Browsing Tag


Uncategorized December 9, 2011

Poll: Anti-semitism and intra-anti-semitism

Which of the following do you feel is the biggest problem:
1. Hatred of non-Jews toward Jews
2. Hatred of Jews toward other kinds of Jews
3. Hatred within the Orthodox community?
As always, comments containing specific negative information, even true, about ANY group of people, or snide remarks, will not be published.
Uncategorized September 21, 2011

Help! I’m Freaking Myself Out

Received this email from a reader… Advice?  Thoughts?  Have you been there?

Good morning Ruchi,

I wanted to thank you for so many wonderful blog posts. I have learned a lot from your blog, as well as the people who respond to you. When we met… we both saw some striking differences between our “growing up” years. The one example that I mentioned was that I had only dated one Jewish man (he was a confirmed Atheist).

As summer has moved forward, I am back to learning several days a week. There are moments, and even hours, that I feel safe, comfortable, and “at home” with my return to Jewish learning and growing. There are other moments and hours, that I can feel overwhelmed, and needing to come back to my house, literally, so that I can re-gain and re-integrate the ME that is changing. I love that I can lock my door! 

Last year I became overwhelmed with the amount and content of learning I was doing. It was just after Succos that I called some friends, and said, I need a break. Please don’t invite me for Shabbos.

What I learned from that experience, is that I need to pace myself! VERY IMPORTANT LESSON.

I am starting to feel that way again. I see classes that look interesting, so I go, I have purchased more skirts, and tops that have a higher neck lines (this is a big deal for me). I am going to homes for both Shabbos dinner, as well as Shabbos lunch. I love this part very much. I don’t have a female person in my life that can really walk with me, and help me with my questions and challenges. The friends that I do ask, have been Frum (observant) for so many years, that I feel heard, but not understood.

Many times, I have wanted to call you, and talk with you personally about my journey into Judaism. Pacing, pause, digesting. I sometimes just ride the horse until we are both worn out, and then need to pause. I just don’t want to stop [completely].

What would be really helpful is to know exactly what pages to bench (NCSY version if possible). I want to learn the meaning of the Siddur, not just the words. They are rich with deeper meaning and reasoning. I want to know WHY I am doing WHAT I am doing. I am losing track of what is helpful to read during the day and evening. At this point, I need sticky tabs to help me. I don’t want to fake that I know what I am doing. I sort of do, but I really need assistance.

I did meet with a Rabbi a few times to explain more in-depth meanings of some of the readings. It was helpful. Appropriately, there was a monetary fee for the Rabbi’s individual hour and  I don’t really want to do that right now. Again, I have a strong need and desire to understand what I am reading, and the deeper meaning behind what our Sages wrote. Otherwise, the literal reading leaves me unsatisfied and yearning for more.

PS I am also attempting to learn Hebrew with [my study partner]. We are singing the alphabet! My post graduate degree doesn’t help in this area, and I find learning frustrating, hard, challenging. No wonder I zoned out when I was a kid!

What do you say, readers?  
Too fast/too slow?  
Freaking yourself out/freaking others out?  
Healthy growth/slow growth/stagnation/reaching a plateau?

Uncategorized September 15, 2011

Is God a He, She, or It?

One of my readers, SavtaV, emailed me this:

Q.  Is Hashem a male? In Hebrew, it’s necessary to choose a gender, because all the adjectives and verbs require it. Not so in English – and without a body, it doesn’t make a lot of sense (to me) to choose – but I’ve noticed you always refer to “Him.” And what about the Shechinah?

A.  I’m hardly a Kabbalist, but since I consider it core and central to my life to continually cultivate my relationship to God, I have spent time thinking and learning about this question.

Hashem (God) is neither male nor female.  God contains both male and female attributes.  It is difficult to speak of these things, for two reasons:

1. No human can truly conceptualize God, as the whole concept transcends everything we know.  It transcends the five senses; it transcends time and space and science.  Can your mind truly conceive that numbers go on FOREVER?  Mine can’t.  Infinity is but one of the facets of God that are ultimately unknowable by humans.  That doesn’t prove their inability to exist – we all know infinity exists, yet we can’t draw it or truly know it.

2. As soon as you start talking about males and females, there are people that get uncomfortable.  As soon as I shall generalize in this post about traditionally “male” attributes and traditionally “female” attributes, some of you will get annoyed.  So sorry for that, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I still think that most of the males in this world more or less fit the prototype, and most females in the world more or less fit the prototype, while I acknowledge that many exceptions exist.

