Tags: purim

shiny jen

R' Ovadia Yosef on megillah reading, part 2

Here's part 1. In brief, R' Yosef said that potentially women could read and write Megillah, and there was lots of hoo-ha. Part 1 talks about the hoo-ha.

This part is about the writing. R' Yosef said
ancient megillahs written by women have been found in Yemen
. I would like to know more about this! Anyone got any leads? I am reasonably sure that R' Yosef is much too busy to reply to any query I could send him, and anyway I am not nearly important enough to bother someone like him.

Anyway, he used the Yemen women by way of illustration that women may write megillot.
However, he admitted wryly, it is an open question "whether anyone would buy it."

I've sold eight. Add in the other soferot working today and you must get up to, ooh, coming on for a couple of dozen. News of this bit of creeping feminism obviously hasn't crept very far.

But that's okay, halakhic-egal Judaism has had female rabbis for twenty-some years, but it only just got a Torah scribe (not that it's commissioned any Torahs yet, only the Reform and Recon do that, isn't that silly). Scribes aren't exactly at the forefront of things.

Anyway, I'd be jolly interested to hear about women and megillot, in Yemen or anywhere else really. Ideally actual sources, and not just "X said that Y said that Z said."

On to part 3, not that they're all that sequential really.
shiny jen

R' Ovadia Yosef on megillah reading, part 1

Women are allowed to chant the Scroll of Esther on behalf of men if no competent men are available, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardi community, ruled in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of his Ashkenazi counterparts.
From Vos Iz Neias, or Haaretz, and loads of people emailing me.

Let's start with how this isn't a landmark decision.

The above is roughly akin to saying "Prisoners should not be detained unlawfully, Democrats ruled today, in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of their Republican counterparts." It's not exactly an innovation. A lot of people have been doing it that way for quite some time, left-wing Orthodox Ashkenazim as well as the liberal movements, so it doesn't really count as "landmark." It also wasn't a "decision," in that he's been saying and teaching that way for some time, in line with quite a lot of rabbinic Judaism over the past couple of millennia. And he didn't "rule," it just came up in a class on the laws of Megillah reading. So, less of the sensationalism.

What is interesting is that suddenly people felt the need to make a big deal out of it. For some reason, the idea that women might read for men has become interesting enough to make headlines. Why should this be?

It's possible that it's part of "Who Owns Judaism?" - it made the news because the ultra-Orthodox said it. Basically all Jewish movements, from centre-right Orthodoxy and leftwards, look to the ultra-Orthodox for authenticity. So it doesn't matter that other flavours of Jew have had women reading Megillah for simply ages; it's only news when the ultra-Orthodox talk about it. Perhaps that's what's going on; if so, it's a great pity.

A tangent: It's a pity for what it shows about how other Jewish movements think about Judaism, perpetually looking over their shoulders measuring themselves against the ultra-Orthodox. Other kinds of Jews don't want to be ultra-Orthodox for a great many reasons, but there is the unfortunate tendency to assume, deep down, that it is basically laziness - that if we were just a bit more prepared to deal with discomfort, we too could be like that. This results in an unspoken but evident assumption that only ultra-Orthodox Judaism is the "real" Judaism, that only the ultra-Orthodox do it "properly," and the necessary corollary that if we're in another movement, there's no point committing to it with our whole heart, if it's just inauthentic toy Judaism.

Moderate Americans don't secretly feel that only hard-line Republicans are the "real Americans," do they? (I really hope they don't, anyway). With notable exceptions, Americans seem to manage the idea that first and foremost you're an American, and you can have political affiliations, and that different political groups are more or less equally valid. Democrats don't go around more or less identifying as Republicans who can't be bothered to do it properly, but an awful lot of liberal Jewish movements have an undertone of being lapsed Orthodox. Either this is a great shame and the liberal movements need a lot more self-confidence, or it is evidence that ultra-Orthodoxy is the only true Judaism. Speaking for the liberal movements (what hutzpah) it's our choice. End tangent.

