Browsing Tag


Uncategorized May 17, 2013

Rav, Rabbi, Rebbe

Q:  Is it too sensitive to ask how the
‘veneration’ of Chasidic rebbes (or just Chabad? I don’t know) is
different than non-Chasidic groups? Is that what defines Chasidic Jews
as Chasidic? Are there some without ANY rebbe? Do non-Chassidic Os
venerate their rabbis? And how is a rebbe different than a rabbi? Which
is what in relation to a rav?


A.  My personal (non-Chassidic) relationship with my rabbi is described here.  In Chassidic communities, the whole structure of the community centers around the Rebbe (pronounced reh-buh).  He is venerated, respected with awe, trust, and love, and consulted on major and minor decisions.  He is approached for a blessing before travel, before business dealings, and before matchmaking one’s children.  He is approached for prayers and blessings in times of crisis, before a medical procedure, and when marriages falter.  He is honored at every milestone, wedding, bar mitzvah, and holiday.

Where the Rebbe is no longer alive, and no successor appointed, as with Chabad or Breslov, the deceased Rebbe is still venerated in memory and via his teachings as the core place of inspiration for the Chassidus (Chassidic sect).

It is a central part of being Chassidic, but it’s not the only thing that defines Chassidic living.  Insularity and eschewing of secular culture is another major factor, as well as joy, passion and song.

Chabad is different in that its Rebbe (called “the reh-bee” by the more culturally American adherents or “the reh-buh” by its more Chassidic-oriented adherents) passed away around 15 ago and, childless, did not appoint a successor (as is usually the practice).  That’s how Chabad came to be a Chassidus with no living rebbe.

Non-Chassidic Os definitely venerate their rabbis but not to the same degree.  Typically it would be either their congregational or community rabbi (called a “rav“) or a rabbi from their educational years at yeshiva (called a “reh-bee“).  All of them, in English, are rabbis.

Plurals (I find a lot of people use term one when they mean term two):

1. Rebbeim (ra-bay-im): plural for day school/yeshiva teacher rabbis
2. Rabbanim (ra-buh-nim): plural for congregational or community rabbis
3. Rebbes (reh-buzz): plural for Chassidic rabbis

Interviews, Uncategorized July 23, 2012

Meet Libby, my Chassidic Friend: an Interview

I’d like to introduce you to my new friend, Libby S.  Libby is a woman, a mother, and wife.  She belongs to the Vizhnitz group of Chassidus [Hasidism].  Libby has agreed to open her private life to all of you, in the hopes of helping me reach my goal on this blog: Jewish unity via mutual respect and education.  I am really grateful to her for this, and look forward to having you all learn from her life.

Please note that English is not Libby’s first language.  Yiddish is her first language.  I have added some translations and clarifications in brackets.

Uncategorized May 16, 2012

Is Feminism Hillary, Olivia, Jamie, or the-Hasidic-Women-in-the-Photo?

Is feminism Hillary, Olivia, Jamie, or the-Hasidic-woman-in-the-photo?

Let’s see.

In recent news, we have Hillary Clinton, a well-known feminist, appearing unadorned and bespectacled in a photo while abroad in Bangladesh.  In this interesting piece on the subject, Amy Odell says:

When asked by CNN about the makeup-less photo of her in Bangladesh
making the rounds this week, Hillary confirmed that her appearance is
“just not something I think is important anymore.” Fox News aside, the
world rejoiced over that sentiment. She “does not need to fret about
having the right sort of career-enhancing wardrobe, haircut or makeup,” wrote Robin Givhan for the Daily Beast.
“She could arrive for a diplomatic meeting wearing flip-flops and blue
jeans and no one would doubt her authority.” Styleite’s Jada Wong responded simply with, “Yeah, she rules.”

Personally, I (Ruchi here) think this is awesome.  A woman should absolutely be respected for her mind, values, and personal accomplishments.  Whether my political views are aligned with Hillary’s is highly irrelevant; my inner self salutes her inner self.  If this is feminism, man, I’m a feminist.

…In December of 2010, Hillary memorably tackled the media’s fixation on her clothing choices during a talk in Kyrgyzstan, when an interviewer asked about her favorite clothing designers. She replied, “Would you ever ask a man that question?”

