Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Now Even More "Goyish"!

As a follow-up to my last post, in which I talked about what was considered "goyish" in my house growing up, I want to ask my readers:

What did YOUR family consider goyish?

I am especially interested in what may be outside the normal stereotypes (those stereotypes would include playing football and eating bologna on white bread with mayonnaise).

So, is there anything weird in your "goyish" past?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I have been wanting to write this post for a long time. Now that we are approaching Dec. 25 I actually have some time, plus what better time for it than the week of Christmas?

When I was growing up, my mom had very specific views of what was "goyish." This term is a little hard to translate, but I'm going to go with "culturally non-Jewish," or "of, or relating to, modern American Protestant culture," which I realize is inadequate. It was only upon making friends with whom I was comfortable talking about this that I realized that not everyone's Jewish mother had these ideas. Here are some things that were considered "goyish" in my house when I was a kid:

--creamed spinach (or creamed anything; we ate fleishiks [chicken, turkey, or beef] most nights, so all of our sides had to be pareve [neither meat nor dairy]).
--butter (see above--it later turned out that both my dad and I are lactose intolerant, so we obviously weren't clamoring for the stuff anyway)
--Hanukkah cards (an imitation of Christmas cards)
--Rosh HaShanah cards (same)
--going to friends' Christmas parties (duh), although there was an exception for a Catholic friend of my mom's who had a cookie bake-off every year towards the middle of December. We decorated cookies.
--saying "Happy holidays" in December. I am really surprised to see that TH does this. I didn't know it bothered me until now.
--football and hockey
--keeping furry domesticated animals, especially dogs (my mom got many of these ideas from her father, whose parents were not long off the boat when they had him; I once asked my dad why Grandpa hated dogs so much. He said, "In Europe, Jews didn't have dogs; goyim had dogs, which they turned on the Jews." My dad almost never says "goyim").
--not knowing how to dress--I was very amused when I made a Chareidi friend who basically thought the same thing. My mom thought that the reason Talbots existed was to provide solid-colored separates for hapless WASP women who otherwise could not match fabrics. Having lived in a WASPy area for more than a few years, I don't really disagree.

I'm not writing this post to make fun of my mom. Well, I'm making fun of my mom a little, but more than that I am reflecting on how a set of beliefs I believed to be totally normative in childhood and early adulthood turned out to be extremely relative, pun only sort of intended.

My brother has also pointed out that it was easy for our immediate family to think everything was "goyish" because we had very few non-Jewish friends, or even non-Jewish colleagues. My father is a Reform rabbi, and many of my parents' friends are friends of theirs from when when my dad was in rabinnical school. My brother and I went to (Conservative) day school, so our school friends and their parents were all Jewish. Other than my mom's office parties, there were no Christmas parties for us to be invited to anyway.

All this meant that--and I know this is really unusual for a Reform home in the suburbs--we didn't have to grapple so much with the meaning of living in a mixed society in which Jews are, of course, a minority. (I did feel quite left out, and then resentful, of all the Christmas lights and Santas when I was a kid, but I got over it). Being married to TH, I will have to grapple with real life much more. HIs parents and SIL love Christmas stuff, and his parents consider their participation in same to be an emblem of how wonderfully liberal and tolerant their neighborhood is. I think that Jews with kids should remain separate, not in the creamed spinach or hockey areas, but in matters Christmas, to the extent possible, to avoid confusing the kids. MIL was SO unhappy when I mentioned this, so it has been dropped, but, God-willing, we will have kids sooner rather than later (but not within the next nine months or anything), and then I guess it will be an issue. Oh, well. It's part of growing up, I suppose.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Thanks, guys

To My Readers:

Thank you so much for your supportive comments on my Hanukkah sucked post. They really did help me feel better. As I was telling a friend, I think that I got all wrapped up in this being TH and my first Hanukkah together and how it had to be perfect. When real life (surprise!) intruded, I got all upset, and then I got cranky about a lot of other stuff I couldn't control. Now that Hanukkah is over, I am feeling less stressed, and the lesson for next year is to CHILL OUT and enjoy the good stuff.

Plus, the sex-scandal article didn't get to the Times (yet)--just the Post, and who reads that? Ok, everyone, but they have three sex scandals a day, so it can't be that salient to readers. And they found the sign. And the little girl in Boro Park is doing better, as you can see from the second link in my response to Off the Derech. I can't believe Off the Derech reads my blog. Cool.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Why My Hanukkah Kind of Sucked

I know that married life, even in a new city, is supposed to be unremittingly perfect, as is Hanukkah, but I feel that Hanukkah kind of sucked this year, and not only for me. Here are a few gems:

