Monday, October 31, 2011

Working Towards Conversion: Set Aside Regular Time to Study

A conversion takes a lot of time. More than you ever expect it will. There is a lot to learn, and the frustrating thing is that there is always more to know. You will be learning Judaism until the day you die, and you will always find something new. It's frustrating to realize how much you don't know and may never know, but I think the drive to learn and grow is a trait found in almost all converts more than the average population. In other words, we tend to be a nerdy bunch, but I like it that way.

As hard as it is to decide what to study, you need to discipline yourself to decide when to study. Set aside regular time, just as you would schedule an appointment or a work meeting. This is your appointment with Hashem...and with your future. Whether that time is weekly or daily, set it aside. Make it sacred. It's easy to allow that time to escape when a more immediate priority arises. Don't let that illusion distract you. That is your yetzer hara, saying, "You can always study some other time. This needs your attention right now!" (Check this post out for tips on how to deal with the yetzer hara!) But as with anything, there are legitimate emergencies that may require your time and sometimes you just need a break. When you miss your appointed study time (and you will sooner or later), don't beat yourself up about it. Resolve to do better today. 

As Hillel says, 
Do not say, "When I have [free] time, I will study," lest you never have [free] time.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Life Without Halloween

Apparently Monday is Halloween. I didn't know that until today (Thursday). I knew it was coming, but I never bothered to look at the calendar.

Halloween was my favorite holiday as a child. I was never thrilled by Thanksgiving or Christmas. I would even venture to say that I dislike them. As you should have read already, I grew up in an atheist family in the South, which is not the ideal place for atheists. Atheism had already isolated my family from my extended family, creating my hatred of Thanksgiving and its emphasis on family. The all-consuming Christianity of the South made me feel that Christmas was not "my" holiday, even if my family did celebrate it.

But Halloween...that belonged to me as much as it belonged to anyone else! Even better (though it reveals some of my worst childhood personality traits), I was glad to see some Christians feel alienated from a holiday. It seemed fair to me, in a way.

I last celebrated Halloween when I was 21, which was 6 years ago. It wasn't a Jewish choice at first. The first year, I happened to be in India for a conference on Halloween, and then I was teaching English in France. Being abroad two years in a row, Halloween naturally fell by the wayside. During that time, I continued growing in my Judaism, but I don't think that I left Halloween for it. 

The Halloweens I knew were selfish and focused entirely on the physical. As a child, I was a candy glutton. In college, it was about being sexy and drinking too much. Once I stepped away from Halloween, I gained the distance to see it for what it was and what my motivations had been. I also like to think I matured a little in that time.

And that's why I lost interest in Halloween. Was it a Jewish choice? Yes and no, I think. I think the mindfulness that Judaism requires gave me the mental and emotional skills to analyze my actions and emotions.

It also helps that now I have plenty of holidays instead of the (only) three enjoyable holidays of my childhood: Halloween, New Year's, and the Fourth of July. 

Today, Halloween doesn't even rank on my radar. On the other hand, I don't think it's some demonic terribleness. I just recognize it for what it is, and that usually isn't enough to outrank even a quiet night with a good book. Honestly, I would rather stay inside than have my eyes subjected to "sexy bellydancers," "sexy skunks" (yes, the "stinkin' cute skunk"), and "sexy schoolgirls." The streets simply are not safe. But I would not turn down an opportunity to watch Halloweentown on the Family Channel!

That's my relationship with Halloween. What's yours?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More Jewish Pop Culture Than You Can Shake a Stick At

There seems to be a lot of Jewish stuff going around in pop culture around now. Or maybe now I just have better sources to bring this stuff to my attention. In that spirit, I now pass these along to you.

First, a very interesting post about actress Mayim Bialik's decision to work on yom tov during Sukkot. I really like Rafi's analysis of the situation: Nisuch HaMayim - Mayim Bialik Speaks About Working on Sukkos Yom Tov.
One cannot look at an isolated incident and judge the person based on that alone - in which direction is the person moving? Is she moving towards more observance, getting better along the way...?
Which way are you going?

I thought we finally got rid of Oprah, but now she's coming right into the orthodox community! She visited a couple of chassidic families to learn more about chassidism. (Or orthodoxy? They'll probably equate the two.) Oprah Winfrey Visits N.Y. Chasidic Families in New Series. No lie, this I will probably actually watch, all distrust of Oprah's cult-like qualities aside.

NBC is going to try to remake a British movie called The Infidel as an American TV show. Before we even get to the content, that's just plain lazy. Nothing new under the sun, as we said so recently. In the movie, a Muslim man discovers that he was adopted and that his parents are Jewish. Hilarity ensures, I'm sure. NBC Will Try to Bridge the Differences Between Muslims and Jews via Comedy. If anyone can reconcile Jews and Muslims, I'm sure it'll be NBC.

Commentary Magazine (and several other people) wrote about some of the anti-Semitic crazies that were inevitably going to come to the Occupy Wall Street shenanigans: Occupy Wall Street Has an Anti-Semitism Problem. As I suggested, I think that was inevitable, but very fringe. There are also some rebuttal articles that say that screaming antisemitism is a way to divert attention from what's actually going on at the OWS protests. I can't locate the original article I saw, but this one is similar: The Hollow Campaign to Label Occupy Wall Street as Anti-Semitic.

And just in case you aren't depressed enough by that antisemitism and political is a new video from the Groggers, and it's about the joys of shidduchim! I'm highly amused.

Now that you're depressed, let's make you happy again!

And while not really pop culture, this article in the New York Times is guaranteed to make you cry: Notes from a Dragon Mom. It's a very personal and moving piece written by the mother of a baby with Tay-Sachs disease. But I think every parent or potential parent should read it as a perspective check. Remember what's really important in life!

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Frum and Fabulous: The New Fall Lines Are Out!

Ladies, we're in luck this fall/winter! Frum is fabulous this year, continuing the modest fashion trends that dominated the stores this spring/summer. Nordstrom and Lane Bryant have advertised their modest skirts as fashion trends already, and Nordstrom has also advertised many modest or easily-made-modest tops. (Remember to check out Nordstrom Rack for the outlet experience!)

Because I am terrified of my first "real" winter approaching, I am latching on to every degree of this fall weather. In that spirit, here is an outfit I think is very "fall" with the golds and oranges. This is just a plain black shell from Kosher Casual and a wrap-skirt. (It is not from Israel, since I get that question frequently.)

Advice: Always, always, always wear something under a wrap skirt, no matter how far it wraps around. Inevitably, the wind will hit you precisely at the angle that will undress you for all the strangers on the street. I recommend spandex shorts to prevent bulky material making the skirt fabric fall unnaturally. Being short, many spandex shorts fall at or very close to my knees. If you want longer shorts but don't benefit from being short already, you can find them made longer. During colder seasons, long leggings is always a good choice, either ankle-length or full tights. I don't recommend tea-length leggings with a long skirt if it can be avoided (it usually makes you look short and squat.)