Her comments on CNN yesterday are sure to inspire fans who wish they,
like her, didn’t feel pressured to look a certain way, as all women are.
This line in particular stood out: “I feel so relieved to be at the
stage I’m at in my life right now.”

[Note: if she actually showed up for a diplomatic meeting wearing flip-flops and blue jeans, hmmm, I’m not such a fan.  Part of the cool is that she could – but won’t.]

Next in line we have Olivia Palermo, a well-known “socialite.”  (My guard is up.)   It seems that:  

The socialite has become one of the most influential red-carpet
celebrities for style-conscious Orthodox women, who must follow three core rules of modesty in how they dress.

Well, now.  I consider myself a style-conscious Orthodox woman, and I’ve never heard of her.   But you can’t argue that sleeves on wedding gowns and longer skirt lengths have been made cooler by the likes of Kate Middleton.

Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, is also praised for her ‘ladylike’
clothes, and Ms. Heyman added that celebrity stylist Rachel Zoe, who
often wears layers of vintage, ‘covers up in [a way] that works for the

Are Olivia and Kate feminists, then, for wearing longer, classier clothing that don’t broadcast or objectify them?  For not buying into that whole industry?  What is their motivation for covering up and creating a new trend?

If feminism means that we cover more to be taken seriously more (both by men and women), man, I’m so in.

Thirdly, we arrive at Jamie Grumet, a 26-year-old model and blogger – I refuse to link anything here – who recently appeared on the highly controversial cover of Time magazine nursing her 3-year-old son.  In a tank top and skinny jeans, her pose and facial expression defy you to question her ways, with the accusatory headline “Are You Mom Enough?” splashed across the page.

I’ve seen Jamie hailed by feminist women, for standing up for her attachment ways.  I’ve seen her vilified by equally strong-minded women, for selling out, turning moms against each other in a man-run corporation, and branding herself by her body instead of her mind.

Is Jamie a feminist?  Was she used?  Taken advantage of?

If feminism here means the right to expose yourself publicly, I’m out.  Equal footing with men, remember?  

Finally, we have these two Hasidic women.  They don’t seem to care about modern fashion, nor do they seem impressed or even aware that their pictures are being taken.  Are they repressed?  Cool, like Hillary, and relieved, to not care?  Do they “rule” like she does?

Are they feminists, like Olivia and Kate, for dressing in a way that does not leave them objectified?

Do they have anything at all in common with Jamie, for standing out with their non-conformist ways and proudly bucking the trend?

If feminism here clashes with these women’s choice of dress and lifestyle, whoops, I’m out again.  But if it means that just as my pediatrician wears long side burns and a bow tie, and that’s just fine, well, these women are cool.   That’s a choice.  If it means they are immune to the dictates of a bunch of socialites, nay, don’t even know what they have said to build immunity to, I’m in!

Who, indeed, is a feminist?

Then there’s me.  I like to look cute.  Sometimes I feel proud of that  – I fancy that maybe I am an example that looking “good” and being Orthodox are not mutually exclusive.  Other times I feel like a mindless robot.  Who says purple is cute this year?  Why do I care?  Maybe the most liberated women are those that know that following trends is plain old stupid and are man enough (pardon the expression) to live that clarity.

On the third hand, it makes me feel good when I feel that I look good.  But who is dictating those feelings?  Any girl worth her style-salt knows that your “cute clothes” from five years no longer make you feel cute.

So who’s the feminist now?

Related posts:

Yoga, Feminism, Judaism: how do you make your decisions?
The Decision Every Woman Must Make
Mythbusters #2:  Orthodox Women are Second Class Citizens 

Uncategorized November 28, 2011

How I Learned Yiddish

“Yiddish is written and spoken in a number of Orthodox Jewish
communities around the world, although there are also many Orthodox
Jews who do not know Yiddish. It is a home language in most Hasidic
communities, where it is the first language learned in childhood, used
in schools and in many social settings. Yiddish is also the academic
language of the study of the Talmud according to the tradition of the
great Lithuanian Yeshivohs.”

Thus opines the Great Wikipedia.

