Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mother, May, she

While congress might not have voted on this just yet, it is a well known fact that this month is my mother's month. I say "well known" because I, well, know it.

May is my mom's month. I have just said that 10 times fast so that makes it official. You can look that up -- it is a true fact that I read in a blog I just wrote on the internet so it must be true.

Between Mothers' Day and her birthday (and other salient points) this month is set aside to celebrate the singular person who is my mom and in that vein, I take some time on a Sunday in May to write a poem to my mom. And I do this despite the first-world-problem I am wrestling with, the trouble my computer is having with the M key. I suffer in order to celebrate this lovely lady.

I call this poem "Motherc"

M is for the many months in which I was reportedly in your womb. I have no particular proof of this but lacking evidence to the contrary, I am forced to concede its probability

O is for the ovaries. If you need me to explain their relevance, you should probably not be reading this.

T is for the trouble that I got in as a youngster. I was pretty much a jerk.

H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. I learned that from my mother. Maybe. I might just have counted. But I give her credit to be sure, you know?

E is for the everyman, the spirit within us all that strives for survival in this dog-at-dog world, the drive to be accepted and loved and make our way through life. Truth is, E was voted "least likely to be for anything related to your mother" but I had to include it for certain contractual reasons.

R is for Rosen. Duh.

C is for cookie. Et cetera.


I think that the meter fails in the second half of the fourth line of the eighth stanza but I invoke poetic license, and essayists learner's permit.

So, in sum, happy May to my mum, the Dear Ol' Mom of email fame. May this month and year be yours for years to come.


Friday, May 19, 2017

I'm a traditional-ish

I wrote recently about traditions within Judaism and, unlike earlier experiences, writing has not cleared my mental cache -- instead it has spurred on more questions. Now, I have a site that I go to when I have to ask questions, but this is a bit too extensive for the format of that site so I will just place the whole ball o' wax here in the hopes that someone will read it and explain it all to me. I do, however, recommend the other site if you want to read up and enter the discussion about other topics related to Judaism.

So if you are not conversant in Jewish law and tradition, you can follow along. Sorry if you don't understand all the words and concepts -- I'll explain what I remember to, but I have spent so long not making sense that it is sort of my default and I don't always notice it. If you are a relative expert, chime in but please, please be gentle -- I am still a child in terms of my learning and am soliciting help because I am starting to come to terms with the volume of what I don't know.

I am confused about what exactly, under Jewish law, counts as a minhag. "Minhag" is a Hebrew word which is often translated as "tradition" but it isn't exactly just tradition. The word comes from the concept of "guide on a path" or something like that. In Jewish law, something that is a "minhag" is abided by often, very closely. A community minhag, a family minhag or a geographical minhag is often elevated to the level of ersatz-law and must be followed to that degree. Many well known practices are really the result of minhag which must be followed: the not eating of legumes on Passover is a minhag of Ashkenazic Jews ("Ashkenazic Jews" refers to Jews of European extraction and is not identical with "Minhag Ashkenaz" which is a tradition of people specifically from Germany, as opposed to, for example, minhag Polin for Jews from Poland. Both are Ashkenazic but still differ in some liturgical practices) and is considered pretty firm as a practice. [strangely, the minhag of adopting some prohibitions related to mourning during the Omer period between Passover and Shavu'ot can be altered year-to-year in terms of which days one applies it to, so the notion of a minhag's being fixed sees not to apply.

Many traditions are passed down from father to children and the abrogation of a practice received from a father might even require a religious exemption/voiding of a vow, an actual rite, assuming one has parental permission or some other mitigating factor. This is not stuff to be taken lightly. However, I do not feel comfortable with what exactly counts as a minhag and what doesn't, and I have a bunch of other questions about them, so if you have answers, let me know:

1. Is one bound by a parental minhag if the parent adopted it without any particular reason? [this begs the question of how we adopt a minhag if we have no communal or familial tradition -- if it is ever by simple diffusion and convenience, is it then binding on later generations?]

2. Is a subtle liturgical change (a girsah) tantamount to a minhag? There are many situations where different siddurim (prayer books) even ones which are all, ostensibly, from the same general tradition, have slightly different wording (the absence of a prefatory letter "hei", the shift from "b'fi" to "b'feh", the use of "yitgadel" vs. "yitgadal", "latet" vs. "leeten", "hameichin" vs. "asher heichin") or even more substantial wording changes ("ne'ima kedosha" vs. "ne'ima. Kedusha", "ishei yisrael - ut'filatam" and "bracha hameshuleshet - batorah") which bring up grammatical and meaning differences.

