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Controversial Observations, Uncategorized June 10, 2013

Why I’m Not A Pluralist

Pluralism:  a theory that there are more than one or more than two kinds of ultimate reality 

I wonder if Merriam Webster was a nice Jewish girl.

In a post a little while ago, Larry made an insightful comment explaining the difference between inclusivism and pluralism.  Inclusivism means I don’t think you’re right, but I will include and value you.  Pluralism means you’re right and I’m also right.  There are multiple ways to be right.

Now here’s my question.  Religious pluralism does not make any mathematical sense to me, because to me, religion is based on facts.  Either God did or didn’t write the Torah as we have it today.  Either the Torah was or wasn’t given at Sinai.  Either Moses did or didn’t perform those miracles.  If religion isn’t based on a belief in facts, then what is it based on?

Take other popular debates: vaccines either do or don’t cause autism.  Either baby carrots do or don’t have chlorine on them.  Drinking coffee either does or doesn’t make your teeth yellow.  You wouldn’t hear a pluralist say, “Well, I believe that vaccines cause autism, so that’s true for me, but if you don’t believe that, then it’s not true for you.  You’re right, and I’m right.”  That’s not a fact-based argument.

If you are an evolved religious debater, you will be thinking at this point, Ruchi.  Don’t you know that even within religious thought there is a plethora of ambiguity and pluralism?  Take Hillel and Shammai.  Weren’t they both right?  Aren’t there “shivim panim latorah,” 70 ways to interpret Torah, all of which are correct?

70 but not 71.  13 ways to interpret the Torah: not more.  Where Hillel and Shammai debated, each opinion revealed a different facet of the topic at hand, both of which might have been correct, but the halacha was always determined to be either one or the other.  Or sometimes one in private, one in public.  One in temple times, and one in diaspora.  One in ideal circumstances, one to rely upon only under duress. 

While I greatly appreciate that a non-Orthodox pluralist thinks that it is correct to drive on Shabbat and also correct not to, honestly it would make more sense to me if she thought I was wrong.

And that is why I’m not a pluralist.  

Uncategorized March 11, 2013

How to Clean for Pesach (Passover) in One Day

You’ve started cleaning after Chanukah?  Used your snow days to tackle the attic for Pesach?  Almost done?


Here’s how to let Pesach become a fun holiday again, one you don’t dread.  But my method has a few ground rules:

1. If your children (or you) regularly eat chometz in odd places, like bedroom closets, and those places are not cleaned regularly throughout the year, you cannot clean for Pesach in one day.

2. You will need the help of one able-bodied adult.  This may or may not take the form of paid help – more on costs in a moment.  It can be a friend, an older kid (feel free to bribe) or a relative.  You can’t do it totally alone, unless you live in a tiny condo and are the sole occupant.  I have a cleaning woman help me.  What should you delegate to your helper?  Whatever you hate to do.

3. Some people spend money because they don’t want to spend more time, and some people spend more time because they don’t want to spend more money.  Adjust my suggestions based on your budget and personality.

4. If you have young children, they will need to be out of your hair for the day – but remember, it’s ONE day.  By “young” I mean too young to be truly helpful.  Teens should stay and help, unless their job is keeping your younger kids occupied.  And they won’t mind staying since it’s only ONE day.  In fact, they will be bragging to all their friends how little they had to help.  Help for your younger kids can come in the form of paid help, or a friend or relative – or your teen.  Have someone take them out to a museum, out for a pizza lunch, whatever.  Just out.  Of.  Your.  Way.  For the day.

5. For those of you that are concerned/curious about the halachic aspects of my suggestions, these ideas are based on talks I have heard from Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst of Chicago and Rabbi Baruch Hirschfeld of Cleveland.  If you have family customs that are stricter than mine, it might take you longer than one day.

6. These suggestions are based on your typical single family colonial home.  If your home is much smaller or larger than that, adjust your expectations accordingly.

