11 May 2006

Cool Yiddishe Mama A-Z meme

Accent: Neutral...but a few people think I sound like a New Yorker, even though born/bred in midwest

Booze: good kosher wine (not cough syrup)

Chore I hate: Dusting...my kids need places to doodle

Dogs/Cats: 2 male cats... quite a change as I have always had females

Essential Electronics: cell phone for keeping in touch and laptop (wherever there's a wi-fi)

Favorite Perfume/Cologne: None, due to allergies

Gold or Silver: sterling silver, white gold, platinum

Hometown: large, Jewish community in the midwest

Insomnia: From time to time, especially when discovering new blogs

Job Title: morah and more important, eema

Kids: 2 cool yiddishe maidels

Living Arrangements: co-own 3 bedroom house w/ cool yiddish papa

Most Admired Trait: I accept people for who they are but expect the changes in myself, instead of others.

Number of Sexual Partners: only cool yiddish papa

Overnight Hospital Stays: 3, being born and twice I had a tiny human being cut out of my body

Phobias: bats

Quote: “Anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job.”
-- Douglas Adams (can definitely be said about our current one)

Religion: Jewish

Siblings: 1 sister and 1 brother.

Time I usually wake up: M-F 6:00AM (time to myself before kinderlach wake up); Shabbat 8:00AM; Sundays 6:30AM (only on work days, otherwise, it's 8:00AM)

Unusual talent: Still trying to find it.

Vegetable I Refuse to Eat: brussels sprouts (the only one from childhood that still looks scary)

Worst Habit: nail biting

X-Rays: mostly dental, I've had tooth problems in the past

Yummy Foods I Make: homemade pizza, stir-fries, homemade bread

Zodiac Sign: Virgo

I tag Esther, Out of Town, JP, and Sephardi Lady.

On Business Ethics and Halakhah...

I grew up not frum and chose the observant life when I was in college. Since I am an avowed "foodie", one of the first mitzvot I took on was kashrut. My then-boyfriend, cool yiddish papa (cyp), has had a little more difficulty with the derekh but is going along at his own pace.

A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about the plight of ba'alei t'shuvah and gerim. There seems to be a line on the derekh that differentiates a BT not performing a mitzvah "because they don't know better" and being judged because now they do. However, no one seems to tell anyone when that line is crossed. In addition, no one seems to hold the venerable FFB to this same standard.

It was during the time of this conversation that we were reading parashat Mishpatim in Shemot. In masechet Bava Kamma of Talmud Bavli, we are told that if one wishes to be religiously devout, then he or she needs to be stringent in regards to the laws of damages. One destroys other property (or by extension, their livelihood) as acted with the same disregard as someone who is chillul Shabbat or chillul kashrut. Even chazal points out that ethical mitzvot hold the same weight as ritual observance.

Two years ago, a friend of mine (the one who the community will not help through his hard times) had been working for a "frum yid" in his "kosher" restaurant. During his gerut studies, he spent a great deal of time learning about kashrut matters. After all, like me, he is a "foodie" and these halakhot interested him a great deal. I loaned him some sefarim and we would discuss what he learned when he came to our Shabbat table. Anyway, he found several infractions that were questionable at best in terms of kashrut. When he told the mashgiach, (who stopped by once a day for five minutes since the restaurant was owned by a "frummie"), he was ignored. These weren't chumras that were being debated but genuine kashrut concerns. For example, equipment used to mix the "pareve" challot were washed in the same sink AT THE SAME TIME as cream cheese containers, causing a danger of basar b'chalav for many in the community who would purchase his challot. When it came out that our friend had gone to the rabbi, suddenly, a few days later, he was fired by owner "for theft". He was urged to not go to the local beit din (for owner's inability to pay his workers) since the rosh was the rav of the restaurant owner and would decide favorably for the owner. (By the way, in addition to kashrut violations and questionable business ethics, he was cited by the health department, an "achievement" that was noted on the news several times.)

This is not the first time our community has had this problem. In the nineties, before I had started to keep kosher, we had a Chinese restaurant owned by a kipa sruga. The va'ad ordered him to have mashgiach t'midi and he complied. Eventually, he sold to a charedi and the va'ad decided that there wasn't a need for a t'midi and allowed him to get away with daily 5 minute visits by one of the rabbanim. The charedi ended up being shut down when it was discovered AFTER SOME TIME that the order sheets from the meat suppliers did not match the physical inventory. Traife meat was eventually discovered in the restaurant and the man left town.

Now, in 2006, I discover that not only did my friend's former boss not have to ever pay his back wages (a direct violation of halakhah) but he is being permitted to open a new restaurant, this time a fleishig one, which can present even more problems. I was happy to hear, though, that it seems that the va'ad is giving them a hard time about some of the scenarios. However, I am angry that they are not going to require a mashgiach t'midi because he's "frum". I'm sorry, but a black hat and knowing how and when to shuckle does not make for a frum yid.

