Monday, December 26, 2011

Week Hiatus - Check Back Next Monday

I've decided to take a week's vacation from the blog. I'll be back next Monday. Please come again!

Chanukah sameach!

Handy Dandy List of Jewish Holidays with Hebrew Dates

A very straight-forward reference post for you today. You generally needn't memorize the Hebrew dates of most holidays, unless told differently by your beit din. However, you should be able to list these major holidays in chronological order, starting either with Rosh Hashana or Pesach. You may want to compare and contrast with the post about the Hebrew months.

Rosh Hashanah: 1 - 2 Tishrei

Ten Days of Repentance: 1 - 10 Tishrei

Yom Kippur: 10 Tishrei

Succot / Succos: 15 - 21 Tishrei (until 22 Tishrei outside the Land of Israel)

Shemini Atzeret / Atzeres: 22 Tishrei

Simchas /Simcaht Torah: 23 Tishrei (Combined with Shemini Atzeret on 22 Tishrei in the Land of Israel)

Chanukah / Hanukkah: 25 Kislev - 2 or 3 Tevet (Kislev may have either 29 or 30 days)

Tu B'Shvat: 15 Shevat

Purim: 14 Adar

Pesach: 15 - 21 Nissan (until 22 Nissan outside the Land of Israel)

Sefirat HaOmer: The 49 days connecting Pesach and Shavuot.

Lag B'Omer: 33rd day of the Omer, 18 Iyar

Shavuot / Shavuos: 6 Sivan (and 7 Sivan outside the Land of Israel)

Tisha B'Av: 9 Av

Friday, December 23, 2011

Useful Website: Jew or Not Jew?

Even converts get very caught up in the (very "Jewish") "Oh wait, so-and-so is Jewish? I never would have guessed!" game. We should know better that the game is pretty rude, but it's human nature to wonder about these kinds of things. We like to put people in boxes. But there's something to be said for pride in Am Yisrael, right? Right.

This is especially the case with celebrities. So while it won't help you figure out the pedigree of that guy in your History class, the website Jew or Not Jew can help answer the "Jewish?" question about celebrities. Sometimes irreverent or random, it's often very thorough, and it'll give you the low down on all the pedigrees, conversions, and misinformation. (I don't recall anything actually untznius, Not-Safe-For-Work, or offensive in the dozens of profiles I've read, but I could be wrong.) 

They can be slow to add new celebrities (such as the ladies of the Black and Jewish video from Funny or Die), but there's a large database. You can get lost in there. And you'll keep coming back when you wonder, "Hmm...Jewish?"

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Can You Paint with All the Colors of Kashrut?

(Yes, that is a Pocahontas reference.)

One of the most, dare I say it, "childish" things in orthodoxy is the obsessive/OCD color-coding of kitchen items. Don't get me wrong. It's incredibly useful, especially when you're learning or when you're a guest. But sometimes my kitchen is so full of primary colors that it reminds me of a kindergarten classroom. I know this feeling is only going to get worse when I have an "adult" kitchen full of all the trappings of suburban American family life.

Despite how silly I think it is sometimes, I get surprisingly upset when people significantly deviate from the "standard" colors. So, first, let's discuss the standard colors, and then we'll see how other people will mess with your mind.

Red: Meat
Blue: Dairy
Green: Pareve
Black or Clear: Generally meat
Silver or White: Generally dairy or pareve

Ideally, you find kitchen items that are manufactured as one of those colors, then designate it for that use.  For instance, I have a dairy pot whose outside material is a dark blue. I have a meat skillet in red. There's an all-silver pareve pot. No lie, those are the only pots and pans I own, but that works for my kitchen and cooking habits right now. Then there are the Tupperware containers with red and blue lids. The same with the cutting boards and hand towels. You can even plan your plates and other dinnerware either that color or with accents of that color. 

Things get more complicated with utensils. They just don't come in as many colors, but black and silver are generally available. The problem is when you need a third, pareve utensil or a specialized cooking utensil that only comes in one color. Along those lines, the colors black, silver, white, and clear are less "set" for a particular use because you make do with what you can find. And if see someone using another color, then your guess is as good as mine.

In those cases (repeat colors or "unusual" colors), there's generally two options (as far as I have seen): getting different designs or marking the item for a particular use. 

Designs: As an example, my two sets of silverware are both silver-colored, but the dairy ones are plain. The meat silverware has an intricate etched design down all the handles. You absolutely can't mistake one for the other if you bother to open your eyes, even though they're the same size, same weight, and same shape. 

Marking: There are two primary ways of marking, stickers and nail polish. The stickers
are cheap and worth their weight in gold, as far as I'm concerned. You can find them in any Judaica store in your 'chood or on the internet. Nail polish just seems messy, short-term, and less...nice looking. A third option for some items is attaching something to it. For instance, attaching zip ties the handles of your pots and pans is easy, cheap, and long-lasting. Not so pretty either, but I think it's more attractive than looking like you spilled nail polish on your kitchen items.

So how can this mess you up? Primarily: when people use other colors, and you are a guest in their home. This is especially bad if they A) use red for dairy or blue for meat OR B) use the non-standard colors you use in your home, but in the opposite. For instance, a friend who was the guest in a home was hosting a meal without the home's owner (he was home, but eating elsewhere). Unfortunately for us, the owner had green dishes and blue dishes. So to our minds, those colors mean pareve and dairy. The guest was certain that the owner had said the blue dishes were the meat dishes. But these "standard" colors are so ingrained in us that I hiked back to my apartment and brought back plastic silverware and paper plates. The last thing guests want to do is treif up a nice person's kitchen, so it worth the walk.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The "Nicknames" of Brachot

You will eventually need to know the short-hand names for the eating-related brachot, so here is a handy list to help you out! Even better, you'll hear these phrases thrown around quickly in conversations, so now you'll understand what these people are talking about, and you can even use these phrases in your conversations! What an easy tip for "passing" better ;)

Note: This post presumes that you know what brachot are and are familiar with how they are used. The brachot are very complicated, in my opinion. At the most basic, remember that there are before-blessings (brachot rishonot) and after-blessings (berachot achronot). 

Berachas Rishona: In a beit din setting, be prepared to recite these from memory.

