There are a lot of ways in which I make social situations awkward.
One of them is that I’m awkward, but that’s not the one I’m talking about. I’m talking about the other ones. I’m talking about the ones you should get over. You should get over feeling awkward around me because I’m a really interesting person. and you should make me feel popular.
It’s in true “Hey! That’s My Hummus” style to point out that most people don’t take the time to ask questions about social difference, and instead opt to avoid the problem like that one ex who still lives in the same part of town as you.
(Funny how they always get a text message right before they pass you on the street, isn’t it?)
(Anyways, this is sad. Stop it.)
I would like to take this year’s Hummus Hiatus to talk to you about myself about one of the things that people don’t ever want to ask me about, that people actually should ask me about. I’d like to answer your questions and thereby systematically eliminate any excuses that make me feel unpopular. Awkward Thing About Me: I am a vegetarian.
There. I said it.
I know what you think that means.
I’m obviously a PETA-card-carrier, I throw paint at fur clothes, and will make you cry if you ever speak about meat around me, right? I would like to point out that, like the most visible of any group, these people are not representative of “our kind;” these are the Taliban and the Westboro Baptist Church of vegetarianism. Read the rest of this entry »
Eid Mubarak! Muslims have been marking the end of Ramadan over the past few days worldwide with Eid-al-Fitr, perhaps the biggest holiday within the calendar. It also is the beginning of the month of Shawwal. Because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycles, it’s an observance which actually begins at sundown. Similar to Jewish holidays — which also follow a lunar calendar.
Faiqa has a wonderful post about Eid-al-Fitr at her blog. She also discusses the ongoing issues with determining exactly when the calendar date should fall in different parts of the world.
(cc) Ethan Ableman via Flickr
But as we’ve discussed on the show, it’s quite interesting to see what Judaism and Islam have in common where it comes to our way of keeping time. Although we both have calendars based on the moon with twelve months apiece, the Jewish calendar throws in leap years to keep the lunar years consistent with the solar calendar. That’s why Passover and Hannukah fall around the same times every year, while Ramadan and Eid-al-Fitr are several weeks earlier year after year. (The Jewish calendar has a 19 year cycle in which seven of those years include a whole extra month… but your head will likely explode if I explain all of this right now.)
The point of this is that Judaism is beginning a new month as well — the month of Elul. It’s the last month of the Jewish calendar, and it has a bit of significance. First of all, the name is an acronym for the Hebrew Ani l’dodi v’dodi li — which means “I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me.” Sweet, no? Also, it that it is the last month of the Jewish year, it’s a preparation month for the more solemn New Year (Rosh Hashanah) which comes in one month. And to get people into that state of mind, the shofar is sounded every day (aside from the Sabbath).
Okay. The real point of this is that Faiqa and Shiny are very busy right now. Celebrating. Observing. So we don’t have a new podcast for you this week. However, we do have some gifts — as per the tradition of Eid.
First: a girl with some amazing lungs blowing the shofar:
Second: An awesome Eid celebration / dance number coming from… Canada?
And third: Faiqa and Shiny have put together a reel of previously unreleased bonus footage from Hey! That’s My Hummus! Some are extended topics we discussed off-air; some are snippets of us from behind the scenes, and some are just… well, embarrassing outtakes which ended up getting cut. Enjoy! (Note: These twelve minutes are available on the website only and are not on iTunes.)
30 Rock continues to be one of my favorite shows presently on television. It brings together so many different brands of comedy and fuses them all together in an homage to anything and everything. In one episode there was a throwaway joke (seventeen seconds) where Tracy Jordan (played by Tracy Morgan) finds his Grammy award for the novelty song he had made which sounds identical to The Monster Mash. They cut away to the video for Werewolf Bar Mitzvah. That, in itself, was funny enough.
But then they decided to produce the entire song for the 30 Rock soundtrack! The following is from NBC’s site; a video was not made, but they cut together stills of the clip and played the music over it. I like how the Jewish humor is there — but it simply doesn’t mix with what we think of Tracy. Have a listen…
If you have an iPhone or another device that doesn’t play Flash, you can try a fan-made link here.
