Poor Sofer Boyfriend. Visiting for Shabbat (the bread turned out SO perfect, my goodness; I'd give you the recipe if I could, but it was rather along the lines of "chuck a bit more flour in...hmm...yeah...bit more...okay, that feels about right - do they look baked yet? GO POPPY SEEDS)...

...anyway, visiting for Shabbat, and afflicted by Horrible Allergies, red eyes, sneezing - I mean, I knew he got sick whenever he left Manhattan, but this is Riverdale, it's practically Manhattan, and anyway he's been here before...

...anyway, we decided he must be allergic to the cats; lots of people have cat allergies.

Course, I don't have cats, but when did that stop us? The solution was obviously to get rid of the cats. So (after Boyfriend had gone off to Steven's, where he was sleeping), I opened the window (the door had been open all evening, as it is whenever Boyfriend is here; perhaps that is how the cats got in?), and after a while the cats must have left, because at some point there were certainly no cats in the apartment.

I think the cats must have gone down onto the fire escape and had a furniture-building party, because Mr Downstairs was afflicted by banging and hammering in the middle of the night. He let me know about this in no uncertain fashion this morning, which is how I know. The flaw in this line of reasoning is that there is no furniture on the fire-escape this morning.

Poor Sofer Boyfriend was also afflicted at Steven's, though. Steven theoretically doesn't have cats either, so perhaps the cats from the fire escape went and visited Steven after they were done waking up Mr Downstairs.

This all leaves poor Boyfriend with an Ambiguous Allergy, thus - we have used logic and reasoning to diagnose a Fantastical Cat Allergy. That is to say, a (Fantastical Cat) Allergy, not a Fantastical (Cat Allergy). He will have to remember to take quantities of parentheses around with him, as well as Benadryl.
Here's an old question: How can you be religious when there is zero evidence to support the idea of Gods and no reason to think such a thing exists? Is it not foolish to act so illogically?

And here's one perspective.

I live with depression. Depression is very clever at erasing evidence. You can list all sorts of reasons for being glad and enjoying life, and depression can knock down every last one of them. When depression is masking your brain, it truly seems as though there is no reason at all to keep going.

But you keep going nonetheless, because you have some hazy idea that there's something beyond what the evidence suggests. Some days faith in that idea is the only thing that keeps you from giving up and swigging lethal quantities of codeine and whisky.

Most people around one agree that giving up is a bad idea. They encourage you to keep it up with the blind faith, against all perceptible evidence and rational analysis. Thus, apparently, sometimes blind faith, against the evidence and contrary to logic, is not wholly a bad thing.

I live much of my life on the basis that there is a state of being better than the one I presently perceive, even though the depression in my brain makes me unable to reason out how this could be. Even though all the available evidence suggests that such a belief is entirely unfounded, I choose to believe it, and no-one would say me nay.

As a religious person, I also live much of my life on the basis that there is a state of being beyond my present perception, even though reason and observation cannot support it.

Just as sometimes the depression lifts and life can be enjoyed, sometimes life's perspective widens and transcendence can be experienced. Both of these add value to my life.

The frames of mind which lead to each are precisely similar. One does not require any more suspension of disbelief than the other. It is not about living one's life entirely by rational scientific principles and then having a whole different set of rules for religion that require reason to be abandoned; from this perspective, it is simply about how much one concedes may be beyond the evidence. If it is not unreasonable to live with irrational faith concerning the one, it does not seem unreasonable to live with irrational faith concerning the other.
I nearly ran out of the sermon screaming this week.

Our rabbi is great, and his sermons are unusual - they're actually worth listening to. He's one of the rare people I will make an effort to hear, rather than sneak out to avoid; he doesn't say obnoxious stuff or stupid stuff, and quite often he says really thoughtful, interesting, intelligent stuff. So this week, when he said something that made me go hot and cold and trembly, it was an experience out of the ordinary.

I'm going to tell you about it because it's interesting, but remember that our rabbi is the nicest, kindest, most menschlik person you could imagine, and what happened is the fault of the culture we live in, not the fault of our rabbi. Our rabbi is a simply splendid chap and you should think very highly of him, please.

The subject was the Ten Commandments, and what the mystical commentary the Zohar has to say about "Do not murder," "Do not steal," and "Do not commit adultery."

