Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Three Weeks/Nine Days and Jewish Superstition

When I was in middle school, my doctor told me I needed a relatively complicated surgery. As a 13-year-old girl, this seemed like the end of the world.

I was sure something terrible would happen; and yet, the doctors assured me and my parents that if I didn't have the surgery, something terrible would happen. Catch 22.

After we exhausted all other options, my parents had decided that surgery was a must. And, of course, since they didn't want me to miss any school, they insisted upon a summer surgery.

But when the nurse opened the big book of summer surgery dates, the only available options were during the three weeks.

"But it's the three weeks!" my parents said to each other, alarmed - which, in the process, alarmed me even more.

Well, it was one of those dates or during the fall, said the nurse. And she didn't recommend waiting for the fall (more because of my medical condition than the school year).

So from the doctor's phone in the waiting room (people didn't have cell phones in those days), they called our rabbi. Thankfully (in retrospect), the rabbi said it was fine to have the surgery during the three weeks if need be. And so we scheduled the date.

As a child schooled in the terrible details of everything that had happened during the three weeks, I was now completely terrified. The surgery was sure to be a failure in some way. As I researched and read the details of what could go wrong in the surgery, I became increasingly convinced that I would die on the operating table or else come out paralyzed.

Well, lo and behold, although the surgery did have some slight complications, everything went fine -- the medical problem was resolved and by the next fall, I had completely recovered and was back in the school hallways with my friends.

Alongside all the teachings during my childhood about the high likelihood of tragedy during the three weeks/nine days, I was also taught this one magic phrase: "In Judaism, we do not believe in superstition."

This was something to be proud of, I was told. "We are not superstitious, not superstitious, don't believe in those superstitions, etc., etc., etc."

What's funny is, many Orthodox Jews I know really believe that they are not superstitious. Really. Even with all the talk of the nine days, three weeks -- to say nothing of the "b'li ayin hara"s, "poo poo poo"s, and hamsas.

Yes, Tisha B'Av commemorates a lot of terrible events to have befallen the Jewish people. Yes, some of those events (not all!) are believed or known to have happened during the three weeks/nine days. But let's not kid ourselves; there are lots and lots of terrible things that have happened (to the Jewish people as a whole and to individual Jews) during the rest of the year, as well.

If we want to say we will not go on a rafting trip during the nine days because said period is a time of mourning and rafting is fun, I can hear that argument (although I don't follow that line of thinking). But to say, we will not go on a rafting trip because rafting is dangerous and it's the 9 days and something will happen (I've heard many such arguments) is definitely superstitious and borders on absurd.

People should live how they want to live - sure. I would never get up and tell any Orthodox person that they are wrong not to do something they deem dangerous on the 9 days.

But it seems more than disingenuous to me to live life that way and then claim that they're not being superstitious.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A Kosher Kitchen: the ways in which I surprise myself with my traditionalism

So when I lived in [unnamed big city with large Jewish population], I always kept a kosher kitchen. I ate in non-kosher restaurants, it's true, but I felt compelled to keep kosher at home nonetheless.

This seemed like a very reasonable decision to me. After all, many of my friends and most of my family lived nearby and kept kosher, and I wanted them to be able to eat at my apartment.

Also, in said area, kosher food -- both in the supermarket and take-out -- was really easy to come by.

Well, in [small city with very small observant Jewish population], kosher food is not quite as easy to find. There's *some* kosher meat (frozen) and other frozen kosher products in the supermarket, and there's a(n expensive) kosher store about half an hour away, but that's about it.

And since I'm still looking for a job here (in this economy!), I'm not exactly "rollin' in the dough" at the moment. So, as a trial, while I've been living in a sublet (for a month), without my dishes (which are currently at my parents' house and which I plan on bringing out here when I move into my permanent apartment next month), I've stopped keeping a kosher kitchen. I have a few cheap cooking implements that I got at Target, and that's what I've been using for the meanwhile.

In a lot of ways, this has been fun. All those products on the shelves that were off limits just for years? Into my refrigerator or oven they go! It's definitely also a lot cheaper.

As the prospect of moving into the more permanent apartment approaches, I found myself considering whether or not it was necessary for me to even have a kosher kitchen at all. I mean, the people I've met here don't know me for very long, so it wouldn't be awkward to tell kosher-keeping folk that I have a non-kosher kitchen. Nor do I have a whole lot of friends out here who won't eat out non-kosher. And I certainly don't have to worry about family coming over all that often. (If they did, I could theoretically kasher my kitchen for that time period.)

But for some reason, the answer I keep coming back with is that, yes, I must have a kosher kitchen. That this was a fun few weeks, but when it comes down to it, I can't see myself really living in any permanent way, in a non-kosher home.

I don't really know why this is the case. It seems silly (and expensive) in a lot of ways. But somehow, inexplicably, the kosher kitchen, more than any other staple of Jewish life, seems like a connection to where I come from that I can't sever.

Perhaps, in some ways, I'm more traditional than I thought.