Things have been a bit crazy on this side of the aisle of Hey! That’s My Hummus! And the craziness has been completely hummus-free.
That’s because the observance of Passover — a holiday which continues for seven or eight days (depending on your custom and location) — began on Monday evening. And there are some restrictions on what one can eat. The main rule has to do with the prohibition on eating bread due to the time restrictions the Israelites had when they were escaping from slavery in Egypt. No time for the dough to rise = no bread = matzah.
<sarcasm> Yum. </sarcasm>
But it goes further from there. It also means that one can’t eat food which has yeast in it. Or anything which rises. And that spirals out to certain types of grains. And for Jews originating from Eastern Europe? The traditions also exclude one from eating corn, rice and legumes. Since hummus is made from chickpeas, which are legumes — no hummus for many of us on Passover.
But what exactly is Passover all about? There are so many ways to tell the story. That is, in fact, the purpose of the Passover seder.
There have been many misconceptions about the true story of Passover; people often get confused about what actually is in the story and what isn’t. For that reason, I present you with this song which gives you the short version of this and every other Jewish holiday — They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat.
With the Jewish holiday of Passover just around the corner, I’m reminded that Judaism is the “Weird Al” Yankovic of world religions. Check YouTube and Facebook and you’ll find an overabundance of parody songs relating to every Jewish holiday and every Jewish custom. There are at least three parodies of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” which mention the word “Kosher.” I chose this one by a capella group Six13 called “Kosher Plate” because it’s the best of the bunch. Also? Shortest. It makes the joke and then moves on to other Jewish topics.
We spent a sizable portion of this past week’s show talking about kosher ritual slaughter — which has its parallels to the Muslim counterpart called halal. Interestingly enough, the words kosher and halal mean just about the same thing: fit for use. Permissible. And they don’t necessarily just pertain to what food is okay to eat; other aspects of ritual life can be stamped with approval by each of these words.
The laws pertaining to kosher food are quite complex. First of all, one needs to determine if the type of animal is permissible for consumption. If it’s a mammal, the rule is that it needs to chew its cud and have split hooves. Fish must have fins and scales. Birds must not be predatory. And all insects are out of the question. Except for certain types of locusts, but that’s pretty implausible because — ew! A whole bunch of these rules can be found in Leviticus 11 as well as many of the commentaries which follow it.
But wait — there’s more! When we’re talking about mammals and fowl, each must be trapped and slaughtered in a specific way — where the jugular, carotid and esophagus are slashed in one motion. After that, a careful inspection must take place to ensure that there were no imperfections in the animal which would have potentially allowed it to die in a year’s time. As much blood as possible must be removed. There are certain parts which one can and can’t eat. (There are no specific rules regarding the killing of fish and locusts, although I would assume it’s not too easy to kill a locust humanely.)
And with that? There are also separations between eating dairy products and meat products — which means that although one could have a completely kosher hamburger, you can’t add cheese to it. The separation extends even further to having separate dishes and utensils for meat products and dairy products. It’s also tradition for many to wait a period of time after eating meat before s/he partakes of dairy. There are volumes of these rules which ask what would appear to most to be anal-retentive questions. (“What ratio of accidental meat could fall into a vat of dairy without deeming the dairy to be unkosher?” “1:60”)
Because there are so many laws and statutes to think of, it’s a whole lot easier to let someone do the checking for you. That’s why you’ll see those kosher symbols on packages of food certifying that everything is kosher according to a specific authority. A “U” with a circle around it is, to many, the gold standard: it signifies that a representative of the Orthodox Union has supervised the food throughout the entire manufacturing process and has deemed it kosher. It does not, as many mistakenly believe, mean that a rabbi has blessed the food. Nor is it a symbol of a sort of “kosher tax” levied on food items to increase prices. (The cost of kosher supervision on, say, a package of Oreos would only come to a fraction of a cent per unit.)
There are different symbols you might see — as the Orthodox Union does not have a monopoly on everything. Certain varieties of Tostitos corn chips have a K with a triangle around it. It’s still just as kosher to the overwhelming majority of people who care; there are a select few who might stand by one authority and not another for whatever reason.