--TH had to work late (didn't get home until 9:00 or 10:00) almost every night this week. On our first Hanukkah as a married couple, we lit candles together only three times. We will not light candles together tonight, either.
--I was allergic to my Hanukkah present from my parents, because it contained wool (but I was fortunate in that the store took it back, and I ordered something else, and my folks were very nice about it).
--My husband's aunt, who is very nice but not Jewish, and who threw a lovely Hanukkah party for the family this year, hung Buddhist good luck charms from her Hanukkiah and told us about it. I thought I might be halakhically required to leave the room, but since she doesn't actually believe in Buddha, I think it was fine from that perspective. But, seriously?
--On a related note, DOES NO ONE UNDERSTAND that Hanukkah is (or at least was, historically) about anti-assimilationism? Does anyone else think it ironic that this is the holiday so many Jews are so keen to turn into a goyish extravaganza?
-- More than a couple of Jews I know either told me directly or posted on Facebook that they were not lighting candles this year because: 1) they are two busy; and/or 2) they forgot to buy candles. Really, Jews? Hanukkah is pretty much the least demanding holiday on the Jewish calendar, and you can't even do that?
--A Hanukkiah (8 branches, plus shamash) is NOT the same thing as a menorah (6 branches, plus shamash). Learn it!
--Some super-frum idiots in Flatbush left their Hanukkiah burning in a house without smoke detectors, and now their little girl is severely burned and fighting for her life. This is not the only story of Hanukkiah-caused fires in New York's ultra-Orthodox community this year. So some genius rabbeim had the great idea to issue a p'sak that you CAN extinguish your Hanukkiah when you leave your house, as long as the candles have burned for 30 minutes. If you're so infallible, rabbis, why didn't you issue this p'sak BEFORE all these accidents happened?
--A major Jewish sex scandal is about to break in The New York Times tomorrow. How awesome for the Jews.
--Someone stole the "Arbeit Macht Frei" sign from Auschwitz this morning. To paraphrase something my father said in 1972 about the terror at the Munich Olympics, We remember at time when there was pretty good security at that camp.

Friday, December 11, 2009

(Not?) Eating Animals

Does anyone else out there feel guilty about eating kosher meat?

I do.

It's not kosher meat per se that is a problem. It is factory-farmed chicken and beef in general, which you know if you have read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, Jonathan Safran Foer's more-recent Eating Animals, or any of the 72,000 book reviews and imitations of same. The conditions in which most large-scale-farmed chickens and both meat and dairy cows (that sounds funny) are kept are truly appalling. If I did not keep kosher, I think I would buy free-range chicken, like Michael Pollan does. But as far as I know, you can't really get humanely-treated kosher meat, unless you live on a farm and schecht (kosher slaughter) it yourself, or live near people who do and are willing to sell you some.

Now, I'm not one of these Communist, vegetarian, Animal Liberation reading, hemp-wearing weirdos. I believe that human beings have rights that animals don't. We're at the top of the food chain, after all, and if the situation were reversed, the cows would eat us without a second thought. From a Jewish perspective, it is hard, if not impossible, to argue that killing animals is completely bad. About a third of the Torah discusses animal sacrifice. In fact, I think that kashrut originally was much kinder to animals than non-kosher slaughter. (Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong). The rabbis considered causing pain to animals (tza'ar ba'alei hayyim), for example by ripping the limb off a live one, to be so terrible that the seven Noahide laws prohibit it.

But the reality today is different. We live in a country in which most animals that we eat are treated horribly in order to make it possible for us to have cheap meat (yes, kosher meat could cost more, much more) and for meat companies to make huge profits. As we know from the Rubashkin's scandal, kosher factory farming is not really any different, and sometimes may even be worse, than regular factory farming.

But I can't give up meat.

That is not to say that I eat a lot of meat. I eat meat, at most, three times a week--at Shabbat dinner, Shabbat lunch, and once during the rest of the week (usually Shabbat leftovers). In a typical week, it is closer to twice. Meat (I include beef and chicken) is also a very effective protein-delivery system that happens to taste great. There are so many things one cannot eat as a person who keeps kosher that it is just really hard of me to deprive myself of a major food group with significant dietary benefits. I DO refuse to eat veal, and if there were kosher fois gras, which I'm not sure there is, I wouldn't eat that either. But it is beyond depressing to me (because so ironic) that keeping kosher may mean that I am responsible for animals being treated much more inhumanely than I would be if I could buy free-range at a NYC specialty market.

I also want to note that not a single major halakhic authority that I know of has come out in favor of vegetarianism/against eating meat because to do so is to transgress the law against tza'ar ba'alei hayyim. Part of trying to live a halakhic life of some sort--and as a Conservadox person with a Reform upbringing, I do not follow halakhot that I don't think make any sense and are not meaningful to me--is looking to rabbis for guidance. Am I really responsible for going so above and beyond what the major halakhic consensus about eating meat is?

So, loyal readers, what is a kosher gal like me to do?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Treife with a "t"

This is going to sound stupid.

Katrina, your friendly neighborhood (Upper West Side of New York, natch) kashrut monster, has discovered the latest, greatest danger to people who keep "hekhsher" kosher. Keeping "heksher" kosher is insisting that the food you buy actually has a reliable (not touching with ten-foot pole right now) symbol of kosher certification (i.e. a heksher) as opposed to, e.g. reading the label and being satisfied if none of the ingredients are obviously unkosher.

That danger is . . .

(Wait for it)


Yes! Dairy tea? Did you know that there is such a thing? If you look at your boxes of tea, you might find that some of them are labelled kosher dairy. How can tea be dairy? I frankly have no idea, and perhaps what is labelled dairy is only considered so because of some insane chumrah (strict legal interpretation), but since I don't have time to research it, I'll have to take the kashrut agency's word for it.

