2

Tick, Tick…Oy.

I’d like to return to my current read, Elana Maryles Sztokman’s The Men’s Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World. I’m still about halfway through, and while Sztokman is dealing with a limited perspective of mostly Israelis, some of the larger concepts about Orthodox Jewish men that she tackles in the first half of the book (Chapters 1-5) are, for the most part, true. Some of those reasons are why I feel the way I do about things, why I’m annoyed at Orthodox Judaism today, and why I continue to identify as Orthodox in spite of all those feelings.

On page 36, Sztokman cites Paul Kivel’s “Act Like A Man” box, and through the remainder of Chapter 2 (and bleeding over into the next few chapters), creates what she calls the “BOMB” or “Be an Orthodox Man” Box. Kivel’s box consists of three concentric rectangles. The innermost contains the things that men try to hide, such as anger, love, and sadness; the middle box contains actions that men do to protect themselves such as yell, fight, and be stubborn; and outside the box are the abuses which men (usually boys) are subject to when they fail to meet these criteria such as name-calling, hitting, and sexual abuse.

So, yeah. Rough stuff.

I can definitely see where Sztokman finds her parallels. Instead of quoting her, however, I can use hers and Kivel’s information to synthesize some thoughts of my own.

Let me start off with a story.

It was senior year of high school, and the junior and senior classes were all going to a pro-Israel rally on the grounds of the Capitol in Washington, DC. It was mandatory, and with the world being the way it was in 2005, everyone was pretty much on the edge about coming back alive. So we loaded ourselves into buses with posters and set off for DC. We got to the rally and it was a lot bigger than most of us expected. High school students had come in by the busload from as far away as Boston, New York, and Atlanta, not to mention all the families that attended. It was also longer, hotter, and sunnier than most of us expected, and a lot of people, including myself, came home that day with horrible sunburns. As anyone who’s been to a rally knows, when the rally ends, people disperse en masse, and this dispersion was of Pamplona-proportions, only with Jews running down the street and not bulls. We were put into groups to make it back to the bus, and hopefully find some cold beverages along the way since those of us who brought water had finished it long ago. I was in one of the smaller groups, about six guys and one of our teachers, who was also a rabbi. Of course, where there are Jews, there are Chabadniks, always trying to engage Jews in conversation at inopportune times and places. As we walk/jog down the street trying to find a 7-11 or something, a Chabadnik pulls aside our teacher – who is a rabbi – and asks if he put on tefillin that morning. My teacher didn’t respond and just kept moving, probably because he was as hot and tired as us students and was wearing a suit, looking very much like a rabbi, which he was.

A few blocks later, when the crowd thinned out and the stragglers caught up, my teacher turned to me and said, “Can you believe that guy? Asking me if I wore tefillin this morning. Just look at me; who does he think I am? Who does he think he is? Bastard.”

Okay, so I added the “bastard” in there for effect (although I’m not entirely convinced he didn’t say it under his breath as we were walking or in his mind) but he was insulted. He didn’t know the guy, but it sat on his mind for several blocks and he felt so challenged that he had to blurt something out to his students. His sour reaction to the event is a good lead-in to the concept of competition in Orthodox Jewish manhood – a topic which Sztokman heavily focuses on in her book.

It’s the truth. Orthodox Jewish men are competitive, from childhood to adult. It’s about how high your education is, how young you were when you got married, how many children you have, how much halacha you observe, how much you pray, how much you study, what you do for a living, what you look like, what you eat, and what you wear. People say that these things don’t matter, but to Orthodox Jewish men, they do. Looking at myself through this “be an Orthodox man” box, my score is pretty low. I am 26 years old with no wife and children (practically “old bachelor” age in the Orthodox world), I don’t wear a kippa every day, I don’t observe all the laws of Shabbos every week, I don’t wear the Orthodox Jewish uniform (white Oxford, black jacket, black pants) 24/7, I never went to yeshiva or did much in the way of Jewish learning/limmudei kodesh past-high school, I don’t go to minyan three times a day, and I got my education in non-Jewish colleges (pretty much anywhere besides YU, Brandeis, Touro, or an Ivy) and I studied theatre. At least I have an advanced degree and am working on my second, I still observe kashrut, and I have a mezuzah on my door; those things should count for something, I guess. Still, if I were to register myself with a shidduch, I’d probably strike out before getting up to bat.

3

Hava Negia

After a long period where my reading consisted of scripts and books on theory and not much else, I’m returning to the piles of books I currently have out from the library. One of my current reads is The Men’s Section by Elana Maryles Sztokman. I haven’t finished the book yet, so I can’t write a proper review, but I do want to address one of the topics that Sztokman has only touched lightly so far.