Alternatively, you can use safety pins to pin the wrapped part in place. This can take more time than you imagine to pin it in a way that doesn't make the fabric fall unnaturally. I don't recommend sewing it in place because wrap skirts are not made with an elastic waistband. This means that you can't sew it in place properly and still be able to put it on.

I miss non-winter winter already :(

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"How Do I Know If You're Sincere or Not?"

Someone made a great joke over the chagim! The person said that any rabbi should know I'm sincere as soon as I say, "I've observed two years of 3 day yontif fully. And I'm still here."

If this didn't come up at your yontif meals (and heaven knows it did if you were with observant Jews), the 3 day yontifs are not over. We get a reprieve in 2012, but we get another double dose of High-Octane Chagim in 2013 and 2014. That sound you just heard was the collective groan of millions of Jews tired of greasy hair.

And that is your moment of Zen.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why We're Probably Crazy After All

Pre-conversion, it is very frustrating to feel that your actions (your mitzvot) don’t matter. After all, you’re not Jewish. You’re not required to do anything. You have no mitvot other than the sheva mitzvot B’nei Noach. And in some areas, it can actually be problematic for you to be doing these things, like fully observing Shabbat or being invited for a yom tov meal. But you continue, hoping that one day, these actions will matter…and hoping that you will live to see that day.

That it will matter when you spent significant time and money re-creating your kitchen to make it kosher. And again when you were told you had to move.

That it will matter that you replaced your wardrobe to make it tznius. 

That it will matter that other women think you're setting women back 60 years.

That it will matter that you spent thousands of dollars and who knows how many hours on seforim.

That it will matter that you didn’t eat out of your home for a year because there was no restaurant and little hospitality.

That it will matter that you defended Jews and Israel.

That you won’t feel like a liar anymore when you say “us” in Jewish company.

That your tears and screams won’t have been for nothing.

That your Jewish knowledge will finally be more than useful Jeopardy answers.

That it will matter that you have passed up so many jobs because they would compromise Shabbat.

That it will matter that you know Shabbat, yom tov, and tznius could cause you to get fired one day, and that the American legal system probably won’t protect you.

That it will matter that you gave up your job to move to a “proper” community.

That it will matter that you moved across town or across the country or across the world to be in that “proper” community.

That you have sacrificed years of your life, watching the people around you date, fall in love, marry, and have children.

That it will matter that you know each passing year means less children and probably more difficulty having them.

That it will matter that you know each passing year means less shidduch opportunities and more risk that others will push you to compromise in the interest of “making up for lost time.” 

That you will have to deal with some people who think converts are damaged goods or are "stealing" the "good" Jewish spouses.

That it will matter that you have suffered hostility or interrogation from born Jews, both suspicious and confused.

That it will matter that you suffered distance, estrangement, or abandonment by non-Jewish family and friends.

That it will matter that your non-observant Jewish friends stop talking to you, probably afraid that you think they’re bad Jews.

That living in a “proper” community means your parents and other family will never see your children more than a few times a year. If that.

That it will matter that you have suffered anti-Semitism.

That it will matter that you did everything right (as much as a human can), but that one bully can make that irrelevant.

That it will matter that you gave up one life to start another. Lech lecha.

That it will matter that you persevered.

And that one day, you’ll be a real Jew instead of a fake Jew, constantly trying to avoid non-mevushal wine and shidduch suggestions from people who think you're a Jew.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Tonight Begins Yom Tov...Yes, Again

This blog is shomer Shabbat and Yom Tov. Tonight begins Shemini Atzeret and Simchas Torah.

Therefore, there are no posts on Thursday, October 20, and Friday, October 21.

A Milestone: One Year of Blogging!

I'm not always very good at sticking to long-term projects, so I really didn't expect this blog to still be here today. And certainly not with 333 posts! Funny how things work out.

Tomorrow marks one year of blogging! I had never blogged before, so I can tell a large difference from the beginning to now! I'm still learning how this crazy world works, and I've even been drawn into the workings of the social media/branding world. At this point, I actually consider this a part-time job. One day, maybe I'll write a book :D

I'm glad you guys seem to like it here. I certainly do. I admit, a stray typo may pop up sometimes, but I literally spend a ridiculous amount of time preparing content for y'all. G-d-willing, I will be employed soon but will still be able to take the time this work deserves. Whatever you may think of what I post (or how I write about it), I put a lot of thought and effort into what I do here. And contrary to modern nihlism, I really feel like I have been fairly rewarded for that work. So rarely do you get a statistics page that gives you immediate feedback about your impact! Of course, a living wage from blogging here would be awesome, but I think I'm going to keep my day job. ...Once I find one. 

...And now for something completely different!

Statistics are fun! You can compare to the 100 postings post and the 100,000 views post.
  • First post: October 20, 2010
  • Over 147,500 page views (Feed views are counted separately, but Adsense won't give me stats on feed views for more than 2 months anymore.)
  • Over 27,500 views in the last month (back to September 19)
  • 3,280 views in November 2010; 5,539 views in January 2011; 9,974 views in May 2010; 15,601 views in August 2010; 19,560 views in September 2010.
  • 207 Facebook subscribers
  • 64 Blogger subscribers (Does anyone know how to get feed and/or email subscriber numbers??)
  • The United States is still the clear readership leader.
  • Facebook remains the clear traffic-causing leader. I still don't understand Facebook's page statistics, if anyone wants to help a sister out.
  • $107 earned. As I said in the 100 postings post, I only get a check once the blog's revenues (from those two ads on the page) pass $100. They passed that threshold on October 4, which means I'll have a check at the end of November! Depending on the job situation at that time, it will pay for either a) a massive steak and wine dinner with friend/commenter Leah Sarah or b) my utility bill.
  • I still reject practically no comments. I have only rejected three comments from my "normal" content (two as spam and one for revealing way too much personally-identifiable information about the commenter), but there were several rejected during the recent A Set Apart Life mess, either as unnecessarily inflammatory or revealing too many details about the other blogger's life. However, even the unnecessarily inflammatory comments were still very tame by internet standards. My readership continues to surprise me with how civilized and reasonable they are! 
  • My Google search terms continue to give me laughs regularly.
  • A Google search term that worries me: "do they do background check before converting to judaism?"
  • Thing I'm most thankful for: Being able to approve blog comments on my phone via email and its browser! I feel like that makes the conversation flow much better and allows for a better discussion.
On the other hand, I have had a failure too. I am still incredibly backlogged on reader emails. I sincerely apologize for that. If you haven't received a response from me, it will come. I do respond to all emails. The problem is that I put the same amount of thought and time into emails as I do the posts. So...I can easily spend 2 hours on a detailed email (with normal home distractions, of course). This means I am incredibly inefficient at responding to your emails. I hope that the wait is worth it to you!

Hopefully the next year will be equally rewarding!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What to Do During the Amidah/Shemoneh Esrei

The Amidah (also known as the shemoneh esrei) is the high point of the prayer services. This is the long, silent prayer where you see all the rocking. Except for the maariv service and any time there is not a minyan, the Amidah is repeated by the chazzan after (most of) the congregation has finished the silent version. 