So why is it such a problem?

Because one doesn't expect tea to be dairy, of course.

This problem was first brought to my attention by BFF, who once noticed that the tea she bought was dairy. She figured, " I will just only drink it after dairy meals." Then, when she was bringing out all of the teas after a meat meal, she forgot, drank the tea in a china cup from her wedding, and ended up having to put that cup away for a year before using it again.

Since my wedding and the china cups it brought into my life, I have been really nervous about making the same mistake. Part of the reason is that I am anal and crazy about stuff like this. But I think that it can be a problem. Here is a case in point:

Recently, I was at an academic conference that served kosher food to everyone for lunch. The administrative assistant in charge of the conference is not a kashrut expert, but it's not rocket science: the kosher deli brings in its platters of meat wrapped in about 10 layers of plastic, the assistant puts the platters out and unseals/uncovers them with the help of the jaws of life, and then the conference participants eat the food. Bottles of soda, urns of coffee and hot water, and a box of tea were put out, too. With my new obsession with dairy tea, I looked at all the tea bags to see if any of the tea was dairy. And it was! There were four bags of Celestial Seasonings cinnamon (or apple cinnamon, I don't remember) tea that were marked dairy! People could have drunk the tea by accident. Since many of the participants were Israeli da'ti'im (literally, religious people, but closest to American modern Orthodox), I doubt it would even occur to them to look to see if the tea was dairy.

So I hid the four bags of tea in my briefcase. I had one of teabags with breakfast at the conference the next morning, and I still have the rest.

Yes, it sounds really stupid, and I'm not proud of it, but I couldn't think of another option. I didn't want to leave them there, and if I had made an announcement, the secular Israelis and non-observant American Jews would have thought that I was insane. When I ordered a kosher meal at dinner one night after the conference, I had to listen to a rant from one of the secular Israelis on the evils of the Israelis Charedi kashrut establishment, as though I am somehow implicated in their shenanigans. (For the record, I support religion-state separation in Israel; if Israelis want kosher food, they can pay extra for it, just like we in the good old US of A do).

So, if you keep kosher, please make sure your tea is pareve (neither meat nor dairy). If it has a kosher symbol and is NOT marked dairy, it's pareve. I find myself actually siding with the Star-K, one of the more, shall we say, strict (insane) kashering agencies, because they no longer certify dairy tea as kosher, based on the principle, "You shall not put a stumbling block before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14). In this case, I think they are on target, although I'm still not checking my lettuce with a fluorescent light box.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Denominational Smackdown Continues

I'm pretty pissed off. I just saw this article in the Forward online. The article is short, so of course you can just read it, but please allow me to give a summary of what I think it is saying:

"Liberal" Jews, defined as Reform or Conservative Jews, or, more specifically, their leaders, need to "frame" the way that they talk about religious observance. Ben Dreyfus, the author, compares religious to political framing. Just as Republicans have managed to "frame" much of the domestic debate in the US over the past 12 years, so that even Democrats who win often have to use Republican-coined terms, such as "tax relief," he argues, liberal Jews have gotten into the habit of using words such as "religious" or "observant" to describe their members' beliefs or practices. This is especially the case when their members are observing more halakhot (Jewish ritual laws) than is the norm in that movement. The result is a "scale from zero to Orthodox" that lets people outside each movement define the movement's terms. The leaders, both lay and professional, of Reform and Conservative Judaism, should try to find different ways to frame discussions of their members' religious lives.

I sympathize with Dreyfus, aka BZ, aka the writer of the blog Mah Rabu. I have a really hard time categorizing my observance, and it's frustrating. I use the word Conservadox b/c it's the best word I have, not because I particularly like it. But is is darn helpful, because Jews who ask me about it generally know what I mean by "Conservadox." And if not, they generally have ideas about what "Conservative" and Orthodox" mean that help them to see what I mean.

And that's one of my problems with Dreyfus's article. One could be quite impressed with the way that he sets out the problem. Here is an effective paragraph: "Consider this phrase: 'I’m not shomer Shabbat: Every week I light candles after sundown and then drive to synagogue.' The speaker obviously observes Shabbat but is allowing someone else to define what Shabbat observance means." But he doesn't offer any solutions, aside from the vague imperative that the movements reframe. What would that look like? I notice that he didn't actually suggest a way to reword the sentence about Shabbat observance without using the word "observe," which he uses at the end of the sentence! Words are HELPFUL because they aid people who share a common language in understanding each other.

Here are some other concerns I have:

--the article's point of departure is the argument of "cognitive linguist George Lakoff" about framing. Lakoff's book Don't Think of An Elephant was a big best-seller among Democratic leaders after Kerry's 2004 defeat. But not long afterwards, certain people in the party suggested that maybe the Democrats should get some new ideas, rather than thinking about how to reframe bad ones. I am not comparing either liberal Jewish movement to the Democratic party. I'm just saying that the framing thing may not hold much water.