Basically the Zohar chooses to blur the moral absolutes - i.e. there are many impulses which in moderation are very good things, and in extremis are really really bad. For example: the impulse that leads to stealing isn't actually bad, because Wanting Things fuels things like art and civilisation, just when it goes bad it becomes stealing. Getting inspiration from someone else is a sort of stealing, if you look at it one way, but it's not bad stealing. There's generally moderate versions of things which are good.

When giving a sermon you're supposed to bring an example from real life so that your congregation can connect on a personal level. Our rabbi knows his homiletics, and he told a story about a friend who wanted to lose weight. The friend would be so good denying himself fat or carbs or whatever it was, and then he would crack and eat steak and ice-cream and things and Stop Dieting because he had Failed.

This was the point where I wanted to get up and leave, get out, run away. You see why I was so distressed?

What are the sins in this sermon so far?




Being fat.


Not on purpose, you understand. That wasn't the point of the sermon. Nonetheless, that's what just happened, and it knocked me sideways.

The rabbi is speaking in the vocabulary of our cultural narrative, and we have a very powerful cultural narrative that says eating is a morally dubious act. To diet is to be virtuous; to eat as much as you want is to be grossly inappropriate. We surround ourselves with the message that no effort is too extreme, no sacrifice too great, if thinness will result. To be thin is a constant, all-consuming goal for an enormous number of people.

The cultural narrative, in other words, does seem to put eating on a par with murder, theft, and adultery, so it should come as no surprise that our rabbi chose eating to illustrate a point about impulses which have the potential to be socially destabilising on a grand scale.

For me, this eating-message isn't compatible with the Jewish message. The eating-message says: your body is gross and you are gross for letting it be that way, and if you work very very hard, it might one day be marginally closer to acceptable than it is now. But my Jewish message says: every human being is worthwhile; the world is good; to live is to reflect the Divine glory.

So it distressed me to hear eating being semi-consciously compared to murder. Validating the idea that bodies are inherently repellent by speaking about dieting in a sermon validates the idea that you can only be happy and healthy if you are thin. It validates a corrosive, body-hating, self-hating philosophy.

The stated message of the sermon was this idea that many things are good in moderation but damaging in extremes. I'm okay with this. I accept that too much eating can be damaging. (Likewise breathing too much oxygen.) That's a perfectly reasonable message for a sermon. But it concerns me that the subtle message, the one that is heard by the brain and not by the ears, the one that lurks in the subconscious, was far more sinister.

That was what I heard from the pulpit this Shabbat, and that was why I wanted to run out screaming.

P.S. Please remember to blame the culture and not the rabbi. It's not. his. fault. Okay?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 3rd, 2008 10:15 am)
Filling out a Sworn Statement of Removal of Barriers to Remarriage.

It includes the line "I, [Plaintiff], state under penalty of perjury that the parties' marriage was solemnized by a minister, clergyman or leader of the Society for Ethical Culture..."



Seems I've turned into one of those nitpickers...but stuff like this bothers me because it's evidence that the default, unthinking, automatic assumption is that clergy are men. Which annoys me.

Now I suppose I will have to find out how to go about requesting they change it. Ho hum. Anyone have lots of free time and want to do it for me?

Part 1

Unlike a Torah, practically anyone's allowed to write a get, according to the Mishnah. Gittin 2:5 says Anyone is kosher to write a get; even a deaf-mute, even a witless person, even a child. A woman may write her own get, and a man may write his own receipt, because the get is solely established by its signatories.

Well, I'm just a little bit of a halakha nerd, and it pleases me very much when unlikely halakhic situations apply to my own life. Not, you understand, that I would have chosen to get divorced, but accepting that as a fact of life, it's clearly much cooler to write one's own get.

So I did.

The actual process is very formal. There's a whole ritual during which the woman stands silent while the rabbi, the husband, and two witnesses, establish that the husband wishes to divorce his wife here and now of his own free will. The husband appoints a scribe and instructs him to write the get, and instructs the witnesses to sign, and all while the woman doesn't say anything.

As the sofer, I had a more active part. I got to accept the responsibility of writing the get.
I learned that although the wife is allowed to write the get, the husband isn't allowed, which pleased me very much; the balance of power is not usually tipped that way. In any case, I was glad to be a real part of the process. I like my Judaism to be part of me - or should that be, I like to be part of my Judaism?

