Friday, November 14, 2014

Another Round of Orthodox Women Talk Is Up!

You can find the latest Orthodox Women Talk roundtable over at This Way to Eden.

The question for today is...
Reader writes: I‘d love to hear something regarding your favorite way to infuse your lives with Judaism. (Kosher food, Tznius, Shabbat…etc..)

Not surprisingly, I seem to be the person way out in left field on this one. Negative Nancy strikes again! Oh well. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The RCA Conversion Ombudsman Shouldn't Just Be for Women

In the wake of the Freundel scandal, the Rabbinical Council of America announced several measures it will take, including appointing a female ombudsman (or group of ombudsmen) to be available for complaints from female conversion candidates. Honestly, I was surprised. It's a great idea, and I'm glad they came to this realization even before the recommendation panel was established. It speaks well of the RCA's seriousness and that they're addressing this in a practical way (and that they've probably got a smart lawyer involved).

Here is the original announcement:
"The RCA and the Beth Din of America have agreed that every Beit Din assembled under their Geirus Protocol and Standards (GPS) will appoint a woman (or group of women) to serve as ombudsman to receive any concerns of female candidates to conversion. The name of this person will be provided to all conversion candidates at the beginning of the conversion process. Prospective converts will be assured that their standing in the conversion process will not be compromised by communicating with the ombudsman, and that any such communications will remain confidential to the extent possible."

But what's an ombudsman, you might ask. I heard that funny word for the first time when my mother became disabled from a stroke, and encountered it again as she was re-diagnosed with breast cancer and eventually passed away one year ago. Merriam-Webster defines it as "a person (such as a government official or an employee) who investigates complaints and tries to deal with problems fairly." 

I encountered it in hospitals and nursing homes, places where people are vulnerable in the most physical ways. A complaint taken seriously could literally save lives and prevent elder abuse, whether sexual, financial, or just power-tripping. But apparently it's also in government offices and educational facilities: other places where there is a pronounced power dynamic. I would bet that ombudsmen also sort through a lot of delusions, vengeance, and misunderstandings, but the job is still one of the most important resources we can give vulnerable people. It's a no-brainer that the conversion process should have one (or three). They're proven to be effective for sorting out real v. imaginary problems, handling those problems, improving trust in the system, and leveling the playing field in an uneven power dynamic. 

But should it be limited to female conversion candidates? No way. Should it be limited to only conversion candidates? No, when the situation is still conversion-related.

An ombudsman, in order to be effective and helpful, needs to be available to all conversion candidates and for any convert who has been threatened with inappropriate behavior because of their conversion. Freundel's actions weren't just sexual, and we will do our community a disservice if we pretend these changes are a direct response to Freundel's actions. The issue is that people complained about Freundel (and who knows who else - I know at least one other beit din had complaints because I was approached for my experiences there...by Freundel), and either nothing happened, nothing standardized happened, or nothing productive happened. Some complaints appear to have been ignored, and others were handled off-the-cuff by people with (thankfully for them?) no experience in these kinds of complaints.

Sexual innuendo (or action, chas v'shalom) isn't the most common complaint of conversion candidates. It's about financial misrepresentations, inappropriate financial requests, exercising power for the sake of having power over another's life, and other arbitrary actions that make conversion candidates' lives more difficult than necessary.

It's because you can get kicked out of a beit din without knowing why and with no ability to appeal.

It's because a beit din can hold you to a halachic standard higher than the community standard (that is also an accepted halachic position), simply because they can. What if the conversion candidate believes that is not the halacha? Should she play along (lie), and then follow the community standard after conversion? Ex. television, some tznius standards, cholov yisroel, or wearing a black hat. Experience tells me that the serious candidates get disgusted and leave (and usually convert conservative), while the people who are less serious are the ones willing "to put up with it for a year or two."

It's because a beit din can delay your conversion for a year because they told you move within walking distance of your shul, and when you moved in 1.1 miles away, they said they couldn't work with you until you lived within 1 mile of the shul. So you have to wait until your lease expires.

It's because you can be in the conversion process for 3, 4, 5, 10 years (yes, 10 years), and feel totally powerless to control your life. 