Netilat / Netilas Yadayim: ("YaDIEim") The blessing after ritually washing your hands, either for purity sake or before eating bread. Which washings have a bracha and which don't is beyond the scope of this post.
HaMotzi or Motzi: The blessing before eating bread. It seems that the blessing is usually called "HaMotzi," but people will "make motzi."
Hagafen: (HaGAfen or HaGEfen) The bracha before drinking wine or other grape juices.
Mezonot / Mezonos: The blessing before eating foods made of grains that didn't end up being bread.
HaEitz: The bracha rishona for fruits of trees.
Ha'Adamah: The bracha rishona for fruits and vegetables from the ground. Theoretically, it can also encompass foods that use "boray pri ha'eitz," but that is not ideal. 
Shehakol: The "catch-all" bracha rishona. Technically, but not ideally, shehakol can encompass any food.

Brachas Achronos: The beit din will generally not require any of the berachos achronos to be memorized except for boray nefashos.

Bentching or Birkat / Birkas HaMazon: The very long (group) prayer after eating bread.
Al HaMichyah: The after-blessing after eating mezonos items.
Al HaGafen: The beracha achrona after drinking wine or grape juice. 
Al HaEtz: The bracha achrona after eating one of the five fruits of the seven species of the Land of Israel: olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates.
Borei Nefashot / Nefashos: The catch-all after blessing used for everything else. Its use can be complicated, so be aware of that.

I apologize for all the random transliterations, but you never know how people will Google these things, even incorrectly.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tonight Is the First Night of Chanukah!

Remember to light your candle tonight. Place your candle on the far right side of the menorah (from your perspective, facing it). Recite the blessings after you have lit the shamash (helper) candle but before you light the Hanukkah candle.

If you're a visual learner, check out this video from the learning site Jewish Pathways. (I take no responsibility for cheesy music reminiscent of high school classroom videos.)

The Chabad site has all the resources for the blessings that you could ever need: a recording, the Hebrew text, a transliteration of the Hebrew into English text, an English translation, and instructions. (Warning: the sound recording of the blessings, including Hashem's name-because it's for educational purposes-will begin playing after a few second delay.) On the right sidebar of that page, there is a link to Haneirot Halalu and Maoz Tzur, two hymns you can recite or sing after lighting the chanukiah.

The Mitvah of Chanukah

The mitzvah of Chanukah is to "publicize the miracle." You should place your chanukiah in a place where it is visible to the street, if possible. Ideally, it should be beside your front door, on the right side from your perspective inside the house. Put another way, it should be to the left of the door if you are viewing the house from the street. If you don't have a public window there, use a window somewhere else in the house that does. If you have no window facing any kind of public (even just the neighbors), I'm afraid I can't help you, but maybe a commenter can. However, I think it matters if you have other household members (roommates, housemates, building neighbors) the menorah would "publicize" to if the chanukiah were placed where at least someone besides you would see it.

Only one chanukiah needs to be lit per "household." Therefore, a married couple (with or without children) only needs one. Roommates are more difficult, so I suggest asking your rabbi. It's possible that every roommate may need to light his or her own chanukiah. You may also want to ask your rabbi if you are living away from parents who would light a chanukiah, but you are still financially dependent on them. The most "machmir" opinion (and most uncommon) is that you belong to your parents' "household" until you are married. If applicable, ask how these "household" issues apply if your parents are divorced.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Phrase of the Day: Hashkama Minyan

At maariv on Shabbat (Friday night), you'll often hear an announcement of the times for the "hashkamah minyan" and "shacharis." But what would come before shachrit, the morning service??

It's a trick question. They're both minyanim for shacharis. Hashkama is just the "early" minyan, usually around 6 or 7am.

There are several reasons why someone might choose to attend shul at such an unholy hour. 
  • First and foremost, someone who wakes up very early every other day of the week, such as 4 or 5am, will usually wake up at that hour on Shabbat too. 
  • People who "work" on Shabbat during the regular service can take advantage of the hashkama minyan to have a proper davening. This includes the people setting up or running a kiddush, since that preparation often happens during the regular shacharit service. It also includes the people who lead youth activities/davening during the regular minyan. Possibly the worst case scenario is when the congregants have to act as security guards for certain shifts on Jewish holidays or during times of war in Israel.
  • Some people may want to get an "early start" on Shabbat so that they can accomplish as much Torah learning as they can, especially if their work schedule prevents much formal learning during the week.
  • Parents can use the two services to enable each spouse to attend shul while the other watches young children. Most commonly, the husband will attend the hashkama minyan, and then the wife can attend the regular shacharit service.
  • Some people just like davening earlier. These people should be voted off the island.
Important note for women: Hashkama minyanim are usually held in a smaller space since there can be overlap with the regular service in the main sanctuary. There may be little or no room for women there. It depends on the set-up of your shul.

But what's more interesting is the history of the hashkamah minyan. It was created at the turn of the century for people who had to work on Shabbat. Yes, you read that right. People worked on Shabbat. Like normal jobs. The orthodox shuls created an early minyan for the low-income immigrants who worked in the factories on Shabbos (primarily in New York City). People still fight over whether it was meant to prevent assimilation or was a reflection of the economic reality that American jobs at that time required work Monday-Saturday, and families would starve to death if they lost those jobs. Similarly, Friday night services would be held at 8pm or later every week for the same reason.

Having read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair back in high school, I'm inclined to believe it was a matter of life or death at the turn of the century and especially during the Depression. But everyone has a story about some great grand-parent who protected the sanctity of Shabbos Koidesh by getting fired every single week rather than work on Shabbat, only to have to job hunt again every Monday morning. And because Hashem is so so good, he found a job first thing, every single Monday morning. B"H! (Please excuse my sarcasm.) As you might have guessed, I'm not inclined to believe that.

On the other hand, I've heard stories of how business owners caught on to this practice pretty quickly (duh), so the owners arranged for the pay for the entire week to be distributed on Saturday afternoons. So even if you didn't work on Shabbos, you would have to touch, accept, and then carry money on Shabbat if you wanted to be paid for your work the rest of the week. A truly horrible situation. But this second story is a lot closer to human nature than the master of bitachon above, so I'm more inclined to believe it. While an individual here and there may have stood up with bitachon, I do not believe it was widespread.

At the end of the day, I don't think I'm in any position to judge the people who were forced to make those decisions. It seems like a relatively clear choice to me, but I'm sure some people were not in such dire situations and took advantage of the leniency inappropriately. However, the rabbis on the ground had the facts that we either lack or dispute today. We just weren't there.

Because of all this, I'm not a fan of those who claim those immigrant Jews had no honor for Shabbat until after World War II when the chassidim came to America and taught the Americans proper reverence for Shabbat. I think that's a revisionist history told by people who benefit from the story. After all, it sure sounds like a nice story.

Friday, December 16, 2011

How to Prepare for Your First Beit Din Meeting

You finally have a date with your full beit din! Yay! ...Now what?

