Monday, February 28, 2011

Money Quote about Zenga Zenga!

So by now I hope you've watched "Zenga Zenga" if only because it is so incredibly awesome.

Judith Levy wrote a great article about this in The Washington Times.

This is the money quote:
    "This little incident also publicizes something I believe to be one of Israel's most valuable strengths -- the ability of so many of its people to take the sting out of something that looks unrelentingly grim, and in the process to diminish it and make it mentally manageable. That's a talent that can be difficult to explain to people abroad; this video demonstrates it beautifully. I love the characteristically Israeli, off-the-wall, impromptu creativity of the idea. Most of all, I love the thought of young Arabs and Jews uniting, however briefly and remotely, over two minutes of ridiculous trance music."
So true. I love this quote.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Odette at the Window

"Wounded Bird" by In Tenebris (Lyrics)

Idea Paint

You know that scene in "A Beautiful Mind" where John Nash is writing all over his windows with slim crayons?

Were you ever that child who colored on your wall (I was) ?

Why should you buy a $200 can of paint?

These things are related.

The answer to the question is:

Absolutely the most brilliant concept ever. It's paint that turns any surface into a whiteboard upon which you can use dry-erase markers. It's incredibly, amazingly useful. You can draw all over your wall. You can paint your ideas there. You can make a life-sized calendar. Or dinosaur. You can let your child color on the ceiling.

Assuming my landlord lets me (and/or I move or buy a house of my own), I'm totally painting the wall with IdeaPaint. It is God's gift to humanity. It is the best gift ever. It is humanity gone wild. It is better than the iPod. It is AWESOMENESS INCARNATE.

The possibilities are endless. It's beyond entertainment. It's a whole My life will become writing everywhere- on doors, desks, refrigerators and walls!

You should tell YU about it so that they can throw out all the clunky whiteboards and professors can start writing on walls.

Hat-tip: Duvi Stahler


I recently read a book published in 2010 entitled Keep Your Wives Away from Them: Orthodox Women, Unorthodox Desires. This anthology was edited by Miryam Kabakov.

It was very heavy reading for me- I always find myself placed in a difficult position when reading such works- but also interesting.

It was also fun to find myself alluded to (thanks, Tent-Peg Wielder, for pointing it out) in the last essay in the compendium, written by Dr. Joy Ladin.

The postscript reads:
    Professor Ladin has taught at Stern College since 2003. After receiving tenure in spring 2007, she came out as a transsexual to the school administration, which placed her on involuntary "research leave" for a year. In fall 2008, she returned to teaching, an event that triggered a vigorous discussion of transgender issues inside and outside the Orthodox Jewish world. Stern students responded to her return by devoting an issue of the Observer, the student newspaper, to the questions and consequences that arise when transsexuality meets Judaism. The groundbreaking issue includes interviews with trans Jews living in hiding in the Orthodox world, a discussion of the Orthodox Halakha on transsexuality, and passionate editorial calls for tolerance, compassion, and understanding of individuals struggling with gender identity issues. She is proud to teach there.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Entitlement Syndrome: When Students Think Their College is Their Hotel

I read this post over at the YU Beacon and found it whiny enough to merit fisking. So let's take this line by line.

The position of the author, Mouchka, is that Yeshiva University is a sad and horrifying place because it has times that it closes its doors on the students and the aforementioned students are forced to fend for themselves.

Her first experience with this occurred when YU told her that she would have to find a place to stay for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Mouchka ended up staying by a Chabad family and the experience was distressing and uncomfortable for her.

Then she claims that YU closes its doors during the summer, when classes are in session, but not in the winter, when they are not. This is a foolish statement. Anyone who has been signed up for any summer course at YU (aka moi, my friends Malka and Daphne, the list goes on) knows that special apartments (not the regular dorms) are available for use during that time. So this is a poorly researched and incorrect point.

Mouchka then asks:
    Time for a riddle. You don’t live in the city. You don’t have family in New York or New Jersey. For some reason your friends can’t have you, especially with your stuff, or all of your friends come from your hometown and have the same issue as you do. Okay, so you are a good girl and you rent an apartment for June, but no owner has on his calendar a month of rent starting before the 1st because that’s the way the world works. Question: where do you go between the 27th and the 1st? You end up spending four nights on the streets.
This statement is patently ridiculous.

1. If you don't want to hold on to all your stuff, there is the option of using CollegeBoxes. Many of my friends did just that- packed up their things and had them kept over the summer, only to return to campus to find them in their new dorm rooms.

2. If you do want to hold on to your all stuff but don't know a single friend in the entirety of New York, there are shuls which have hospitality programs and would be happy to put you up. Perhaps the most obvious choice would be Mt. Sinai in Washington Heights. There are plenty of YU and Stern graduates living in the Heights who could arrange for you to sleep on their couch for four nights.