And who knows what else? 

Men and women have an equal need for an ombudsman, even though women are more likely to use it. Women are the overwhelming majority of conversion candidates, so that's a statistical reality, but they're also the gender more vulnerable to abuse in a system populated entirely by men in a power role. That's not good or bad; that's being realistic.

An ombudsman and the RCA need to be more involved to prevent arbitrary wielding of power either because it's nice to have control over someone else's life when you feel like you don't have any control in your own life or because conversion candidates are the weak gazelles who don't know who to turn to. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, there are abuses in the system, and we need a way to deal with them. We're pushing away good people who are destined to be Jews for all the wrong reasons.

Rabbi Pruzansky believes that conversion candidates already have an ombudsman: their sponsoring rabbi. But not everyone has a sponsoring rabbi (I didn't). And neither is it a given that there is trust or even a basic relationship. And while he knows that the local rabbi has no connection to the beit din, that is not something the conversion candidate knows. Also...sometimes the local rabbi is the problem, as it was in my own case, when I was kicked out of a beit din with no ability to appeal or know why. 

Let's review why conversion candidates are the canary in the coal mine of orthodoxy:
From a blog post from January 2013: "A Rabbi Asked Me Inappropriate Questions" Is a Red Flag...But You Probably Can't Do Anything About It If You Want a Conversion (funny how this post didn't get any traction then but has had over 3,000 hits in the last 3 weeks!)

The truth is that conversion candidates are the easiest people in our community to abuse, whether for the sake of rabbinic politics, something illegal, or something exploitative. In my opinion, there are four major reasons for this:
  • A candidate may be uncertain that conduct violates the Torah (or other Jews may assume the candidate has misunderstood the alleged behavior, thereby rationalizing it away)
  • Candidates usually lack people to turn to in the community when things go poorly (especially if the rabbi is well-liked)
  • They lack access to the people they could complain to, and 
  • A conversion candidate knows that the rabbi holds his or her future in his hands. He is the gatekeeper to the candidate's hopes and dreams for the future.
Rationalizations run rampant:
  • "I'm sure you just misunderstood him."
  • "He would never do that!"
  • "Why should I believe you when I've known him for five years?"
  • "Maybe she's making it up because he didn't recommend her to the beit din."
  • "But how can I help?! I have no influence over him!"
  • "The rabbi can ruin everything, so I can't make him angry. Maybe it'll stop/never happen again."
  • Or worst: no one seeing or hearing anything at all because the candidate is the Child Who Is Afraid to Ask.

Seems pretty relevant today, right? Except that people were complaining and not getting anywhere. Hell, the person who investigated my situation was Freundel himself! That's a screwed-up complaint investigation process if you ask me.

I had been blogging here for 2.5 years before I wrote that. Why on earth would I have waited so long to share this serious problem? Because I had finished converting with another RCA beit din and had gotten married two months earlier. I finally had the "freedom" to speak up, without worrying about sabotaging my conversion or my shidduch prospects. (Though I suppose someone could negate my conversion - just try making me get a geirus l'chumrah!) Even then, I had to ask my husband's permission and make him realize that speaking out on these issues could one day affect our (currently non-existent) children. Baruch Hashem, he saw the importance of sharing it.

Likewise, I was told not to share the fact that I was kicked out of a beit din and not allowed to know why or to appeal. For my own good and the good of my future children, you understand. People wouldn't understand and would make the wrong assumptions about me. I honestly think the men who gave me that advice meant it kindly and to protect me from yentas, but it was still bad advice. Because it isn't talked about, no one knows there is a problem. Only last July did I finally decide to come out of that closet: What If You're Rejected by or Kicked Out of a Beit Din? (though I had shared it individually in many conversations and thus knew people usually didn't scream "burn the witch...I mean apikores!").

I was the oddity who had connections to other orthodox Jews through the internet, and they were my cavalry. I had also been blogging here for about six months, and that gave me access to a lot of people who might not otherwise have taken me seriously. Obviously I cared about Judaism, and they could even see I was knowledgable. Who else has those resources and street cred? Very few. Who or what can a conversion candidate turn to?

