Browsing Tag


Uncategorized February 16, 2015

Chana’s Question

My friend Rachael Rovner posted the following on Facebook last week about her daughter, Chana:

Chana is asking some pretty amazing questions lately. She is very torn about what religion is right. She asked me why I believe Judaism is right. I told her that my understanding is that all main religions stem from Judaism. She reminded me that “Avraham was the first Jew. He came from a family of idol worshippers. So the first religion was really idol worshippers.”
I was stumped. So I told her I was proud of her for asking such great questions and I hope even if she doesn’t find great answers, that she keeps asking such thoughtful questions.
Any ideas from my more learned friends???

I asked Rachael if it would be OK to use Chana’s question here and she agreed.  So here’s my response to Chana.

Dear Chana,

The first thing I want to say to to you, echoing your mom’s response, is kol hakovod (which means “high five” in Hebrew, kind of) for asking the question.  Judaism is a religion in which we are encouraged to ask questions – and if you find that you, your child, or anyone else is dissuaded from, or made to feel dumb for, asking questions about Judaism, please know that the person who dissuaded or discouraged is doing the wrong thing and stunting growth.  Whether questions come from curiosity, lack of education, rebellion, or any other reason, they should be taken and dealt with with honesty and trust in the process.  (Rebellion is a process too.)  Chana, the most important thing I can actually say about your question is KEEP ASKING QUESTIONS.  And if you don’t like the answers you get, ASK MORE PEOPLE YOUR QUESTION.  Judaism has fabulous answers and its tradition is rich with incredibly deep and interesting conversations regarding every question I’ve ever been asked.

The next thing I want to say about your question is this.  People on your mom’s Facebook feed have offered some really good answers to your actual question, and I like a lot of them, so I’m not going to take on the question itself per se.  What I do want to do is explain about the varying answers you may receive in your life to any question you may ask.

Chana, there will be a lot of times in your life, especially if you are a thinker, when you will look around at your world and wonder why you live the religious life you live.  You may (correctly) conclude that idol-worship seemed a viable option at one point, and perhaps atheism appears like a viable option today.  In fact, you may notice, as you grow up, especially if you are a thinker, that there are a lot of really smart people who don’t believe in God at all, or who believe that other religions are better or smarter than Judaism.  The fact that you were born a Jew may or may not be compelling intellectual evidence – after all, people convert to religions that are not their families’ religions.  

So what’s a girl to do?  Religion or none?  Judaism or something else?  How to know?  How to make sense of it all?

The first thing I’d suggest to any person of any faith, asking your questions, is to deeply investigate the faith in which you are born.  What about it makes sense to you?  What about it is difficult to understand?  Ask the elders and the wise people of your faith to help you understand the parts that are difficult.  Are there ways to practice and stay true to your inborn faith that are maybe slightly different from what you know but still valid?  Are there ways to understand the parts of Judaism that are different from social norms that you can live with?  There are many Jews who find meaning and spirituality in other faiths who have not sought their own faiths deeply enough (I hope, when you’re old enough, you’ll read A Jew in the Lotus to understand this phenomenon more clearly).  In fact, when a non-Jew approaches a Jew and asks to convert, the Jew is supposed to dissuade him or her, and instead encourage him or her to find monotheism and morality outside of being Jewish.

The other thing I want to say is about those who believe and those who don’t believe (whether that choice takes the form of idol-worship or atheism).  Chana, you will always find compelling evidence on both sides of the equation.  Don’t make the elementary mistake of thinking that idol-worshippers were stupid imbeciles.  No, the Talmud indicates that they were bright, spiritual beings who simply succumbed to a grave mistake.  Don’t either make the elementary mistake of thinking that people who don’t believe in God are stupid or simply uninformed.  Quite possibly, they are bright, intelligent, thoughtful human beings trying to make sense of their world just as you are.  I believe that God put evidence down in His world on both sides of the faith debate such that it would be possible for humans to choose to see Him – or not.  That it would be possible to choose meaningfulness and purpose, or randomness and chance.  He gave us the option to choose, and recommended a choice. But God hides in this world.  You will always find smart believers and smart non-believers.  Smart people who accept Jesus and smart people who don’t.  

