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Currently Browsing: 31 Days in the Jewish Quarter

I Shall Lift My Eyes – 7 Posts in 7 Days

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Psalm 121.

Yes, the original. Yes, in Hebrew. Yes, it can be sung. We don't have the ancient tunes, but we sing our psalms even today.

31 Days in the Jewish Quarter Day 17 – Jewish Head Covering Part 2 – Women

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Muslim women, wearing a hijab are easy to spot. Most Christians are also aware of 1Corinthians 11:5-6, and do their best to explain the shamefulness of a woman’s head not being covered. Some Christian churches require women to cover their hair in church or during prayer, some require that they wear a head covering at all times, or no such requirement exists at all, as it is no longer shameful for a woman to cut her hair.

For most Jewish denominations the covering of a married woman’s hair is a requirement. This goes back to the Talmud, and is considered to be a Biblical requirement based on a passage in Numbers. We know for certain that as far back as Talmudic times women covered their hair, and likely the refence in Numbers shows that women back in those times were head coverers.

There are many ways for one to cover their haid upon marriage. Some choose to wear wigs-though Ovadia Yosef only allowed that for divorced women or widows in the Sephardi communities, but many wome choose this option in the religious Ashkenazi community. Others combine a wig or a half wig with a hat. Yet another option is simply a hat, or a shawl or bandana. Some Mizrahi communities adopted the hijab trends of the countries where they came from, but this is rare even in Israel these days. In some Chassidic communities the bride’s hair is shaved upon marriage, others keep it short out of convenience, and others yet don’t think showing their hair, as long as their head is covered, is a problem.

For a variety of lovely designs, you can visit this Etsy shop! I am in no way affiliated with them, I just love the lovely designs.

Many times the observance of this aspect of modesty is up to the women in the less Orthodox communities. My former and current congregations both suggested but didn’t enforce that married women cover their hair. It is done by many Conservative or Conservadox women, while others opt not to do it, or even to take on the obligation of wearing a kipah, which is a sign of egalitarianism and women accepting the same responsibilities as men… Or a combination of all previous options are possible!

My cousin always tells us that he has no idea what his mother’s hair looks like. My auntie keeps telling us that she has the best pixie cut in the Middle East, but alas, we will never see it. When my brother Efi married my Sister-in-law Maya, she said she’d cover her hair for his sake, because he is pretty observant. Efi told her to only cover for her own sake, so she doesn’t. Because as with every mitzvah, this has to come from inside, or it will be just another meaningless tradition.

As I mentioned earlier, this tradition has to do with modesty, much like the hijab in Islam. The major differences are that head covering is only required of married women, not all women, and the covering only involves a small part of the head compared to the hijab. It leaves the face, the chin, the neck and often the ears free. Actually, taking it to the extreme, like some Jewish “Talib” women in Jerusalem doing so, is considered sinful. Maintaining the accepted modesty level of the community is a must for religious women, but overdoing it is not generally accepted.

The role of women in Judaism deserves its own post (or series, really). It’s a complex matter, of which choosing head covering vs. being expected to cover by the community is only a small part.

For other 31 Days posts, click here. For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in these posts, click here.

 

31 Days in the Jewish Quarter Day 16 – Healing the World

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Tikkun Olam is the concept of making healing the world. Over the centuries this concept meant various things and I guess it still does to different people. My religious brother believes that his strict observance contributes to the welfare of the whole world. One thing he and I definitely agree on is the importance of Tzedakah, meaning justice, but often translated as charity or philantropy. In fact, it’s not charity as we understand today, because it is an obligation for all Jews. A poor Jew is obliged to perform Tzedakah just like a rich one.

Maimonides, one of the great Talmud and Torah scholars, wrote quite a bit on Tzedakah, thinking that anonymous giving and enabling a person to be self supporting and independent were the greatest forms of Tzedakah. I think I have to agree with him!

One of the important things about Tikkun Olam for me is social action. I do believe that this is the time to improve the lives of those suffering, and we should not make it dependent on whether those suffering are willing to subscribe to our particular belief system. This is the only life we have, and I do not believe in an after life where earthly sufferings will be rewarded. This is the time to feed the hungry, to care for the fatherless, to uplift the widow. And it is our responsibility to do these ethically as to not further the sufferings of those people we aim to help by fostering corruption, misleading the world and gaining the praise of man… And hero of the year awards.

Being a conscious consumer, environmentally aware and supporter of local businesses and products are part of Tikkun Olam for me. While I’m a lover of grocery stores, quite a bit of my own food comes from sustainable farming, both done by my family and by local farmers selling their products at the market. As part of healing the world we are responsible to hand the earth to the next generation in a livable shape.

Unlike some scholars and leaders I don’t think Tikkun Olam is only possible with one or another type of political ideas. While I’m left leaning (and I consider tge US Democrats right wing or center-right), I think conservatives and liberals and libertarians and socialists are all capable of bettering our world through various means, because there is just so much to be done!

