Ketubah Language

My introduction to Judaism as a burgeoning adult began in ninth grade. We were assigned to read Romeo and Juliet and to research a different culture’s wedding traditions. I, of course, used this project as an excuse to watch Fiddler on the Roof. And I loved the customs I read about: the simple band, the chuppah-as-home, and, of course, the ketubah.

Now, years later, as an adult, as an adult who finally converted, as an adult who finally converted and is engaged to a Jewish man, I was so, so excited to finally be able to participate in these rituals myself. And I set out with gusto. I found my ring with ease, I know exactly what my chuppah is going to look like (thanks Mom!) and I know what pretty pictures will decorate my ketubah.

One of the hardest decisions to date has been the ketubah language.

I started with the Conservative movement’s language. It is the language the Orthodox also use, as has been done for thousands of years by our tribe, with the addition of the Lieberman Clause added to address the issue of agunot.

I really wanted to embrace this ketubah language as a dedicated, proud Conservative Jew. But I hated it.

In the Conservative text, it refers to me as a title that is no longer applicable to me – or to him, for that matter. Accepting this document from him, where “all is valid and binding” would render me a liar and a hypocrite. He is not put into that position, of course, because society has never attempted to control male sexuality to the extent it has controlled female. But I don’t want to start my married life off with a lie.

I hated that I had absolutely no obligations to him. I understand that he acquires me and I appreciate that the woman’s agency, through her willing acceptance, has always been clearly indicated. It’s a one way transaction. That bothers me fundamentally. I don’t need our responsibilities and obligations to be EXACTLY identical given Judaism’s traditional beliefs on gender roles, but I am somewhat disappointed that the Conservative movement hasn’t dealt with this in light of other modern topics the Rabbinical Assembly has addressed – like can you read a Kindle on Shabbat? (The answer is no.) Or “gay marriage,” where Conservative movement stops short of calling it kiddushin, because it does not view it as kiddushin.

But I could probably have dealt with those previous two things like many of us do as adults: okay, some things just aren’t fair, just don’t work out the way you want, and just don’t get to change to suit your way, so suck it up, put on your big girl panties, and move on.

What bothered me the most is that I, as a convert not previously married, was “worth” 200 zuzim, while a born-Jew, not previously married, was worth 400 zuzim.

My rabbi tried to “appease me” by saying that the groom has traditionally been able to add an additional amount of his choosing, bringing me up to the 400 zuzim of a born-Jew. I know he was trying to mollify my desire to work within halakah and still be feminist and egalitarian. But this was one method that just didn’t sit right with me. It’s a slap in the face from Jewish tradition.

A never-been-married born-Jewish bride is paid 400 zuzim. A previously-married born-Jewish bride is paid 200 zuzim. A never-been married converted-Jewish bride is paid 200 zuzim.

Why the discrepancy? The purpose of this money is to help protect her in case of divorce – make sure she’s not out on the streets, that she has time to get her life back together. I can appreciate the intent given the economic reality back then, and in many families, even today.

But, the difference in values cannot help but raise two questions for me. A previously-married woman, in the eyes of Judaism, needs less money because she is more established in her trade, in the community, and in her wealth; she might even have children upon whom to rely. I can get her receiving less money than a first-time bride.

But between the convert getting married for the first time, and the born-Jew getting married for the first time… I can’t see any possible reason for the differing amounts. What reason that does not shame, humiliate, or treat her differently, could there possibly be to justify this difference?
Is it because converts don’t need as much support in the case of divorce? The community is more willing to help her? Her birth family is more willing to help her than the parents of born-Jewish brides? Doubtful, especially to the second point given the wide range of historic times this text has been used and the ramifications of converting to any faith.

Is it because we can’t be sure she’s really never been married before? Is it because we can’t be sure she’s really a virgin? We can’t trust her to be honest about her history and past (the same reason we prohibit her from marrying a Cohen?)?

This is the reason I could not use the Conservative text.