7. I am not addressing WHEN to clean.  This will largely be impacted by where and how you cook.  If you have an alternative place to cook that is kosher for Pesach, you can cook in advance and clean literally 2 days before the Seder.  If you don’t, you will want to do your cleaning day a few days in advance so you can cook in your newly Passovered kitchen.  What and where your family will eat during those few days is not within the scope of this piece (heh heh).  Ok, kidding, you will have to leave one space (garage, basement) not-clean-for-Pesach where chometz is still allowed.  The morning of the Seder, this should take half-hour to clean up, max.

Ready?  Let’s go.

We approach the house as though it’s concentric circles, with the dining room and mainly the kitchen as the epicenter.  We start with the peripherals, since they are the easiest.  In my home, here’s where we eat: the kitchen and the dining room;
occasionally in the family room and living room; chocolates and nuts by
guests in the basement (note: neither of those are true chometz); and
anything else is contraband.  The kids are not allowed to eat upstairs.  Do they sometimes?  Yeah.  We’ll deal.  I don’t allow them to eat all over the house.  Not because I’m Pesach-obssessed all year (I think it’s a big mistake to be) but because it’s gross.

9:00 am: Basement

Since the basement is a place where chometz generally doesn’t happen, I don’t clean it.  Plus, even if chometz did go there, every now and then (not telling how often) the basement gets vacuumed.  So it’s gone.  No need to move furniture on the off-chance.  I go down there, I give a quick look-see, peek under beds and pull out any large anything I can see, and we’re done.  Shalom.

Estimated time: 15 minutes.

9:15 am: Upstairs

Since the upstairs is a place where I don’t allow chometz, any children who have offended during the year are responsible for their own clean-up, after which I inspect.

Estimated time: 15 minutes

At this point you might be wondering about organizing, emptying drawers and shelves, and cleaning.  But maybe you forgot that this is about Pesach.  So that’s why I didn’t mention it, and that’s why I don’t do it.  I organize throughout the year, and sometimes after Pesach.  In my opinion, the WORST time in the world to organize is before Pesach, when it gets attached to so much other stress.  In fact, I think it should be illegal.

9:30 am: Garage

The garage contains a big job, which is my spare fridge and freezer.  I empty everything that’s left in the big freezer, which is not much because I’ve been slowing down on the buying, and consolidate it in my small kitchen freezer.  I leave the freezer open and turn it off to defrost.  Later, my cleaning lady will clean it.  She does a regular cleaning job, same as a good cleaning any day of the year, except we clean the rubber seal very well in its grooves.  The spare fridge I have her clean and wipe down with some spray cleaner of some sort.  Voila.  It’s now kosher for Passover.  No lining of shelves, no nothing.  If I have some food items that are not used up (there’s always jelly and pickles) I designate one drawer, put all the stuff in it, and tape it shut.  It gets sold with the chometz.

The rest of the garage involves just looking around and making sure there’s no chometz.  No organizing.

Estimated time: 45 minutes.

10:15 am: Bathrooms

The only thing I am concerned about in the bathroom is toothpaste that might contain chometz.  I find out which brand is ok to use for the current year, put the other toothpastes aside in a place that I am selling (we’ll come back to this), and make a note to get new ones (and new toothbrushes).

Estimated time for all bathrooms: 15 minutes, max.

10:30 am: Family room

My main job is the family room is usually the couch but this year we have a new couch where the cushions don’t come off.  I LOVE THIS COUCH!  We take the dustbuster and vacuum the crevices where we see stuff.  Here’s what we don’t do: move furniture away from the wall that doesn’t get moved all year.  Wash toys.  Organize board games.  Sort CDs and DVDs.  Move the piano.

Why don’t I wash toys?
1. Because my children don’t eat while they play.
2. Because even if they did, I periodically sort and organize my toy closet and if there were a piece of birthday cake, it’s gone now.

