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April 20, 2018 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

This week is totally Israeli-themed in honor of Yom Haatzmut.   But because I have a vegetarian niece coming over it will be dairy.  So:

falafel (I didn’t want to get flour and olive oil just for this, so made with corn meal instead of flour, butter instead of olive oil for frying, and of course chickpeas)

a sabich salad of sorts- fried eggplant, pickles, hummus, hard boiled eggs

frozen bourekas made in Israel (both potato and cheese)

couscous with the seven grains/fruits  the Torah associates with Israel  – wheat (the couscous itself), grape (wine), pomegranate (pomegranate juice), barley (a little egg barley thrown in), dates (date honey), figs (fig jam), olive (pasta sauce with olive oil).*

hummus, matbucha and eggplant made in Israel

Marzipan cafe rugelach from Israel, plus a bit of Israeli chocolate

*Also, re my project of going through the world’s nations in alphabetical order- cheese from Austria mixed in.

April 15, 2018 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Tazria

This coming week’s Torah portion begins with the laws of family purity, but is mostly focused on skin diseases.

However, at the beginning it mentions circumcision in passing (Lev. 12:3).  Last weekend, the non-Jewish girlfriend of one of my secular Jewish friends asked me about circumcision.   Why is it so important?

Of course, there are lots of possible explanations.  Drazin and Wagner cite Leon Kass to suggest that circumcision “circumcises their [fathers’] pride in siring male heirs, reminding them that children are a gift for which they are not themselves creatively responsible”- in other words, that children come from God and not just the parents.

In addition, Drazin and Wagner write that each new father “vindicat[es] the promise made by his own father to keep him within the covenant.  They are compelled to remember, now that it counts, that they belong to a long line of descent, beginning with Abraham.”  In other words, circumicision is important because it reminds parents that the baby is part of the great chain of Judaism.

While conversing with the aforementioned woman, I raised an alternative explanation: that the Jewish version of circumcision is actually a leniency.  How so?  Because pagans who practice circumcision often did so as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood, and thus had males circumcised at bar mitzvah age more or less.  It seems to me that being circumcised as an infant is considerably less traumatic.  Having said that, my explanation is a bit less spiritually uplifting.

April 14, 2018 / conservadox

shul website updated

Just updated Manhattan shul website– visited Shaarey Tzedek in UWS

April 13, 2018 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

My first post-Pesach dinner will be something of a production. I am going in three separate directions with tonight’s dinner:

  1.  Country by country: as readers of this blog may remember, I have tried to go through the world’s nations in alphabetical order, having at least one food related to the country of the week.  So this week’s country is Australia; macadamia nuts are the fruit of the macadamia tree, indigenous to Australia, so i will have a few of those.

2.  The torah portion: contains the major dietary laws, forbidding shellfish for example.  So I decided to have sushi with mock crab.

3. Yom Hashoah (which was on Thursday): what food is relevant to Yom Hashoah?  I could go in lots of directions but chose to go with a theme of yellow food.  Why yellow?  Because my dad and other Jews wore yellow stars in Germany.  Since I experimented with arepas over the week, I am having some corn pancakes, a buttery arepa-like version, and a wheat-ish version that combines corn meal and cake flour.

Also, as a more vegetable-y course, I am having yellow split peas, yellow rice, yellow onions and yellow potatoes all together, with yellow mustard as a sauce.

Also: bananas, apple cake and banana cake with yellow vanilla flour (the latter two also sort of count as Australian, according to one recipe website- but that’s kind of a stretch since a lot of nations can claim them).

April 9, 2018 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Shemini

In this week’s portion, the Torah mandates that priests may not perform their services after drinking wine (Lev. 10:8).  Drazin and Wagner note that wine nevertheless occupies an important part of Jewish ritual practice; for example, Kiddush and Havdalah require wine.  Drazin and Wagner wonder why wine is encouraged when there is a risk of drunkenness.