It's also possible that women-reading-Megillah made the news this particular year because the concept of women participating in things has risen in the public consciousness enough that it's now something people are ready to think about.

Over the past - I don't know, decade? couple of decades? - women's participation in this sort of thing has been increasing. It's now easier for Orthodox women to learn how to read Megillah, and it's a good deal more acceptable these days for women to have women's Megillah readings, for instance. As long as women participating was strictly a non-Orthodox thing, the Orthodox world could comfortably ignore it, writing off the non-Orthodox practices as not really Judaism, but perhaps once it's made its way into the left wing of the Orthodox world it's harder for the right wing to ignore? In other words, perhaps this is creeping feminism crossing a threshold?

So the idea that women might participate in ritual a little more, in the form of a comment about women reading megillah, may have crept into the Sephardi real-world setup. Having crept into the ultra-Sephardi world doesn't mean it's crept into the ultra-Ashkenazi world - doesn't mean it hasn't at all, just evidently less so - which means that the looking-over-their-shoulders-at-the-ultra-Orthodox Jews can't feel authentic about involving women yet. But that's okay, because they ought to be acting on conviction anyway.

In any case, such events are pieces of evidence that even ultra-Orthodoxy is influenced by ideas percolating in the rest of the world, which itself is evidence that exchange of ideas goes both ways, into ultra-Orthodoxy as well as out of it. That is, there is not one true Judaism and a host of lesser Judaisms, but many symbiotic Judaisms.

R' Yosef, being Sephardi, might possibly agree.

But possibly not.

On to part 2
shiny jen

Large-print Esther tikkun

Tikkun for learning Megillat Esther, in large print for the partially sighted. 48pt bold type, 1.25 line spaced, 4Mb, .pdf file.

Scrolls for ritual readings don't have vowels or cantillation marks, so readers often use a book called a tikkun to prepare readings. A tikkun has the unadorned text on one side and the text with vowels and cantillation on the other side. However, the text is usually pretty small, much smaller than the letters in a scroll, and the vowels and cantillation smaller still, so preparing from a book may be a good deal harder than reading from the actual scroll.

I have a partially-sighted friend who wants to learn to read Megillah, so I made a large-print tikkun. I figure she's not the only such person in the world, so I'm putting it online for all. Here it is. Enjoy. Leave a comment if you find it useful.

Printing and binding 164 pages is annoying, so I have also made it available on lulu.com, for $11.10 (cost of production).

Here are some resources for learning to chant Megillah:

Virtual Cantor - downloadable recordings of each chapter, and CD available

JOFA's Esther resources (mostly not free)

Mechon Mamre's Esther tikkun. When you mouseover words, the vowels and cantillation appear. The text resizes well.

Thanks to Gabriel Wasserman for proofreading.
shiny jen

Fortune Hamentaschen

A new twist on the traditional Purim cookie: fortune hamentaschen. They look like hamentaschen, but they taste good and they have fortunes inside, instead of prunes.

Here's how.

For fortunes, I used Yiddish proverbs - they have the perfect blend of wry humour, cynicism, and Jewishness. Selections from Pirkei Avot (early rabbinic homiletics) could also work, but I found them a bit too goody-goody for this purpose. One could also use verses from Proverbs and suchlike, but I felt a bit odd about putting biblical verses into cookies. Choose fortunes, print them out, and fold the fortunes into little squares.

Then use this recipe and these associated tips to make fortune cookies. When you get to the bit about shaping them, depart from those instructions, and instead, when you get the cookie off the baking tray and flip it over, put a folded fortune in the middle and pinch the edges up to make three corners.
shiny jen


Well, that was fun.

I sewed a paper plate and cup, and plastic cutlery, to a tablemat, and pinned it to a waistcoat. That is, I went as the Shulhan Arukh (the major law code whose title means Set Table).