Because it is silent, I found this to be one of the harder unwritten-rule situations in my first congregation. It probably took me 2 or 3 years to figure all this out, so benefit from my awkwardness.

First and foremost: Yes, you may pray in English. That's just fine. In fact, it will be a long time before you could read Hebrew fast enough to keep up with the congregation. If you feel bad about this, don't. As you become more comfortable, you can take as long as you want to finish the Amidah, but most people are too nervous to do that for a long time. Even I find that intimidating and will only daven my long Hebrew version of the Amidah in certain shuls.

Secondly: Yes, you can shuckle too. Do what feels right, and experiment with different movements. And if you don't want to shuckle, that's fine too. You'll see it all in the congregation.

Face the direction everyone else is facing. That's Jerusalem, not the Torahs, you're facing.

Interruptions: Don't interrupt others. Don't interrupt yourself. Don't talk around people who are still davening silently, it's incredibly distracting.

The Practical Bits
To begin and end the Amidah, you take three small steps backward and then immediately three steps forward. You will usually be taking very small steps because there will be people around you. Be considerate. I suggest using the Artscroll siddur because it has better instructions on physical movements than other siddurim do. Many liberal siddurim don't give any instructions, and the Koren siddur only gives the Hebrew keywords even in the instructions over the English version. You can even review these instructions and the prayers at home before going to services.

The Amidah should be pronounced. At a minimum, your lips should be moving. You should be speaking loud enough to hear yourself but low enough that no one else hears you. The worst part of this is that your mouth and lips will develop incredible bouts of drymouth. My mouth stubbornly refused to cooperate for years. At least for the lips, I can suggest a generous dousing of chapstick when the congregation gets close to the Amidah (Note: Not Shabbat-friendly). But in the end, you just have to stick it out and your body will adjust eventually.

There are times when you bend the knees and bow and one time when you only bow. This is where the instructions being in English is very important. You can stop your prayer and watch the people around you if you find that helpful. But...don't be too obvious about it. There are many ways to do the bend and bow, so do whatever you think "bend and bow" means, and you will be fine. You don't have to copy your neighbor. I don't suggest scraping the floor, but you may bow as deeply or shallowly as you wish. 

For the triple bow at the end of the Amidah, you will want to look around and see how your neighbors do it. There is a lot of variety here, but you are perfectly correct if you follow the instructions as written: Bow left, bow right, and bow to the front. Some people completely cut out the right bow (at least it would appear they do), and I've never understood that. But that's irrelevant to my own davening, so you don't need to worry about it either.

One last point: Remember to check your blindspot. Don't walk backwards into your neighbor. Nothing ruins your kavanah more than being stepped on and/or knocked over.

Now, here's the tricky part: 
What happens if you finish the Amidah before or after the congregation?

After the Congregation
Just keep going until you finish, even if you finish after the chazzan has finished his repetition and moved on to the other prayers. Don't worry about what the other congregants are doing. You can catch up later. (But know that you are close to the end of the service.) When you finish, join the congregation where they are. If you missed all the rest of the service, at least say Aleinu (beginning "It is our duty..."). You know, unless they're locking you inside the building at that point.

Before the Congregation
What to do if you want to get a gold star of halachic compliance: When you finish your personal silent Amidah, take the three steps back and do the bowing. Stay where you are, without taking the three steps forward. You will take the three steps forward when the chazzan begins the kedusha (or at least until he begins the repetition).

What people actually do: You can sit down if you finish early. Technically, you're not supposed to, but people do all the time.  Once the chazzan starts his repetition of the Amidah, stand again. You don't have to do the three steps or bowing at any point during the repetition. Don't let the chazzan confuse you: he may bend his knees and bow at every "Blessed are you..."

During The Repetition

Each time the chazzan says "Blessed are you..." the congregation will mumble "Baruch hu uvaruch sh'mo" ("blessed is He and blessed is his name") before he completes the blessing. Go ahead and memorize that one. It is nearly impossible to learn by ear because most people slur it. At the end of the blessing, the congregation responds "Amen." You will learn to listen for the pause a chazzan will insert in a blessing for the Baruch hu. (Note that this phrase comes up in other blessings throughout the service, but not all of them, so don't make it a habit. When in doubt, don't say it.)

During the repetition, Kedusha is added. Kedusha is going to be in a box or otherwise marked as not being part of the silent Amidah. Again, the instructions will give you instructions on the physical movements, but they won't be adequate. The instructions will tell you when, but not necessarily how. You just have to watch your neighbors. It's simply bouncing up on your toes three times or once. No one will notice if you don't bob up and down until you figure it out. Once Kedusha is over, many opinions hold that you can sit again. You will know the time is right when other people sit down. (Good rule of thumb: Whenever everyone is standing, you should probably be standing too.) Some people may remain standing, and that's ok. You can sit if you want to.

There will be more confusing movements when you read Modim (also known as Thanksgiving), which begins "We gratefully thank you..." At this time during the silent Amidah, you only bowed. During the repetition, you will bow again, and you will say a different version of Modim that is located in a little box beside or under the silent version of Modim. You don't necessarily have to stand up for this bow. People differ on this, but it is generally acceptable to bow forward in your seat far enough that your bottom leaves the seat. Some people don't even get the entire thing off the seat. Sometimes you're just sore, tired, distracted, or caught by surprise. However, you can always stand just before Modim and properly bow. If you do that, you can sit back down afterwards.

Now get out there and daven like a pro!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reason #843 You Know You're Crazy: You Have a Ridiculous Love of Woody Allen Films

I used to write a lot of these posts, and I haven't in a long time, so here we go again! However, I think this one is pretty self-explanatory, so it's going to be short.

Honestly, I think my parents should blame themselves for my eventual conversion. You don't show Woody Allen movies to preteens without expecting trouble later. 

...And I'm going to avoid all the other jokes that could be made right now.

If you saw Woody Allen movies before getting Jewishly involved, I encourage you to rewatch them with new eyes. So much funnier, and that is hard to do. (Full disclosure: I don't like his movies as much after 1990 or so, but his early films easily dominate my Top 10 favorite movies.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tonight Begins Sukkot

This blog is shomer Shabbat and Yom Tov. Tonight begins the first days of Succos.

Therefore, there are no posts on Thursday, October 13, and Friday, October 14.

Ben Stiller Does a Yom Kippur-themed Saturday Night Live Monologue

I'm a few days late, but last motzei Shabbos, Ben Stiller did a Yom Kippur-themed Saturday Night Live opening monologue. I'd say it's about average quality for what SNL is putting out these days, but it certainly could have been worse.  ...Meh.

But there was a pretty good Borsht-Belt joke at the beginning:
"My father's Jewish, my mother's Irish Catholic, which means according to the Torah, I'm not actually Jewish. But according to all mirrors, I am."
However, I was surprised to hear that because my understanding is that his mother converted reform about 5 years before he was born.  Who knows, maybe it's just a joke.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Conversion Special Cases: Converting with Children from a Prior Relationship

This post is going to be a cross-over between my two main "specialties": conversion issues and law. 

