Browsing Tag

how-to Judaism

Uncategorized September 6, 2012

9 FAQ For Your First Orthodox Wedding

Invited to an Orthodox wedding for the first (or second or third) time?  Scared out of your pants skirt??  Don’t know what to wear, what to bring as a gift, or how to decode the invitation?  Hang on tight.  I’ll walk you right through the anxiety.

Note: Within the Orthodox community there is a range of expectations and habits surrounding the wedding.  I’ll address the kinds of weddings I’m used to attending in my community, and I welcome comments on other kinds of Orthodox weddings that are different from what I describe.


If you are female, this is your first question.  Well, it’s probably your first question about everything, but especially here.  But even if you are male, you might wonder.

Women: “Is it inappropriate to wear black?”  Um, no.  In some circles you might even wonder if it’s mandatory.  Although color is most definitely making a comeback, you can’t go wrong with basic black.

Not OK is sleeveless clothing, short clothes (you will see most guests covering the knee), and low cut tops (most guests will have collarbones covered).  There is a garment you will want to know about.  It’s called a “shell.”  It’s basically a layering top, but dressy, with a crew neck top and long sleeves, that you can pretty much layer under almost anything you already have in your closet.  Lots and lots of your fellow females will be garbed in this wonder invention.

Guys: your basic black dress suit is perfect.  Most Orthodox weddings aren’t the tux type.  A nice dress tie and you’re good.  But y’all have an additional complication: the yarmulke.  You should wear a yarmulke to an Orthodox wedding.  In theory you can wear any old kind you like, but if you’re the type that wants to fit in, you should leave the satin one at home and find out what kind of yarmulke the crowd wears.  Because it’s kind of a statement.


Yes, this is a frequently asked question.  The answer is yes, but in private.  Judaism teaches that our romantic affections ought be reserved for private spaces.  Take it or leave it, but you will not see the kiss.  Sorry.  Hang out at the airport and you will see lots.


Some Orthodox weddings will have completely separate seating.  Some with a mechitza (this may be more for the dancing than for the seating, depending on the crowd).  Some will have mixed seating, with certain tables “men-only” and some “women-only.”  Others will have mixed seating entirely.

All Orthodox chuppahs that I have personally attended are seated separately.

Dancing will always be separate, as it is a feature of Jewish law not to have mixed dancing.  However, this can range from with a mechitza to simply separate circles with no mechitza.


Firstly, no one *has* to dance.  It’s a mitzvah to make the bride and groom happy, which is supposed to be the goal of any wedding attendee: to achieve this mitzvah.  To that end, some weddings have a circus-like quality to them, with guests juggling, singing special songs, and bringing in all sorts of cute “shtick” – paraphernalia, props, and inside jokes to make the bride and groom laugh.  You might also see gymnastic feats, fire-eaters, jump-ropers, or who-knows-what else.  It’s really fun.

The dancing itself is your typical hora-style circle dancing with a bit of a twist.  The bride/groom/parents usually hover at the center, pulling in close friends and family to whirl around with.


The invitation lists two start times: one for the “kabbalas panim” – when the bride and groom sit, throne-like, and the guests come forward to wish mazel tov.  The second time is for the chuppah.

Hint: don’t come at the first listed time.  Only you and the photographer will be there.  If you want to be on time for the chuppah (some guests come afterwards for the dancing if they can’t come right away – which is fine – it’s kind of casual as far as coming and going when it works for you), consider coming twenty minutes after the first listed time.  You will then have time to greet the family and wish mazel tov before the chuppah begins.  (Sidebar: you will notice that even non-related guests greet each other with “mazel tov.”  Try it, you’ll like it.)

There will be a long break between the chuppah and dancing.  This is because the bride and groom adjourn to their private room (see #2) and afterwards take pictures together – this is because many abide by a custom that bride and groom don’t see each other for a week prior to the wedding and thus have not been together to take pictures until after the chuppah.  The guests will begin dinner until the bride and groom enter the hall in an explosion of music and dancing.


If your kids are not listed on the invitation, but are close to either the bride or groom, it is acceptable to bring them for the kabbalas panim and chuppah only.  Then they can go home before dinner.


Hm.  This is a question about Jewish music today, which is kind of beyond the scope of this post.  I’ll just say that at most Othodox weddings today, you will NOT hear “hava nagila” and “heveinu shalom aleichem.”  That’s reserved for non-Orthodox bnei mitzvah.  Orthodox music has “moved on” to include all kinds of eclectic stuff, which you may love or hate.  You may think it’s awesome, or reject the fact that it’s Jewish.  But that’s what you can expect.  (At a wedding I attended last night, one particular instrumental segment contained strains of both “The Brady Bunch” theme song as well as the one from “Gilligan’s Island.”)