My point is that while you are a child, I hope you will get answers that simply affirm why Judaism is the “right” religion and explain away the idol-worship issue.  But as you grow you may wonder why it seems more nuanced than that.  And maybe you will come to see that faith is not a simple answer to a simple question. 

Faith is a choice.  It’s a choice between two options which will each seem viable sometimes.  Faith is a choice that has to be worked on, fed, nourished, loved.  Faith is a journey that will have peaks and valleys.  Faith is a child that must grow up.  Faith is a loving parent that will hold you in its embrace, even when you’re angry at it.

So keep asking questions, Chana – so faith has a chance to build its relationship with you as you grow.  I’m sure you’ll do great on the journey.  I can already tell that you will.  

And please consider me as a resource, if you’d like.  


Uncategorized November 10, 2014

WWYD? Rap Music, To Go

Here goes the launch of my new series: WWYD?

Christians ask WWJD? Dale Carnegie suggests asking WWLD (what would Lincoln do?). And Judaism might say WWHD (what would Hillel do?). Some of the women that study Judaism with me joke around and say WWRD (what would Ruchi do?)! I’m going to be sharing some questions for advice that I get and answers I’ve offered – based on how I understand Torah to guide our life’s daily choices. 

WWYD = what would you do in that situation?
Questions will be shared anonymously and with permission only. Feel free to submit! 

Here we go:

Hi Ruchi,

My family became religious a number of years ago, and we are careful about the media that we allow in our home.  We don’t have a TV, and, with three young children, can and do filter what they see on DVD and the like. 

Recently, my daughter was sharing something she learned at school about how everything we see has an impact on our soul, and therefore, we need to be careful about what we expose ourselves to.  I wholeheartedly agreed, and so did my husband, who, while walking by during this conversation, remarked (not unkindly), “Oh, just like [insert my favorite rap music here].”

I was a little annoyed, and had a private conversation with him about undermining the other parent, yadayada, but if the truth must be told, he’s right.  This rap music is not good for my soul, and I know it. I have three CDs, and I’m just not ready to give them up.  Anyway, I can just access it on you tube whenever I’d want, so is there a point?  Thoughts?

Dear Rap Girl,

Can I just make a few observations?  I really admire your honesty.  Your husband said something that you didn’t appreciate, but you used the opportunity to seek the truth.  I think that’s cool.  Also?  I love that you and your daughter can converse about stuff like that.

Now, to your point.  In sum: you know you should probably dump the music, but you don’t want to.

So this is a if and an how.  Should you dump it, when it can be accessed anyhow?  If so, how to do it so you don’t feel deprived and resentful?

In answer to the first question, yes.  I think you know that already.  In terms of you tube, I think there’s a difference between owning content that exists in your home, and being able to access it online (which is everything).  If you are reading this blog, chances are you have internet access of some sort available to you on a regular basis, and thus, in theory, can access everything under the sun.

I remember once our rabbi telling us that one idea of mezuzah is that it shows that our homes are supposed to be an oasis – a cocoon – of spiritual and emotional safety.  What objects, items, reading material, conversation, media, exists in that home should be mindfully and carefully selected.  Having CDs in your home that you feel are not spiritually or psychologically healthy is something that should be examined through that lens.

Now the next question: how?

I’ve seen many a convert or newly-religious individual forsake too much.  Whether personality, artistic expression, humor, or other outlets – often, people feel they need to dump certain things, either to “fit in” with an overly strict model of integration, or to devote more time to mitzvah activities.