There’s a new kosher symbol which is beginning to emerge which has taken a new direction. Entitled Magen Tzedek, it certifies not a specific level of observance and a watchful eye over the ingredients and preparation of the food to consider it kosher, but instead focuses on the ethical issues which have recently gained attention where it comes to food preparation. To quote the website, the Magen Tzedek seal of approval “will help assure consumers that kosher food products were produced in keeping with the highest possible Jewish ethical values and ideals for social justice in the area of labor concerns, animal welfare, environmental impact, consumer issues and corporate integrity.” It’s an additional symbol which may advise that those preparing the food are being treated fairly.
Rabbi Morris Allen, an architect of Magen Tzedek, mentions this as part of his mission. As quoted in a New York Times article: “As concerned as we are about how an animal gets killed, we need to be equally concerned about how a worker lives . . . We need to be certain that the food we are obligated to eat is produced in a way that demonstrates concern with those who produce it.”
I suppose that intersects well with a common tenet of many religions — ensuring that one treats his/her fellow human beings with respect. It should be interesting to see if this takes off. It will be nice to see if those who have traditionally kept kosher embrace the values of treating one’s fellow man as well as the animal who would become part of their next meal.
If anything, I hope they get treated at least as well as the locusts.
** Have you listened to Episode 4: Conflicted, Slaughtering and Prince William’s Wedding, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
Grounded and crushed to a fine powder and then mixed with water, Mendhi, or henna, is an elaborate part of an Indian or Pakistani wedding. The bride’s henna is often a focal point in a marriage. There are various interpretations as to why henna is used in a wedding: luck, beauty, or good wishes.
Most of all, I think it’s just that it looks pretty.
One of the interesting assumptions on the part of a resource we mentioned in our last episode was that Mendhi is an “Islamic ritual.” Not true. Mendhi, or henna as it’s called in English and Arabic, is used throughout the world by various people as a form of decorative body art. In fact, some resources suggest that its use was first documented back in the Bronze Age. A famous henna ritual, for example, takes place among Yemenite Jews, in which the application of henna to a bride’s body takes several days.
It’s important, as I have mentioned in previous episodes, to remember that Islam, as it stands alone, is a spiritual way and a philosophy based upon strict monotheism, social justice and submission to the will of God. Its prolific dispersion throughout the various parts of world, however, creates situations where indigenous cultures have stamped their unique marks upon the practice of the faith itself.
This is not a bad thing, in my opinion, but a testament to the simplicity of the faith. It furthermore creates an opportunity for all Muslims to experience the richness of the global experience as they build communities in places such as the United States. By virtue of being Muslim, I have been able to attend weddings of the Syrian, Kuwaiti, Saudi, Moroccan, Albanian and Bangladeshi variety to name a few. Each of these weddings had a distinctiveness as well as basic similarities.
To further elaborate, I once read that Bosnian Muslims only get married on Saturdays. Does that mean that being married on a Saturday is Islamic practice? Not at all. And, of course, a traditional Pakistani Muslim wedding occurs over the course of four to five days (at least), but that doesn’t mean a Muslim wedding is five days long.
These examples simply illustrate that there are all kinds of different ways that Muslims get married as well as live and even practice their religion. At the heart of our marriage is the Nikah, or contract, most of the other practice is cultural and traditional choice.
Muslim, as I have said many times, is not a nationality or even a culture… it is a religion. And, like all religions, Islam has proven malleable and it possesses the wonderful ability to be inserted into existing traditions and practices. Finally, I suspect that the inability to make this distinction lies at the heart of most Islamaphobic rhetoric, therefore it’s pretty critical to make this leap in understanding.
I’m curious, how much of your wedding was religious and how much of it was cultural? Does your faith have the same dynamic as mine or is every practice grounded in revelation?
** Have you listened to Episode 3, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
I mentioned some troubling things about Jewish law in our last episode. We were talking about the Muslim legal concept of Diyyat (monetary remuneration for killing someone), and I expressed some information about Jewish law that doesn’t usually get included in one’s typical Hebrew school classroom when growing up. It has to do with the laws of Sotah, which literally means “the wife whom you expect of committing adultery.” (I suppose this type of conversation could possibly make Hebrew School that much more interesting, right?)
