Alif lam meem

Some surahs of the Koran start with unattached letters, known as muqatta’at.  Are they some ancient Dewey Decimal System, or something else?  No one knows.

One of the more common letter combinations is alif lam meem, read from right to left الم .

Jewish high holy day

Rachel “Ray” Frank was the first woman to give a Yom Kippur sermon in 1890.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Yom Kippur is a 25-hour fast. It started yesterday at sundown – or maybe a little earlier, as many observant Jews had a special last meal in anticipation of the fast – and will end tonight, a little after sundown, when the stars come out.

It is a special window in time, when spiritual favors are particularly accessible to humans. In the final hours of daylight, the doors to the scrolls of the ark of the covenant are opened, as you would open an actual window, and the congregation remains standing for the rest of the prayers, in respect for the holy words of the torah written on the scrolls. The final service is called “Neilah” , literally “closing” and marks the end of the time God is willing to hear the prayers of the Jewish people.

For Christians, Christmas and Easter, are the holidays you show up for, even if you miss the rest of the year. For Jews, it is Yom Kippur. This is what you pay your $4000 a year for, (in the older congregations at least; the younger ones have a sliding fee based on income) and on this day you will be fasting and you will spend the day in the synagogue.

I thought about doing this fast, but most of the spiritual exercise is in the synagogue, with the recitations etc, plus I feel some kind of illness coming on and have already been hitting the Vitamin C.  I have however taken the precaution of procuring challah, honey, and apple, for later on.

A few other tidbits about Yom Kippur.

The service starts with Kol Nidrei (“All Vows”). It is a legal formula that releases from promises, particularly forced conversions during medieval times. It is also a reminder to review vows that have been made during the year in light of how realistic they turned out to be.

What to wear: white.

What not to wear: leather shoes. (no idea why).

What to think about?  Forgiveness and teshuvah, or repentance.  Guilt is collective, starting with the story of Moses and the golden calf.  It is also individual, with a requirement to seek forgiveness from the person offended against before seeking divine forgiveness.

What to eat: challah,  at a special breakfast Wednesday night after sunset.  This is a circular bread to symbolize the circularity of the year, or maybe of time itself.  It is pronounced “halla”  or more accurately ghallah, the “gh” being a sound that is pronounced in the back of the throat.

The service includes “Mincha”, readings about marriage “because sexuality can and should be a vehicle for creating the divine presence in our lives.” Gotta give the Jews credit for tackling this head-on instead of suppressing it like some Christian factions.  Also the entire book of Jonah and the whale.  As you may recall, Jonah received a calling from God to go to a certain people and tell them to repent, much as some people try to do with Wikipedia. Jonah said it was a waste of time, much as trying to rescue newbies on Wikipedia is a waste of time.  God was unhappy and caused Jonah to be swallowed by a whale.  After the whale regurgitated Jonah, Jonah thought he had better go and tell the people to repent after all, which turned out to be a waste of time, much as Wikipedia talk pages are often a waste of time.  I don’t remember how it ended.  Maybe someone will look it up for me.

But what about the Jewish women?  After all, I am expected to write about gender.

The Jewish Women’s Archive looks very interesting indeed. Here is a particularly poignant article, “The Harm of Tshuvah: A Letter from an Abuse Survivor

“To the rabbi who gave me a pamphlet on forgiveness when I was in inpatient care for childhood trauma:

“Fuck you.”

Oh wow.

It goes on:

Why are we more focused on making victims forgive than we are on supporting and validating them?

We must recognize the harm that teshuvah and its forgiveness rhetoric can do to survivors of any kind of mistreatment. We must also be accountable to how Jewish customs can be used to perpetuate victim blaming. Look at the number of Hasidic women who do not receive help from domestic abuse because their community’s culture values respecting the father and husband over women and children’s safety.  

Oh yes indeed, tradition can be grounding, but if the bedrock of religion is compassion – and in the Judeo Christain ethic, it must be – then tradition must also be examined in light of what we know now, and whether it works, and not just the formulas of the past.

And here is a piece revisiting the Christine Blasey Ford/  Brett Kavanaugh testimony, only a week after Yom Kippur.  Has it already been a year?