Estimated time: 15 minutes.

10:45 am: Living room

My main job in the living room is the couches.  Since we sometimes move furniture around, I move the furniture, me or my helper(s) vacuum under them, we pull all the cushions off the couch and it gets vacuumed inside.  Ditto for the comfy chairs.  Done.  Don’ts: wash curtains.  Dust lights.  Rearrange the mantle.

Estimated time: 30 minutes.

11:15 am: Dining room

This is a big job so I’ll break it down into pieces.

1. Bookshelf.  We take off the shelves all the “benchers” – little booklets that are literally used during the Shabbos meals and actually could contain challah.  Do we clean them?  Nah.  We put them in a closet that will be sold for Pesach.  We wipe the shelves where they sat.  Time: 10 minutes.

2. Folding chairs.  We have a little nook where we keep folding chairs.  We take out the chairs, and, using a blowdryer, blow around them to blast out crumbs.  We wipe down the inside of the closet.  Time: 15-30 minutes to remove, clean, wipe, and replace.

3. Buffet.  I have two sides of the inside of the buffet: one side I will use for Passover dishes, and one side I will sell.  The side I will sell I don’t touch at all – I just tape it shut with masking tape.  The other side I empty, wipe down, replace.  I also blowdry and wipe the top, then cover it with a clean tablecloth.  Time: 15-30 minutes.

4. Dining room chairs.  I (or my helpers) bowdry the crevices of the chairs, then wipe them down.  Time: 15 minutes.

5. Dining room table.  I open the table without the leaves so any crumbs that may be lurking fall through.  I wipe the leaves and put on a tablecloth.  Time: 10 minutes.

Total dining room estimated time: With lots of wiggle room, 1 1/2 hours.  (Really less because you and your helper are working simultaneously, so let’s settle on one hour.)

12:15 pm: Break for lunch

1:00 pm: Kitchen 

Here, too, I am going to break the job down into parts.

1. Oven.  This job I definitely delegate to my cleaning help.  She cleans it just as she would all year, and then we will run the self-cleaning cycle, but before we do, I clean the cooktop, because I put the grates of the burners into the oven during the cycle, which kashers them.  Time: 1/2 hour cleaning. 
While self-cleaning cycle runs, we move on.

2. Fridge/freezer.  We empty everything out into laundry baskets so my cleaning lady can clean on the inside.  Some stuff I toss, some I put into little containers to put back in the fridge, some I give away.  Don’t move fridge away from wall.  Time: 45 minutes.

3. Tables and chairs.  Ditto for blowdry/wipedown method mentioned above.  I move the kitchen table away and sweep under it.  Wipe down kitchen table and put plastic disposable tablecloth over it, which I tie under it to keep it anchored.  Time: 15 minutes.

4. Small appliances: sandwich maker, toaster.  I put them in the pantry, where I have all the chometz to sell.  I don’t clean them at all.  Actually, I move them to the garage where my kids will eat their meals till seder.  Time: 5 minutes.

5. Cabinets.  I designate a few drawers and cabinets that I will be using the week of Passover, and empty them.  I put the contents into other non-Passover drawers or in the pantry I will be selling.  My cleaning lady/kids clean out the insides of those drawers and cabs that I will use by wiping down with some cleanser.  Voila.  They are now kosher-for-Passover.  I use masking tape to mark the “chometz” domains and move some stuff to the folding table in the garage that we will be using temporarily.  Time: maybe an hour.

6. Cooktop, counters, sinks.  These get cleaned really well, like a really good regular cleaning.  The sinks get taped off for the next 24 hours to prepare for kashering (which my husband does).  The counters will get kashered too the following night.  The cooktop gets covered with foil and then I replace the grates that went through the self-clean cycle.  Time: 30 minutes.

Total kitchen estimated time: 3 hours.

