Israeli to Angli: What's 'mosaic'?
Angli to Israeli: It's when you have lots of little pieces of tile, glued together to make a design
Israeli: *looks VERY CONFUSED*
Second Israeli, learning same material: No, it means Moses wrote it.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 14th, 2009 12:21 pm)
Wow, what terrible journalism. Reads like the sort of comprehension exercise one does for GCSE English, where they give you three pieces of real journalism and require you to produce a precis. In lower tiers, this means that you winnow out some tangentially-related facts and string them together in arbitrary order, with no apparent awareness of useful things like paragraphs or article structure, and you get marks for things like copying the spelling correctly. Presumably the BBC's staff writers' journalistic training stopped there.

A group of rabbis and Jewish mystics has taken to the skies over Israel, praying and blowing ceremonial horns in a plane to ward off swine flu.

About 50 religious leaders circled over the country on Monday, chanting prayers and blowing horns, called shofars.

The flight's aim was "to stop the pandemic so people will stop dying from it", Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri was quoted as saying in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

The flu is often called simply "H1N1" in Israel, as pigs are seen as unclean.

Eating pork is banned under Jewish dietary laws.

According to Israel's health ministry, there have been more than 2,000 cases of swine flu in the country, with five fatalities so far.

"We are certain that, thanks to the prayer, the danger is already behind us," added Mr Batzri was quoted as saying.

Television footage showed rabbis in black hats rocking backwards and forwards as they read prayers from Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism which counts the singer Madonna among its devotees.

The shofar is the horn of a ram, and is used to mark major religious occasions in Judaism.
At a Yeshivat Hadar class the other day which quoted some rebbe suggesting that learning ought to engender "spiritual growth," and accordingly after having engaged in Judaic learning, one ought to do "a sort of spiritual check-in," in order to ascertain whether said growth has occurred.

This kind of talk isn't my cup of tea at all.

However, after some thought, I conclude that what he is saying is, if you come away from a class thinking "Hm, there's a blog post in this," you have probably grown in the way he is talking about, and you can talk about it without having to use cringily cheesy vocabulary.

All about language.
hatam_soferet: (toothpaste)
( Jul. 23rd, 2009 03:04 pm)
Shai Held on how the first liturgical breath of the morning is Modah Ani, "Thanks I offer" rather than Ani Modah, "I thank you" - putting the thanks before the ego. Cute and nice, but even Ani Modah is better than when your alarm didn't go off and your first word of the day is SHIT.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 1st, 2009 12:41 am)
Here's a thought.

Sara Hurwitz, the Not-A-Rabbi-Because-We're-Orthodox clergy member at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, got Not-Ordained-Because-We're-Orthodox a few weeks ago, and they decided that calling her Rabbi Hurwitz would be a bit too much like saying "Have some communal acknowledgement of your rabbinic education and function," so they gave her a pretend title, Mahara"t.

This is short for Manhigah Hilkhatit Ruhanit Toranit. (See if you can remember that tomorrow - read the link, it's a good article.)

Here's an idea for all those Yeshivat Chovevei Torah guys who think that Mahara"t is a perfectly reasonable substitute for "Rabbi." When you get ordained, reject "Rabbi" and "Rav" and insist on Mahara"t, Manhig Hilkhati Ruhani Torani.

Here's an idea for the Hebrew Institute. Instead of calling Steven - junior to Sara, hasn't graduated rabbinical school yet - "Rav Steven" or "Rabbi Exler," call him Mahara"t Steven. (Steven, I honestly think you're a great person, and the politics isn't your fault at all. You're a super guy and you'll be a super rabbi, and I'm sure you feel pretty terrible about the unequal situation.)

Actually I'll give that a paragraph of its own. Steven Exler is a lovely guy and I have a suspish that he isn't altogether easy about being Rav while Sara is Maharat. So he is a pawn in the political game, and that's not his fault. Repeat after me: Steven Is Good.

