Monday, August 31, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Vengeance In Glitter

I finished reading The World of the Yeshiva by William B. Helmreich today. Ner Yisrael friend, you are extremely awesome. It was a fantastic read. I highly recommend purchasing it for your personal collection of Judaic reading material.

There was one passage that really made me think. It had to do with the materialism that was, even then, rampant within our community. One of the reasons offered for an extremely lavish wedding- one that actually made sense to me- was as follows.


Several persons interviewed cited the effects of the Holocaust. One prominent leader in the yeshiva community cited the following example in support of this view:
    I was at a wedding of a man of modest means, a survivor of the death camps. The same was true of his wife. His daughter was getting married and he had to pay for the wedding. It was so lavish. When they were walking down the aisle I thought that the grandfather never would have thought that he would have a grandchild getting married like this. I thought that this fellow is saying: "I spit in Hitler's eye. Every bit of glitter means I'm getting back at them. He made me suffer and I'm showing him." There was vengeance in every bit of grandeur. I think the survivors have brought this over to some extent. Maybe it's not a nice thing to say but I grew up among Americans and we didn't have this.
Recent research on Holocaust survivors lends support to these statements. Many studies have cited the emphasis on material possessions and the feelings of insecurity responsible for it.

-page 317


I am the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. While I do not think my grandfather would have insisted upon throwing me a lavish wedding, I definitely understand the concept. To me it makes a lot of sense. It never really occurred to me to look at my family as miracle kids, but in a way, we are. My grandparents could easily have died in Europe, which means my father would never have been born, which means my mother would not have married him, which means I would not exist. So it makes sense to me that someone who survived all that would take pride in everything they were able to possess, have or pass on to others.

On that note, I miss my grandfather. I find that my missing him is never confined to one day a year, his yahrtzeit. I miss him constantly. He loved me very, very much and he showed it to me all the time. I always wanted him to dance at my wedding. When I was a child I didn't appreciate the fact that he made me sing zemirot even when I didn't want to or didn't tolerate too much noise. I was a child and I was selfish and I didn't like that Grandpa didn't want me to play at full volume. With Grandma I could bake cookies or play hairdresser or dress-up. But Grandpa just wanted me to be quieter.

My image of my grandfather has him as someone always interacting with God. Whenever I went over to his house he was wrapped in a tallis, davening. I used to watch him pore over the Gemara, listening to Daf Yomi tapes. I saw him at shul, wearing his hat with a feather in it, and would run over to him. I would play with his cane, walker and wheelchair, even when I wasn't supposed to. I remember my grandfather before he fell, when he drove the big black boxy car with silver edging, in the days when we went to Jerusalem Pizza and he ordered for me and I was so excited because going out for lunch was such a big treat. I wonder sometimes what he would make of me if he were alive to see me today. Would he be happy with me? Would he be proud? I wish I had gotten the chance to know.

I love my grandfather. He may have passed away, but my love for him is always present tense, not past tense. I love him now. I want him back. I want him with me, and I wish he had lived to take vengeance through glitter. My grandfather always beamed down at me, so proud of me. I wish I had had the opportunity to appreciate that, to be more than a self-absorbed teenage girl who never got the chance to properly tell him how much I love him. I wish I had some inkling of what he would think of me if he were alive today. I'm named for his mother, you see, so I would want to make him proud. That Chana died in the Holocaust. She was a very strong person. I wanted to make him proud of me because I wanted to give something back to him, so he would have a little of her back.

This makes me sad to write. I always cry when I think about my grandfather. I really miss him.

Perhaps I'm the living embodiment of vengeance through glitter. The fact that I live, I breathe, that I'm even here and I'm a Jew- every step I take is a step for him, for her, for all of the ones who died. I don't often think of it that way. But part of coming from such a rich tradition means that the glorious and colorful history I descend from makes me who I am. I am the Chana who is living today; the other one was murdered in a concentration camp. I am her legacy. And in some inextricable way, I am her vengeance, because the fact that I live shows that they didn't succeed in eradicating all traces of the Jewish faith or people.

If this is truly the reason people have lavish weddings, no one has the right to say a word. My grandfather, my grandmother and all who survived that hell have the right to their vengeance through glitter. They have that right a thousand times over. If you decked the bride in a thousand diamonds, that would never be enough to give people who were trampled and scarred in such unalterable ways their pride back. So if they wish it, who could decline them? Let's walk through halls festooned with chains of emeralds and rubies if it makes them happy. Because what it comes down to is that I'm alive today and the Chana I'm named for died before she could ever watch my Grandpa become a man. He had no mother to stand at his wedding, to watch over him and cry happy tears. So if he were alive today, and I wish he was, and he would want the most lavish wedding in the world for me or any of his grandchildren, of course we'd make it for him. Who would refuse the man who left Romania only to learn he had no mother or sister to come home to?


Dana is a licensed bartender. Thus, to celebrate Dolls' birthday and to wish her good wishes, she decided to make us all mojitos. Alas, there are no fresh mint leaves to be found anywhere within Washington Heights, so the mojitos are now fauxjitos (false mojitos).

I was dying of laughter when I saw that she decided to use the rolling-pin as a muddler. Oh gods, the joys of living with lovely people in Washington Heights.

Y'all wish you were part of our Bacardi party.

(The Cousin, you don't get to express any disapproval because a) your roommate is a licensed bartender and b) remember how you got me my drink at the wedding? *wink*)

This Is What I Do At 4:40 AM

You must click the picture to enlarge it (in order to see what this really looks like.)

Stuffed Chicken, Aged Wine & A Man's Habits

A certain man once applied to16 R. Nehemiah [for maintenance]. 'What do your meals consist of', [the Rabbi] asked him. 'Of fat meat and old wine', the other replied — 'Will you consent [the Rabbi asked him] to live17 with me on lentils?' [The other consented,] lived with him on lentils and died. 'Alas', [the Rabbi] said, 'for this man whom Nehemiah has killed.' On the contrary, he should [have said] 'Alas for Nehemiah who killed this man'! — [The fact], however, [is that the man himself was to blame, for] he should not have cultivated his luxurious habits to such an extent.

A man once applied to18 Raba [for maintenance]. 'What do your meals consist of?' he asked him. 'Of fat chicken and old wine', the other replied. 'Did you not consider', [the Rabbi] asked him, 'the burden of the community?' 'Do I', the other replied, 'eat of theirs? I eat [the food] of the All-Merciful; for we learned: The eyes of all wait for Thee, and Thou givest them their food in due season,19 this, since it is not said, 'in their season' but 'in his20 season', teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, provides for every individual his food In accordance with his own habits'.21 Meanwhile there arrived Raba's sister, who had not seen him for thirteen years, and brought him a fat chicken and old wine. 'What a remarkable incident!'22 [Raba]23 exclaimed; [and then] he said to him, 'I apologize24 to you, come and eat'.

~Ketubot 67b


[The fact], however, [is that the man himself was to blame, for] he should not have cultivated his luxurious habits to such an extent.

Perhaps this is the lesson.

Friday, August 28, 2009

I Welcome The Shabbat Queen, Part 5

So we're having 11 people for Friday night dinner and 10 for Shabbat lunch. Thus, in addition to the pasta and potato salad that I made, various people brought drinks, dessert, challah, grape juice, squash kugel, potato kugel and so forth, which is awesome. Here's what I cooked today:

Pumpkin Pie:

Apple Kugel:


And then I set up a station in order to prepare the two different types of chicken:

The first type is Asian Cutlets:

The second type is Tongues of Flame Chicken (which is a fancy way of saying that you roll the chicken around pastrami, hence the 'tongue of flame.')

(It was while making these that I sang a song to the tune of 'Sunrise, Sunset' regarding the extra cornflake crumbs - those that were not needed to coat the chicken of flame. I assumed they were sad about the fact that they would not get to honor the Shabbat by being placed on the chicken we would eat to honor Shabbat. I therefore informed them that they were still good, even though they were going into the garbage. God values the intent, after all, so they are sacred cornflake crumbs, too.)

See how prettily everything is arranged on the platter!

Happy Chana. Shabbat Shalom!

Team Chana For The Win!

So as many of you have happily pointed out to me, R' Gil Student nominated me as a blogger who should be chosen by Nefesh B'Nefesh to fly to Israel and report at their JBloggers Convention. (Update: Harry-er than them all also nominated me!)

I have decided that I should campaign in an effort to secure this opportunity. Firstly, I think it would be an incredible opportunity and I would love to go. Secondly, I can go because I can get folks to tape the lectures for me so that I can catch up on them when I return home. In any case, I figured I should list reasons I should go here.

1. I love talking to random people I don't know and getting their stories. I do that all the time, as anyone who knows me or reads the blog can testify. So if the point is to transcribe someone's aliyah story, I think I would do a great job of that.