--What about history? The idea of what Shabbat observance is has been influenced, to a large degree, by what it meant in the past. Of course, you may say, but Katrina, what about all of these crazy Orthodox people who pile chumrah upon chumrah in their Shabbat observance? They
don't care about history either. But that's precisely what offends Shomer Shabbos people such as I and half the J-Blogosphere about the crazy Orthos. The Jewish people do have a sense of what "Sabbath observance" means. If the liberal movements want to change the way that they talk about Shabbat, they will likely have more, rather than less, success, if they don't trample on concepts that people understand and may even be attached to.

--That leads me to my next point, that there is a difference between being a very smart person with a lot of think-outside-the-box ideas and between being a religious leader with a job and, more importantly, a constituency. Regular people who come to synagogue don't want to talk about how they frame their Judaism. They want to talk about how to live it.

-- I have sat in Reform synagogues on the High Holidays and heard rabbis talk about their approaches to Shabbat in a way clearly intended for a Reform audience. One female rabbi talked about how her family makes Shabbat special, or something of the sort, by turning off electronic appliances and abstaining from shopping. The word "observance" didn't even come up. This is just anecdotal, but because the Reform movement in particular does not have to strangle itself on the premise that it follows halakhah, many of its leaders have talked about age-old mitzvot in new ways.

--This article reminded me of the independent minyan movement, which drives me up a tree. I think that it was laudable for the founders of the movement to try to create great environments for meaningfuldavening (praying) when they couldn't find it elsewhere. Then their heads got a little big when various philanthropists and journalists (including in the Forward) said they were the living end. But the bottom line is, AN INDEPENDENT MINYAN IS A SHUL. Hadar just opened its own yeshivah, for pete's sake. Its founders are having kids, and those kids will need Hebrew schools and bnei mitzvah and the like. Then they will buy buildings, or at least more permanent spaces, and basically provide all of the same services as shuls, possibly without rabbis, but Hadar has had rabbinic figures as well. And some small shuls in the Midwest and so forth don't have rabbis. So what is a shul, really?

I rarely write such a long post and then throw it up without at least some editing. But I am tired, and I wanted to get this out. I have work tomorrow. Please pillory or ignore me as you usually do. Toodles.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Lessons from 2 Months of Marriage

I have been married to TH for 2 months now, so of course I am now a crystal-clear front of wisdom on any number of things. I have decided to share them with you, since I am such a nice person. These things are mostly about me, but when you get married, you could have similar revelations:

-- I did not become a domestic goddess simply because I now have a buttload of expensive pots, but I do get dinner on the table most of the time
--No kitchen in New York City is big enough to hold three sets of dishes, expensive pots, silverware, Cuisinarts, etc.
--I didn't really need 2 Cuisinarts, not because I have relaxed about kashrut, but because of the aforementioned lack of domestic goddness-ness (I haven't used either one yet)
--It's hard to believe that I will ever relax about kashrut
--Groceries in Manhattan are SO EXPENSIVE
--BFF still knows me better than TH, which will change over time
--I can't believe I didn't anticipate the above; the realization slammed into me like a brick on Monday
--Even though I'm married, I still really enjoy Bad for Shidduchim, although my current favorite blog is Mommy Wants Vodka
--TiVo really is as awesome as they say, especially when a TV-watching-fanatic (me) marries someone practically indifferent to TV (TH), and we would rather hang out and talk at night than watch TV anyway
--I don't care that much about the wedding album anymore
--I may have gone into the wrong academic field
--Being employed is so much better than not being employed

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shanah Tovah!

To my readers:

Shanah Tovah tikatevu v'teichateimu (may you be written and inscribed for a good year). Chag sameach (a happy holiday) to all!


Friday, September 4, 2009

Katrina Gets Married, Moves to NYC, Has Hilarious Kashrut Experiences

***DISCLAIMER***--This post is meant as SATIRE. It is NOT meant to state or imply that any of the bagels at H&H are not kosher. As far as I know, EVERY BAGEL AT H&H IS CERTIFIED KOSHER BY THE STAR-K. Please DO NOT start internet rumors to the contrary. Thank you.

As one or two people who actually know me have pointed out, I need a new blog name. I am now Conservadox (or whatever) and married. TH (The Husband) works in New York, and I moved in with him after the wedding.

I will probably blog more in the future about married life, and I will almost definitely blog more about New York and what a shock it is (even though I am from the nearby 'burbs) after the comparatively civilized place where I used to live. But I'm kind of busy.

Something happened to me today, nevertheless, that was so hilarious that I felt I had to share it with y'all.

But first some background. TH loves bagels. Before I came into the apartment and kashered it, he used to buy his bagels in a supermarket about 20 feet from our apartment. I didn't know too much about kosher bagel places around here, so he has been going without for about 2 weeks. I decided to have rachmanus (mercy) on him today and go to the H&H Bagels that I recently discovered is not too far away.

As those who know me know, I am a kashrut freak. I pack chumras (stringencies) on top of chumras. I'm not proud of this. I blame it on my first roommate after colllege, a lovely young woman from London who was a completely insane kashrut monster. My parents keep kosher, but with a "well, that got treifed up, just wash it and put it back in the drawer" kind of attitude, and I knew I wanted to do more. But I didn't have a great role model, and I haven't been able to shake many of her customs. So, even though I know H&H is kosher, I decided to double-check by looking at the kashrut certificate, aka te'udah.