Anyway, I think I shall start calling YCT boys Marahat myself, regardless. You are cordially invited to join me. At some point, a spade is just a spade.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Apr. 12th, 2009 08:06 pm) made of fail: they have done to GLBTQ-friendly books the online-bookstore equivalent of hiding them in a mouldering box in the basement of a condemmed building down the street behind a door with a large sign on it saying BEWARE OF THE TIGER, IT WANTS TO PRONG YOU IN THE ASS.

Google for Amazon Rank and then have a poke around the internets.

Looks like some combination of bad database work and seriously deficient public policy, even if it *is* as innocent as monkeying around with a live database, and I don't think it is; there's also a hefty dose of REALLY DIDN'T THINK THIS THROUGH in there, which is fail when it's this sort of thing. That is, I don't think it is as much malicious let's censor all TEH EEBIL GAYS as some twit in charge of a database failing to realise that there is more to LGBTQ culture than hardcore horse porn, which is a problem of considerable magnitude, don't get me wrong, but not necessarily actively malicious. Anyway Amazon needs to explain why it did what it did, admit that it was wrong, and apologise properly.

Even if it is just saying "We thought that clicking GLBTQ meant hardcore horse porn and didn't realise it also meant children's books and stuff, and oops, and sorry, and we realise our database isn't working very well." Rather than "oh, accident, heheh, byebyes."

Is my take.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Apr. 5th, 2009 12:03 am)
this wins all the internets in the world

That is, if Racefail 09 were to have produced only one thing, I think I would want it to have been this. I can't choose one bit to post here, because I would end up quoting more or less all of it. Go and read it.

Relatedly, the Onion, and if you can't see how they're related, go away and read about feminism until you do.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 29th, 2009 03:05 pm)
Rabbinical school application essay question.*

Faith: How do you experience the Divine? What do you believe about the nature of Torah as revealed in word and deed, and how does this affect your religious action? How do you relate to the concepts of obligation (chiyuv) and choseness ('am segulah)? How do the destruction of European Jewry and the birth of Israel affect your religious landscape? What would a redeemed world look like?

Speaking as an European Jew, and one of the more favoured ones at that, I find this question deeply, deeply offensive. The phrase the destruction of European Jewry reflects accurately the popular notion among US Jews that there are no Jews to speak of, and no Judaism worth mentioning, in Europe - that Jews in Europe are merely the stuff of legend.

Of course the Shoah did ghastly things to the European Jewry which was flourishing in the 1930s. Of course European Jewry was more or less razed to the ground and all but paralysed by trauma. Of course those events are relevant in a question about faith. But the thing is, European Jewry was not destroyed.

So a major US rabbinical school here betrays its working perception of European Jewry as entirely destroyed. This is terrifically problematic: certainly there no longer exist the major centres of learning and whopping great Jewish communities for which pre-Shoah Europe is remembered, but there are still Jews, and they are not dead. All too many Jewish institutions in the USA operate on the basis that they are, and frankly it'd be jolly nice if they didn't.

A redeemed world? Could start with schools like this recognising that European Jews are real live people with real live communities, and not behaving as though we're all phantoms of nostalgia. It would do an awful lot more to foster the growth of such communities, and it would probably be good for the personal development of the American rabbinate to have to stop navel-gazing now and again. Plus of course it's just rude to go around making like we're all dead, and believe me you don't want me making woo-woo noises in your bedroom in the middle of the night.

* No, I'm not applying to rabbinical school.
Women are allowed to chant the Scroll of Esther on behalf of men if no competent men are available, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardi community, ruled in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of his Ashkenazi counterparts.
From Vos Iz Neias, or Haaretz, and loads of people emailing me.

Let's start with how this isn't a landmark decision.

