made a card game, similar to “Apples-to-Apples”, as a review for the final.
Each card has a noun on it. That could be a place (Kairouan, Granada), a person
(R' Yehuda ibn Chiyuj, Kahina), a group (Visigoths, Berbers), a sefer, a thing
(Grammar, “Not writing sefarim”), or something unrelated to the course (the
name of a girl in the class, the lyrics to the national anthem). Each player
draws five cards, which she holds in a fan so that only she can see them; one
more is turned over in the center; every player except the “judge” (players
take turns being the judge, one per round) submits to the judge the card in her
hand that she thinks is most closely connected to the card in the center. When
all players have made their submissions, the judge lays out the submissions on
the table for all to see and decides which is, in her opinion, the most closely
connected. Each submitter has to argue her case. The player to whom the judge
awards the round takes the card from the center; she who collects the most wins
other words, it's Apples-to-Apples, except that there is only one kind of card
(fulfilling the role of both the red and green cards), and that you have to
justify your submission (which means that your identity is not a secret).
IMNSHO it is a much better game this way.
if the card in the middle says “Beauty”, one girl might submit “Greek culture,”
because of its emphasis on beauty, one “R' Yehuda haLevi,” because he wrote
beautiful piyutim, one “Elisheva Ploni,” because she thinks her classmate is
beautiful, one “Cordoba,” because she thinks it sounds like a beautiful place,
and one “Reconquista,” because she doesn't know what any of the cards in her
hand are about, which means she has some studying to do...
was much giggling, much learning, and much clamor to keep going after the class
ended, which was nice.
game works particularly well with this unit because there is so much variety
but also so much overlap: everyone was a grammarian, a physician, a paytan, a
I invented this game, only we called it Smicha, long before Apples-to-Apples
began to be marketed. (Smicha, because I once heard Rabbi Orlowek define, in jest, a rabbi
as “someone who can connect anything to the parsha”.)
Again, if I could take one resource on medieval Jewish history to a desert island, it would be The Chosen Path, but here are some sources I found and liked (whether or not I shared them with the girls) before I was aware of that textbook-cum-anthology's existence:
good map of medieval Europe. They can't go through life not knowing what the
Iberian Peninsula is.
Hirsch's translation of para. 105 from Sefer Hasidim (his Collected
Writings, Vol. VIII, p. 176). I like this because many people have a habit of reading mussar
from the rishonim as if they're being yelled at. Here Rav Hirsch
takes a passage from the Sefer Hasidim that could sound very scary,and
translates it softly. I thought it was important for the girls to see this
before I started giving them passages from rishonim to read.
I was in sixth grade, we each had to research a rishon and present the fruits
of our research. I like this idea, and in consequence of it I still feel like
the Ramban is “my” rishon – but, duh, you can't give people a research project
if they don't have a library to research in.
them make a timeline of world history, from Creation to the present, on which
to plot the events of this course. In retrospect I would have them make
parallel lines (maybe I'll give them different colors) for the events in Bavel,
Islamic Spain and North Africa, Ashkenaz, Provence, Italy, and Eastern Europe.
photocopied, but did not get round to, the Ramban on “laasos” in Bereishis,
which is a summary of world history, and the Meshech Chochma in Bechukosai
thought about taking a step back to look at how we know what we know, and
showing them Rav Hirsch's analysis of Graetz's grievous errors in scholarship,
but decided that it's not appropriate yet for this particular class.
slipped into various units along the way:
for every unit, representative in some way of that time and place.
-The Routes of the Radhanites. I actually brought in some silk scraps on the
off-chance that some of them are growing up in rayon and don't know what silk
feels like. But they did.
drop-spindle and raw wool. (These are inexpensive.) Every woman in medieval
times – I assume Jewish women too – carried one of these around with her and
kept her fingers busy spinning. I passed spindle and wool around and let
everyone try it. (Halacha: a married woman who can hire servants to fulfill all
of her housekeeping duties is nevertheless obligated to spin, because having no
work to do can drive a person crazy. Why is spinning the duty singled out as
essential? Because it is the role of the married woman to make connections, to
take raw material and give shape to it.)
