Thursday, November 8, 2007

Learn Hebrew

Learn Hebrew is a simple but very nice Flash based web site from Jacob Richman which I first began using some months ago now.

First, you can choose what amount to Flash flash cards (er, possibly redundant but... whatever) mousing over the text of which and left-clicking will cause a very clear voice to intone the selection.

Second, the voice used is very clear. Did I mention that? Okay, it bears repeating. Also, the pronunciation is in the modern Israeli Sephardic style. Shabbat is pronounced with a definite T sound and not an S. So this won't help you follow the Charedi community with the heavy Yiddish infusions, but you can figure it out.

Third, there are many different categories of cards to choose from, not just Aleph, bet, etc.

My only real problem with it, and I have this problem with every single other free Hebrew site is there is no clear set of rules and variances taught for when to use a yod or vav to indicate an extended vowel intonation or which nikkudot mean which intonation based on which letter they are used with. Shin, bet, tav is very clearly shabbat. However, why the choice of how you are suggesting the vowel sound be "ah"?

Similarly, the choice of tet or tav, vet or vav, is left unexplained. As it is somewhat strangely in the Hebrew for Dummies book. Put together, you get the problem of the spelling of vet. It starts
with a vet with tsere under it followed by a yod then a tav. I assume Israeli kids get some sort of explanation. Can I have one?

Other than that, this is a great site to start off with learning the letters. I expect more to come from Jacob's site so will be watching.

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My response to a DovBear post...

This is regarding this post made there today about Jews at Yeshiva World ranting angry things about Hillary Clinton.

Long before I became in any way religious, when my spirituality was limited to running from G-d in fear that He didn't like me enough to give me a chance so why bother talking with Him, I did nevertheless have a conscience anyways.

It kept me from making bigger mistakes than I might have otherwise made. It just took a very long time for me to recognize His gift He gave me like other people.

I recall one thing that kept pricking me and that was the impiety with which the liberals treated Jews. Piety is not the sole domain of the G-dly. It's a state of being in our make-up whether or not we acknowledge G-d and if we're really good and humble, we can still be no less holy than someone who has practically committed the entire Torah and all the Talmud to memory and has earned the love and respect of all the people. It's just better with G-d because that's why the impulse is there. To help us match up with Him.

Anyhow, if piety is something man can experience without G-d, so too is impiety. Liberalism was impious to me. It said one thing with total seeming passion for it being not just any truth or a truth, but the truth yet at the same time, it embraced ways and actions which anyone who was truly piously caring could see were at odds with the statements.

I tried to reconcile them but could not. It was made harder and harder by the ever more extreme ways. Political correctness made it clear: it was about the primacy of their rule, getting their way, not their way for they had no way other than to get their way.

Now it made sense. They wanted to be in charge and stay that way. They were afraid that the opposite of being in charge was to be a loser. They couldn't stand that idea. So with total passion they told me how they were smarter, more caring, and filled with better intentions than me. All I had to do was submit. Sounds like certain people we all know, doesn't it? Now you know why those people rankle. Now you know why they set you on edge.

Liberalism was the extremist humanist fringe. Religion isn't about G-d. Faith even. You can strongly believe in the primacy of an idea without G-d ever entering into it. But if there's no one to ask, how do you really know?

That's when self-righteous delusion becomes a replacement for true righteousness. Humanism was a religion and liberalism a self-righteous crew of hypocrites. An excellent idea that mankind is not a simple animal and is not necessarily bound for evil without G-d (He made us so how bad could His creations be I wondered) was twisted by the essential weakness: no higher power to ask. We had to take their word.

Surplus cheese, surplus because it was made not to fulfill a demand of the people but because politicians paid farmers to make it with taxpayer monies so the farmers would in return vote for those same politicians is not tzedakah. It is to give trash to someone and claim it is valuable. It is a con.

Food stamps that limit people to the least popular products that given a choice you'd not ever buy unless you were starving is not tzedakah. It is to say the extent of your charity is the least possible thing.

Taking money from other people under threat of throwing them in jail for refusal instead of your own wallet is not tzedakah. It is theft in the name of avoidance of tzedakah.

Giving just a small portion of that money to the poor, just enough to be miserable and hopeless on is not tzedakah. It is to perpetuate their poverty.