It’s now four pm and your house is clean for Passover.  Mazel tov!  When your kids are all home, they will take their backpacks and empty them outside of any crumbs.  You will then throw them in the laundry and, if you have a mudroom, your kids are each responsible to clean their own cubbies.  Estimated time: depends on how pokey your kids are.

The last item is the car.  This is most definitely a place that I’d rather spend money than time.  I take my car to a local car wash (yeah AlPaul) and for $20 all our chometz misdeeds therein are erased.  But even if you tackle the car yourself, there’s no need to remove seats or anything drastic like that.  You vacuum and remove visible chometz.  Dirt’s cool, so just leave it there.  Estimated time for car: 1 hour, tops.  This is also a great thing to delegate to your kids or cleaning help.

Enjoy your holiday!

Uncategorized December 15, 2011

Best Jewish Apps

What’s on my phone right now?  I always love the coolness of combining technology with religiosity.  So fun.  So I decided to share with y’all which Jewish apps are currently hanging out on my phone:

1. Zmanim

This literally means “times.”  In Judaism, the exact minute of sunrise and sunset are very important, as well as many points in between (like their midpoint).  Why?  There are certain times of day designated for certain prayers.  When Shabbat and holidays start and end.  When ANY day starts and ends.  Like if you need to figure out which is the 8th day for a bris.  So this app detects your location and offers you all the important times:  sunrise, till when you can do the morning prayers, midday, the earliest time you can do the afternoon prayers, sunset, nightfall, and mid-night (not to be confused with 12:00 am).

You can also change the date or location, like if you want to know when Shabbat will begin in four months (like for people who plan Shabbatons, ahem) or if you’ll be traveling and want to know if you can still catch a minyan at your destination.

2. Siddur

This is a prayerbook app.  The free one is Hebrew only (yup, that’s what I’ve got – I’m cheap, but for a small fee you can download one with English) and has bookmarks for the morning blessings, the Shema, the Amidah, the afternoon prayers (mincha), the evening prayers (maariv), “bentching” – Grace After Meals, the travelers’ prayer, and more.  It’s perfect for when I’m on the go, but, like many anti-Kindle peeps, I feel it’s just not the same.  Also quite distracting when an email or call comes in while I’m supposed to be concentrating on the Lord.  But there’s a concept in Judaism of looking at the words while you pray – even if you know it by heart.  Or maybe especially if you do.  Because it helps you concentrate, while you might be tempted to rattle it off by rote.  So this is great in a pinch.

3. Tehillim

This is the Book of Psalms.  Yeah, in an app.  Oxymoron?  Nah.  Jewish tradition has us turning to this book to pray for assistance or gratitude in any circumstance.  I confess, I’ve never used it.  I always revert to whispering the ones I know by heart.  But it’s very cool and has fun bookmarks.  Also, it makes me feel good just by being on my phone.

4. Calendar converter

This is a totally fun app that gives you the Hebrew dates for English and vice versa.  Very handy for choosing bar and bat mitzvah dates for our Sunday school kids.

5. Google calendar: Jewish holidays

This isn’t really an app, but did you know you could download the Jewish calendar into your google calendar?  Then all the Jewish holidays appear instantly, including Rosh Chodesh (first day of  the new Jewish month), and, if you’d like, the various Torah portions each week.  You can even choose your dialect for Hebrew (like Shabbos or Shabbat).  Very useful for making sure you don’t schedule an event on the first night of Passover or something like that.

6.  Avot

This is all six chapters of Pirkei Avot – the Ethics of the Fathers.  I’m teaching it in a class, and it’s perfect for checking quickly what we’re up to or reviewing before class.

7. Kol Halashon

Just downloaded this last week and I’ve already used it a bunch of times.  It’s for the more experienced learner, and basically it takes what is already a telephone learning service and offers it in app form.  It’s an extensive and organized collection of Torah lectures by today’s most popular lecturers.  You can choose parsha, mishna, Talmud, Jewish law, character improvement.  You can choose Hebrew, English, Yiddish and other languages.  I’ve bookmarked my four favorite lecturers.  You can either download the lectures or just play them, so it’s great for travel.  Eats up quite a bit of memory, but for me, totally worth it.