This is a big mistake!  God wants us to use ALL parts of ourselves.  He wants us to bring our creativity, our passions, our artsiness, all of it, to the table.  I love when I meet formerly non-Orthodox people who have all kinds of cool aspects to their lives.  It enriches everyone.  And often, the person who feels he has to dump everything that made him “him,” will wind up resenting it and feeling alone and lost, not knowing who he is anymore.

To that end, I counsel care in the dumping.

I think you need to set up a graduated program of purging your music.  Maybe give one CD away today, and another in a month (or three!), and onward till they’re gone.  Or do this on whatever schedule feels right to you.  The point is, you’re doing it.  Share with your kids what you’re doing.  It’s such a great lesson, and one they will never forget.

Good luck, and happy purging.

Ruchi @ OOTOB

…and what would YOU do?

Uncategorized October 28, 2014

Elevator Pitch


No rush on this…but I’m curious if you can point me to one of your blogs (or someone else’s) to address this issue:

I’m at the airport today with co-workers, all of whom are very well-educated professionals.  Three of us are Jewish, three not (only one male).  Somehow the topic of Orthodox Judaism, kosher, etc. comes up and I overhear the other two Jewish people talking.  Then the woman says, “Well, I could never be Orthodox because they treat women as second-class citizens.”  

Then the guy starts talking about how his mother teaches secular subjects in an Orthodox day school and how before she was allowed to teach, they reviewed her text books and “ripped out most of the pages on Native Americans” because the students weren’t allowed to learn about their lifestyles and/or see pictures of women with their arms uncovered, etc.  Both were chuckling about how outrageous these things are.

Well, I’m sitting there trying to figure out whether to say something, and if so, what would I say.  I had just met the woman at a meeting the day before, and didn’t want to come off in the wrong way (and my boss was there too).  

So, I said, “Well, I study with an Orthodox rabbi and his wife and over the years I’ve learned that Orthodox Judaism really doesn’t feel that way about women.  While I know people may have that misconception, it is really not true.”  The other woman said, well, maybe I just don’t know enough and we left it at that.

Anyway, long story, but I’m curious – do you have a blog or something that “refreshes” my memory about what I might say in these conversations?  Almost like an elevator pitch.  While I feel confident in my belief that this view is not accurate, I would love to have a better handle on some good answers.  Over the years of learning, I know I’ve heard different answers, in different contexts, but when faced with the situation today, I suddenly felt almost at a loss for words. Or, maybe I shouldn’t say anything? 

 Any advice?

Dear Elevator,
There are really two questions, as you articulated.  One, what are the answers I should have at the edge of my brain and tip of my tongue that, while not the entire answer, is easily exportable to others who don’t have the access that I have to what Orthodox living looks like?  Two, when and under what circumstances should I export them?  And if I don’t choose to, what else should I do or say in that moment?
The Torah tells us that it’s important to have those answers at our fingertips – mostly for ourselves.  When someone mocks a group of people or an idea, and we only have a vague feeling or notion that it’s off, it’s really unsettling.  It should be a generalized goal of life to know truth and live by it.  Later, we have to decide how much and when to share those ideas with others – especially when negativity is the context.
So let’s first approach The Truth about the things that were said.
Whenever I or my kids are insulted by someone, the first thing we try to do is ask: is it true?  Meaning, no one – cultural or religious groups, professionals, irrespective of age – is immune to mistakes.  Sometimes the best change comes via unpleasant criticism.  What a great opportunity to use it to introspect and see if it’s true, and if so, what we can do about it.  In this way our greatest mockers become our best coaches (which is a good form of revenge, incidentally).
The Questions:
1. So, are Orthodox Jews anti-women?
2. And are we insular with regards to learning about other cultures and religions?
3. Are we overly consumed with modesty in Victorian ways?
The Truth:

