Haveil Haveilim and Weekly Interview Roundup

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This week’s edition of Haveil Havalim – the almost Elul edition – is up at Ima Bima. Thank you Phyllis for hosting my post. For those who may have missed an interview or two, here is a list of all the interviews who have appeared on this blog in the past 14 weeks. Thanks again to all who took part and to the people who took the time to comment so as to show their appreciation.

Treppenwitz, Shimshonit, Mimi, Mrs.S., Mother in Israel, Rabbi Barry Leff, QuietusLeo, Robin, William Kolbrener, Baila, Ruti, Tamar, Michael, Risa

Death & Birth – Musings & Questions

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– My friend was buried on Tuesday. Two friends read addresses they had written; they were beautiful and, strangely enough, comforting. Then her nephew read a letter she had written a few weeks ago to be read during her funeral. Obviously this was very moving.

As my friend was Orthodox (as in Christian Orthodox) and since there is no Orthodox church in my hometown, the funeal wasn’t in a religious building. At the cemetery, however, a priest said a few words in Greek.

A few years ago I questioned my rabbi about attending a non-Jewish funeral. Living in a predominantly Christian culture, I felt the need for clarifications so that I knew how to deal with the funerals of the people who are dear to me. His advice helped me deal with the issue Do you attend the funeral of non-Jews? What are your limits?

– A friend of mine and his wife have just had a baby girl. They are waiting for the rabbi’s approval before she can be named. They have submitted a name, a double one in fact, and should get his answer pretty soon. Is anyone familiar with this custom?

New Dictionary

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As I was having trouble sleeping last night, I listened to a podcast I had downloaded on my mp3 player. It dealt with a new book in French, Dictionnaire de la Shoah.

This dictionary was published last April and supervised by four historians: Georges Bensoussan a French authority on the subject, Jean-Marc Dreyfus who lectures in Manchester, Edouard Husson – a specialist of Nazi Germany – and Joël Kotek who teaches at the Free University of Brussels.

The idea behind this dictionary was to help the people who are interested in knowing more about the Holocaust to find their way through the vast array of books which have been printed on this topic. Thus Bensoussan reckons that a dozen books are published each month on the subject in the USA, Israel, France and Germany alone. Similarly as many as 2,200 books deal with Auschwitz.

The historians who contributed also wished to emphasize the specificity of the Shoah in a world where relativism is politically correct. Bensoussan reminds us that in no other genocide were old people, children and adults alike brought in trains from the four quarters of a continent to be murdered in gas chambers.

As this dictionary sounded both interesting and essential for a Jewish teacher, I went to the local bookstore and was lucky to find it. It contains an introduction, a detailed timeline, some maps, a bibligraphy and 420 entries which constitute the core of the book.

I am sorry that the links I provided and the book are in French but I found tha,t because of its topic and quality, it was worth a blog post.

Almost Purim Weekly Review

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On My Blog

Photo Memes:
White Flowers Inside and Outside for Today’s Flowers
Multifunctional Post for Ruby Tuesday
Sepia Farm for Sepia Scenes

Purim: A Diaspora Holiday

Purim Quiz
Question 1
Question 2
Question 3
Question 4
Question 5

Weekly Recipe: Eggplant Caponata

Elsewhere in the JBlogosphere

JPIX: Spring in Israel Edition at Leora’s

Baila writes about driving the 466 every day to go to work

Mom in Israel discusses Rabbi Ovadia’s Surprising Ruling: Women Can Read Megillah for Men and shares new links

Don’t know what Hebonics is, check out Shimshonit’s blog

Actions vs Beliefs

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A comment on my blog by Michael sparked off a series of emails between us about Modern Orthodoxy. He sent me a series of links about various aspects of MO. I printed one essay for Shabbat reading and read it on Saturday morning. It had been a while since I last read anything as stimulating as “Why Judaism Has Laws”, an essay by David Hazony.

From what I understand when talking about religion with various people around me, all of them non-Jews, some practicing Christians and some atheists, it is clear that for modern Western people the idea of fixed traditional laws is close to anathema. Isn’t independent thinking the ultimate proof that you are a grown-up and mature individual?

David Hazony provides a beautiful and insightful answer. He starts by reminding us that in Judaism results are more important than intentions. It thus follows that the best way to get results is action.

The discipline we need to be led into action is precisely the set of rules (of which even ritualistic laws are alos part and parcel) people would expect us to discard. It trains us to adopt moral habits as opposed to moral beliefs.

