cultivating & crashing

an organic collection of notes, observations, and thoughts

Tag: jewish

Shomer Fucking Shabbos

Notes from Prof. Cohn’s lecture on Shabbat in popular media.

– The Frisco Kid
– Fiddler on the Roof
– Big Lebowski
– The Rabbi’s Cat
– Kissing Jessica Stein
– How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
– postdenominationalist Judaism
– A Serious Man
– Curb Your Enthusiasm
– Keeping the Faith

Why do things that have no purpose? Not necessary but still do them, even if complicated. “Accept the mystery”.

Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

– Sunshine (Canadian)
– Sarah’s Key
– Little Jerusalem
– THe Man Who Cried
– Stranger Amongst Us
– The Chosen
– Ushpizin



Today is the first day of Ramadan, so Mehdi made a Tunisian dish (mechouia) to take to a fast-breaking gathering. Whenever he makes something I haven’t seen before I start nosing around the kitchen and then ask him everything about the dish. Before long we were on YouTube listening to Warda (whom he loves) and watching videos of a woman with fat small hands making bricks and other Tunisian dishes. Ergo, I just found another food website to add my list of favourites, one reason being she turns out to be Jewish and have lots of recipes for Pesach and Purim. Sephardim for the win!


In other news, I’m really going to miss Mehdi.

Jewish life

Today was my exam to become a Jew. I passed. My rabbi liked the last part quite a bit.

I want to lead a Jewish life that enriches my experience of life—one that transforms my experience of events, of family, of friendship, of lifelong learning. I believe that the rituals and practices of Judaism imbue life with special meaning by providing a large, cohesive context within which they exist, and adding a dimension of intentionality and awareness to life. I do not simply want to eat dinner on Friday; I want to invite in the joy of the Shabbos bride for a day of repose and celebration with people that are special to me. I do not simply want to move in with a boyfriend at some point and have children; I want to be married in the tradition and presence of my community, and initiate my children into that community. When my parents die, I do not want to simply get over the grief in whatever way, but I want to have the support of a timeless tradition of mourning that has aided a people throughout generations.

I want to live a Jewish life that I will pass on to my children, to provide them with a heritage and a community for them to learn and draw from, be a part of, and contribute to. I want to live a life that enters me and my future family into the people that is Israel, because we are small and fragile as individuals, and the larger and more connected a family we have, the better we fare.

My Jewish life right now looks like: a mezuzah on the doorframe of my house, which I kiss every time I see it, thanking God for the home and safety I have; lit candles on Friday night while friends are laughing and sharing over a supper that is special; slowly sounding out the Hebrew letters in the siddur and becoming comfortable in the increasing familiarity of the songs of Shabbat with each week that goes by; moments of quiet thanksgiving in solitude, as well as moments of thanksgiving voiced out loud, in unison with others.

I want to lead a life of struggle with God to understand what the best way to live is, and what is the best way I can engage with the world that we live in. Judaism establishes guidelines for living by, both as a community and as moral beings. These are tools that we have at our disposal to figure out what is good and how to deal with difficult situations.

Furthermore, there are certain things I do not want to have be part of my Jewish life. I do not want to live a life where I hide behind Judaism to stop questioning and challenging myself or the world. I do not want to use Judaism to give me facile or dogmatic answers to complex aspects of life. Quite the opposite: I believe Judaism should inspire me to think for myself, as an individual but also as part of the people that is Judaism and part of our modern society. This leads me to believe, for instance, that Judaism must be re-interpreted and re-cast as time moves on in order for it to continue to be meaningful and relevant to its adherents. In a society that is highly secular, fanaticized, or apathetic, I want to lead a Jewish life that does not shun the world that God created (including the aspects that are distasteful, ugly, or even evil), but confronts it with the courage and wisdom to understand. I want to lead a Jewish life that does not shy away from sorrow but also knows how to embrace joy and marvel at the complexity of human experience.

Informed dissidence

“Indeed, all Jews who are preoccupied with fashioning a Jewish life have a stake in understanding the Halakhah. Regardless of their definition, secular or religious, all forms of contemporary Jewish life must arise out of a confrontation with the past. Whether one lives in harmony with tradition or in tension with it, one must contend with that tradition. Comprehending the Halakhah is necessary for a Jewish life, whether one seeks to follow Jewish law or depart from it.”

From Women and Jewish Law, by Rachel Biale.

I had a conversation recently in which someone asked me why I was interested in converting to Judaism instead of just studying it if my intentions were to live mostly secularly. My response had been that if something is yours, it is yours to follow or to fuck with. This excerpt speaks to part of what I meant.

Not sorry

This little piece amused me this morning, reading it after discussing Night in class.

God’s atonement

T’es-tu jew?