3. If you have friends who live outside of the city but in Brooklyn, Queens etc, rent a UHaul or a Zipcar and drop off your belongings by their house, stay with them for four days, and then move into your new apartment. If you don't have a license, take a cab.

4. Perhaps the most obvious option: if you know absolutely no one in New York City, then you can take advantage of a youth hostel, motel or hotel and stay there for four days.

However, the fact that you don't understand when the Housing Office at YU calls your situation a "dilemma" demonstrates your lack of comprehension regarding what YU is. YU is a college. It is not your home. It is certainly not your hotel. The fact that you really believe that the only options you were given was to stay in Yeshiva University or stay on the streets simply demonstrates a lack of creative thinking on your part. The 770 option, while along the right track, is an odd idea- there are shuls that offer hospitality; it's your job to call them up, explain your situation and find a community member happy to host you (as people in Washington Heights, for example, would certainly be happy to do).

But Mouchka's not done. Here's her next gem:

"This past January, a friend who wishes to remain anonymous graduated from Stern. She had her last final on January 5th and was required to be out by January 6th. As a pre-med student with no one to help her move out, she emailed the housing administration to explain that with all her finals she had not had time to pack everything, and that she would not be able to be done by shabbat. On Friday night, she was sleeping in her room when, at 3am, security brutally knocked on her door. She had to get out immediately, they demanded. By immediately, I mean immediately. She had to go right now, at 3am, out of the dorms and onto the streets in her pajamas – on Friday night, when you can’t even call anyone, when you can’t go anywhere."

Let me get this right. The administration made perfectly clear that she had to leave on January 6th. She chose not to think. She didn't start packing in advance, she didn't have any friends assist her in packing in advance, then, after flouting the directives, simply told the school she wasn't moving. In that case, she got what was coming to her- namely, the response that you don't get away with breaking the rules.

I've had crazy schedules. I've had finals. And yet, somehow, despite my sleep deprivation and my many tests, I managed to get all my belongings packed and moved out by the due date. If I can do it, so can you, and the fact that you expect to be rewarded for breaking rules and deciding that they simply don't apply to you- that your pre-med status makes everything forgivable- is your own fault.

"Last time Jews kicked other Jews out of their homes, at least the movers had a political agenda. But what is the agenda of a school that claims to welcome every Jewish student but asks security guards to kick those students out at 3am on a Friday night? What does stranding students on the street say about the quality of care for the student, and what does it say about the Jewish values which are fundamental to this institution? There is a lot that we accept from Stern because we believe in its message as a religious institution, but how should we react when the foundation of religion and humanity is absent? How does a demand for sleeves to the elbows and skirts to the knees jive with a housing policy that boots students onto the street in the middle of the night?"

Here's what it says, Mouchka. It says that Yeshiva University and specifically Stern College is a university, not a sanitorium or hotel. It says that the employees need to spend the summer cleaning, repainting and otherwise preparing the dorms so that they will be beautiful, clean and pleasant for students when they move back in. It says that an institution cannot make exceptions for you and your pre-med friend because pretty soon, given that precedent, they are going to have to start making exceptions for everyone, in which case they will never close! It says that you should stop feeling entitled to having the school bend over backwards to accomodate your fellowship needs or your pre-med exhaustion and start doing the bending in order to accomodate their schedule. It says that your comparison of being kicked out of the Stern dorms to Israelis being kicked out of their settlement homes is ugly, heinous and demonstrates a complete lack of knowledge of what that situation was like. What it really says is that you have to start being a grown up. Grown-ups earn things; they don't expect them as their right. Adults comprehend when an institution or system cannot start making exceptions especially for them. They understand that they have to live with their choices. You, for instance, made a choice to attend a fellowship program in New York City. You knew at the time that Stern ended in May and you only started renting an apartment in June. Because of the fact that you made that choice, that's your problem to solve. But demanding that the school stay open later for you and arguing that if they don't do so they demonstrate a lack of humane and religious values is so ludicrous as to be completely pathetic.

In short: grow up.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Biblical Texts Found in Qumran by Emanuel Tov

"The Biblical Texts Found in Qumran" in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible by Emanuel Tov


The cool background to the Qumran story: The thousands of fragments found near Hirbet-Qumran, some 15km south of Jericho near the Dead Sea, were deposited there, as it seems by the group of people who dwelled there. Even though this assumption appears to be the most plausible of various options, it remains problematic (see p. 102). Any explanation of the Qumran finds will have to account for two types of data: the enormous quantity of texts found at the spot (fragments of approximately 900 biblical and nonbiblical scrolls once complete) and the wide textual variety reflected in the biblical texts (see pp. 112-117). Supposedly the original scrolls comprised a collection of texts, possibly a library, deposited by the Qumranites, but we possess no information regarding the role of these texts, or their use, if at all, in the daily life of the community over a period of more than two hundred years. The term library is applicable to the collection, mainly in regard to the texts found in cave 4, only if defined in the limited sense of a collection of books maintained by a certain community and if it is not assumed that all the books contained in this library received the same amount of credence, authority, and use. In this connnection it is relevant to note that the individual caves contain different collections of texts, but these collections cannot be characterized in any special way.