NOTE: I am not a family lawyer, but I did work in a family law office as a student for half of law school. While I loved working in family law, I don't plan to practice family law and I am not a family law expert. I am not even a licensed lawyer yet. This is not intended to be either secular legal advice or halachic advice. The point of this post is to recognize some (but not all) potential issues that may arise in this situation and help you ask good questions of a rabbi or real attorney. It is also to help you realize that  you do have options in this situation and that hope is not lost. I suggest that you have BOTH a rabbi familiar with these issues and a family lawyer involved in all the kinds of cases we will discuss.

Do NOT post details about your problem/situation in the comments, as they are public and I cannot give you legal advice anyway. I will not approve any comment that does so, even if the rest of your comment is amazing. Likewise, I'm unable to answer emails about your specific case.

Who are we talking about? You are interested in converting to Judaism, but you have minor children from a prior relationship. Generally, the other parent is not Jewish and may actively be involved in another religion. You either never married or have divorced. You have some kind of child time-sharing arrangement, even if it means the other parent gets zero time with the child. You may or may not have a court order formalizing this arrangement. If you do have a court order, you may have a current arrangement that does not match that court order.

This could also create issues when the prior partner is a non-orthodox Jew and you want to become orthodox. (There should be few issues going within the liberal movements.) In this case, you would be maintaining an orthodox Jewish home, while your prior partner maintains a liberal Jewish or secular Jewish home. This can be a significant child custody issue even when conversion isn't involved! (These problems can be troublesome whether or not the children are Jewish. However, I think a beit din would  encourage the sincere conversion of a parent whose children are already halachically Jewish.)

The problem: You might not be able to convert your children when you convert. In other words, you could end up a Jewish parent with non-Jewish children. Or worse, a rabbi may refuse to convert you if your children are not able to convert with you. However, the second option doesn't seem to be very common. Granted, this issue isn't very common to begin with. I'm working on anecdotal evidence here.

Factors that may be significant, depending on your case:
  • Ages of your children
  • Their feelings about your conversion
  • The children's Jewish involvement so far
  • Whether the children want to convert
  • How young your children were when you started your Jewish life
  • Your ex-partner's involvement in the children's life
  • Your ex-partner's feelings about your conversion
  • Your ex-partner's religious affiliation/fervor 
  • The presence of a new (Jewish) partner
  • The existence of children with that Jewish partner (in other words, you have children from both the ex-partner and the current, Jewish partner)
  • Prior difficulties/inability to communicate or to make (and keep!) agreements between the parents
  • The current custody arrangement
  • The current court-ordered custody arrangement 
  • How uncomfortable your rabbi is with your situation (which may correlate to how familiar he is with these issues)
Note: Whether or not it reflects your actual arrangement now, you will need to have a copy of your current court order for an attorney to review. If there was a divorce, you will also want to bring a copy of any divorce papers referring to the children. It's a good practice to keep a binder with all your custody orders. If you don't have these papers, some courts have electronic records you can print from home. Most don't. In that case, someone will have to go in person to the presiding courthouse and copy each sheet by hand. (And like the mafia, courthouses know they have a racket on the copy machines since files can't leave the court, so expect the copying fee to be high!) If the records are sealed (some courts do, for privacy reasons), it will have to actually be a party or a party's attorney of record. If the records are public, you may be able to get any friend with a government-issued ID to go to the courthouse. Rule of thumb: Make a copy of every single sheet in the file (that you're allowed to).

As a general rule, you will want to at least have a consultation with a family law attorney (preferably a religious Jew if you can find it - saves a lot of time explaining the Jewish/halachic issues). My understanding of most markets is that family law consultations are often free. Call around. Ask your friends and rabbi for suggestions. And don't bombard some poor attorney at shul, dinner, or a party with this. This is complicated. Set up an appointment and go into their office for a proper discussion.

I suggest talking with an attorney no matter how good your relationship is with your prior partner, no matter how supportive the ex-partner is, and even if your ex-partner is deceased. Prepare for the worst, know your options, and celebrate when it is better than you know worst case scenario was. It's better to be safe than sorry. Prevent problems before they occur!

Talking to a lawyer does not commit you to pursuing a court order. Your ex-partner might never know that you consulted an attorney. You may have a consultation, and the lawyer might tell you everything is in order. If that happens, go forth and enjoy Jewish life. But the attorney may suggest seeking a court order either a) because you actually need one or b) just to provide clarity for the future.

Likewise, seeking a court order doesn't mean you'll get it. You may even want to get a second opinion from another attorney. (As always, if something seems "off" about the attorney you speak to, remember that they are human, and that there are bad lawyers out there. If you don't trust the first attorney you speak to, speak to another one.) If the attorney advises that you don't need a court order, your rabbi may want to see that in writing. The attorney can draft a letter to you stating that and that that is the reason they are not taking your case (there may still be a charge for this).

As a general rule, both parents get a say in how to raise their child. If one parent is deceased, that partner's parents or siblings may have enforceable rights to interact with your children. I hate calling this best-case scenario, but if your ex-partner has had his or her parental rights terminated, you probably won't have any legal problems. (I can't promise the conversion won't be complicated!) Similarly, you may be in a good position if the other parent is not allowed any visitation with the children.

Let's have a vocabulary lesson. If you worked with a family law attorney previously to get custody orders, you should have been told this, but maybe you don't remember or the issue hasn't come up. Generally (but I can't guarantee this is the case in all states), there are two types of "custody." This is a very simplified distinction:
Physical custody: Who the child "lives with." The other parent has "visitation." It's possible for both parents to be listed as having physical custody. Your ability to claim the child on your taxes often goes with this kind of custody, but it is not determinative. 
Legal custody: The right to make decisions about the child's life, whether it's religion, schooling, or ear piercings. A parent could potentially lose visitation rights but still have legal custody. You don't have 50/50 legal custody. You either have legal custody or you don't. 100/100. Granted, without access to the child, legal custody doesn't always mean much. This is why an attorney is important.

As you've probably guessed, legal custody is the main issue we're worried about here. You may have the right to change the child's religion over the objection of the other parent, but maybe you don't. If you've sought to move away from the other parent with the child, you've encountered this kind of problem. You might have to get a court order allowing the conversion in order for a rabbi to agree to convert your children. A rabbi may require a court order even if your attorney says you don't need one. (Remember that you might be able to get court approval on an agreement between you and the other parent if you agree. You may not even have to go to the courthouse in that case. Your attorney can help you with drafting such an agreement and the proper way to turn a written agreement into a court order. I don't recommend just writing something out on your computer because it might not be enforceable. And even if it can be enforced, it may not say what you need it to say.)

But remember, even if you are able to convert your minor children with you, they may be given the option of revoking the conversion at a later age. This revocation right should be automatic with any child converted before bar or bat mitzvah age (assuming the laws are the same as a Jewish couple adopting a non-Jewish child). If your child is over bar/bat mitzvah age, their current refusal to convert is probably sufficient.