I’m talking about negia.

Negia (alternately spelled negiah/negiyah) is the Jewish concept of touch. More specifically, negia laws refer to the halachic concepts of physical contact between the sexes. In Orthodox Judaism, men can be shomer negia and women can be shomeret negia, both of which basically mean “watch your touching.” Those who make this choice do not come in contact with members of the opposite sex unless they are related to them by blood or marriage, and usually will refrain from touching others in public. Observance levels run the gamut from merely no physical contact (handshakes/dancing/hugging/kissing) to avoiding any chances of contact such as sharing a bus seat (I have a story about that), an airplane row, or even standing close to the opposite sex in a crowded room or while posing for a photograph. Negia rules do not apply to babies and small children. Arbitrary contact is permitted, such as if fingers touch when passing something at the dinner table. And of course, accidents happen; one time, I was at a Chabad house, standing and talking with someone with one hand on a chair and one on my hip, and the rabbi’s wife walked right into my right arm (the one that was resting on my hip) by accident. I felt so guilty for standing with my elbow in her way, but she said not to worry, that it was her own fault for not watching where she was going.

Even though I grew up Orthodox, negia was never a huge factor in my life. At my synagogue, it was a non-issue; if someone was shomer negia, which some probably were, it never became an issue, and most people greeted each other with a handshake or a hug, regardless of gender. Even as a teenager and young adult, I would greet my mother’s and grandmother’s female friends with a hug.

In high school, the rules of negia became a little blurry. According to school rules, touching the opposite sex was not banned, but it wasn’t promoted either. I remember dancing with girls in school plays, but still, I got yelled at more than once for walking arm-in-arm with a female friend through the halls or for hugging a girl in the presence of a teacher. Some students chose to become more observant, negia included, and that was okay, but my school never made a statement outright about the matter one way or the other. Still, they sent me and others mixed messages over whether it was appropriate or not.

After high school, I definitely became more aware of negia. In college, I made more than a few faux-pas by reaching to hug a girl who was indeed shomeret, so I began to assume everyone was. One time, though, a girl who I thought was shomeret gave me a hug, and when I asked her, she said “Me? Shomer?” So I began the habit of asking girls if they were shomeret when I met them, and every single time I did so, I got a laugh or a confused look. Only once did I actually ask a girl that question and she answered in the affirmative. Talk about bad negia-dar.

This brings me to my first question…why don’t I become shomer negia?

It would make things a lot easier; I would be following halacha. I would chop my time saying hello and goodbye to people in half. I wouldn’t feel obligated to shake a woman’s hand or hug a woman I didn’t like. I wouldn’t have to worry about getting someone else’s germs on me. I wouldn’t have the awkward handshake, or too-long hug. I would still have the awkward eye contact thing, but I guess I don’t have a choice on that one. I’d be at less of a risk of getting makeup or food on me. It would also be something that might make people more interested in me, asking me why I made that life choice or thinking of me highly for having strong convictions. On the other hand, though, it would totally ruin my dating life. Plus, I would miss the physical contact. Studies have shown that people who lack physical contact in their lives are sadder and die sooner. And it sure would make ballroom dancing tough.

Although touch means different things to different people, I feel that as humans we have evolved to the point where contact between the sexes shouldn’t be so much of an issue. If a person feels that he/she wants to be left alone, then that’s perfectly fine, but for the rest of us, we can control ourselves in public situations.

That brings me to my second question…would I ever become shomer negia?

Answer: highly unlikely. I don’t really care what other Orthodox Jews think about me. I’ll continue to assume that people are shomer in public, Jewish situations, unless she makes the first move, but in the vast realm of my life, refraining from physical contact with the opposite sex would not be in my best interest. As an academic and a conference-goer, some women might be taken aback should I offer the man in the conversation a handshake and not them; or, if I turn down a handshake, it could lead to an awkward moment. Plus, I have too many wonderful female friends who I like to hug. And if it meant that I could never ballroom dance again (or, only with another man), I’d say no, thank you.

Maybe if I could get a loophole for professional activities and activities such as dance where contact is required for a purpose…

Yeah. No.

0

Flip The Script: Lea Goldberg, Lady of the Castle

Today was graduation day here in Madison. For so many, it was the first day of independence, of freedom, of new lives…but for me, it was just another day. Of course, I’ve been there – twice – and I’m sincerely happy for everyone, but a part of me is a little nostalgic. So many people will be leaving Madison (and me) behind.

