Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A new young Jewish community in SF

I can't go this time around, but this new Jewish community looks like a fun, interesting time and they're having their first Shabbat event this Friday. They describe themselves as "one part indie Shabbat community, one part San Francisco experiment, and one part tool kit for DIY Jewish practice." Well then.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Circumcision is a religious issue

As many of you may have heard, anti-circumcision advocates in San Francisco recently gathered enough signatures to allow voters to decide to ban circumcision in the city. You can read all about it here.

I've read a few articles lately, many written on behalf of Jewish organizations, making the case for why circumcision is a medically sound practice. They claim it results in fewer urinary tract infections, a decrease in the transmission of STDs, and that it's "cleaner." I have no idea if any of that is true, but I know that it's not important. Banning circumcision is not a matter of health. If circumcision resulted in more UTIs and more STDs, would Jews agree to ban it? Of course not.

Banning circumcision in San Francisco or elsewhere violates the rights of Jews to freely practice their religion. The circumcision ritual is, I would argue, one of the most important in Judaism, symbolic of Jews' relationship to God. That voters will be able to decide to allow or disallow it is ludicrous, for the same reason that voting on same-sex marriage is ludicrous. Though I have faith that San Franciscans would never pass such a measure, the possibility that they could is very troubling.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Why is the orange really on the seder plate?

The saying goes that an old male rabbi once said that "women belong on the bimah like an orange belongs on the seder plate." As a result, many progressive Jews include oranges on their seder plates to honor womens' voices and importance in Judaism. I was surprised to read this article, however, which has a different take on the story of the orange. Enjoy!

Can I get an "amen"? Amen!

Genessa and I went to that Three Rabbis event I've talked about in earlier posts. It was at the JCC - a crazy beautiful building with great art and social justice exhibits lining just about every hallway. As I've mentioned in previous posts, I was a little disheartened to know that three white, middle-aged, male rabbis would be leading a panel on "otherness" in the Jewish community - come on, this is SAN FRANCISCO! - but what can you do?

The conversation was kind of all over the place, and not especially ground-breaking. However, audience members were able to write questions on index cards to be answered by the rabbis, and my question was chosen. I asked something like: Is there a place in the Jewish community for non-Jews who feel a spiritual connection to Jewish practice and tradition, but who may not have plans to convert. The answer? Practicing Jews may not (should not?) say "amen" to prayers related to "our" God or specific Jewish experiences when recited by these types of non-Jews.

This is especially relevant to the Passover seder. If God had only "brought US out from Egypt," or parted the Red Sea," drowning "OUR pursuers in its waters" - that would have been enough. So the song goes during the seder (though the CAPS are my own doing).  Implicit in the response of the rabbis is that, though I may sit at the Passover table, I should not sing blessings or songs like the one above (Dayenu) so as not to cheapen the experience or invalidate the suffering of those with REAL Jewish ancestors.

I actually don't take issue with the opinions of these rabbis - I understand where they're coming from. Thankfully, I've never encountered this attitude in my own life, and don't expect to find myself praying with the Three Rabbis any time soon. Still, the response did get me thinking about secular Jews who sing prayers in Hebrew, without really understanding what they're saying. Can these rabbis say "amen" to people who pray by rote rather than with feeling? Is ancestry more important than sincerity? What do you think?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Savory Hamentaschen sound delicious

Reading about Hamentaschen and their many possible fillings before breakfast is like grocery shopping on an empty stomach. Except instead of the bounty of Rainbow to satisfy my (real or perceived) hunger, I have a fridge full of. . . Half a lemon. And some asparagus. And bread - I guess toast and jam will do for now.

Anyway, here's a fun article on the evolution of Hamentaschen in the NYT (thanks, Bruce!). Also, fun fact! Did you know that Hamentaschen which, in German, would translate to "Haman's* pockets" were not actually originally called Hamentaschen? They were called something like "Mohntaschen," translated as poppy seed pockets, but added the Yiddish "ha" in the late middle ages. Hamentaschen is a much better name, I think.

*Haman is the villian of the Purim story, when Hamentaschen are traditionally eaten.