So what happens if your ex-partner objects to converting the children and you can't overcome that legally? All is not lost. In fact, it might be easier, especially if your children have a relationship with the other parent. You can convert, run a shomer Shabbat/kashrut home, possibly even enroll your children in Jewish schools (but maybe not), but you don't have to worry if your ex-partner feeds the kids treif or has Saturday visitation. If the kids aren't Jewish, it doesn't really matter. (Yes, I know it does matter to you, but this could still be the best case scenario.) And the kids don't have to feel conflicted or caught in the middle (at least about Judaism). Even better, you won't have to force Jewish law on your ex-partner so that he or she can enforce it in the children's other home. As they get older, the children can make the decision to convert on their own. Most likely, they will have to wait until they are 18+ (depending on your state's laws and your rabbi's comfort with the situation), but they would probably be fast-tracked if they have one orthodox parent. (See Conversion Special Cases: Young Conversion Candidates.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Word of the Day: Yeshivish

Yeshivish is a language all its own. Supposedly it's a form of English, but sometimes, you'd never know it! 

Yeshivish exists most strongly in Yeshivish communities (whodathunkit?), but many orthodox Jews (primarily Ashkenazim) keep some yeshivish up their sleeve. Sometimes, it's just a faster way to communicate an idea. The words may be either Yiddish or Hebrew (generally not modern Hebrew), and they are sprinkled liberally throughout the English conversation/shiur.

For learning yeshivish words and phrases, I suggest listening to lots and lots of shiurim. (Listening to them will be good for you, regardless.) In the shiurs, rabbis will often use yeshivish, but kiruv shiurim will usually also give an English translation of the phrase. That way, you get both the meaning and how to use it in a sentence naturally. In many (American?) communities, a little yeshivish is the key to "passing" well. You walk the walk, so now you must talk the talk. Or at least understand other people talking.

I've cultivated a working fluency in yeshivish, but I try not to speak it as a general rule. I don't trust myself to choose both the correct word/pronunciation and right meaning in the same sentence. However, I understand most yeshivish spoken to me. What I don't understand is often clear from the context of the conversation, but there is no shame in asking someone to explain a word or phrase to you.

How much yeshivish do you understand? If you can understand this video, you are just fine. You will not understand everything, but if you understand what's going on, then you can survive just about anything. (The video is a response to this video, but you don't need to watch it to understand the video below.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Interesting Follow-Up: Active Mormons Misrepresenting Themselves to Convert to Orthodox Judaism

Funny how you hear one thing...and then you run into the same thing 40 times in the next week. 

Here is a story written by an LDS member two weeks ago about Mormons seeking to convert to orthodox Judaism. It's very well-written and also fairly represents the Jewish reaction. I'm glad to know both sides are in agreement!

In summary, "One can only reconcile the two [faiths] by watering down and distorting both LDS and Jewish doctrines, and it won’t work. When we try to build bridges between the two faiths, we can’t do it by trying to create a hybrid religion. Both Judaism and LDS Christianity deserve better."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Why Insincere Conversion Candidates Matter

GIANT IMPORTANT POINT: This issue can approach a fine line between protecting the community and bullying. Before you accuse someone (to their face in private or to a rabbi in private) of being an insincere conversion candidate, CAREFULLY consider your motives for doing so, your options for action, and how your actions will affect the other person's life. Take at least a week to really think these things over, making sure you are no longer emotional or angry. If you're going to do this right, you need to approach the situation calmly, lovingly, and choose the least invasive action. After all, you may have misunderstood the situation, and I will bet money you never have the full picture. On the other hand, you'll never rebuke a person perfectly and no one will ever be pleased with being rebuked, but do your best to avoid making a mistake that could ruin a perfectly sincere person's life. But, that said, if there are illegal or dangerous things going on, you can probably take more immediate action! Chances are, that's not your case. "Reporting" someone as an insincere candidate is not much different than calling Child Protective Services on a parent. Sometimes, CPS is warranted. But if you make a mistake, you can ruin innocent lives, and even ruin them permanently.

And now for your regularly scheduled programming...

I've been meaning to write this post for a while (and there is a brief version on the Conversion page). This week's posts about A Set Apart Life brought up some really good points in the comments. Why should I, a mere conversion candidate and ::gasp!:: not even a real Jew, care what other conversion candidates do? Does it matter or is it just self-frustration directed out at other people?

The short answer: What you do during conversion and after conversion affects other converts. Your actions, especially after conversion, matter. We rely on each other to be good Jews and give converts a good name. When one convert "goes bad," we all suffer for it. If you don't want to sign up for that kind of responsibility, then I'm so glad you were honest with yourself! Be a B'Nei Noach and earn an amazing place in olam haba without all these strings attached!

In order to understand the framework controlling conversions, let's talk about the world of conversion we're dealing with.

As most of the people who read this blog know, conversion has been upside-down insanity since 2006. Conversion has always been complicated and emotional, but today's situation is simply unheard of in Jewish history. The contentions over conversions have created large splits within the orthodox community; a sinas chinam, if you ask me, but no one does. There are batei din who are so against any possibility that one insincere person might convert that they are willing to push a significant majority of their sincere conversion candidates to a lot of crying and actual clinical depression (based on anecdotal evidence). A statistically significant number of them are driven to the point of suicidal thoughts (of course, also anecdotal evidence). [Statistically significant here means that the number was high enough that I would feel ridiculous saying this number of people would have developed suicidal thoughts regardless. As for the anecdotal nature of the evidence, no one keeps statistics on this. All we have are the people who reach out during the crisis and the people who speak about it after conversion.]

[This issue is basically the same debate we find in the criminal justice world over Judge Blackstone's famous quote, "better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer." Philosophers and legal minds have debated since Greece how willing we as a society are to accidentally punish innocent people in order to do justice. What is the price we are willing to pay?]

These batei din fear everyone: Christian messianics, Chabad messianics, people who are dating non-observant Jews, people dating observant Jews, and who knows what else. The irony is when the conversion candidates claim to have none of those "problems," they sometimes suffer even stricter scrutiny for fear that maybe they're lying, especially about dating (since that's both more common and easier to catch). Many batei din try to prevent "the bad kind of Chabad" by prohibiting any Chabad rabbi from participating in an individual's process (such as being sponsoring rabbi), and/or a policy that the candidates cannot have a Chabad synagogue be their "home" community.

More importantly, every single convert (whether converted last week or 20 years ago) has to recognize that rabbis are now nullifying some conversions. Even though it is unlikely for most individuals, their conversion could be nullified due to no action of the convert. All it takes is the converting rabbi going off the deep end, even decades later. However, the existence of off-the-derech converts from the same rabbi can be enough to make the rabbi "questionable." This is often the fear when converting people who are dating someone: will the convert abandon Judaism if the relationship doesn't work out? Worse, if rabbis convert a "former Christian," what about if that person "re-discovers Christ" a year later and decides to share the "Good News" with the community? Was that person a Jew for Jesus all along?? The bad converts bring their rabbis (and thus every other person they have ever converted) into question. After all, there must be something wrong with the rabbi if he didn't screen his converts better, right? Who else did he let through??

