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shiny jen

Asking Rav Eitan

A goodly portion of Yeshivat Hadar spent this Shabbat in Riverdale, and I had the pleasure of cramming everyone into my apartment for (yummy potluck) lunch.

Following lunch, there was "Ask Rav Eitan."

Which is what? Well, here's a whole bunch of people who can see that their rosh yeshiva is entirely awesome, and they want to know what he thinks about fun questions like "Why is Judaism important?" Clearly nobbling him after Shabbat lunch, when he's too full of cholent to run away, is the best way of getting answers.

I jest. He wasn't trying to run away.

This is what was really going on:

When one's worldview isn't rendered in stark black and white, one has to find subtle shades-of-grey answers to any important question, existential or otherwise. One has gut feelings, or vague ideas, or half-formed rationales, regarding the big questions and the bigger picture, but fitting them together neatly is generally a bit beyond one, and we muddle along with more or less faith that it'll turn out okay in the end.

Then every so often you come across someone who has thought about all these things, and studied extensively, and is aware enough and articulate enough to express cogent, nuanced, informed, reasonable opinions. Sometimes they're saying clearly exactly the words you've been groping for; sometimes what they say or how they say it resonates with you so strongly that even if you don't quite agree, you want to hear more so that you can learn how to express your own opinions like that.

Here, you can see, is a way of constructing the security, the groundedness, which comes with the confident black-and-white answer, in the shades of grey one's intellectual integrity demands. Bit by bit you can muddle less and stand firm on sure ground; as people drawn to a measure of religious leadership, such grounding is a needed strength for ourselves and others.

So you meet someone in whose expression of the bigger picture you can see your own fuzzy approximations, but clarified and extended and set into place almost beyond recognition. It is a picture you have been trying to see; you have found someone who sees it, and you want to know all about the picture as they see it. Every last detail, so that you can see it through your own eyes and carry it with you.

That's what "Ask Rav Eitan" is doing, in a sense.

The next chapter here probably concerns the nature of the picture seen by the Yeshivat Hadar leadership, and why I think it is at present unique and hence uniquely important, but it's 1am so it'll have to wait for another day.

In any case, this was originally intended as a light-hearted post about how this Shabbat, when we were Asking Rav Eitan, and Rav Eitan was talking in rather powerful and compelling ways about how and why Judaism is the framework of his life, the doorbell rang.

Two Jehovah's Witnesses were at the door, one of them brandishing a much-worn Bible and the other with a folder of magazines.

In my apartment right now, flashed through my mind, there are three rabbis and a dozen people who spend all week learning Bible and Jewish canonical texts. I could invite these Witnesses into the lions' den. It would be hilarious.

But it would also be rather cruel and gratuitous, so I suppressed the fit of giggles that was arising and said politely "This really isn't a conversation we want to be having right now."

"Oh; why not?" one responded eagerly.

Because here are a group of yeshivaniks clustered round their rosh yeshiva hanging on his every word, I thought, you couldn't really have chosen a less likely target. Every single person in this room learns Bible on a level you've never even thought about. You'd get slaughtered. And nothing you can say could be anywhere near as interesting as Asking Rav Eitan.

"We're a bit busy right now," I said feebly, closing the door.

I hope they didn't hear the laughter.

Originally posted at Dreamwidth. Re-enabling comments over here because dreamwidth fail at LJ integration. Pity, because they have principles.
shiny jen

hurrah for the yellow hobbit and debka-notion

There was a super thunderstorm last night, and today my Dell AC adaptor is dead. It was plugged into a board which theoretically has a surge protector, but I guess it isn't very good; I can't think of anything else which would explain why yesterday it was working and today it is not. Better than having the actual computer fried, anyway.

I've sent off for a new one ($11 on eBay); we'll see.

All this is a long-winded way of explaining that access to my Dell, with its ancient and tottering battery, is limited at the moment, so I haven't got the Yellow Hobbit's email address handy. Yellow Hobbit sent me a mighty box of glorious yarn, so with that and the stash gleanings of debka-notion and Mrs shirei-shibolim, I'm so well-equipped! It's quite quite marvellous. Thank you!