1. Some individual Orthodox Jews are anti-women, but for that matter, so are some non-Orthodox Jews and some Christians and some Chinese people and some Muslims.  A better question is are MOST Orthodox Jews anti-women, or is the RULEBOOK of Orthodox Judaism (the Torah) anti-women?
And I honestly think the answer is NO.  Most Orthodox men that I know treat their wives and other women well. The Torah does teach different paths of spiritual fulfillment for men and women, which definitely highlights different public roles, especially in synagogues, but as I’ve written elsewhere, the great mistake is to judge Orthodox Judaism by what goes on in the synagogue, because what goes on in the synagogue is a fraction of what Orthodox Jewish life looks like. 
In the home, schools, and family, women play a huge role, and perhaps even a huger role than men.  In the Torah as well, we see many instances where husbands are told to listen to their wives in some of the most pivotal decisions to affect the Jewish people, and where the women kept the faith where the men wavered, insuring the continuation as a people.
I’ve noticed a double-standard.  Orthodox women are allowed to make fun of men in speeches, but Orthodox men are NEVER allowed to make fun of women in speeches.  Hmmm.
2. Insular?  Yup.  We believe that idolatry, adultery and murder are really, really, bad, so we avoid them in all their forms.  If I’m at an IMAX and there’s a scene of an ancient culture worshipping their idols, do you know what I do? I close my eyes.  That’s insular.  I don’t want to view something I believe is an affront to my God.  I want my children learning about Native Americans, but I don’t need them learning about the details of their religion where they conflict with Judaism.  All of us are insular, just about different things.  
Within the Orthodox world, you’ll see a big spectrum on this too.  I doubt the school in question was Modern Orthodox, for example.  More insular forms of Orthodoxy will be more likely to censor more strongly – which is good or bad, depending on your orientation.  Most people think the religious guy one notch more religious is a fanatic, whereas the guy one notch less is a flake.  Welcome to the human condition.
3. Well, that’s a toughie.  Who’s to decide what “overly,” what’s “extreme,” and what’s “Victorian”?  In the 1950s national TV looked wildly different than it does today.  In Namibia, for example, some people barely wear clothing at all.  When I see homecoming dresses on Facebook, I blush.  And when it comes to the education of our kids in their most formative years, most Orthodox people opt for a more sheltered culture in terms of how much skin they want their kids to see.  Public schools deal with where to draw the line, and so do we all.  We draw the line in different places, and we all judge each other on our misdrawn lines.  
How many times have I held myself back from commenting on the homecoming dress issue (ok, I just killed my streak)?  Many, because I know that no one is interested in me judging their kids for being immodest.  Just like I don’t want anyone judging me or my kids for being immodest.  There are all kinds of reasons why people will draw their lines in various places (literally) – Jewish law being only one of them.  But Orthodox Jews, and especially their men and kids, are also really sensitive to what they see – not just to what they look like.  Is it possible to see this neutrally?  Instead of negatively?
And, the Pitch:

1. “I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, and, as individuals, I don’t see that they’re any more chauvinistic than anyone else.  They do believe that men and women are different, but mostly only in synagogue – at home, school, and play, it’s a really level playing field.”
2. “I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, and I think the reason they’re kind of insular is because their main goal is to give their kids strong Jewish values, above anything else.  So they really try to filter out the noise in attempting this.  I guess we all do that in different ways, huh?”
3. “I’ve been fortunate to hang out with a lot of Orthodox people, and I think that they are really into modesty.  I mean, we all struggle with where to draw the line in raising our kids, don’t you think?  In that we all agree.  We should probably try to respect each other’s struggle – we’re kind of all the same boat there.  It’s a tough battle.”
The Moment:
Should you say any or all of the above things?  Sometimes just knowing them is enough.  The barometer is, are they interested and open to what you think about Orthodox people?  Will they feel enlightened or annoyed? Expanded or resentful?  That’s your call to make.  But knowing it for yourself is a really good feeling. Sometimes, that’s all we need.  And if the moment does not call for education, feel free to fall back on my favorite parenting word:
Personally, I think you did a fabulous job.
What would you say?
Controversial Observations, Uncategorized June 23, 2014

Rude Orthodox Men

Hi Ruchi,
Was wondering what your thoughts were on this. 
The woman that I work for, who is an unaffiliated Jew, went into the local kosher takeout place yesterday to pick up an order. I go out socially with her and some other friends once a month. They are so respectful and accommodating and want me to be able to eat. They either order from a kosher restaurant or check with me before they buy something from the grocery, and serve on all paper/plastic.