Even worse, the Israeli rabbinate has declared that they will only recognize conversions overseen by a tiny minority of orthodox rabbis (but many of the "unapproved" rabbis are rightfully glad to be free of the responsibility!). If these "unapproved" rabbis do convene a beit din to perform a conversion outside of "the system," it generally brings the participating rabbis into disrepute, at least as far as their conversions go. What was so wrong with the candidate that they couldn't go through "the system" like everyone else?

This is just background to make sure you understand that things are bad in the conversion world. Really bad. And now it has made most orthodox conversion candidates obsessed with getting chareidi conversions (because adopting more chumrahs must make a conversion more legitimate?). They are in search of the Holy Grail known as The Unquestionable Conversion. I'm sorry to say that doesn't exist, and you should stop searching for it.

But what does this have to do with insincere conversion candidates??

This is a problem with the rabbis and the Israeli rabbinate, right? Yes and no. The rabbis turned into this primarily because there were insincere (or improper) candidates gaming the system. So they made the system harder. But the insincere candidates kept coming. And even more worrisome, the people who are insincere are more willing to put up with a harsh process because they know it's temporary. It's temporary because they don't intend to abide by the vows of their conversion. Fake it 'till you make it. Many sincere, devout conversion candidates are driven away from the process because they simply aren't chareidi and/or aren't willing to go through batei din comparable to military boot-camps. They feel strong-armed into there being only "one real Torah Judaism," as determined by one hashkafah. It's amazing that even people/rabbis in those chareidi groups who do view "just plain orthodox" and modern orthodox Jews as "orthodox and Torah-observant" Jews, often still don't trust the non-chareidi and/or soul-crushing conversion processes as being "good enough."

So it becomes a cycle. We make the process harder, and insincere people keep coming, so we'll just keep making it harder. And so on and so on. Soon, we'll all be required to follow the London Beit Din's mandatory requirement that every non-married conversion candidate must live with an assigned "frum family" for 6 months. Obviously requiring candidates to move to New York City or Los Angeles is a pretty good test of sincerity. But look, there is this even tougher test we can give to make sure they're really sincere, and anyone who wants it badly enough will be willing to do what we tell them to do.  Since meals are provided, they aren't even practicing keeping a kosher kitchen, so I'm not sure what the purpose of living with a family is other than keeping the candidates under full-time supervision for 6 months. Sounds like a great idea to me! Can we wiretap them too? That'd be awesome. Here, please sign this release. Don't worry, it's all standard.

Ok, maybe that's a little overdramatic, but I actually don't see the family requirement being very far off in America. I am already seeing a huge increase in the number of people who are orthodox-observant for 5+ years and have achieved a yeshiva-level education before being allowed to convert.

How else does this harm the other converts/conversion candidates? 

Put simply, converts rely on other converts to not give us a bad name. We are in this together, whether you like it or not. Just like the Jewish people get very upset with Jews who give all Jews a bad name. One person can provide the ammunition against the whole. Remember that talk about Madoff being a greedy, money-grubbing Jew? Yeah, that. Rinse and repeat throughout history.

Converts are judged based upon born Jews' interactions with other converts. Even in this day and age, converts have a bad name. Converts who can "ethnically pass as Jewish" generally try to hide or downplay their convert status because it often causes more pain than pride in the born Jews around us. And you never know who will be the nutball who finds out you are a convert and then takes it upon himself or herself to interrogate you "to make sure you're real." These people will ask who your beit din was, ask who sat on it, demand your "pre-Jewish" history, ask halachic questions, ask historical questions, and otherwise treat you terribly. All at the Shabbos table in front of 10 strangers. It's unlikely, I admit. But it always hits you when you least expect it because you don't know who has met insincere converts and is now gun-shy. Therefore, it's just good practice to be quiet and let others think you're a baal teshuva because you were born in Alaska. Just like how all the travel guides tell Americans that it is safer to tell foreigners that they are Canadian. And for good measure, better sew a Canadian flag to your backpack. Just in case.

There are already plenty of stereotypes that converts are former drug-abusers with a promiscuous history, not to mention probably being mentally/emotionally unbalanced to begin with. (And we all do know converts with those situations, and that doesn't make them bad converts.) We don't need accusations of insincerity added to that list. At least with the other stereotypes, our Jewishness isn't questioned. But once they question whether we are really sincere converts, our Jewishness itself is questioned, and us and our children (and grandchildren!) can be thrown under the bus. And this is why it's "safer" to be chareidi. (And a very shtark chareidi at that!) [Ironically, the "stricter" you go, the more likely people seem to question the details of your observance and pronounce them to be "too modern." This is simply my observation.]

So let's analyze an example, one that happens to come courtesy of A Set Apart Life.

Lina said something very interesting in the comments to her "Our Jewish Faith" post. It may not directly answer the questions we've asked about seeking a Jewish conversion, but it certainly isn't subtle. The plan is clear, and the rabbis better start ratcheting up the requirements right now because apparently the safeguards we have in place aren't working.
"My husband and I are acquainted with many believers in Yeshua who have successfully undergone Orthodox conversion with a non-Messianic beit din."
Just because fake/bad conversions have been done doesn't make it right, honest, or even a good idea. It seems like a great idea at the time because this is a means to an end for the insincere conversion candidate. They really, really want X. But X requires a conversion. "So what's the question, let's get a conversion!" It's selfish. It harms so many people because Judaism (especially in the convert community) is a community that rises or falls together. Pursuing a conversion against the wishes of the community that would convert you is doing what you want because you want it and they have to give it to you. Just like the kids in the marshmallow experiment: insincere conversion candidates want to eat one marshmallow now AND eat two marshmallows later. It seems as though these people have never considered whether their actions harm other people. They have not considered the consequences of their actions, both to themselves, their neshamas, other converts, and klal Yisrael. Those are not Jewish values.

Many conversion candidates do come from a Christian background and come to Judaism when they discover irreconcilable issues with the New Testament. These are some of the most knowledgeable and devout converts we have, including many former Christian clergy. But Lina's words are telling people who are still struggling with this New v. Old Testament question that they don't have to come to an answer. Or even look for one! They can have their cake and eat it too. You like Judaism, but you also like Jesus? No worries! Jesus was a Jew, right? That makes you, like, the perfect Jew!

Worse, these words provide encouragement for any kind of insincere convert because even the religiously-indifferent person who intends to be observant until married to their significant other can say to themselves, "Heck! If even closet Christians can fake it 'til they make it past a beit din, I definitely can!" This is not behavior we should encourage (or put up with). It cheapens the work and pain that sincere conversion candidates go through. So I guess I do get some personal bad feelings from this stuff after all.