-I made much use of T. Carmi's anthology The Penguin Book of Hebrew
Verse. He doesn't cite sources, only authors, which is maddening. The
anthology is a curious mix of kodesh and treif, but I don't know where else to
find the poems of Shmuel haNaggid, the Kalonymuses, anonymous medieval Jews
writing about how much they miss their rebbeim &c., &c., much less with some English attached.
History of Jewish Costume by
Alfred Rubens is also unreliable, but has some fun pictures. I gave the girls pictures of
what Jewish women were wearing (admittedly at a much later time in history) in
Syria, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, &c. and asked them which traditionally
Jewish dress (with, like, five layers and cloisonne enamel and gold embroidery
and pointy headgear) they think we should make the new school uniform.
-The Wall Chart of World History is a vintage production – as the girls noticed, it is very racist, very
Eurocentric, and very Catholic - but very helpful. We got a lot of "aha!" moments out of it. (A Jewish
version, the “Timechart History”, does exist, but it is blatantly not in keeping
with the mesora, nor is it nearly as interesting, since it follows only one nation.)
A friend once announced that she was looking
for people to put together a Burning Man theme camp with her. I looked up
Burning Man, decided I wasn't interested, and promptly forgot all about it.
This week, the name surfaced under piles of
rubble in my mind, and I looked it up again. What is “Burning Man”?
Burning Man is a hippie utopia. For one week
each year, tens of thousands of people encamp in the Nevada desert to engage in
“radical self-expression”. No commerce is permitted: it is a gift-based
economy. People bring their own food; they bring enough to share; some operate
free restaurants. Burning Man is also a no-holds-barred arts festival. No cars
are permitted to budge, unless they have been transformed into something other
than a car – say, a flame-throwing octopus. There are a great many
extraordinary art installations on the blank canvas of the desert floor – but
they Leave No Trace. It isn't back-to-the-land-y, though: people bring
generators and there is a great deal of electric and electronic display and
racket, 24/7. The festival culminates in the burning of an enormous effigy of a
man, for no particular reason; but the burning of the man has come to serve in
the minds of many “burners” as a symbol of 'carpe diem, live intensely and
immediately, because everything is exquisitely fragile'. Then they all pack up
or burn their art and pick up every last fleck of glitter and get back in their
cars and go back to what they call “the default world,” which is usually the
Bay Area, or perhaps dear darling PDX.
Burning Man attracts a lot of spiritual
seekers, artists, troubled souls, wandering Jews, and people who have
completely lost their moorings and want to be loud about it.
I don't remember why I wasn't interested in
Burning Man the first time I heard about it. This time I find the idea very
interesting, but I won't be attending; one, because I have a low noise
threshold (that includes trance music); and two, because when you invite people
to a place with no rules, you get not only good art and catharsis but a great
deal of cheap behavior. It doesn't sound as if cheap is exactly vanishingly
rare at Burning Man.
Cheap is the pitfall of “radical
self-expression” untempered by tsnius. (How shall I translate tsnius? It is
sort of the anti-cheap, but a positive concept.)
Tsnius, save when it inheres in the self
being radically expressed, is not one of Burning Man's Ten Principles. Cheap,
like noise, is, at Burning Man, OK. And I don't think I could put up
un-muddle-mindedly with a week of it. So as much as I would kind of like, in some alternate universe, to open the one-woman Burning Man Community Kollel, I don't see it happening.
But there is quite a lot about Burning Man
that I like the sound of – I have a thing for idealistic, creative
people forming groups devoted to some end – and I was chewing over its
principles, and as I got sleepier and sleepier the many other elements of it
that I find attractive started to sound to me more and more like... lehavdil elef havdalos...
...well, it's Adar.