For those new to this, a te'udah just normally says that the place is kosher and is certified by X Kashering Agency. When I saw a paper on the wall saying "Kosher Certificate" and saw the Star-K emblem (they are out of Baltimore, FYI), I was about to walk away and order my bagels.

Then I saw the subtitles.

Instead of merely saying that H&H is kosher, the Star-K had a list of which items were kosher! And it wasn't a short list. I think it probably encompassed nearly every single bagel in the place (at first glance, I did not see the regular garlic bagels on there, which should not be confused with the garlic bagel twists, which of course are kosher, you numbskull).

Why do that??? Have we gone completely mad??????? (Yes). After comparing the te'udah's list with the flavors TH likes most, I decided to order a half-dozen of one kind of bagel and a half-dozen of another. Then the woman at the counter told me that I got a free bagel. What kind would I like.

Of course, I was completely paralyzed. I wanted to get cinnamon raisin, but was it on the list? The certificate was all the way across the room, and there were people behind me. Finally, I just decided to get another of the bagels I had already decided to buy.

Only in New York.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What Is "Sinat Chinam," Anyway?

Well, it's the "Nine Days" again, and again I am freaking confused about what I am supposed to be thinking and doing. I know that I am supposed to be feeling bad about the destructions of the First and Second Temples, as well as any number of other tragedies throughout Jewish history dated to 9 Av. Even though I am a total dorkmonger who actually finds some kinot (mournful hymns, recited on Tisha b'Av and other solemn occasions) meaningful, I find this really difficult. I do believe that the destructions of the Temples (the first, because it ended direct Divine revelation; the second, because it ended for good Judaism as it was originally practiced) were the greatest tragedies in Jewish history. But it's hard to hold onto that and make it meaningful in the twenty-first century. Even on Tisha b'Av itself, I have an easier time making myself feel depressed by reading first-person Holocaust accounts.

The community (read: Orthodox community, mainly) approach to the Nine Days is no help, really. It's all about things you are not supposed to do (eat meat, drink wine, bathe [don't worry, lukewarm showers are generally allowed, and I certainly take them], listen to live [some also add recorded] music, go to weddings, etc.). This is based on the principle "Mishenichnas Av, me'ma'atim b'simchah" (When Av begins, we diminish our joy), a deliberate parallel in the Gemara to "When Adar enters, we increase our joy." But, as often happens with me (I am SO Orthoprax, in addition to Conservadox and googleplex), I get caught up in the doing/not doing and the feeling guilty that I am not doing/refraining from doing enough. So I feel like crap a lot, but not for the right reasons.

What really pisses me off, though, is the traditional way of talking about "sinat chinam." According to the Gemara in somewhere, the Temple was destroyed because of "sinat chinam," which is usually translated as "baseless hatred." That we should all refrain from "baseless hatred" so that the third Temple can be rebuilt, or so that we can live in a redeemed world, or whatever, is held out as a goal for the Jewish people. Fights between and within different Jewish denominations are often given as examples of sinat chinam.

But what does that mean, exactly?

Don't the different denominations hate each other pretty much past the point of no return?
As someone who travels across the denominations, I have been surprised at the level of rancor between the Orthodox and the non-Orthodox. It comes from both sides. And blogging has introduced me to the Modern Orthodox--Chareidi smackdown (see especially the comment thread). Very admirable, guys.

Is it sinat chinam to hate the rabbis (including at least one rosh yeshivah) who got arrested today for money laundering (and, in one case, selling kidneys)?

Is it sinat chinam to hate the Israeli Chareidim who set their own neighborhoods on fire last week because the police arrested a Chareidi woman for starving her son? And what is the order of remove? Can I hate the bloggers who explain that the Israeli secular police are to blame; the Chareidim only riot because oppressive state policies make them feel "backed into a corner"?

Is it sinat chinam to hate American Jewish "leaders" (Chareidi, most often, but not only them) who are apologists for abusers of children and spouses?

Refraining from sinah (hate) doesn't seem to be an option in our messed-up Jewish world today. There seems to be so much on which to base the hatred.

Baseless hatred is one thing, but what about hatred with a basis? What to do about that during the nine days?

For reactions to the kind of pathetic/criminal/chillul Hashem behavior that our brethren have been engaging in recently, I turn, instead, to a verse in the Torah: Leviticus 19:17. In the King James Version, the first part of the verse says, "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart." In interpreting that part, Chazal (our Sages) look to the second half of the verse: "thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him. " Chazal say that if one man sees another sinning, it does neither of them any good if the first man keeps silent. Silence leads to the continuation of the sin by the second person, and results in sin for the first one, who did not intervene. Instead, the first man should admonish his neighbor (in private, so as to avoid public embarrassment) and urge him not to continue to sin.