So I am using my dear little Eee PC to blog this and read the internets while having post-Shabbat tea and ice-cream, and then I am going to listen to the BBC and crochet. Niceness.

This entry was originally posted at http://hatam-soferet.dreamwidth.org/444732.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
shiny jen

(no subject)

Visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island today since sister is visiting. Beautiful day for it, my goodness; perfect sort of day to be out on the water.

I liked two things especially about the Statue of Liberty. One, the way the statue was made of sheets of copper shaped by hammering into a mould, and then bolted over a framework - that's just very interesting; I knew it was hollow, but not *that* hollow. The other thing I like is that her tummy sticks out further than her bosom. It is so unusual to see representations of women which look like an average woman. I can look at Liberty and think "Hey, I look like that!" and that is more inspiring than you might believe.

Ellis Island was interesting for being modern. My mental immigrant is apparently stuck in 1850; the building has mostly been restored to its 1920s look, tiling and panelling and so forth, with many photographs of people doing things which, if you look carefully, are quite obviously not set in 1850. Intellectually of course I know that immigrants weren't all coming from 1850, but I was continually being surprised by how modern everything was. Telephones and consumerism and Roaring Twenties.

(And even so, there were still a lot of deaths from infectious diseases like measles. Vaccinate your children!)*

I was surprised to learn that most people only spent a few hours there, also. It makes sense in terms of red tape - controlling illegal movement and infectious disease* - but seems awfully cumbersome to ferry thousands of people out there and back again almost right away. The building has these gigantic echoing halls, which reminded me, a first-generation immigrant myself, overwhelmingly of Customs&Immigration at JFK airport, in whose gigantic echoing halls I went through much the same sort of procedure.

What I noticed very strongly, and hadn't been expecting at all, was how white it felt. Liberty Island is covered in stuff about how coming to the USA was an escape from tyranny, oppression etc, and the statue is symbolic of hope, freedom, etc. Ellis Island is covered in stuff about how coming to the USA was a chance at a new life, a better life, free, hopeful, etc. I couldn't help thinking that there are a heck of a lot of people for whom coming to the USA was an *act* of oppression and a deprivation of liberty, hope, freedom etc. Different period, obviously, and historical context and so on; you wouldn't expect Ellis Island to be talking about anything much other than Europeans. I was just suddenly very aware of white privilege and having it, and that awareness flavoured my day.

Especially re Statue of Liberty - she is placed strategcally in the harbour such that she is the first sight of new immigrants, and as such she comes to represent hope and freedom and suchlike as per American Dream. Except that said immigrants were not a) Native American b) South American c) Black d) Asian, and I find myself wondering if Liberty's cultural significance looks different from other perspectives, or whether it's all melting-potted.

So an educational day, but not at all in the ways I had been expecting.

* gratuitous pro-vaccine plug, yes
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

Mezuzah/Taxes offer...

Would anyone like to do a little bartering?

What you get: A mezuzah written for you by one of my students
What you give: Tax preparation for a freelancer who moved to NYC from CT during the last year.

You do her taxes, she writes you a mezuzah... email me if interested. A nice mezuzah. Not one of those rubbishy little scribbled jobbies.

(Female student, hence this mezuzah is no good to you if you have a non-egal household...c'est la vie.)
shiny jen


What a nice day.

Did a little final-tweaking on a piece of art, right; click for bigger. Illustrated Torah portion for a bat mitzvah gift.

Then second-breakfast at the Corner Cafe in Riverdale, fulfilling the ritual requirement of doughnuts, it being the last day of Hanukah. The Corner Cafe features, in my mental map, largely as a provider of truly atrocious parve cookies, so it was with a certain degree of resignation I bit into my doughnut, but my unflagging commitment to ritual duty was rewarded; it was a very nice doughnut. Sweet but not nauseating, crisp on the outside but nice and springy in the middle. Three cheers for the Corner Cafe, say I, and we'll say no more about those unfortunate cookies.

This with CH, doing the sort of admin tasks which loom intimidatingly and are better tackled in company. There's only so long you can spin out a doughnut, so then we adjourned to her place for more work on said admin, which turned into lengthy conversation on all kinds of things with intermittent tea and cholent. Decided that she and LSB and I should disagree concisely and pithily every so often, since we disagree interestingly and creatively; more on this as and when.

