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April 08, 2014


I'm reading your posts in reverse order, so good to get to a happy story after the resurgence of drama. A little passover happy for you: have you seen the Frozen Passover parody? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwBuNtd4xAY Guaranteed to make you smile.

Interesting to read this and think back to my own experiences -- Neusner was really important to me at the beginning (and I remember very much the intellectual jolt of learning there was a centuries long tradition of looking at Jesus that didn't presuppose Xian perspective(s) as inherently more legitimate). The other author who did a lot for me was Chaim Ha-Levy Donin (To be a Jew, To Pray as a Jew).

A lot of synagogues have a "bar/bat mitzvah" season -- heavy from February until the beginning of August -- and then a more "regular" phase the rest of the year. Most congregations I've been a part of have had an informal shakeout between a larger "social" service that a lot of people attend and a smaller one that is more "serious" with fewer people -- often in Reformed congregations it's Friday night that is more attended, for instance. You kind of have to figure out what your practice is going to be.

re: Shabbat practice and the observance issue in general -- I find with people who are converting (this was true of me at times, as well) that there's a kind of rush at the beginning toward "let's do all the things!" and you can just drown in that. However deep you get there's always more. It's really better to take it slowly (if you do convert, it's a long walk with a lot of different seasons and experiences) so if your Friday Shabbat ritual is -- we commit to bentsching licht, Kiddush and motzi and then not working that evening -- or even less than that, that is okay. You want something that is sustainable and I always think there's a danger that one looks at everything that Friday night can be, especially in the hands of people who've been doing it for years (services! oneg shabbat! Candles at home! Fancy dinner! Zmirot at the table! Wine!) and you either feel like you have to do that, if you're not doing that you're not "authentic" -- or that it's so much that you will *never* do it. In a lot of observant Jewish households, for example, candle blessing is this helter skelter thing -- everyone knows it's at (say) 4:45 and they sort of show up at the last second just as they're doing the last chores or whatever and whoever is bentsching does it and then everyone looks at each other and collapses. You see people doing it elegantly, but that's not how it happens most of the time and it's easy to fall into a kind of trap of thinking "how it should be."

Looking forward to reading more about this.

Thanks, Susan!

Servetus, I'm so glad you swung by for this post; I was hoping you would! We're going very slowly on the Friday night thing, especially because it has traditionally been our night to collapse completely, which makes doing anything on that night a real change of pace. (And now, thanks to your comment, I've learned the word "bentsching.")

I've gotten sidetracked from Neusner -- this is the problem inherent in having a huge stack of Judaism books by my bed and reading a different one every night. I'm really, really enjoying and learning a lot from Ari Shavat's _My Promised Land_, so my plan is to stick with one book at a time, actually finish this one and blog/journal about it, and then go back to Neusner. I'll look forward to getting your reaction when I finish that book and blog about it.

I think if you work full time, and esp if you teach, Friday has to be decompression, it can't be another moment of stress (speaking from my experience). My current Friday night ritual is that I spend it by myself, light candles, and that's it. Kiddush and motzi if I happen to have remembered to get the stuff, but no stress. And then I read. I have one friend who has a really low stress Shabbat table, if his wife asks me over, I go over there (drive) but I don't stay late. I don't go to Kabbalat Shabbat except if it coincides with a high holiday (like it did last year). My high point for worship is Saturday and I do all of Shacharit from beginning to end at a Chasidic shtibl (prayer room) that's within walking distance of my apartment. If I'm still feeling energetic I stay with them for Kiddush, motzi and the Shabbat meal, but if not, I go home and nap, read, and sometimes use the fun parts of the Internet until the sun sets.

I think the deal is that if you want to have the fancy Friday night without stress you need to start early in the day. There's an advantage on some level to the dictatorial quality of the Sabbath -- it forces you to stop on Friday night -- but that's only really practically useful for people who would work through Friday night or engage in binge leisure and have to be told to sit still and rest. (That was a lesson that Shabbat taught me about two decades ago.) Shabbat observation IMO should *not* become another burden. It's not that resting is always easy (and there is a good discipline to removing oneself from things like news, movies, the car, etc.) -- I have to learn to rest even now -- but if the preparations to "rest" become onerous you'll never "rest."

Good luck with the reading. You're in my RSS feed so I'll see whatever you write (or you have my email). Oh -- and I wish you a kosher Pessach!

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Who is this What Now?

  • I'm an English teacher at Fabulous Girls' School (FGS). I'm a convert to Judaism. I am partner to D. We live in an adorable, messy little house in Adventure City. Two cats -- the Muse and the Contemplative -- live with us and keep life at home plenty adventurous.

    Email me at whatnowblogger at yahoo dot com.

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