Typically male attributes include power and strength.  
Typically female attributes include insightfulness, the drive to nurture, and sympathy.

When God acts towards us in typically “male” ways, or when we pray to God in a way that evokes those attributes, we use male names.  When God acts in “female” ways, or when we want God to, we use female names.


1. “Elo-him” (I hyphenated the name so as not to take God’s name in vain, in the event someone prints and discards this post.)
This name means: God of power.  Its construction is male, and its meaning is classically male.  This is also the name of strict justice, as opposed to kindness/compassion.

2. There is a four-letter name of God that is so holy I can’t even write it.  We don’t pronounce it as its spelled, even in our prayers.  We pronounce it “Ado-nay” which means “my master” – but in true form it is a feminine name in its grammatical construction, and whenever used, refers to the attribute of compassion and mercy – typically feminine attributes.

3. Shechinah – God’s compassionate presence.  This is classically female in construction, and denotes care and love – feminine traits.

So in English, it would be most correct to say “it” since God is neither male nor female.  However, this is clumsy, and therefore not worth it for me.

Nevertheless in Hebrew, the pronoun used for God is, indeed, “he.”  This is because God’s overriding quality is that of power and strength over the whole world.  When we ask God for things, we say “You” in the masculine form, indicating that God possesses all the power and strength to give us these things.

(Btw, what’s so fascinating about THAT is that how many other languages are there where the pronoun “you” must be qualified as either male or female?  While many – most? – languages genderize nouns – with the interesting exception of English – very few – and I’m sure my readers will correct me if I’m wrong –  genderizes the “you” pronoun.  Why this is true is a whole ‘nother topic.  Just saying it’s not like it’s an inconvenient fact that a pronoun must be chosen – it’s deliberate.)

It’s also notable that EVERY noun in Hebrew is either male or female.  Is a table male?  Of course not, but on some deep level it contains a classically “male” purpose, and when you say “it [the table] is made of wood” in Hebrew, the true translation would be “he is made of wood.”  In fact, if you listen closely when Israelis speak English, they very often say “he” or “she” for objects instead of “it” (and not just for trucks or boats).

A much deeper and interesting discussion of the male and female attributes of God is here.

Would love to hear your (respectful) thoughts, insights, and input on this topic.

Uncategorized September 13, 2011

Top 10 Questions People Ask Me About My Judaism

I get asked a lot of interesting questions.  The most interesting part is how many recur – very few are original.  The questions I get asked are usually prefaced by a few common introductions, such as, “Can I ask you a really stupid question?”  “I hope you don’t mind my asking this, but…”  But I love questions.  Because they open the lines of communication.  And that makes me happy.  And when momma is happy, everybody be happy.

And here are the winners:

1. If God is all-powerful, why do bad things happen to good people?

Note:  this questions appears in various forms and may be hard to discern under the alias.  Like, why are bad things happening to me?  Am I being punished?  Am I truly that bad?

Answer: I do not answer this question unless it’s in person; I have time to transmit the ideas I’ve learned in full; and I know the people I am talking to and what their questions really are.

2. Is that your hair sticking out from under your hat?

Answer: if you see it, it’s not my hair.  It’s my wig!

3. How do you have time for everything?

Answer: I don’t.  But I will not compromise on my sleep (though I do suffer from insomnia) or on household help.  Also I really insist on my kids’ help in accepting responsibility around the house.  Also, my husband is an amazing help.  Also, I believe that God helps me because He wants me to succeed.

4. How do you remember all your kids’ birthdays and appointments and activities?

Answer: God gifted me with a good memory and an organized orientation.  Also, my Droid.

5. Do you guys speak Hebrew at home?

Answer: no, English is my first language and that’s what we speak at home.  Although I confess, it IS liberally sprinkled with Hebrew and Yiddish references.

Example: Come here!  Let me wash your henties (hands, Yiddish).  Oy!  You’re so cute I could just plotz (pass out, Yiddish)!!

6.  How do you have three teenagers?  You look so young.

Answer:  Can you ask me that again?  I didn’t hear you the first time.
Real answer: Exercise and good genes.
Real answer, for real: I am so young.  I got started young!