About 900 texts were found in Qumran, of which many are copies of the same composition. It seems that some of these texts were written in Qumran while others were brought there from outside. There's criteria suggested by Tov regarding how to tell which one is which based on orthography, morphology and scribal practice. "All the special writings of the Qumran covenanters were probably written according to the same system of orthography, morphology and scribal practice which is named here the Qumran practice or Qumran scribal school."

This is important because the texts found in Qumran thus reflect the textual situation of the Bible not only in Qumran, but also elsewhere in ancient Israel.

What constitutes the Qumran practice?

-ORTHOGRAPHY: Distinctive, having no equal among the known documents from other places (108) which is characterized by the addition of many matres lectionis whose purpose is to facilitate the reading.

-MORPHOLOGY: lengthened independent pronouns, lengthened pronominal suffixes, words which serve in the Masoretic texts as pausal forms which occur in these texts as free forms, lengthened future forms, verbal forms with pronominal suffixes, etc

-CONTEXTUAL ADAPTATIONS which reflect a "free approach to the biblical text"

-SCRIBAL PRACTICES such as the occurrence of scribal marks in large frequency, especially cancellation dots, the use of initial-medial letters in final position and the writing of the divine names of God sometimes in conjunction with another divine appelation and together with their prefixes in paleo-Hebrew characters in texts written in Assyrian script

There are five different groupings to Qumran texts.

1. Texts Written in the Qumran Practice (20% of Qumran biblical texts)
2. Proto-Masoretic or Proto-Rabbinic Texts (35% of Qumran biblical texts)
3. Pre-Samaritan or Harmonizing Texts (no more than 5% of Qumran biblical texts of the Torah)
4. Texts Close to the Presumed Hebrew Source of Septuagint (5% of Qumran biblical texts)
5. Non-Aligned Texts - ones that agree sometimes with Masoretic text, sometimes with Septuagint and/or disagree with other texts to same extent so don't really lean in one direction exclusively(35% of Qumran biblical texts)

The Contribution of the Qumran Texts to Biblical Research (117)

The Qumran texts contribute much to our knowledge of the biblical text at the time of the Second Temple- a period for which there was hardly any Hebrew evidence before 1947. Until that year, scholars based their analyses mainly on manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The Qumran evidence enriches our knowledge in the following areas.

(1) Readings not known previously help us to better understand many details in the biblical text, sometimes pertaining to matters of substance (for example, see chapters 4, 6, 7). The Qumran texts, though early, are still removed much from the original texts as defined in 3B.

(2) The textual variety reflected in the five groups of texts described above provides a good overview of the condition of the biblical text in the Second Temple period (see the discussion in chapter 3c).

(3) The scrolls provide much background information on the technical aspects of the copying of biblical texts and their transmission in the Second Temple period (see chapter 4).

(4) The reliability of the ancient translations, especially Septuagint, is strengthened by the Qumran texts. Septuagint is one of the important texts for biblical research (below pp 141-142) but since it is written in Greek, its Hebrew source has to be reconstructed from that language. The reconstruction of many details is now supported by the discovery of identical Hebrew readings in Qumran scrolls. See, for example, the reconstruction of Septuagint in Deut 31:1, 1 Sam 1:23, 1 Sam 1:24, 2 Sam 8:7 and also the examples on pp 113-114. This evidence provides support for the procedure of reconstructing the Hebrew parent text of the translations. (117)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Old Testament at Qumran by Frank Moore Cross

"The Old Testament at Qumran" from The Ancient Library of Qumran and Modern Biblical Studies by Frank Moore Cross


"The Essene manuscripts, biblical and non-biblical, contribute new data to several areas of Old Testament study: the history of the Hebrew canon, the development of Hebrew (and Aramaic) dialects, scripts, orthographies, and scribal procedures, and- the fields which will be selected arbitrarily for treatment here- the historical criticism of the Old Testament, and the history of the Old Testament text." (121)

Due to finding the Dead Sea Scrolls we learn/ know/ gain information...

- We must cease to date any biblical work belonging to the Former or Latter Prophets (not to mention the Torah) later than the early second century BC

-The collection of canonical psalms was fixed by Maccabean times, bearing out the current tendency to date the latest canonical psalms in the Persian period

-Psalm studies are strongly affected by "the appearance in Essene circles of collections of hymns of Maccabean and Hasmonaean date" which include "many categories of material of which the Thanksgiving Hymns are but a single type" (122).