[Sidenotes of Shock and Confusion: My initial thought about Messianic Christians insisting on orthodox conversion in order to be "full-fledged Jews" is WHY? I honestly don't get it. People who want to belong to a reform Jewish community don't go to an orthodox beit din. They convert within their community and live as good reform Jews. They don't bother going to the orthodox shul. They don't call up the orthodox rabbi and ask for his halachic rulings. They accept the religious authority of their community as just as valid as the orthodox community. And they also accept that the orthodox community will not accept their reform conversion. That reform convert's attitude? "That's too bad for the orthodox, they're missing out on an awesome person!" And that is how a mentally and emotionally healthy person should approach the situation. What is so wrong with the messianic community that their members are not content to accept that community as valid to do whatever it is they are trying to accomplish by converting? I'm baffled.
Why must messianic Christians (even if the above author refuses to use the second word of that label) go into an orthodox community and lie to the people there in order to secure a certificate of recognition from a community that would honestly never accept them? I can't find the quote now (no, not the Albert Einstein one), but there is a quote that defines insanity along the lines of knowingly and purposely setting yourself up to fail. But setting yourself up to fail in the area of your religious and spiritual validity before G-d?? People have contemplated suicide for less internal conflict than that can (and rightfully should) cause. I think this kind of soul-searching of motivations is sorely lacking in most insincere conversion candidates. A level of compartmentalizing your identity that I just can't fathom.]

Is that the final word? 

How angry would you be if I said "Yes."?? Asking the question implies a negative what's left to say?

Even insincere conversion candidates can eventually become sincere conversion candidates. And we're human; there's room for multiple motivations (unless those motivations defeat the purpose of converting, like Jesus or polytheism). But there is a right motivation, and it needs to be present: the sincere desire to join both the Jewish people and the Jewish faith. If over time, as these candidates mature and learn more about Judaism, they may realize the error of their questionable motivations and come to Judaism for the right reasons. I can't promise it's easy to undo your past actions, and people may be hesitant. But you should realize that the Jewish community has to rebuild its trust in you. That will take time. If you really want to convert for the right reasons, you will be willing to wait or you'll become a B'Nei Noach. But you will come out on the other side with strong middos, if that's any consolation.

...And that's what grinds my gears.

L'shanah tova! G'mar chatima tova! And next year in Yerushalayim!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to Deal with the Yetzer Hara

I originally thought about naming this post "how to defeat the yetzer hara," but defeat is the wrong word. As you now know from yesterday's post, I don't view the yetzer hara as "the enemy." 

But even if the yetzer hara isn't the enemy, what do we do with its bad suggestions? Merely one gem out of the book The 6 Constant Mitzvos, the authors (thanks to the Talmud) provide a step-by-step plan to conquer the yetzer hara's temptations. 

1) Consult your yetzer tov. Remember that both the yetzer hara and the yetzer tov want you to succeed and pass this challenge. This language doesn't resonant with me personally, but the book often refers to the yetzer hara as an "illusion." If this perspective helps you, use it!
2) If that fails, study Torah. This hopefully will remind you of your long-term goals and how the yetzer hara's suggestions don't fit into that plan.
3) If that fails, recite the Shema prayer. Like the first step, the Shema can remind you that Hashem is one, which means that the yetzer hara and the yetzer yov are the same force from the same source.
4) If you're still considering the yetzer hara's offer, think of the day of your death. "Think about what you want to be remembered for, and what you must do if you want to be remembered for it."
5) And if you're still having problems, resort to child psychology. If you procrastinate long enough, you will eventually forget what the yetzer hara suggested. Distraction and procrastination can actually be your friend here, even though they are often the tools of the yetzer hara!

Good luck!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Phrase of the Day: Yetzer Hara

Technically, if we're going to talk about the yetzer hara, we'll also discuss the yetzer hatov. 

The yetzer hara is the "evil inclination." Yetzer (inclination) ha (the) ra (evil).

The yetzer hatov is the "good inclination." 

The yetzer hara gets a bad reputation, but it is a necessary part of each of us. The yetzer hara pushes you to grow in ways the yetzer hatov never could. In many ways, the yetzer hara is your personal Jillian Michaels

There are many old chassidic tales about the necessity of the yetzer hara, but one always stuck with me. I'm not sure I'm remembering the story correctly, but I think you should get the same point:

Rabbis in a little shtetle (village) in Poland decided to trap the yetzer hara so that it would stop tormenting the Jews of the town. Somehow, they did it. They trapped the yetzer hara in a wardrobe (like a boggart in Harry Potter). A few months later, the rabbis were distraught and began discussing the need to release the yetzer hara. Once it was trapped, the villagers lost the motivation to go to work, to have children, to create art, etc. They decided to release it back into the world.

All of those acts (for the average person, not some tzaddik) require some degree of selfishness, which is primarily what the yetzer hara does. It makes you think of yourself instead of Hashem or others.

In other words, without the yetzer hara, we are like the angels, with no free will. And while we may not always do things for the "right" reason, growth would be impossible without the yetzer hara pushing us forward.

This was stated more eloquently in The 6 Constant Mitzvos:
The yetzer hara's sole purpose for existence is not to distract us from serving Hashem, but to help us grow. His entire existence is one of illusion. His role is that of a coach, who pushes an athlete to the extreme to help him attain success. When he says, "Sin," he really means, "Let me see you withstand my challenge and become great."
The yetzer hara may seem like a nuisance, but he sells the tickets to eternal pleasure. You cannot grow without him. You cannot perfect yourself without being challenged by increasingly difficult circumstances.

In other words, the yetzer hara and the yetzer hatov have the same goal: help you grow and serve Hashem. Yin and yang, if you will. (Full disclosure: I know essentially nothing about yin and yang, so I hope that superficial comparison actually works as an analogy.) Put in lawyerspeak... good cop, bad cop.

And that last sentence is why people often say that tzaddikim have the strongest yetzer haras. They might as well be saying, "That rabbi can bench press 800 pounds!" Because tzaddikim have successfully survived the yetzer hara's challenges, each challenge from the yetzer hara is harder than the one before. Gd willing, that should be the case with all of us! This is the proof that you have grown and aren't stagnating in your faith or observance.

Next: How to deal with the yetzer hara.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Update: Yom Kippur in a Nutshell

I need to issue a correction. I apologize, but I copied and pasted some information from my Tisha B'Av post and then edited it for Yom Kippur. Being me, I missed deleting that we sit on stools until midday like a mourner. That only applies on Tisha B'Av.

On Yom Kippur, you will be sitting in your regular seats.

You can also greet people :) 

Sorry for any confusion. I've also edited the original post. This is what happens when you realize at 4am that you still have to finish writing the post for 10am. As you may imagine, things are a little insane on my end for the last few days. I've spent more hours working on the blog this week than I normally do in a month!

Yom Kippur in a Nutshell

This year, Yom Kippur is from sunset of Friday, October 7, 2011, until sunset of October 8. This is the only fast that overrides Shabbat's mitzvah to make a festive meal. Normally, fasting is prohibited on Shabbat, and the fast is moved to Sunday. However, Yom Kippur is the "Shabbat of Shabbats," so its fasting requirement takes precedence. If you have a health issue with fasting, today is the time to be asking your rabbi about it, not when you have a splitting headache and pass out.