Whatever you do, don't panic. Google "how to cope with stress" if you need tips on how to keep your calm over the next few days or weeks. Nervousness will trip you up in the meeting and make you forget basic facts. That's normal (inevitable?). The beit din will expect it. After all, you're not blazing new territory here. They've been through this a time or two. I've heard of people forgetting the craziest things, and they were still converted sooner or later. I'm sure you'll be fine too.

So what should you review in order to prepare? This list is not representative of the meeting you will have. You'll only be asked some of these things. If you give each point a quick review, you should be more than prepared. You cannot cram for this test. You know it or your don't. Expect that you will probably get things wrong, and that's ok. It'd almost be suspicious if you didn't, if you're the average conversion candidate. But who knows, maybe you're the Hermione of Jewish conversion?
  • Your "history." Family life, schooling, places lived, Jewish communities lived in, career, family relationships today. This should be a discussion in every first beit din meeting.
  • Your religious background or lack thereof. Any religious affiliations you may have had as an adult.
  • How you discovered Judaism.
  • Do you have any Jewish history in your family?
  • How your family reacts to this "Jewish phase" of yours.
  • Why you want to be Jewish.
  • Have you ever personally seen or suffered anti-Semitism? You realize this could happen at any time for the rest of your life, right?
  • Your relationship with any prior Jewish movement you've been affiliated with. Why did you change? 
  • If you have a prior conversion, be prepared to discuss it in detail. Locate your conversion documents if you haven't done so already.
  • What are you learning? Where are you learning? Who are you learning with? (Websites are allowed to be legitimate answers!)
  • What are your plans for future learning? And do you plan to attend a seminary or yeshiva one day?
  • Who are your friends in your current Jewish community? As in any Jewish conversation, there has to be Jewish Geography at some point. Sometimes it's during the "Hi, hello" stage, and sometimes it's here.
  • Why are you in this community? Do you plan to move to a different one at some point? Do you plan to make aliyah at some point?
  • In whose homes do you spend Shabbat/Shabbat meals?
  • What are the weaknesses in your Jewish knowledge?
  • Review the Rambam's 13 Principles of Faith. How do you feel about them?
  • Do you accept both the written and oral Torah? What about the rulings of the rabbis?
  • Which prayers do you say each day? Which do you say in English, and which in Hebrew?
  • Expect to read Hebrew out loud. Either something you choose, something random, or both. If you're lucky, the randomly-chosen text is one you know already!
  • Which brachot and tefilot do you have memorized in Hebrew?
  • Upcoming holidays or a holiday that recently passed.
  • Which bracha is used on several basic foods. Shouldn't be any trick questions like bananas. Expect to get 2-3 questions on this. This is not-so-affectionately known as "the bracha bee." (Like spelling bee, in case you missed the joke. There, now you've made me ruin the joke by explaining it.)
  • You may be asked to recite the bracha rishona. While we generally avoid saying Hashem's names in a bracha/tefila, you can say them for educational purposes. You may want to ask your beit din if that is their position before you say it, but they should give you permission to recite it as though you really were going to eat the item. If you try to substitute Hashem, Elokeynu, and/or Elokim, you will mess it up. You are not capable of thinking at that high of a level under this kind of stress. If you are, then you don't need this article.
  • You may or may not be asked about the bracha achrona for the items they ask you about. You shouldn't have to do these from memory, but you should memorize at least borei nefashot at some point.
  • Other brachot, such as the ones over candles for Shabbat and yom tov. Those should be memorized, but you should also know the existence and gist of the havdalah blessings and the "fun" blessings like for rainbows, thunder, or seeing a great political leader. (You can find a list of them in your bentcher or siddur.)
  • Asher yatzar. You should either memorize this or have it hanging outside your bathroom (such that you will eventually memorize it anyway).
  • Shema. You should have at least the first line memorized. If you are asked to say it, follow the same rules about Hashem's name as we discussed for brachot.
  • The Amidah. Very basic questions, not like this post.
  • Your synagogue attendance.
  • Basic Shabbat halacha, like how to make tea, how you eat hot food on Shabbat, carrying a key (eruv or not), selection/separating (Ex., removing olives from a salad). If you have special issues like children or pets, maybe that could come up.
  • "Controversial" things about you, such as being a vegetarian or vegan, owning pets, having children (halachically Jewish or not, living with you or not), having a Jewish significant other, working in a field with a history of difficulties for/because of Shabbat (like medicine, law, and retail), being a female athlete, being a racial minority, having a disability or disorder, being an "older single," being "young" (21 or younger), or otherwise anything "weird" about you that might affect your ability to be accepted within a sometimes closed-minded community.
  • And if you have a significant other, he or she will be interviewed at some point (which may not be today), either with or without you. You may be quizzed on how you're handling physical issues (Ex. are you shomer?), any wedding plans that have been made, or how your partner's family feels about you. More likely than a quiz is a lecture about what you should be doing, rather than making you admit to things you may not have known they would prohibit you from doing. This discussion will likely be very different if you're already married to a Jew.
Pro Tip #1: If you think they're going more "in depth" on something than you expected, that probably means that you're doing well! In that case, they may keep probing further just to see how far you can go. It's fine to get to the point where you finally answer incorrectly or have to say, "I don't know. I would have to ask my rabbi."

Pro Tip #2: You don't need to know the sources for any halacha you state. I hesitate to say never, but I would gladly make a bet that you will never hear "Correct. Now where does that ruling come from?" (I'd bet that even though I really dislike gambling). But you can likely get bonus points if you can say, "Well, there's a split between X and Y, but I/this community follow X" or "Traditionally, it was X, but today we follow Rav Y's ruling [because of technological gains or whatever]." Try saying that without sounding arrogant. I bet you can't!
Pro Tip #3: If you don't understand the question, ask for clarification. And don't get flustered if you gave an answer to the wrong question. Sometimes the question just wasn't worded well or you two were thinking on different levels. My favorite joke answer? "What do you cook on Shabbat?" "But rabbi, you can't cook on Shabbat!" "Ok...what do you cook for Shabbat?" "Oh."

I suggest not reviewing anything "Jewish" the night before. Take a hot bath, watch a silly movie, grab dinner with a friend. In other words, get your mind off it. Distraction distraction distraction.