Life goes on, though; ironically, a feature of the bone-chilling play I read today, so here we go:

Flip The Script: Lea Goldberg, Lady of the Castle

Recap:

One night in 1949, Michael Sand and Dora Ringel find themselves in the library of a castle in Central Europe where Sand has been doing research, seeking to spend the night there rather than face the raging storm outside. Zabrodsky, the groundskeeper, initially discourages them from staying, but quickly changes his mind when Dora suggests the castle might not be the best place to spend the night. After he leaves to prepare a bedroom, Dora becomes frightened and asks Sand to leave, but before long Zabrodsky returns with the news that there is only enough room for Dora; Sand will have to stay in his own bedroom with him. Dora asks about the history of the castle (she is interested, since she works with Jewish children who were hidden in places like this during the war), and Sand asks suggestively if the castle has any ghosts or secret doors, and when Zabrodsky gets defensive, he apologizes for them, but gets more than he bargained for when Zabrodsky reveals that he is not just the castle’s groundskeeper but its resident ghost. Sand, ever the interested researcher of oddities, asks to see a cuckoo clock on the top shelf, and is told by Zabrodsky that it is broken and should not be touched. Upon Zabrodsky bidding Sand and Dora good night and Dora retiring to the next room, Sand sneaks up to the top shelf, retrieves the clock and a key, which he uses to wind the clock. It is indeed functional, and doesn’t just bring out a cuckoo, but the spirit of a young girl who screams and collapses on the floor.

In Act II, Sand tries to comfort the girl, whose screams have brought Dora back. The girl, who reveals herself to be a Jewish girl named Lena, refuses to believe Sand and Dora when they tell her that World War II is over, she is safe to come out, and “the Count” (Zabrodsky) has been denying her freedom this whole time for no reason. Lena slowly believes them, but still clutches onto an amulet, which she claims was a gift from her mother, but Sand discovers it’s a poison pill and tries to wrest it from her. Dora explains that she is a “Youth Aliya” worker, working to help children like Lena who have been hidden in Europe, and bringing them to Israel for societal rehab. Lena then turns to think that “the Count” is not her oppressor and that Dora and Sand are indeed Nazis, so she runs to get Zabrodsky but cannot make it down the stairs. She then starts to entertain the thought of leaving with them, especially when Dora discovers Lena’s last name and determines that she knows Lena’s Aunt Lisa, who is alive and well in Palestine, when Zabrodsky storms in.

And that’s when things get weird.

Act III begins with Zabrodsky entering with anger that Lena has escaped and Dora and Sand have spoiled her with news from the outside world. Lena harbors rage against Zabrodsky, who admits his lie, but he also admits his love for her and his desire to keep her safe. As he debates with Dora and Sand, the rain has stopped and Lena leans out the window, the first time it’s been opened in over two years. She then has this insane monologue about wanting to go outside and smell the rain. Dora says that she can have all that if she comes with them, but she gets scared and runs back through the secret door from whence she came. Dora and Sand scream after her, but Zabrodsky seems to snap back to reality, wondering why they’re screaming and who Lena is. He then insists that they have been the ones yelling and opening windows, and when Sand pulls back the curtain behind which Lena disappeared, there’s no secret door present. Zabrodsky then tells them that, like Sand’s earlier joke, he too joked about being a ghost and that the two of them must have had some sort of hallucination. Dora and Sand defend themselves but start to back down when they realize how silly they sound…and then Lena comes back out and nobody knows what to believe. No longer in her nightgown but rather a proper dress, Lena announces that she’s ready to go with Sand and Dora to Palestine. Zabrodsky gives her permission, and they leave him behind in the castle as the clock strikes midnight.

2

Mr. Know-It-All

I am a pretty calm person when it comes to dealing with other people. I have a pretty thick skin and I can take it better than I can dish it out. But there are some things that people say and do that just rile me.

Like know-it-alls. Know-it-alls come in all types. There’s the child know-it-all, one part wunderkind, two parts annoying; the best friend know-it-all, which can be comforting at times but grating at others; the sibling know-it-all, known to be the cause of rivalry (but deny it to the death), and then there’s the worst type of know-it-all.

Yes, I’m talking about the know-it-all religious figure.

They’re the type of people who give your religion a bad name. For all the wonderful people I’ve encountered in my religious circle, unfortunately it’s the ones who act like bigshots who often have the most visibility. Not to say that others are shrinking violets, but the outspoken nature of the religious know-it-all overshadows all but the most bold of their compatriots.