The rules concerning the Sotah are spelled out in the Torah, the earliest portion of Hebrew Scripture. The Torah (or “Five Books of Moses”) appear in both the Hebrew Bible (called the TaNaCH for reasons I won’t get into here) as well as the Christian one. The verses pertaining to Sotah can be found in the Book of Numbers, Chapter 5, verses 11-31. You can read one translation here if you’d like.
Let me give you a bit of a rundown, section by section:
Verses 11-14:Heard it from a friend who / heard it from a friend who / heard it from a friend you’ve been messin’ around…
Verses 15-16: If a man suspects his [pregnant?] wife of cheating on him, he brings her to the priest and makes a sacrifice-offering towards God.
Verses 17-18: The priest mixes together a concoction of special water and dust in an earthenware vessel. The water gets really nasty. And, apparently cursed.
Verses 19-22: The priest tells the woman: “I want you to swear that you’ve remained faithful to your husband and are not looking for heightened drama on Maury Povich’s talk show. After that, you’ll drink this nasty concoction. If you’re telling the truth, no problem — everything will be fine. But if you’re not? Your pregnancy will end in a most horrible way.”
Verses 23-31: Pretty much a repetition of exactly what the priest explained would happen. If she was unfaithful? Nastiness. Swelling in the belly. Miscarriage. Part of her thigh falls away. (Ew.) If she’s been faithful? No harm at all. But here’s the clincher: this is all to placate the jealous husband! So he’ll know. And he’ll feel better knowing the truth. The end.
How can anyone follow a religion in 2011 which encompasses savage rules like this in its Holy Scripture?
It’s a valid question. One which I’ve wrestled with myself. And one that has made people of all religions challenge themselves to the belief systems of today as they intersect with traditions of the past. It brings up even more questions: As a Jew, does this mean I need to believe in these outrageous rules? Do I need to follow all of them to the letter of the law? Can I simply ignore them as part of an antiquated system that no longer applies?
I can’t speak for members of other religions. I can’t even speak for all Jews. I can only speak for myself — and the way I understand the rules and customs of my tradition — which allow me to intersect my so-called modern life with the traditions as outlined in the Torah. Here’s how I do so:
I believe that Traditional Judaism as we know it today does not adhere to the Torah in a vacuum. Whether one is of the belief that the Torah was handed to Moses atop Mount Sinai a la The Ten Commandments or whether it was a divinely inspired collaboration stitched together of different manuscripts centuries later, it’s still an important source. But the conversations about the Torah are just as crucial.
Which is why you’ll find that traditional Jewish law holds the many discussions, arguments and debates about the words of the Torah in high regard. We’re talking about arguments between scholars who are interpreting the messages of God. These are not prophets; these are people. Humans. And what they have to add to the conversation becomes part of the tradition — and has its own sense of holiness.
Which is precisely why I’m proud of the scholars generations ago taking a look at this outrageous and barbaric set of laws concerning Sotah and trying to figure out why something so awful would appear in the Torah in the first place. What was the message? When was it really supposed to be used? What is the symbolism of the sacrifice offered by the jealous husband? Was there really a special potion used? Or was this, in fact, a simple scare tactic used to get adulterous women to confess?
It’s nice to see that our generation isn’t the first to wrestle with these issues. And that, generations ago, people were thinking about the consequences. Which is why the practice of Sotah was abolished about 2000 years ago. Yes — even though it’s mentioned right there in the Torah. Our tradition allows people to be a part of the law process.
And frankly? That’s kind of neat. Because it allows for us to connect not with a static set of rules, but a dynamic set of traditions. It allows us to ask questions about how we can discuss modern day issues within the framework of the Torah and its commentaries. It makes my Judaism more of a living, breathing animal rather than something old and non-evolving.
Sotah has evolved out of practice. But we’ve learned from it — even if it has simply been replaced by a cheesy REO Speedwagon lyric.
** Have you listened to Episode 3, yet? Download on iTunes or listen here **
In our last episode “Ignorant Americans, Blood Money and Grossed Out By Glee?”, we touched on the topic of negotiating our respective faiths in the context of modernity. When I was listening to the episode this morning, I realized that Mike had asked me to cite specific examples of how I address my faith within the context of modernity. I also realized that I didn’t answer the question. Good thing we have a blog.