What should you wear? Even if you don't dress tznius (whatever your definition of that is) full-time, dress very conservatively for this meeting. Try to follow the rules to the best of your knowledge/ability. Dress well, as though it were Shabbat. Blue jeans should be avoided by everyone, even jean skirts. They're just too casual. If you're a married woman, cover your hair, even if you don't normally cover it. If you're single, you want to dress in a way that shows you're attractive. So if you have a choice between a business suit and something else, singles should probably avoid the suit. Unless you're yeshivish and suits are the everyday outfit. Make sure your outfit fits you properly and that you don't have odor issues. On the other hand, you don't want to look too flashy or garish. As a friend said to me, "Try to look more sweet [dashing?] than professional. Part of their decision is based on marriageability." I think that's good advice.

Pro Tip: If they ask if you cover your hair full-time or dress tzniusly full-time and you don' honest. But phrase it in a positive way instead of being down on yourself. Assuming it's true, a sample answer could be, "I'm working my way towards full-time observance. I'm [dressing tzniusly] three days a week on average. My plan is to add one day a week every month/2 months/whatever." This is true for any area of observance where you don't yet "measure up." Be honest about where you are now, but tell them your plan for getting to the end goal. This is very common with kashrut: "My kitchen isn't kosher yet, but first I got rid of all the Biblically prohibited meats, then about two months later, I began only buying items with a hechsher (or that don't need a hechsher). About two months from now, I'll stop eating meat and dairy together. Then I'll stop eating in non-kosher restaurants. Etc etc." Show the beit din that you know where you're going and that you have a plan to get there. It shows initiative, drive, and the honest desire to live a Jewish life.

During the meeting, remember to take deep breaths. When asked a question, you can take a few moments to collect your thoughts. You don't have to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. You may be tempted to do just that because time will be moving very quickly for you. You'll be so nervous that the 2-5 seconds it takes you to collect your thoughts can feel like 30-45 seconds. And that would be awkward, right? If you're worried about this time distortion factor and don't want to risk any awkwardness, you can say, "I need to think about that for a minute" or "Let me collect my thoughts for a second." You'll be allowed to take whatever time you need. There is no game show buzzer to cut you off!

You can even stop to take a breather if you're feeling overwhelmed or emotional or like you're hyperventilating. Remember: deep, slow breaths.

If this is your first visit to the beis din, the "interview" will be mostly superficial, focusing on your history and your current relationships with Jewish people. Expect that you will have more than one meeting with the beth din before being approved for conversion, no matter how much knowledge you have. In almost all cases, they just don't know you well enough after one meeting to feel comfortable staking their reputation on you being a good Jew for the next 40 years. 

Pro Tip: Remember that even a relatively significant hole in your knowledge can be repaired by the time you have your next meeting. Be thankful you discovered a problem before the "final exam"! Now you have time to fix it. Getting an answer wrong is certainly no failure. This is even more true if it is an answer you know, but nerves tripped you up. In that case, you just need to work on your confidence and stress techniques. Practice sample questions in front of the mirror or with a knowledgeable Jewish friend. Even better if that friend is a convert, since they've faced a beit din before! After all, no born Jew ever makes a mistake or doesn't know the halacha of something, right? You will make mistakes for the rest of your life; it's what you do with them that matters.

Can you ask questions? Of course! Ask as many questions as you need to. 
  • If you don't understand something about the process. 
  • If you don't understand the role your local rabbi, your sponsoring rabbi, a mentor, or the beit din have in the process.
  • The money arrangements, especially if you need to discuss waivers, discounts, or a payment plan. 
  • How your children should be educated at this time (and even whether they can be allowed to attend a Jewish dayschool). 
  • If you need/want "approval" for something, such as choosing a particular community, a particular sponsoring rabbi (especially important if you're working with a Chabad rabbi), or your desired Hebrew name.
  • Do you have a conversion-specific halachic question? (Your local rabbi may not be qualified to interpret the halacha as applied to a conversion candidate. It just doesn't come up often, and it can be very complicated.) For example, you probably need to know if your beit din will require you to fully re-kasher your entire kitchen after conversion. There is a split on that issue. If required to re-kasher, you might have to replace a significant number of items that can't be kashered. That's one more surprised expenditure you don't need! There is also a split on whether at least some conversion candidates can/should observe Shabbat fully. (Normally, rabbis require that a non-Jew studying for conversion do one melacha every Shabbat. In most cases, because of a prior conversion, you may not necessarily be a "non-Jew" for the purpose of this particular halacha. But we're not sure. So we'll play it safe. It's a strange limbo zone of Jew-but-not-Jew. This same issue arises with a man who has had his brit milah for conversion but has not had the conversion mikvah visit yet.)

What should you bring with you?
  • You, obviously. Ideally, that "you" should have an idea of what you want your Hebrew name to be. 
  • Don't go on an overly-full stomach, but do make sure you eat something beforehand to keep your blood sugar levels steady. I also suggest bringing a snack in your purse or backpack for afterwards, just in case. (Or for while you're waiting.) Speaking from personal experience (not Jewish-related), a big rush of adrenaline and stress on an empty stomach can result in fainting. Sleep deprivation increases your odds further. (Knock yourself out the night before if you have to!)
  • Your signficant other, even if you weren't asked to. It shows solidarity and commitment.
  • Yes, you can bring a friend. Your friend can't come into the meeting. 
  • Something to distract you while you wait for your meeting. The dumber the better. I recommend Angry Birds.
  • Written directions to the address, and a contact phone number if you have it. Try to have a way to contact the beit din in case you get lost. Leaving very early will help.
  • If you bring printed documents with you (such as a personal statement, "books read" list, or a completed "conversion test" (or one of the many others available), make sure to print enough copies for everyone. That usually means 4 copies, so that you can also have one to refer to. None of these documents are required, but their presence makes some people feel more comfortable.
  • Something to drink. Hydration is important as a stress-fighter, but it also gives you something to fidget with. You can also stop to take a drink in order to steal a few seconds of thinking/breathing time.
  • Your siddur.
  • Your bentcher, if you have one.
  • Tissues, in case you get emotional or sneezy. 
  • Your questions. Write them down beforehand when your brain is still fully-functioning. Otherwise, you will forget, and you will kick yourself later. You may also want to write out a list of any "update" calls you may have to make after the meeting, especially if you're approved for conversion! Otherwise, you will leave someone important out, and they will be upset. That's silly of them, so let's avoid the problem altogether by making the list while you're still a functioning human being.
  • A pen and paper. You never know. Hopefully the beit din will give you some "assignments" at the end of your meeting. Write them down because you're likely to forget once you calm down.
  • Most importantly, your sense of humor. Rabbis are people too. So either you'll get along better with the rabbis or you'll have the sense of humor to escape unharmed from a less "nice" rabbi.