Today, I had Shabbat lunch and third-meal at the home of a local rabbi, whose name I am not going to say, mostly because I can never remember what it is (one of the good things about rabbis – they all respond to the same name: rabbis). He’s a good guy, as most guys are, but sometimes there’s this smarmy aura about him, as if he imagines himself as the center of the universe. I’m not knocking his religious education, but one of the things about rabbis is that they shouldn’t put you down, or speak to you in a way that is a direct judgment on your character.

Lunch was fine, but at dinner, the topic of religiosity and religious parenting came up. I know I was kind of setting myself up here, but someone else at the table mentioned that her parents came from two very different religious backgrounds, neither of which were Orthodox, and I added in that my parents also came from two very different religious backgrounds, with one Orthodox and one not so much, causing Rabbi Know-it-all to say:

“It’s impossible to raise a kid with one Orthodox parent and one non-Orthodox parent. It doesn’t work. It’s too confusing.”

Oh boy…

“Mine raised me Orthodox,” said I.

“Tell me more,” says the rabbi.

Me:

<Regret>

So, I go through the basics of how my parents met, how they raised us, and how I am today vs. how I lived when I was in their house, ending with “…my parents taught me that Shabbat was important but that my studies were as well, and if that meant doing homework on holidays/Shabbat, so be it. ”

</Regret>

His response?

“Well, that’s a mixed message, you could just as easily go to a club on Shabbos and they’d never know. It’s like a gateway into breaking Shabbos ::smarmy smile::”

Um, wha?

First of all, you don’t know me. Okay, that’s more of a gut reaction and a copout. But seriously, second of all, you have never met parents, lived in my house, or experienced my childhood. Third, and the most hurtful of all, is that you’re basically telling me that I have no self-control and that my religious views/my parents’ are based on lies. Is that something a religious figure and role model should be saying? No. That’s what a petulant, nose-picking moron on the playground or in the hallway would say. Everyone judges and gets judged by others over the course of his/her life, and that’s fine, but keep it to yourself unless you’re certain that the person might have a serious problem, in which case talk to them privately about it, if it matters that much to you. Also, you don’t have a say in how religious I am, and when you put it out there like that, I’m less likely to believe things that you say in the future. And when you jump to conclusions, bring a parachute; you might knock yourself into a hole in the ground.

I thought I would have more to say on this topic, but I think I’ve said my piece for now.

There is one kind of know-it-all that I can tolerate, and that is my parents. Don’t mess with them; when you insult them, you insult me.

15 Life Lessons Learned From "As Told By Ginger"

0

Children Are Always Cute When Saying the Four Questions

And that’s just about the only time.

Yeah, I’m being serious.

Small children at meals usually mean that I need earplugs and two Advil. There’s just something about their voices screeching in unison at unholy pitches that just goes straight through the brain. With babies it’s somewhat more tolerable, since they don’t know what they’re doing, bless ’em. It’s the walkers-and-talkers who are germ-spreading, attention-seeking little future-people.

But at the Passover seder, it’s different.

The first night, I dined with YJP (which was supposed to be at the Concourse, but ended up moving to Chabad, oddly enough) and there were no children, so that was cool.

The second night, I returned to Chabad for an undergrad seder. Basically, it was four long tables of loud, obnoxious undergrads over whom the rabbi had to shout the seder.

At the normal point, the rabbi asked everyone to quiet down for the Four Questions, which the youngest children traditionally sing. The baby is still a baby, but fortunately most of the wild undergraduate elephants quieted their roar for the shy, overshadowed middle child to say the four questions with the help of his father. The talking got a little louder when the older, outspoken one started to do it double-time, English interspersed with Yiddish, but strangely, I found myself siding with the kid rather than the crowd. Maybe I like the underdog, or maybe I just intensely dislike the JAPs who go to Chabad because a) their parents told them to and b) they’re getting free food. And they’re probably going to hit up Wendy’s or Chipotle at the soonest opportunity. Or maybe because it’s actually a legit part of the seder.

The cool part of the seder was, after dinner, the rabbi directed anyone wishing to sing more songs over to our table. Because that’s how we Chabad regulars roll.

Not a lot of new visitors over the past few days, but welcome to The Bahamas. Bring friends. And now that I have people who actually read/comment…I’m taking suggestions.