2. My cousin is on Kibbutz Yisrael with Garin Tzabar and is joining the IDF in November. I would love to see him. My other friend, Sam, is also in the IDF and I would be thrilled to see him as well. I would also love to see Jameel, my friend Israel Chronicles, Gila, and so many other wonderful people. Also, I could possibly take advantage of this trip to ferry documents and/or objects for people to and from the beloved country.

3. I have not been to Israel since the summer of my junior year in high school and I would relish the opportunity to get to go there once more.

4. I've been blogging since eighth grade (not on this blog, I admit.) I started off back in the days of, proceeded to, and only reluctantly moved to the platform (due to modblog's crash). In short, I've been blogging much longer than anyone else around (seven years!) so if anyone belongs at a Blogger's Convention, I do!

5. Everyone wants to see what kind of spontaneous combustion will occur when you add Chana + an Israeli cabdriver together. Oh, the stories I shall be able to tell!

6. I absolutely adore the little chocolate brownies they offer on the El-Al flight. And they come with some sort of whipped cream, too!

7. I always hope that some letter someone wrote to me and intended for me will fall out of a crack in the Kotel while I'm putting my own prayer in, and I will have a 'Small Miracles' moment. Who knows? If I get to go, maybe I can secure one!

8. Being in Israel for the month of Elul? Are you kidding me? That's like a dream come true! I would revel in must be an atmosphere totally unknown to secular American man!

In any case, vote Team Chana for the win!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

This Is What I Do At 11 PM

So we're cooking for Shabbat again at Casa Chana...and my mother says I can't patchkeray tomorrow, so I have to do the patchkeraying tonight. Thus I present:

Pasta Salad:

Potato Salad:

I wonder if it's a problem that I enjoy this even more than my Revel classes...hmm....

In other news, I am sad to say that no more Revel notes may be posted because they want people to go to the school vs. read it all on my blog (plus, of course, my notes have mistakes.) Ah well.


כא וְאַתָּה תֶחֱזֶה מִכָּל-הָעָם אַנְשֵׁי-חַיִל יִרְאֵי אֱלֹהִים, אַנְשֵׁי אֱמֶת--שֹׂנְאֵי בָצַע; וְשַׂמְתָּ עֲלֵהֶם, שָׂרֵי אֲלָפִים שָׂרֵי מֵאוֹת, שָׂרֵי חֲמִשִּׁים, וְשָׂרֵי עֲשָׂרֹת. 21 Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens.

You know why they have to hate bribes, or unjust gain? It is not just a question of the fact that people want them to change the decision based on giving them this gift.

No, the judge must be aware that money and the misuse of it is at the heart of many terrible, awful problems between man and his fellow man. See Marx's theory on economics. Money is powerful but it is also terrible because it causes undue pain. We must work out of necessity and we need money so as to get all the beautiful and wonderful things in life. But despite all this, there are times where I truly, truly hate money because of the trouble it causes between people.

The judge hates the bribe, not just because he believes in truth and justice, but because he knows that the very fact that he is being offered a bribe is a symbol of all that is wrong with the world, of the darkness money casts over us all. Money is a scrap of paper that everyone is dying to have and yet it sows such far-reaching unhappiness...I have never hated money as much as I do right now, because I finally see the things it does to people to have and not to have it. Money creates such ugliness; at times, it is filth enshrined.

To God, Let Me Offer Up My Thanks

I am touched.

My roommate wrote me a letter and it is very beautiful and therefore I am touched.

You see, it is consistently amazing to me that I have friends at all, let alone people who appreciate me and acknowledge my various efforts in various forums. I have never forgotten what it was like to be the outcast kid, shy, lonely and desperately wanting to be friends with people who already had friends (and thus didn't need me.)

It is very special indeed to realize that I am blessed, that there are indeed people who are friends with me and who care about what I do and how I am. For this I owe thanks to God. Only those who have experienced it can know how cold, how bitterly cold it is to not only be lonely but alone. I wouldn't relive 7th grade for the world. Whatever troubles I have now pale in significance to the torturous and unrelenting unhappiness I felt then, day in and day out.

I still feel lonely sometimes, but thank God, I am blessed in that I am not alone. And this is a very significant blessing. I must never forget it. Sometimes I am inclined to grieve too much for what I do not have as opposed to focusing on the good that has been given me. God, I am very, very grateful to You for allowing me access to a world where I have the ability to form relationships with other people and to have them value me, even at the times where I do not value myself. It is a great and tremendous blessing, and I thank you, God.


Classes like the sort given in Revel, which totally take up every bit of my attention so my mind has absolutely no room for anything else, make me so happy. I get a surge of adrenaline- mental, physical, you name it- like I can run on forever because my mind is so happy about what I'm learning. And then I feel like the song 'Adrenaline' by Gavin Rossdale. Basically, it's like I'm on drugs, but the kind that put me in on mode. I have some sort of reason again. This is good. This is really, really good. I hope it lasts!


Run through the speed of sound
Everything slows you down
And all colors that surround you
Are bleeding to the walls
All the things you really need
Just wait to find the speed
Then you will achieve
Escape velocity

Too much is not enough
Nobody gave it up
I'm not the kind
To lay down and die

Keeps me in the game
You don't even feel the pain

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Biblical Hebrew (Class 1)

This class is amazing. It totally blows my mind. It also scares the hell out of me. It's probably the hardest class I will ever take in my entire life. Anyway, it's given by Dr. Richard Steiner. It will take me way too long to scan all the sheets he gives out, so if you particularly want them, please email me (and then I'll see that it's worth my while.) Same deal- these are my notes. Any and all mistakes are mine.

Also, I am so lucky to be here. Hurrah for Revel!


Origin of the Nikud

What does it mean to say we received the nikud from the men of Tiberias? Dr. Steiner cited the sources that agree with modern scholars (so this is a selective source-sheet he has provided us with.)

Shir HaShirim Rabbah (Vilna) Parsha Alef, D"H, A (11) Tori: Aron Doton (in Israel) cites this as a proof of the recording of the Oral-Written tradition. Distinguishes between the Oral tradition (how you read the Tanakh, as our Torah scrolls have no nekudos) and the actual symbols for the vowels that we call nekudos. Aron Doton says Masoretes record the nikud during the 6th or 7th century.

Anyway, Shir HaShirim Rabbah states that:

R' Aba bar Kahana: Nekudos refer to the katuv -letters
R' Acha: Refers to the words
Davar Acheir: Refers to the lines cut into the parchment (of the Torah scroll)

The thing to note here is that every possiblity is mentioned here except for the one the simplest child would offer, namely that nekudos refer to the symbols we use for the vowel signs we make. So this is an argument from silence- the fact that nobody mentions nekudos here is because it didn't exist (per Doton) at the time of the Amoraim. Once again, we are saying that the signs to record the vowels are only invented after the time of the Amoraim.

Radbaz: The nekudos and the taamim are like the rest of the Torah She'baal Peh (which shows they are not part of the Torah She'bksav.) The reasons you can't put nekudos into the Torah is because that's not the way it was given at Sinai.

Machzor Vitri: Machzor of person believed to be a talmid of Rashi. There is a teshuva in the Machzor regarding whether it is assur to put nekudos in the Torah. The answer is lo nitein nikud b'sinai. We had an oral reading tradition. (Dr. Steiner notes that Jerome, the Church Father, mentions that there are Jews who chant/ sing entire books of the Bible by heart.)

Karyan: Someone qualified to read in the synogague in the time of Chazal.

The second passage/ excerpt from the Machzor Vitri is from Pirkei Avos. It tells you of the transmission of the Torah (maybe this is R' Simcha Vitri, maybe others, etc.) A lot of ink has been spilled about one of the sentences here. This is the basic mention of different systems of vocalization by the Geonim (all turned up in the Cairo Genizah.) There are three different systems of vocalization.

1) Tiberian vocalization- standard
2) Babylonian vocalization- sometimes called nikud elyon because signs are above the letters- especially Targumic manuscripts. Also reflects different dialect of Hebrew; there is a slightly different pronounciation.
3) Palestinian vocalization- nikud Eretz Yisrael- effectively 5 vowel qualities (even though sometimes you see 6 or 7)

How do we know that there were different methods of vocalization?

So there is a very long answer to this question, but here's a short answer. In the Tiberian system, if you count the number of symbols assigned as nekudos, you come up with 7. You see people talk about the shivah melachim (seven kings) - each melech corresponds to a different vowel quality. But in the Babylonian vocalization, you only find six different signs, so you already know there's a different dialect of Hebrew (and that they sound different.) Because if you only have six nekudot vs. seven there's some kind of vocalization that is different. Incidentally, presumably the Babylonian vocalization is that of Chazal, and many derashot become clearer if you know the Babylonian pronounciation of the Hebrew.