Another example:
If a person is in the conversion process for more than 3 years, we need a second opinion, and the ombudsman can alert the RCA to that need. Is it a personal problem with a rabbi in the process? Is there a disagreement over what standard the candidate should be held to in an area of halacha? Is this a family and the family members should be converted as they become ready (like the celebrated The Mountain Family)? Should the candidate be cut loose? What on earth is going on there?? Obviously something is up and needs to be reassessed. And if the candidate is just taking a long time (for whatever reason: whether health, family, financial, education, housing situation, etc), at least we will have an outside verification that the system is working like it should and that both sides understand what the delay is. Rabbis are funny about assuming that the conversion candidate knows what the problem is. The rabbi may have even said it, but it got lost in an emotional conversation or was said off-hand. Let's make sure everyone is on the same page.

What about after the conversion process?
In the Freundel case, there have been accusations of inappropriate requests for monetary donations, complete with insinuations that such support would be necessary for him to continue to vouch for their conversions. It's not a problem for a rabbi to ask a convert for money for whatever cause; it's a problem when only converts are asked or asked for larger amounts because they have a "special relationship" with the rabbi. That's just good fundraising, right? That person owes you on some level, and it's your fundraiser duty to recognize that and use it for the greater good. But from the other person's perspective, that can feel like exploitation and an implicit threat to his or her conversion. It's tricky, and we need to recognize that.


It's past time for ombudsmen in the conversion process, but not in the limited role the RCA has initially announced. I hope they realize that female conversion candidates aren't the only vulnerable people in this situation and that sexual situations are not the only threat.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Join Me for a Live Radio Broadcast TODAY!

I just got word that I'll be a replacement guest on the first episode of Rabbi Eliyahu Fink's new radio show! Please pray for me that I avoid an attack of my Foot in Mouth Disease.

Join us at 1pm Eastern time or you can listen to the archived version later! Listen at http://nachumsegal.com/

The topic is what the conversion process should look like and if Bethany Mandel's Convert's Bill of Rights accurately represents the experience of conversion candidates today.


(Again, I'm sending this from my phone while traveling, so I apologize for the briefness or any typos.)

UPDATE: Here is a direct link to the archived podcast.

Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog Post Told in Memes

I have not been as vocal as I should have been about the conversion/exploitation of women balagan lately. I can blame starting my own law firm, and that's part of it, but it's all so complex, and I didn't know what I could add to the conversation. A fire has finally been lit under me, but I'm traveling, so I hope to publish something longer soon. In the meantime, my phone can provide a short post that sums up the most-shared article I've seen on these issues: a blog post by Rabbi Pruzansky announcing why he's stepping down from heading the Bergen County, NJ, conversion program: http://rabbipruzansky.com/2014/10/30/stepping-down/

I'd make that a pretty link, but my phone and I are having technological difficulties. 


Let me sum up that blog post for you: 

And then the overwhelming public reaction: 

I'll highlight some of the issues without going too in-depth right now:

Sexism: Don't worry your pretty little head, girls, we rabbis know best. If you feel that you were exploited, manipulated, or sexually harassed and you don't live in DC, then you're probably just over-sensitive or whiney and wanting a quickie conversion. Tough luck, honey.

More sexism: even talking publicly to women about these issues is a good enough reason to drop your mic and walk off the stage. Sure, oppose women as "quasi-rabbinical figures," but sitting on a committee that will make recommendations (no guarantee the RCA will actually accept those recommendations) is too much. We can't let women tell rabbis what to do, no way no how, even when they're just making non-binding recommendations.

Women can't change conversion halacha: besides the fact that many of the examples the rabbi shares about conversion are not halacha (one year minimum process, for example), he totally misses the fact that this committee will have almost nothing (if anything) to do with halacha. It's about derech eretz. But derech eretz is self-evident, just like abusive behavior, right? If that were true, someone forgot to tell newlyweds. Men and women generally have trouble communicating even in the best of circumstances, much less in such an unequal power dynamic as orthodox conversion. 

Total disregard for conversion candidate emotions: the Mikvah isn't what makes this rabbi uncomfortable, it's the hatafat dam brit (circumcision part of conversion). You know what's wrong there? He only mentions HIS reaction to it, not how the person feels. That's hella disconnected from the reality of conversion candidates. 

Nationality analogy: sure, America makes you live here for five years before letting you become a citizen. Did you know that during those five years, you can't work, send your kids to school, or date? Oh wait, they don't. Your life is not on hold according to the whim of one human being with no oversight. (I used to think there is oversight, but now I know better.)

Hm, that turned out a lot longer than expected. My thumbs hurt.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

UPDATED: Need Some New Dance Moves for Simchat Torah?

I know, you've already mastered all the smooth moves you need for a Jewish event: you can dance in a circle both clockwise and counterclockwise! But maybe you want to switch it up, or maybe the dance circle is moving too painfully slow and you're tired of stepping on other people's toes.

Or maybe you have a different problem. Maybe you're the person who runs away or who tries to fade into the wallpaper when dancing is involved. Perhaps this video is even more important for you... for when people peer pressure you into dancing or just outright drag you into the dancing area.

There's a YouTube video for everything.


Her best advice? "Have a dancing face. Put some attitude into it!"

My only criticism? There were so many great cheesy dance moves left out!  You can't leave out the Roxbury or the Sprinkler or the Cabbage Patch. But I admit that the video would never end if we included them all.

So rather than do that last-minute cleaning or cooking, I want you to turn up the music and get funky instead. You need the practice so that you can bring it on Friday.

What's your favorite cheesy dance move? Mine is the buttfloss dance. And yes, that is actually a video of me. Shameful, I know.


UPDATE!
Unbeknownst to me, my friend Reina posted 5 MORE Simchas Torah dance moves for you! She's a dancer and dance teacher, so you should probably take her advice!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

UPDATES A GO GO: Reporters and Detectives Seeking to Talk to Freundel Converts

Just passing this along as an FYI.

Steven Weiss of The Jewish Channel is looking to talk to people who converted under Rabbi Freundel in DC. If you're not already aware, Freundel has been arrested on charges of voyeurism related to an alleged camera in the mikvah. The most detailed story I've seen is in the Forward.

You can contact him through Facebook or email him at steveniweiss at gmail. Here is his Facebook post:
I've been working on an investigation into Rabbi Barry Freundel for many months, and I hope to publish the first installment tonight/tomorrow. I've been speaking about it in vague terms until now, never naming any specific rabbis, but the cat is now out of the bag. So, if you haven't spoken with me, and have anything substantive to share about the rabbi, the conversion process, the RCA, or similar, please message me and we'll talk. I'm granting carte blanche off-the-record status to anyone who reaches out to me; anything you tell me will be as if it's going into a black box, and will never be spoken or written of by me until and unless we reach a further agreement in which you explicitly grant me such permission.
Please share this status far and wide.

If you converted in DC, you are probably worrying about the validity of your conversion. In short, I don't believe you have reason to worry. And if you are still concerned, there are ways to arrange a geirut l'chumrah, but I think that is overkill (as a general rule, of course) unless you are asked to do one. However, you may be contacted by the police if any footage of you (Gd forbid) surfaces during the investigation.


UPDATE:
The JTA (Jewish Telegraph Agency) is also looking to talk to RBF converts. Contact Gabrielle Birkner at gbirkner (at) jta.org.


ANOTHER UPDATE:
If you believe you may be a victim, please send a photo of your face, your name at the time of conversion, and any other relevant info to George Desilva (MPD) at
george.desilva (at) dc.gov. Footage may go as far back as 2010 or even earlier, though the charges currently only go back to June 2014.

UPDATES A GO GO: 
More reporter info:

Amanda Borschel-Dan, with the Times of Israel
amanda@timesofisrael.com

Suzanne Pollak, Senior Writer at the Washington Jewish Week
spollak@washingtonjewishweek.com

What Is an Av Beit Din?

When you start corresponding with a beit din (whether to ask for an application or after submitting your application), you will generally be talking to the Av Beit Din. So what is he and what does he do?

Av Beit Din translates roughly as head of the beit din. Av generally means father. 