I don’t think that Islam, or for that matter most religions, are in opposition with modernity. In fact, there are loads of academic and emotional arguments (that I won’t make here for the sake of brevity) that Islam, among others, is malleable and adjustable to modernity. The very fact they endure is perhaps proof of that.
I also will not discuss the hijab (head covering of women) here in order to make a point about Islam and modernity, because my feelings on the subject are far too complicated to expound upon in this blog post, and, frankly, I don’t feel like being that trite right now.
I think the simplest example of how American Muslims balance faith and modernity is prayer.
Muslims have to pray five times a day. Have to. As in basic obligation.
While a Muslim can pray any time and anywhere they like as outlined in Islam (except in a cemetery or a bathroom), there are five times when we must pray: dawn (Fajr), midmorning (Zuhr), afternoon (Asr), evening (Maghrib) and night (Ishaa). The way that an average Muslim, in say, Pakistan would know that it’s time to pray is the Adhaan, or call to prayer.
Five times a day in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or any other “Muslim” country, an imam who may have once climbed a minaret, now sings into an amplifier of some sort (hello, modernity!) and calls to Muslims in Arabic:
God is Greater
I bear witness that there is no god but the One God
I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s Messenger
Come to prayer
Come to success
Prayer is better than sleep (only said in the dawn prayer)
There is no God except the One God
Suffice to say, here in central Florida, the calls from the masjid over ten miles away do not reach my house. So, how do I know when it’s time to pray?
A smartphone app.
I downloaded Yusuf Islam singing the Adhaan because, frankly, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens may very well soften the potential panic attack that someone who has been watching way too much CNN may have as a result of hearing “Allahu Akbar” coming from a brown woman’s purse in the middle of the mall.
While it may seem like the concept of modernity plays into my choice to use a smartphone app, that’s not really where I was going with that.
Modernity and my faith are being negotiated in this instance in a far more granular way.
My app has a setting that allows the prayer notification to be set to a “beep.” Specifically, three beeps.
I have conscientiously chosen to disable the beeps at the prayer times that I am most likely to skip. For me, that’s Zuhr and Asr, the ones that come right in the middle of the day. That’s when I get busy, go grocery shopping or to the park, get tired, or am just not feeling up to all that bowing and kneeling.
That’s when I need to hear someone remind me that it’s time to step away from life and remember God the most.
Every day somewhere around 1:30 and 5:00, I need to hear someone sing to me that God is greater than whatever it is I’m doing right then, so that I am moved to remember him in the way in which I was commanded. I believe that the command to call people to pray in this manner has spiritual power, and so I avail myself of the technology available to me and I make it happen.
There are all kinds of ways that I have allowed and conscientiously accepted the conditions of modernity or being modern. I know that my religion predates many of the daily situations I take for granted. Still, I don’t view trying to fit Islam and the modern world together as a struggle, but more of trying to make the pieces of an elaborate jigsaw puzzle fit together neatly. Some people enjoy putting puzzles together, others get frustrated with them.
I obviously fit into the former category of individuals.
If you’re curious as to what the Adhaan sounds like on my smartphone, here you go:
On this past week’s episode of Hey! That’s My Hummus! you’ve heard that I observed the holiday of Purim at my synagogue this past Saturday night. I also mentioned that at my synagogue (as well as many others) it is customary for both men and women to chant the reading of Megilat Esther (the Scroll of Esther which tells the story in Hebrew).
Our congregation has a new tradition where it comes to the reading: the main characters in the story have their “lines,” but most of the narrative is just that — told by a narrator. We had one reader who chanted all of the narrative lines, and then a reader for each of the other character parts: one for King Achashverosh, one for Haman, one for Mordechai, etc.
My character to chant was that of Queen Esther. So naturally I dressed the part:
This meant shaving off the beard in full — something I hadn’t done since… well, the last time I played the part of Queen Esther two years ago. Sitting to my left (your right) is my son dressed as Shadow the Hedgehog. It’s customary for participants to dress up in costume on this holiday — traditionally as characters from the story, but it’s grown to become any costume nowadays.
I would assume Esther would look great with pink hair, right?
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