Giving the bulk of that money to non-poor people so they will continue to sing your praises and keep you in power is not tzedakah. It is to bribe people for your aggrandizement.

Counseling the poor to take the scraps and be happy with it is not tzedakah. It is to counsel despair.

Counseling the poor that they should remain poor because it is easier than struggling in the rest of the world to not be poor is not tzedakah. It is to counsel hopelessness.

These things I witnessed first hand growing up poor and Catholic in a wealthy Protestant town of nouveau Christians. Christians in name only. Christians who did not in any way feel the slightest kinship with the charity of their own proclaimed savior. You think I can't know the gulf you perceive between the Baal Shem Tov and the Chasidim of today?

That small but wealthy town was liberalism central. One could practically hear the breaking of arm bones as people clapped themselves on the back for their supposed good deeds even as they sneeringly looked down on those they supposedly did the deeds for.

And beneath those sounds of expensive leather shoes walking the town hall, and straining joints, and mutual appreciation, you could hear children crying themselves to sleep hungry because mom was discouraged from holding a job that might have filled their stomachs. None of those liberals did. They were too busy having award dinners for each other.

Hillary is such a liberal.

I am not saying Republicans are a lot better, but in the scheme of things, Democrats certainly aren't remotely good. They did me and mine great unkindness and then treated me like an idiot, telling me what great things they did for me. I wish they'd simply spit in my face and walked on. It would have been less hurtful than to be sold the despair and hopelessness that made so many nights so cold.

While G-d says not to hold on to hate for them, He does not say to be an idiot and turn a blind eye to their ways.

Maybe some of the people commenting are simply having a gut reaction. Maybe they sense her ilk for what they are: self-righteous, arrogant, impious, inhuman, unkind, and chesed-challenged morons.

I'm sorry G-d. They still make me angry.

So where is that impiety regarding Jews? The same as it was for us poor and every other group of people on Earth in their eyes. Nothing matters to them but getting their way. That is the total sum of their way. Their own primacy. They will turn on Israel and sell it to her enemies the instant it is opportune to do so. Just as they've done to the poor, to minorities who they've counseled hate and division to, to females whose sorrows they used to turn them to hateful conclusions towards men who loved them, to children who deserved good upbringing and just wanted to be prepared for the world and were turned towards loving nothing and believing nothing. Everything they've done has been about themselves.

Their impiety to Jews, to people with a history of being used and abused and blamed for everything under the sun the way people blame G-d for everything that offends or unsets them, was to lie with passion about their caring for Jews, while at the same time doing not a thing for them of any true caring, mouthing snide condescension about them in private lest they be heard publicly to be as mean thinking towards them as they are about the observant Christians from which these unobservant self-absorbed boobs spring, while they make mealy-mouthed mumblings about the rights of Palestinians to a homeland while deflecting any and all questions of the responsibility of the Arab nations who've steadfastly refused their own Muslim brethren and laying all blame on Israel so much so that when you point out the glaringly obvious result of constant appeasement is Israel's destruction they give only a smug smile and a shrug.

From the Christian past of me, from the poor past of me, from the past of me from which I've walked out, that long road from man-made Hell to American Jews and Jews from anywhere else... I beg you to not be reflexively open to Hillary and her crew. They don't love you. They don't even like you. They are not your friends. They don't want you at their clubs, they don't want to hear about G-d or your love for Him, they don't want your love, they don't want your ways, and they don't want you to have them, and they don't want you to have Him. Anything that distracts from them and their ways and their greatness is a threat to them. It is not so much evil as a simple consequence of doing everything based on fear of not being in control.

Do not fall into the trap of so many Christian churches who thought they were so mighty they could change liberalism from within and fell to the seductions of the liberal elite of power and influence and financial success. You can't. Their impious unfaith is a black hole from which your good intentions will not escape. The meaning of faith in G-d will be stripped and devoured, until your ways are hollow skinned carcass to wear to look like something it no longer is, just as so many Christian Protestant congregations are now. They'll wear Judaism like a skin.

Kabbalah will be reduced to a red string they will say makes them know all about you and totally have your interests at heart, even as they are cozying up to Palestinian terrorists and telling them how much they have their interests at heart.