The above is roughly akin to saying "Prisoners should not be detained unlawfully, Democrats ruled today, in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of their Republican counterparts." It's not exactly an innovation. A lot of people have been doing it that way for quite some time, left-wing Orthodox Ashkenazim as well as the liberal movements, so it doesn't really count as "landmark." It also wasn't a "decision," in that he's been saying and teaching that way for some time, in line with quite a lot of rabbinic Judaism over the past couple of millennia. And he didn't "rule," it just came up in a class on the laws of Megillah reading. So, less of the sensationalism.

What is interesting is that suddenly people felt the need to make a big deal out of it. For some reason, the idea that women might read for men has become interesting enough to make headlines. Why should this be?

It's possible that it's part of "Who Owns Judaism?" - it made the news because the ultra-Orthodox said it. Basically all Jewish movements, from centre-right Orthodoxy and leftwards, look to the ultra-Orthodox for authenticity. So it doesn't matter that other flavours of Jew have had women reading Megillah for simply ages; it's only news when the ultra-Orthodox talk about it. Perhaps that's what's going on; if so, it's a great pity.

A tangent: It's a pity for what it shows about how other Jewish movements think about Judaism, perpetually looking over their shoulders measuring themselves against the ultra-Orthodox. Other kinds of Jews don't want to be ultra-Orthodox for a great many reasons, but there is the unfortunate tendency to assume, deep down, that it is basically laziness - that if we were just a bit more prepared to deal with discomfort, we too could be like that. This results in an unspoken but evident assumption that only ultra-Orthodox Judaism is the "real" Judaism, that only the ultra-Orthodox do it "properly," and the necessary corollary that if we're in another movement, there's no point committing to it with our whole heart, if it's just inauthentic toy Judaism.

Moderate Americans don't secretly feel that only hard-line Republicans are the "real Americans," do they? (I really hope they don't, anyway). With notable exceptions, Americans seem to manage the idea that first and foremost you're an American, and you can have political affiliations, and that different political groups are more or less equally valid. Democrats don't go around more or less identifying as Republicans who can't be bothered to do it properly, but an awful lot of liberal Jewish movements have an undertone of being lapsed Orthodox. Either this is a great shame and the liberal movements need a lot more self-confidence, or it is evidence that ultra-Orthodoxy is the only true Judaism. Speaking for the liberal movements (what hutzpah) it's our choice. End tangent.

It's also possible that women-reading-Megillah made the news this particular year because the concept of women participating in things has risen in the public consciousness enough that it's now something people are ready to think about.

Over the past - I don't know, decade? couple of decades? - women's participation in this sort of thing has been increasing. It's now easier for Orthodox women to learn how to read Megillah, and it's a good deal more acceptable these days for women to have women's Megillah readings, for instance. As long as women participating was strictly a non-Orthodox thing, the Orthodox world could comfortably ignore it, writing off the non-Orthodox practices as not really Judaism, but perhaps once it's made its way into the left wing of the Orthodox world it's harder for the right wing to ignore? In other words, perhaps this is creeping feminism crossing a threshold?

So the idea that women might participate in ritual a little more, in the form of a comment about women reading megillah, may have crept into the Sephardi real-world setup. Having crept into the ultra-Sephardi world doesn't mean it's crept into the ultra-Ashkenazi world - doesn't mean it hasn't at all, just evidently less so - which means that the looking-over-their-shoulders-at-the-ultra-Orthodox Jews can't feel authentic about involving women yet. But that's okay, because they ought to be acting on conviction anyway.

In any case, such events are pieces of evidence that even ultra-Orthodoxy is influenced by ideas percolating in the rest of the world, which itself is evidence that exchange of ideas goes both ways, into ultra-Orthodoxy as well as out of it. That is, there is not one true Judaism and a host of lesser Judaisms, but many symbiotic Judaisms.

R' Yosef, being Sephardi, might possibly agree.

But possibly not.

On to part 2
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jan. 16th, 2009 11:33 am)

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 11:00 AM Update on Limmud NY Conference Status
Date: Fri, 16 Jan 2009 11:20:22 -0500 (EST)

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 25th, 2008 07:54 pm)
Listening to BBC Radio 4, as per usual; yesterday was, of course, the Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College Cambridge. Later, listening to the Christmas Midnight Mass from Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, and it was an interesting contrast between flavours of liturgy.