It's over. Now what?
Most likely, you wait for news. At a minimum, you will be asked to step outside of the room so that the beit din can deliberate. On the other hand, they may send you home with no news for weeks. If you're lucky (or maybe unlucky!), you'll immediately get a list of the steps you need to take (with or without a timeline) and what the beit din would like you to focus on. I only say "unlucky" because maybe you weren't given any of that information because the beit din doesn't think you need it. In other words, maybe they think you're ready for conversion or very close to it. But who knows how rabbis think? Every situation will be different.

Good luck! Waiting is the worst part.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Hebrew Breakthrough!

Yesterday, I had a Hebrew breakthrough. It may sound silly to some of you, and certainly not worth a post, but hey, it's my blog! I think this was a major milestone in my Hebrew education, and it's not a milestone I expected.

We spoke recently about the concept of internalization. When you internalize a language, you're thinking like a native speaker in one or more ways. The languages I've studied most are French and Spanish, which share the same alphabet with English. 

My previous language learning experiences couldn't prepare me for this breakthrough. Yesterday, I was quite surprised when the Hebrew letters actually began to look like letters. For only about two minutes, I continued to read and reveled in the fact that the words actually began to look like real words, instead of a collection of pictures that are equated with a sound. They had an independent meaning that I could see at first glance. I was able to read the words almost as well as I can read an English or Spanish word. I don't know how to describe it as anything but magical. It was like walking through a door in my mind that had never been opened. The possibilities seemed endless. And then after two minutes, it was gone. I continued to stumble my way through the davening.

Funnily enough, it never occurred to me that I didn't view the letters as "letters" like I do in English. Maybe the best breakthroughs are the ones you never expected.

I've tried to be "good" from the beginning and avoid linking the Hebrew letters with a mental visual of English letters. Instead, I memorized the letters as a sound. I hope that makes sense to you, reader. (That's why I didn't know the Alef Bet until...well, not really now either.) But even then, reading is still relatively slow, and I have to really think about it. It actually makes me physically tired, even though it's only mental gymnastics. In case you want to compare yourself to where I'm at right now, I clocked myself most recently at about 20-25 words/minute. Put another way, the weekday amidah takes me 20-25 minutes.

It may not seem like much if you've never experienced it, but I had the goofiest smile on my face.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Mandatory Matisyahu Post: Must Jewish Men Have Beards?

I guess I have to be like everyone else and weigh in on the Matisyahu Beardgate 2011. In case you don't have access to any news source, Facebook, Twitter, etc...Chassidic singer Matisyahu shaved his beard. GASP! Shock! Disbelief!

This is ridiculous. My initial thoughts on the news: "Oh. Interesting." And then I moved on to doing something else. I think I was the only one.

Facebook blew up. Twitter blew up. The news outlets blew up. Even the Maccabeats' "Miracle" YouTube video's counter probably blew up.

I meant to get to this topic before, but I'm not knowledgeable enough for a full discussion. I'm sure someone can chime in on the comments and enlighten us of the details. Are Jewish men required to have beards? There are some groups that say yes, especially chassidic groups, but orthodox Jewish men often don't have beards. And it's fine.

My understanding is that the hair can't be cut with a regular razor (think straight razors and Gillette-like razors). However, there is a "halachic way" to shave. Primarily using electric razors.

So why all the fuss about Matisyahu if Jewish men are allowed to be clean-shaven? In the chassidic world, beards seem to be a given. In addition to not shaving, there is no trimming the beard. So that untrimmed beard is a key "marker" that someone is chassidic.

Shaving his beard is a symbolic statement. However, no one knows what that statement is. And that's the problem. Without him giving a clear statement about his life, everyone else feels the need to weigh in on what he might be saying. But at the end of the day, we don't know. Maybe he's modern orthodox, maybe he's affiliating with a "beardless" chareidi/litvish/yeshivish/whatever group, maybe he's "just plain orthodox." He has already refuted claims that he has gone "off the derech" (another phrase I have to get around to one day on the blog). He appears to be saying that he's still orthodox, despite what people are speculating. The most offensive? The Washington Post even titled their article "Has Matisyahu Left Judaism?" That's a big leap for just shaving a beard.

He refuted these claims through Twitter:
"For all of those who are being awesome,you are awesome.For all those who are confused:today I went to the Mikva and Shul just like yesterday"

So who knows? Why do we care? Good on him for finding his derech. Too bad for him and his family that it has to be so public.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Frum and Fabulous: The Stereotypical "Shell" Look

Most of the time, dressing tzniusly just looks like a woman who works in an office. Unless you want to go with the seminary look. (The seminary look for fall and spring adds a hoodie, preferably from Stern.)

But there is one look that just screams frum girl: when you're obviously wearing a shell.

A shell is a plain, usually fitted, shirt worn under other shirts to allow them to conform to the rules of tznius. Shells are usually obvious as shells. They come in many colors and sleeve lengths, and they are underutilized as "real" shirts. (If you want to wear a shell as your outermost shirt, make sure to layer a tank top or something underneath it because shells are often thin and somewhat see-though. They also like to hug every "curve" in an unflattering way, sometimes even when worn with an undershirt.) Shells are usually used in neutral colors, such as white, black, gray, and off-white. 

I suggest owning several black and white-ish shells because you will use them the most. I prefer 3/4 length shells because I hate having long sleeves feel "in the way." Similarly, I like my shells to be very fitted so that they don't bunch under the shirt or feel bulky. I have found shells, especially long-sleeve shells, at Nordstrom Rack pretty frequently on the clearance rack for under $10 each. However, I prefer Kosher Casual shells because they're the right fit for what I want.

This might be the frummiest outfit I own. Black pencil skirt from Nordstrom Rack, off-white shell from Kosher Casual, and blue untznius shirt from Nordstrom Rack. I thought my shirt was pretty secular-fashionable until I passed a mom wearing it in Brooklyn. While I was wearing mine too, of course. Awk-ward. 

Now that I live in New York City (but still feel like a country mouse), I like playing "Jew or Not Jew" when I see women walking towards me in skirts. It's the subtle hints: hats with "too much" hair under them for secular standards, tichels of course, hair that might be a sheitel, and particular kinds of clothing. An outfit like the above (or any other secularly-"normal" shirt with an obvious shell) is almost always someone who appears up close to be an orthodox Jewish woman. Personally, I know it's an easy (lazy?) go-to outfit. Neutral skirt, neutral shell, add whatever shirt you grab. Easy peasy, and still very presentable.