Then in Israel there are two sorts of vocalization: Tiberian and Palestinian systems of vocalization. The relationship between these two is somewhat of a mystery. How in this little country do you have two different pronounciations of Hebrew, one resembling the Sephardi pronounciation and the other the Ashkenaz pronounciation? (It's kind of the same question people ask re: Ashkenaz and Sephard regarding which is older/ the original). To hear Dr. Steiner's view, catch him in Jerusalem on December 22 at a colloquium celebrating the 90th birthday of Prof. Joshua Blau (Israel's leading Semitist.)


Look inside the Machzor Vitri again. Ever since Nechemiah Alon wrote on t his subject, all say "nikud shelanu" (which is what it says in the Machzor Vitri) is some kind used in Medieval France. The use of vocalization in France was different, they argue. So the theory is that it's Simcha Vitri talking. But then I (as in, Dr. Steiner) realized that this Teshuva was repeated (came up in two different places in Machzor Vitri) and it sounded to me like something the Geonim would say, a teshuva of the Geonim. That would mean this is the Babylonian nikud. So I asked Dr. Sid Leiman and he looked at me and said that Shadal and everyone said it was from the Geonim. So that was a sobering experience. He couldn't believe what the people in my field say about this. So if you want to know about things, talk to Dr. Leiman.

In the new edition of the Machzor Vitri, the words 'Teshuvas Ha'Geonim' which had been appended to the end of Siman Kuf-Yud-Tes are now just before our siman here, Siman Kuf-Chaf, so that seems to support the point.


We're going to study Tiberian vocalization, which already in the 10th century, everyone who writes grammars knows we base nikud on 'sham' and not Bavel. What's 'sham?' Tiberian system.

So by the time of R' Saadya Gaon it was agreed that the Tiberian Masorete tradition was the standard.

And not only was the Babylonian tradition alive then but most Jews were in Bavel, Iran, Central Asia and a small portion were in Taiman. It definitely sounds that despite the Babylonian tradition being the larger one, the Tiberian tradition was agreed on/ the standard.


(As a side point, we get into a discussion of being a karyon vs an akdan. Apparently in the haftorah for Sukos there is this line- "nistom geari" which either means 'you shall flee' or 'you shall be stopped up from the earthquake' depending on how it is read. There is a very substantive difference between the two traditions- this is one of the famous things.)

Anyway, no matter what people say about who invented the nekudos, everyone agrees those rules are NOT from Sinai. In fact, these rules of grammar were introduced by R' Saadyah Gaon into his grammar. (Dr. Steiner here tells a story about an avrech from Lakewood in his shul who told him everyone in Lakewood is dying to know about Hebrew grammar and so he would be welcomed with open arms- so this 1000 year-old battle about whether or not Hebrew grammar is even important is dying. Dr. Steiner was happy he would be protected in Lakewood.)

These grammatical rules are empirical rules- not handed down by anyone, but rather, discovered after people started looking for patterns. You have R' Saadyah Gaon, R' Ibn-Janach, R' Yehuda Chayug. Many discoveries made by the end of the 10th century for the most part. They find patterns, but we always try to improve upon what has been found. It's all crystallized in Sephardic tradition. Apparently we have a program at YU called HaKeter where you can create any research query and test the patterns of rules to see if they hold up.


1. Teamim- Trop/ Ha'teama= The stress (the position of the accent/ that's how we know where the accent is in Hebrew) Masoretes who wrote the signs= our stresses. That's why it is important to learn their conventions.

Many people who teach Bar Mitzvah boys are not aware you can't always rely on the teamim because some of them are not placed on the right syllable. Others/ some of them are placed elsewhere. Yesiv is always to the right (not put on stressed syllable- same thing with telisha gedola)- same issue by post-positive ones (telisha ketana, zarka, segol).

Pashta is not as dangerous because they (Anshei Kneses/ Masoretes) decided to double the pashta when the stress was melil (on next-to-last full vowel). Because in a milra (last vowel) word the pashta will be there anyway.

How come some Tanakhs have other doubled teamim? Because the printer decided to make a Koren Tanakh where he doubles all the post-positive ones.

Story from Dr. Yitzi Berger-

R' Breuer was teaching the Gush (Breuer Tanakh is far superior) and while in shiur, asked if anyone had a Tanakh. One student said, "Lo, aval yesh li zeh," and held up his Koren Tanakh. Rabbi Breuer thought this was hilarious and laughed.

(So apparently Hebrew grammar folks are not a fan of the Koren Tanakh.)

In Aramaic, melil means above and milra means below. (You see in Daniel there is a kingdom ara min which means below.) All Masoretic terms are in Galilean Aramaic.

Look at the Aleppo Codex text (that he had handed out to us.) See how it says luz- only place it occurs. Why are all the terms in Aramaic? That's why we assume it is in the 6th or 7th century that the nikud was written down.


The necessary condition for correcting leining is if you change the meaning of the word. So what if you put the stress on the wrong syllable? Will that change the meaning of the word?

Let's talk examples. There's a concept in linguistics of a minimal pair. That's like ba'ah and ba'ah.

Dr. Steiner was once in his car with his radio tuned to some Jewish station and he heard this Lubavitcher Rebbe explain 'Kumi, Ori,' from Yeshaya in Yiddish as "Stand up, my light." He almost crashed the car. That's because what that really means is "Arise, shine!" So there the stress position can change the meaning of the word (the stress on ori.)

We have Masoretic notes to that effect. The types of Masoretic notes on this Aleppo Codex page- in the margins but also on top and bottom. Check out the note to Genesis 19:31 there from the Leningrad text. Look at how they try to explain. They say:

Boi, shichvi- feminine singular interpretations when you lengthen/ stress the Beis
Boi- masculine when you lengthen the aleph

This is expressed very strangely. What does he mean, lengthen the Beis, lengthen the Aleph? He doesn't mean those letters; he means the vowels/ nikud under those letters. So why doesn't he say that? Because he doesn't have the terms to explain what this is. That's why he calls them zachar or nekeivah- he just doesn't have other words or terms yet.

R' Yosef Kimchi in his grammar (he's Radak's father) talks about 'lengthening.' When he talks about lengthening the alef or eis he means lengthening the vowels - not the actual beis/ alef- that's a different thing; you would do that by a dagesh chazak.

So we see from here that the signs/ nekudos didn't exist then. Yet another hint to when they were written down. You see here they are using very different terminology (talking about lengthening) than Spanish grammarians, etc.


Then we get to Rashi- the famous Dikduk Rashi, as you call them. Rashi repeats this all throughout Tanakh regarding ba'ah and ba'ah (so the stress is important)- so many places where position differs only re: melil and milra. Phonemic stress.

SECTION 2- Degeishim.

The Anshei Mesorah used certain signs (dot in letter) for two apparently different reasons (from our perspective, anyway). Two different kinds of dagesh.

1. Dagesh Chazak: Quantitative
2. Dagesh Kal: Qualitative

Dagesh Chazak is a lengthening consonant. It's like if you are at someone's house and say: "Dinner was a-mmmazing." You lengthened the 'm.' (Languages other than English do this not for expressive purposes but to change the meaning. Phonemic length.)

Look at Leviticus 7:30 and 6:14. Look at the word 'tivienah' in both those places.

In 6:14 it means you shall bring it. In 7:30 it means they shall bring (his own hands= they shall bring.)


There is something called a rafeh. This is the opposite of a dagesh. The absence of a dagesh is called a rafeh. Look at Aleppo Codex for examples- see the dash over the tav there? That's a rafeh.

Why did we need a rafeh (something to show there's no dagesh?)

Well, it depends on how important Tanakh was to you. Tanakh was very important to Anshei HaMesorah. They were worried that if they just relied on the absence of a sign, people will think they accidentally left out a dot. So they built this rafeh into the system so no one will think they left out a dot.

It is humanly impossible to write the Tanakh perfectly correctly without mistakes- even the Aleppo Codex, which is the best text, doesn't have everything right. So they did the best they could humanly do.

Check out this comment: Chakiman rafin, artalin degeishin- regarding 'arom' in two different places in the Book of Job. Job 5:12 vs. 22:6.

In 5:12- ב מֵפֵר, מַחְשְׁבוֹת עֲרוּמִים; וְלֹא-תַעֲשֶׂנָה יְדֵיהֶם, תֻּשִׁיָּה. 12 He frustrateth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands can perform nothing substantial.

In 22:6- כִּי-תַחְבֹּל אַחֶיךָ חִנָּם; וּבִגְדֵי עֲרוּמִּים תַּפְשִׁיט. 6 For thou hast taken pledges of thy brother for nought, and stripped the naked of their clothing.

When 'arom' means clever, there is no dagesh.
When it means 'naked,' it does have a dagesh to lengthen the mem.