Had my first very own run-in with Quebec anti-Semitism today. Weird and ugly, but also made me realize I am proud to be who I am and do what I do.

me: Part of me wants to tell the other people about this so that they can tell me how little it was, how ignorant, but it also makes me wonder if they would think I’m weird or strange or different than I am somehow if they also knew. I wonder how everyone I tell thinks about it–what it makes them think about or feel, or what connotations it brings up for them.

J: Welcome to being Jewish. :)

Why was the sky

I joined the Mile End Chavurah Chorus, directed by Josh Dolgin. Pretty neat.

Today I’ve had this song in my head. It’s full of sorrow and its beauty is powerful.

I copied this from Alexander Street Press. Apparently Holocaust songs are world music.

Memory, breath, Freud

About two years ago Mike said something about how it bothered him that he didn’t know much about his family past some details about his grandparents. I’ve often thought about my own difficulties in finding out about even my grandmother, whom I’m named after, but whom no one wants to talk about save to say she was a saint. (Only some months ago I found out that she drank–that, like me, she liked whiskey on the rocks–and that she may have drank herself to death.) Like him, it makes me sad not to have more access to the people I came from, or even their stories. I understand that much of it is covered up because it’s ugly (alcoholism, depression, tragic deaths) but I still wish I could know about them and have a stronger sense of history. I remember Ariel having a book about some great-grand relatives of his, explaining their families, their children, and a bit of their life stories. I’d love to end up putting one of those together some decades from now for my great-grand-descendants, in case they ever wonder like I do.

At any rate, here’s a talk I enjoyed about lineages lost (and found), breath, and some messed up psychoanalytic theory.

Race Relations, from Tablet Magazine

To be Jewish

I really liked this article in Haaretz — I agree with a lot of the points.


After many years of not paying attention to anything of the sort, I find myself sitting in a Jewish Mysticism course, needing to fill a requirement for my minor. What I didn’t realize is that the course is split and is also for graduate students, and the reading material reflects it both in volume and complexity (not to mention “the flame of darkness that brings forth into being”). I hope I haven’t gotten myself into something fully beyond my ken.

Notes from the first day.

  • The less you know about a subject, the clearer an image you have of it. Professor wants to get us to the point where we know nothing. A reasonably clear but elementary understanding. (Like chess: can know how the pieces and the moves, but cannot teach how to be a master champion.) Understand the magnitude, complexity, and interconnectedness demanded by the task of mysticism.
  • Will give lectures, but invites interruption!

The study of Judaism

  • The term “Judaism” invented not by Jews, but by Christians. Jews define themselves as members of an extended family that goes back to ancestors (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses), even for adopted members (converts).
  • Concept of the Jewish soul, and that even converts have it – like transsexuals who feel they were born in the wrong body.
  • What do Jews believe? Less like Christian credo, more like storytelling. Shabbat not celebrated because “I believe…” but because the story of “God created and then rested.” (Anthropologist Geertz: understand people through their stories.) Like Islam, Judaism develops in the Middle Ages as centrally based on laws. Explanation and interpretation of the law is important.
  • Stories often contradict themselves.

Views on mysticism

  • It is unmediated experience of God/the Divine
  • No such thing as abstract mystical experience exists; each kind of mysticism relies on the stories, techniques and context of its corresponding religion, and is therefore not unmediated. Same light; different lampshades.
  • The existence of divine light is being assumed. Is this correct?
  • Some reject a Jewish mysticism at all because Jewish mystics don’t have a different path or doctrine, like other mystics do. It’s all about Torah, just like other Jews: it’s the interpretation of it that differs on the same laws and stories.

Wisdom/truth is all already known in the past

  • When the Messiah comes, when the Third Temple is constructed, will it be lit by electricity or olive oil lamps?
  • Electricity because it is brighter, better, clear
  • No, if it’s true and good is had to have been known by great ancient rabbis, has to be old, has to come from Moses at Sinai.

For this reason the document of kabbalah, the Zohar, is claimed to be ancient from late antiquity thought it first appeared in the 13th century.

  • This gave it credibility and the chance to be listened to
  • Judaism as it develops in history lacks a hierarchy and authority that can speak and be obeyed. Power, instead, is derived from ability to convince people that when Torah says X, it means so-and-so. Kabbalists are in the market of another kind of interpretation. Their power, like all others, comes only from their ability to convince others

At this point, there was a big argument between some students and the professor about this. The former believed that certain rabbis like the Baal Shem Tov had credentials that had nothing to do with convincing. I loved how undiplomatically the twenty-year-olds were arguing with a man who could easily have been their grandfather.

I also liked how before the class began, the handful of students in the classroom, ages ranging from twenty to about sixty, all tried to find out if they had relatives that might have known other relatives or to otherwise situate each other in relation to themselves. And how one guy who just met another invites him to stay with him Friday night if he comes to his shul. Tribe, indeed.

But perhaps the best came at the very end when, just as the professor dismisses class, one person asks if anyone wants a ride into Cote-St-Luc, and a happy “yes!” rings out right after.