Haven't had a day in quite some time where I didn't have a quota to fill or some other guilt hanging over me, where I could just noodle about doing stuff, not doing stuff, at will. Coming home, it was quite odd to realise I don't have to spend the next four hours working late to compensate for having wasted the day - really very cheering, once I got used to the idea.
shiny jen

scribe school

Picture a room with a couple of soferim in it, writing Torah. A proto-sofer is practising letter samekh. The sound of a lecture on the weekly Torah portion floats in from down the hallway. Another proto-sofer takes a deep breath; she's about to start writing her first mezuzah. Her teacher is there, keeping an eye on her as she turns months of hard study into a real scroll.

A rabbinical student drops in with a megillah; he can't quite work out what he's doing wrong, but someone with more experience can get him back on track. Bolstered with good advice, he goes on his way, passing on his way out another proto-soferet who is coming from her Talmud class. Letter samekh is set aside and the two pull out books and tackle halakha. Mezuzah girl, taking a lunch break, helps them out when they get stuck.

They leave - they have Bible class now - and another student arrives. She's an expert on the Ancient Near East, a university professor and rabbi. She lives in the next state and studies on her own, and comes in every few weeks for an hour's lesson, after which someone is bound to get her into a discussion about texts from antiquity, and everyone will get very excited. After she's gone, work resumes, perhaps punctuated by occasional exchanges of advice or the sharing of a thought on the text. Someone will fetch some tea, someone will take a minute to look up a halakhic ruling. Letter by letter, their scrolls grow.

In the late afternoon, a round-eyed eleven-year-old comes in with her bat mitzvah teacher. They're taking a break from a Torah reading lesson, and coming to see the Torah being written. A Torah scholar spends an hour working on her own calligraphy; she doesn't want to be a sofer, but she likes practising here with the scribes. Her Seeing Eye dog sleeps under the table; she's practically blind, but she finds calligraphy inspiring. Everyone else finds her inspiring.

Around suppertime, a sofer and a proto-sofer arrive from their day jobs. Over supper, they catch up, talk shop a bit, and then set to reviewing some of the basics. They'll almost certainly end up chasing a tangent through the rabbinic literature. Someone will bring an academic perspective, someone will share a midrash; they may finish the evening discussing practical concerns, or philosophy, or awed speechless by some particularly astounding idea.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? And the great thing is, it's not just a pretty dream. It happened last week, and the week before, and the week before, and God willing it will happen next week and the week after and the week after. Baby scribes and proto-scribes and getting-better scribes, people sharing what they know and what they've learned, writing and studying and listening together, and all the while the Torah grows and grows. It's very beautiful.

(I can be emailed for more info.)
shiny jen

(no subject)

a) I love charity shops; loads of lovely practically-new clothes for peanuts, and the peanuts go straight to charity.

b) John Wyndham's books have been reprinted! They were issued in 1960 and 1963, and again this year. After 35 years! I love John Wyndham.

c) I had neonchameleon to myself for a whole afternoon :) Amongst his other sterling qualities, neonchameleon is one of the few people who can and does lift me two feet off the ground in a hug.

d) Starbucks in Oxford serves tea in lovely chunky mugs, if you're going to stay and drink it there obviously. That's very nice indeed. But on the other hand they close at 6.30, which is a bit of a culture shock when you're used to the Manhattan ones which are still open at bedtime. On the other hand here you can decamp to a pub and have another cup of tea there, and they're all non-smoking these days, so it's just as good really.

e) On a packed train, I claimed the seat I'd booked. This amounts to a social whoopsie on a grand scale, but I was buggered if I was going to stand all the way to Southampton on this ankle. I've never done that before, would you believe, but aside from a few dirty looks from other people it was no problem, and it was jolly nice to have a seat.
shiny jen

(no subject)

Planning to be in Oxford this weekend; have plans for Shabbat (expect there could be extra space at lunch, but basically booked), but am intending Friday lunch & early afternoon in town and Sunday afternoon noodling about (i.e. working on laptop unless anyone wants to hang out). Mobile is 07984 950678; may not have internet terribly reliably (is there any free wireless in the city centre?).