7.  Were you Orthodox your whole life?

Note: I always wonder here, what the “right” answer is.  Are people hoping to hear “yes” or “no”?  Do I present as an FFB or a BT?  Does it matter?

Answer: yup.  But that doesn’t make me a blind follower.  It’s always been important to me to ask tough questions and make intellectual sense of that with which I’ve been raised.  The more I probe, the more I love.

8. Are you Chassidic?

Answer: no.

9.  Are you Amish?

Answer: no.

10.  Are you Chabad?

Answer: no.

Note: if you are Chassidic, Amish, or Chabad, I’d love to hear from you for a future post.

What questions have been posed to you about your Judaism?

Uncategorized August 29, 2011

Why Can’t Orthodox Women be Rabbis?

Received this from a friend of an acquaintance of my husband’s.
I don’t know the questioner, but I do know she is a woman who has been doing some extensive learning about classical Judaism.
The questioner is referencing the recent controversy around ordaining Orthodox women rabbis and what title might be used therein.
The email is printed with all errors.  Since I don’t know the questioner, I didn’t want to alter her words at all.
“First of all – what is the big fuss about a woman having a title?? Maybe
it’s because I grew up secular and am a grad student, but in my mind if a
woman does the same learning, she should at least be able to have some sort
of title attesting to that. It would be like me going to grad school and not
graduating with a degree. It looks like there are a few “orthodox” female
rabbi type people (Shlomo Carlebach ordained a couple I believe), and I
don’t see what the big deal is. They aren’t leading men in prayer, or doing
the minyan thing, they studied a long time, and they got some kind of
smicha…..why the controversy? Does it say in the Torah woman can’t be
religious leaders?
“I spoke about this with Leah once and she said “well there are female
religious leaders, they are just called Rebbetzins” and also “why do women
need a title? just being learned is good enough to do lots in the
community”….yes BUT first of all, a Rebbetzin is married to a Rabbi and
gets that title through the her relationship not of her own learning merits.
Not to say there aren’t great rebbetzins out there, but it is not a title
given due to completion of a rigorous program of study, nor is it something
the wife of a business man has ( no matter how learned she is). For the
second issue, I guess I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t be given a
title of some sort – they did the learning, they put in the work, why deny
them acknowledgment of that? Sure men learn without becoming Rabbi’s, but if
she wants to work with people and be a religious leader full time why not
let her have a title that makes her work easier?
“Personally, I would be stoked to learn from a woman, especially the whole
bedika cloth thing and whatnot – she would be the natural person for that I
would think. I have an acquaintance down here that is a girl rabbi ( not
orthodox obviously ;), she is soooooooo freaking awesome – she has had this
amazing life – daughter of a rabbi from a long line of rabbi’s, highly
educated, used to be an electrical engineer, sky diver, all around cool
lady, and super educated on jewish stuff….well educated to the extent she
found teachers to teach her. I just wish there were women teachers like that
in orthodox judaism. Anyways, if you can help me understand all this I would
be very grateful.
“I know I am writing with lots of crazy questions – but I love Judaism and am
soooo grateful to you guys for teaching us!!!! Just trying to understand
things that aren’t making sense 🙂