The Boy and I also disliked the use of the Lieberman Clause. This document basically states he promises to take on all of these responsibilities – and then says, but in case he’s a jerkface who runs away and isn’t an honorable fellow who will do the right thing as required by Jewish law – and then we’re going to take out an insurance policy in case he’s a bad person.

He didn’t like what it said about his character, and I could understand where he was coming from.

So…what was left at this point? Reform.

This is the reason I spent weeks pouring through “Reform” ketubot. I liked a lot of the stated sentiments, but still felt supremely DISSATISFIED. There are no “vows” in our ceremony, so we don’t break them in case of divorce. We have a contract, which we can break. And as great as these “Reform” ketubot were in espousing ideals that we’d like to uphold in our home and marriage, they fundamentally removed the structure and purpose of a ketubah for me. It *IS* a legal document. It’s about the bank accounts and the grocery bills and in the inherited home from Aunt Miriam and how to split the car you’re buying when you end up divorced. That’s the purpose of a ketubah.

So Reform didn’t work for us either.

We were stuck.

Enter said magnificent rabbi that sponsored my conversion and is our m’sader kiddushin and who originally said “just increase the amount because our tradition’s always allowed that” said two magical words: Aryeh Cohen. Aryeh Cohen teaches at AJU and as soon as I read his ketubah wording, I knew we had found the solution to our problems.

I cannot WAIT to get our ketubah. I cannot wait to hang it on our walls.

But most of all, I feel really, really blessed that one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make so far in the five months of wedding planning is how to live an authentic (to us), meaningful Jewish life. I don’t want our hardest decision to be what dress to get or what napkin fold to use.

I recognize that my Orthodox brethren would probably just good-naturedly shake their heads, tsking “Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound…just what are we going to do with you, you crazy gal?” because we’d both know this isn’t a ketubah in their eyes.

And I realize that my Reform brethren would probably just good-naturedly shake their heads, tsking “Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound, Mikvah Bound…just what are we going to do with you, you crazy gal?” because we’d both know this wording would lack the “soul” or “spirit” that is so important to their ketubot.

But when I look at the language that has been used for ever, and then look at this modern translation that acknowledges the reality of our time, I know this is the perfect balance for us. This is conserving our tradition, struggling to find that narrow path that is right for you. It’s perfect.

Oh. P.S. I start a Biblical Hebrew ulpan on Monday and I’m so beyond excited!

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I’m a big kid now (dun dun)

The Boy and I have moved into an apartment. That alone makes me feel like a big kid.

But, in addition to that, in the last week, we had a Shabbat dinner at home with candles and wine. Nevermind the fact that I forgot to buy a way to LIGHT the candles at the store. I guess that’s the benefit of living in an apartment–plenty of neighbors to (frantically) ask to borrow matches from as we approached lighting time. We hung two mezuzot, as well. I might need one more. Polling the audience: if your home had a walk in closet, with doors on either end, between the master bedroom and the restroom, would you hang one on the door between the bedroom and the closet? I’m thinking yes? It’s almost like I should ask a rabbi or something.

But, what makes me feel REALLY, FINALLY like a true Jewish gal is that there are challot in the oven. Yes, you read that right, Mikvah Bound managed to commune with microscopic organisms called yeast in such a way that instead of flour soup being produced, dough was formed. Dough that is being baked in the oven. As we speak.

It’s early, but Shabbat Shalom y’all.

Training Wheels Off

I have this thing about selling back books. Some (admittedly ridiculous) part of me feels like selling them somehow removes the deposited knowledge from my brain. And yet, as an avid reader, I always forced myself to go through a biannual purge of my bookshelf. I don’t want to think about the results if I didn’t. The TV show Hoarders comes to mind.