The most obvious answer is: Jews aren’t exactly known for alcoholism. When alcohol is tamed rather than being treated as forbidden fruit, people use it responsibly. (This may be due at least partially to genetic factors).

A more sophisticated answer: Jews aren’t ascetics; we balance joy against risk for alcohol, just as we do for food. (And in 2018 America, obesity is a far bigger problem than alcoholism!)

Also – it seems to me that our use of alcohol distinguishes us from at least some other religions.  Muslims and many Protestant sects are alcohol-phobic, viewing it as something that must be forbidden or at least reserved for a few people or occasions (thus the 21-year old drinking age).   We aren’t.  Of course, in the United States assimilated Jews (and even many modern Orthodox Jews infected by alcohol-phobia) substitute grape juice for wine; it seems to me that this is a wholly unnecessary concession to Christian lifestyles.

March 18, 2018 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Tzav

This week’s portion discusses what priests have to do about various offerings.  In particular, it notes that clay vessels in which certain types of offerings are cooked must be destroyed (Leviticus 6:21).

This rule arises out of a broader rule that leftovers from guilt-offerings must be destroyed, and that the vessels in question count as leftovers because they are (in Drazin’s words) “porous and absorb the taste of the holy sacrifice.”  For the same reason, “once an earthenware vessel is rendered nonkosher, it can no longer be used.”

Of course, this seems wasteful to modern sensibilities.  I occasionally get into conversations about environmental issues related to Judaism; for example, some people feel uncomfortable keeping lights on during Shabbos* because of concerns about energy waste, carbon footprints, etc.   Other people obsess about things like disposable dinnerware.

It seems to me that this type of privatized environmentalism (by which I mean, an environmentalism focused on small private acts, as opposed to national/global political action) is misguided on two grounds.  First, it simply is too small-scale to affect the problem of climate change.   If you really want to do something about your carbon footprint, don’t preach about recycling or disposable forks: these are small potatoes.  Instead, live in a place where you can go car-free, or stop flying across the world.   These bigger steps, although perhaps less comfortable for upper-middle-class Americans, are where the biggest environmental bang for the buck comes from.  (Data here and here).  Furthermore, even these steps are a bit questionable; carbon emissions are a global problem, and it is not clear to me that the actions of one nation, let alone one family, will do much good.**

Second, it strikes me as coming awfully close to creating a competing religion.  Judaism (or any ritual-based religion) is based on the idea that individual acts somehow create salvation.  If you adopt a secular system that is also based on that idea, it becomes very hard to do both well- you wind up serving two masters.   In other words, privatized environmentalism and Judaism might be hard to juggle.

*My electricity bills haven’t gone up since I started keeping this particular part of Shabbat.  Why?  First, because air conditioning is what causes bills to soar up and down, not lighting.  Second, because the one light I keep on is made up for by the many lights that I don’t turn on.

**Though on the other hand, political environmentalism may seem futile in the U.S.  political environment.   So I sympathize with the urge to focus on private acts because that’s the only thing that politicians can’t stop.

March 16, 2018 / conservadox

Shabbos dinner

Since next week I am going to a shul dinner, this week is my last pre-Pesach shabbos dinner.   I decided to do another country, in alphabetical order as usual: Armenia.

In particular I decided to have an Armenian lentils/yogurt dish (altered somewhat because I didn’t want to go to the trouble of getting bulgur wheat when I’d have to throw half of it away before Pesach) as well as eggplant spread (there seem to be a lot of versions of the latter, but I used eggplant, garlic, onion powder, olive oil and tomato paste).

Also, since I have some kosher bulgogi sauce I made a smoked trout bulgogi, plus kosher Kinder chocolate for dessert.

March 15, 2018 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayikra

This week’s Torah portion focuses mostly on the wide variety of sacrifices that Jews make to God.  Some of these sacrifices involve mammals, some involve birds, some involve just flour.   Lev. 2:3 says that the latter sacrifice is a “very holy portion.”