I was especially struck by a prayer in the Liverpool service which observed that in 2009 Liverpool will no longer be an European City of Culture, and seemed to be requesting strength to deal with the spiritual darkness which must inevitably follow, but in general it wa noticeably more Reform/Renewal in tone and vocabulary; the congregation speaking in its voice to God and the Church speaking in the same voice to the congregation.

Myself, I prefer more traditional liturgical forms, as represented in the King's College service. In not attempting to match the pace of change outside, they achieve the impression of timelessness, which to my mind is what high liturgy is for; by performing apparently timeless ritual, you connect with the eternal infinite.

In not moulding to the contemporary voice of the congregation, a liturgy heavily influenced by tradition risks appearing remote and uncaring, yes, but that suits me; the eternal infinite is remote and uncaring, it seems to me. The genius of liturgy is to expose its beauty by moving the congregation, meditation-like, from focus on the specific to a transcendental focus on totality.

Practically, the challenge is to elevate divine service sufficiently that it does not become mundane, but to moderate the elevation such that it remains within reach of the congregation. Kings no longer gives service in Latin, it uses English, but it is still quite High Church in style and tone. Very elevated - hopefully very elevating, but perhaps the Liverpudlian cathedral's prayers, coming as they do to meet the congregation where it is, are more within reach.

It's rather lovely how it all matches up. I happen to be writing this about two Christian congregations because they happen to be what're on the radio, but obviously this particular aspect of the liturgy transfers smoothly into the Jewish realms. Right now, I like my liturgy traditional-flavoured, which means largely Hebrew and Aramaic and no European Cities of Culture, but when prayers in the Aramaic vernacular were introduced into the service, they spoke in the voice of the congregation, and talked about Babylonian Cities of Culture.

As they say, בצאתי לקראתך, לקראתי מצאתיך - when I went out to meet you, I found you coming to meet me. We do rather tend to forget that it's a dynamic relationship, not a static one. Not that I'm suggesting anyone should do anything drastic - quite the contrary - but nonetheless, to those who do Christmas, have a good one.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Apr. 9th, 2008 06:59 pm)
Q-tip boxes always say Do Not Insert Into Inner Ear Or Nose Canal, and I always thought that was one of those idiot warnings like you get on coffee cups, Contents May Be Hot - sort of Do Not Shove These In So Deep That They Get Stuck In Your Hippocampus. But no, it is not an idiot warning.

Really it should say If You Rub Even A Little Bit Too Hard, You Will Probably Get An Infection, And It Will Be Incredibly Painful For Several Days, And You Will Have To Take Scary Amounts Of Scary Painkillers; You Won't Be Able To Sleep, Hear, Or Chew, And You Will Heartily Regret Having Disregarded This Warning.

I guess they don't really have space for that. Well, now I know better, and now you do too.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Feb. 19th, 2008 12:13 am)
Talmud for Scribes meets on Mondays. Sometimes we just learn pieces of Talmud of interest to scribes, and sometimes we learn other interesting rabbinic texts about scribing. This week and last, we've been looking at a ketubah text, from a wedding which took place in Tunisia in 1953. It's written in a Sephardic cursive hand, both pretty and difficult to read if you're not used to it - and the text is very interesting. This is a scan of the text, and this is almost a full transcription.

The text is very interesting:
* The wedding date is given in Gregorian, Hebrew, and Hijrah
* The bride and groom's names are French, not Hebrew, but they are given as "son of," "daughter of," like a Hebrew name. They're also identified by their mothers' names as well as fathers' names, their Gregorian birthdays, and (I think) place of birth, place of residence, and something that might be occupation but I can't quite tell.
* The amounts are given in francs, and are quite substantial amounts. I understand that this kind of realistic approach is common among Sephardim.
* The paper is stamped, like a receipt for a secular document might be. There's a 30F stamp and a 120F one, as well as Protectorate of Tunisia watermarks, and some official rabbinate stamps.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 29th, 2007 09:48 pm)
OK - when we (i.e. Brits) do drinking, we say Cheers!. And Americans don't seem to. What do Americans say? Answer quickly please, we're in a pub and we want to know.