You must memorize and understand everything on the sheets, especially Section 5 (closed unstressed syllables etc) because you won't understand all the other rules, otherwise. (Me: And then you will fail at life.)

Biblical Narrative: Book of Samuel (Class 1)

I'm going to write this as though Rabbi Mordechai Cohen were speaking, with the understanding that in fact I am paraphrasing him. These are my notes, and as usual, any and all mistakes are mine.


This course is entitled "Biblical Narrative: Book of Samuel." Now, the very words 'biblical narrative' mean you have assumed Tanakh is literature. The word 'narrative' is used in place of legal text, poetry, historical documents or annals, any other type of document, in short.

(In the 1980s, having very little to do with Jewish/ Christian interpretation of Tanakh, there was a debate over the use of these terms (literary ones) and the idea of literary categories with respect to Tanakh. The debate was between Adele Berlin and James Kugel. Adele Berlin said you could categorize Tanakh as literature. James Kugel said that the Bible is not literature.)

What, you may wonder, is the precedent for the idea that we utilize literary terms when analyzing Tanakh?

1. Moshe Ibn Ezra: He discusses the literary features of Tanakh. He's a poet from the Golden Age of Hebrew poetry in Spain (he lived in Muslim Spain.) He wrote a work on poetics. He speaks of the elegance of the Hebrew Bible from the Arabic-literary yardstick. There's a distinction to be made between the prose and poetry in the Bible (thus, genre). Ibn Ezra states that there is nothing as pure in terms of poetic style per Arabic rules, in Tanakh, but there are some elements of Hebrew poetry in Tanakh.

2. The Netziv: He takes a position using literary categories of Tanakh. You see this in his introduction to the Chumash. There he points out that the Gemara assumes the whole Torah is called a shir (because of the obligation to write ha'shir ha'zos- this Torah.) For shira to have meaning as a term (i.e. a song) it must be as opposed to something else, that would be prose. Thus, the Netziv differentiates between shira and sipurei prazi. (There are arei choma- walled cities- and arei prazi- open, unwalled, free cities. This suggests free-flowing, unwalled stories.)

So there is precedent for viewing the Tanakh as literature.

Now, the idea of 'Bible as literature'- what does that mean?

The test is not so much in theory as in application. What does it add to our understanding of Tanakh to read the Bible as literature?

Goal: Ultimately to make you more sensitive readers of Tanakh (attuned to language, etc)- teaching us a methodology of analysis.

Example: See the Akeidah in Bereishis and Rashi on Genesis 22:2: וַיֹּאמֶר קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּנְךָ אֶת-יְחִידְךָ אֲשֶׁר-אָהַבְתָּ, אֶת-יִצְחָק, וְלֶךְ-לְךָ, אֶל-אֶרֶץ הַמֹּרִיָּה; וְהַעֲלֵהוּ שָׁם, לְעֹלָה, עַל אַחַד הֶהָרִים, אֲשֶׁר אֹמַר אֵלֶיךָ. 2 And He said: 'Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.'

So why are all those extra words (thy son, thy only son, whom thou lovest) needed in the pasuk? So as to prepare Avraham. There is a relationship between the tradition of parshanut ha-mikra and modern analysis.

To give a very simplified version of the Jewish tradition of Parshanut:

1. Midrash
2. Rishonim
3. Achronim

But what about general scholarship? There are many different trends in general scholarship.

1. Historical-Critical Method (Source Criticism): Aimed to take apart/ analyze the biblical texts according to their sources - this leads to the Documentary Hypothesis

2. Form Criticism: How genres of biblical literature are a reflection on Israelite history/ the history of the Jews

Example: In Psalms, they will say- what does Mizmor Todah tell you about how people worshipped in ancient Israel? (Did this have to be said in a certain place, was it only when you brought a Korban, etc)

3. Literary Criticism: (1970s) This movement reacted to earlier movements and is termed New Criticism. Up till this point, to study Shakespeare meant to study Shakespeare's sources- did he base himself on Chaucer, the Bible, others, etc? That's how it used to be (totally historical analysis.)

Literary analysis means that one is not interested in pre-history of the text, but wants to focus on the actual literature. The argument of New Criticism was 'The Heresy of Paraphrase'- paraphrase is evil.

Critics would say: Look at the power of the literary expression (emotive impact), not the history. Wording is organic to the literary work. (Wording and idea are not separate.) Nachama Leibowitz did this. The New Criticism, she said, was precisely what you find in Midrash. The Midrash is interested in what every word comes to teach you. She focused on Rashi in particular because Rashi was against the heresy of paraphrase as well.

So by this example in Bereishis by the Akeidash, what Rashi asks is exactly what a New Critic would ask- making us live this with Avraham Avinu. This is what Adele Berlin refers to as an element of poetics.

Another Example: Compare Genesis 22:6 with Genesis 22:8

וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָהָם אֶת-עֲצֵי הָעֹלָה, וַיָּשֶׂם עַל-יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ, וַיִּקַּח בְּיָדוֹ, אֶת-הָאֵשׁ וְאֶת-הַמַּאֲכֶלֶת; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, יַחְדָּו. 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together.

ח וַיֹּאמֶר, אַבְרָהָם, אֱלֹהִים יִרְאֶה-לּוֹ הַשֶּׂה לְעֹלָה, בְּנִי; וַיֵּלְכוּ שְׁנֵיהֶם, יַחְדָּו. 8 And Abraham said: 'God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So they went both of them together.

The words "so they went both of them together" are repeated in both pesukim. Why is this? Rashi asks this question. Rashi says in the first instance Avraham, who knew he was going to kill his son, walked as happily as Isaac, who didn't know. In the second instance, when Isaac does know, he still walks happily and at peace. Rashi has answered per his ideology. However, others would answer that Isaac is clueless- he still doesn't know (even after Avraham said he'd be shown the seh) and that is why the verse reiterates this- he walks on blindly.

Adele Berlin notes that the methodology and techniques of literary analysis are like the recipe for a cake. How the cake tastes is the actual interpretation you employ. R' Cohen's goal is to teach us the methodology and techniques of literary analysis.

A literary portrayal is not to be equated with the historical events. Don't confuse the literary text with the historical reality behind it. We are learning about how to analyze a literary representation, literary art.

Now let's look at Shmuel 1:1.

Beginning: Elkanah is the main character (we get his lineage, etc) and appeneded to him are his wives.

(Compare to Rus where Elimelech is introduced and Naomi and children are appended to him.)

Note the chiastic structure-

Shem achas Chana
v'shem ha'sheinis Peninah
vayehi l'Peninah yeladim
U'leChana ein yeladim

Note also that Peninah is introduced originally as ishto- Elkanah's wife. Chana does not have that designation. (Me: Yes, but later Chana is also called ishto. Also, I think this text is meant to be read as a response/ echo of Rachel + Leah. Therefore, when Elkanah says 'Why are you sad? Why are you crying?' I think he means to say- that's not productive. Do something the way Rachel did. Also, I think we are meant to note the differences in temperament. Rachel says 'Hava li banim' and Yaakov gets upset. Chana is passive; she is sad and cries.)

The goal of this class is to learn methodology (not the chiddushim of R' Cohen or your classmates.) (Me: Aw. That's sad.)

Books To Purchase: Poetics & The Interpretation of Biblical Narrative by Adele Berlin, The Art of Biblical Narrative by Robert Alter

Assignment 1: 1-2 pages. In your opinion, what is the literary function of the story of Eli's sons, his interaction with them, and the prophecy to Eli? How might these compare with the stories about Hannah and Samuel?

Read: Berlin, Poetics, 11-21
Rozik, 'Mi'derachei ha'Midrash u'mi'derachei ha'saprut b'parshanut ha'mikra'
Leibowitz, 'Keitzad l'kro perek b'Tanakh'
Cohen, 'Best of Poetry'

First Day of Revel!

I've got to tell you I'm super-excited because...I have class in an hour and a half and it will be my first day of Revel!

Now, I've decided we're going to offer Revel via the Internet with the caveat that anyone who learns something from my notes/ syllabi give a donation to Yeshiva University and/or Revel (assuming you have the funds.)

In any case, our assignment for Rabbi Mordechai Cohen's Shmuel class (my first one today) is to read Adele Berlin's 'On the Use of Traditional Jewish Exegesis.' You can read or download it here. Please read and comment to this post with your thoughts!

(Everything Revel-related will appear in my 'YU Event Coverage' post here, for those seeking convenience.)

Be Kind To The Non-Conformists

If I had one, doubtless that would be my war-cry. "Be kind to the non-conformists!" I would shout. "They're the ones who will lead us someday."

In any event, it seems William B. Helmreich reported on this in The World of the Yeshiva.