Oh wait, it already is...

Thank you DovBear for this...

Just saw his post regarding King Abdullah's visit to England.

Check out the video link in that article. I nearly died laughing.

My response to G-d's apology.

Me: I forgive you. You just wanted to know and some things follow from some other things. Some things just are. You wouldn't hurt me on purpose. You've been my friend and never steered me wrong. I just didn't listen. I'm sorry I was so afraid you wouldn't like me that I didn't even talk to you for so long. I wouldn't have liked it if someone did it to me and of all the people I should observe the golden rule with, I turned away from you of all people.

I'm sorry G-d. I should have said so earlier, for all the times I didn't acknowledge you. It wasn't fair to you.

Thank you for everything I have. My wife, my mother-in-law, my dogs and cats, and all that. Thank you for being my friend.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

G-d would like to say something...

I've said before that I talk to G-d, as should you, from that place He speaks to us, in our conscience and through the kaleidoscope of us.

So, in talking with Him recently, I've decided to put out some stuff He wanted to say as if He was speaking right from my fingertips at the keyboard here.

Here's the first thing He wanted to say.

G-d: Hi. I just want to stop by for a minute and, really, stop bowing. I appreciate it, really, but it gets in the way of you listening to me.


I wanted to say, today, and I've said it before but most of you don't hear me because well... I made you in my image so you seem to want to mimic me and when I do it you do it and you can't hear me apologizing over your apologizing.

That's what I wanted to say. I'm sorry.

I didn't mean to make things as painful as they are, and well, it sort of turned out that way. I know, most of you don't blame me completely and you really understand that phrase that suitepotato uses, which I won't repeat because he is the cranky curmudgeon and not me. Stuff happens so to speak.

Though we all know it, it still needs to be said. I'm sorry. Really. I know that in making you like me you're as hurt as I am and even more frightened some times. I know that with the invention of free will and spiritual autonomy that I have effectively self-limited my powers of intervention in ways that you understand easily.

I ask you to trust me, when I tell you, that I am not lying, not covering up anything, and totally honest... I am aware of the situation and am on the job. I have help ready where ever I can put it, and it's there if you want it. For starters, you could simply ask me.

Really. I am happy to listen and even suitepotato's yammering hasn't stopped me. You can talk to me any time, any place, just say hello and I will be glad to help wherever I can. Not through suitepotato or any priest or rabbi, though if you need the help of someone else who realizes I'm here because you're afraid, that's cool. I love entertaining groups. All of you are welcome.

If you're in jail or in the hospital, on a bike or in a canoe, or you are penniless or wealthy, no matter when, it is never too late. I never close. I never take a vacation. Well, I can, but I do it at the same time because for me what makes me happy and restful is knowing that you're talking to me just like you feel so much better when you're acknowledged.

See? My image. Apple does not fall far from the tree.

Just one thing. I can't guarantee you'll understand any more than I do or that you'll like the answers, but I'm willing to work with you to understand. Maybe life won't hurt so much if we work together.

That's all. I'm sorry life is scary and painful sometimes, and I am here for you and you can talk to me any time.

See? I told you He was a cool deity.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Recently He said...

G-d: What's wrong?

Me: I'm... a little upset. At me.

G-d: The book again?

Me: Yeah. I kinda got... wrapped up in the idea and not the meaning again. I just want to go home so bad and since you said I could I'm impatient and-

G-d: You'll get there.

Me: It's not a lack of interest by my family that should bother me, should it?

G-d: Neither should it be a lack of theirs either. Do you know for sure they don't have deep thoughts?

Me: You couldn't tell me without breaking the rules?

G-d: Not really. I can't tell you anything that you could not know for yourself already. I can do what you asked, and help you find what I already gave you, but I can't give you that. What do you think?

Me: They must. Seems unavoidable in being human.

G-d: More to the point what do you have faith of them for?

Me: Not simple because they're human, but because I know them... They do, I guess. Would be nice if they'd share it with me. We went on that trip for the wedding, I wore the kippah, I tried to follow along in the siddur, I felt what they offered me. We went home and it was like they weren't Jewish or anything else anymore. I remember her garbling the blessings over the menorah... and me, I bought the candles.

G-d: You hated sitting through those evangelist meetings with your mother for the same thing you'd kill for now.