Very solemn.  Hopefully.  It’s considered an incredibly holy time.  Many guests rise when the bride and groom are walked down, in respect of their role as king and queen for the evening.  The sources teach that the divine presence comes down at this moment, and that the gates of heaven open for prayer.  The souls of loved ones are believed to be present.  You might see guests praying.  The bride and groom are often praying, sometimes tearfully, as it’s a personal Yom Kippur for them.  It’s about a 20 minute service, mostly in Hebrew.  The Aramaic ketubah is read aloud.


I have no idea why, but people don’t bring their gifts to the Orthodox weddings I’ve been to.  They either drop them off in advance or after the fact.

While some brides register, many don’t, which leaves you on your own.  Checks are always considered appropriate, often in denominations of “chai” – $18.  If the couple is moving to Israel, this is your best bet, so they don’t have to shlep anything.  Otherwise, household goods, cookbooks, crystal, or Judaica such as kiddush cups.  I don’t recommend mezuzah covers, although it seems so intuitive, because most of them are too small to contain a kosher scroll.

Well, now you’re all prepared.  Remember that you are doing a mitzvah by attending and don’t forget to have fun.  Find a nice Orthodox person and ask all your questions.  He or she will most likely be glad to do a little hand-holding!

Mazel tov!  What are your experiences with Orthodox weddings?

Related post:  Cultural Oddities: Simcha Celebrations

Uncategorized March 21, 2012

What Makes a Proud Jew?

Quick poll:

Do you consider yourself a proud Jew?

If so, what was the primary contributing factor to that pride?  (You may choose more than one – this is not House Hunters.)

1. Your home/parents
2. Grandparents
3. Jewish day school (through 8th grade)
4. Jewish day school (through 12th grade)
5. Time spent in Israel
6. Jewish summer camp
7. Other (what?)

Ready?  Go.

Uncategorized March 15, 2012

Shabbat Dinner Menu and Recipes… My Way

Time for a food post! 
And since Shabbos/Shabbat is coming, here’s the long-ago promised Shabbos dinner menu
and recipes.  For those of you that are
regular readers, you already know I’m not a foodie, so my recipes are somewhat
laissez-faire.  That’s my one and only

My Shabbos menu is a merger of tradition and what we love –
that’s what I think Shabbos should be, in general.  We maintain the “traditional” feel  by sticking to a generally similar menu
structure, and then there are places I experiment and have fun.  So here goes.


  • Challah with spreads
  • Gefilte fish with horseradish and salads (occasionally
    salmon too if I’m feeling fancy or we’re having company)