0

I Write The Songs That Make the Whole World Sing…Except the Ladies

After looking back on some recent posts where due to time constraints, post-length constraints, tiredness, or otherwise, I did not have a chance to express all of my thoughts on a particular subject. So tonight, I’d like to come back to tzniut, a topic I discussed in “A Modest Proposal”, only move away from skirts to sopranos in an exploration of another element of tzniut: kol isha, or “the voice of a woman” as it is said that the voice of a woman can inspire men to do bad and think impure thoughts.

First, let me preface by saying that even among the Orthodox, there remains no hard-and-fast rule. Some institutions, like my high school, allowed it, but gave the men the option of leaving the room (quietly) or not attending at all. Others, such as at another Jewish school, allowed girls to sing in a choir, with the function being that no individual voice could be discerned from the others, or allowing “mixed singing” of a choir of boys and girls singing together, with the intention that the boys’ singing could “cancel out” the harmful effects brought about by a woman’s singing. (Some religious schools who wanted to take it even further would schedule performance events featuring girls/women singing for only other girls/women, which didn’t really help their case other than the necessity of establishing a woman’s space). Other groups only permit the singing of women in prayer, or singing z’mirot around the Shabbos table. And in the most ultra-Orthodox homes, sometimes women are scarcely heard at all. And then there’s the issue of recorded voices; since voice-recording devices are rather recent in the scope of human history, there’s the issue of separating the image of the woman from the voice. If I can’t see who’s singing, how do I know who it is? How can I even picture her? How do I know that the girl moving to the beat is actually singing, or if it is indeed an African-American gospel singer providing the vocals, C + C Music Factory?

Let’s look back at the Talmudic roots here. The main two Talmudic passages dealing with this issue are in Berachos 24a and Kiddushin 70a. The former talks about the sin of uncovering a woman’s nakedness, and as the rabbis conjecture their thoughts on what this might mean, Rav Shmuel references Song of Songs 2:14, “…for your voice is sweet and countenance comely,” to back up his opinion. Um…okay, so women’s voices are sweet. In case you haven’t read it, Song of Songs says a lot of things about women, and a lot of it is allegory, referring to the relationship between God and the Jewish people. So there’s that. In the latter, the former is explained in more detail and is boiled down to the recitation of the sh’ma prayer, which is arguably the holiest in Jewish worship. Here, it is discussed that the holiness of the sh’ma prayer cannot be recited while a woman sings, for that could interrupt the man’s focus while in prayer, because he might imagine her naked. Okay, I’ll give you that one. But if all a man can think about is a woman naked while he prays, I think he might have voices in his head that are more dominant than the voice of a woman. But then, Rav Hai Gaon remarks that if a man can focus on his prayer to the point of blocking out the woman’s voice from distracting him, then the fact that the woman is singing makes no difference.

So there’s not too much to go on here, except that a woman’s voice may expose her and may distract a man. I don’t see enough for a case to be made here, especially not in modern times. Yes, there are female singers that are intentionally sexy, but it’s seldom that the sound of their voice turns a man on, especially if he’s never seen a picture of her; if you’ve never seen a picture of Marilyn Monroe, “Happy Birthday Mr. President” might not have any sexual meaning to you, after all it’s just another version of a song popularly sung at birthday parties. The birth of the music video and MTV has increased the level of sexuality for some female singers (Britney’s “…Baby One More Time”, Christina’s “Genie in a Bottle”, Rihanna’s “Umbrella”, J.Lo.’s “If You Had My Love”, to name a few), but not everyone has seen those videos, and not everyone immediately thinks of a music video whenever they hear a song (well, except Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” You’d have to be living under a rock to let that one miss you) They think of the first place they were when they heard the song, a commercial for footwear or candy or soda that it was the tune to, or how Jamie killed it last week at the karaoke bar. Finally, not all female singers transmit the message of sex through their music. Finally, for every singer whose image and vocals, when combined, are primarily about sex, there are five female singers whose music doesn’t particularly emit the same emotion, whether it’s by the purpose of the singer or their presentation style. In fact, in the preceding paragraph, I named six singers whose vocals/imagery have been known to inspire sexual thoughts in men (and women), so now I’m going to name 30 current female singers (young and old) whose lyrics and image are not always sexual in nature, yet are successful and feminine, nonetheless.

Adele. Alicia Keys. Anne Murray. Aretha Franklin. Avril Lavigne. Barbra Streisand. Bonnie Raitt. Candice Glover. Carly Simon. Carole King. Corinne Bailey Rae. Cyndi Lauper. Esperanza Spalding. Florence Welch. Imogen Heap. Janelle Monae. Jennifer Hudson. Kelly Clarkson. Lily Allen. Loretta Lynn. Martina McBride. Mary J. Blige. Miranda Lambert. Norah Jones. Reba McIntire. Sara Bareilles. Susan Boyle. Taylor Swift. Tori Amos. Wanda Jackson….I think that’s 30.

