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Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Today is Tisha B’Av – the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. This is a day of mourning and contemplation. I’m not really in the mood to look up or invent a cool quote, so I’ll just add a link to WebYeshiva for those who want a meaningful Tisha B’av lesson, and link this inspiring statement of hope and interfaith cooperation from the Huffington post:

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*image taken from the linked article above. Copyright belongs to the Huffington post.

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Note: Everyone has a different way of coping with the death of a loved one. Mine seems to be to take all the ways one after the other. I vary between wanting to pull a blanket over my head to almost feverish activity. Blog posts will be written in the latter mood. With the High Holidays approaching, this means that my posts will be even less regular than usual, and somewhat eclectic. Apologies in advance.

This trilogy (The Golden Compass/Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) follows the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry, as they wander through a series of parallel universes against a backdrop of epic events: an apocalyptic war of the end of all the worlds, and a reenactment of Adam and Eve that is… different. To put it mildly,  G-d doesn’t come out looking so well. However, this takes second place to the richness of the whole story. The sheer depth of imagination in the trilogy is stunning, and deeply satisfying. Other worlds with strange people and beings are close enough to touch. Feelings are close enough to draw tears and laughter, as well as horror and pity. Most characters are full of depth and complexity. The language is hugely satisfying (say “the subtle knife” a few times and you’ll see what I mean 😉 ). This was a joy to read. This book is billed as a “Young Adults” novel, i.e. for teenagers. I think it’s excellent for adults as well. As a fantasy – epic trilogy: 5 stars.

This trilogy attracted a lot of criticism for its bashing of religions and Catholicism in particular, and even attracted some censorship (though the choice of censorship is completely odd to me. Some completely innocent passages about Lyra’s sexual awakening were censored in the North American version. Maybe they censored it in their sleep, I don’t know).  I found the Church bashing too heavy handed and simplistic. I’m not an expert on Christianity, but I doubt one of its tenets is not allowing people to fall in love. In addition, slogans are tossed around (“Heaven is empty”) with very flat explanations. All Church leaders are portrayed in a two dimensional and stereotypical way – the difference is marked when compared to all other characters. I think Hitler and Stalin etc. proved that humans don’t need religion to be cruel to each other, and thousands of saved Jewish orphans in the Holocaust can attest to the kindness of Christians. However, this book makes you think about how easy it is to use religion for bad ends, and how people allow themselves to be cruel if it’s “for a greater good”. Thus I consider it a good read for young adults, to provoke thought and not follow anyone blindly. I think the real “Yetzer Hara” is this yearning to refuse responsibility: “It wasn’t me, it was him!” or “I did it for him!”. It doesn’t matter if “him” is your brother, child, lover, sister, wife, husband, Priest, Rabbi, church, the party, etc. – this human craving leads to despicable actions. As a moral/religious story: Despite its flaws, and because of its thought provoking content, I give it 4 stars.

Age group: This should be given to children who have already passed puberty, otherwise some of the main plot points will simply sail over their heads. However, there is no explicit sexual detail of any kind (why they censored anything is beyond me).

Bottom line: Go read it.

* I linked each book separately, because for reasons that escape me all the omnibus versions are more expensive than buying each book separately. Go figure.

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‘ “My daughters, My daughters, why do you deny My kingship?”
The women reply [to G-d]: “Our brothers, our leaders, have so instructed us.” ‘

-On Women and Judaism, p. 78.

Having a daughter really changed my perspective on life. Considering that I’ve been a woman all my life, it’s ironic that only when I have a daughter I really look around at where women are and what they can have. And I am not happy.

Judaism is only one of these areas. Not necessarily because G-d decreed so; mostly because we had over 2000 years of male Rabbis deciding what is good for women. To be fair, these Rabbis didn’t live in a vacuum and they took their cues from the surrounding social structure, which wasn’t equal for women. But now these directives they issued are like law. Changing the law, especially when you don’t have any right to complain about it according to the same law, is never an easy process. Women in Judaism have almost no religious obligations, are left out of communal prayer, cannot bear witness, have no Jewish ceremony for any part of their life (celebration of Bat-Mitzvah is relatively new, as is the celebration of a girl’s birth. Both these ceremonies are not religious, more of a party). And don’t get me started on the marriage laws.

That makes me furious. I was mildly religious before I married. I became more religious afterwards, and the idea that by doing so I did an injustice towards my daughter makes me see red.

So I started my journey towards greater understanding. There is JOFA, and the Kolech organization of orthodox Jewish women, which are very helpful in increasing knowledge and awareness, as well as offering possibilities of action. I’m going to a more egalitarian synagogue now, and I’m going more regularly. I have started praying every day (this is actually one of the few obligations of Jewish women, but it’s played down and not all women consider it necessary). And I read “On Women and Judaism“.

This is rightly considered a classic on orthodox feminism. This was, to my surprise, published in 1981 (when I was a year old). That fact alone made me feel better. Not only is it known there is a problem, but it was known 30 years ago, and the seeds of change started already then. The explanations are clear and touching, the spiritual journey of the author poignant. In many places it had me nodding as she expressed exactly my anger and sense of injustice. And though many of her suggestions for improvement have not yet been implemented or even addressed, many have been. It allowed me to see the entire process, and granted me the understanding that change takes time.

I have taken some of her suggestions for my own, and I am going to work to make the other changes happen. This book gave me hope. I am not alone in this feeling and this is not the end of the process of change.

Thank you.

If you are Jewish and/or interested in feminism and religion: 5 stars.

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I don’t usually make religious, political or social commentaries on this blog. I keep it for recipes and some child-related anecdotes. But something happened that pushed me too far, and I had to write about it. I will also actively spread this blog post, so I ask anyone who agrees with me to reblog, send it on, add whatever comments you wish.

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The Rabbi Aviner is considered to represent the Religious Zionist stream in Israel, of which I am a part. However, he published a detailed blog post, with the force of psak, the rule of the Rav, on modest garb for women. (You can Google his site and “modest garb” if you want; I don’t want to link it here so that I don’t increase traffic to his site). It shocked me.

Because someone who can sit down and write such detailed descriptions of modest garb for women, under guise of praise for the “modest Jewish woman”, is basically telling all women that it doesn’t matter if they learn Torah, if they give to the poor, if they try to be kind to all people they meet; their worth is measured by the number of centimetres their hemline is under the knee, and the colour and type of cloth they choose to wear. And at the same time he is telling all men that it doesn’t matter if they learn Torah, if they give to the poor, if they try to be kind to all people they meet; the minute they will see a woman’s naked elbow or see that women are shaped differently than men they will become rapacious sex fiends with no control. But don’t worry, he says to men while patting them on the head, I’ve taken care of that for you.

Well, I believe that both men and women are created in G-d’s image. I believe that we are here to make the world a better place, and therefore it does matter if you learn Torah, if you give to the poor, if you try to be kind to all people. I believe that we were all given a body to respect and take pride in, and we were all – men and women – given urges that can be controlled with guidance and practice.

So you do not represent me, Rabbi Aviner. You do not represent me.

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Update: I have also tried to write directly to the Rav Aviner, and got evasive answers. After some back-and-forth emails, I was given his phone number to talk to him directly. I will call in the next few days after I calm down a bit and get his side of this issue. I will update here when I have answers.

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