As you might imagine, over the course of ten years, I have managed to acquire quite a few books about Judaism. I’d estimate around 100. Many of them were various authors’ attempts at a Judaism 101 text, and thus redundant after the second or third purchase. But there were also texts on Jewish prayers. Jewish history. Jewish philosophy. And even after my tenth Judaism 101 purchase, I was always amazed to see how this author’s presentation of the Jewish calendar, or this one’s explanation of a ritual object just made so much more sense.

These were always too precious for me to consider as candidates for the purge. They represented some sense of Jewish authenticity and Jewish identity for me, I suppose. I may not know an answer to a question, but chances are I could locate one shortly! I’m dedicated, can’t you see? I’m taking this process seriously! I love books!

I’m moving soon. In an effort to make that task as easy as possible, I’ve set myself tasks for each weekend. Today’s was one of many looming purges. When I looked at my bookcase though, I knew I felt differently about my Jewish library today.

I knew it was time to take off my training wheels. I’ve been coasting confidently for a year now. I am a Jew. I don’t need to prove that to anyone, but especially not to myself. I’ve marked Jewish time and kept Jewish space. It was a bittersweet realization and recognition of how far I’ve come.

I’ve culled my library. What remains are reference books, siddurim, and a few favorites I couldn’t bear to part with. The rest were toted off to Half-Priced books. And I didn’t even hesitate when dropping them off.

Today I learned that a decade of Jewish education is worth $42.

A Jewish Home

This weekend, The Boy and I went to his hometown. We’re staying with his parents for a few days and he’s showing me around places important to him and meeting his friends.

We got in late last night, around 11 by the time we pulled into the driveway. There’s a mezuzah on the door to the garage. And one on the laundry room. And one on the bedroom. There’s Hebrew spoken by his parents and brother. There are Jewish paintings and artwork. There are Jewish and Israeli magnets on the fridge. The dining room curio cabinet has a seder plate and candlesticks. Kippot spread across the dining room table. The family room’s bookcase and cd organizer is peppered with English and Hebrew alphabets.

It’s just enough to know this is a home of a Jewish family that takes their Judaism seriously. Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to create the same home environment…without my convert’s enthusiasm putting me in the awkwardly loud’n’proud rah rah group or the analysis paralysis preventing there from being any at all.

Shabbat shalom y’all.

Please help me send one of my Birthright trip mates back to Israel.

I’m asking all of you for a big favor right now. There is a guy on my Birthright trip, let’s call him Moshe, that grew up a half-black/half-Ashkenazi Jew in LA. We’re talking teffillin-laying, Shabbes-keeping, kosher-eating Jew who has had his Judaism questioned every single day that he walked into a synagogue because of the color of his skin. He and his brother have a difficult relationship with Judaism as a result: how can they feel so drawn to HaShem and yet so rejected by their people, G-d’s people?

They apply to Birthright. Moshe gets to go. His brother does not.

Mikvah Bound meets Moshe on their Birthright trip. Though they come from wildly different social circles, being the only two “non-Ashkenazi” on the trip, there is a mutual understanding that cannot be denied. Jews of Color do not experience the same things that converts do, but let’s face it, we’re both outside of the norm of “typical Ashkenazi American Jew”.

Let’s say that during this 10 day trip, Moshe took more than 5,000 pictures and more than 15 hours of video footage. That he then assembled, thanks to his Hollywood industry skills, into a 90 second clip that is entered into a contest promoting our Birthright trip organizer, Israel Free Spirit. This contest has a cash prize that could send Moshe and his brother, let’s say Aaron, back to Israel, together, to study and to rock the Jews that they are.

So, once again, I pester my readers. PLEASE go here. Please vote once a day, on multiple devices if possible, for the next 10 days. Please send them back to the Holy Land. Please acknowledge that this video looks amazingly professional and manages to capture the beauty of Israel and the deep connection between Israelis and Americans.

Todah.

EDIT TO ADD: I am clearly brain dead. He is number 9. Thanks for bringing this to my attention kind reader!

Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes.

So you know that phrase that says Moshiach will come when all Jews keep Shabbat twice (or, according to some traditions, thrice) in a row?

