If you read my last post, you know I’ve got The Pleurisy. And if you follow me on Twitter, you know I’ve now been stricken once again, with some sort of awful, suddenly-manifesting deathflu. All I know is I’m shivering, sweating, and generally acting like Mrs. Snow in Pollyanna. I stayed home from work today, because my philosophy is “if it hurts to blink and your leg stubble feels achy, perhaps you should not be around other people.” WISH YOU’D HAVE TAKEN THAT APPROACH, MYSTERY PERSON WHO GAVE ME THIS ILLNESS. A POX ON THEEEEEE!
Anyway, because it presently hurts to perform even the simplest of tasks, I’m currently bundled in my bed, trying to catch up on anything on my “To Do” list that can be accomplished from amidst a pile of fluffy blankets. And as it happens, “Finish writing ‘Ask A Jew’ post” dovetails very nicely with that.
Usually with these, there’s some sort of theme, but these questions are all over the place, which should be fun.
Before we get underway, my standard “Ask a Jew” disclaimer: I am not an expert, nor do I claim to be perfect in my observance. This is my understanding and my interpretation. Yours may be different, and we can both learn something from each other and be right, in our own ways. In fact, I’d LOVE to hear if you know of a different explanation, but please, be courteous.
So! Let’s get this started, shall we?
What's up with the whole tribes thing? Do you know which tribe you're from? Are priests all from Levi? Or is that sort of ancestral detail long gone?
OOH. Love this question! Eons ago, we had Jewish “forefathers,” one of whom (Jacob) fathered 12 sons, each of whom became the “tribes” of Israel from which we believe that all Jews are descended. (Want their names? Why not! I’m sure you’ll see some familiar ones in there: Reuben, Simon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zevulun, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Joseph, and Benjamin.)
As time went on, a broader overall delineation was made, and all Jews were classified as either Kohen, Levite or Israelite. The “Kohen” group describes all descendants of Aaron (the brother of Moses). They were the high priests of the nation…royalty, almost, and to this day, men from the Kohen group perform certain special blessings in the Jewish prayer service. (It has nothing to do with the last name “Cohen” or “Kohen,” by the way, but many people with those names are, in fact, from this group.) The "Levite" group is composed of the descendants of Levi, and they were appointed to assist the Kohens, and be dedicated, so to speak, for their service to God. They specifically got this privilege because they were the only tribe that didn’t worship the Golden Calf when, you know, that went down.
The "Israelite" category is a catchall for the rest of us. Yes, my friends, I am an Israelite. As you may imagine, I have zero idea what tribe I’m initially from. I'd say a vast majority of the Jews who are not of the Kohen or Levite group don’t know their tribes. Most within the Kohen and Levite group, however, are well aware of their status, as it carries with it certain responsibilities that have been passed down for generations. Fascinatingly, there is actually a KOHEN GENE. Seriously. It was discovered about a decade ago, is called the Y-chromosome Alu Polymorphism (YAP), and appears in almost all who are of the Kohen group. Cool, right?
I'm invited to an Orthodox wedding. The Chuppah is at 6, and "Kabalat Shabbat" is an hour and a half earlier. First of all, what is that? Second, is that something I should go to, and if so at what time?
I’m going to make an assumption here and say that perhaps the invitation said “Kabalat Panim” and not Kabalat Shabbat.” (Yes? No?) The reason I say that is because most Orthodox wedding invitations (and thereby, weddings) include a reference to something called “Kabalat Panim.” I mentioned it in my Jewish wedding post, but in short, it’s like a cocktail hour/smorgasbord wherein the bride is brought into the main room, seated in a throne-like chair, and all the guests come by to greet her.
What is the correct term for someone of the Jewish faith? (i.e., someone who practices Islam is a Muslim, someone who practices Catholicism is a Catholic, and someone like me who is "Mormon" actually prefers to be called "LDS".) I've seen and heard conflicting things and I would never want to be offensive.
I receive this questions (or forms of it) constantly. The answer is, simply, “a Jew.” I love easy answers!
Can you tell us about Jewish education? Do Orthodox kids all go to religious schools? Is there an option for additional education if they go to public/secular schools?
I’d say that—based on my knowledge--MOST Orthodox kids do go to Jewish institutions, at least for elementary school. (And I should point out that there are some amazing schools--e.g., Solomon Schecter--for Jews who align more with Conservative and Reform branches of Judaism, and want their children to attend a Jewish school that fits with their philosophy.) I happen to have attended Jewish private schools for the entirety of my educational experience, but as with most things, I’m sure the answer varies based on one’s situation. Private school—particularly Jewish private school—is, uh, prohibitively expensive, so there’s nothing WRONG if one cannot/does not attend such a school. Apropos of which (and as it relates to the second question), there are a number of organizations that operate successful afterschool/Sunday morning programs to address the needs of kids who don’t attend Jewish school.
[Regarding Sabbath…] If it begins on Friday night before sundown, what if you're still at work then? Do you leave early so you can be home when the Sabbath begins, or do you begin observing while you're still at work?
Great question! Essentially, the Sabbath starts when it starts, so I make it a point to be home when it begins, no matter what. Sabbath commences shortly before sundown on Friday evening, so in the winter, when it begins reaaaaaally early, I work from home on Fridays. (I am fortunate in that I have an understanding employer.) That makes it easier to prepare without ducking out super early.
How do men keep their yarmulkes in place? (Pins? Glue? Another accessory I am not aware of?)
Hee! Standard bobby pins are the norm, HOWEVER OMG. This reminds me of two Very Important Yarmulke-Related Things.
1) When my brothers were little, my grandmother was running some rummage sale at her temple, and she brought over some things she thought my mom could use. Among other items was a bag of these “sparkly yarmulkes,” which my brothers wore for a few years. UNTIL MY PARENTS REALIZED THEY WERE NOT YARMULKES AT ALL, BUT PASTIES. YOU KNOW, FOR THE COVERING UP OF STRIPPER BOOBS. I swear I am not making this up, and I MUST find a picture of one or both of my brothers wearing said “yarmulkes.” Again, by which I mean “PASTIES” OMG.
2) J and I found these gems in his old room on a recent visit to his parents’ house. Apparently, around 1987 (judging by the yellowed label), someone apparently had the brilliant idea to invent something called the “Kippon!” an adhesive-backed Velcro strip for yarmulkes. Yeah. Again, NOT MAKING THIS UP.
Hope this answers your questions. As always, feel free to ask away!
On a related note, I have a post up over at Work It, Mom! today, all about easy tips for putting together a fun, unique Halloween costume for your kid. And yeah, I do not celebrate Halloween, but I do celebrate Purim, and have a bit of experience in the costume-making (or buying. WHATEVER) arena. Check it out!