“Aside from her heart-wrenching descriptions of her abuse at the hands of Kavanaugh, one thing stood out to me: how deferential and apologetic she was. She apologized when asking for coffee, apologized when asking for the restroom, and apologized when making corrections to her statement. But as Rabbi Leah Berkowitz noted last fall, this woman certainly owed no one an apology. On the contrary, I would argue that many, many people owe her one.”

That was the same week I added the Pooh cartoon to the side bar.  Evil is real.

“….But what does this mean when women are constantly compelled (and feel obligated) to apologize? Women raise their hands in classrooms and start their comments by saying “sorry.” We send emails beginning with “sorry.” When we’re in charge of delegating tasks in the workplace, we start our directions with “sorry.” When we are abused and harassed, we apologize. Women apologize for perfectly reasonable behaviors that men simply wouldn’t think to apologize for. We apologize for having opinions, for doing our jobs, for asking questions, for simply existing…..”

This “sorry” thing is also very British, but seems nothing more than a formula for navigating a crowd while bumping people.

“We are conditioned to take up as little space as possible, both literally and figuratively. Of the eight million people in the U.S. who have eating disorders, seven million are women. In meetings in the workplace, men speak more often and for longer periods of time. Only 6.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs in 2019 are women—up from a record low of 4.8% last year. Women are constantly bombarded with the message that we do not belong in the public eye or positions of power.

“Too many of the attributes that men are expected to have, women are expected to apologize for. Men delegate, women are bossy. Men are impassioned, women are shrill. Men are fierce, women are bitches. We know this. And we are expected to feel guilty for it.

“….But we know that men aren’t (typically) ruder, right? Men don’t act in horrible, impolite ways more than we do, right? Of course not. It’s simply that men don’t have to apologize for the behaviors that make them successful. Women do.

“So this Yom Kippur, I will look very critically at my list of the apologies I need to make to others, to myself, and to the world. When I make my atonements and my “sorries,” I will take extra time to consider what motivates each apology. Is this something my male friends would have to apologize for? Would it even cross their minds?”

Now that is a Yom Kippur meditation.


דודי לי ואני לו

My beloved is mine and I am his. -Song of Songs 2:16

The Jewish month of Elul is a time of reflection.  It is a preparation for the high holy days surrounding the new year, Rosh Hashanah, starting at sunset on Sept 29 this year, followed by the Yamim Noraim, or days of awe, and ending with Yom Kippur on October 8.

When you think of religions that are accessible to women, Judaism is probably not the first religious tradition that leaps to mind.

For example, here is the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the only thing left of the original temple after its destruction in 70 CE. The section for women is in the upper right corner.

You can see how crowded together they are, but because of the angle, it’s hard to tell from the photo exactly how small the section is. The men are on the left. The area in the foreground is for tourists.

A lot of photographs, if they show the women’s section at all, make it look like it is equal to the men’s section.

This description says the women’s section is about a quarter of the size of the men’s section:

“The section of the wall designated for women was very small, only about a quarter of the size of the men’s section. Consequently the females in our group had to wait a long time before there was space open at the women’s section of the wall so we could approach it and place our written prayers in the crevices. The boys in our group were quickly finished and got impatient waiting for us. I told the girls not to hurry.”

So, given the apparent invisibility of women in yet another religious tradition,  how can women approach the month of Elul?

First, the scripture behind the tradition…

The letters of the word Elul in Hebrew form an acronym for the words in the Song of Songs or Song of Solomon 6:3 Ani le‑dodi ve‑dodi li–“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”.

Even though the Song of Songs has a reputation for being “an unabashedly sensuous, even at times quite erotic, paean to love“,  and was even once proposed from deletion from the Bible, the inclusionists, most notably the first century Rabbi Akiva, defended it strongly, and insisted it was merely an allegory for love of God. Whatever.  This divine love was also the basis of mystical texts such as the Zohar.  Various kabbalistic drawings depict the attributes of the divine, starting with the head on top, and human beings at the bottom of the drawing.

However the part of the divinity most accessible to mere mortals, depicted at the bottom, may I point out just happens to be in the groin area. Strictly an allegory, of course.  Yes, of course.  Deletionists are ever among us.