-Analyzing these hymns' literary types, prosody and the language/ theological motifs therein will expand knowledge of "late Old Testament psalmody" and will also illuminate "difficult problems in the study of the literary types and prosodic canons of New Testament psalms"

(So far it seems that the psalms of the Maccabean period are "much developed beyond the latest of Old Testament psalms; their language is neoclassical, not classical; sapiential forms and language have profoundly influenced hymnic style" (123). Older patterns of meter and rhyme have been largely broken down or lost.

The Essene psalms/ hymns are "patchworks of phrases from the Psalter, and notably from the Prophets; yet the mood and theological structure differ strikingly from canonical psalms" (123). Suitable parallels can be found in the Apocrypha and New Testament hymns.)

-One cool thing which sheds light on the "oral, or possibly literary sources behind the fixed edition of an Old Testament book" is the Prayer of Nabonidus. In this prayer, Nabonidus comes down with a disease because of God and is set apart from men for a seven-year-period in the Arabian oasis of Teima. A Jewish diviner (presumably Daniel, the text does not give his name) intervenes and speaks of the king's worship of 'gods of gold, bronze, iron, wood, stone, silver.' This is strongly reminiscent of the story of Nebuchadnezzar's being driven from men for seven years during which he learns that 'the Most High rules the kingdom of men' ending with the king blessing God.

There's a lot of support for believing that the real legend is that of Nabonidus and the story later got transferred to Nebuchadnezzar because that name is more familiar/ more important. Extrabiblical data suggests Nebuchadnezzar never gave up his throne for seven years whereas it's known that Nabonidus "gave over the regency of his realm to his son Belshazzar in order to spend long periods of time in Teima". Also, the legend that follows where Nebuchadnezzar is substituted for Nabonidus as father of Belshazzar is "most suggestive" (124). The prayer is not necessarily the source text for the Daniel story; rather it may derive from a more conservative line of orally transmitted material.

-Old Testament textual studies are affected. The new scrolls "give evidence of the antiquity of the type of textual tradition which has survived in the form of the traditional Hebrew Bible." They preserve "many new readings some of which are superior to received readings, some of which are inferior."

-The chief importance lies in the Dead Sea Scrolls' ability to yield data for the reconstruction of the textual history of the Old Testament (125)
    To understand this, you have to see what the state of textual studies re: the Old Testament was prior to the Qumran and Murabba'at scrolls.

    Paul de Lagarde stated that all medieval Hebrew manuscripts were descended from a common ancestor, a single master scroll. He dated it no earlier than the first century of the Christian era. That, according to him, was when the rabbis had fixed an authoritative Hebrew text and this official text destroyed all variant lines of tradition in normative Judaism.

    The Pentateuch of the Samaritans preserved an alternate form of the Torah. It was not helpful to reconstructing the early history of the Hebrew text because it is a relatively late branch/ Hasmonean times. It's a derivative of Paleo-Hebrew script which was revived/ resurgent in the Maccabean era.

    So they studied the Septuagint instead. They thought that maybe through reconstructing the Hebrew underlying this antique version, they might be able to reconstruct the Old Testament Bible. This was hard because a) they had to establish the original form of the Old Greek translation out of a maze of manuscripts belonging to Christian recensions of the Old Greek b) contamination of the transmission of the Septuagint by later Jewish Greek texts which had been revised back into conformity with the developing Hebrew text.

    The question is, even if they could know the text of the Septuagint, can that be used as as witness to the archaic Hebrew text? Sharp debate in 19th century about this.
THEN came the Dead Sea Scrolls. "The recovery of more than one hundred twenty biblical scrolls from Cave IV came, therefore, as incredibly good fortune. Here at last was the material for sampling the textual types extant in virtually every book of the Old Testament. Here was a substantial basis for the establishment of the archaic, pre-Masoretic history of the Hebrew Bible" (132).

So they started studying. One of the first books they studied was Samuel. The text of Samuel contained "in the three scrolls from Cave IV is widely at variance with that of the traditional Masoretic Bible; it follows systematically the rendering of the Septuagint of Samuel." This helps to prove that the Septuagint's "divergent text was due less to 'translation idiosyncrasies' than to the type of text which it translated" (132).

More proof of this is found in the Jeremiah Qumran scrolls. Jeremiah is 1/8 shorter in the Septuagint and also has 4 verses omitted in chapter 10 with the fifth in a shifted order. The Qumran Jeremiah is exactly the same.

The texts demonstrate that the "proto-Masoretic tradition is sometimes old, and not merely the creation of the recensional activities of the rabbis, and that the appearance of one recension at Qumran does not exclude the presence of the other" (140). What this means in laymen's terms is like so: the Masoretic text refers to the uniform text of Tanakh as we have it today. Proto-Masoretic texts are those we have found that are dated earlier than the time when the Masoretic text was set down, canonized and uniform but which bear many features in common with the Masoretic text and are therefore its predecessors/ source texts. Alternative texts that differ can be the Samaritan texts, Septuagint and etc, which sometimes point to variant Tanakh text traditions.