Monday, December 12, 2011

How to Pronounce the Word "Judaism"

I bet you're wondering what on earth this post is about. Of course you know how to pronounce the word "Judaism"! Isn't that a prerequisite to joining the religion?!

I'm not saying there's a correct way, but American English speakers have several very distinct ways of pronouncing the word. I'm somewhat trained as a linguist, and I have a half-decent ear for hearing subtle changes in pronunciation. I kept hearing something different about how some people say "Judaism," but it literally took me five years to figure out the difference. I guess that means I'm not a very good linguist after all :(

"JEW-dee-ism" (Judyism?)

The simple difference in which syllable people stress makes a very different sound. It's not quite as striking as the difference between "advertisement" in American English versus British English, but certainly there. It's also the same kind of difference, "ad-VER-tiz-ment" and "ad-ver-TISE-ment" (AD-ver-tis-ment is also correct for Americans.) If you don't know what I'm talking about, check out this educational video

Now I want to know what creates the difference. Maybe I'm saying it with a Southern accent? 

Apparently I'm on Team JEW-day-ism. What about you?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Getting Ready for Chanukah: The On-Going War with Candle Wax

Just a short tip today. One of the most annoying things about orthodoxy is the sheer volume of candlewax that invades every part of your life. (Drip cups are always a good idea, but they can only lessen the inevitable.)

I know Chanukah is getting close when I begin thinking, "Ok, it's time to clean the hanukkiah..." I never feel like cleaning my candle-holding appliances until I need them again. I guess that's just human.

The "before" picture is in the header above the blog. It's primarily orange wax, but there's also blue and white in there. Almost the entire back is covered in wax, plus there are all the little spaces where fingers won't fit. I didn't even use this chanukiah the second year I owned it because I was so upset it couldn't be cleaned off. I didn't want to make it worse without any potential for getting better.

Cue the hairdryer. It is the easiest way to remove candlewax from anything. I have used it to remove wax from carpets, tables, furniture, and things actually made to hold candles. I've used it on essentially everything but the pets. (I had a ceiling fan that threw melted candlewax for a 10ft radius from my kitchen table.)

Gather your materials: the candle-waxed item, paper towels (or napkins), and the hairdryer. Q-tips if you have wax in tight spots.

Take your item and place it on top of a paper towel. Get your second paper towel sheet ready. Turn on the hair dryer and focus it on some group of wax. It's better to attack section-by-section. You will see the wax begin to turn clear (or milky), maybe even dripping. It depends on how thick the section is. Once it looks like it's soft or melting, turn off the hairdryer. Then just wipe it up with the paper towel! Easy as pie! (Don't burn yourself with the air or by touching hot metal!)

Use the Q-tips in hard-to-clean areas and inside candle cups. 

Alternatively, you can soak the item in hot water in the sink or bring them to boil in a pot on the stove.

In summary, no need to buy expensive "wax cleaners"!

Here is the finished product after only 10 minutes of work!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism

A book has just been released that you should consider buying or checking out from the library. (Since it literally has just been published, you may have to request that your library get a copy of the book. It's a simple procedure.)

Disclosures: I did not receive this book to review it. However, I did get it free from the Jewish Book Council's annual book giveaway. And I do get a pathetic percentage of sales from the Amazon link above. It's laughable, really.

With a title like that, I didn't go into this book expecting it to be a "fun read." And it wasn't. But it was still a really good book. It was even so well-written that I didn't feel the need to curl up into the fetal position.

Combining factual research with psychology and the occasional sarcastic remark, this may be the most engaging Jewish history book I've ever read. It's written in a fairly academic style, but I think that lends credibility to the work from the non-Jewish perspective. Very rarely does the author break the fourth wall to share her interpretation with the reader. Even then, her comments are clever and insightful. One comment that particularly stood out to me was a psychological analysis:
Soldiers who "catch" toddlers on their swords and police officers who force "old men, invalids, and paralytics" from their homes are not protecting their country from treason. Rather, they are seeing Jews not as human beings but as stereotypes. A stereotype is more than a label or judgment about an individual based on the real or imagined characteristics of a group. Stereotypes dehumanize people by reducing them to categories...
[As this is an advance reading copy, the above passage may be edited, removed, or otherwise very different from what is above. However, I think this passage shows the gist of the book.]

In short, I think every conversion candidate should read it. The Talmud prescribes that every potential convert must be discouraged with the phrase:
"What prompted you to convert? Don't you know that Israel today is thrust down, despised, and persecuted?"
This book makes sure that you can answer that question in full honesty and with open eyes. And it's a great book to boot. A conversion candidate is not required to actually suffer antisemitism, but the idea of antisemitism must be confronted. This book allows you to do that, even if only at an intellectual level. To be quite honest, I think that is the only level we can face antisemitism without losing our minds, since it is so senseless.

Of course, it's good for everyone else to read too ;)

Title: A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism
Author: Phyllis Goldstein
Publisher: Facing History and Ourselves
432 Pages
ISBN-13: 978-0981954387

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why I Am "Modern Orthodox"

I get very annoyed at how "modern" is thrown around like an insult. Conversion candidates seem to feel this struggle more acutely than the frum-from-birth crowd. 

Baalei teshuva are probably in the same boat as the conversion candidates, but at least they're still Jewish at the end of the day. Even the people who act like "modern orthodox" is a slur will still recognize the BTs as "Jews." But choosing to convert "modern orthodox" is a hard choice for many conversion candidates. 

In the quest for the "unquestionable conversion," conversion candidates are feeling pushed further and further to the "right" of orthodox Judaism. Each chumrah feels like another piece of armor to protect against others' questioning their Jewishness. [But note that more people convert "modern orthodox" or "just plain orthodox" than any other group, and people in modern orthodox communities are usually not the ones whose Jewishness is questioned. It is usually the ultra-orthodox communities these candidates seek so hard to join.]

I've chosen to stop looking for the unquestionable conversion. As far as I can tell, they're ALL questionable. So instead, I will take the time to find the community that is best for me hashkafically. And that is the modern orthodox community. 

But what are people insulting when they call people "modern"? It seems that the insult version of the phrase emphasizes the word "modern" orthodox. I know that my own stereotype of the "bad" kind of modern orthodox is someone who keeps kosher and Shabbat, but not much else. In many ways, a kind of "culturally orthodox" person. I think that the groups who are so opposed to modern orthodox Jews have this perception.

But that is not who I am. And that is not who the other modern orthodox people in my community are.

So what IS modern orthodoxy to someone who is often mistaken as being "too frummy" for the MO crowd? [Apparently the most common first impression that people have of me is "frummy" and "super frummy."]