To read further on the topic, I highly recommend the book The Jewish Approach to Repairing the World (Tikkun Olam): A Brief Introduction for Christians or, for a more in depth, scholarly approach,Tikkun Olam: Social Responsibility in Jewish Thought and Law (The Orthodox Forum Series).

For other 31 Days posts, click here. For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in these posts, click here.

 

31 Days in the Jewish Quarter Day 15 – A Distant Memory (revisited)

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This post was originally posted in 2009. A long time ago. So many things have changed in my world since then, and even more things have changed since that night, waiting for the train at Pazmaneum. 

The small train station in the Hungarian mountains was very quiet with only a single lamp giving light to the bench at the end of the platform.

He and I were standing at the other end, wrapped in darkness. It was the end of February, almost spring, but still it was quietly snowing. He was turning his face towards the sky, the distant light reflecting on his rimless glasses, enjoying the snowflakes in his face.
“It doesn’t snow much at home,” he quietly remarked. “But before I left, it was snowing at the Kotel. I went there on the way to the airport, and it just started to snow when I was there. It was amazing!”

The mention of the West Wall brought on a tangible memory of summer heat radiating from the stone. The very idea of snow in Jerusalem was absurd and impossible. Jerusalem meant summer, heat and excitement, a fire burning within.

The light of the single match, like in Andersen’s tale, suddenly initiated visions of a warm room with two candles, my mother covering her eyes as reciting the blessing on the Shabbat candle, but into the memory the scent of the Havdala spices entered into, interrupting.

He lighted his pipe and puffs of aromatic smoke filled the small space between he and I. I inhaled deeply, and immediately found myself transported back through time and space to my father’s knees, who read Torah stories to me while smoking his pipe on cold winter nights.
“When did you take up smoking?” I asked him.
“A few years ago, after I got married. I don’t smoke much, usually only in the evening after we put the kids to bed. A glass of wine and a pipe with a good book,” he explained.

The lamp flickered and then with a loud pop it went out, The red glow of the pipe was the only source of light on the platform. The train was late and I was getting cold.

“You don’t approve,” he said, laughing. “You hate it, don’t you?”
“No, not at all,” I said a little more defensively than I should have. “Even when I still considered myself Mormon, I always thought that it was everyone’s own choice.”
“What do you consider yourself now?”
“An ex-mo,” I replied without hesitation.
“That is?” he asked again. He was looking at me with piercing eyes. I wasn’t sure what to answer. Agnostic? Atheist? Neither of those was true.
“Post-Christian?” I asked hesitantly. Whatever that means. I didn’t want to believe in a higher being.

“Post-Christian,” he repeated, tasting the words. “Post-Christian. That’s a new one.”

I nodded, because I couldn’t say anything else. It was cold, and I was worried about the train, about the traffic in the city, about everything, but he didn’t let me get away easily.

“There’s one thing you have to remember,” he said as the light of the train appeared in sight. “You are a Jew, you always were, always will be. It’s your birthright that you can’t sell for a bowl of lentils. You belong to the house of Israel.”

The train pulled up, the smiling conductor jumped off the train as she waved at me to show me to the disabled door.

“And HaShem provides. He hasn’t forgotten the covenant, and he never will,” he said smiling, as he stepped on the train behind me.

For other 31 Days posts, click here. For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in these posts, click here.

31 Days in the Jewish Quarter Day 14 – Refrain Thy Voice From Weeping

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I know, I know, I’m behind, a lot, but as I said before, life has this thing where it gets in the way of blogging. I have, however, found a few more older posts of mine that have been buried through the years, that I’d like to share again. Here is one from September 30, 2012.

Jill asked me today what my favourite verse was today. After thinking a little bit, going through several verses that I like, I chose Jeremiah 31:7

“For thus saith HaShem: sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout at the head of the nations; announce ye, praise ye, and say: ‘O HaShem, save Thy people, The remnant of Israel.”

It has been one of my favourite verses for a long time. When I went to a concert of the Idan Raichel Project, and they played the song “Refrain your voice from weeping”, which is based on Jeremiah 31, this one verse kept echoing in my head for days. Weeks. It’s not in the song, but it is very much in me.

Israel Refrain Your Voice From Weeping

English translation:
For in the nights your sleep wanders
And every dream is of terror
So tilt your ears to quiet
All grace and pity
Will rise, here it comes

Because your soul is kept for him
Indeed the hour is close
until robbed in your arms
he will fall at the end of the road
When they return to their borders

Just refrain your voice from crying
And your eyes from a tear
Because the gate will open
and he will come storming through
When they return to their borders
(x2)

Up to the streams of water
Through what is left of your strength
If he will return us then we will return
Refrain your voice from crying
There is hope for your end

Click for the source of the translation.

For other 31 Days posts, click here. For a collection of Hebrew and Yiddish words used in these posts, click here.

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