Also proves that the text of Shmuel is a product of revision. Compare the Septuagint and Qumran scroll at 2 Samuel 3:7 which preserve the corrupt reading Mephiboshes with the text we have where the editor excised the corruption but did not replace it with Ishboshes, as he ought to have.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Rabbinic Tradition Concerning the "Alterations" Inserted Into the Greek Pentateuch and their Relation to the Original Text of the LXX

"The Rabbinic Tradition Concerning the "Alterations" Inserted Into the Greek Pentateuch and their Relation to the Original Text of the LXX" by Emanuel Tov is a party and a half.

Okay, not really, but it's cool once you get past the fact that you don't understand what you are reading because it's academia and difficult to wrap your head around on no sleep. (And come on, which student actually sleeps?)

For newbies, the LXX is the Septuagint. The Septuagint is the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible. If you're Jewish, you know Megillah 9a-b includes the story of 72 elders having been gathered by King Ptolemy, who placed them in 72 chambers and asked them to translate the Torah into Greek. Each scholar edited the text/ inserted certain variants identically.

Now, Emanuel Tov begins by telling you that various traditions (Megillah 9a, Yerushalmi Megillah 1,1,4, page 72a, Mek. Exod 12, 40; Midrash Hagadol Exodus 4,20; Abot de-R. Natan version B, chap 37; Sop. 1.7; Yalkut Shimoni Gen 3, Midrash Tanhuma Exodus para 22 and more) say 10, 11, 13, 15 or 18 alterations were made in the Greek translation of the Torah. You might think the shortest list is the "original formulation of the rabbinic tradition and that the longer list expanded it" (66) but this is not certain. The sources which state there were 13 or 15 alterations "are the most wide-spread and presumably reflect the central tradition." The lists having 16 or 18 alterations are the least reliable. 16 "came about as a result of the addition of biblical passages similar to those originally in the list, hence that list is secondary." When it comes to 18, it's influenced by "the list of 18 emendations of the scribes in the Hebrew text of the Bible" hence Tikkun Sofrim.

The base text is in Megillah and King Ptolemy's name is cited in all the sources. Now, these rabbinic texts suggest that the Greek translation was deliberately altered from the Hebrew. However, per the scholars, while "some of these differences do indeed stem from alteration" (72) others, which are in the majority, "stem from Hebrew variants, from translation technique and from an incorrect understanding of certain translation equivalents in the LXX" (72).

(As an interesting sidepoint, Christian tradition also focused on the differences between the Jewish and Greek Bibles, the Greek Bible being the Christian Bible from their point of view. However, in their case, a few Church Fathers "claimed the LXX reflects the true form of God's words, and that it was the Jews who had falsified them in their Bible" 72.)

Re: the list of alterations given in the Gemara, nine differ from the LXX and five agree with one passage being close. It could be that different translations stem from variant traditions that arose through the dissemination of the scrolls. There are no 2 scrolls nearly identical for any book of the LXX in pre-christian period. It seems that in many instances, changes were made to bring it more in line with Hebrew Bible, and so the list in the gemarah represents the original LXX.

The Background of the Differences between MT and the LXX Enumerated in the List (pages 82-83)

The lists in rabbinic literature speak of alterations that were inserted in the translation and it has already been stated above that at the time the sages regarded every difference between the Hebrew and Greek Pentateuch as a change inserted in the translation. In light of what has been stated above, the renewed discussion of the actual background of these differences now disregards the notion that they reflect alterations carried out by the translators). This renewed discussion is now made possible since the original text of the passages in the LXX (later corrected towards MT) has been reconstructed above.

The above-mentioned differences between the Hebrew Pentateuch and the LXX derive from the following factors: (a) translations deviating from MT based on Hebrew variant readings; (b) translations deviating from MT arising either from Hebrew variant readings or from exegesis; (c) exegetical translations; (d) Greek equivalents which were unjustifiably interpreted by rabbinic tradition as differences between the LXX and the Hebrew Pentateuch. This delineation raises most of the possibilities for the differences between MT and the LXX, both in the Pentateuch and in other books, aside from errors on the part of the translators and copyists.

The contents of lists of this type are largely a matter of chance, as is also the case with the list of the "emendations of the scribes" (see note 2). This list does not purport to represent the most conspicuous alterations and indeed the interested reader will easily find much more far-reaching differences between the LXX and MT, as for instance the order of chapters and subject matter at the end of Exod. On the other hand, what the biblical passages in the list have in common is that they pertain to some central issues. It is not hard to understand how post factum one would explain these differences as alterations (like the "emendations of the scribes", see note 2); however, this explanation holds true only in a few instances.