Drazin and Wagner note: “The meal offerings were generally brought by poor people… God designated the meal offerings as ‘holy of holies’, a sacrifice devoted entirely to the divine.  In contrast to the animal sacrifices, humans may eat none of it.  Bechor Shor comments: the elevation of this meager sacrifice to the level of ‘holy of holies’ shows God’s love of the poor.”

So what’s interesting about this?  The idea of the poor as especially beloved- something that seems quite alien to American politics.   One thing I have noticed about my politically “conservative” Orthodox brethren is that they are often boiling over with resentment towards the poor.   In their mental world, the poor are “lucky duckies” benefitting from government largesse, or living off welfare checks.

This attitude is essentially based on lies: for example, during the Clinton Administration traditional welfare was phased out, but even relatively well-educated people (that is, those who get their “information” from the Wall St. Journal instead of Fox News) are unaware of this.

So why are people so ignorant?  Many live in a far right media bubble.   Also, if you live in suburbia (as most Jews do) you don’t see people sleeping in the street as I do.



March 4, 2018 / conservadox

Dvar Torah- Vayakhel

In the Torah portion of a few weeks ago (Terumah) God instructs Moses how to make the Tabernacle.  In this coming week’s portion, Moses passes on these instructions to the people (who donate supplies), as well as Bezalel and Oholiav who do the actual work.

One of the items in the Tabernacle is a “laver of copper…[made] with the mirrors  of the women who come to pray at the door” (Exodus 38:8)- or at least that’s how Onkelos translates it.  One word “tzavu” could mean “come together” or “host” and Onkelos chooses the latter phrasing, because this wording would (in the words of Drazin and Wagner) “inform[] us of the purpose or end of an action” since one possible reason of coming to the Tabernacle is to pray.

What do mirrors have to do with prayer?  Drazin and Wagner note that by donating the mirrors, “women gave priority to the sanctuary service over their personal appearance.”

Oddly enough, personal appearance is something I occasionally get questions from nonobservant relatives about.  In Atlanta it rains a lot, so one relative has asked me more than once something like this: if women don’t drive on the Sabbath and go to synagogue, how do they protect their hair from the rain?

I’m not a woman but quite a few answers come to mind: hats, wigs, ponchos.  Before cars were invented, women somehow managed.  But if you live in a place where car use is mandatory for every conceivable activity, your mind can get pretty limited about such matters- one reason why I never wanted to live that way, and perhaps one reason why traditional Judaism protects us from this way of living by urging us to walk on the Sabbath.

March 4, 2018 / conservadox


I had two relationship-related nightmares in two nights.

Friday night: dreamt I was at a hotel with my mother, and she reminded me that I was about to be married to a woman who seemed perfectly OK but I had had just one or two dates with.  I wanted to ask my mom whether this was such a good idea, but somehow never get around to it.  Then I’m married to the woman and the first thing I do is make a joke about divorce law, causing her to dissolve in tears.  I hug her to comfort her and the dream ends.

Saturday night: dreamt I was talking to a woman who I wasn’t really dating and wasn’t really sure was anything more than a very casual friend.  We have some sort of hamantashen- or knish-like turnovers lying around, and its unclear to me whether it is meant for her or for both of us.  I pop in one my mouth and it tastes of pepperoni; I somehow know it is highly unkosher and take it out and leaving it lying around instead of throwing it away. She puts it in her mouth (apparently not noticing that I had done the same) and appears grossed out.  I wonder whether I should own up to my mistake and apologize, but after some agonizing I realize it was just a dream.

By an odd coincidence, I ended a relationship a month ago because a woman basically wanted me to propose after six dates (dream 1) and on Purim someone who I wasn’t sure I was interested in flirted with me in a way I somehow didn’t like, and I responded evasively (more related to dream 2 maybe?)