Well, I was one of those Orthodox Jews who didn’t know Yiddish.  And boy, did it bother me.  Firstly, when the adults used it as their “secret language.”  Secondly, when they laughed uproariously at a joke that was “funnier in Yiddish” (this was perhaps my first introduction to FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out, that still afflicts me today). Thirdly, when my Hungarian grandmother expressed her disappointment at my Yiddish ignorance.

Back to the GW:

Yiddish (ייִדיש yidish or אידיש idish, literally “Jewish“) is a High German language of Ashkenazi Jewish origin, spoken throughout the world. It developed as a fusion of German dialects with Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic languages and traces of Romance languages.[2][3] It is written in the Hebrew alphabet.”

Nice, GW, but you don’t address the burning question: why perpetuate Yiddish at all?

Well, many feel that one shouldn’t.  That it’s the language of the ghetto, of the past, the opposite of progress.  Others perpetuate it for those very reasons – it clings to our past, our Ashkenazi history, the faith of the past.  Yet others reject it as a culture but consider it to be valuable history.  This, my friends, highlights quite the fault line among Jews today – to cling to the past, or to shake it off and move forward?  And then there are those that have one foot on each tectonic plate: move forward, but hang onto the past.  (An interesting exercise: see if you can determine where you stand, then ask someone with different ideologies from yours where you stand.)

In any event, my brothers, being members of the “great Lithuanian Yishevohs (sic),” did understand that elusive, funny, secret language.  Fortunately, so did my husband.  So we made a pact: each night at dinner, we’d spend 5 minutes conversing exclusively in Yiddish.

Lesson #1:
Q. How do you say “how do you say” in Yiddish?
A. Vi zugt men…
[This was the critical lesson that enabled all future lessons.]

Lesson #2:
Q. Vi zugt men potatoes?
A. Kartuffluch.


Fortunately, two things were working in my favor.  Firstly, I had heard enough Yiddish swirling around my head as a child to have some rudimentary familiarity with the basics.  Also, my husband spoke Yiddish with a decided, um, American accent and dialect (ich vill essen broit mit peanut butter – I think I’ll have some bread with peanut butter) that assisted my linguistic skills considerably, and wasn’t I pleasantly surprised to discover that peanut butter was a Yiddish term.

And wasn’t my lovely grandmother delighted to learn that her second-generation American granddaughter had kept the chain of Yiddish proficiency alive.

And now we can laugh at the same jokes.  Success.

Uncategorized October 10, 2011

Points Along the Ortho-Spectrum

One of the biggest mistakes people make about the “Orthodox” is that we’re all the same.  Or all Hasidic.  Or all Joseph Liebermans.  Well, just like lots of other things in life, it’s all about a continuum.  Points along the spectrum.

I will not attempt to speak for any of these groups, since I do not reside in all of them, but will instead offer very superficial distinctions between them.  What I would love is to have members of these various groups speak for themselves, so if you identify as one of them, give me a holler and perhaps you would guest-blog for me. It may be anonymous, if you’d like.

For example:

1. The most intense form of Orthodoxy is Hasidism.  Also called Chassidism.  Chasidim wear special clothing that makes them immediately visible as such, and believe in a tremendous warmth and passion in Judaism as well as insularity – sheltering themselves from external influences and secular culture as much as possible.  Many speak Yiddish as a first language.  Here’s where you’ll find the fur hats, called “shtreimlach” and the curly sidelocks, called “peyos.”

2. Together with and separate from Hasidism is Chabad-Lubavitch.  Chabad is a form of Hasidism, but their primary focus is outreach to fellow Jews to inspire them in Judaism, as opposed to insularity.  Chabad is famous for stopping people on the street to perform a mitzvah such as laying tefilling or shaking a lulav and is incredibly idealistic, self-effacing, and devoted in their mission, even moving to far-flung areas such as (famously) Mumbai, Shanghai, or Chile to be there for fellow Jews searching for meaning, inspiration, or just a warm hello and some home-cooked kosher food.

3. We now arrive at the “yeshivish” community.  They are easily spotted by the black hats, suits and white shirts at all occasions.  More on the yeshivish community here.

4. The next group would be “regular” Orthodox. They don’t wear the black hats.  They don’t only dress in “black-and-white” either.  The guys might wear khakis, colored shirts, and jeans while in casual mode.  The women are harder to distinguish from category #3. Good luck with that.  Some people find themselves fluctuating between various groups, too, or living somewhere between.  They may have a TV or allow moderate forms of secular culture in their homes and lives.