You'll have to read the whole article to see all the examples of the variants.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why We Cut

Caution: This post may contain trigger words.

For those of you who will read this and worry, I do not cut. But I know what it's like. And I know people who do.


I'm not a stranger
No I am yours
With crippled anger
And tears that still drip sore

A fragile frame aged
With misery
And when our eyes meet
I know you see

I do not want to be afraid
I do not want to die inside just to breathe in
I'm tired of feeling so numb
Relief exists I find it when
I am cut

-"Cut" by Plumb


We live in different worlds; we all have different reasons. There are those of us who cannot feel; we are caught within the everlasting numbness. We want to feel something, anything, even and perhaps especially if it causes pain. We have blocked off our feelings so completely, often as a defense mechanism, that nothing can reach us except for the sharp slip of the blade against our flesh.

There are those of us who need to concretize the pain. Our personal art project, we start slow, with plastic knives, paper clips and safety pins. Then we graduate to razors. We want there to be proof. We want to make our pain real. There's too much of it, so much that seethes within. It simmers quietly, under the surface, in places you cannot see and cannot reach. It's pretty, the criss-crossing of lines across our wrists. And then it's not about prettiness anymore. It's about anger, the deep kind that wells up just as tears mist over the eye. That anger goes deep and it is expressed violently, with lines that may be pressed deliberately into the skin but are just as eloquent as savage slashes.

There are those of us who seek for control. There is so little in our lives that we can control that this action, this creation of the red blood that swims to the surface and spills over, is what makes us feel powerful. We have been violated and at the root of that violation is the loss of control that forged us. That loss is so desperate, so terrifying that we seek for whatever solace we can find in the careful assortment of ingredients. I sit by the bath: so. I take out my cotton swabs, my alcohol, my razor blades, my bandages. I make sure no one else is around. And then carefully, calmly, I walk the fine line between control and the loss of it. I do not want to die. This is not my suicide attempt. It is my power. I have regained it.

We cut in a blind rage, shaking with tears, sobbing in the shower, holding blades to our wrists. We cut carefully, composedly, in an act of defiance against those who would strip us of our power. We cut in anger, feeling worthless. We write that worthlessness on our skin, that rejection, that loss of self. We write our pain in brilliant colors, searing its message in a way that heals us for that moment in time. There are even those of us for whom the activity is pleasurable. We feel ourselves sink into calm, relaxation as we methodically go about this process.

Too often the movies romanticize cutting. It is not romantic. The body scars, a web of ugly marks across our otherwise perfect flesh. There are whole clumps of skin that we wash into the sink, the water mingling with the blood. It is disgusting. We realize that what we do is wrong, deviant, even crazy. That's why we hide it. We don't want you to know about it. It happens quietly, behind the scenes. I don't flaunt the cuts. I hide them on the inside of my thighs, high up on my arms. We try to stop. It's hard to stop. It's like any other addiction or sickness. An anorexic girl cannot simply choose to stop starving herself. Someone who cuts can try to go without it for a time, but then the urge comes back and it's so strong, almost irresistible.

Cutting is a maladaptive coping mechanism. But it is a coping mechanism. It is the way that we cope with the hurt, rejection, neglect, abandonment, pressure, stress, lack of power, lack of control or pain that we feel. It is not something reserved for supposed problem children from dysfunctional homes. Trying to determine who suffers from this based on external signs misses the point. Top achievers who seem completely normal on the outside cut. Straight-A students. People who do so much kindness for others. People who usually reach out for others, saving them from falling. These people can save everyone except themselves.

There is a darkness so treacherous and terrifying that most people do not ever visit it. It is an incalculable blackness, unending agony. Together with it comes the rage. The rage turns inside. It focuses on me. The rage tells me that I am so weak, so pathetic, so stupid, worthless and otherwise not valuable. The rage tells me that the problems I face are a result of my own poor choices. I rage at myself and coldly deliver the verdict: I deserve to be rejected. No one could possibly want me or love me. Other people manage to cope; it is my fault that I cannot. Because of these things, I deserve to be punished. That punishment needs to take concrete form. The delicate lines I trace across my arms demonstrate my surrender. I know I am not worthy.

We cut for different reasons. We come from different worlds. Some of us find cutting pleasurable; some of us resort to it to relieve tension. Others cut in order to feel something, to realize that we are still alive. Some of us cut to make the pain real, give it a form and a voice. For all of us, it is the only way we feel we can function. There are differing levels of dependence upon this coping mechanism. Some people simply try it and leave it. Others have the force of will to stop. Still others cannot stop unless aided by others. We have different faces; we have different needs. But all of us cut.