In two weeks there will be a day when the
Jews dress up in costumes. And go about all day giving each other presents. And
nichnas yayin yotzei sod, men will be dancing and singing in the streets and
round each others' tables. And one of the themes of the day is not to be
inhibited by self-imposed, artificial limitations. And it is all pretty crazy. My Purim is such that I can plan its details for weeks, but on Purim itself, I just wake up and say, Let's give food to everyone we know! And everyone we don't know! And it doesn't essentially matter what!
But the story of Purim is not one of
straight “radical self-expression” – on the contrary, the joy of Purim comes
out of it being a day of tsnius. Esther didn't reveal who she was. The
old minhag of costume was to dress up, not like your inner martian, but like
the enemies of the Jewish people – because things aren't what they appear to
be. The megilla itself is about the Divine working invisibly – so much so that
the name of G-d does not appear in the megilla. Cheap, on Purim, is not OK. The
rules are not suspended: things get artistic, generous, and crazy, but the
world of Purim is complex enough – through its being so very tsnius – to be truly exquisite.
Intense. Immediate. Those things that people go to Burning Man to find.
In two weeks, I will have that right here on
my block. In my house. With an entire community of similarly Purimmy people.
I did all the sewing by hand, in waiting
rooms and on playground benches.
Is It Suitable for Beginners? It was very easy, with the major exception of the placket in the
back: you have to slash the fabric, spread the two sides, and talk that slashed
fabric into thinking that it was always a straight line. I'm a bad liar. My
placket doesn't believe me, and won't lie flat. Snaps might convince it.
Oddly enough, I could not find any but shank
buttons in Jerusalem. The buttons I wound up with look like pink rock candy. My
daughter loves them.
She also loves the dress rather more than I
do – it's an empire'd rectangle. Loops is small for her age, and I think it's a
rather juvenile style on her – but then, I cut it long; it's supposed to be
size 18 months and she is quite a bit older.
I sewed an organza ribbon across the front.
It is nearly invisible.
One can never have too much organza – I said
to my husband that I want to start a kollel in northern Norway among the Sami;
we will learn full-time as we herd our reindeer, and wear lots of organza. For
some reason he thinks this unlikely.
I think it's wool.
3134. View C, because I was in a hurry and it was the only one that didn't need
Is It Suitable for Beginners? Yes, eminently. This would be an excellent first pattern. I sewed it
on an airplane en route to the job interview for which I needed it. It is also
very easy to adjust for size.
The dressmaker in the family says that hem
ripples are one of those things that go away inexplicably with practice.
We attended a wedding at which Loops, who is
a girly-girl, went around admiring all the clouds of satin worn by the bridal
“I want to wear a froofy dress,” she said.
“Froofy dresses are only for the chasan and
kallah's family,” I said.
“Am I the chasan and kallah's family?”
So, I made her something a little bit
froofy, for Sukkos.
picked a pink-, yellow-, and aqua-striped seersucker. I thought it looked like
a lawn chair cover, but now that it's a dress I like it. When she wears it with
white shoes she looks like something out of Gatsby, as if she's going to play
tennis, it is so ultra-summery.
Butterick 4054, view D.
Is It Suitable for Beginners? There were two challenges with this dress, neither because of the
pattern. The first was cutting an uneven stripe – only the timely intervention
of one of the family dressmakers, who was visiting, prevented me from getting
it backwards (what do you mean? they're stripes, aren't they? – well, no, if
you cut one side upside-down, you'll end up with two aqua stripes marching
toward each other, with no pink between). The second was getting the fabric not
to splurt out like a fountain at the bottom of the zipper. Turns out that when
you use an invisible zipper – which is not the kind the pattern called for –
you're supposed to insert it before you sew the seam it interrupts. I can't
vouch for how this pattern might behave with an ordinary zipper.
I didn't think I would like the elastic in
the sleeve wrists – for some reason elastic always strikes me as newfangled
silliness – but the sleeves are cut very full, so some control was necessary.