The system that works well for most does not work at all for some. There are students who do not respond well to an authoritarian approach. They may agree with the school's objectives but resent the coercive manner in which it enforces them. Many yeshiva administrators and teachers seem to believe that allowing such individuals to flout yeshiva rules so jeopardizes the legitimacy of the system that it does not pay to be flexible toward them. One former rebbe, Rabbi Velvel Perl, who disagreed with this attitude, told of a young man with who the disciplinarian approach had failed:
    There was a guy in the yeshiva named Kronenberg. He was a genius and wanted to learn in Lakewood, but the parents insisted he go to college so he came to this yeshiva because here he could go to college. This was in the early sixties. And when he came to the yeshiva, they decided to knock out his gaaveh [conceit[. They made a project of it. They were going to cut him down to size. So they cut him down to size. He became an apikorus [heretic]; he married a shikse [gentile]. And he would have become a gadol [great Talmudic scholar]. They said things like: "He doesn't come to minyan, so what's his learning worth?"
According to Rabbi Perl, once a yeshiva admits a student it has an obligation to meet his needs, including a responsibility to adopt an approach that will be most helpful to him, even if such an approach runs somewhat counter to yeshiva policy. This should not be seen as the polar opposite of the "shape up or ship out" approach. Neither Rabbi Perl nor any other member of the yeshiva community would argue that a student who, say, violates the Sabbath ought to be permitted to remain in the yeshiva. The question of what to do arises in cases of minor infractions such as missing an occasional group prayer service, sneaking out to see a movie, and so on. It is here that pedagogic stands are taken and differences in overall philosophy emerge.

A small but significant minority in the yeshiva community expressed the view that nonconformists should be viewed with considerable tolerance. One prominent rosh yeshiva explained his position on this issue as follows:
    The majority of students are conformists. Those you get along with nicely. You enjoy them and they enjoy you. One should never neglect them and take them for granted. Yet on the other hand, they're the least neglected precisely because the rebbe enjoys them. As a result they frequently get more attention than they need. This is unfortunate because it is the nonconformists who usually have greater potential. They have more drive, vision, curiosity, initiative. They're the ones with breadth who will investigate and who will care more deeply about things. The conformers create the dictator because they're willing to let someone else make the decisions. You'll find in the biographies of the gedolim that most of them were nonconformists. In the long run they develop into greater people. The challenge lies in dealing with them. I think there is only one way and that's on a warm, personal basis. These people need someone whom they feel genuinely cares about them.
~pages 216-217


Attention Bais Yaakov: this ideal is not limited to yeshivot. In fact, every Jewish school would do well to create individualized programming for students who are slipping through the cracks, or alternatively, excel but have nowhere else to climb to since they are not permitted the opportunities they so desperately need. Be kind to the non-conformists; you'll never win them by asserting your position, power and authority over them. It's only your kindness that will make them yours- for life, incidentally.

If You Build It, He Will Come

So you've built your new house. Perhaps a new apartment. You move in, you're happy- all is well- but you have forgotten the prophecy of old. If you build it, he will come.

There are few creatures as loathesome, as terrifying, as downright disgusting as...the cockroach.

With its beady eyes and scurrying, quick way of moving, he frightens you. You weren't expecting his presence. All of a sudden, however, he comes out to greet you. Bleary-eyed, weary from lack of sleep, you reach, unwittingly, for a coffee mug. Then you jump back in fear, the mug clattering upon the counter. "Good morning, Chana," his diabolical scurry whispers, "I am here to act as your worst enemy." Perhaps it is an omen.

The problem with creatures like cockroaches is how quickly they move. They scurry. They come out of nowhere, scurry down the counter and beneath a cooking mitt, then disappear. You try to kill them, but by the time you do, they've scampered joyously away.

It used to be that a man would show his prowess through killing dragons for the one he loved. I would be happy with a man who killed cockroaches for me. I have a strange fascination with dead mice (and live mice, for that matter, although preferably not in my house), but cockroaches are not my thing. (Not, God, in case you are listening, that I would like to be suddenly blessed with prolific mice.)

The battle currently stands thus:

Cockroach: 1
Chana: 0

He's out there somewhere. And so, for the rest of the day, I walk in fear, my eyes on alert for the damned little bugger. Oh, to be in Chicago...where the roaches don't come. At least not in my house.

Three Scoops of Damnation On A Waffle Cone, Please

I've made exhaustion into an art form. I can't recall the last time I just slept through the night and didn't wake up. Well, to quote the doctor in Ordinary People, "The body doesn't lie." Clearly my mind won't allow me to sleep so I should just get used to being a zombiegirl.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Simon and Garfunkel

I wanted to cleanse the filth (read: the last day in my Sex & Gender Roles class) from my mind and my Ner Yisrael friend suggested reading The World of the Yeshiva by William B. Helmreich. I'm halfway through. It's utterly fascinating. Yet another reason I should have been born a boy- then I would actually have gotten to experience this, if only as a tourist, as opposed to merely being able to read about it. Sigh.

Anyway, this part is hilarious.


Finally, deviance for some may simply be a response to insecurity about how the larger society perceives them. The typical yeshiva bochur travels, reads, attends college, and listens to the radio often enough to be at least somewhat aware of what is going on in the larger society. And he is also sensitive to criticism that he is unaware of the outside world. He may therefore choose certain recreational activities partly because he enjoys them but also because they give him a feeling that he is "with it" or "cool." The following example of this pattern took place not long ago in an out-of-town yeshiva known for its "other-worldliness":

    You can always tell the rosh yeshiva you need the tape recorder for shiurim [classes]. My roommate was playing Simon and Garfunkel music. I happen to think it's "Bridge over Troubled Water." As an instrumental it could pass for a Yiddish niggun [melody or song]. In fact, when I learned before in another yeshiva my chavrusa used to hum it while he was learning and the rebbe picked it up and he thought it was beautiful.

    Anyway, bekitzur [in short] one of the guys next door told the mashgiach that this guy plays rock, goyishe [non-Jewish] music. So the mashgiach comes over to me and asks me. Now I couldn't care less what my roommate does. They're not going to change him anyway. So I said he probably plays the Yiddishe niggunim but he zicher [surely] wouldn't play rock music. When the mashgiach came over to me the second time, I had to tell him something. I told him he plays these former yeshivaleit [yeshiva students], Shimon and Garfinkel. They made a couple of Yiddishe zochen [loosely: songs or numbers]. "Oh, good," he said, "as long as he doesn't play the rock music."

    ~pages 207-208
What is significant here is not that an authority figure within the school was made to look foolish. A rebbe or a mashgiach is not supposed to know about such matters. In fact, it is to his credit that he does not know the difference between Simon and Garfunkel and Shimon and Garfinkel. What does matter is that the yeshiva bochur cloistered away in the beis medrash knows who they are and what they do. Nevertheless, such awareness is somewhat tempered by the slightly defensive tone, as the student says, "It could pass for a...niggun," and "I happen to think it's beautiful."


Ah, they worried about Simon & Garfunkel back in the day...what in the world do they do about Lady Gaga and 50 Cent?

In a strange way it is actually very sweet- this idea of "Shimon and Garfinkel."

The Jewish Woman's Goal (Per R' Avigdor Miller)

I think it is important to read and to learn even from those with whom we disagree. Thus, case in point, I provide this excerpt from Sing, You Righteous by R' Avigdor Miller. Don't rush to criticize- just think about what he says- even if it's entirely against everything you believe. If I can do it (and I'm precisely the type of person who will end up with a 'ruined life' per him), I'm sure you can.


G. We shall always continue, but there [the Yeshiva] is where you will become great. Everyone needs the Torah-environment. If you had a sister, her road would lead to Beth Jacob.

A. And afterward?

G. To early marriage. The greatest career for a woman is to be wed to a disciple of the Sages, which is equivalent to a lifelong sojourn in the Yeshivah. This is the way to join the Shechinah. "You shall cling to Him" (Dvarim 10:20); "Cling to the Sages and their disciples, and it is considered as if you ascend on high" (Sifri, Dvarim 11:22), "Therefore one should wed his daughter to a Talmid Chacham, and to eat and drink with Talmidei Chachamim...and to associate with them in every way" (Kesubos 111 B; RMBM, Deos 6:2). There is no better opportunity for this than marriage. When a woman's children become Talmidei Chachamim, or are married to them, she comes still closer to God. The false lure of a "career" leads nowhere at best, and it usually ends up in a ruined life. Marriageability shrinks with each additional year, and one is reduced to second choices. There is no Romance as truly beautiful and rearding as a Jewish home where the Shechinah dwells. Even the Mishkan and the Mikdash are but an echo of the Sanctuary wherein Abraham and Sarah lived their noble lives. And how much more so when blessed with many children, for then is added the infinite achievement of new worlds ("One who adds another soul to Israel is as if he had built a world"- RMBM, Ishus 15:16). Such a happily-busy woman is like a Rosh Yeshivah, and even her household chores are like Torah-discourses.

