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Tuesday, March 28, 2006


What does the Charedi world have against women?

My previous post about matzah--with the chumros baked right in--got me thinking. The matzah bakery I visit every year (which will have to remain nameless, for reasons that will soon become clear) had, until recently, a squad of some 20 women rolling the dough into matzah-shaped circles. Or circle-shaped matzah. But I digress.

About two years ago, I started seeing signs touting the higher level of holiness and purity and mitzvah-readiness of "Menner Matzah" - matzah that was made wholly and exclusively by men. Because, really, who wants yucky girls touching their matzah?

Now, what's the advantage of menner matzah? The men are touted as avrechim and yirei shamayim, naturally, but I've seen those terms misappropriated before. Is there a halachic problem of women making matzah? I don't think there is. They're not attempting to be motzi us - fulfill an obligation on our behalf - by making the matzah. So what's the deal?

I have the same problem with tzitzis that are touted as being 'tviyas gavra' - 'spun by men.' I assume this means the threads were spun by men, as opposed to women. (It could mean spun by hand, as opposed to machine, but I don't think it does.) Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon Hakohen had no problem wearing uniforms that were made with thread spun by women. We just read it three days ago! G0d Himself had no problem dwelling in a mishkan covered with tapestries spun by - you guessed it - women.

So what's the freakin' problem?!

Back to the matzah. This year, the rolling table staff was markedly different. There were still four or five women, but the rest of the group was male-oriented. And they were divided into 'starters' and 'finishers.' The starters (all the women were starters) take the initial glob of dough and roll it into a rough circle. The finishers roll it the rest of the way, on metal tables, with metal rolling pins. This makes the matzah exceedingly thin. And the finishers were all men.
Is this the wave of the future? Will there be no more world-weary but cheerful women rolling the dough, calling out "Matzah!" when their matzos are ready, reading Tehillim on their breaks?
And really, are the men so much holier and more special? The ragged tee-shirt-wearing Israeli teenagers who hang out in the alley, smoking cigarettes and cursing at one another in Arabic? These are the avrechim and yirei shamayim who are going to super-charge my matzah with extra mitzvah power?

Or is it just the guy at the oven, and the guy who pours the water, who have to be really frum? Because they have payos, so they must be at least three levels higher than the rest of us, right?
And by the way, we found out what Rashi matzos are. Rashi stands for Rechayim Shel Yad - which means that the flour was hand-ground. More than justifies the double price, right?

I would like someone to explain to me - via e-mail or the comments or on another blog - what's wrong with a woman rolling the dough for my matzah?

Monday, March 20, 2006



This is the headline of a three-page, full-color ad in Monsey's Community Connections publication. I will, bli neder, cut out and scan the offending ad so you can all see that I am NOT MAKING THIS UP.

It's an ad for Matzah, naturally. Hand Shmura that's only $10.99 a pound (which is billig vi borscht) but made with the highest standards and most exacting specifications.

Throughout the magazine, you'll find references to the different grades and pedigrees of different unleavened products: There's Montreal Matzah, Monsey Matzah, Monroe Matzah, Yerushalmi Matzah, super-thin Yerushalmi Matzah, Karestierer Matzah, Pupa-Tzelem Matzah, and each of these comes in Rashi, Pashut (plain), and whole wheat (in Hebrew, Holvit) varieties.

First of all, what's Rashi Matzah?!

Second of all, what about the popular Boro Park bakeries of Chareidim and Shatzer? Are they not strickt enough?

Third of all, and I'm speaking as a fairly particular conoisseur of Matzah, we're talking about flour and water, here. How huge a difference can there be? I happen to prefer Chareidim, but at the end of the day, what makes one brand more or less expensive than another?

And by the way, if you want "Erev Pesach Matzos," it'll cost you $10 per Matzah. And according to my father, that's a good price!

Let's talk about this craziness, as the countdown to our freedom marches on...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Megillah Time

So fine, I'm jumping on the bandwagon and adding a post to the already burgeoning canon of Megillah-related blogiogrypha. Deal.

I have one up on RenReb and DovBear, in that I actually do lein the Megillah - both in shul and in 'home-based' readings. And you know what was running through my mind? Well, in shul at the night reading, I was thinking, "Why did I have to start Perek vav (sixth chapter) in this key? I'm never going to be able to handle the high notes in the last column. I've been fasting all day, for Haman's sake..."