5. Modern Orthodoxy is a group that believes passionately in Religious Zionism, in embracing secular culture and being a part of the larger world for the purpose of creating a “kiddush Hashem” – showing the world that you can do both.  Senator Lieberman, I believe, identifies as Modern Orthodox.

What do you say, readers?  Would you agree with my breakdown?  Offer your own?  Have something to add or subtract?  Would love to hear about it!  Per the nature of my blog, if there is disparaging or rude comment made about another group, it will not be published.

Uncategorized September 14, 2011

Your Kid’s Hebrew Name is Yechezkel Simcha Chaim??

I’d like to thank Roni Sokol over at Mommy in Law for inspiring this post!

Every single time we have sat down to choose a Hebrew name for one of our newborns, we’ve had to take multiple considerations into account:

1. Did we have a relative to name after?  (If no, proceed to #2)
2. Do we pick a name related to the Torah portion?  An upcoming holiday?
3. How will this name be spelled in English?
4. How will this child’s name appear on the birth certificate?
5. How will this name sound to people that are unfamiliar with Hebrew or Yiddish names?
6. How do we spell it?

For example (note: some of my kids’ names have been changed):

Child #1: Let’s pretend my daughter’s name is Esther.  She is our first-born, and we decide to name her after my great-grandmother on my father’s side, who was killed in the Holocaust.  There is a custom among Ashkenazic Jews that babies are named after deceased love ones, and that the first name goes to the mother’s side barring a pressing reason to name after the father’s side (like, father has no dad; mother would have to go back 3 generations).

Great-grandma had two names, common among Eastern European Jews, but her middle name coincides with my mother’s name, who is very much alive and well, thank you.  Just as it an honor to name after a deceased relative, it is SPOOKY AND NOT DONE to name after an alive relative.  Unless you are a Sephardic Jew, in which case it is a BIG HONOR.

Go figure.

So we ask her daughter, my grandmother, if she minds if we only use the one name.  She’s great with it, as “Esther” is the name great-grandma was known by.  Awesome.  Esther is SO EASY.  It’s Hebrew and English and phonetic to boot.  And it’s one name.  That simplifies life.  “Esther” goes on the birth certificate.  Daughter #1 is all set.  Woohoo!

That was the easy part.

Child #2 comes along – a son.  This is a no-brainer, as my father passed away when I was six, so even though name #2 “belongs” to the husband, it’s obvious we will name this child for my father.  Let’s pretend my father’s Hebrew name was Shlomo – one name, but it gets complicated.  For one thing, it’s customary to add a name when you name after someone who dies young, so the newborn doesn’t have exactly the same “mazel” – fortune, sort of – as the deceased.  We need to add a name.  The classical Hebrew names that are added in such a case are Chaim (“life”) and Baruch (“blessed”), but my husband’s grandfather, who, at the time, was alive and well, thank you very much, is Chaim Baruch!  So we choose a name – Nesanel (Netanel), which means “gifted by God.”  So now our son’s name is Nesanel Shlomo.

Second thing: my father was not exactly called by his Hebrew name, but was called by a Yiddish-flavored nickname of his Hebrew name – “Shloimy.”  NOT PHONETIC.  EASY TO MISPRONOUNCE.  And definitely, er, ethnic.

So we wanna call this kid “Shloimy” since it’s what my father was called, which is a very normal name in our community, but what do we put on the birth certificate?  One name?  Both?  The Ethnic Nickname?  We opt for simply (ha) “Shlomo,” which has since been mispronounced by every doctor’s office staff member since.  Ah, well.

Child #3: a girl.  We have a choice of two great-grandmothers on my husband’s side.  Finally, his turn.  Both are Yiddish.  We do some homework and find out that one was a classic Bubbie, a regular saint; and the other was a strong woman who retained her faith out in Scranton, PA.  We opt for “saint.”  My husband is scheduled to name the baby at the synagogue.  I am in the hospital.   It is Shabbat, so we are not communicating over the phone.  After Shabbat he calls: “I didn’t name the baby… I just felt it wasn’t the right name!”  Okaay – who am I to question my husband’s prophetic powers?  I didn’t feel that strongly either way, so we go for name #2 – strong personality, Scranton, PA.