Hazony reminds us that American Jews are by far more generous than their non-Jewish neighbors, giving to both Jewish and non-Jewish causes, not because they are nicer but because they are mandated to give a tenth of their income to the needy.

In addition these laws prompt us to do things we might not otherwise do, such as comforting the bereaved or speaking fairly of others. Ultimately they will have an impact on our inner selves. By doing good we become better. By comforting mourners, we become more compassionate and aware of other people’s suffering. Giving charity makes us more charitable.

Hazony concludes by stressing our role in this world. “In Judaism (…) being good is about taking responsibility. It is about making sure we change things for the better. It is not about what we think or feel about things. It is about actually transforming our world.”

David Hazony’s essay can be fund on Azureonline.

Where I Have Been This Week

chezcatrin.jpgEveryone Needs Therapy gives sound advice to parents on how to bring about a healthy discussion about high-risk behavior with your teenagers.

At Hirhurim you will find the beginning of an ongoing series of guest posts by leaders from across the Jewish spectrum about why people become Orthodox. So far two Conservative rabbis, Rabbi David Wolpe and Rabbi Charles L. Arian, have shared insights.

Cooking with Yiddishe mama points to a CNN report about 5 foods that are good for you. A most welcome article as it includes 3 of my favorite foods.

I’ve just discovered a blog run by a young French woman who is studying to become a journalist. Apparently all the students in her school have been assigned to keep a blog. Yasmina has chosen to devote hers to Israeli films.

When School Rules Meet Halakhah

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We had a school meeting yesterday about next year which gathered all the teachers in my school (about 120). We were divided into four commissions:
– school rules
– helping the freshmen (or secondes)
– helping the juniors (or premières)
– working in teams

We were supposed to have chosen before the meeting. I had hesitated between the first and fourth commisson but in the end chose to revise the school rules.

Unfortunately this was the largest one. I find that big numbers don’t encourage sharing; some will just hide behind the “crowd” while more reserved people will find it difficult to express their views. What’s more about half the people present had not read the draft making the rest of us wonder how they thought they would discuss something they hadn’t read.

So once everybody had acquired a copy, and read it, the discussion started. Understandably enough school rules are suposed to comply with French law. It makes sense; or so I thought. Yet quite a number of people got inflamed when they realized this or rather when they wanted to add things into the new set of rules and were told it was illegal. It was quite incredible to see those, otherwise law-abiding, folks trying to say that maybe it didn’t matter if our regulations were not quite in accordance with the law.

Let me take an example: in French law, a penalty is personal consequently two different people might commit the same offence and yet receive a different sentence. A maths colleague wanted to write in the regulations that somebody who did not bring in their books would be expelled from the lesson. When he was told we couldn’t do that because of the principle I’ve just mentioned, he over-reacted and said he would not utter another word. Likewise other people made similar suggestions and got the same answer. They got really passionate whenever it happened.

This led me to wonder if being Jewish made me see things differently. As Jews our lives are shaped by Halakhah ( (Jewish law) and this law regulates most (if not all) aspects of our lives. In Judaism there is a set way to do things and if we don’t do things that way we know we are breaching the law. There are sometimes alternatives- Halakhah allows a certain amount of flexibility – but in the end, the law is the law.

Thus carrying from the private domain (home) to the public domain (the street for instance) is forbidden during Shabbat; as a result we are forbidden to carry even our keys. Yet nowadays nobody can leave home and not lock the door or go without keys (with the notable exception of teenage boys who seem to be always forgetting their keys, but I’m digressing). Therefore people have devised Shabbat belts which allow us to hold our keys and leave the house while respecting the law against carrying on Shabbat.

I feel that thinking about what I do, and how I do it, on numerous ocasions during the day has given me a more accute perception of what is law and what isn’t. Nevertheless I wonder if it has to do with my being Jewish or if this is just a personal trait.

Teaching about the Shoah: Project

shoah.jpgA colleague, who teaches history and geography, asked me yesterday if I was willing to work on a Holocaust project with her.

We would share the same class (a group of 30 or so juniors). She’d teach them history and I English. In addition, once a week, and for half the school year, we’d be together with the students and they would work on a project related to the Shoah. Finally we hope to be able to take the class on a day-trip to Auschwitz.

We are presenting the project this afternoon and then again tonight in two different meetings and hope that it will be accepted.