So, my fellow Jews, if we want to make the world a better place, a place worthy of being redeemed, then, during these nine days until Tisha b'Av, I propose that, rather than feel ashamed of our hatred, we should use it constructively. We should make it clear to the Jewish community and to the rest of the world that sinning--not only sins bein Adam la'Makom (between man and God), but also those bein Adam l'chaveiro (between people) is unacceptable. It does not represent the Jewish ideal, no matter what the dress or reputation of the sinner. We should rebuke not out of joy or a feeling of superiority. Our concern should be our survival as a "light unto the nations."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Katrina's Deep Thought of the Week

A "Bridezilla" is just a woman who repeatedly is told by others what she wants, needs, and desires for her wedding, even though said other people have no idea. Then she loses it.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Marriage is Hard

This post has been rattling around in my head for a while. I finally decided to write it because I saw SerandEz's post today on the documentary Unattached. It looks like a very depressing, if not necessarily inaccurate, portrait of Orthodox dating on the Upper West Side of New York. I lived on the UWS for a year after college, and it is still kind of traumatizing to think about.

Ironically, I am getting married later this summer and moving back to the UWS, because that is where TF's apartment is. I already strongly suspect that it will be very different from the last time, since I have been there to visit TF a few times since our engagement. I felt much more confidence as part of a couple, and it's kind of a chicken-and-egg thing, but I felt that I was treated differently.

So, the subject is marriage (or, mawwiage, if you prefer). First off, I am REALLY GLAD I am not still single. I feel very blessed.
I do want to say, though, that marriage is not easy. If this seems self-evident to you, you are probably already married, or at least engaged. I say this because I think that many singles have a romantic view of marriage. Even though I hope they all get married soon, I figured it wouldn't hurt to offer a reality check. (By the way, this is NOT about the difficulties and absurdities of wedding-planning. They exist, but who cares? They are over after the wedding).

I am in my late twenties, and TF is in his early thirties. I have been living on my own (i.e., own apartment, no roommates) for four years, and TF has been living on his own for about twice that long. We are both set in our ways and don't particularly like change. We can both be stubborn. We have to turn "his" apartment into "our" apartment. We each have to get rid of, or store, a bunch of stuff. We are still trying to figure out how we will deal with finances, although, after a fight and then a make-up, we have hammered out many of those details. It will be an ongoing process.

I love TF, and I am really looking forward to living with him, being married to him, sleeping next to him, etc. But none of that comes free. That's all I want to say.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

All-or-Nothing Judaism

I know I haven't posted in a while. Things have been crazy here in Katrina-land, what with finishing my dissertation (yes, I am now Dr. Katrina), becoming more involved in wedding planning, and preparing to move to where TF lives.

One thing I have been doing since Pesach is reading a new (for me) category of blogs: OTD blogs. OTD is a TLA (three-letter acronym) for "off the derech (path)," an adjective referring to frum, i.e., Orthodox (and sometimes ultra-Orthodox) Jews who decide they don't want to be Orthodox anymore and actually act on it. Young people, especially those in their early twenties, are most represented on the OTD blogs I have seen. I am not saying that these blogs represent a statistically significant sample of anything, but it makes sense that frum people in their late teens and early twenties would be the most likely to leave the community. By then, some of their peers are already getting married, and once one is married and has children, it is harder to leave.

I have noticed a few traits that seem common among OTD'ers with blogs. These are not meant to be exhaustive, and of course they do not apply to everyone:

-- a feeling, from an early age according to the OTD'er, that something was not right or did not "fit"
-- a skeptical personality (not surprising, I suppose)
-- feelings of isolation, arising from the above two traits, because he or she thinks that he or she is alone in his/her feelings
-- parents who are either Ba'alei Teshuvah (BTs, Jews who became more Orthodox when adults, rather than being raised as such) or who went from Orthodox to ultra-Orthodox/Chareidi
-- difficulty with academics, especially Gemara (this especially applies to guys)

The above four, other than the BT thing, are probably causing you all to say "duh," but it is the fifth that really threw me for a loop:

-- rather than going from being ultra-Orthodox/Charedi to modern Orthodox, or from modern Orthodox to Conservative (the latter being exemplified by Tikkun Olam of Dov Bear fame), many of the OTD'ers totally abandon Judaism as a religion. They stop wearing yarmulkes or skirts, stop keeping kosher, stop praying, stop believing in God, and even marry non-Jews. I know it's strange to put the "even" before the marrying non-Jews and not before the agnosticism/atheism, but the intermarriage thing surprised me the most. (And don't get me started on the ex-Bais-Yaakov-girl from Brooklyn who converted to Catholicism; Catholic women, you see, can be faithful servants of God and still shake hands with men. No such option exists in Judaism, of course).

To be honest, the whole situation makes me very sad.

I think that it makes me sad at least in part because I spend so much time banging my head against the wall (metaphorically) trying to figure out how to reconcile Judaism and modernity. I can't figure out why they don't try. Those who go OTD after being Chareidi sometimes try modern Orthodoxy for a while, but then they quit.


This is the crux of my post.

Many of the bloggers were raised in a type of Chareidi Judaism that was so narrow, chumra-filled, and distrustful of the outside world that they only see two alternatives: continuing in that lifestyle or eating ham. That is all-or-nothing Judaism folks.

It is so unnecessary. Why are Jewish children being raised to think that eating chalav stam rather than chalav Yisrael (or a mainstream hechsher rather than a Chareidi hechsher)is like eating pork? Why are they being raised to believe that all non-Jews and non-frum Jews are evil? Why are they being taught that believing in evolution is tantamount to atheism? Why are young men told that learning Gemara full-time is the only acceptable way of life?