Depending on how big or small the beit din is, the Av Beit Din is generally the rabbi who oversees the program and its practical details. He is your contact person, the one you will email with questions or concerns. Your Av Beit Din could be different from your friend's even if you're using the same beit din, but that is unusual. 

He may be paid and working in an official, full-time position. He might work part-time. The beit din may have a support staff or there may have a rabbinic intern or it might just be this rabbi. He might even be a volunteer, doing this in addition to a pulpit position or other full-time position.

He will usually not be the "highest ranking" rabbi on "your" personal beit din. Usually, at least one rabbi with "name recognition" will be included on your personal beit din because that's how our society works unfortunately. Ugh, that was a lot of air quotes. Bear with me here.

Overseeing conversions is generally not seen as a "sexy" field that the community appreciates, and it takes a ton of time and energy that could be spent publishing papers or giving talks. Appreciate the professional recognition that your Av Beit Din may be foregoing by choosing to work with conversion candidates. Even better, it's often thankless work that opens him to criticism if a convert or candidate goes off the rails. Who do people criticize first? The gatekeeper, who also happened to have the most contact with the person.

Of course, none of this guarantees he will be warm and fuzzy and fun to hang out with. You may not even like him. But you don't have to like him. Really. That sounds depressing, but it's actually a very freeing thought: if you aren't best friends, that doesn't reflect on who you are as a conversion candidate or as a Jew. This is essentially a business relationship. (Likewise, remember that this is a business relationship when you feel the need to overshare with your rabbi. That's not your relationship; avoid TMI when possible.)

Generally, you should not take matters over his head. If you like another rabbi on your beit din better, I'm sorry, but you should still keep the Av Beit Din assigned to you as your point of contact. That's his role in this process. The information will go to him anyway, so by involving a second rabbi involved with the beit din, you're making more work for everyone involved. Unless you have a really good reason, stick to the Av Beit Din when you have official business for the beit din. Of course, if there is a serious problem with the Av Beit Din or the beit din as a whole, find out who you need to talk to instead. (Easier said than done, I know. We'll talk about that another day.) Very few problems are that serious, and most of the ones that are involve potentially illegal and definitely unethical conduct. I'm not talking about a personality clash or "that was unfair."

Hopefully your relationship with the Av Beit Din will be a source of strength and positivity to you. But don't get upset if it's not. Keep your eye on the prize.

Can you think of anything I forgot?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Problem: You Must Own the Lulav You Are Shaking on the First Day(s) of Chag

Unfortunately, this "problem" is already over for this year, but I want to address it now in case someone thinks it applies to all of chag. And of course, it'll be here, ready for you as a reminder before Sukkot of 2015.

Owning the Lulav Set

On the first day(s) of chag, you must "own" the lulav and etrog you wave. That means one day in Israel, and two days elsewhere. Shorthand: whichever days are celebrated as "yom tov." In theory (no longer in practice), the second day might actually be the first day because of an error in spotting the New Moon. You can borrow a set the rest of the days without issue, so long as it's kosher. Remember a) that some people have higher standards for what makes a set kosher, and b) being a plant, it can get damaged easily through use.

Where do we get this ownership rule? From Leviticus/Vayikra 23:40: "And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period."

But that doesn't sound right because you see that many families share one lulav set. So how does that work? Legalisms, that's how. I'm a lawyer, so you can trust me when I say that legalisms are not restricted to Judaism. That doesn't make me feel any better when I feel that a legalism is silly, so know that you're not alone.

"Borrowing" a Lulav Set

So here's what you do if you need to "borrow" a lulav. Find someone willing to let you use his set. Some people won't - I've seen it, but I can only guess at reasons. Most likely, it is a fear that you will break it and make it unusable. As we said above, they're easily damaged, and it can be hard, if not impossible, to replace them during chag.

Once you have a kind person who will give you his set, the person will "give" you the set "as a gift" (conditioned on its return). Because, you know, you might try to keep it, so we have to protect the owner against this possibility. Jewish law allows something to be a "gift" even if both parties know it should be given back. However, if you are borrowing from someone who is unfamiliar with the halacha, this doesn't work. The person must intend to "give" it to you, not just "lend" it. With just a little awkward conversation, you can make sure that you both understand what it happening. (If you are concerned that the person thinks you're "just borrowing" it, remember to be kind and tactful if you want to clarify the halacha. Don't just assume, and don't be a jerk about it. The person who doesn't know the halacha is the person you should be most kind to.)

You use "your" set, then you "gift" it back to the original owner. 

Special "Borrowing" Situations

So...what if there is more than one person who needs to "borrow"? You make a chain! Easy peasy.

What if you're part of a family that has one set? Generally, because men are the ones obligated in the mitzvah of lulav, the set "belongs" to him. Women can do the mitzvah (and are encouraged to do so), but at the end of the day, he's on the hook, so it should be his. So what if the husband isn't home and someone asks the wife or an older child to borrow the set? It's valid if the "real owner" would have given it if he were there. A minor child can't give the set. 

Who is the "presumed owner" in the home of a single mom? If there is a child over the age of bar mitzvah, he has a high obligation than mom. In a house of daughters and/or sons under bar mitzvah, the owner is presumably the one who purchased it. 

What about roommates? I'd assume it is owned by the person who bought it, and a roommate cannot give it to another. Of course, you can always come to another arrangement.

Can you give someone else's if it's left on the seat at shul? No, don't be a jerk. 

When Kids Are Involved

So...kids under bar or bat mitzvah. That's a great question too. In Israel, this isn't a problem. Since you only need to "own" the set for one day in Israel, the parents bentch lulav, then "give" the set to a kid because children should practice (this is called chinuch). The kids can share it as they wish since they are not yet obligated until bar or bat mitzvah. 

Outside Israel, there's a problem because the adults need to "own" the lulav set on Day 2. The kids don't have the halachic ability to "give" the set to a parent because they can't make contracts and transfer property. That means that once a parent gives the set to a child on Day 1, the child cannot return the gift to the parent for his use on Day 2, when he must still own the set used. What does the parent do on Day 2?

A better question: why is the parent "giving" the ownership of the set to a child in the first place? Since it's chinuch and the child is not yet obligated, then the parent can lend the set. So I don't understand why this is a question in the first place, but the Gemara says it is, so it is. I have seen an argument that the child would be making a bracha in vain if the child were not "given" the set, but since the child is not obligated whether he owns it or not, I would think that the bracha is "in vain" regardless, but we say it anyway because it is chinuch. ...And this is why Rav Moshe Feinstein says the best case scenario is to buy a set for each of your children, if that is feasible. I'm not going to give you a "this is what you do" for this situation because my research shows that there is a lot going on here, and people may rule differently. So...ask your rabbi if this case applies to you. (But when in doubt, you can always get another person to "give" you his set.)


This seemed like it would be such a simple blog post, right? You know when you say a word so many times that it loses all meaning? I feel that way about "lulav" right now.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

What is the Symbolism of the Lulav and Etrog?

The lulav and the esrog might be the strangest-looking ritual in Judaism, but there are some common symbolisms you should know. There are two major "theories" of what they represent, so let's go through them! That way, you won't be caught unawares this chag. And then we'll discuss two more symbolic theories so you can sound like you totally know what you're talking about and have been discussing Sukkot's deeper meaning for ages.

Parts of the Body

Once you know this analogy, you can actually see it (at least I do). And if that doesn't make this weird ritual even weirder, I don't know what will.

Etrog: Heart
Palm Branches: Spine
Myrtle: Eyes
Willow: Mouth

As you use the lulav and etrog to worship Gd, so do all of these parts of your body worship Gd.


The Four Types of Jews

Since unity is one of the major themes of Sukkot, we look at the lulav and etrog as a collection of the various types of Jews. However, I think this particular symbolism is more likely to make you disparage another Jew than bring unity. 

Each "person" is classified according to his learning and his deeds. A nice taste symbolizes learning, and a nice fragrance symbolizes one's good deeds. 