We have another restaurant here in town who had to change hashgacha because the new owner is not shomer Shabbat. Well, the new rav ha-makhshir (not connected to the va'ad ha-kashrut) made it a condition that he have a mashgiach t'midi, so the place is completely kosher. What does the va'ad do? They sent out the standard notice saying that they are no longer certifying the place. Of course, this got twisted around into saying that the place was now traife. One of my charedi colleagues told me that I can't trust it because he is not shomer Shabbat. This got into one of my diatribes where her comeback was basically, well, he has a key and go in on Shabbat to "traife" the place. Where are we that we are becoming so paranoid of everyone who is not frum but ignore the "frummies" who clearly commit chillul Hashem with their behavior?

As Jews, we are held by a higher standard than the rest of the world. Even more so when we call ourselves religious. A man who wears a kipa (of any kind) puts himself out there for scrutiny. Going to the right yeshivot and being "shtark" does not matter when you do not have any good middot. This is what is being forgotten by everyone.

There is a call to patronize frum-owned businesses in order to help our fellow Jew. Al yad sheni, if we know that person does not practice favorable business ethics, then we are equally bound to not give them our business. Stand up for Torah principles now and boycott those businesses that you know give their workers the short end of the stick in favor of profits. This is a particular issue with our kosher food establishments. Think about it this way, if they find lying about their practices so easy, what is not stopping them from committing chillul kashrut as well?

10 May 2006

On Being a Jewish Parent...

It is easy to argue that being any type of parent is difficult in today's unsure world. Our parents seemed to have it easier. The financial concerns I will save for another entry, but for right now, I want to talk about the increasingly common use of halakhah (Jewish law) and calling on the local rabbanim as a shield against our own inability to parent our own children.

While my children are too young to be affected by this particular issue, it is something that has incensed me since Pesach. It seems that the local va'ad is having public second doubts about one of the rabbanim giving an area donut shop a hechsher. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with kashrut violations. The concern stems from the idea that this donut shop may become a "hangout" for the teenagers and this interacting in a public place will lead to the kids committing "immoral acts" with each other.

My husband and I have spent many a motza'ay Shabbat at either this donut shop or the one kosher pizza place that does open up on Saturday nights. While the donut shop only received a hechsher several months ago, the pizza place is an institution. In fact, "cool yiddish papa" and I would hang out at said pizza place during our courtship days, so we can vouch for its appeal to the younger crowd. This is the weird part which only goes to discredit the fears about the donut place. The crowds of teenagers at pizza place are co-ed and can be rowdy at times, but no one is committing immoral acts. However, at the donut shop, it is mostly groups of girls coming in. Rarely do I see boys in this mix as well.

I, for one, welcome well-lit kosher establishments for the young people to congregate at. It is especially good that if it is also a place where us or one of our friends could "mix" with the crowds. It beats another popular option in my community: hanging out at the area gas station making soda concoctions while pretending to not be talking to the boy who pulled up in the car nearby. While there are those who feel that boys and girls are not separated enough at school or outside of it, that is fine, but not my life or how I intend on raising my daughters.

I personally am not advocating one-on-one dating for teenagers. The group approach which was my only option until I was 17 worked fine. Spending time with boys was not assur to me and therefore, not too interesting. If my girls want to go with a bunch of friends on a donut run on a Saturday night, all I want to make sure of is that they are indeed going to the intended location and that they feel comfortable enough with me to tell me the truth.

Where I am going with all of this is that I think too many parents today are not doing the job that G-d gave to them when they were handed that tiny baby. Either they are afraid of making a mistake, so they do nothing or they just pass all responibility off on "an authority" so if there is a mistake, then they have someone to blame. While this problem is also common in the non-frum world, the overwhelming tendency in the frum world is for people to attach a rabbi's name or hide behind halakhah to restrict their children from many real and imagined dangers in the world.

Why can't the phrase, "Because I say so" pull weight anymore? Why can't a parent simply say that it is not part of their plan to raise their child instead of saying that the other way is against halakhah? Like the woman in my neighborhood who criticized me for allowing my 4 year old daughter to play in pants in our local park. The tirade included being told that pants are not tziusdik on girls over three, didn't I know that? Well, I think that when a child is climbing jungle gyms, swinging, or bicycling, she is more tziut in pants because of the dangers of showing underwear with a skirt. I am just suggesting that my way may not be yours but that doesn't make it wrong.

Parents need to take back their authority as partners with Hashem in the child-rearing process by saying our family rules restrict objectionable shows. It doesn't matter if your friends from school have their own DVD player, in our home, we watch TV together.

My assignment for anyone who is a parent is to try and make sound parenting decisions based on your own wisdom and not using halakhah as your only authority. Doing it any other way teaches your children to not respect you and eventually, the halakhah becomes the "bad guy" that always says no. Instead, teach your children that halakhah is what guides us as Jews and give them the tools to use this guide properly and not as a yardstick to beat them over the head.
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