Yom Kippur is a 25 hour fast day (sunset to sunset), but there are other prohibitions that apply:
  • No washing
  • No bathing
  • No shaving
  • No applying cosmetics
  • No brushing your teeth. Eww.
  • No wearing leather shoes (tennis shoes, Crocs, and flip flops are fine, even for synagogue - check for leather soles)
  • No sexual relations
  • No work in the Shabbat sense (normally, Yom Kippur would have the more lenient restrictions of a yom tov) 
Expect to be spending a LOT of time in shul today. But since you can't eat or drink, and you can't watch movies to distract yourself from not eating or drinking, why not spend the time in shul? Thanks to some advice, I plan to spend my "afternoon break" from shul on a walk through a park or other natural area in order to take some time to appreciate the beauty of our world. Assuming I'm not ready to pass out from fasting. I also hope this will act as a natural mood elevator, since everyone tends to get at least a little grumpy when fasting.

Notes about the synagogue services:

  • The first service, Kol Nidre, begins before sundown, so you need to plan your schedule accordingly. 
  • We "beat" our chest with one fist for each sin mentioned during the prayer "Al Chet," which is repeated several times over Yom Kippur. You do not have to hit yourself any more than a tap. No physical pain required. If you hit yourself hard enough to make a sound, you're going to distract others around you. And people like me will cringe with sympathy pain if we hear it. However, if you really get into it and feel that's necessary, ignore everything I just told you. 
  • Likewise, expect to hear at least one person doing King Kong-style chest beatings.
  • After the morning Torah reading, you will hear an announcement that we are about to start "Yizkor." This is a short prayer service to honor deceased loved ones. Traditionally, only people who have lost a parent participate. Everyone else goes out into the lobby/foyer/social hall/wherever people would naturally wait. You may stay behind and participate if you wish (I have several times), but many people are deeply opposed to this on an emotional level because leaving is very traditional. Staying is also said to draw the evil eye, if you think about those kind of things. If you do stay (and especially if you are relatively young), you may be asked how your parent(s) passed away. If they are both still alive, you may end up with a very awkward conversation and maybe an angry mourner. This is a very emotional service for most people. This bullet point is especially relevant to non-orthodox Jews. For many people who come to shul "twice a year," it is to participate in the yizkor service. Emotions tend to run much higher in liberal Jewish congregations. And yes, there will be a lot of people crying.
  • Mussaf is normally short. That is not the case on Yom Kippur.
  • During Mussaf, we will prostrate ourselves on the floor. Just follow the crowd and do what they do.
  • There is an extra prayer service after mincha, called Neilah. I personally think it's very beautiful, but after 25 hours of fasting, you might not enjoy anything.

Hygiene Issues:
  • You may wash up after using the restroom. 
  • If you become soiled anywhere on your body somehow, you can rinse it off with cold water.
  • As for the morning netilat yadayim (ritual washing), the water should only be poured up to the knuckles. You may use the water on your fingertips to rub your eyes if you wish.

I wish you an easy and meaningful fast! Remember to check out Tips to Ensure an Easier Fast!

Monday, October 3, 2011

How to Repent for Yom Kippur

There are three essential elements to repenting. This is true at at any time, but this discussion should help you prepare for Yom Kippur.

Note: At other times of the year, there is a fourth step of repentance according to the Rambam. Before taking these other steps below, you must recognize what you're doing is a sin and stop it. Since Yom Kippur is covering the last year's worth of sins, I'm presuming that the sin is over and completed. But if you have a sin that repeats itself, stop it first.

Confession: You need to say your sins out loud, whether that is only to Hashem's ears or to the human ear. Normally, this happens during the Ten Days of Repentance and Yom Kippur with a fixed text that covers just about everything you could have done. However, you may add to the list whatever you need to.

If your sin was against a person, you must confess your sin to that person and seek forgiveness. But if you honestly seek forgiveness and offer restitution three times but the other person denies it, you don't have to ask any more. At that point, the other person bears the sin of holding a grudge.

Regret: You should feel bad about your sin. Don't rationalize it away. Think about how it has damaged you and your relationships with Hashem and other people.

Teshuvah: Turn away from the sin by resolving not to do it again in the future. If applicable, create a plan for avoiding that situation in the future or how to better handle it.

As preparation for Yom Kippur, review the Al Chet prayer and spend some time thinking about the last year (or years) of your life. Chabad has a copy of the Al Chet here.

Here is a final thought for you on "chets." Chet means sin in Hebrew, but that's not its literal meaning. It originally meant to "miss the mark" in archery. I think this is important to remember when we try to rationalize that one sin or another wasn't really that serious, no one was hurt, and maybe it's not such a bad thing in the first place. In archery, you hit the mark or you don't. But at the same time, you can always be working closer and closer to the mark. So maybe you have the same list of sins as last year. Consider where you've moved closer to the mark and maybe where you've moved even further away.

Too Funny Not to Post

Apparently I've got some chutzpah! My first YouTube attack. I guess I should feel honored. Also, you should know that my "gentile blood" qualifies me as a mudblood. Don't tell Delores!

I don't get what my status has to do with anything, but I never understood trolling and personal attacks in the first place. Feel free to report it to YouTube as cyberbullying, as it most certainly is for calling me "vile" and a "mudblood."

My only "real" response: "Missionizing" presumes that your views are being pushed on me. I guess there's no self-defense allowed.

Since the author doesn't seem to understand the point of my post, it's this: new Jews and new soon-to-be Jews, don't be misled by this horse manure. Seek out reliable sources, and don't take halachic advice from someone without knowing where it comes from. That includes me, and that's why I'm very clear that I am no halachic source. And "Hebrew Christians" who are trying to convert orthodox? You're the ones who are causing today's orthodox conversion process to be hellish. Sincere Jewish neshamas who actually want to affiliate with the Jewish people are pushed and pushed and pushed away because "Hebrew Christians" hide their motives and lie to rabbis in order to secure conversions, and you know, make aliyah to Israel.

But seriously? Hilarious.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dr. Strangesmell (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the 3 Day Chag)

For those of you who weren't here in the early days of the blog (last year), go check out the heinousness of my first 3 day yontif observance last year. 

Needless to say, I wasn't looking forward to another season of 3 day chags.

Minus a date with a minor back injury on some wet stairs, this chag went well. And baruch Hashem for good people and a good community! A move to the big city has really made a tremendous difference in how I feel about Shabbat and holidays!

But I still have some questions. I need your practical tips and advice: how do I avoid being disgusting on yom tov? I read the Laws of Yom Tov, and I tried a few things and failed. I feel like I become smelly and get greasy hair very quickly compared to the average person, and that significantly affects my simchas yom tov. 

How do you cope with this issue? There is a wide variation in halachic rulings on these issues, but I am interested in ALL your tips and tricks! Even if a particular item might not be something within my own hashkafah, it might be useful to another reader. (I am particularly interested in bathing and make-up tricks, vain creature that I am.)