Please see that we are not definable as belonging to one group. We come from the best of families, ones that are tightly-knit and close. We also come from the worst of families. We are students who test high on our IQ tests. We are people who are over-achievers. We are also students failing out of school. We are people who have faced incredible struggles. There are those of us who have been abused, neglected or hurt by those close to us. We may also not have something you would perceive as a legitimate 'reason' to be acting out this way. We may have been raped. We may simply feel worthless. We may simply crave control. We are found in many communities, across the range of human experiences. We are simply not able to be put in a box or limited to one particular sector of society. The best way to help us is to recognize that we are amongst you as well. And then, instead of passing judgment and labelling, you will join in the effort to teach us to write love on our arms.

- S.A.F.E
- To Write Love On Her Arms

Self Injury, Self Harm, Cutting and Pain

I. Am. So. Impressed.

Mishpacha Family First tackled the issue of SI.

SI standing for self-injury. Meaning those people who cut, burn, hit or otherwise harm themselves due to the pain they feel which they turn inward.

This is a topic that has been severely under-addressed (or not addressed at all!) in our community. I am so incredibly impressed that Mishpacha Family First chose to tackle it. Unfortunately, only the beginning of the article is published online, but read it here and if anyone has the magazine and wants to scan the rest, I'd really appreciate it.

This is a taboo topic I have long felt needs to be properly addressed in our community. I'm really excited Mishpacha is breaking the silence.


When Pain Reaches a Boiling Point
Debbie Braun

“How many of you have experienced a problem with cutting in your institution?” asked renowned psychologist Dr. David Pelcovitz at a seminar offered to a wide-ranging group of American educators in Jerusalem.

Every hand in the audience went up.

Thoroughly shocked at the unanimous response, Dr. Pelcovitz thought for a moment, and then it dawned on him: these principals believed he was referring to the widespread issue of students “cutting” class.

After clarifying his intent and the misunderstanding, only two principals bashfully admitted they’d encountered the awful phenomenon in their schools. But Dr. Pelcovitz knew better: he waited a minute longer, and slowly, hand by hand, about half of the educators in the room acknowledged they’d faced the behavior.

Dr. Pelcovitz’s suspicions were confirmed: cutting, a self-injurious behavior infinitely more deleterious than playing hooky, is prevalent in significant numbers in the frum community.

Self-Injury: An Overview

Defined as any intentional injury to one’s own body tissue without conscious suicidal intent, self-injury (also referred to as self-harm or self-mutilation) occurs in an estimated 4 to 10 percent of Americans. Though it most commonly appears in the form of cutting, self-injurers have also been found to inflict pain through burning, scratching, hair-pulling (trichotillomania), hitting, head-banging, biting, or interfering with the healing of wounds.

“I started off using noninvasive things — like my own fingernails, which would just raise welts on my skin. But eventually I turned to anything that would inflict pain,” recounts Esther,* who began self-harming while in high school. “Over the course of my experience I used safety pins, kitchen knives, wire, broken glass, and razors. I would also prevent my scabs from healing (even those from accidental injuries), and sometimes, if I was really frustrated, I would bang my head or bite myself.”

Sufferers like Esther often inflict wounds on the wrists, upper arms, and inner thighs; many prefer to wound themselves in places that will be undetectable to others.

“I do have some faint scars lower down on my arms where I wasn’t careful enough,” admits Esther.

Psychotherapist Marcia Kesner — adjunct professor at Yeshiva University’s Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology and clinical director of Darkah, a Flatbush residence for young women with mental illness — notes that the location of the cuts can be a good indicator of the underlying emotions.

“If the lesions are in a visible place on the body, it’s most likely that the individual has resorted to this behavior in a desperate plea for intervention. If not, it’s possible that the individual is only self-harming as a method of self-soothing in the face of pain.”


You'd have to buy the magazine to read the rest.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Inspiration in Life-Sized Bites

I read this conversation between mother and child over at 'Every Day Adventures of a Pavement Pounding Mommy,' written by Yael Hanover. It seemed to me to capture the beauty, the sweetness and the sadness of motherhood and children all at once. A repost of the conversation that moved me:


BH last week Hubby's cousin gave birth to a baby girl. So I went to TJMaxx and bought her a cute little outfit, which I hung on the coat closet door handle in anticipation of getting the cousin's address and sending out the outfit. Well, Moo found the outfit and comandeered it. It's been moved to various places in his room, but he won't put it back on the closet. I talked to him about it yesterday. I think I got to the root of it, but I hope I wasn't too leading.

Me - "How come you want to keep this outfit in your room?"
Moo - "I just like it here."
Me - "Who is this outfit for?"
Moo - "A baby girl."
Me - "Our baby girl?"
Moo - "No, somebody else's. Our baby girl is Adelle Shayna. She's my sister, but she passed away. But why is she always passed away?"
Me - "Well, passing away is permanent. When somebody leaves this life, they leave it forever until Moshiach comes. Does this dress make you think about Adelle Shayna?"
Moo - "Yes."
Me - "Will you be sad if I send this dress to someone else?"
Moo - "No, I won't be sad. Actually, yes. I think I'll be upset if you send it someone else. Yes. I'll be sad."