3. If I have my particular liturgy based not on explicit instruction from a parent but because of the habit of having used a specific text, does that make that combination of words my "minhag" or just my practice? Am I not allowed to choose a siddur which would have me say prayers that my father doesn't say because he uses a different siddur or use wording different from his practice?

4. In my Ashkenazic siddur, there are sections that are labeled "minhag Polin" and "minhag Ashkenaz" indicating that liturgical shifts ARE (nominally?) considered "minhag". Is choosing to say one or the other as binding as any other minhag? There are also sections (daily vidui/confession) which are NOT labeled as minhag, but presented as normative practice (as opposed to the Artscroll which says that the Ashkenazic practice is NOT to say daily confession). Mine also includes the phrase "morid hatal" but doesn't tie it to any specific group, just indicating that "some say" it. If I have adopted the siddur, have I adopted all the concomitant liturgical practices? Are they "my minhag" now? Are insertions the same as variations in terms of minhag? Are single word insertions the same as paragraph or full-prayer insertions?

5. Is not having the minhag to do something the same as having the minhag not to do that thing? If someone in my shul adds in "bizchut avraham/yitzchak/ya'akov avinu" during the repetition of the Amidah service and I like that, may I simply start saying that, or does the fact that I have inherited no tradition TO say it the same as having a tradition NOT TO say it? Is it easier to adopt than to drop a minhag?

6. If there was a standard practice in my school, or something done by my rebbe in school which I copied (not because of any research but because it filled the void of [passive] instruction or I was exposed to it from the age of 3 before my father explicitly taught or demonstrated his practice) does that become my minhag? What if it eventually contravenes the tradition of my father?

7. Are practices which are listed in codes of law as "minhag chassidut" -- a practice of piety, such as checking tefillin during the month of Elul, the same (as binding in the future) as another minhag? May I not adopt it if my father hadn't adopted it? Must I do it if he did do it?

8. Are other aspects of behavior considered minhag? Is dress minhag or just a communal practice? What about moving my head in a circle during the saying of the Sh'ma. Some people touch their tefillin at certain points during prayer while others don't. Are those actions minhagim and binding?

Maybe this stuff is obvious to you, but I am at sea, here. Any input and discussion is invited, welcome and appreciated.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A good, old fashioned rant

Warning -- this is just a rant. An absolute and angry rant aimed at nameless people (I assume they have names, but since I don't know who they are, I can't name those names so I use the shorthand "nameless" -- work with me) who have offended my sensitivities.

I'm at work right now (right now being when I am typing this, not any random time when I or you read this) and there is a platter which has leftover food from an event held here last night. The kitchen prepared these mini-muffin things: corn, chocolate chip, bran and like that. There were 4 left. Now, understand -- I wasn't going to eat them. I am on a strict diet of not eating anything which would make me happy so I was staying far away. But when I walked by, I noticed that someone (some nameless one) had taken the tops off the muffins and left the bottoms, in their little paper cups, sitting on the platter.

Before you start referencing Seinfeld episodes, please be aware that this is real life. In real life, someone walked by and broke the tops off for consumption and left the rest just sitting there as if he or she was doing the rest of humanity a favor by, after mangling food, leaving it for others to pick at. That is simply disgusting. Who does that? [note -- not rhetorical. Please tell me who does that so I can smack that person in the head]

Sure, I felt bad about throwing them out because I don't like wasting food. So I didn't. But fortunately, someone else did, after we commiserated about how horrible a behavior it was of that nameless person to break the tops off and leave the rest behind. Offensive and horrible.

So I turned the corner and walked into the local kitchenette to try and recover from the shock and there I saw a platter of double chocolate chip cookies. Again, I wasn't going to eat them because I might crack a smile, but I did look at them very intensely. I noticed that a bunch of them had pieces broken off of them. THIS IS EXACTLY THE SAME THING! Don't break a piece off of a whole cookie so you can eat your little bit and then leave the rest just sitting there! Here's what bothers me -- who doesn't eat a whole cookie? When I want a snack, I limit myself to only 7 or 8 cookies. In a pinch, I can survive with only 3 cookies. But fractions? Bad enough I am confronted with cookies that have some random fingerprints on them, but apparently I am surrounded by people who are unable to eat cookies in units of "1" and that's really offensive. What's up with just having a bite or a piece? Not everyone agrees with my sense that the one pound bag of peanut M+M's is a single serving but a cookie? A little, 2-inch in diameter (yes, I actually measured for the sake of accuracy) cookie needs to be broken in pieces and eaten incrementally? And if you have to break off a piece, break from a cookie that already has a piece taken out, not from another whole cookie! You all make me sick

So stop touching my food, eat like a human being and make sure to measure your cookies before you get angry about them.