A. Is that all?

G. It is more than all else. Certainly it depends on the degree of intent for the sake of Heaven, just as even the Rosh Yeshivah must teach for the sake of Heaven. In addition is the world of Kindliness, Charity, Znius and endeavor for the strengthening of the Torah, all of which are available to the daughters of Jacob. Some may find opportunity for Chovos Halvovos, RMBM (Deos and Teshuvah), Cusari, Shaare Teshuvah (Rabeinu Yonah), Mesillas Yesharim and many other treasuries of Torah; and also biographies of Zaddikim. Some might become capable of writing books to inspire the youth. But a Torah-home is in itself an achievement of a skilled architect: "The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tear it down" (Mishle 14:1). The wise mother is a builder of the nation. David said: "I am Your servant, the son of your handmaiden" (Tehillim 116:16); i.e. my mother was my model of service of G-d. Shlomoh said: "Hear, my son, the instruction of your father; and forsake not the teaching of your mother" (Mishle 1:8); and we have a chapter of his mother's admonitions (ibid., 31). The self-control, diplomacy and foresight of the wise Jewish wife make her an analogy for the Torah (Koheles 9:9; Kiddushin 30B): "See life with the woman you love."

~pages 355-356


Now, if you are anything like me, your lips have already curled up in distaste. It's hard to entertain other people's viewpoints, isn't it? But worthwhile, I think. Personally, my favorite quote is "Such a happily-busy woman is like a Rosh Yeshivah, and even her household chores are like Torah-discourses."

I wonder what would happen if I told my Bais Yaakov friends they were like Roshei Yeshiva! I'm almost tempted to do it.

Percolating Thoughts

I figured I'd share some of the percolating thoughts in the popcorn machine that is my brain.

1. It occurred to me that people would have more success teaching tzniut if they taught it from a cheftza approach as opposed to a gavra approach. ("Those shoes, Batya, they want to be worn over your feet to prevent your scandalous toenails from showing...the shoes are crying out to you...they need to be worn over your feet. Come on, just do what the shoe wants already!") That had me laughing.

2. Did anyone see The Time-Traveler's Wife? If you did, weren't you reminded of Lemach and the death of Cain in that scene? Come on, you know that's totally what you were's definitely what I was thinking...there's no movie without Torah.

3. I think it's ridiculous that people will not publish dissenting opinions from outside their camp because they are "subversive" to their own ideas. I mean, it's good that at least they will publish responses to the dissenting ideas penned by those within their camp, but what good is a response to the idea if you refuse to publish the idea itself? Subversive is such a ridiculous word, anyway...everyone is subversive by someone's standards. Heck, I'm sure I'm considered subversive by some people.

4. It's even more ridiculous when people refuse to teach you halakhot unless you blindly promise to adopt those halakhot. Now look, there are about a million interpretations of different halakhot, so to teach me your approach on condition that I automatically follow it is silly. I could remain within the halakhic realm and still follow a different point of view. And honestly, let's say it's honest-to-goodness binding should teach it to me anyway, even if I don't follow it, just so I know what it is I am not following! Acquiring knowledge should never be a conditional process.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Queen of the Revel Castle

So, for all those of you who have always wanted to attend Revel, you shall attend it from afar.

My only request is that if you learn something via my notes/ syllabi and you have the funds, you give a donation to Revel or Yeshiva University as a way of thanking them.

To begin, I welcome you to Biblical Narrative: Book of Samuel as taught by Rabbi Mordechai Cohen. Here is the syllabus and the relevant readings/ books; we can journey into the realm of literary analysis at its finest together.

Samuel Syllabus - Rabbi Cohen

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Hate This In Me


My skin is painted in iridescent colors of overlapping exhaustion.

But, in case any of you care, I got the highest marks possible for my Sex & Gender Roles and Classical Sociological Theory class. Speaking one's mind doesn't affect the grade if you're taking courses with decent teachers; happily, I was.

On another note, a friend once said to me: "Sometimes to make peace is to do a disservice to the friendship that existed; it can cheapen it sometimes. And the only way to preserve that friendship, even in the past tense, is not to make peace."

Now, I don't believe that for a minute. I think we are always meant to make peace and forgive and to wish others well. I don't think we are meant to bear grudges; I don't think we are meant to be cruel. The only time we are permitted not to make peace is when others deliberately hurt us just to watch us squirm in pain. But if it was unintentional, I believe we must make peace.

Thus it is unfortunate that within myself I discover a person who just wants anybody who hurt me to hurt as badly as I do. It's like I think it will even things out if they suffer as much as I suffer; somehow it will make the world more fair. Obviously I don't want lasting suffering or total destruction, but I find in myself that I could not possibly be happy if I thought they were totally happy and didn't suffer for what they'd done to me. And that is a less than admirable trait. In the words of another, it's a middah megunah. How can I want someone else's suffering? How can I want someone else to be unhappy? It is such a selfish quality! Just because I am unhappy, must I wish that others should be unhappy as well? I hate that I have this in me. I can't outrun it, I can't change it and I can't make it go away. I want to cut this part of myself out of me, to excise it totally and to have the ability to be totally happy for other people, especially since the hurt was not deliberate. Since when is it that when someone else is happy I want them to hurt? What kind of disgusting person could want that?

It's Elul, the time of year in which we are meant to ponder ourselves, to focus on self-reflection. Well, when I look in the mirror I see a person who is cruel and it kills me. I want to be happy for other people, even if, by virtue of their happiness, they hurt me. I don't want it to be that I won't be content unless I think they suffer for hurting me. I don't want to be that type of person. I don't want to be that kind of girl! I don't want to have that kind of ugliness in me. God, I can't be that person; I won't be that person. But I am that person, and God, I'm at my wit's end...I don't know what to do to make myself better. I want to be better. I'm crying as I write this because I can't, can't be that way...I don't want to be that way...I want to be better than that. So God, what should I do? How can I fix this flaw in me? How can I be happy, truly happy for others and quell the anger and the desire to have them feel as I do, as worthless and stepped-on and discarded as I do?

Please, God, I'm begging you...I don't want to be that person...I don't want to be that kind of girl. You have to help me to be better because I don't know how to do it myself and it's killing me.

Urban Parsha

Urban Parsha. It's Judaism, the cool version. Or as he puts it, "it's just like regular torah, but ghetto."

Friends and family, I'd like to introduce you to the excellently entertaining blogger MaNishtana, a proud black Jew who tells it like it is. He also has a hilarious ongoing series entitled 'Urban Parsha' which you must read because it will have you laughing your head off.

Dana, this one's for you.

1. Urban Parsha: Vaetchanan
2. Urban Parsha: Ekev
3. Urban Parsha: Re'eh
4. Urban Parsha: Shoftim

Nothing Ever Changes


And where's the shaimos box, please? Now that I have 75 pages of totally unreadable information because the goddamned ink was out and it kept printing anyway!


On a happier note: There is an amazing new lobby in Gottesman! It is absolutely fabulous. In other news, I am going to pretend to be a boy and get free lunch at Belfer Hall. Huzzah Orientation.


If you haven't watched V for Vendetta, then I advise you not to watch this clip, as it will ruin the movie for you. For those who have watched it, here tis.

Here are the lines from the screenplay. To offer context, Evey is a prisoner of a totalitarian government. She was caught aiding and abetting a freethinker and radical named V who is attempting to set free the people of the country (through hijacking the media, killing high-ranking officials, etc). She has been kept in a dungeon cell and repeatedly tortured:

Interrogator: Are you ready to cooperate?

Evey: No.

Interrogator: Very well. [He stands, completely bathed in shadow. He paces toward the cell door.] Escort Ms. Hammond back to her cell. Arrange a detail of six men and take her out behind the chemical shed and shoot her.

[Evey is wreathed in darkness. She has accepted her death, stared it in the face and calmly chosen it. Bells sound, a strange chime. A stranger enters. He too is wreathed in shadow.]

Executioner: It's time.

Evey: I'm ready.

Executioner: Look, all they want is one little piece of information. Just give them something, anything.

Evey: Thank you. But I'd rather die behind the chemical sheds.

Executioner: Then you have no fear anymore. You're completely free. [He turns and walks out of the cell, leaving Evey utterly bewildered. She does not understand.]

Evey: (to herself) What?

[She listens as his footsteps fade down the hall, the door hanging weirdly open.

Evey takes a few tentative steps toward the door and sticks her head out into the empty hall, peering down both ways.

Slowly, she emerges from her cell, retracing her path down the hall that she has never seen before.

Quietly inching along the wall, Evey peeks around a corner, gasping at the rigid guard standing off to the side. There is something about the man's frozen stare that keeps her from running.

Evey straightens and crosses to the guard.