Me: I hate rote groupthink and silencing my questions just to get along, but some days what I would do just to have her pray with me. Or for her mother to take it seriously when I spend time in the kosher section. I have never done anything to suck up to them not from day one. I am what I am and we married and that is it. I'm not doing this for them. I just never realized how little they care any more. Just because her dad died.

G-d: Are you sure that's why?

Me: How can you possibly exist or give a damn if her dad died on her birthday? Why should they talk to you? I know shit happens to good people for no reason. I never thought you were punishing me. No, I did, but the way a kid does. Not seriously.

G-d: Sure?

Me: No, not really. I just... We're... adults. It's not our first time at the dance. We should be able to get over what happened to someone else umpteen years ago and get on with our lives. Why put any importance on raising our kids Jewish, which she once upon a time put to me as important, if we don't actually ever do anything Jewish as a family? Just because the former keeper of the religious flame has passed doesn't mean we can't try to remember.

G-d: Maybe it hurts less to remember less. We all have our way of dealing with depression.

Me: What's yours?

G-d: Talking with you. All of you.

Me: How does our not listening make you less depressed?

G-d: It's the ones who talk back who make me happy. Sometimes, it does seem as if no one cared about me either. I don't mean all the things you do in rituals... just to be acknowledged. I... I know the world doesn't need me. That was the genius of it. I could set it running and never look back and it would just go... and then I made you and I so badly wanted to know what I was, who I was, I put me into you, and now you are as alone and confused and hopefull as I am. Believe me, I didn't want to saddle you with the concerns of being a creator. I just wanted to not be alone.

Me: So then you know what it is that I'm feeling here.

G-d: I don't have anyone for minyan. No one to tell me I'm doing the right thing other than because they're afraid I'll punish them. Other I mean than you're doing by talking to me. When you talk to me, you're actually treating me like my opinion matters. Like I exist. Like I'm right to have made all this.

Me: What can I do?

G-d: Same as me, which you'll agree is entirely ironic...

Me: Just keep on keepin on...

G-d: Pretty much. They mean well. Really they do. I'm not saying that out of pride in my creations either. They want better and they can feel what it is. Your wife and mother-in-law included. Just keep on learning and if they don't even attend when you go to the synagogue to complete the process, something of them was in you when you went so... they did go... in a way...

Me: You don't want me to spend my time crying, do you?

G-d: About what you now know that you didn't before? No... Please... I'm sorry I didn't tell you earlier.

Me: No problem. You had a good reason. You weren't trying to hurt me.

G-d: Thanks. No one ever considers I could do something for a good reason but still cause hurt. They try to explain it away. I am capable of hurting my kids too.

Me: And if you weren't of what value could your love be? You had to choose your way or it would be meaningless. You'd be a rule of physics.

G-d: Now you're sounding like me.

Me: I don't mean to. Not to throw it back in your face. I know you're hurt too but... you don't have to be any more. I'm handling it. Really. It wasn't something anyone would have known before. Not like they have a meter for it.

G-d: Well, I could have made it easier for you to fit in.

Me: I might have forgotten who I was and that would have wasted a life and delayed my work another generation. I got stuff to do like everyone else and it won't get done if I don't know who I am, to tell me what my job is.

G-d: Yeah, this free will thing does have some rough edges.

Me: Thanks for it anyways. I did at least learn to crochet first.

G-d: You have nothing on your kitchen table to make cozies for.

Me: Don't tell my wife, she'll buy something to cheer me up and money is tight enough.

G-d: That's the spirit!

Me: Some day that story will make more sense?

G-d: More now than now makes than before, yes. Finished, no. That story hasn't finished yet, and you have a lot to do.

Me: Wish me luck.

G-d: What do you need that for? You have me.

Me: Oh, great...

G-d: Come on, I'll pay attention this time. I promise.

Me: I want to learn cat's craddle before I go.

G-d: We'll see. Now turn around and get on with your day. I'm right behind you.

Me: ...

I closed my eyes and wanted to cry. I didn't want to do what He was telling me. I wanted to talk more but work and my day's thoughts were banging at the doors of my mind and I had to get on with it. Not because He said so, but He said so because it was so and He's not a sadistic deity. He means well too. Since He put so much of Himself in us, we must to. I mean to do what I have to.