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I’m the one keeping Moschiach from coming.

I am not shomer Shabbat. I never have been, and I don’t think I ever will be. I haven’t been shomer Shabbat in the past because I grew up as a non-Jew doing non-Shabbat-y things on Shabbat. I’m pretty sure Saturday morning cartoons are quintessentially American like apple pie and Twinkies.

I’m not shomer Shabbat because I do not currently live in my own place. I can’t very well ask my parents to please forget that very important game on Saturday.

I will probably not be shomer Shabbat in the future because The Boy will, G-d willing, be the co-occupant of my future abode and he’s more of a wine, candles…and movie kind of Shabbat guy.

It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I’m lazy. I admit it. I don’t live in a Jewish area (anyone wonder why Orthodoxy’s going strong? This, more than any other thing, is it, IMNSHO.). I don’t have a Jewish group of people around me 24/7. No one close by for Shabbat or Yom Tov. Getting to shul is an ordeal. Reminding everyone to please not touch the light switches (scotch tape is your friend?) and even if you think this is stupid, it’s not to me, so please, for the love of all that is Holy, just do me this favor for 25 hours.

So.

Here I was. Browsing the list of Birthright Trip Organizers back in September.

Israel Free Spirit: “Shabbat in Jerusalem.”

Wowza. I wonder what it’s like to hear the Shabbat siren.

It may or may not have been the primary decision-factor.

Fast forward a few months and I’m actually IN Eretz Israel. While everyone else was clapping when the plane landed, I was busy saying my Shecheyanu. Not every day that you get to *BE* in Israel.

We are up in the Golan Heights for a few days (which I will talk about later). Then we drove to Tel Aviv. I met The Boy’s Tel Aviv-ian cousin in a bar for a few hours. I slept for four hours. I get on the bus. I am taken to Israel’s Hall of Independence. I am blown away.

I am shuffled to the bus again. Matisyahu’s Jerusalem comes on the speakers.

We are ascending to Jerusalem. It takes 45 minutes. I ask the Rabbi when Shabbat starts. It is already 10:45 after all. “Oh, 40 minutes before. Jerusalem has this special custom.” (The things you learn! I thought it was 18 minutes everywhere!) That’s great rabbi. I’m wondering what the 40 minutes means for TODAY. “Oh. Well it is… what that clock says.”

There is a clock as you enter the city limits. It says the time Shabbat starts and ends. This is mind blowing.

We are dropped off at Marzipan Bakery in the Shuk. I am immediately hungry at the sight of delicious challah. You can get it from the size of your fist to the size of your leg. No joke.

They have the world’s best rugelach. No, trust me on this. You may make great ones that are gone fifteen minutes after coming out of the oven. Your Bubbe may have won countless awards and be in some cookbooks. But these are the world’s best. I didn’t believe the hype. I was a skeptic. I was proven wrong. The chocolate and cinnamon come out on sheets as big as a kitchen table lined with parchment paper and just enough oil to prevent sticking. They are good even days later, but of course are best eaten right out of the steaming bag.

I then prowl the Shuk for two hours. Turkish baklava. Kosher butchers galore. Freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice. Judaica stands so I can find my 10 shekalim “Secret Santa” gift. (Yes, my Aish/OU sponsored Birthright trip did in fact include a Secret Santa gift that definitely made me give them the raised eyebrow.) I bought a really nice “poh” dreidle for myself, and a 10 shekalim one for my Secret Santa partner. And more importantly, the pulsating urgency of Shabbat. It was everywhere in this crowded place.

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Then on the bus to our hotel in Bayit Vagan. Two hours to don religious attire. Apparently some of the female participants needed clarification on what an appropriate skirt was. The kippah-less men are presented with presents.

We are transported to Jaffa Gate. We walk briefly through the Armenian Quarter before hurrying through the Jewish quarter to the Aish HaTorah center. The location is… enough to take your breath away. There’s no other way of describing the multi-tiered building perched on the courtyard overlooking the Kotel.

We listen to a pre-Shabbat concert from a rabbi that studied at UCSB. His personality leads me to believe he would still fit in well with the student body of his alma mater. He also had the audience’s—all Aish/OU Birthright groups, plus a few of Aish’s own programs—men singing “Shabbat shalom, Shabbat, shabbat,” in a deep bass-y voice while the women sang, “Shabbes, Shabbes, Shabbes” in a more alto/soprano. It was annoyingly catchy and stuck with us as a motto for the remaining five days of the trip.

They took the men up to the roof top while our group “mom” brought the women to light candles. We were running short on time, so we quickly laid out 22 sets of candles. She tried to set the kavana for the blessing by describing why this is our mitzvah, what it represents spiritually and symbolically. I strike my match and the tears flow. I am not even one year’s old Jewishly speaking. I am here in Jerusalem, watching the plaza fill with soldiers and Chassids and Dati and Chiloni, in Israel, because someone thought I was worthy enough to stand at the wall that we have prayed toward and for. For hundreds and hundreds of years. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more Jewish, more connected. It was spiritually overwhelming to consider the gravity of hundreds of Jews celebrating Shabbat at the wall.

We light and walk to the wall, pushing gently forward. I appreciate that I tower over most women when I deliver the prayers I carried for my mom, my best friend, my best friend’s mom, and myself. I work them into the nooks.
I back away, to the flag pole, and just watch. The energy. The people. I let it sink in.

We walk to our dinner, uphill, in the cold, for an hour. Challah never tasted so good. Our rabbi asks each of us to offer a blessing for the group. I am the last.

“I’ve seen the group dynamic shift three times already on this trip: at the kibbutz, in Sfat, and tonight. One of my favorite Spanish sayings is ‘Y tiene uno que pegarse fuego a si mismo para poder alumbrar a los demas.’ It means one has to set one’s self on fire first, in order to be able to give light to, to illuminate, others. My wish for you all is that this trip sets your soul on fire.”

We walk uphill for two hours to our hotel. People no longer see the joy in Shabbat. I am upset that for the 20 totally secular kids on my trip, those with no religious connection to Judaism, that this is part of their Shabbat. It was miserably cold and we were already exhausted from lack of sleep. I didn’t want this to be 30% of their Shabbat experience. It wasn’t fair to Shabbat that the OU Welcome Center and the Old City are so far from the neighborhood where our rabbi’s parents lived.

But we survive.

And we sleep.

And we eat.

And we listen to our “group dad” speak about his career, which serves as an allegory for life.

And we listen to the secular Israelis complain about the biased view of Israel being presented to us.

And we sleep.

And we do havdalah with bay leaves and Krembos.

And I think I see Moschiach off in the distance, inching closer and closer.

Srugim

My mom doesn’t always understand why I’m so excited to see Jews in the media. I think any member of a minority group can relate: we’re very rarely in the media, and when we are, it’s not always as a fully-fleshed out, nuanced character. We’re always some plot device or trite archtype.

So when I see us portrayed as PEOPLE, normal human beings with lives and problems and flaws and amazing moments of happiness…who just happen to be Jewish, Jewish people… I get excited. It’s amazing when we’re not the “self-hating” Jew, or the “funny, intellectual” secular liberal Jew, or the “backwards” Orthodox Jew….

And, shock and horror, I’ve found that many of the films and movies I’ve encountered that have “normal” Jewish characters have come out of Israel. Srugim is one of them. I’m talking non-stop about it and encouraging all people to watch.
Srugim started in Israel in 2008, so I am arriving late to this party. There’s a good chance you already went to the party and returned home, kicking your heels off and loosening your tie. But. If you have not been invited, here it is. You are invited to run, not walk, to your closest copy of Srugim, a tv show about five single Dati Jerusalemites approach their 30th birthday. They live in Katamon, aka the Swamp, a neighborhood/district/barrio for single Datim.