It is a mannequin.

She touches him, the wheeled platform he is mounted on rolling back against the wall. She sees a door and pushes it open to find...]

V: Hello Evey.

Evey: [She cannot quite believe it. She is shocked.] You. [Pause, accusatory] It was you.

V: Yeah.

Evey: [pointing to her dungeon cell, the hallway just beyond the door] That wasn't real. Is Gordon-

V: I'm sorry, but Mr. Deitrich is dead. I thought they'd arrest him but when they found a Koran in his house, they had him executed.

Evey: [whispers] Oh, God.

V: Fortunately, I got to you before they did.

Evey: [angry] You got to me. You did this to me. You cut my tortured tortured me! Why?

V: You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there'd been an easier way, but there wasn't.

Evey: [begins to sob, hyperventilate] Oh, my God.

V: I know you may never forgive me. But nor will you ever understand how hard it was for me to do what I did. Every day I saw in myself everything you see in me now. Every day I wanted to end it. [intensely, passionately] But each time you refused to give in, I knew I couldn't.

Evey: [spits the words out with hatred] You're sick. You're evil!

V: You could have ended it, Evey. You could have given in, but you didn't. Why?

Evey: [full of venom, hatred, disgust] Leave me alone. I hate you.

V: [passionately] That's it! See, at first, I thought it was hate, too. Hate was all I knew; it put my world, taught me how to eat, how to drink, how to breathe. I thought I'd die with all that hate in my veins. But then something happened. It happened to me just as it happened to you.

Evey: [turning from him in disgust] Shut up! I don't want to hear your lies!

V: Your own father said that artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.

Evey: [shaking her head adamantly, tears coursing down her cheeks] No.

V: What was true in that cell is just as true now. What you felt in there has nothing to do with me.

Evey: [frustrated, shouting] I can't feel anything anymore!

V: Don't run from it, Evey. You've been running all your life. [she starts to hyperventilate, breathing very shallowly]

Evey: [she chokes out] I can't [breathing shallowly, fast] breathe...[falling to her knees] asthma...

V: [He cradles her in his arms, his arm behind her head. There is something very tender about the gesture] Listen to me, Evey. This may be the most important moment of your life. Commit to it. They took your parents from you. They took your brother from you. [she is rocking back and forth, sobbing, totally out of control- he holds her chin with his gloved hands] They put you in a cell; they took everything from you that they could take...except your life. And you believed that was all there was, didn't you. The only thing you had left was your life but it wasn't, was it?

Evey: [she is begging, crying] Please.

V: You found something else. In that cell, you found something that mattered more to you than your life. Because when they threatened to kill you unless you gave them what they wanted, you told them you'd rather die. You faced your death, Evey. You were calm. You were still. Try to feel now what you felt then. [she slows her crying, taking deep breaths, trying to calm herself]

Evey: God...I felt...

V: Yes?

Evey: I'm dizzy. I need air. Please? I need to be outside.

V: There's a lift. It will take us to the roof.

[Evey exits onto a balcony. It is the first time she has been outside since the beginning of her imprisonment by V. He offers her a cloak, but she does not take it. She walks tentatively, unbelieving, into the thunderstorm outside. We see the separate, beautifully formed raindrops falling upon her. They purify her.]

Evey: [in a tone of wonder and realization] God is in the rain.

[She is reborn. The scene is interspliced with V's freedom through the fire. She raises her arms and embraces her new understanding of herself; V recalls his own freedom.]


To me, this scene symbolizes the state of human existence. We are tortured, cruelly tortured by a God who seems not to care for us. We are tried beyond endurance; there is a pain that racks the soul and kills us. We do not know why we have been tortured so and then we are set free. And we realize it was all a sham. We thought it was someone evil and cruel who was torturing us, whether that was our Evil Inclination or some other tool. In truth, it was God. But God did it in order to set us free, to enable us to learn things about ourselves we could never otherwise have known. And thus the idea that the Tzaddikim see the Evil Inclination as a mountain and the Reshaim see it as a hair makes sense. At the end of time, the wicked ones see that it was only a mannequin guarding their prison cell. They were free to leave at any time. The righteous ones, however, see the entire torture chamber, the soldier who was guarding them and cannot imagine how they overcame all that terror and darkness. And then they step forward to confront God, the one who formed the Evil Inclination, who created our prisons and troubles and sufferings. And God shows us how our prisons set us free.

In a line that was cut from the screenplay, V explains to Evey that he did this: "Because I love you, Evey. Because I wanted to set you free."

Since elementary school we are taught that God loves the righteous ones, the Tzadikim, and that is why He hurts them. It never made sense to me until I saw this film. Once I saw it, everything clicked. I realized our world and our trials, tribulations and sufferings are all a construct. This is the fictitious torture chamber, if you will. The one who tortures us is God, so that we may discover ourselves and the purity that reigns within us. It is not pleasant; it is not what we desire. But it is the only way. In the strongest form possible, those who die al kiddush Hashem are those who have chosen their principles over their body; they realize this is merely a construct. But in our smaller forms and our smaller sufferings, we are purified. It is a question of who and what we become during our time in the dungeon. Do we betray V? Or do we find the integrity, that one inch of ourselves that is "small and fragile and the only thing in the world worth having," that allows us to stand?

All that we feel, all that we undergo, all that we are is a gift given to us by God, in whose eyes we are most precious. The pain He inflicts is necessary so that we understood who and what we are, and what is so much more important, who we have the potential to be.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

I Welcome(d) The Shabbat Queen, Part 4

So this Shabbat we had 13 people total for Friday night! And it was absolutely awesome. I completely had a party. Thanks to Ginny for potatoes, The Challah Man for challah, Fudge for grape juice, The Aristocrat for wine and Hospital-Saviour Dude for drinks. And thank you to The Girl From Philly for putting in a surprise appearance and making me happy. Also, D-Cap is to be thanked for helping chop vegetables for my stir-fry while Fudge and Dana helped wash lots and lots of dishes! And last but not least, an intrepid blog-commenter and his sister dined by us for Shabbat, so you see, it does work...if you read the blog, you come for Shabbat!

So Friday cooking took from 8 AM through 7:11 PM (with several breaks to tzniufy to accept gifts and offerings from lovely guests.) Here's what we had!

Aside from mushroom-barley soup, which you already saw, the meal featured Meat- Vegetable lasagna:

Sweet & Sour Chicken:

Carrot Tzimmes:

Baked Onions With Sundried Tomatoes:

Vegetable Stir-Fry:

And for dessert, home-baked cookies with chocolate frosting and sprinkles on top!

This was my apartment just before Shabbat:

Then I jumped in the shower at 7:11 and ended up being ready in time for Shabbat. Huzzah!

Egla Arufa

My friend once told me this fantastic devar torah about egla arufa and I cannot for the life of me remember it except for the fact that I know I loved it. So if you have any amazing divrei torah re: this, please share them because I am trying to remember the one my friend told me.

UPDATE: I found it! YES!

Here's the devar torah, theoretically from R' Elya Lopian.

When it comes to an egla arufa, the ziknei ha'ir have to confess and say that "our hands did not spill this blood." Now, why is that? The Gemara says it's because they did not escort him out of the city, and therefore his murder somehow becomes their fault. The obvious question is: If he is between two cities and found dead, how can it be their fault if he is found miles away (not close to either city?)

The answer: If this person was attacked, he might have been able to fend/ fight off his attackers. The reason he did not do so is possibly because no one walked him out or showed him any respect or love. In this way, he lost his will to live and to fight off his attackers.

Thus, when someone sees that another person truly cares about them, it gives them the will to live on. And so we learn that every bit of kindness and love we show to others actually strengthens them.

Now, isn't that beautiful? I love that devar torah and it is pertinent to this week's parsha it is!

Friday, August 21, 2009


I am not feeling guilty about this.
I am not feeling guilty about this.
I am not feeling guilty about this.
I am not feeling guilty about this.

Okay, goddamnit, I am feeling guilty about this.

Why in the hell do we (i.e. the human race) feel like everyone is entitled to us and to our time except for us? Why, why, why?

This Is What I Do At 2 In The Morning

If you're coming to me for Shabbos, you're officially not allowed to look. And yes, this means you. Okay? So stop peeking!

Mushroom-Barley Soup is awesome. And cooking for Shabbat is even more awesome!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kasbah, Dessert Torah and Amalek

So today I went to The Whitney. That was very interesting; it's not my style of art for the most part but I loved the Music Room.

Afterwards, I went to Deli Kasbah. That's my favorite restaurant because I have only positive associations with it. My Semikha friend informed me that if you tell the Mashgiach a Devar Torah you get a free dessert. So I told him a Devar Torah (his name is Jack and he is great) and sure enough...amazing melting chocolate chip cookie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce was free! I think that is the coolest thing in the whole world! For sure for all dates- if you want to impress the person you're with, you have to go to that restaraunt and get your date free dessert via your devar torah abilities.