I went to CSAIR in the evening - that's the local Conservative shul. I'd thought about going into the city, to Hadar's reading, but CSAIR's my community at the moment, and that won out, overall. There was a lot of noise, so it probably wasn't a very kosher reading for someone sitting at the back, but I was being one of the checkers, which means standing right next to the reader anyway, so I heard the whole thing. Some jolly good readers, two of whom are tiny wee things - one of them looks as though she's about ten years old, but she's presumably older than that; she was very good. Pizza bagels afterwards, yay.

Morning, got up at stupid o'clock to read at CSAIR's early reading. Only hardcore people get up for stupid o'clock readings, so this one was much more kosher. Also some jolly good readers. I like leyning, but I also like listening to leyning done well; it's like when people read foreign poetry, it just sounds nice. One doesn't hear it very often - too often people who can read well also read self-importantly. Competent but modest readers are rare gems. So anyway, there was one reader like that at the early reading, which was very much a treat.

Then zooming to the subway and downtown to Drisha's reading, since they're my community too. Also with one reader in particular who combines competence with modesty, exceedingly pleasant to listen to. And a couple of first-time readers, who are generally entirely precious, and all in all a very nice reading.

And I got to use my regel, yay, and we read from the megillah I wrote four years ago, and I read the bit about Esther writing. Esther's the only named woman in the Bible who writes, and when I wrote my first Torah I added Esther to my Hebrew name, feeling some sort of resonance with that. So it was particularly pleasing to read ve-tikhtov Esther.

Yummy food afterwards, and passing out fortune hamentaschen (i.e. fortune cookies, but with Yiddish proverbs and rabbinic aphorisms inside, and folded into the triangular Purim-cookie shape instead of the Chinese fortune-cookie shape), which were a smash hit, hurrah. Worth the fiddliness of making them for the fun of sharing them.
shiny jen

(no subject)

Wondering about the midrash on Esther, as well.

At the beginning of the story, the king sends for Queen Vashti to show her off to his mates. And she says she's not coming, whereupon everyone gets into a gigantic tizzy lest it get about that Vashti got away with saying no to her husband, and they dethrone her and all sorts of nasty things, and generally overreact.

Which you can read as being tremendously misogynist, if you like. Or you can be a bit more subtle and read it as satire - the megillah poking fun at people who overreact when their wives don't do as they say.

The midrash, somewhat later, goes to great lengths to explain exactly why Vashti deserved everything she got. It says she was a slut, she was rude to the king and humiliated him in front of his friends, she made Jewish girls work on Shabbat with no clothes, etc.

So if you read the story in light of the midrash, people's reaction to Vashti saying no is totally proportionate.

Why is the midrash so invested in doing this? Does it take the first reading above and have problems with the idea that the biblical characters are overreacting? Does it take the second reading and just not get the idea of satire, or not accept that the Bible can do satire if it wants? Or what? I'm intrigued.

ETA: livredor points out that what the midrash is doing is emphasising a doctrine of just reward and punishment, which is something the midrash rather likes doing - in part because the midrash is often directed at communities in exile who are rather miserable and need to be able to pin their hopes on something - so what it's doing makes sense in its own context. Good.

She also points out that in midrashic parables, a king often represents God. Accordingly, stories where kings do unjust and rotten things are sort of disturbing. So if the king appears rotten and unjust, the midrash-influenced reader is going to feel like it's God being rotten and unjust, and the midrash is going to want to address that, by providing extra background which makes the king/God appear perfectly reasonable. This also makes sense.
shiny jen

It's not a yad, it's a regel

For reading the Megillah with, because everything is upside-down on Purim:

Modelling clay, painted silver and varnished. Not bad for a first try, I think! I'm particularly pleased with how it's pointing, and with the grotesque toenails.
shiny jen

Purim Costumes

If you're thinking of going as Tefillin Barbie this Purim

Please don't use real tefillin.

If you were going as a Torah reader, you wouldn't use a real Torah. Torahs are holy objects. Tefillin are also holy objects.

Please, if you're dressing up as someone wearing tefillin, make some fake tefillin with some cardboard, black paint, and ribbon.
shiny jen

(no subject)

I finally got around to webbifying close-ups of that Megillah border, for the people who asked for them. Here we are...