Whatever that is.

Thankfully, He decided to be His smirking self: Dante's Prayer by Loreena McKennitt came on the net radio then and plays now. That song always made me want to cry. I have work to do.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's in the book stack?

Starting at the bottom...

The Light and Fire of the Baal Shem Tov, Yitzhak Buxbaum
This is an excellent book to read to see the grand start of Chasidism should the blog wars among their present day adherents make you wonder if there's any purpose to it. The short answer, YES.

Hebrew for Dummies, Jill Suzanne Jacobs
Like the Rosetta Stone products, I rarely get anywhere with a language taught in a ...For Dummies book, but this one has a definite place in learning spoken Hebrew as practiced in Israel, or at least in the tourist industry catering to visitors to Israel.

Webster's New World Hebrew Dictionary
If you don't have this, and are learning Hebrew, I guarantee you need this. Hands down, the most thorough inter-language dictionary you can find for Hebrew to English and back again translating.

Discourses on Livy, Niccolo Machiavelli
What is this doing in there? Well if you think you've got mental whiplash from seeing it in that stack, then I suggest reading it after you're read The Prince. Talk about a paradigm shifting without popping the clutch!

Hasidic Tales, Rami Shapiro
This is a definite book for beginners on understanding the legends of early Chasidism because it comes with an overview for each story explaining basic Jewish cultural and religious points as well as a very quick explanation of the unstated or implied nuances those who aren't familiar with the area might not understand.

The Jewish Way, Irving Greenberg
This one book gives more time to shabbat than anything short of a book on the subject by itself and goes on to cover the rest of the temporal concerns of Judaism regarding holidays and times of the week. Very well written and engaging, but might make you feel your present shabbat so lacking as to make you cry in shame for the lack of warm homey folksiness and take up knitting to make a cozies for your best place settings.

Embracing Judaism, Simcha Kling
The Rabbinical Assembly puts this book out and when you check their website for information on conversion, this book comes up first. For those considering converting within the conservative/Masorti way, this and The Jewish Way are a sure way to find comfort and belonging in Judaism.

Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber
This is the paperback two-in-one version of Martin Buber's classic, but be prepared: it is no simple easily penetrable thing. You have to read some of the stories several times to realize they were meant to be amusing and others twice as much to figure out the lesson. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try.

Jewish Americans, Robert Stein
I bought this at the local dollar store believe it or not, which somewhat disturbed me since I didn't see any of the other Coming to America books for other ethnicities there. What? Jewish history in America doesn't sell? Shame on those of you (in not-so-strict) Jewish households not buying such books for your coffee table where the kids can see them. There's much to remember about America and Jewish culture's contributions and though quick and simple, this book hits you with several dozen.

The Chosen, Chaim Potok
What can be said about this book not said ten dozen times and which I could do a better job with? Nothing, but I will give you my take: EXCELLENT. I played little league baseball so the connection between the boys via that first baseball game is especially poignant. I would put this on public high school English literature lists in place of Catcher in the Rye and other junk (yes, I read it and I read Breakfast of Champions and neither clocked me in the face like The Chosen).

The Torah, G-d
JPS translation to English for my Hebrew-challenged noggin and if you want to quibble over the translational and historical accuracy then go argue with JPS and not me. An excellent beginner's copy so as to not be completely lost when whatever Chasidic blogger you're reading is babbling about Amalek and you won't be thinking the trains aren't running.

For further reading on confusing things...

Please see Commentary on Kitniyot which has some very good information on one aspect of "is not allowed" versus "is allowed but resembles something not allowed". I tend to agree with Rabbi Lerner and Benjamin Ben-Baruch here and come Passover will be trying out the suggestions there. As opposed to being the gentile would-be Jew trying to get the born Jewish but you'd never know it wife and mother-in-law to even look at the calendar. (Is it a good thing or a bad thing that our grocery schedule versus eating is so out of whack you're sometimes hard pressed to find any chametz in our house any time of the year or even just matzah? That was rhetorical.)

