Browsing Tag


Uncategorized January 31, 2012

3 Steps to Fixing the Half-Judaism Trend: guest blogger Leah Weiss Caruso

My friend Leah Weiss Caruso blogs at, which is entirely appropriate because she absolutely does.  Rock, that is.

Leah is one of those rare breeds of human who is funny, wise, kind, open-minded, and respectful of those which whom she completely disagrees.  She and I agree on many, many things, and disagree on many too.  Yet our friendship and mutual respect prevails.  Our friendship is an icon for this blog.  

And here she is:
conclusion in her “Half-Judaism” post is that both parties are
half-right.  And half-wrong.  They have each only acknowledged half of

think Ruchi is spot-on.  Being an active, thinking Jew is more than
just being a good person, and it’s more than just keeping kosher.  There
is a phrase from our tefillah [prayer], “The World stands on three things: Torah, Worship, and Acts of Loving-kindness.”

Not just one of these things, but all three.

Torah (Written – 5 Books of Moses; Oral – Mishnah/Talmud): The Jewish
Way as we know it.  Kosher, Shabbat, marriage, birth, death, business
ethics, etc.  It’s all in there.  How each person interprets it . . .
well, that’s a whole other post!  But we must acknowledge its place in
our DNA, and find ways to incorporate its spirit, if not always its
letter, into our lives.  However, it can’t be our ONLY thing.

Worship:  Fairly obvious.  Except, it’s not.  Many of us think of prayer
as something we do a couple of times a year in a big room filled with
lots of people and questionable art.  Or maybe a Shabbat service here
and there.  And for many people, “prayer” hangs over them as a
prescribed thing that is in a relatively foreign language and said to a
deity in which one may or may not believe.

I’m here to say that, at
least for me, “prayer” = the hopes that I have, the dreams that I have,
the gratitude that I have, and how I express all of that and acknowledge
the Divine presence in my life.  It’s rarely in the form of what is in
our prayer-books.  It is, however, a part of my daily life.  I think
it’s integral to being a conscious Jew – being conscious others and of
the world around you.  Like #1, it can’t be the only thing you do. 
Being pious in prayer alone does NOT = good Jew.

#3: Acts of
Loving-kindness: “good deeds”.  Chesed.  Charity.  Being a good person. 
We all strive for this!  But it has to go hand-in-hand with #1 &

1+2+3 = 1.  A whole Jew.  How we incorporate these things into
our lives is as unique as our fingerprints, but we can’t go “halfsies”
on this.  This is our challenge:  be a full Jew.

Uncategorized January 23, 2012


Some Jews say:

Why do I need to worry about all these commandments?  I’ll just be a good person and not bother others.  I don’t steal, kill, or commit adultery.  Really, that’s what matters in the grand scheme of things. 

Other Jews say:

The important thing, what makes us Jewish, is our relationship with God.  Prayer, kosher, Shabbat – these are the central Jewish tenets and hallmarks of religiosity.

I say:

You’re both half-right, and you’re both wrong.  You’re both incomplete.  And you’re each only tapping into half-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?

Uncategorized November 24, 2011

I Pray

Lots of people associate Judaism with synagogues, and synagogues with prayer.  But some of the most important praying that I do has nothing to do with a synagogue.

See, Jewish prayer breaks down into three categories:

  1. Formal praying done at synagogue, with a minyan*, in Hebrew
  2. Formal praying done elsewhere, without a minyan, in Hebrew
  3. Spontaneous, organic praying, in English or any language

*A minyan is a when 10 adult Jewish men join together for prayer or other religious services.  10 is the tipping point where they are considered a community.  

Formal praying is done with a siddur (prayerbook) in Hebrew, at the following designated times.

Shacharit – the morning service.  Done from sunrise till midday.  Midday is determined by taking the daylight hours and finding the midpoint, so it changes somewhat each day.  Takes about 45 minutes.
Mincha – the afternoon service.  Done from midday till sunset.  Takes about 10 minutes.
Maariv – the evening service.  Done from nightfall till just before sunrise.  Takes about 10 minutes.

There is a certain advantage to praying with a minyan, and certain advantages to praying in a synagogue, even where there is no minyan.  Spiritually speaking, the very walls absorb the holiness of the services that have taken place there.  There’s also an advantage to praying in Hebrew – the words are kabbalistically arranged, for the biggest punch (so to speak).  And even if you don’t make it to synagogue very often, there is a decided advantage to using the words in the siddur, that were selected by prophets, scholars, and mystics, to unlock to gates of prayer in ways that we don’t even understand.

But my focus here is going to be on spontaneous, organic prayer.  For me, the formal praying feels very important, as it’s my anchor in a crazy day to stop and access ancient wisdom; to tie myself to the spirituality of yesteryear and add my link to the chain in a millenia-long conversation with God.  And the organic prayer – that’s my handwritten love note to God that I made up all by myself.

Here’s what it might sound like:

(Note: when talking to God organically, I use the Hebrew word “Hashem” to refer to God.  It means, literally, “the name” and is a way of referencing God respectfully without actually invoking a holy name – which is used in formal prayer only.)

(As carpool drives off) Hashem, please let my kids have a good day at school today.  Please let them learn well and have positive interactions and associations with their friends.

(As I drive to a class) Hashem, please let this go well.  Please give me eloquence and wisdom, and allow me to always remember that all successes in life are thanks to you.  Thank you for allowing me to be involved in learning and teaching.

(As I look for a parking spot) Hashem, please let me find a spot!  Thank you!!

(As I hang up the phone with a friend who is struggling with something) Hashem, please help my friend to find her way.  It’s so hard for her.  Please bless her with clarity and strength.

(As I notice that the cop behind me is actually following someone else) Thank you Hashem!  I really, really appreciate that!

I find that it is these conversations, sprinkled throughout my day, that deeply forge my relationship to God – in a way that when something truly significant happens… we’re in touch.  And sometimes, days go by where I forget to talk to God that way.

And then, I remember again, and it’s a reunion.

Is prayer foreign to you?  Do you relate more to formal or spontaneous prayer?