So she asks me in front of the other women last night to explain to her why observant Jews seem to be so unfriendly. She goes on to say that she was waiting at the restaurant to get her order and there was a man with his wife and kids also waiting at the counter. She said in non-Jewish restaurants (elevators, bank lines, etc.) people say hello or might make small talk. She said the people at this kosher place were so unfriendly.
She typically dresses VERY conservatively. She happened to have a sleeveless dress on yesterday with a somewhat plunging neckline, which was out of character for her. So I explained to her that religious men try to be careful about having too much conversation with other women.
I have another friend who is the receptionist at my other office who asked the same thing about a religious man who comes in and barely (if at all) looks at her. If you are not observant, you don’t get this at all. It just seems flat out rude and then these women associate that behavior with Orthodox Jews across the board and probably mention it in conversation to their other friends.
So I understand and value men not making too much conversation with another woman (especially if she is not dressed very modestly) but it affects us religious Jewish people as a whole in such a negative way sometimes. I don’t have an answer. Do you?
Uncategorized June 9, 2014

Why Am I Invited to this Wedding?

Hey Ruchi,
I’ve noticed in the religious community that I’m getting invited to weddings and bar mitzvahs that are out of town and that I would SO OBVIOUSLY not attend because we are not that close to the people, etc. So and so’s daughter is getting married in NY. So and so’s son who used to live here is having a bar mitzvah in Chicago, etc. Do I then I have to send a check or a donation? I sort of feel like… just because one person has the (in my opinion) chutzpah (too strong, I know, but not sure right word) to invite me when it would be pretty extraordinarily to leave town for an acquaintance’s relative’s event, why do I then have to be in the position to send a gift. It happens a handful of times a year. If it were an event in town, it wouldn’t bug me as much. Though even that can feel a little unnecessary based on the VERY CASUAL level of friendship I”m talking about. Friendship is not even the right word… just people I know.
I did not edit this so sorry for typos and general nasty tone. I just opened another invite so was feeling it in the moment.
I have definitely noticed this difference between the religious and secular communities.  Orthodox folks, for some reason (like their guest lists aren’t big enough as it is) invite everyone and their mother to their simchas. It’s just a way of being inclusive.  Gifts are not expected when people don’t attend, unless you’re close – even then it’s in poor taste to “expect” a gift, but you know what I mean.  They’d probably be shocked if you sent one and would then say, “Oh my gosh!  Can you believe they sent a gift!  That was so unexpected and sweet of them.”
But I do always send back the reply card and say thanks so much for including me, and I’m so sorry we cannot participate in person, and end with a blessing (which they’ll appreciate just as a gift) like “May you build a beautiful Jewish home of which everyone can be proud!”
Or to a bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl, “May you grow up to be a wonderful member of your family and community, and bring much nachas to all!”
Hope that helps,
Controversial Observations, Uncategorized September 17, 2013

Leaning in to Bat Mitzvah

Q. Ruchi, my daughter is becoming Bat Mitzvah, and while we love what you and your husband do, and the joy with which you approach Judaism, it is really important to us that our daughter read from the Torah for her bat mitzvah, and that her mom and female relatives be on the bimah as well. Can you help me understand why the Orthodox don’t do those things?