  • Chicken soup – usually with matza balls
  • Main course is where I have fun.  My default-mode is baked chicken of all varieties,
    a grain such as couscous or rice, and usually the ever-traditional and favored
    potato kugel.  However, often we have
    meatballs (my husband’s favorite) or chicken cutlets.  The salads from the first course round out
    the main.
  • Dessert consists of pastries from the bakery – again, this
    is my husband’s favorite no matter what we make at home!  My daughters love to bake (where’d they get
    that from?) so sometimes it’s homemade treats too, or sorbet, or sometimes my
    guests bring dessert.
  • I usually make the challah, but sometimes I get lazy and
    buy it instead.  Also, my family loves “water
    challah” – eggless challah from the bakery.
  • “Spreads”: my husband loves mayo on his challah, and many of
    our guests have learned of this unfortunate trick.  We also add chummus to the offerings.  On a good week I’ve been known to make
    jalapeno dip, olive dip, and… um, that’s all.
  • Fish:  People seem
    flabbergasted that my gefilte fish is not Mrs. Adler’s in jelled broth.  But I don’t quite make it from scratch
    either, although when I lived in Israel I sure did that.  I buy a frozen loaf, unwrap it, spray it with
    a bit of olive oil cooking spray, sprinkle the top with lemon pepper, and bake
    for like an hour.   It’s so good, it
    almost doesn’t last till dinner.  Someone
    keeps coming over to cut off slivers and before you know it, half is gone.  Okay, so that someone is usually me.
  • Soup: I never called it “matza ball soup” growing up.  Firstly, I was raised calling matza balls “kneidlach”
    (the Yiddish name) and sometimes we had them; sometimes we didn’t.  The main attraction was the chicken soup,
    loaded with veggies and completely heavenly (shout out to my amazing mother
    here).  However I’ve learned that your
    average Jew calls it matza ball soup and the main attraction is by far the
    actual matza ball.  Everything else is “broth”
    – a word I never used in my childhood.
  • Challah
1 (5 lb) bag flour (regular, whole wheat, or a combination)
1 ½ c sugar
½ c honey
3 eggs
3 tablespoons dry yeast
4 c warm water
2 tablespoons salt
1 c oil
This yields 5 or 6 medium-sized loaves.  Sorry for the huge amounts but I never make
less.  You can halve this recipe
easily.  Throw it all in a mixer or mix
by hand.  Allow to rise.  There’s a special mitzvah to separate a small
piece with a special blessing and prayer (beyond the scope of this post).  Shape, braid, rise again, brush with egg
wash, sprinkle with sesame/poppy and bake for 45 min on 325.  Hide from children till Shabbos.  The challah, not yourself.   Although
that sometimes works too.
  • Potato kugel
7 potatoes (white, sweet, or combo thereof)
1 onion
¼ c oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs
Shred the potatoes and onion in a food processor.  Dump out, then put the bottom blade into the food processor and
dump everything in.  Process just till
blended.  Bake on 350 for forever.  Okay, so more like 2 hours.  Taste for a while until you’re sure it came
out good.
  • Jalapeno dip
5 fresh jalapeno peppers
1 large can of tomato sauce (whatever you think large is)
5 cloves of garlic minced – now, I never mince garlic.  That is too much work for this
non-foodie.  I buy the frozen garlic
cubes at Trader Joe’s that come from Israel. 
Each cube = one clove.
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut off tops of peppers and process in food processor (that’s
the hardest part).  Sautee in oil with
the garlic.  Add tomato sauce and salt
and pepper and simmer for anywhere from 20 min to an hour.  This keeps in the fridge for weeks, by the way (not that you’ll have any left over).
  • Chicken Soup
However much chicken you want – I put it in a net bag for
easy removal – place in large pot
Carrots, celery, parsnip, sweet potato, onion, squash –
however many you want
Water till the top
Seasonings: garlic powder, dill, rosemary, salt, pepper
Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of hours.  Irresistible.
  • My favorite salad
Romaine lettuce
Lightly sautéed steak-sliced mushroom
Cherry tomatoes
Purple onion, sliced thinly
Hearts of palm
A generous squirt of ketchup.  Okay, two.
A little olive oil, or more if you don’t care about calories
Same amount of vinegar as ketchup
A little sugar, or more if you don’t care about calories
Paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper, dry mustard.
Whisk and taste.  Add
sugar if not sweet enough or vinegar if too sweet.
Add croutons if you’re so inclined or some other crunchy
like slivered almonds.
Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom!
What are your
favorite Shabbos dishes?  Do you go more
traditional or more with your personal favorites?
Related posts:
Uncategorized January 18, 2012

Ask the Rabbi

I’m a huge believer in everyone acquiring a mentor for
themselves – in spirituality.  I have a
number of mentors.  Some are men, some
are women.  Some are relatives, some are
friends, and some are neither.
But I have only one Rabbi.
The word “Rabbi” is an English word that comes from the
Hebrew word “Rav.”  Rav means “great.”  It refers
to someone that is great – great in Torah knowledge, great in character traits,
great in wisdom and great in kindness.  Torah
leadership is characterized by the synthesis of those features: Knowledge and
ethics are indivisible.  The Torah is
full of character sketches of those that were great in Torah knowledge but not
character – they are not our heroes.
Our Rabbi is wise, humble, self-effacing.  He is spiritual and lives oh-so-simply.  He is straight as an arrow.  Ethereal, yet totally gets our world.  I honestly cannot imagine life without his guidance.  We ask him questions ranging from a point of
minutiae in Jewish law, advice on budgeting for our new home, whether it’s
ethical to forward an email without permission, and how to navigate family
conflicts.  We ask him how much to push
our kids and when to chill out, how to balance our adherence to Jewish law with
the widely divergent observance level of our friends, and whether it would be a
violation of the laws of lashon hara (not to gossip)
to share a story for a greater cause.
In the Orthodox world this concept is known as daas Torah – literally, the wisdom of
Torah.  It refers to the special insight
a person cultivates when they learn and live Torah.   Likewise, there is a broad range of how
often and how much any given person relies on their Rabbi’s advice and
guidance.  In the Chassidic world, there
is a more intense and closely bonded relationship, whereas in other points along the Ortho-spectrum the relationship might be less intense.  
It may come as a surprise that the Rabbis don’t control the
intensity of the relationship – the “student” does.  As well, the “student” controls who his/her
Rabbi will even be.  I remember people
asking me whether my Orthodox Rabbi “allows” me to do this or that.  I laughed; my Rabbi doesn’t allow or disallow
anything.  He is a public servant, not
its taskmaster.  My Rabbi only tells me
what to do if I ask and then I can go home and do whatever I want.  Nope, no 1984-type surveillance as far as the
eye can see…
So how to choose a Rabbi?
Many people choose their Rabbi one of two ways: by
inheritance (who married your parents or officiated your bar mitzvah).  Or, by association with a synagogue.  People join a synagogue for lots of reasons,
and the Rabbi comes along with the picture. 
Few actually “Rabbi-shop,” in search of a life mentor – but that’s the
course I recommend.
What to look for when Rabbi-shopping?
Any Rabbi worth his salt ought to be a
living example of Torah.  This includes:
honesty, kindness, scholarship, wisdom, selflessness, truth, humility. 
I want a Rabbi that has a closer
relationship with God than I do.  I want
a Rabbi who talks to God on a regular basis, who continues his education daily,
pursuing Torah study (as a student, not just as a Rabbi), who recognizes that
Jewish learning never ends.  I want a
Rabbi whose faith is so strong and unwavering that when I need encouragement
and strengthening, he reminds me, both in word and in shining example, what a
man of faith looks like.