ETA: What an interesting set of responses. Thanks, people.
וילון <- velum (curtain, veil)
Vellum <- velin (O Fr) <- vel, vedel (veal) <- vitulus, vitellus (calf) (Online Etymological Dictionary)

=> not the same word, despite vellum sometimes being used as a cheaper alternative to glass.
Brought to you by [ profile] lomedet.

(Aramaic. Literally, "If we say..")

"It's like on Star Trek, when Kirk and Spock and whoever leave the ship, and there's always that one extra guy in the red shirt, and you know that the guy in the red shirt is going to die. אילימא is the argument you bring that is for sure, no doubt about it, going to be shot down with your very next statement. It's a signal that the sentence following is wearing a red shirt."
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 18th, 2007 03:11 pm)
CNN asks: Are women responsible for obesity among children?

Thanks so much, CNN. Even though they conclude "probably not directly," throw enough shit and some of it sticks, you know?

Prize line: it's not that women shouldn't go to work, it just means that when women did go to work there was no one home to make balanced meals and make sure the kids got out and exercised. There is not a great deal of difference, except that the latter formulation is more insidious.

Howsabout we blame CNN instead, for being so depressingly mediaeval that everyone just wants to stay home and eat comfort food?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Apr. 8th, 2007 11:10 am)
A famous line from the Maggid section of the seder is:

בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו כאלו הוא יצא ממצרים

In every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself had come out of Egypt...

Some versions have not לראות, lir'ot, to see, but להראות, le-har'ot, to represent. Le-har'ot is what King Achashverosh wanted to do to Queen Vashti in the Megillah - remember? - to show her off to everyone. In every generation a person is obligated to represent himself publicly as if he himself had come out of Egypt.

See the difference? The one is purely internal. When I see myself as having come out of Egypt, no-one else can tell. The other is public. When I represent myself as having come out of Egpyt, everyone knows.

Accordingly, for next year I want to make T-shirts for our seder: The Holy One brought me out of Egypt and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 3rd, 2006 06:48 pm)
Oy vey, translation! There are some words in Rabbinic which just...don't have English equivalents. I'm translating the Mishnah Berurah's rules for writing the letter shin, and he's talking about the left-hand leg (if you don't know what shin looks like, sorry!).

He says: הראש השמאלי הזה יהיה לכתחילה יריכו ממש בעמידה
- that is: ha-rosh ha-smoli ha-zeh yihyeh lekhathilah yereikho mamash be-amidah, or: This left head, its thigh should ideally be mamash standing upright.

It means...well, one might say, "That was mamash a cup of tea" after a particularly satisfying cup, or "He is mamash a good teacher" of a particularly fine teacher. It sort of means "really," but "really" doesn't convey the emphatic certainty of mamash.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 7th, 2006 11:08 pm)
All right, y'all biochem people - help me understand tanning. You get a skin, and you put it in a lime solution. The lime solution makes follicles very unhappy, and eventually the hairs drop out. Why? What's happening? If the lime is exploding the cells holding the hairs in, why isn't it exploding the cells in the rest of the skin? and if it isn't, what is it doing? Are epidermal cells more susceptible to being exploded by lime? It's been so jolly long since A-level chemistry, and we didn't do tanning, anyway. [ profile] livredor, [ profile] pseudomonas, help...please!

While we're at it, if I want to split a skin in the plane of the skin, so as to get two thin skins from one thick skin, what's the word describing "in the plane?" I split the skin *****ly. Planarly is not a word.

ETA: Jordan says "laminally" is the word, and Chambers agrees with him. Thanks, Jordan!