Old Book Revisited

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Don’t we all have books we like to revisit once in a while? Books that have inspired us, that we have enjoyed and read several times. They are sitting on our bookshelves ready to be picked up and enjoyed again. For me such book is How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg. I picked it up last night for reference and realised that I had never written about it on this blog.

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household deals with religious observance from a Modern Orthodox point of view. Blu Greenberg explores the different mitzvot and how she and her family observe them. It falls into three parts. The first one is devoted to regular observance such as Shabbat, Kashrut and prayers. The second one examines the life cycle while the last one covers the Jewish year.

Don’t be put off by the title; How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household is certainly one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. I discovered it by chance via the Internet and have read it several times. It reads like a novel and is thought-provoking at the same time. Blu Greenberg’s approach is extremely sensitive and has none of the holier-than-thou tone of more recent right-wing Orthodox writings. This is a great book which encourages people to be more observant by showing that it is possible to incorporate meaningful practice into one’s life.

Blu Greenberg is the co-founder and first president of JOFA, The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and an outspoken woman on the position of women in Judaism.

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household was first published in 1985 but has not aged one bit. Obviously it has become a treasured and authoritative reference as there now exists a Kindle version of this book.

Mitzvah Girls

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This past week, I have been reading Mitzvah Girls – Bringing Up the Next Generation of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn by Ayala Fader. While Boychiks in the Hood reads like a travelogue with author Robert Eisenberg traveling around the United States and across the world to visit Hasidic communities and describing them rather briefly as he moves along, Mitzvah Girls is an in-depth ethnographic study of how Hasidic parents and communities educate girls so that they become “women responsible for rearing the next generation of nonliberal Jewish believers. ”

Ayala Fader did not concentrate on rituals and prayers, instead she listened to everyday talks between women and girls in homes, classrooms and other places where Hasidic interact. Sometimes she even recorded them. She thus primarily focuses on socialization through language and shows how it enforces strict gender roles.

I hope to find the time to review particular aspects of this book; for instance how girls are encouraged to “fit in” and how mothers and teachers deal with “defiance”. I was also very interested in the fact that men and women and thus boys and girls use different languages in their everyday lives – Hasidic Yiddish and Hasidic English respectively. The way these women see themselves and want to be perceived by the outside world is also quite fascinating.

The book is one which readers with an interest in Hasidic life, Jewish women and even gender studies will find riveting. Fader’s study is always respectful of the people she observes and she never guides our judgement, even when the attitudes she uncovers shed a negative light on Hasidic Jews.

Post for Women

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… their husbands, boyfriends and partners too.

– Don’t think that because you are feeling ok nothing is happening to your body.
– Do whatever tests your national health service or health insurance allows you to do.
– Ask your physican about mammography and do it regularly.

About three weeks ago a physics teacher in my school woke up and one of her breasts was oozing. She was rushed to hospital where she was diagnosed with breast cancer. A chemotherapy treatment was scheduled. Sadly she didn’t react well to the first session and had a heart failure. For several hours it was uncertain whether she would live or die. She is better now but the doctors say she needs to strenghten up before they can envisage another treatment.

It turns out that this colleague had been negligent in her visits to specialists and breast screening tests for about two years.

I am writing this in the hope that some readers will keep this in mind and remember to make an appointment, remind a spouse to do it or advise a friend or relative.

Women and Tallit

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If you are Jewish and interested in what happens in the Jewish world, you must have heard that two weeks ago a woman – Nofrat Frenkel – was arrested for wearing a tallit at the Kotel.

Although I don’t wear a tallit myself, I know some women who do and have read a few things on the topic. Thus, two weeks after the event, I have chosen to post a few links on this issue; feel free to comment and/or provide more links.

Tallit, a piece of writing by Rabbi Louis Jacobs

The Road to Wearing a Tallit: Why an Orthodox Woman Wears a Tallit, found on JOFA’s website

– Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, the spiritual leader of Ohev Sholom National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. devoted last week’s Dvar Torah to Women and Tallit from a halakhic point of view; well worth reading

A Step In The Right Direction?

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A group of sixty French MPs is asking for an enquiry about the increasing number of women who are wearing a burqa in France. They request for the Parliament to set up a committee which would make proposals on how to combat such attire which they view as a threat to individual liberties.

Thus, recently, a French mayor refused to perform a wedding where the woman was wearing a burqa, stating that there was no way he could know if the bride was who she was claiming to be. He described what these women have to endure as “walking jails” and called for an Islam which respects French Republican principles of equality between men and women.

These MPs hope that such a committee will contribute to clarify the kind of Islam that is practised in France.

Similarly Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of Paris Great Mosque, said that Muslim French women were not expected to wear a burqa since nothing justifies it. He denounced such practises as a radical drift which should not be tolerated in France.

Immortal

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This amazing woman is Simone Veil.

She was born in Nice in 1927, worked as a magistrate and was a politician who served as Minister of Health under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. She was also President of the European Parliament and member of the Constitutional Council of France.

In 1944, at the age of 16, she was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp along with her mother and one of her sisters. Her mother died there. Her father and brother were sent to Lithuania and were never heard of again. She is the Honorary President of the Fondation pour la Mémoire de la Shoah.

Simone Veil was elected to the Académie française yesterday thus becoming one of its forty members, known as immortels (immortals).

As Health Minister she was asked by President Giscard d’Estaing to draft the law that would make abortion legal thus helping the women who were too hard-up to go abroad and had to resort to illegal means to undergo an abortion. Her goal was never to advocate abortion but to ensure a healthy, safe and legal environment. Horrendous anti-Semitic and anti-women commentss were made about her at the time.

Because of her involvement in this law, and probably also because she is a Jew, her new nomination has been criticized by pro-life organizations which called it a “disgrace”.