I know there are some people who are really inspired by shiurim and Rabbis. I've heard the names of these rabbis and speakers and if they really do manage to reach their audience, then may God be with them! But that has never worked for me. I cringe when I hear these speeches with their cliche, simplified ideas and overly condescending undertones. They remind me, usually negatively, of my unhappy Bais Yaakov experience. I deliberately avoid these sorts of speeches and venues because I know they will simply make me angry.

In contrast to the deliberately structured 'inspirational' speech, I admire and find meaning in the lives of people. Yael to me is an incredibly impressive person. Her fortitude in the face of great loss, her cheerfulness, kindness and incisive commentary and wit all make her someone I would love to be like. She's currently looking for a job (preferably involving writing) and her skill set is posted up here. Perhaps one of you has something for her.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Steaks are YUM!

There's an amazing new deal for all New Yorkers available today. Just spend $25 and get $50 worth of steaks, alcohol, ribs etc at ABIGAEL'S on Broadway in New York! Limit 1 voucher per table. Click here to get it now!

And for those of you who follow this blog, you'll remember Abigael's is where Hesh took me after we got engaged. *smiles*

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Set the Dark on Fire

Drink up, baby, stay up all night
The things you could do, you won't but you might
The potential you'll be that you'll never see
The promises you'll only make

-"Between the Bars" by Elliot Smith


I wonder if everyone is caught between the bars. And then I think: no, that's only for the folks who are prisoners in their own minds. The rest can't fathom an existence lived between bars.

"I'll kiss you again between the bars."

Desperation and eroticism in that sentence? Certainly it's affecting. The question is why. I think it's the cocktail mix of various emotions. Also because of how vividly an image of a man kissing a woman comes to mind while the window slats make shadows on his shirt so that it really looks like he is kissing her between the bars. Does anyone else here think in images?

The beginning of a story, to my mind: Caught between the bars, he chooses to set the dark on fire.

It's not a story that ends happily in my mind.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Snaith Bible: A Critical Examination

Miles B. Cohen and David B. Freedman write a scathing review of the Snaith Bible, in which they basically attack the book and demonstrate its many errors. The conclusion to the piece serves as an excellent summary as well.


In conclusion, we have tried to show: (1) In matters of Masoretic spacing, vocalization, accentuation and use of Mem-Taf-Gimmel, Snaith's citing of the British Museum Manuscript Or.2626-8 as his basis is misleading, in view of the divergence of that manuscript and Snaith's printed text in an extraordinary number of instances (2) Snaith's claim that his text is independent of Biblia Hebraica is in need of substantiation (3) Snaith indicated his desired changes in a Letteris Bible which was not carefully checked to correct misprints and broken characters before it was submitted to the printer as the copy for Snaith's Bible (4) The typesetter was not made aware of the importance of some distinctions in the placement of certain accents (5) The proofreading was far below the caliber required for a project of this importance.

In the light of the above evidence, Snaith's edition must not be considered a reliable Masoretic text. It should therefore be noted that this Bible can no longer serve to substantiate Snaith's hypothesis that the Ben Asher tradition "is to be found in the first hand in the best Sephardi [manuscripts]," although the hypothesis itself may still be true.

Norman Henry Snaith has been a very demanding critic of Bible printings, as can be seen from his description of another scholar's Bible as "tragedy almost unrelieved." We would hope that if he were to reexamine his own text in the light of our evidence, he would agree that much serious revision of his Bible is needed.

(pages 125-126 or 29-30 depending on the article)


P.S. The only other time I've seen a review as negative as this one was Dr. Grach's "Responsa: Literary History and Basic History" about Peter J. Haas's work. It is also possibly the funniest review you'll ever read.

TV & Torah (Like Coffee & Crumb Cake)

Watch TV. Learn Torah. Comment.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Policemen, Priests and Psych Wards

I've been thinking a lot about policemen and schizophrenics. Or rather, policemen and mental illness. This is partially because of the family in the book Beach Music. Add to that my recent reading of I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb and my current subway reading, Spiritual Survival for Law Enforcement by Cary A. Friedman, and you see the thought process.

Policemen, the mentally ill and clergy all have something in common. It has to do with safety, which is the same as grace, and whether they possess that safety and if so, whether they can gift it to others. Policemen keep us safe. The mentally ill (especially paranoid schizophrenics) rarely feel safe. And clergy know that we are not safe but give safety to others even so.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Year

Today marks a year from the English date that my beloved moonlit grandmother passed away. Thanks to all who learned mishnayos for her.

Rest well in heaven, Baba Rena.