I may or may not have finished the first season in three nights. And I’m currently chugging my way through the second at another equally alarming speed: when will the dishes get done tonight? Do I make my bed or watch another scene in the morning? Do I pray in English so I can finish another episode tonight or do I stumble along in Hebrew knowing it will take three to four times as long? Decisions, decisions.

So what do I like about it?

A) The drama. I can’t stand to be around people in my own life that remind me of Grey’s Anatomy characters. But, I recognize that drama is a compelling genre for its ability to capture the tension in life that we run into. We do have to make tough choices, wade through hard situations, and encounter other beings. Srugim is a TV show, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a level of drama, and situational drama, that I find bearable.

B)Orthodoxy. I’m a Conservative Jew. A happy Conservative Jew. I have my beefs with Orthodoxy, but I honestly cringe every time I see Orthodox Jews portrayed in the media. They’re not wife-beaters stuck in the Middle Ages. They’re not brainwashed and incapable of critical thought. They’re not totally unrelatable alien lifeforms with quaint folk customs for us to gawk at. Of all the media I’ve seen, this most accurately reflects the Jews I know who are Orthodox. It may not be 100% accurate, but it comes the closest that I’ve seen. I’d be interested in hearing what Orthodox Jews think of the OJs in this series.

C)Hebrew practice. I’ve already learned new words and phrases from listening. My accent and rhythym are horrible, but I figure they always will be.

D) Israel. Oh boy. I am so conflicted on Israel (can’t wait to see what I feel like then I get back in a few weeks!) and am currently feeling very much an American Jew. Who is happy to live outside of Israel, in the Diaspora that I refuse to call Exile. And yet watching this series provokes a longing in me. How much LESS of a personal struggle would kashrut be there? What would it feel like to not have to negotiate work schedules around Yom Tov? To have people approach you (assuming you’re a man) in the street asking you to make minyan for them? It’s kinda… mind blowing.

So yes. Please watch. And let’s discuss!

P.S. In case you live under a rock, Matisyahu shaved his beard. I’m clutching my pearls and scratching my head. I joke.

Floored.

I just got back from an off-site meeting with some of our contractors. When I was headed out, one of the guys I worked with at many community events introduced me to a new employee of theirs with: “this is the one I was telling you about, the one who converted in May. She works on events and social media monitoring with us.”

“Yeah. Well see, I don’t really believe in conversion, nothing personal. You’re born Jewish or you’re not. I mean, if you died today, who would sit shiva for you?”

Floored. As I said.

And then, overwhelmed, with the realization that she’s right.

I think that’s what sucks the most right now.

Temporary Jewish Record Store

I read an article in the Chronicle yesterday about a temporary record store that will set up shop in the Mission District for the month of December.  The man behind this project rented an art gallery and is turning it into a mid-century American living room to highlight Tikva Records.  I was not around when Tikva Records existed, but the article summarizes it as:

“…the flagship independent Jewish record label of 20th century America. Founded in 1947, Tikva’s catalog was wide-ranging; everything from Israeli folk songs to Jewish-American swing, from klezmer pop to cantorial singing, from Catskills comedy to key political speeches of Jewish leaders- and it became something of a “Jewish Motown”, home to the Jewish music world’s biggest names.”

which sounds pretty cool to me (not that I fully embrace the titles of history buff and nerd/geek or anything).  From the website, it sounds like this man tracked down the original recordings and artists over the last decade, raising the funds to restore them and recording some of their stories.  Talk about a labor of love. 

They have a website where you can listen to some of the remastered tracks, purchase albums, and find out what events are going on in the store.  I already ordered two albums, one of the label’s “best of” from over the decades and one of a Jewish-Latin combo (could that BE any more perfect for me? Creo que no!)

So, if you’re in the area, looking for something to do on a weekend, love mid-Century decor, or are simply interested in cultural interaction and Jewish American history, I suggest you check it out!