In my opinion, Simone Veil embodies everything a politician should be: moderate, pragmatic, fair, impartial and honest. She is certainly one of the best France has had.

Congratulations Madame Veil!

Thoughts on the Parshah

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Maybe the most striking element about this week’s parshah is that it is the only one which is named after a woman. In addition we may find it puzzling to have a parshah whose name means “The Life of Sarah” while in fact it starts with her death. I searched the web a little in search of an answer and one of the reasons I came across was that the name of the parshah is a tribute to Sarah’s legacy.

Strangely enough while Christianity and Islam put a lot of emphasis on Abraham (Ibrahim for Muslims), very little is said in these religions about Sarah. She is Abraham’s wife and this seems to be enough.

Judaism, on the contrary, has numerous rabbinic comments and Midrashim about Sarah. Enumerating all that has been written about the first matriarch would be tedious and outside the scope of this post therefore I have chosen to focus on one aspect.

Sarah is considered to be the mother of every convert to Judaism. Thus if you convert to Judaism, you become So-and-so bat/bar Avraham ve Sarah (that is to say So-and-so daughter/son of Abraham and Sarah). This is because, together, she and Abraham attracted a large number of followers who were drawn to their way of life and to their teachings. It is said that on their journeys Abraham converted the men, and Sarah the women. (Genesis Rabba 39: 21)

The modern woman in me couldn’t help noticing that it did not seem strange to the Talmud writers to mention that a woman was teaching, even if she was only teaching other women. To teach one needs knowledge and to acquire knowledge one needs to learn. In other words, even in ancient times Jewish authorities did not find it odd to write that a woman was a teacher. Obviously something happened in between and soon knowledge became a man’s speciality.

Sarah is often cited as the woman who lit Shabbat candles, took challah and followed the laws of family purity (Rashi on Genesis 25:67), Jewish laws which are the woman’s responsibiliy. Yet the Torah makes clear that she was not just the perfect Jewish housekeeper but also the first female Jewish scholar.

Women and Shul

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I had intended to write a post about how French Jews living in mid-sized town spend Yom Kippur. However, as I thought I might write a few things that would not throw a favorable light on some of the people who attended the services, I decided against it.

A post by In the Pink – where she writes beautifully about her sons being given aliyot on Simchat Torah while she was watching – and Raizy‘s comment on the same post have prompted me to write about it but from a different perspective.

I had planned to go to Paris for Yom Kippur, stay with friends and go to shul with them. But circumstances decided otherwise and I davened in the shul of my tiny French community.

To understand what this means I need to explain that, on paper, French Judaism is 95% Orthodox. In fact, this is how it should be understood: 95% of French Jews attend Orthodox synagogues, which is completely different.

On the first evening I was a bit late arriving (on foot) at the synagogue but it didn’t really matter as the service had stopped due to a shortage of one man to have a minyan. Soon a young man arrived (by car); his father had contacted (phoned) him to tell him about the problem.

The next morning I had decided to spend as much time as possible in shul so I got there a little before half past nine. We had a minyan but only just which meant that the men could not live the synagogue until at least one more arrived. It also means that we spent all day counting and re-counting every time we reached a moment where a minyan is required.

At the end of the day, while we were enjoying a hot cup of coffee with food to break the fast, one of the men came to me and congratuated me for my “faithful attendance” and insisted that it couldn’t have been easy since there was only one other woman with me for most of the day and as we didn’t really count.

In the Pink post’s reminded me that we can’t be called for an alyah in an Orthodox synagogue and my Yom Kippur experience reminded me that I couldn’t be included in a minyan. Although I have read different things on the subject, I still can’t help thinking what a shame it is that women and girls can’t share in what takes place in the synagogue during services. I wish ways could be found to respect a tradition I respect and love without excluding half of the congregation.

Update: You can read more on the subject at SuperRaizy, Isramom , Nad-ned Nad-ned, Mom in Israel and Adena.

Seven Blogs I Read


I am back online after three days with no Internet access.

Swedish Chekchouka nominated and challenged me to share my 7 favorite blogs, I’m not allowed to put hers because she put mine on her list. It was a bit difficult to select only seven as I regularly read more than that. My apologies to the bloggers whose blogs I enjoy but whom I did not select. I think it was Sartre who said “Choosing is renouncing”. Here is my final choice:

Leora’s. A potpourri of ideas about Highland Park; books; Jewish topics; art, health, parsha, web design, kids, food, gardening and …
Frumteacher’s. Insights into History teaching from a Dutch frum teacher.
Cynthia’s. A mixture of posts about Jewish life, American politics, mothering, BlogHer …
Imabima’s. Real-life Jewish parenting…from the laptop of a rabbi-mom of 3 kids on the NorthShore of Chicago…
SuperRaizy’s. A Brooklyn super mom’s blog.
Treppenwitz’s. For his great and enlightening stories.
TherapyDoc’s. An intelligible resource on mental health and relationships, with a healthy dose of self.

Whether you’ve been nominated or not, feel free to share your favorite blogs too.

Lemon Tree


The Israeli movie industry has produced so many excellent films in the past few years that I try to go and see them as soon as they are on at our local movie theater.

Yesterday evening we went to see Lemon Tree, a film directed by Eran Riklis. The synopsis can be found on the site of the Israeli Film Fund.

More than the story, after all the plot is rather simple and straightforward, it is the portraits of the two women – the Israeli and the Palestinian- which are remarkable. They both seem to live respectively in an environment where their behavior is dictated by other people. But it is also obvious that, in the end, Mira and Salma are the ones who embody dignity and principles in front of blind bureaucracy and sheer absurdity. A must-see.