HOWEVER... Watch out which beans you serve and how many and perhaps, discretely of course, checking with your rabbi about Beano. You know, for your family's sake. :)

Kosher food, my body, and my heart

Kendra said:
About kashrut (and mitzvot in general) though, there is a fairly strong principle that basically boils down to: "if someone would think you're breaking a mitzvah by watching you without talking to you, then don't do that thing, even if you're within the bounds of the mitzvah." Like not eating shrimp shaped tofu.

I don't know if that's part of your halakhah...I don't take this principle to the extremes some folk, do myself, so I'm not implying any criticism....

I don't take it that extreme myself either and no, I don't sense any criticism so don't fret (though constructive criticism sparks nice debate at times too).

I understand the idea that even the appearance if not substance of breaking the rules/laws/path/etc. is important when you are trying to lead each other by example in mutual silent support and encouragement (as opposed to Mao-era communist "struggle" rallies where victims of the moment were harassed, humiliated and hounded endlessly).

On the other hand, I have a strong spiritual resistance to this as well on the principle that history has shown us much that is not G-dly can flit by under the cover of appearance to which no question is put because assumptions are made instead. *cough* World War II *cough* Vatican *cough* doings *cough*

So first, were the rules invented for literalism's sake or was there an overall import? Well if it was supposed to be literal, cow milk would not figure into it and neither would cheeseburgers made from kosher beef. It would strictly be goat's milk and the meat of young goats. I can't imagine a G-d spending so much time on DNA combinatorics and quantum electrodynamics where chemistry is concerned and then having a deep thing for just goats and to put it bluntly, screw the cows. Neither can anyone else it seems and so milk and meat rules are not goat-specific.

It would seem that if you were to discard everything ever written and go by what you feel in your heart, talk to G-d there, what does He tell you through your conscience? Start from the fundamental level we and G-d start at together before all else.

My heart says that milk is the issue of a mother to a child and emblematic of the furtherance of life, the continuation of it, the nurturing of young. How much more basic an act of motherly love and caring for offspring do you find than the feeding of young? We borrow milk from these animals and we share in their natural act of nurturing to feed ourselves.

Meat on the other hand involves not life but death. We have to kill to eat the meat. Another life is given up, albeit not by conscious choice of the animals, that we might live a little longer. However necessary it seems, it still bothers our conscience. Milk doesn't and perhaps it should with regard to the question as to whether we are worthy of partaking of those animals' milk. We do question readily if we deserve to gain from those animals' deaths. I like to think that as long as one human lives whom it bothers, then a spark of His conscience is still shining.

Juxtaposing these two ideas, that one is partaking of the motherly giving of life and the other is a sad but needed partaking of the removal of life, it would seem to be mean indeed to mix them. A cheeseburger is tasty, but it is worth putting the product of the animals sharing their life with us together with the product of their death? I can see where this command would be given.

However, does a totally meat and animal-free soy product, put with another similar product, despite being textured and made to taste like the former thing, do the same injustice to the animal? I don't see it that way. Evidently, neither do various rabbis who sign off on the certification of many many soy, rice, and other foods that mimic but do not actually become the more seriously taken and rigorously regulated meat and milk products.

I sometimes cry for the collision between my physical needs and my spiritual desires. I would like the Hippocratic Oath of doctors do no harm but I would also live. The meat at McDonald's was going to go for nothing if I didn't eat it. The animal is already dead, let it not be in vain. Then again, my doing business there only gave them one more meal's income worth of incentive to kill another cow or another chicken. G-d, what have I done? How do I not starve to death? How do I live with myself?

Instead I pray that what I am feeling in the world now is true and really happening. A move towards sustainable cruelty free plant-based diets and away from the killing or abuse of any animal. I pray that we are entering a new age where soon there will be nothing kosher about any product that came from the pain and suffering of any animal, and where we become by the elimination of those cruelties more worthy of drinking their milk. I pray for the patience that I might not go insane with the frustration of being stuck between the regretted past and the desired future.

Please G-d. Please let it be soon. In the meantime, thank you for so much healthy food being approved for consumption by the rabbis and thank you for making it seemingly not coincidentally much better for my body than I ate before. No more meat digestion issues, no more lactose intolerance (I know You mean well G-d and weren't trying to hurt me through disenfranchisement at the ice cream place). So many things are getting better for me now. Help me keep going away from where I've been to where I should and must be.