On the flip side, there are also some male singers whose voices are traditionally thought of as backing vocals to hookup sessions. What about Lionel Richie? Marvin Gaye? Justin Timberlake? And then there’s the epitome of sexually impure thoughts, “Careless Whisper,” by George Michael. Don’t believe me? Ask Jenna Marbles.

Probably the worst case I’ve ever heard for kol isha was after my high school’s production of Hello, Dolly!. The next day, people were talking about in class, and one of my classmates (who I’ll call Yitzy) said the most asinine thing I’ve ever heard:

“When I saw Dolly at the top of the staircase, and she turned around to sing the first words of “Hello, Dolly” over her shoulder at the audience, I knew the meaning of kol isha.”

What a cop-out, if I ever heard one. So the pretty girl in the body-covering red dress sang on key and in character, and you got turned on. That’s your problem (or a problem in your pants), not hers. Stop blaming the ladies, men, and look at yourselves. But not in public.

In conclusion (and I do have one), I think that kol isha is severely outdated and quite misogynistic. I’d like to think that we’ve come further in time, to a place where men can control their baser instincts, and where a woman’s voice does not automatically summon the devils of lust. And not every man finds every female singer, no matter how sexy her image or music, attractive. It really serves no purpose other than to suppress someone’s voice just in case it might arouse someone else, which, again, doesn’t solve the problem of the perpetually horny man. Blaming it on all women is not fair to either sex.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, listen to Barry Manilow, and think dirty thoughts.

In other news, shout-outs to my first hits from Benin (bienvenue, Lauren!) and Azerbaijan (xoş gəlmisiniz, Zahid!). I don’t know how much having two friends give you hits for just logging on from their home countries because you asked, but I also got my first visitors from Venezuela (bienvenidos!) and Senegal (bienvenue!), two countries where I know no one. I know that this post materialized in full on the morning of February 18, but my internet went out at 12:54 AM, after I had done a bunch of edits but hadn’t pressed the update button, but I’m hoping that I continue my uptick of hits just the same…

0

Naptime

They say that naps are for babies and old people.

I beg to differ.

I am 26 years old and in graduate school, with too much work to know where to put it. I waste too much time when I’m awake to waste any more time sleeping, so that’s become an activity of necessity for function rather than activity for pleasure/comfort. Similar to eating, which I should probably do after finishing this blog post, sleep just isn’t an activity that gives me pleasure. It’s just a momentary break to my usually stressful and depressingly lonely life, where I can, you know, do nothing but recharge my internal batteries.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I grew up with (and still have, actually) this wonderful gift called Shabbat, otherwise known as “the day of rest.” To child me, this meant no TV, computer, or fun of any kind other than reading books or running around outside, but now I wish I could spend my Shabbat doing less and less, since these days things tend to distract me from resting.

One of the best things about having Shabbat is that you can just fall asleep in the middle of the day, and no one will judge you or call you lazy. Growing up, my dad’s weekend job was taking naps, and when my mom would fall asleep, I’d cover her with blankets and arrange my stuffed animals around her head. When I fell asleep in the middle of the day…well, usually nothing happened, since everyone else had probably beaten me to it. But even if I ended up waking up when it was time to go to bed again, I’d just eat dinner and then stay up until I could fall asleep again because it’d still be the weekend when I’d wake up.

Today I got in my bed, with some books, closed my eyes…and then it was 6:30, and the film festival was starting, so I headed over there, watched a little bit of the film, and then went to the gym and had a surprising amount of energy. Maybe I’m onto something.

Oh, and dobrodosli to my new visitor from Slovenia. Bring your friends…where did everybody go? Lonely blogger over here.

10

A Modest Proposal

With the way people are dressing these days, they could use a little tzniut.

No, tzniut (if you’re in a more Yiddishized circle, tznius)is not the latest Swiss fashion accessory, but the Jewish concept of modesty for men and women that dates back to the Talmudic era. It literally translates to “modesty” or “privacy” and refers mostly to clothing, but also the way people lead their lives.

Is it worth it? Let me work it.