Dear Friend,
I don’t know you, and you don’t know me.  But it sounds like you are right up my alley: curious, passionate, respectful, and honest.  I would like to respond to your questions, partially from a place of philosophy, but also from a place of personal experience.  I’m not asking you to like or agree with my ideas.  In fact, if you grew up secular in America in the past 40 years, it would be shocking for you to even be able to stretch yourself to hear me out.  All I ask is intellectual honesty to see that this position has validity.
You ask, “What is wrong with a woman having a title?”  The answer is, nothing, as long as it fits.  So should a woman be called, “Rabbi”?  Let us discover what a Rabbi is.  I am a mom; are you?  The title “Mom” is quite specific.  It refers to a woman who has either biologically given birth to or fostered or adopted a child and is usually raising him or her.  If a man biologically birthed a child (problematic verb right there) or fostered or adopted, is he a mom?  No, he is not a mom.  He can never be a mom.  He can be a dad, an uncle, a friend, but he can never be a mom.  A Rabbi, by definition, is a man.  How do we know this?
The Torah, yes, that very Torah that women want to hold, march with, read from publicly, study, and teach, has some very deep lessons about men and women.  These lessons are both timeless and timely which means that sometimes they may not sync with the trends of the day, but by the same token they will never, ever become obsolete.  In thousands of years of Jewish history, the Torah is still practiced and observed faithfully.
The Torah states that men and women have different spheres of spiritual influence.  A man’s sphere of influence is in the external, public world, and a woman’s sphere of influence is in the internal, private world.  This concept is alluded to in the kabbalistic, mystical sources; in the Talmud, in the midrash and the like.  This is the oral law, not the written law (the Talmud and its attendant commentaries).  But everything in the Talmud, et al, has a hook and a source in the written law.
The notion that men and women are hardwired differently is no secret to us married folk.  But in the world of spirituality, people somehow fail to understand that there are laws of physics.  Judaism is not just a warm and fuzzy blanket, full of feel-good moments.  It’s not just haroset and matza balls.  Just as science, physics, and the USA have laws, Jewish spirituality has laws.  If you follow the laws you can reach a most exalted spiritual place.
The notion of external/internal spheres of influence affects both how men or women are influenced, and how they influence.  We see this difference in our very biological anatomy.  A man’s anatomy, his life force, is external and visible.  A woman’s anatomy is internal and private.  She accepts within her body the life giving force, nurtures it within, and creates life thereby.  This is not an accident.  All spiritual realities have their parallel in the physical world.
My friend, the Torah, yes, once again I reiterate, that very same Torah that everyone wants to hold, march with, read from, study, and teach, tells us that a man will find his main spirituality through public and external service, and that a woman will find her main spirituality through private and internal service.  What this means in practical terms in 2011 is that the public place of Judaism, the synagogue, is the place that men will shine, and the private place of Judaism, the home, is the place that women will shine.
Is one better than the other?  What’s better, funner, cooler, more prestigious: to shine at the synagogue or to shine at home?
Do you see that the very question is flawed, my friend?  Our goal is not fun, coolness, or prestige.  It’s spirituality. What better place to discover our set of instructions for spirituality than the very Torah we seek to disseminate?  Do you see the problem here?  The problem is not that women are lesser for shining in the private domain, the problem rather is that no one values the private domain simply because PRIVATE THINGS ARE NOT VALUED.
In our society, what glitters matters; secrets are freely shared; the moms, teachers, and other unsung heroes are simply under-appreciated and underpaid; and no one wants to be behind-the-scenes.  This is a serious indictment, not of Judaism or Orthodoxy, but merely of where our society’s values have run amok.
Say you have a loving relationship with a friend.  The two of you are at a dinner party and you start recounting the funny story of your flat tire, and your friend rudely interrupts you.  This is completely out of character; you’re stymied.  But you trust her, and she trusts you, so you are certain there is a good reason and that all will be revealed.
See, God and the Torah are my good friends.  In their company, I have always felt respected, valued, and appreciated as a Jewish woman.  Valued for my intellect and valued for my ideas.  Valued for having seven kids and valued for being a teacher of Torah.  If God is denying me the title “Rabbi,” well, I trust Him.  He’s never steered me wrong.  I know it can’t be disrespect or denigration, because that would be entirely out of character and wouldn’t jive with anything else that I know about Judaism.
My friend, I study as much Torah as I can.  I teach Torah and counsel couples in crisis.  I love God and try to bring others to love Him as well.  For all intents and purposes my job quite closely parallels that of a Rabbi.  But if you’re not the mom, you’re not the mom.  You can call yourself a mom and you can cook and clean and change diapers and volunteer at the preschool and do all the things that moms do, but if you’re the dad, you’re not the mom.
So what is my title?  Some call me Rebbetzin.  I think that’s a funny title, because there are so many women more learned than I.  I don’t want a title.  I don’t need a title.  Guess what?  Any Rabbi becoming one for the title and prestige ought find a new job.  Glory-seeking and the rabbinate ought to be allergic to one another.
And too, I want to always remember that the God that I am supposedly serving in this whole endeavor has arranged things such that the internal, private sphere is my primary spiritual path.  I pray that I never forget.
With love,
Uncategorized August 19, 2011

Open Mic Friday: Kosher Room at Heinen's?

Okay, here’s my question for you today.
1. Have you been to the kosher room at Heinen’s on Green Road?
2. Do you keep exclusively kosher?
3. Do you like The Room?
4. Elaborate.
If you don’t live in Cleveland, this is a separate “Kosher room” at our local grocery store. How would you like that?
And at the end, I’ll weigh in 🙂
Have fun!  Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom!