Friday, June 27, 2008

Artisan bread

I saw part of an episode of “Modern Marvels” yesterday on the History Channel about bread.

The part I saw specifically discussed the rising popularity (pun intended) of artisan breads in the US. By the end of the episode I was very hungry for some good bread. I even imagined I could smell it!

Now, I don’t eat white bread. I even avoid the standard supermarket sliced whole wheat because they tend to have high fructose corn syrup (among other additives), which is one of the worst things to happen to food in the last 50 years.

But the bread that I do buy is still supermarket sliced bread, albeit the slightly more expensive 100% organic whole wheat bread, which avoids the worst preservatives and additives.

Out here in my city, we have one kosher bakery. They produce tasty challah and a few other basic breads. But they don’t produce real artisan breads like sourdough, breads that it actually takes time to make.

I’m trying to remember if in New York there are kosher bakeries that produced the really good stuff. I know I’ve has some really good bread in restaurants and also from bakeries in Israel. But out here in the midwest, there’s no chance of me getting a decent handmade long-rising bread.

I think I’ll try baking my own. I do a lot of cooking, but I’ve never been a baker. So wish me luck! I’ll report back with results.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Does prayer help?

XGH posted about whether prayer really helps heal the sick.

Here’s what I wrote in a comment to his post:

I have no logical reason for believing in God, but I do nonetheless.

Within that system of belief, it similarly doesn't make sense that God would be swayed by prayer to help a sick child, but I believe in the power of tefilla nevertheless.

I can't articulate why. And I won't cheapen my concept of God by asserting that he is somehow greedy for our prayers.

It's just a gut feeling that putting out tefilla helps somehow - that the mass concentration by hundreds or thousands of individuals creates something in the divine universe that has the potential to alter the equation when it comes to that sick child.

The importance of an eruv in Modern Orthodox communities

Harry Maryles writes about controversy surrounding the West Rogers Park eruv in Chicago and how most of the Yeshivish community does not use it.

What struck me is that ironically, an eruv is more important to a Modern Orthodox community today than to a Chassidish or Yeshivish one. And the more modern, the more important.

While in a more religiously right-wing community, most women are content to stay home with small children, as in shul they would only be walled up behind a high mechitza listening to the men, in Modern Orthodox communities, women tend to come to shul in much greater numbers. And this is especially so in the more Liberal Orthodox shuls, where women are actually given a role of some sort. Without an eruv, parents of very small children would be forced to decide which of them stays home.

30 to 40 years ago, the difference between Yeshivish and Modern Orthodox in women’s roles in shul did not vary much beyond the height of the mechitza. But today, with women’s participation rising, the eruv is an integral part of the Shabbat environment of a Modern Orthodox community.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gay marriage vs. no marriage

The ruling recognizing gay marriage by the state of California went into effect this week. Most liberals are applauding the event while most conservatives are appalled.

The problem here is that constitutionally, government shouldn't be in the business of recognizing marriages at all. Marriage may be a social structure, but in most segments of American society it's also a religious one, especially when it comes to exclusion from the marital institution. Therefore, any governmental regulations and recognition of said institution cannot help but step over the church-state divide.

The solution?

Civil unions for all. A civil union can be defined as any legal agreement between two consenting adults that gives them the standard rights currently afforded to spouses, such as inheritance, the right to make medical decisions for each other in case of incapacitation, jointly filing taxes, etc.

A civil union can be between any two adults regardless of gender and regardless of romantic attachment. For example, two unmarried best friends who are not romantically attached but see each other as family, or even a mother and daughter who want their legal standing with regard to one another be stronger than with other family members who have wronged them.

The members of the civil union may then celebrate their romantic connection, if there is one, in whatever way they choose, within their own religious or social circles. They can get married in a church, shul, affirmation ceremony, or simply call each other ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. Each community can recognize marriages or not, as per their preference. But government will simply recognize legal rights as conferred by the civil union agreements.

I am sure that there would be some problems I haven’t thought of in the actual implementation of such a plan. But the alternative is state after state passing constitutional amendments against gay marriage, miring the government in the church-state morass even deeper and creating a slippery slope for the religious right to push even more of their agenda.

All this being said, it’s unlikely that marriage will become divorced (if you’ll pardon the term,) from governmental sanction anytime soon. And therefore, in the meantime, I agree with the California court’s decision. One cannot confer a right on certain members of society while denying it to others. For those who fear gay marriage, especially those within the Orthodox Jewish community, how is it likely to affect your life? You will also have to pass laws regarding other things in the Torah referred to as “To’evah” (abomination).

For some differing perspectives, see:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

17 years meatless

Today is the 17th anniversary of my vegetarianism. I haven't knowingly eaten any meat or chicken since June 17th, 1991. (I gave up fish a few months later.)

The last meat meal I ate was a bowl of Chili at the short-lived Kosher Wendy's restaurant in Jerusalem.