This is a recipe for disaster. The OTD bloggers write things like, "When I turned on a light on Shabbat and did not get immediately punished by God, I realized this whole Judaism thing was a farce." Or, "Once I started to question biblical chronology (e.g. of a 6,00-year-old world), I just lost my faith." Or, "I couldn't get up the courage to go to college until I left frumkeit altogether."

What a waste. In the community in which I live, there are educated Jews who observe Shabbat, keep kosher, and have advanced secular educations. Yes, many of the women wear pants and don't cover their hair, but that hardly seems like the worst outcome, given the above. We are people who want to observe mitzvot, marry Jews and build Jewish families, and study Torah. It sickens me to think that Chareidi rabbis would rather run the risk of their children eating pork with their non-Jewish spouses than expose them to the type of community where Jewish culture and modernity exist (albeit somewhat uneasily) side-by-side. I know that they do not think of things in those terms, but their actions are leading down this path.

That's all-or-nothing Judaism, folks. To borrow a word from the Chareidim, feh.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Quit Your Whining

One of my least favorite parts of Pesach* is liberal Jews whining about the parts of the Haggadah that they do not consider politically correct. When I say "liberal Jews," I am not speaking about political preferences, though there is some overlap, but rather about denominations. A liberal Jew, as I am using it, is a non-Orthodox Jew. Not all liberal Jews whine about this sort of thing. I am Conservadox, and I consider myself a liberal Jew, because sometimes I care about modernity more than halakhah (Jewish law), primarily on occasions when I deem a particular piece of halakhah stupid (DO NOT TRY THIS halakhic parsing AT HOME).
But I don't whine about the Haggadah, for a few reasons:

1. I know the context(s) in which it was written, i.e. a little before 1960. A friend who studies this kind of thing tells me that Shfoch Chamatchah (Pour out Your Wrath), one of the favorite targets of the Haggadah whiners, was added to the seder in the Middle Ages. If you were dodging Crusaders and blood libel accusations, how P.C. would you have been? And don't get me started on the Ten Plagues. If you think they weren't fair, don't come to the seder.
2. I'm not naive enough to think that everyone would like Jews if only we would be nice to them. Maybe in the ealry '90's, there was a brief period when I thought that. But I was 12. What was everyone else's excuse?
3. Unlike the people who go to one of the shuls around here, not to mention TF's minyan, I don't sit around all day trying to find the parts of the Torah and liturgy that "embarrass" me.

That may just beg the question of why people bother to get embarrassed at traditional Jewish liturgy, even if they are Conservative and would retch after five minutes of a Reform service, where, for better or worse, people try to deal with liturgical problems by changing the liturgy, not by complaining. I think it's because they don't understand the liturgy. This is understandable, especially in the case of the Hagaddah. We get two nights per year with no rabbi and one of the hardest texts in Judaism? Who thought that up? But if you don't understand, just say "I don't understand" instead of "I'm embarrassed." You're allowed to be human. Even if you have a Ph.D.

*no, it's not the eating matzah, the constipation, the cleaning, OR the three days without a hot shower, but thanks for playing.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Navel-Gazing Crap*

*how a favorite professor of mine once referred to superfluous personal reflection

What I learned about myself this week (and last week, if you really want to be technical):

--I should NOT drink more than half a beer at a sitting

--My interest in blogging has clearly faded. I even missed my own first blogoversary!

--It is no fun sending the perfect passive-aggressive e-mail to my advisor anymore (too easy and kind of eats away at the soul; how has my advisor been doing it to me for so long?)

--I am really bothered by Washington politicians wearing green ties on St. Patrick's Day unless: 1) they are from New York or Illinois; and/or 2) they are actually Irish. Can't we even get our pandering up to date, people? The Irish don't vote as a block anymore.

--It would be a good idea for me to try to take it a day at a time right now. Thinking two years ahead is helpful for dissertation organizing and writing and less helpful when times are busy,stressful, and uncertain

--Talking to someone about things that are bothering me is helpful, even if it is BFF, and everyone assumes I am telling her everything anyway (I'm not, but every little bit helps)

--Conservative Judaism pisses me off (ok, that's not new, but did you see the Voices of theUnited Synagogue's Pesach issue, which focused primarily on homosexuality and Conservative Judaism? It was wrong on so many levels. If you're gay or pro-Jewish-commitment-ceremony-and/or ordination, you could say, "So now you're just going to pretend that the movement has not spent all but the last year or so officially discriminating against gays?" And if you're anti, you could say, "Why didn't you provide a platform for people who did not agree with the teshuvot [responsa] on homosexuality to share their side of the story?")

--I've still got it in the last-minute-Purim-costume department

Monday, February 16, 2009

Nihilism and Dissertation Writing

I have eight weeks to finish a draft of my whole dissertation.

For you non-academic types out there, that is the equivalent of having 24 minutes to do your taxes from beginning to end. (Did I mention I am filing for an extension this year?).

It would say that it is overwhelming, but that would be an insult to "overwhelming."

I am faced with an age-old problem that afflicts all dissertation-writers, especially towards the end: To read or to write?