I don't believe that the "secular world" is evil and to be avoided. I don't believe that there is a clear line "bein kodesh l'chol." Torah is everywhere I look. Interactions with people who've never even heard the word "Torah" may teach me more Torah than a two-hour halacha shiur. Television shows or movies can do the same. Working in a secular profession in a secular workplace allows me to be a kiddush Hashem in addition to being it being yet another source of Torah. 

Put another way, ANYONE can be "modern," no matter their hashkafah. There are even some people who call themselves "modern yeshivish," despite the fact that many people's stereotypes of yeshivish would negate the ideas of "modern"-ness.

I think that insulating myself and alienating the non-Jewish aspects of my life would remove many of the best Torah sources in my life. 

As a convert, I think this will be even more important in my life. Alienating my family would be a chilul Hashem. I have this family because Hashem has decided it is the best family for me. The same for the friends from my "prior" life (granted, I've been "Jewishly affiliated" basically my entire adult life). I also do not believe that the experiences of my pre-orthodox life are less valuable because there was "less Torah" in it.

We are the product of our experiences. I must be just as discerning in the "secular" things that I see and do as I must be in the things labeled as "Torah." That requires the opposite realization that maybe things labeled as "Torah" are bad influences. People, groups, and ideas that are even more damaging than any R rated movie...promoting hatred, fear, and sinas chinam.

In my opinion, modern orthodoxy is about being willing to see Torah in everything, and that allows me to see the inherent value in everything. I consider people, things, and ideas individually, rather than shutting them out as groups based on stereotypes. By extension, that is why I hesitate to accept the halachic "ruling" of those who would "pull" my conversion for working in a secular profession, owning a television, or using the internet.

But I really prefer the term "just plain orthodox." Too bad everyone insists on making me choose a box.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Word of the Day: Mezumen

When you bentch, you may notice that sometimes a person leads the bentching and sometimes not. Chances are, you won't be leading the benching anytime soon, but you may be confused what's going on. I wondered about this constantly, but by the time bentching was over, I'd forgotten my question!

Before we start, go grab your bentcher-of-choice. If you don't have a bencher at home (which you should), grab your siddur. Bentching is listed as "Grace After Meals" and can be found under the heading "Blessings" or similar. As a practical matter, I prefer the NCSY Ivrit bentcher because it has the transliteration in addition to the English translation. (There are both Ashkenazi and "Ivrit" editions with transliteration to match those Hebrew accents. Note that the Ashkenazi version uses the "oy" Ashkenazi accent, which may not match your community's Ashkenazi accent. In other words, take transliteration with a grain of salt, and try not to use it as a crutch.) I hate unfamiliar bentchers, but that's a different post.

A mezumen is the "quorum" required to say the formal "invitation" to bentch. Unlike a minyan (the "quorum" for prayer), a mezuman requires only three males over bar mitzvah age who have eaten together. The privilege of leading the mezumen is an honor. As a default, it goes to a kohen. The kohanim may decide between themselves who will lead, all other factors being equal. The kohen may defer to someone else, and his deferral is required for a non-kohen to lead. If there is no kohen, there are many options. [These are also the people a kohen may choose to defer to.] The honor is often given to "the guest" if only one male guest is present. If many male guests are present, it can go to the most senior Torah scholar, someone else learned, or someone celebrating (whether a formal simcha like a childbirth or something as simple as a new job).

If you are offered the honor, you may decline it. No questions asked. In all my meals, I have never seen anyone question why a person turned down leading the mezumen. And it's turned down pretty often! I tell you this so that you will know that refusing the honor will not "out" you as a conversion candidate (who should NOT lead) or as someone who is simply nervous or uncertain. Say "no, thank you," and the host will move on.

Most notably, the people not at "your meal" do not count for a mezuman. For instance, in a restaurant. (However, it is common practice to grab any "missing" men for a minyan from other tables in a restaurant for a sheva brachot meal after a wedding.)

If there are ten or more men present at the meal, the name of G-d is inserted into the mezumen. That is the word in parentheses ( ). If there is not a minyan present, do not say the words in parentheses. 

There is a female version called a mezumenet. This is when three or more women over bat mitzvah age eat together. There is a difference between the rabbis whether the meal may have a mezumenet with less than 3 males present or whether they must be female-only. I have seen meals which have split into male and female groups in order to have both a mezumin and a mezumenet. Three or more women eating together without a man present can certainly make a mezumenet. However, my understanding is that it is voluntary. The women may bentch individually if they want to (or simply don't want to make a mezumenet). 

The concept of the mezumin will most often come up on Shabbat. On Shabbat, the bentching will begin with the singing of Shir Hamaalot, the psalm at the very beginning of the printing of the bentching, possibly set aside in a darkened box (like the NCSY), smaller print, or some other method. 

Then the leader will begin. You will say the portions marked as "response" or "the others answer," etc. This will be very fast. I personally find it to be one of the hardest things to memorize (I haven't) simply because it's so fast. Either find a transliteration or say it in English. No one reads Hebrew that quickly without it already being memorized. (Assuming you aren't a native Hebrew speaker, of course.)

The leader will also read certain parts louder than the rest. If you hear the leader say a blessing beginning "Baruch atah...," it is appropriate to answer "Amen" and then continue your private bentching. Almost everyone will respond Amen to the blessing "hazon et hakol," (if they don't, they simply may not have heard it) but most people don't seem to respond to any other part. There is also a problem with the leader mumbling his parts, so you may not understand where he is until you have bentching memorized much better.

The purpose of the leader reading the bentching out loud is a discussion for another day. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Proselytizing to Drunk People?

Just a subtle suggestion if you happen to find yourself worshipping the porcelain god:

So if you thought you saw this before, you probably were not crazy.

I actually did take this picture, at a Dunkin Donuts in Brooklyn.

Friday, December 2, 2011

UPDATED: Management Update: Changes Abound

You may have noticed that things have changed. The blog has had its design revamped, and there's even a new color scheme! Likewise, the "subtitle" of the blog has changed because the old one was too long for this design. I'm open to other subtitles if you have a brilliant suggestion!

Now I have most of a weekend to play with the new format before we have to get into the nitty-gritty of normal posts!

What do you think? Suggestions, constructive criticism, rotten fruits thrown at my face?

On the personal side, today is also a day of change because I'm going to become a licensed New Jersey attorney! New York's paperwork maze of death continues...

UPDATE: This new dynamic view isn't working out. I'm going to go back to a traditional template, and I'll work on it over the weekend. We'll go for the blog's Makeover #4 on Monday!