Then I wrote it, copying from a text. You can't write it in advance, and you can't print it. This is because the verse says "he shall write for her a severance document," and we take "writing" and "for her" very literally indeed. This is unlike a ketubah, where you may take a printed form and fill in the names - a get has to be produced wholly for the specific recipient, and has to be written, not printed (see Part 1).

Most of the text concerns itself with name and location. The city is not just named, but identified as being in the vicinity of bodies of water (the idea being that these are hard to mistake or mislay). The participants are not just named, but are named by all the names that they use or have previously used, so I'm Yonah Esther otherwiseknownas Yonah otherwiseknownas Jennifer otherwiseknownas Jen. That's about two-thirds of the text. Then there's a little bit at the end which says, more or less, I, Husband, am not being coerced and you, Wife, are free to go.

I made a couple of mistakes; these I fixed in the usual way, with a knife. I'd brought some moral support, who was also a sofer, and he and the rabbi talked shop. It was most interesting to listen to.

When I was finished writing, the rabbi and the witnesses checked it through very carefully for mistakes. Then the witnesses signed it. It passed from my possession (as the scribe) into the X's possession, and then he passed it back into my possession, this time in my role as wife. Ex-wife, that is. It was very amusing to be playing two parts, scribe and wife, especially when the script required the X to appoint the scribe Hatam-Soferet to write a get for the wife Hatam-Soferet.

After I had accepted it as my get, releasing me from the marriage, the rabbi took it and tore into it with a knife. This shows it has been used, so there is no possibility of anyone's using it for another divorce.

The ceremony finishes with an admonition that now this get has been written, signed, and delivered, anyone who casts doubts on its validity is subject to excommunication and is a really bad person and doesn't get any cookies. I like that very much: it's a recognition that messing with this could really cause trouble, and we believe we've done it properly, and for the sake of Jewry, don't go looking for problems. Very humane, and sensible.

So anyway, there we go. I've written my own get. I bet there aren't many women around who can say that.

PS - It feels good now it's done, and I rather enjoyed doing it. I'm really rather a nerd.
Jewish divorce documentTorah says that if a man gets fed up with his wife, he can write her a severance document and they can be divorced.

By the time of the Mishnah, we've started calling it a get, גט (plural gittin). It's an interesting word because it's the only time those two letters appear together. In the whole Tanakh, gimel and tet never happen together. I think it's the only word in the dictionary where they do. Appropriate for a word which is the essence of separation.

If you don't have a get, you are still married even if you separate, so if you get involved with another man you are in trouble because that is technically adultery and okay we don't stone people today but it's a fair bet that God's going to be pretty annoyed. And if you go and have children by this other man, those children are in trouble; they are called mamzerim and they have an extremely limited and stigmatised ritual status.

So a get is important.

Since the Torah says "write," many many laws of writing apply, as they do for the sifrei kodesh, Torah scrolls and so on, and since a get is so important, it's important to get them right. Happily, the man is allowed to appoint an agent to do the writing for him, and he generally appoints a sofer.

The writing is interesting; it's quite a lot like Torah writing, but not exactly. There are a lot of issues with the text layout that you don't get with a Torah, and a lot of rules connected with its being a legal document. The picture shows the sort of script. It's not difficult if you're accustomed to writing Torahs, but it's unnatural - try typing with every letter T capiTalised, and you'll see; you have To mainTain a differenT kind of focus.

The long letters are to prevent anyone coming along and writing extra bits between the lines afterwards. I'm not sure why there's so much space between the lines; I assume it's the conflation of two requirements: a) that the text be fitted into twelve lines b) the document must be longer than it is wide. Whence these requirements, I don't know really.

The picture is actually part of a poem; because gittin are so important, we don't noise them around. Unlike a ketubah, which you get to hang on your wall, a get is squirrelled away once it's written, so as to reduce the potential for things to go wrong.

As with other sorts of important writing, the question of who's allowed to do it comes up pretty early, but unlike a Torah, practically anyone's allowed to write a get, according to the Mishnah. Gittin 2:5 says Anyone is kosher to write a get; even a deaf-mute, even a witless person, even a child. A woman may write her own get, and a man may write his own receipt, because the get is solely established by its signatories.

We'll pick up here in part 2.


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