I have written drafts of 4 out of 5 chapters of my dissertation, and I just started drafting the fifth chapter. I also have to write an introduction and conclusion. On the one hand, that is not very much, but on the other, it is massive and life-consuming. I could write the whole thing without reading more than 10 books (reading doesn't really mean reading--it's more like consulting or skimming), and then it would be done, but it would kind of suck. Or I could go to the library and take out the 30 books on the list I spent the morning compiling, consult those, make another list, consult those, and never finish. Obviously, I will do neither. I am leaning towards taking out only the most important books and reading as little as I can until I have a draft of both the fifth chapter and the introduction. Then I will beef up my autobiography.

On another level, though, who cares? I don't know for sure, but it looks increasingly likely that I will not have any kind of academic job next year, unless I can scrounge up some adjuncting. TF and I won't starve (to supplement his income, I can tutor snotty rich kinds in a panoply of snotty subjects), but it's pretty humiliating for me. The job market has crashed, and who knows when it will recover? On one level it's not my fault, but I never hold myself up to those kinds of standards if I can hold myself up to higher ones.

I hear that people who get jobs just finish their dissertations in a rush and worry about them later, since the dissertation is meant to get you a job, not the other way around. But now I see it is really not that different for those who probably won't have jobs. This is especially the case if the job drought has the potential to be long-term. Who will ever read my dissertation if there are no jobs? I may publish some articles, but I won't try to publish a book if I don't make it in academia. So a few people who work on the same abstruse sh*t I do may look at it on an internet dissertation database. I doubt they care whether I have 2 or 4 sources in footnote 17. (Can you tell that I was up for a ritzy postdoc and didn't get it and am now bitter? Then you are very observant).

You also might say, "But, Katrina, this is just a defense mechanism. You are worried about finishing, so you get all nihilistic and convince yourself that how you finish doesn't matter. In doing so, you free yourself from your perfectionism enough to finish, march in the funny hat and robe, get married, move in with TF, make him dinner, have babies, etc." To which I say: "Duh."

But this wasn't what I had imagined for my life.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I have not been blogging too much lately, and neither have many of the bloggers I read. I chalk this up to the overwhelming nature of the Gaza campaign and the difficulty of saying anything cogent about it. Blogging patterns are weird, though, so the drought could just be a fluke. In case anyone is interested in what I think about this and a few other issues, or is just bored by the overall lack of posts and wants a quick read, here are some thoughts:

Operation "Cast Lead": A stupid name, but a justified campaign. Israel can't just be expected to let Hamas fire rockets into its cities. I am worried, though. Even though the Israelis planned this out pretty thoroughly (a lesson learned from the Second Lebanon War), it's not clear what the endgame is. I doubt a satisfactory ceasefire can be reached, since that would require Hamas to abide by it. My guess is that the Israelis will continue until the Obama administration tells them to cut it out. I hope that they can do enough damage in that time seriously to undermine the rocket attacks. Of course, this will be seen as a loss for Israel by the majority of the world. It makes me sick how gleefully The New York Times and others report that, despite the carnage in Gaza, Hamas is still managing to get rockets off. Oh, what a knee-slapper! The Israelis are engaged in ground warfare, which is killing civilians, largely because Hamas is using them as human shields, and Hamas is still managing to terrorize northern Israel. That will show Israel . . . what, exactly?

On a related note. . . Israel's decision not to allow most foreign reporters into Gaza: I have mixed feelings. The Times and others keep running whiny stories about how much they want to go into Gaza, but then if someone gets hurt, that of course will be Israel's fault. (Remember that idiot BBC reporter who got kidnapped by Hamas and was still sympathetic to them? I will charitably diagnose him with Stockholm Syndrome). I don't really understand why reporters want to go into those kinds of war zones. These opinions compete with my (and TF's) conviction that reporters should be able to report on the news, even if it's really unpleasant. What do you guys think?

Valkyrie: I can't believe I have to say this, but movie reviews, both from the popular press and from academic sources, seem to necessitate it: 1) This is not just an ordinary suspense movie! It has a strong polemical message, so stop devoting the entire review to Tom Cruise's acting ability and the effectiveness of the climactic scene; 2) Some professor of German literature referred to Claus von Stauffenberg, the guy Cruise plays, as a "German officer." Give me a break. He was a Nazi. In what army was he an "officer?" Oh, right. The Wehrmacht. He and his co-conspirators did not try to kill the yemach shemo because they were humanitarian Jew-lovers. They did it because they thought he was a bad military commander which, fortunately for the non-genocidal-maniac-world, he was. I can't believe how desperate even educated (and over-educated) people are to find a serious German resistance to Nazism. If this is the best you guys can do . . .

Academic conferences: Don't agree to deliver two completely different papers in three weeks. That's just dumb.

Satmar: Blech. Double blech. I just discovered, through Frum Satire's blogroll, a new blog called Hasidic Feminist. It is the story of a woman who grew up Satmar in Williamsburg, educated herself by sneaking off to the public library, got married at 17, and, at some point, took her kids and ran. It is beautifully written, but the subject-matter is kind of horrifying, I have to warn you.

And, on a lighter note, I am reading a great book called The Northern Clemency. Check it out.