Which Jewish apps are hanging out on your phone?

Uncategorized October 6, 2011

Is Your Dog Orthodox?

Why are Orthodox kids scared of dogs?

I have a better question:  Why do dog-owners get offended when Orthodox kids are scared of their dogs?

Here’s the answer to the first question; dog owners will have to supply the answer to the second:

Orthodox kids typically do not grow up with dogs as pets.  Their relatives and classmates typically do not either.  Therefore, they are not used to them.  Therefore, they don’t know how to read their signals or distinguish from pit pull to golden retriever (did I get that right?).  When a huge doggie leaps up and is larger than said child (or not), it can be frightening.

Which begs an even better question:  Why don’t Orthodox people typically own dogs?

Some hypotheses:

1. They have more kids instead of pets.  Me, if I ever thought I had the time and mental energy to handle caring for an animal, I’d say to myself: Self!  What is stopping you from bringing another child into this world?

2. For kids of Holocaust survivors, dogs were a no-no, as the Germans used them for crowd control, and worse.

3. There are some Halachic issues with caring for a pet on Shabbat and holidays.  Yes, yes, I know that they can all be surmounted, but some people would prefer to avoid this issue in the first place.

4. Part of Jewish philosophy is the stressing of the distinction between human and animal.  I don’t know if or how that relates, but I sure find it interesting, especially as society as a whole tends to humanize animals and animalize humans.  Think Curious George all the way down to the Berenstein Bears, to the zoo telling us we are simply cooler primates.  Jewish philosophy disagrees.

5. Due to the above and possibly reasons I’ve never thought of, it has become culturally unusual for Orthodox people to own dogs – which drives its own resistance.

Nevertheless, I want to stress that it is not AGAINST Halacha (Jewish law) to own a dog, and if an Orthodox person wants to, he most certainly can, and all the power to him, and that’s awesome.

And if it could please not lick my face, I’d be decidedly grateful.

Any other hypotheses out there?

Uncategorized August 22, 2011

The Decision Every Woman Must Make

Okay, it’s not “what to wear.”

But it is related.

Every woman that I know has boundaries around what she will allow herself to wear.  Some things are just too low-cut, too tight, too skimpy, or too provocative.  At the same time, every woman wants to look and feel pretty, cute, and attractive.

This creates problems.  Because wherever you draw your line, chances are there are some clothes that will come awfully close to your boundary on either side – either it makes you look great, but it might be over the line, or it’s within your line, but doesn’t make you look as great as you feel you could look.

Welcome to the world of tzniyus.

The word “tzniyus” (TZNEE-yus), also pronounced “tzniyut” (tznee-OOT), is often mistranslated.  It’s a very positive character trait, and is a combination of dignity, privacy, and self-respect.  Not oversharing.  No TMI.  Boundaries.  You may hear it translated as “modesty” which is only one aspect of this trait.  It applies to men and women in different ways and impacts every facet of reality, including, but not limited to, speech, thought, comportment, dress, and attitude.

When a woman in particular tries to incorporate tzniyus into her dress, she may find herself struggling with what looks good, but not too provocative.  This is very tough, because every woman has an individual sense of style, which is a good thing, and because the fashion world around us is so weird and capricious and markets women in incredibly stupid ways.

This is something I think about a lot.

On the one hand, I follow halacha [Jewish law], and it’s my Bible.  So tzniyus means skirts only, and covering my knee or longer.  It means tops will always cover my collar bone, and it means my arms will be covered till at least the elbow.  I’m proud that I dress this way.  I am indentifiable as an observant Jew and I feel self-respect towards my body.  But there are so many other dragons to slay.