Also may I point out that the Beloved of the scripture, which probably dates to the Babylonian captivity, is male, while the shekina of the Kabbalistic image is female, and meant for a male devotee.  Might there been some usurpation of this tradition somewhere in the mists of time?

In some traditions, during Elul, the daily prayer is supplemented with a special service. Here are some recordings of “Selihot” that are added to the daily prayer during this time, and recited in a special service before the crack of dawn. Since reciting the 13 Attributes is part of the service, it can only be done with a minyon, or ten Jewish dudes over the age of 13. In case you want to try this at home, here are ten dudes singing the 13 Attributes. The accordion is better than you might expect, and the violin is really quite good. The 13 attributes are also tied in with the story of Moses and the golden calf, this biblical episode being one of the great wrongs to be repented ten days later during the Yom Kippur holiday

the king is in the fieldThe observance of Elul is also tied to the 18th century “king in the field” allegory by the rabbi Alter Rebbe. Before a king enters the city, the inhabitants go out and greet him in the field. They can then ask for things, as he is more accessible at this time. So during Elul, the deity is more accessible, but is it up to the human to take the initiative and make the first move.  This is the meaning of “I am my Beloved’s.”  The “field” part of the story is also an indication that although Song of Songs may have an erotic spring theme, Yom Kippur is basically a harvest festival with a judgment theme.

Since the beginning of Rosh Hashanah (the evening of the last day of Elul) is sometimes celebrated with a meal that includes round cakes (“challah”), apples and honey, this may be a good place to post a recipe based loosely on the Song of Songs text “sustain me with raisins, comfort me with apples”:

Recipe: apples are cored, and scored around the middle to help them keep their shape during cooking, then stuffed with nuts, raisins, various spices, especially cinnamon, and grated lemon-peel. They are baked alongside sliced banana with Australian port and honey poured over. It is eaten hot with ice cream or yogurt. This is said to be particularly efficacious after a strenuous night of love.

But where are the women?

Here is a very interesting bit of writing from someone who appears to be a Jewish chaplain in a Pennsylvania women’s prison, working with an interdenominational group.  She starts by invoking the “King in the Field,” explanation of Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li, moving on to “deep transcendent love and ‘bittul” or the suspension of the self, in order to fully elevate the Beloved in whom your love dwells.”  This sounds suspiciously like the self-abnegation too often at the root of destructive patterns surrounding addictions. But here it is expressed as more of a trance state or spiritual exercise.  Then she makes an important distinction:

The love that we are pouring into this world has every opportunity and right to be reciprocated, not despite our journeys, but because of them. There are women in jail whose teshuvah has moved mountains in both their relationships with their families and their faith, but would probably not offer them seats inside our shuls or around our tables. As this community of women in jail uniforms and numbered tags prepare to undergo bittul and suspend themselves for the sake of those who have isolated them in the past, may our hearts be open to love and be loved just as vulnerably.

Women are so, so used to — and culturally conditioned to — giving, without getting anything in return. But this chaplain’s interpretation is based on the second part of the scripture: “and my beloved is mine”.

The importance of reciprocity. And she expresses it as a right, the “right to be reciprocated”.

May we all be “sustained and comforted”.

Solomon, Sheba, and dividing the baby

23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. 25 The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” 26 But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” 27 Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” 28 All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice. — 1 Kings 3:23-28

As the Fram dispute continues on Wikipedia, and the (white, male) leadership alternately pat each other on the back and discuss ways to sabotage the Project, I am reminded of the story of the Judgment of Solomon.

Two women dispute over a baby. Solomon proposes to cut the baby in half,  then awards the baby to the woman to objects to the baby’s death. For this, (and okay, a few others, like letting the bee in to test for the fake flower, and the clavicula salomon of medieval grimoires for imprisoning demons),  Solomon gets credit for great wisdom.

But according to a description on Commons on theTripartite Mahzor manuscript, that decorates the frontispiece to the Song of Songs, there is a tradition that the Queen of Sheba was with Solomon on that day, and it was she who advised him on the judgment.