Time was short – I went with elastic. It looks fine.
This time I machine-sewed the dress, and
discovered that yes, even allowing time to detangle thread, pick out mistakes,
adjust clumping gathers (probably for want of a walking-foot), and hand-crank
around tight corners, it is considerably faster than sewing by hand. I am
I offered Loops the choice of a pinafore or
a doll. She said she wanted a pinafore. With pockets. And ruffles.
Oh, well, I guess sometime in my life I have
to learn how to make ruffles.
4054 again, view G.
Is It Suitable for Beginners? I couldn't figure out the instructions for the skirt corners –
someone had to show me – and white is not nearly as much fun to sew as stripes.
But it was easy.
For some reason, although the dress in this
size fits perfectly, the pinafore is too big.
It's cute. It's actually very cute. Ruffles
I made Elizabeth Stewart Clark's “Great
Auntie Maude's Favorite Cloth Doll”, the ultra-accurate mid-19th
century rag doll. Yipes – the shape is very fashionably stylized; the doll
doesn't look like any human I've ever met. But that's what dolls of the time
looked like, and the pattern works. The lesson learned this time was that it is
more effective to stuff a little bit of stuffing at a time into a tight corner
(in this case, through the neck into the head) than to push on stuffing with
When I found out that I would be teaching
medieval Jewish history this year, I decided that instead of using a textbook I
would compile a source-book of primary sources and give the rest of the
information orally. My students are literate: I can give them sources in the
original language. I believe that's far preferable to telling them “and he
wrote an important sefer called the Kuzari, but we're not going to read
any of it.”
However, I had only two weeks to prepare the
course. It would take me a few lifetimes to find all the passages I wanted. So
I tried to take a shortcut: I went trawling through some textbooks.
To my surprise, I found that the
textbook-writers had evidently sought out the same shortcut. They didn't cite
primary sources; they cited academic secondary sources.
So I turned to those secondary sources,
thinking that academics surely cite primary sources.
But they don't. They all cite each others'
articles and books. So I ordered those books and looked at the bibliographies.
Those, too, cite only secondary sources.
I tried tracking down, among other things, a
particular halacha in the Sefer Hasidim. I have a Sefer Hasidim in
my living room; I just wanted to know the number of the passage the textbooks
were quoting. I tracked this halacha from bibliography to bibliography. And I
discovered that no one in the chain of bibliographies had cracked the covers of
a Sefer Hasidim since 1896, when Israel Abrahams wrote Jewish Life in
the Middle Ages. For over a hundred years, academics have been citing this
halacha to prove their theses, and not one of them has read it in the original.
If this were Jerusalem, I could knock on the
twenty doors in my building like a meshulach and someone would know
someone on the block who is fluent in every one of the primary sources I
wanted. But this is not Jerusalem. So the clock was ticking and we were getting
close to the beginning of the school year and it was looking like I was going
to have to spend this entire year either trying to quickly skim every sefer
ever written or else scrapping the idea of using primary sources, and both
possibilities were greatly distressing...
...someone sent me a copy of The Chosen
Path by Rabbi Binyamin Sendler.
And they all lived happily ever after.
Rabbi Sendler, so far as I can tell,
actually did all that work that I could not do.
From his textbook, it appears that he went
through everything ever written by the gaonim and rishonim, and excerpted the
passages that are especially significant to Jewish history or that give a good
picture of Jewish life at the time the sefer was written. He includes important
excerpts from every work that I want my students to know about. He also
includes relevant material from medieval non-Jewish writings and records. He
did all the basic research that no one in the academic world has ever
done (they all lean on Graetz, GAG ME WITH A SPOON who
didn't do it either) and to top it all off Rabbi Sendler answers all the tricky
questions about what is reliable and what isn't. He tells the story of history
clearly. And he cites all his sources. Primary sources. The Chosen Path is
my dream textbook.