Just about every Orthodox Jewish girl (and definitely every Hassidic Jewish girl) covers themselves up with long-sleeved shirts, long skirts, and closed toed shoes. When she gets married, she might cover her hair with a hat, a scarf, or a full-on wig. It doesn’t end there, though. Included in the umbrella is negiah, or rules of touching, which are followed by avoiding physical contact with unrelated members of the opposite sex, and kol isha, or female voice, which mandates that hearing a woman’s singing can distract a man and lead him to impure thoughts. This rule does not apply for prayer, singing z’mirot at a dinner table, or a choir of mixed voices. Some even say that even a recorded female singer violates these laws.

Men do not have as many restrictions; just refrain from touching women and wear clothes that cover your body.

Growing up in Orthodox-Jew-Land, I was well aware of all of this. At my school, girls and women had freedom of choice to wear long pants if they wanted to; some did, but most stayed within the guidelines above. Touching was not explicitly forbidden, but it was generally frowned upon, and I don’t really think we ever had any huge singing issues; if you didn’t want to hear a girl sing, you wouldn’t come to any school musicals, or if you did, you went elsewhere whenever a woman was singing alone. Kind of hard, given that we were a high school and did musicals with plenty of parts for girls, no 1776 here.

I started noticing it more as I went to college and started seeing the stark differences between how people dressed in such mixed environments. As a male, it’s pretty easy for 99% of what you wear to be acceptable every day, and if you make the choice to become more religious, you probably won’t have to go to much trouble to buy new clothes. Girls have it a bit rougher; making the tznius choice means goodbye to bare shoulders, t-shirts, short skirts, and any type of pants, so usually a significant wardrobe overhaul is necessary.

Today, I feel that modesty is something our society is definitely lacking, promoted by corporate trends and celebrity couture. Sometimes a strapless or mini version of an outfit is tasteful, and then you have Miley Cyrus (sorry Miley, but I needed an extreme comparison). This might sound a little pander-y, but I think that women should be able to choose what they wear, and while most women pull off this look effortlessly, maybe tznius should be reexamined in our times. For example, long sleeves and long skirts are probably quite uncomfortable, even thin/airy fabrics, in hot summers and for Jewish women in tropical countries or Houston. While yes, it’s argued in the Talmud, a lot is based off of what women wore in the shtetls of wintry Russia or Poland where the wind chill made these outfits practical. Furthermore, I don’t see a huge problem with pants, either. Not all pants are skinny jeans, and many tznius girls have a tight denim skirt or two. A pair of slacks or trousers can even make an outfit look sleeker and more elegant, and it would make riding a bike or climbing a ladder a lot easier. I don’t see tznius clothes as being restrictive in any way or out of fashion, but give girls a break. As long as they’re dressed appropriately for the weather, occasion, and activity, you’re good to go right there.

This leads me to talk about my own personal tzniut appearance and behavior. I made the decision awhile back to stop wearing shorts of any kind; not just because I don’t like my legs, but I just don’t see any reason why they need to be exposed – and also a bit of solidarity with my Orthodox Jewish sistas. With tank tops/wife beaters/muscle shirts, I didn’t grow up wearing them, and they certainly weren’t allowed in my school, so they never really joined my wardrobe. I love t-shirts, but since I live in Wisconsin now, I’ve been layering them over long sleeve shirts, which isn’t the worst thing in the world. The only time you’ll probably ever see me in shorts is when I am in going swimming, and even then, I’m underwater, so ha ha you can’t see me.

Probably the most surprising thing about my personal style is that this applies even at the gym. I’m always the guy in the long pants (the stretchy kind, not sweatpants, who does that?) and a shirt that covers most of the top half of me.

Orthodox Jewish girls know what’s up…and I stand with them (but not in a skirt) when I call on all my menfolk to display some tznius and look like a gentleman.

I mean, do you see what most guys wear to the gym these days?

Also – if anyone knows why my stats are skyrocketing, (1000 views today, thank you very much!), please tell me, because I’ve spent most of the past forty-eight hours bewilderingly watching people (mostly across America) click on my site, yet I only have about 120 followers, and 67 comments, most of which are my own. This blog is kinda lame most days, so either I’m doing something right or the Internet is going bonkers. So, if you’re reading, please leave a comment about what you think and how you got here (so I can get a sense of what’s going on, did someone put me on BuzzFeed or something? – I’m not that amazing of a writer), or a like, or an idea of something you want me to write about. Oh, and keep visiting, Americans. You too, other countries.

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Surely You Joust

No weekend is ever complete around my parents’ house without the local Jewish periodical, which in Baltimore is bears the ever-so-creative title of The Jewish Times. Technically, it’s Baltimore Jewish Times, and around here, it’s known as the BJT, for short. And speaking of short, is it ever these days; the economy has administered a beating to print publications, and what used to be a thick volume is now smaller than some of the folders I got when I was apartment hunting.

