Who Rescued Who?

One of my favorite lessons to teach at Sunday school (although I fully admit I have a lot of favorite lessons!) involves the Jewish view on the treatment of animals. Every autumn, our Temple does a blessing of the pets ceremony right before the school day begins, so I know amidst the dogs, cats, birds, and fish, the kids all have animals on the brain. We talk about our pets for a minute or two before we begin the lesson, asking “So, what does Judaism have to say about animals?”

“Thou shalt provide sinks for your kitties to play in.”

Most in the class don’t have any idea, or can only guess. Some can talk about how animals are supposed to rest on Shabbat as we do, and one or two venture to the topic about which animals we don’t eat because of kosher laws. It’s understandable, because at this point the curriculum has been teaching about the holidays, basic Torah information and stories, and important figures like Moses. In their minds, animals and Torah seem to be entirely unrelated, save for the random animal appearance in story.

I love being able to open their worlds a bit to show them all the ways in which Judaism protects the rights of animals and commands us to be concerned about their well being. Some of them are quite ahead of their time, in my opinion:

  • It is forbidden to cut the leg off of a living animal
  • If an animal is to be slaughtered for human consumption, it is to be done in the most humane way possible
  • Animals who are working in the service of humans cannot be beaten, and it cannot be forced to work an excessive amount or in an unnatural manner
  • Animal owners are required to care for all the basic needs the animal might have, and be aware there might be special circumstances where their care might have to go above and beyond normal
  • It is a mitzvah to help an animal with any burden it may be carrying if the animal happens to be struggling
  • It is permissible to break Shabbat observances in some cases if it involves helping a hurt animal

(For a great overview of these and other teachings about animals and Judaism, you can check out this article from My Jewish Learning.)

The lesson ends with each of us talking about what we can do to help and care for the animals in our lives (like pets), in addition to the animals of the earth (like endangered species and animals living in a shelter). The kids always love hearing about how their faith – something nebulous, vague, and often confusing at this young age – happens to have rules that they, even at 9 and 10, are interested in and can totally support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I found myself thinking about this as FH and I celebrated the anniversary of adopting our cat, Eva. We first brought Eva into our home just over a year ago, and our lives have changed only for the better with her around. And because she is an older cat who had lived on the streets and in a shelter prior to coming home with us, I hope she thinks the same is true for her.

As I reflect on the whole experience – talking about adoption, actually going to the shelter and picking her up, having her as a permanent member of our family – I can’t help but think about the ways in which my thinking and behavior have transformed thanks to this decision. At first, I was filled with excitement over having a new pet, and pride for the decision FH and I had made: we adopted a cat! Look at how awesome we are!

We are also awesome because we have shoes, which make up her favorite place to sleep.

As time has gone on, though, I really find myself agreeing with those bumper stickers that ask “Who Rescued Who?” Adopting forced me to look at the conditions in our society that lead to stray or unwanted pets; finally owning said pet forced me to look within myself to see how else I could give more of myself and cause a positive change for others. I see a lot of correlation to how we’re asked to treat animals and how I myself see possibilities for the future:

  • It is forbidden to cut the leg off of a living animal – How do I avoid unnecessary pain or difficulty for others?
  • If an animal is to be slaughtered for human consumption, it is to be done in the most humane way possible – If I must do something that will cause someone pain, how can I do so with the greatest regard for their well being?
  • Animals who are working in the service of humans cannot be beaten, and it cannot be forced to work an excessive amount or in an unnatural manner – How will I make sure to treat those who make my life easier with dignity and respect?
  • Animal owners are required to care for all the basic needs the animal might have, and be aware there might be special circumstances where their care might have to go above and beyond normal – Do I care for the basic needs of those around me – family, friends, neighbors, community members – and do I go above and beyond when necessary?
  • It is a mitzvah to help an animal with any burden it may be carrying if the animal happens to be struggling Do I offer a hand to help others who are struggling with their burdens?
  • It is permissible to break Shabbat observances in some cases if it involves helping a hurt animal Am I willing to go outside my comfort zone or the established norm to help someone in need?