Controversies You Should Understand: Chabad Conversions

I've been trying to decide how to approach the Chabad question for several months. It is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed for conversion candidates because many discover Judaism through local Chabad houses. However, it is difficult to handle a controversy fairly and without making too many people angry!

I am not Chabad, but I have a lot of respect for the movement. I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to for when I was living in isolated Jewish communities!

Chabad and conversions, traditionally: the Rebbe himself instituted a policy (in the 70s, I think?) that Chabad does not "do" conversions. I hear of people here and there who say they "converted Chabad," but I don't think Chabad actually arranged the batei din (and maybe didn't even sit on it). People who seek conversion but identify with Chabad have to convert through "mainstream" orthodox batei din, whether modern orthodox or "ultra-orthodox." That has been the status quo for a long time. Personally, about one-quarter of the converts I know went that route. All but one "re-joined" Chabad after the conversion was complete. My understanding is that these people say they "converted Chabad" because they learned Lubavitch minhag and halachic interpretations, as well as attending a Chabad shul. Many Chabad rabbis assist these conversion candidates, but do not "do" the conversion. Today, we would call these Chabad rabbis the sponsoring rabbi.

That background out of the way, you should know that Chabad is now a more complicated issue in conversions. I'll give you a short background, in case you aren't familiar with the issues. The Rebbe passed away in 1994, but a movement arose that said he is moshiach. The idea is very similar to Christianity in that these people believe that the Rebbe didn't die; he has gone into hiding and there will be a "second coming" where he will redeem the world. That is why you may see many emphatic references to how "very dead" the Rebbe is.

The idea that the Rebbe is moshiach is against Judaism. This idea is also not official Chabad "doctrine" (if any orthodox group can be said to have doctrine). However, if you have ever visited Crown Heights, it is not an insignificant number of people. Many orthodox people believe that messianics ("meshichists") have "infiltrated" 770 (Chabad headquarters and leadership) but that they are careful to keep it quiet. Understandably, 770 says the messianics are a very small number of people. Infiltrated or not, the meshichists are very bad for Chabad's image. Walking through Crown Heights told me that this is no insignificant number! (Yellow flags and banners proclaiming the Rebbe as moshiach are almost overwhelming there.) Because of the uncertainty of how far this belief reaches into the heart of Chabad, many orthodox Jews (maybe even most) distrust the movement as a whole. As many people (inappropriately) "joke," "Chabad is the closest religion to Judaism!" 

There is a separate movement of people who believe that the Rebbe is actually G-d himself. They are called elokists. They are scary.

What does that mean for conversions? When candidates come into "mainstream" orthodox batei din and proclaim how much they love Chabad, the batei din are generally not pleased today. An increasing number of batei din have official policies that Chabad rabbis cannot serve as "sponsoring rabbis" and that the candidates must attend the shul of their sponsoring rabbi during the conversion process (which could mean several years in a non-Chabad synagogue). The Chabad-leaning candidates are (to my knowledge) allowed to continue studying Chabad texts, ideas, and be involved in the Chabad community, but the beit dins seem to limit the influence of the Chabad rabbis as much as possible.

That may seem cruel at first, but it is also intended to protect the candidate's conversion from questioning later. As much as Chabad is distrusted in the larger community, it is to the candidate's benefit to distance themselves during the conversion process. After all (at least in theory), the conversion is "closed" at the time of the conversion, so re-joining the Chabad community after conversion should not taint the convert's "Jewishness" in the eyes of the larger orthodox community. If you are Chabad, it shouldn't matter if non-Chabad people want to question your conversion for that. However, it may matter to your children, so that's why people might put up with these policies.

It is sad but realistic. But trying to see things from a more positive viewpoint, Chabad is here for kiruv, outreach to born Jews. And like all organizations...funding, time, and space are limited. "Outsourcing" the conversion candidates (so to speak) allows Chabad to stay close to its mission, and all klal Yisrael benefits from their mission to increase traditional observance among the Jewish people.

So what should Chabad-leaning conversion candidates do? These are just my initial thoughts on how I would approach the situation.

  • I suggest applying to convert with an RCA regional beit din or other "Israel-approved" beit din. That is boilerplate advice I would give everyone.
  • Be clear that you intend to be Lubavitch.
  • Also be clear that you know about the controversies. Then explicitly disavow any faith in the Rebbe as moshiach or G-d. (Assuming you don't believe that...)
  • Ask the beit din about their policy on Chabad rabbis participating in the process as a sponsoring rabbi or tutor. (Some are not up-front about this and will use it as a "discouragement" tactic later. Less pessimistically, they may save it until the beit din views the candidate as "officially" entering the conversion process. I have seen some told that they have to get a new shul nearly a year into the process.)
  • Ask whether you can continue to attend your Chabad shul.
  • If they don't allow Chabad to be active in your conversion at all, deal with it. You have to play by their rules if you want a conversion. Look into other batei din (if they are available), but this issue isn't uncommon anymore.
  • Likewise, if Chabad is supposed to keep its distance, ask about social events, learning, shiurim, etc. I don't know how these batei din handle those "informal" areas of Jewish life in these cases. It would appear they are okay, but it's better to know exactly what is expected of you.
  • Read Chabad materials and learn Lubavitch hashkafah.
  • You can probably still adopt Chabad halachic practices now, even if they are not the practices of your sponsoring congregation.
  • Expand your horizons Jewishly, and you might discover your hashkafah lies in another form of orthodoxy! After all, you may be living in your first Jewish community with more than one or two shuls!
  • Once you have converted, you have the choice to return to your Chabad congregation. However, ask about any requirements for staying within the converting community for a set time period after conversion. Your sponsoring rabbi may have to file a follow-up one year later to make sure that you are still Jewishly active and observant. That may tie you to his congregation for another year. Moving congregations in the year after conversion may also be problematic for aliyah/Israel purposes (but this policy changes a lot and is kept from public knowledge). Make sure you know exactly what is expected of you to the best of your ability.

As a practical tip: Be very careful how you discuss Chabad. Avoid doing so if you can. Tempers flare very quickly, and suddenly accusations are flying. Even the most innocuous comment can set people off on either side. I've been accused of supporting meshichists, and I've also been accused of claiming Chabad aren't Jews. Both sides can be quite vile and vitriolic. The only time I have worried that a Jew would physically hit me was someone (already clearly unbalanced) who thought I had made a disparaging comment about Chabad. To be quite honest, I'm not looking forward to today's comments... 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

No One Likes the Holier-Than-Thou Guy

Even the other toothbrushes don't like Shabbos Toothbrush :'(