The story of Sheba’s visit to Solomon has been widely told, and from the standpoint of several cultures. In the Old Testament book Kings 1 and Chronicles 2, it is a meeting between heads of state, rather than a royal marriage or romance. But others attribute the subject of the Song of Solomon as Sheba. In Islam, Sheba is Bilqis. In Ethiopia, where Solomon is said to have fathered the royal line of emperors, she is Makeda. In Persia, Sheba is the daughter of a Chinese king and a peri, a magical being.

Here are a few representations of the Judgement of Solomon — or of Sheba, as the case may be.



And here are a couple of peris, just for good measure.



Ramadan, Carrite, and setting aside disputes

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” –Matthew 5:9

Ramadan is a time for settling differences, and avoiding needless quarrels and confrontation. When Ramadan first begins, it is like a child waiting for Santa Claus.  The seasonal goodies come out and there is much window shopping in the evenings in anticipation of the gifts that will be received from family members at the end of Ramadan during Eid.  Girls in particular can expect gifts of gold jewelry from their brothers. But as Ramadan progresses, it becomes more and more difficult, and tempers can fray, especially towards the end of the day, or in years when Ramadan falls during the summer and the fasting time is longer.  Smokers will be waiting for that sundown call to prayer with lighter in hand.

The fasting of Ramadan is a literal preparation for confronting the trials of life with patience and fortitude. But facilitating reconciliation is said to be even better than fasting, prayer, and charity. For those who are interested in exegesis, there is a fairly long Q&A here that goes into the chapter and verse, or aya and hadith, if you will, of the spiritual benefits to be reaped from the setting aside of disputes.  And it even quotes a woman, Umm Kalthoom bint ‘Uqbah ibn Abi Mu’eet, in the chain of authority.

So in honor of Ramadan, I am setting aside my feud with Carrite, and by extension with Wikipediocracy, and removing the Jimbotalk potty mouth widget from my sidebar.  There will always be plenty of time after Ramadan to start a new feud, if need be. In any case, Wikipediocracy may still be a sausagefest, but they have been making an effort, and acting more and more like human beings.  Carrite as well. Shall we mention that Carrite likes pups?   And yes, he once pledged to donate any funds from his paid editing gig on Upwork to animal shelters. How can such a person be all bad.

So here’s wishing RfB and the Wikipediocrazies a Ramadan Mubarek.

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation…

Let the sun shine in…

Ramadan: overcoming weaknesses

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” -Step 7 of Alcoholics Anonymous

Ramadan offers the faithful a practical path for self-control. The physical purification offered by giving up food, drink, and sex is coupled with a spiritual purification obtained through piety (taqwa) of physical self-discipline.

Piety (taqwa) is a diligence and watchfulness that help us suppress our inclination to yield to temptations.

Piety is the opposite of avarice and selfishness. It is a constant struggle to give a wide berth to all that is glamorous on the outside and rotten inside.

Piety enables us to keep our passions under control, and discipline them.

Piety is the fear of none but Allah. The strength of piety comes from Allah and Allah alone.

Ramadan is a month of the year meant for the purification of our minds and souls. It is a special time to grow closer through our faith and deeds to Allah, as well as to each other. It is also a time for reflections upon Allah’s infinite blessings through piety, self-discipline, and patience.

Ramadan is the time to seek Allah’s forgiveness and for each Muslim to forgive each other by settling differences that arose during the past year. In this month, believers not only abstain from food and drink during day time, but also hold back all tendencies for quarrel and confrontation.

Fasting is an effective lesson in moderation and willpower.

During Ramadan, a believer refuses to indulge his body, but feeds his soul instead. A fasting person lowers his gaze, restrains his wandering mind and reins in his tongue.

Fasting trains a person to flee from the prurient and the obscene.

Fasting prepares a Muslim to confront the trials of life with patience and fortitude. It helps him or her to calmly endure the physical pangs of hunger and thirst, as well as the mental pain of facing the misdeeds of others.

Fasting is a good course in anger management as well. It gives a person the strength to rise above common weaknesses and remain steadfast in truth and justice. It instills into a person compassion for his fellow beings as regards their needs, concerns and anxieties. Ramadan makes Muslims charitable and generous to the unfortunates who have fallen by the wayside in their journey of life.

“Fasting nourishes the soul”