How tight?  How bright?  How head-turning?  What am I trying to communicate about myself?  Am I succeeding?  I’m not immune to fashion; are you?  As the styles change, do my values?  Are pointy shoes really weird or do I just think they’re weird because I haven’t seen them enough?  Will pop culture change how I view my body image?  Is it better to look like everyone else, or is it important or healthy for me to be different?

Do you struggle with this, fellow females?  Where are your boundaries?  How do you deal?

Uncategorized July 28, 2011


My name is Ruchi, and I wear a wig.

Wow, that felt good.

So I do have hair, and it HAPPENS not to be gray (hardly).  It’s not shaven.  I don’t actually know anyone who shaves her head. It’s kind of pretty.  I think.

I wear a wig because I cover my hair since getting married.

I cover my hair because I follow halacha.

I follow halacha because I believe passionately that this is what God wants me to do, and also because I have seen that following halacha is a really smart and systemized way to live an incredibly meaningful life.

But I do not like wearing a wig.

It’s not very comfortable, it’s not cheap, and it feels disingenuous.

Different halachically-sensitive (how’s that for a label?) Jewish women cover their hair in different ways.  Some partially, some fully.  Some all the time, some sometimes.  Some with a wig, some with a snood, some with cool, colorful, ethnic scarves or wraps, and some with demure black thingy-doos.

Why do we young women with pretty hair cover it once we’re married?

It’s NOT because we think it looks better, although some women’s wigs are nicer than their hair.  It’s because Jewish tradition teaches that a woman’s hair is the most alluring, sensual, make-a-statement part of her whole face.  And if you wonder if I’m right, take a look at any magazine and study hair product ads for women.

And therefore, once she is married, that alluring, sensual, make-a-statement part of her face is visually and tangibly reserved for her husband, not to mention a constant reminder to herself that she is married.  If you are wondering why men don’t have to cover their hair, maybe this was what God was thinking when he created male baldness.

There are some communities that don’t believe that wigs fulfill  the spirit of the law.  That believe that hair should be covered in a way that no one is fooled.  My community does not follow this way, but I like it.  I get it.  I feel it is more genuine to wear a scarf or hat instead of a pretty wig.

Also, wigs can be more alluring and sensual than your own hair.  Just sayin’.

But I do wear a wig, because this is the cultural norm in my community and I get a nice one because I, like you, like to feel that I look “normal” and pretty.

But as I wear my wig, I alternate wondering the following:
1. Is my wig too nice?
2. Is my wig nice enough?
3. Can people tell it’s a wig?
4. Do I want them to?
5. When can I get this thing off and put on a comfy bandanna???

What do you wonder?
Glossary: Shaitel (pronounced SHAY-t’l) – Yiddish word for wig
Halacha – Jewish law.  Literally, “walking the walk”

Uncategorized July 27, 2011

The Long Black Skirt

Everyone has it. Their go-to outfit that they throw on when they’re not interested in fussing and just wanna be comfy.

For me, it’s my long black skirt.

Ok, confession: I have 6 long black skirts. Of course, they all serve different purposes (c’mon, ladies, it’s like black shoes).

Why do I so very often wear a long black skirt?

Firstly, I ONLY wear skirts.  According to halacha (Jewish law), which is the code by which I navigate my life, my skirt has to cover my knees at all times: sitting, standing, running (more on running later).
So to me, a “short skirt” is one that just covers my knees, and a long skirt goes till my ankles. Happen to be very trendy right now.  Google “maxi skirt” and see what happens.

Why black? It always matches, it’s always appropriate, and it always looks clean.

But *sigh* I really don’t like to wear black. Why? Because I don’t want people to think that following halacha means living a dour, boring, colorless life. It’s complex.

So there are things I do because I think they’re good and right, and then there are things I do because I want others to think well of traditional, observant Judaism.

Does this complicate my life? Somewhat.

But, eternal optimist that I am, I prefer to think of think of this confusing interface as a path to enriching my life.