A. In super-Jewish tradition, I’m going to answer your question with some other questions.

1. For years, both the Reform movement, and, to a lesser extent, the Conservative movement, did not give girls and women the same status as boys and men on the bimah. Even today, some Conservative synagogues,while officially recognizing female clergy, simply do not hire female rabbis or cantors. Why?

2. Women in general are grossly underrepresented in this country in business and politics (yes, I’m reading Lean In, and loving it, by the way). Is there any particular reason for this? Or is just a hugely, embarrassingly widespread cultural black eye?

(Interesting side note: Sheryl Sandberg, who is Jewish, creates a fuzzy link in the beginning of her book between underrepresentation in Judaism for girls, as expressed by the religious perceptions of her old-school grandparents, and her desire to make things right for women – although Judaism has not yet appeared since as a factor in her life. But I’m only halfway through the book.)

3. There are some Orthodox synagogues, that, as matter of policy, do not allow ANY bar mitzvah boys to read from the Torah. Only experienced Torah readers are permitted to do this. In fact, entire Chassidic sects do not follow the practice, focusing the bar mitzvah prep instead on the laws the boy will be obligated in (mostly laying tefillin which will be a new practice for the young boy). Why?

I have no idea what the answers are to questions #1 and 2. I will leave that to those more knowledgeable than me in these areas. But the questions do deflate the original question somewhat, which seems to me to carry this implied message:

Everyone is egalitarian but the Orthodox Jew. Get with the program! Evolve!

Or maybe I’m oversensitive.

But that’s just a side point, really, because the real question remains. Why, oh why, can’t we just give a little and allow the sweet, Jewishly motivated bat mitzvah girl on the bimah so she can feel just as important and special as her male counterpart? Couldn’t we just bend the rules a wee bit?

Let me state this loud and clear: how tempting it would be for us, in terms of recruitment and customer satisfaction, to do just that. Not being able to “provide” the bat mitzvah most people want is the biggest thorn in our side. In fact, there would have to be a really, really good reason, one that is not changing, to get us to keep saying “no” – which, to all business views, has got to be the worst PR decision ever.

Let’s start with question #3 – why would a synagogue not allow boys to read from the Torah?


The reason is that halachah – the following of Jewish law, as codified in a variety of classic texts – is the benchmark of Orthodox living.  You may have come across this noun in a variety of Hebrew/English conjugations: halachic, halachically, etc. This is the most important thing to understand about Orthodox Jews and Orthodox shuls – they follow halachah.

They follow it with regards to mechitza. They follow it with regards to minyan – 10 adult Jewish males. They follow it with regards to what you read from the Torah when if it is Rosh Chodesh, a fast day, or someone has yahrtzeit. To how to cover the Torah and when. To who says the mi-sheberach and why. To who has priority with an aliyah on which day.

And they follow it out of the synagogue too. It governs what you eat, how you give charity, what you wear, how you disagree with a parent, how to light a yahrtzeit candle, how to shake a lulav, when to cut someone out of your life, whom to hire when two people want the job.

Halachah states that hearing the Torah reading each Saturday morning (oh, and Monday and Thursday mornings too) is an obligation for adult Jewish males. That means if they miss it, they better have a good reason, because God is going to ask them one fine day when they get upstairs. Obligation first, privilege and honor second.

The fact is that if there is a cute 13-year-old reading Torah, he will very likely make mistakes. It may become questionable if the the reading was kosher. All the people in the room may have reneged on their obligation. Yes, we take this stuff seriously, because we believe it really matters whether our obligation was discharged. That’s why we’re there, and that’s how we roll.

There is a rule in halachah that if someone is not obligated in a particular mitzvah, he or she is unable to discharge others via their performance. Example: in halachah, we are obligated to say a blessing before we eat food. If two people are eating challah, for example, one can say the blessing hamotzie, and the other can say “amen” and the former has discharged the obligation of the latter. They can both eat and enjoy. Dip it in honey or hummus or whatever floats your boat. However, a child cannot say hamotzie for an adult, because the child (under bar or bat mitzvah) is not obligated.