This Yiddish name, Gitty, is at first glance, phonetic and easy.  Ha.  Everyone rhymes it with “pretty” and “witty” when actually the “T” is emphasized.  I would give an English rhyme for her name, except there is none.  Also, living in Israel at the time, my husband is the one who travels to East Jerusalem to the consulate to get the birth certificate, so he chooses “Gittel,” the real Yiddish name, instead of “Gitty,” the commonly used nickname.  Nice.  Now daughter has one name that appears on her BC that no one can pronounce and that no one uses except her younger brother in cruel moments, another name that everyone calls her that rhymes with “pretty” and her real name that is pronounced correctly.  *sigh*

Child #4 is named after someone in the parsha.  We didn’t have any urgent relative to name for and are married long enough that we don’t need to take turns anymore, and name after our Patriarch Abraham.  Great – easy, right??  EVERYONE knows Abraham Lincoln!  Yes, except his Hebrew name is Avraham, and his nickname shall be… Avromi.  So how easy is it to mispronounce “Avromi’?  Answer: very.  It’s pronounced “Av-RUH-mi”  (Ruh as in Run).  But some people, like Jews from more Chassidic backgrounds, like my grandparents, pronounce it “Av-ru-mi” – Ru as in the way a Bostonion would say “roof.”  Or those that are not comfy with Hebrew or Yiddish say Ru like “rah rah rah!  Sis boom bah!”  Ah, well.

Oh, and we decided to be “smart” and put “Abraham” on his BC so everyone will  be able to pronounce it… now he just seems like a relic from the 1800’s.  Really?  Your name is Abraham, and you’re… 10?  Not 89?  Ah, well.

Also: since we did not reach back multiple generations for a name we had some explaining to do to family members… ’nuff said.

Child #5: girl.  We decide to name after my great-grandmother Mindy.  She also had another name, which coincided with my husband’s grandmother’s name.  (Anyone want to become a Jewish Baby Naming Coordinator?  I’ll send you lots of clients.)  Yes, I know my side of the family is seriously winning, but I already told you, we’re done taking turns.  Also I just happen to have more dead relatives – sorry.  We ask my grandfather (she was his mother) how he feels about us just using one name and he is fine with this since she was called “Bobba Mindy” and that’s how everyone knew her.

Can I just emote for a moment?  I LOVE THIS NAME.  It has everything I need!  It’s named for someone I knew and loved, it’s easy to say, spell, and pronounce, and I can put the nickname right on the BC since we are now living in America and I don’t have to travel anywhere dangerous moments after giving birth to obtain a BC!  The lovely, nice hotel – er, hospital – does all the hard work FOR YOU!!  Yay!  Mindy Koval.  Love.

Child #6: Boy.  He is born 10 days late, on his great-grandfather’s yahrtzeit.  Like, exactly, on the Hebrew date.  Did I say “chose a name”?  I think the name chose us.  This name does not fit the profile of my perfect name.  It’s Hebrew and Yiddish, two names, neither of which are phonetic, nor easy to say, spell, or pronounce.  Yay!  Well, we go mostly with the first name and just plunk that Hebrew name right on the BC.  And if no one can pronounce it… it’s their problem.  Lots of cool people have weird names (Gwyneth?).

Child #7:  Girl.  When you get to this number of kids, my philosophy is you pick a name you just LIKE.  You’ve earned it.  We picked the name first (Nomi) then prayed for her to be born on the holiday that coincided with her name.  And… she was!  Can I just emote for a moment?  I LOVE THIS NAME!   For all the reasons I love Mindy, but one more added bonus: It’s not a nickname but the real name.  However, even this name was not hitchless.  The REAL name is “Naomi,” and is pronounced in truly grammatically correct Hebrew as “Na’ami,” and is still pronounced a variety of ways by my relatives.  Nevertheless, it’s super easy to spell and read, and we love it.  So far, it’s the only low-maintenance thing about the child, so that’s a good thing.

Was it hard to pick out your kids’ names?  What did you have to take into account?  What did you choose for their birth certificates – have you regretted it?