ever live was present at Mt Sinai and agreed to the covenant. The rituals one goes through when one converts to Judaism today are still based upon the model of what the people did at Sinai. Ruth is viewed as the archetypal convert, so her story is read at the festival which celebrates the conversion of all Jews into the covenant.

Actually, the book of Ruth in general can be seen as a rather politically pro-convert book. Some biblical scholars place the authorship of the book at the time of Ezra. Ezra demanded that all of the Israelites who had married non-Israelite women should divorce them and send them away. The book of Ruth may represent a counter to the Ezra view of marrying non-Israelite women. In the book a non-Israelite woman integrates into the Israelite community, is a model of virtue and commitment to her new people and goes on to be the great-grandmother of King David, the greatest king of Israel and the ancestor of the future messiah. The pro-convert agenda is even more emphasised by Ruth’s nation of origin. According to the bible the Moabites are the descendants of the incestuous coupling between Lot and his eldest daughter (Genesis 19:37). The king of Moab employed a soothsayer to curse the Israelites (Numbers 22-24). Immediately after that some Israelite men began to have relationships with Moabite women and worshipping their idols. G@d punishes this by sending a plague upon them which kills twenty-four thousand and further deaths are only averted when Pinchas skewers two of the most flagrant offenders (Numbers 25). So Moabites are just about the least suitable people for Israelites to marry. The book of Ruth argues that anyone from any background can become part of the covenant with G@d.

One of the things which plays a crucial role in the story are Israelite inheritance and marriage law. One the major problems Ruth and Naomi face when they return to Bethlehem is that unmarried and widowed women can’t inherit land. In Number 27 the daughters of Zelophehad argue that they should be able to inherit from their father, as he had no male heir. Moses agrees that they should. However, in Numbers 36 some of their male relatives complain that if they are allowed to inherit and then marry men from other tribes, the land will permanently move out of their clan. (This is important because the set up seems designed so that every Jubilee year the land all returns to its original families and clans.) So a compromise is devised whereby women can inherit if there is no male heir as long as they marry within their father’s tribe. A protection for widows was the institution of levirate marriage. If a woman is widowed without children, her brother-in-law is obligated to marry her and provide her with children (Deut 25:5-6). In Ruth 1:11-13 Naomi is referring to the fact that she has no other sons to marry them, so they should go back to their parents and marry someone else. When Boaz is referred to as a ‘redeeming kinsman’ it means that he is a relative of Naomi’s husband, and therefore has an obligation to marry Ruth so that she can provide an heir and inherit the land which belonged to Naomi’s husband. At the start of chapter 4 Boaz must first give a closer male relative the option of marrying Ruth and inheriting the land. This relative refuses his obligation in a public ceremony allowing Boaz to marry Ruth instead. Interestingly the ceremony by which a man refuses to marry his brother’s childless widow is still practised today in some Jewish communities and involves the brother having to take off his shoe.
lavendersparkle: (Protie)
I have a keen interest in political stories about the wearing of hijabs. Primarily this is because, to all intents and purposes I wear a hijab when out. I cover my hair for religious reasons and whilst I don't cover my neck all of the time and some of my hair usually pokes out, some Muslim women cover their hair to the same extent I do. When there's public hostility to hijabs on the street, or policies to exclude women with uncovered hair or requirements for more revealing clothing in certain situations (there goes my beautiful career as a beach volleyball chump) it affects me. Of course I don't get it as bad as a lot of women do. I'm protected to some extent by my whiteness, my Englishness, my middle-classness, my education, my attractiveness. Most often people don't even interpret the my head scarves as religious clothing. They don't expect white, middle-class, highly educated, liberal women to cover their hair for religious reasons and the cognitive dissonance usually goes the way of assuming I'm just a hippy or having a bad hair day. I also know that the measures aren't actually targeted toward me. I'm swept up in them because the people who make these rules can't bring themselves to being honest enough to say "darkies can't wear Islamic clothing" so they make a weedly rule about religious clothing or health and safety and then begrudgingly make Catholics take off their crucifixes to prove that they're not racist really. They don't really care about women like me covering her hair. I'm white and English and already married.

Anyway, after all of that I want to talk about something which bugs me but is really difficult to call out. I suppose what it boils down to is: why in an article about white Europeans of Christian origin engaging in Islamophobic ass-hattery do you have to mention Jews or Israel?

The article which reminded me of this was this one. So the line which made me think "oh great this again" was this line:
This is an arbitrary interpretation and application of FIFA's rules against wearing uniforms with personal political or religious statements ("compulsory equipment must not have any political, religious or personal statements"). Obviously, national uniforms frequently carry both political and religious meaning (Isreal, anyone?).
Now I get what she means. National football teams have national symbols on their kit and because religion and nationality have been intertwined over the centuries, a lot of those national symbols are also religious symbols. Now I don't know anything about football, so maybe the Israeli kit has "Israel for the Jews" written across the back or a map of the Golan Heights with "ours" written across it, but I'm guessing that the Israeli kit doesn't do this more than most strips, so why single Israel out. It could have just been that she took out her big book of countries with religious national symbols, closed her eyes and stuck a pin in and when she opened her eyes there was a nice blue star of David surrounding the pin. That's why you can't call people out on this kind of stuff. I can't prove that you promoted that particular man because of sexism. I can look at and aggregate trend and say that sexism most cause men to be promoted over women, but it's difficult to identify which individual promotions were the result of sexism. Similarly, one seemingly irrelevant mention of Israel in a post about Islamophobia count be perfectly innocent, but when you read more post you notice a trend.

So where do people like irrelevantly mentioning Israel or Jews when talking abut Islamophobia? One possibility is that people who are interested in Islamophobia are also likely to be interested in the welfare of Palestinians and it's tempting to try to insert your pet cause whenever it seems tangentially relevant. If your interest are the harm caused by a particular country's policies, it's easy to see that country as entirely evil and degenerate and enjoy informing people of their other sins. As a large part of the conflict is trying to convince the countries with the money and the real power that they're nicer so they should support them, playing "let's decide who gets to keep East Jerusalem based on who has the less sexist bus system" can seem to make sense.

The other reason is more sinister. I think that people like to set up a dichotomy between islamophobia and antisemitism. I've definitely met people who seem to implicitly believe that you can't believe that both antisemitism and islamophobia exist. Some people seem to believe that someone can't be both islamophobic and antisemitic. There's also this idea that islamophobia is the preserve of Jews and antisemitism is the preserve of Muslims. This is a very attractive world view if you're neither Jewish nor Muslim because suddenly none of these problems are your fault any more. You can even view your own islamophobia or antisemitism as being "with the Jews" or "with the Muslims". It's not discrimination, it's solidarity. It's always easier to get the ear of the majority if you say that you want some of another minority's goodies rather than demanding to be treated equally.

All that from one throw away comment. See what an uppity over-sensitive Jewess I am.