In fact, at my daughter’s bat mitzvah, she said the motzie aloud for everyone, and everyone said “Amen” and dug in – this was to demonstrate that it was her first opportunity to discharge the obligation of others via her new status.

This is one technical halachic reason that girls do not read from the Torah in an Orthodox, halachic service. They are not technically obligated and thus cannot discharge the obligation for others. There are some more interesting thoughts here, especially in the comment section.

But there are two more things I want to say on the subject.


I have a bar mitzvah coming up for my own son. He is not reading from the Torah for various reasons. Oh… how I wish I could celebrate his bar mitzvah the way I celebrated my daughters’ bat mitzvahs. Small party in our home for family and friends.

Nope, it’s not culturally accepted in my circles, so I’m not doing that (go ahead and call me a wimp) but honestly… I believe ALL bnei mitzvah have gotten too elaborate. And I’m not even talking about the party! I’m talking about hosting an entire weekend shebang, out of budget for so many, unheard of until recent history, for a child who is typically too young to get it.

Oh, I’ll enjoy it. It will be so wonderful to spend time with family and friends. But in the greater scheme of Jewish living, this is not the climax it’s given credit for.


It’s no secret that all streams of Judaism are asking the questions of how to keep their youth engaged. And bnei mitzvah specifically is studied in depth in heterodox movements in terms of retention, celebration, messages sent to the youth, and residual feelings of connection, and I applaud this. A recent New York times article included this one, almost breezy, dismissive line:

“Orthodox Jews, who have day schools and do not have equivalent retention problems, are not part of the initiative.”

Ok, whatever, New York Times. Orthodox Jews are not the only ones who have day schools, but you’ve done a good job with the fact, if not the reason. Why do Orthodox Jews not have equivalent retention problems?

Let’s use me as a case study. Not very scientific, I know. I grew up Orthodox. I was Bat Mitzvahed my way. My synagogue was not egal. Yet, I consider myself a joyful, knowledgeable and empowered Jew. I have access and drive and information and practice to learn and observe. If I don’t know something in Judaism, I know exactly how to find out.  In fact, many of my less knowledgeable friends, who turn to me for information and guidance, DID read from the Torah as girls.

I view the halachic structure in Judaism as an elaborate science. Many have tinkered with this piece or that to arrive at a final structure that is more in line with other values – even Jewish values. But if you tinker with science, things, sometimes unforeseen things, happen. Many view religion as an art and not as a science. That’s fine. There are many artful things about religion – in fact, often that’s what I love about it. But when there’s buy-in to the halachic process as a science, it is largely untinkerable.

Oh, we’ll work with bat mitzvah girls however we can within the rubric of halachah.  A havdalah service, for example, is a perfect solution, because halachically it does not require the presence of a minyan, whereas Torah reading does.  

I suppose you can look at my life and that of my Orthodox counterparts and cite other reasons for our strong identity and observance that have nothing to do with not reading from the Torah. But to me, it’s one and the same – the commitment to not change the basic halachic structure, even where, based on modern mores, it seems silly and even arcane. The long view of Jewish history bears out the New York Times’ observation, shared by many heterodox scholars, that Orthodox retention is in a league of its own, and I say halachah has everything to do with it.  And I don’t think it’s all about the Orthodox. I would add that to the degree that there is knowledgeable and joyous fidelity to halachah, no matter what, retention, identification, and affiliation are not far away.

In other words, us Orthodox gals are not who we are despite following halachah, but rather because of it. That not reading from the Torah as part of a bigger picture has made me more Jewish, not less.

And this is really why we will never change our minds about bat mitzvah, frustrating though it is. Even if it means, sadly, losing a few members along the way. Because to us, halachah is and always will be a package deal – for a very, very good reason.

Note: due to the sensitive nature of this post, I am considering allowing comments but not responding to them. Time will tell.

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