Etrog: Has taste and fragrance, so this represents a Jew who is learned and practices good deeds. 
Palm Branches: Taste and no fragrance, which represents a Jew who is learned but does not do good deeds. (See, you just thought about who might fit that bill, didn't you? That's why I don't like this exercise. #BadMiddos)
Myrtle: No taste but fragrant, so this is the simple Jew who does good deeds.
Willow: No taste and no fragrance, so I guess that makes it the rasha of the group. But perhaps the one who is learned and does not do good deeds should be considered even more a rasha because he should know better?

I prefer to look at this analogy as being parts of ourselves. In certain mitzvot, you may be the etrog, and in others, you may be the myrtle. But on the other hand, maybe you're the willow for mitzvot you don't understand, and maybe you're the palm branches when you feel defiant of a mitzvah you know.


Agriculture

As a bonus, here is another symbolic meaning of the 4 species: they represent the agricultural abundance in Israel and Gd's role in creating it. Each items is tied to a particular habitat in Israel, and water is required for each. As we enter the winter, so begins the rainy season in Israel. In fact, this begins the time of year when we daven for rain in Israel during the Amidah 3 times a day. (Don't forget to add those parts!) This symbolism leads to people call shaking the lulav a "rain dance," and that's too pagan for my tastes.

Unified Field Theory

Yes, you read that right. We're going to dive into theoretical physics! (One of my favorite subjects!) 

I don't trust myself to summarize this theory, so you should just read it here from Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman (it's very short, I promise). But here is the general idea:
"By shaking the four species outward to the six directions of space and then bringing them back to our hearts, we unify and sanctify space within time."

Does any of this symbolism resonate with you? Tell us about it!

Chag sameach!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Basic Timeline for a Three Day Yontif

As you probably learned over Rosh Hashanah, three day yom tovs require a lot of logistical awareness. I thought it might be a good idea to write it out to help you plan the 3 day chag coming up this week. However, this timeline is written for 3 day chagim generally. Always double-check the times in your shul's newsletter or other zmanim calendar (examples: MyZmanim, the OU Calendar, and the Chabad Calendar), and make sure you write them down!

Wednesday Night

Make an eruv tavshilin, if you will need to cook food for Shabbat on the yom tov
Remember to light a fire that will last until Friday night candlelighting (yartzheit candle, gas stove, etc)
Locate your machzor; it's so helpful.
Light candles and make shecheyanu blessing at normal candlelighting time, but you can light until the start of the evening meal if you light from a pre-existing flame (bracha, then light, no eye covering)
Note: I'm told that Sephardi women don't make a bracha on yom tov candles. So if that doesn't apply to you, skip it.
Mincha for weekdays
Maariv for festivals
Dinner

Thursday

Shacharit may start earlier than normal, remember to check
Lunch
Mincha may be longer than normal
Maariv will be later than normal (after three stars, but exact timing can differ significantly by community)
Light candles from a pre-existing flame after the time of 3 stars, but you can light with a bracha so long as people are still awake and could benefit from the light (bracha, then light, no eye covering)
On Rosh Hashanah, make a shecheyanu blessing, but wear something new and have that newness in mind (there are other ways to fulfill the "newness," but this is often the easiest)
Remember to let the match extinguish itself
Dinner

Friday

Shacharis may start earlier than normal, remember to check
Lunch
Light candles from a pre-existing flame at normal candlelighting time (light, cover eyes, then bracha - like normal)
Remember to let the match extinguish itself
Mincha may be longer than normal
Shortened Kabbalat Shabbat because you're transitioning from "holy" to "holy"
Maariv at normal time
Dinner

Shabbat

Note: you need to eat your eruv tavshilin items before Shabbat ends - check the latest time according to your community
Regular Shabbat shacharit with festival additions, if applicable
Shabbat lunch
Regular Shabbat mincha with festival additions, if applicable
Seudah Shlishit, if you do that
Weekday Maariv with Motzei Shabbat additions
Regular Havdalah, but check your machzor just in case


In total, you need to plan for as many as 7 meals: 
Wednesday dinner, Thursday lunch, Thursday dinner, Friday lunch, Friday dinner, Shabbat lunch, Shabbat Shalosh Seudas (not everyone does this)


I hope this is helpful!