I find it so interesting that my cat and her adoption have given me the opportunity to see how I can take this experience and use it to better myself and the lives of so many others. I hope that this time next year, I’ll be reflecting on some of the good I’ve been able to do, or the ways in which I have grown from my thinking and ideas today.

So while the adoption papers say that I rescued her, and I gave her a new chance at a happy existence, I also firmly believe she did rescue me – and gave me a new chance at a more fulfilling life.

Thanks, Eva.

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The Importance of Being Modest?

Happy Monday, everyone! Was it a good one for you? Mine was actually pretty good, except for an extremely pervasive case of the blahs. Oh Monday.

I’ve just come home from my Monday night Torah study, and a lot of the ideas we talked about are all still jumbled in my head. Luckily, they relate almost entirely to an update I promised you! Fancy that ­čÖé

In the beginning, there was Joy. And Joy was going to tell you a story. And you were going to like it.

Some of you may remember that I had the opportunity to worship at a Conservative synagogue over the weekend. This was a very different experience for me, as 1) I currently practice at a liberal Reform temple, and 2) this particular synagogue is on the more orthodox end of the conservative perspective. In some ways, there are very few differences between our two styles, and in others, we may as well be on two different worlds.

The service itself was quite lovely. Though there is no music or musical instruments at this synagogue, the people were more than happy to chant with pride and conviction. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, the rabbi’s D’var Torah was intriguing and thought-provoking, and the reception afterward was engaging and enjoyable.

Food makes everything better. I would give you the recipe for these, but they're so simple I think I'd be thrown out of the food blog world forever.

However…

One of the biggest reasons I chose Reform Judaism is because of the affirmation of women which is so ingrained in, and required by, the faith. Women can do anything men have traditionally done: wear tallit, participate in certain prayers, and even serve as rabbis (as a side note, the same is true for openly LGBTQ individuals – they don’t kid around when they call themselves inclusive). As a woman who is for the equality of all, I love knowing that I, along with every individual who walks through my temple’s doors, am looked upon as an equal in every way.

This wasn’t quite the feeling I got while at this synagogue. Though the women were garbed in tallit and kippot, I was one of three – yes, three – wearing pants, while the rest wore skirts. Many women discussed at length the need for modesty, how the Torah and G-d required it of us, and how women should not wear men’s clothing.

Wanted: Pants. Reward: Skirts for everyone!

I looked down at my outfit: my best suit pants, shiny black pumps, my favorite purple wrap, and a lovely scarf. A favorite outfit of mine, actually. You know, one of those where you leave the house feeling like the most beautiful creature in the world. And with those words, these skirt clad women took my outfit and ripped it to shreds faster than the high school “it” crowd. Worse, they did it with Torah and with G-d, things they had just been celebrating as “bringers of peace and justice.” (And I don’t think “bringers of peace and justice” is code for the fashion police. If it is, I bet Moses was an impeccably dressed man.)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this so-called “modesty,” modesty that demands I separate myself from others, particularly males, in a way I might not be comfortable with, that I might not see value in. (To the men out there: I love you, but it’s 2011 – let’s even the playing field, shall we?) Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for dressing appropriately. You will never, ever see me walking around in a tube top and short shorts at a house of worship…or really anywhere else. The outfit I wore to the synagogue covered every inch of my body, save for my hands, neck, and face. You cannot tell me that wasn’t modest; you cannot say there is any logical justification for skirts being the one and only way for women to be modest in their dress. The Torah may have that in there, true, but the Torah has a lot in there that these women weren’t adhering to – why make skirts, of all issues, a top priority?

Now I know that this one synagogue may not necessarily be representative of the whole Conservative movement, and really, the point of this description is not to knock the Conservative movement at all. I respect the fact that it is a valuable, affirming spiritual experience for many people out there. I’m very thankful for this experience because it gave me the opportunity to see another way of life, and examine my own beliefs in response. Isn’t that what life is all about?

It did make today, even with the blahs, a little sweeter as I swaggered into work wearing my slacks. As I studied Torah in my jeans. As I type this with pajama pants on. Saturday was a great exposure to another world – but I’m happy to live in mine.

Pants love.

Your turn: What do you think of modesty, as it pertains to dress? Is it something you think about? Do you find it important? Is it different for women and men? I’d love to hear what you think!