To maintain a relationship with a
Rabbi-as-mentor, there must be mutual respect. 
I must feel that my Rabbi respects me, wherever I happen to be on my
Jewish journey, and that I respect him.


If I am going to be relying on my
Rabbi to help me navigate life decisions, my Rabbi needs to be accessible.  My Rabbi in particular happens to be of the
more old-fashioned variety – my husband walks into the study hall where he
studies Torah and asks him questions any day of the week.  Or we just call him at home.  He’s come over to our home on a dime to
discuss an issue.  A Rabbi that is not
accessible is like a fabulous diamond locked in a safe.

Life’s wisdom proven over time.

True Torah leaders are neither
elected nor hired.  They arise
organically, by virtue of one person at a time recognizing brilliance, caring
and greatness.  Each time we ask our Rabbi
a question we are overwhelmed anew with his sheer piety, insight, and spiritual
connectedness – as well as his genuine caring for us and our small issues.  Each encounter is another layer of gift wrap,
reminding us how very blessed we are to have a person like this in our lives.


Who is my Rabbi?  I shan’t tell.  He would never want to be publicly praised,
and I surely would never want to embarrass him. 
But with this I’ll close: if you are fortunate enough to have a Rabbi
that fills the above criteria, please know that you have a precious treasure in
your midst.

And if you don’t, please know that
the quest to find one is possibly the most important one you’ll ever undertake.

Uncategorized December 21, 2011

The Formerly Orthodox: A Reader’s Response

In response to yesterday’s post about not judging those that have left Orthodoxy, a regular reader of mine emailed me this thoughtful response:
Ruchi, I truly enjoy your postings and I believe that your posting
on the formerly Orthodox is poignant in light of Chanukah (pun intended). 
know more than one formerly Orthodox person who holds his upbringing as
responsible for his outcome – that is, not being Orthodox today. But
and yet, these formerly Orthodox people that I know still want (I would say even
cling to) certain aspects of Judaism that they cannot disengage from:
any invite to a Shabbat dinner they accept; lighting Chanukah candles
and saying their prayers, absolutely; hearing the shofar on Rosh
Hashanah, yes; putting on a kippah when going to a kosher restaurant
with friends. 
I could go on and on, but suffice to say, I think we all
cling to tradition – Orthodox or not, just sometimes it’s fraught with
anxiety and other times, it’s very connected to prayer, spirituality,
and/or acceptance in a community. 
I think that goes for all Jews, not
just formers or currents [formerly or currently Orthodox]. How often do the prayers we say slip away
and we’re just saying it by rote? As someone who became more observant
over time, I can easily imagine how easy it would be to slip and fall. 
am lucky that I had an education that provided me with various
alternatives to practice within Judaism and the strength to practice as a
now Orthodox woman, who has very strong ties to my upbringing (my
ideology/philosophy on Judaism really reflects my upbringing yet is
mixed with the changes I have experienced over time). This, and what I
think is the most important (for me) was the ability to engage with
Judaism as an intellectual – it’s not just about doing, it’s about doing
with the knowledge of what I am doing with an awareness of where it has
come from.
We as a Jewish community need to provide, maintain and sustain a
support system for both Orthodox, non-Orthodox and formerly Orthodox
peoples to feel comfortable/confident as Jews and to be united in the
miracle that we begin celebrating at sundown tonight – that we are
strong when united and that Jewish practice cannot be taken away. 
what the other posters have said, lighting tonight reminds us, as it
should everyone, that no matter how we practice we (all Jews) are a
nation that are a light to the other nations – what any of us does
reflects/refracts back to everyone else. 

Thank you Ruchi and Chag Chanukah Samaech [happy Chanukah] to you, your family and all your readers!
What do you say, readers?  Agree?  Disagree?  Ideas?  Is anything special being done in your community to provide that support system?
Happy Chanukah and thanks to all of you that are participating in these important conversations about Judaism!
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?