But I carried it off well enough, and everyone congratulated me for shaving several minutes off last year's official reading time.

But I also had the opportunity to read for a homebound, unwell individual. And that's where I felt more like one of the royal messengers - runners who dashed all over the Persian empire, delivering scrolls with the latest news of horror and hope, to steal a phrase from Dan Brown. (Now that's ironic.)

I mean, in shul, you're reading at the bima. So it's not so different from reading the Torah. It's a communal ritual. Fine. But when you go to someone's house, and you're standing in their dining room or living room, and you pop the top off a courier's tube and unroll a parchment scroll, you feel like clearing your throat and saying, "Hear ye, hear ye!" And for a moment, I really was one of the King's messengers, delivering the news of the day to individual subjects.

The next day, I leined in shul again and then read for another small group later in the afternoon. My voice was finally starting to go. I cracked just once - at the apex of the 'azla geresh' on the word מחשבת המן בן המדתא... Megillah readers will know what I'm talking about.

The seuda with my family was a blast. Shalach monos deliveries brought in 10+ lbs. of candy and chips - NOT counting wines, grape juices, drinks, and baked goods. We're going to have a lot of work ahead of us. Pesach is looming.

Happy Shushan Purim and beyond, boys and girls!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


The gift of life

Thanks to my father, shlit''a, I have very strong feelings about donating blood. He has been donating regularly for decades, and he's on call with Bikur Cholim in case they need type-specific units. Way back in 1979, when I was just a tyke of 5, the Steinhart family spent the whole summer in Israel. We toured Hadassah Hospital and my mother, shlit''a, got in trouble for attempting to photograph the Chagall windows. Then my father decided to donate blood, and he took me along to watch.

This was, in fact, a very smart move. He explained what was going on, and how the blood was drawn, and I was able to watch the whole process without feeling queasy or freaked out. Even the phlebotomist, or technician, or whatever you want to call her, got in on the act, answering my questions with relative patience - at least for an Israeli.

By taking me along and letting me observe, my father was teaching by example, and the lesson has stayed with me ad hayom.

(There are other incidences, throughout my life, of my father teaching by example. I will blog more about them in the future.)

So - since I was old enough to donate, I've participated in blood drives. I've donated in NYU, at corporate drives through the New York Blood Center, at community drives in my neighborhood, and so on. When I was in the Holy Land this past summer, I donated at the Magen David Adom blood bank. And yesterday, I donated at an American Red Cross drive at my office.

Not the best experience, I have to say.

The Red Cross workers were apathetic at best, surly and downright rude at worst. I'm used to phlebotomists and other blood drive staff being overly solicitous and thankful, but maybe I'm spoiled. I've kibitzed with blood drive folks, swapped stories, made jokes about racing other donors to fill my unit bag, and so on. Yesterday, though, things were remarkably subdued and tense.

The technician who surveyed me ahead of the donation seemed a thousand miles away, intoning the questions by rote and avoiding eye contact. When I asked for clarification on some questions, she ignored me.

The phlebotomist who took my blood seemed angry. I asked her to draw from my right arm; she chose my left. She taped the needle in place and then removed the tape sharply and painfully. She criticized the way I was squeezing and releasing the little handgrip. Halfway through, I asked how the fill-up was progressing. I pride myself on having good veins and bleeding relatively quickly. She glanced down and said. "It's fine." But her tone implied, "Why are you bothering me? Can't you just shut your mouth and lie there?"

When I was done, she delivered the post-donation instructions quickly. "No lifting for the rest of the day." I asked her to clarify -- I have little kids and I wanted to know how long "the rest of the day" was. Till 5? Till 9? Till tomorrow? Be specific! So I said, "How long is the rest of the day?"

"The rest of the day," she repeated.

"Can you give me an idea of what time that is?"

"THE REST OF THE DAY," she repeated again, and if looks could kill, I'd have been down a lot more than a pint.

I'm not dumb. I'm not trying to be annoying. NYBC's instructions and procedures are slightly different from those of the Red Cross, so I wanted to get everything clear. But she had no interest in spending any more time on me than was absolutely necessary.

In the end, I was not impressed with the professionalism or bedside manner displayed by these particular Red Cross workers. I don't plan on donating with them again.

Anyone else have inspiring or frightening blood donation stories?

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