Though they’ve had some good stories over the years, they’re not exactly known for their editing process. Growing up, it was a Friday-evening post-dinner game, “find the errors in The Jewish Times.” Usually, there were only a few, and sometimes they were funny. But sometimes, completely wrong. For example, when my family’s synagogue hired a new rabbi a few years back, someone wrote a lovely article about him and congratulated him on his new position as rabbi of Ner Israel. Except…the synagogue’s name is Ner Tamid. Ner Israel is a school, specifically a yeshiva, that is just as well respected as Ner Tamid, but is not at all related despite having a somewhat similar name. Anyone who’s Jewish and from Baltimore could tell you that. It wouldn’t have been so bad if it was just once – everyone makes mistakes – however, it was sprinkled throughout the whole article. Whoops. Sometimes the most interesting things in there are the letters to the editor pointing out the flaws and mistakes. Those are always fun.

Anyway, this week, I opened up to this article, entitled “Maryland’s State Sport Takes to the Holy Land,” by Simone Ellin.

“Wonderful!” I thought, as I prepared to read a lovely piece about our illustrious and unique state sport.

But there were no foils or fillies to be found: it was about lacrosse.

WHAT?

Our state sport is not lacrosse, it is jousting. Every fourth-grader in Maryland knows that. Even my mother, who in all her years of teaching never made it past the third grade, knew that’s what our state sport was. That’s one of the few things that we have that makes us cool. Sure, we have an awesome flag, great shellfish (from what I’ve been told), and daytime talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford, but jousting is what gives us the edge; it makes up for our boring license plates, our crappily-designed state quarter, and the fact that there is no clear consensus on how to even pronounce the name of our state. Unlike most major sports, however, jousting never really took off recreationally. None of our schools have jousting teams. Dick’s and other fine sporting goods retailers do not carry lances in their stock. And, sadly, even though equestrian events have a place at the Olympics, jousting has never been one of them.

This led me to wonder: what would it be like if we took our state sport as seriously as our state bird, the Baltimore Oriole? The Baltimore Oriole has not only lent its colorful wings but its name to our sports community, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the state who isn’t aware that our state’s baseball team = our state bird. We’ve already got the horse entertainment market partially covered with the Preakness Stakes, so expanding our horizons to jousting can’t be that much of a stretch. What would our state’s jousting team name be? The Maryland Marauders? And of course, there would need to be a commissioned league or something, so we could lord over (no pun intended) the New York Knicker-Knights (pun…intended?). Schools would need more green space in order to keep the horses. There would be jousting scholarships. There could be all sorts of medieval merchandise sold at games, like big turkey legs, and you’d have to dress up in period attire to attend, because that is what you do, obviously. And of course, there’d be the first thrust, done by some famous celebrity associated with horses, like…Benedict Cumberbatch from War Horse. Kids could join in the fun too; we’d have Little Leagues for aspiring knights in shining armor. In these times of equal opportunity, the sport would be open to women and girls as well. Reruns of The Saddle Club would have ratings that went through the roof. All disputes would be settled on horseback. Instead of voting for mayor or governor, there would be a duel. Somehow, I think Stephanie Rawlings-Blake could totally hold her own.

Back in the real world, I glazed through the article and then decided to look up Ms. Ellin. According to her Facebook, she’s not even a born and bred Marylander, she’s from – you guessed it – New York. And yes, that did need both highlight and underlining because this explains a lot. Apparently she’s lived here since 1997, but she’s clearly still got a lot to learn. What she definitely needs is a fourth-grade teacher – or a fourth-grader – to look over her work.

Although, to be fair, later that night my dad and I looked it up and though jousting has been our official sport since 1962, lacrosse has been our official team sport since 2003, by which point I was already a sophomore in high school and therefore past the point in my life where I was taught such information. Even though Ms. Ellin squeaks by on a technicality the title is still incorrect, it should say “Maryland’s State Team Sport Takes To The Holy Land.” That would solve the problem aptly even if it did destroy the flow of the title or cost the JT an extra eighty-five cents in color printing per issue. However, this doesn’t address the overarching problem with this situation.

I still want to see an article about Israel’s next Ivanhoe.

Works Cited:

Ellin, Simone. “Maryland’s State Sport [sic] Takes To The Holy Land.” 2 January 2014. Baltimore Jewish Times. <http://jewishtimes.com/marylands-state-sport-takes-to-the-holy-land/#.UsjgGPRDs_Y>