Torah should always be so sweet, as my Semikha friend said.

So everybody, if you ever want to make Chana really happy, here's the two-step plan:

1. Deli Kasbah + Devar Torah party for free desserts.
2. And then, onward to Isaac's Bake Shop in Brooklyn!

As an addendum to my Amalek post, the fabulous Rabbi Schaffel (aka my rabbi) pointed me to R' Hutner. R' Schaffel stated:
    What came to mind as I read it is the first piece Rav Hutner writes in his volume on Purim. He writes that of all the nations the only one that will not transfer into the World-to-Come will be Amalek. He associates that with their trait of leitzanus which he explains to mean the act of diminishing that which is important. A "letz" cannot be rebuked since he undermines the person or the message before it has a chance to settle on his heart. He doesn't mention, as I recall, about them not having idols but I think his description of their character is parallel to your piece.
Hurrah for R' Schaffel!

I Feel Like I've Run A Marathon

So I just went shopping for Shabbos.

I decided to play a game with my mother. I told her what I was making for Shabbat (which recipes, etc) and then went out to go buy everything.

Chana: Okay, so I just got everything except I need 15 more much do you think it came to?

Mother: *says an amount*


Mother: (sweetly) Yes?

Chana: It was that amount plus two dollars. Holy crap. How did you guess that amount?

Mother: I've been doing this for years, Chanaleh.

To go shopping for Shabbat in the Heights entails: Walking down a hill with Wilma, our granny cart, filling that cart up to the point that the lady in the store asks if I want a delivery, walking to 181st so I don't have to walk up the hill again, and then walking to my apartment. Enter through service entrance and put everything away.

Someone needs to teach me how to drive.

In other news, today is my glorious Mother's birthday. As many of you know, I have been living in my mother's shadow since the day I was born and will happily continue to do so till the day I die- the woman is incredible. I never before appreciated how much she does on absolutely no time. I mean, just shopping and cooking for Shabbat. Now I know what that's like and let me tell you...the lady does it when she's got four kids, a job, and a house to maintain. (And she never cooks just for four kids, for the record. We've always got enough for about 20 people at the table.) That's aside from everything else she does on the side (let's just say: A LOT.) That's pretty damn impressive. So happy birthday, glorious mother! Let's hope one day I am a shadow of a shadow of what you are.

The Burning Castle of Thorns

This is what I do at 1:00 in the morning.

I marry Tanakh ideas to one another.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Amalek: The Godless Nation?

I was speaking to my little brother Urchin tonight when he pointed out something brilliant. I had asserted that Amalek was a nation like every other nation in Tanakh, i.e. a pagan nation that worshipped idols. My brother pointed out that he had learned from Rabbi Shuman, his rebbe in Skokie Yeshiva, that the essence of Amalek was the desire not to defer to God in anything, and therefore, to choose to believe no god to whom they owed anything existed.

"Really?" I exclaimed. "That's fascinating. You mean they had no idols?"

He wrinkled his brow. "Except there's the idea that Haman was from Amalek, and Haman was wearing an idol on his breastplate," he mused aloud. "Although that's only a midrash; it's not anywhere in the text, right?"

"Precisely so," I answered. "That's a midrash."

Curious, I went to look up Urchin's point. From what I found, he is right. Every other nation has gods or idols ascribed to them. Examples:


א כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ, יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר-אַתָּה בָא-שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ; וְנָשַׁל גּוֹיִם-רַבִּים מִפָּנֶיךָ הַחִתִּי וְהַגִּרְגָּשִׁי וְהָאֱמֹרִי וְהַכְּנַעֲנִי וְהַפְּרִזִּי, וְהַחִוִּי וְהַיְבוּסִי--שִׁבְעָה גוֹיִם, רַבִּים וַעֲצוּמִים מִמֶּךָּ. 1 When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and shall cast out many nations before thee, the Hittite, and the Girgashite, and the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;


ה כִּי-אִם-כֹּה תַעֲשׂוּ, לָהֶם--מִזְבְּחֹתֵיהֶם תִּתֹּצוּ, וּמַצֵּבֹתָם תְּשַׁבֵּרוּ; וַאֲשֵׁירֵהֶם, תְּגַדֵּעוּן, וּפְסִילֵיהֶם, תִּשְׂרְפוּן בָּאֵשׁ. 5 But thus shall ye deal with them: ye shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.

~Deuteronomy 7: 1, 5


כג וְסַרְנֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים, נֶאֶסְפוּ לִזְבֹּחַ זֶבַח-גָּדוֹל לְדָגוֹן אֱלֹהֵיהֶם--וּלְשִׂמְחָה; וַיֹּאמְרוּ--נָתַן אֱלֹהֵינוּ בְּיָדֵנוּ, אֵת שִׁמְשׁוֹן אוֹיְבֵנוּ. 23 And the lords of the Philistines gathered them together to offer a great sacrifice unto Dagon their god, and to rejoice; for they said: 'Our god hath delivered Samson our enemy into our hand.'

~Judges 16: 23


אָז יִבְנֶה שְׁלֹמֹה בָּמָה, לִכְמוֹשׁ שִׁקֻּץ מוֹאָב, בָּהָר, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי יְרוּשָׁלִָם; וּלְמֹלֶךְ, שִׁקֻּץ בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן. 7 Then did Solomon build a high place for Chemosh the detestation of Moab, in the mount that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestation of the children of Ammon.

~Kings I 11:7


ה וַיֵּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה--אַחֲרֵי עַשְׁתֹּרֶת, אֱלֹהֵי צִדֹנִים; וְאַחֲרֵי מִלְכֹּם, שִׁקֻּץ עַמֹּנִים. 5 For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the detestation of the Ammonites.

~Kings I 11:5

But there is no mention that I can find of Amalek's gods or idols. And that is totally fascinating. Here are all the places that Amalek comes up and not once is there a reference to this nation's idols or gods.

Indeed, when God commands Saul to wipe out the Amalekites, he makes mention of destroying all their posessions but says nothing of destroying their idols. This suggests that they have no idols because in other places there are explicit commands given to destroy idols and gods as well. Here is God's decree:

עַתָּה לֵךְ וְהִכִּיתָה אֶת-עֲמָלֵק, וְהַחֲרַמְתֶּם אֶת-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, וְלֹא תַחְמֹל, עָלָיו; וְהֵמַתָּה מֵאִישׁ עַד-אִשָּׁה, מֵעֹלֵל וְעַד-יוֹנֵק, מִשּׁוֹר וְעַד-שֶׂה, מִגָּמָל וְעַד-חֲמוֹר. {ס} 3 Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.'

~Samuel I 15: 3

And you know what else is fascinating? When Samuel comes to kill Agag, the king states, "'Surely the bitterness of death is at hand." But even there he is stubborn- he does not acknowledge God or the role of God in his death. In contrast, when Samuel hews him into pieces, he does so "before God."

(Incidentally, this explains why Saul's rebellion was looked upon in such harsh terms. If the Amalekites were a godless nation who were total atheists and saw the material world as the only thing that existed, then for Saul to refuse to heed God's command in its totality shows that he has ingested/ been negatively affected by their creed. It is almost as though Saul has taken on a bit of the Amalekite spirit and thus rebels...this is why his punishment was so harsh.)

Thus, the reason we are meant to kill Amalek is because Amalek is the root of total godlessless and "kochi v'otzem yadi" in this world. This was a nation that had no idols. Every nation had its gods but Amalek has no gods, none at all, and refuses to acknowledge the role of God in this world. This is the reason they must be utterly wiped out- their ideology and their creed is anathema to God.

Incidentally, Urchin's totally brilliant idea regarding all this was stated by Rav Moshe Sternbuch and Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin (as noted in this devar torah.) The actual devar torah was given by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis. He notes:
    Amalek’s basic assumption is that only teva, nature, has true existence. Anything which does not fit into this framework is discounted. Today, as Amalek’s influence grows stronger, doubt of the existence of the Alm-ghty is almost a given in most Western societies. What is it that fuels Amalek to challenge the most basic tenets of our belief?


    In contrast to Amalek, who completely deny Hashem’s existence, the erev rav and all idol-worshipers through the generations believed in a Divine power. No one was ever so foolish as to think that manmade idols of gold and silver created the universe. The ideology of idol worshipers is based on the erroneous idea that Hashem is too exalted to trouble Himself with our petty, day-to-day existence, so people should pray for assistance to idols that act as intermediaries between us and the Alm-ghty.
I would like to point out that a 15-year-old boy and a 20-year-old girl were mechaven to the thoughts of these very respected Chareidi leaders. How's that for the universality of Torah?

Urchin, you are fabulous!