Rachael's Centre for Torah, Mussar and Ethics is a not-for-profit pluralistic website dedicated to online Jewish learning
Sign In
Welcome to our new site. Click here to learn more about Rachael's Centre

Rachael's Voice

Does This Tallit Make Me Look Fat?

Monday, June 25th, 2012

A few days ago another women praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem was detained by police.  This time it was not about how she was praying so much as it was what she was wearing.  The woman involved, Deborah Houben, was wearing her tallit which resembled a man’s tallit.  She was also, apparently, wearing it draped over her shoulder similar to the way a man would wear his tallit.

Photo Credit: Women of the Wall


First of all, I’d venture to say that a man wears his tallit draped on his shoulder because it’s long and gets in the way or using his arms.  It is not a religious statement but a practical one.  Secondly, we are now having a discussion of the details of the fashion of wearing a tallit.  Good thing we didn’t waste that precious time praying to God about hunger, poverty, unprotected children, terrorism in the world - indeed worrying about how a woman drapes a prayer shawl is certainly the way to go.


The Rabbi of the Western Wall seems to be at odds with the police over this one.  He said it is illegal for any woman to wear any tallit and that the police should arrest all the women at the wall who are wearing a tallit.  The police understood the law to pertain only to the issue of a ‘man’ tallit versus a ‘woman’ tallit.

"Tefillin Barbie" wouldn't last one minute in the women's section at the Kotel.


I find it ironic that if any non-Jew visits the Western Wall it would be unthinkable to ask them to remove any religious jewelry that reflected their religion.  We would never disrespect another faith or another person in such a way.  Yet, we do not hesitate to do this to each other.  I can’t help but think of the Sages warning that 2,000 years ago we lost everything because of ‘baseless hatred’.


These same Sages taught us that when we are aware of injustice we must react.  If we say nothing then we have in fact said something, since silence is agreement.

My Wasted Life Without Jesus

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Just outside of Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, a young man wore a t-shirt to his high school that resulted in his being suspended from the school.  William Swinimer, 19, wore a t-shirt that said “Life is Wasted Without Jesus”.  Many students were offended by the shirt (no brainer) and it has sparked really interesting legal debates on the role of religion within someone’s private life as it relates to their freedom of expression.  Ed Morgan, a Canadian legal expert published a great article outlining some of this in the Globe & Mail (May 9, 2012)

In my opinion, there is no question that I am offended anyone would think I wasted my life because Jesus is not my saviour.  But that’s about as far as it goes.  As a Jew, I can think of things that are displayed publicly all the time that are far worse attacks on my heritage and my personal choice.  There is no question that Swinimer lacks sensitivity and judgment in choosing this shirt but I don’t think it crosses legal lines.  I’m more concerned with living in such a politically correct world that we are never allowed to express ourselves in any unique way because we will most certainly be offending someone.

On the one hand we want to control all forms of personal expression that someone else might be hurt by and on the other hand we worry that we’re raising a generation of self-entitled professionals who expect the world to cater to them and look for any and every reason to complain about life being unfair.  Maybe if some of these professionals had to navigate a somewhat less sterile environment of expression earlier in their lives they would have a more realistic expectation of the world.

I don’t condone people insulting and offending each other all the time (I wouldn’t recognize Canada in such a world) but every now and then it’s good to shake things up and do a double check on our freedoms.

And I Thought Moving Would be So Easy…

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

We recently moved our head office to the other side of the city.  As with any move, you never imagined you had accumulated so much stuff in so many corners of places you forgot existed in your office.  I actually found myself feeling depressed at the amount of work needed to unpack a few boxes.  I was determined not to unpack useless papers back into so many corners of places I didn’t realize existed in my new office.  So I feel obligated to go through every box, every folder, every page…(I feel like an insane person desperately seeking light and reason - order amidst the chaos).  Is it really as bad as I’m describing? - Yes it is.

Okay, maybe not really that bad but I can’t help but sit in absolute awe of God who could organize a universe of chaos into something that resembled order.  We spend so much time complaining about the world as it is and how God could allow natural disasters and other kinds of seeming injustices but (and now I’m going to get a bit corny), how often do we stop and realize we can’t even unpack an office without blood, sweat and tears, let alone organize a universe.

And the sad part of it all is that the Sages teach us that chaos is a thin green line surrounding the world, waiting to come back in.   In other words, imposing order onto my office is a zero sum game - I’ll never win…oh good, another box is staring at me.  I think I’ll cover it with a pretty scarf and put a vase on it.  Nothing said I can’t redefine my chaos … and when the sun sets tonight, as it did yesterday and will tomorrow and will continue to set in its ordered way, I will be watching it and marvelling at what I’ve taken for granted.  Oh look - I found the paperclips.

Watch a YouTube I put together about this topic.

A Jewish View on Valentines Day

Tuesday, February 14th, 2012

Valentines Day is coming up and people always ask, “what is the Jewish take on this holiday?” Here is the answer.

Tu Bishvat for Today’s World

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

Happy Tu Bishvat everyone!!  It’s the birthday of the trees - the day we celebrate and contemplate the trees and growing things around us…Yes, we have a day for that.  It’s one of the few days that has no controversy surrounding it - there’s no historical issue - no revisionist propaganda -  no one who could argue that this is hurting someone or based in a racist philosophy or demands archeological proof that there were really trees in the ancient world.  We simply celebrate trees and the fruit or nuts they produce… oh oh, I said it…the word that brings shakes and quivers to the culinary industry…the word that makes every parent pale when it’s mentioned and causes stressful conversations before play dates…yes, the dreaded word - NUTS.

So to be politically correct, let’s agree to have a nut free Tu Bishvat.  But can we sing songs about nuts?  The first Tu Bishvat song I ever learned was ‘Hashkaidiyah Porachat’ (The Almond Tree is Blooming) and I made hand motions and pretended to be an almond tree.  Maybe all the kids who want to sing the almond song should be allowed to do so in the school office.

Though I understand that there are growing fruit allergies present in children as well.  Now we’re going to have to celebrate Tu Bishvat without fruit and nuts.  Um, gee, I think the only politically correct way to celebrate the birthday of the trees is with cake (nutfree of course).

Oh well, it’s tough being a Jew.


The Jewish Adjustment Bureau

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Rachael Posted:

A few days ago I saw the movie “The Adjustment Bureau” starring Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.  I liked the movie because it was fun and not the thriller/chaser/blood & guts film you might expect.


For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and wants to, please stop reading now because I’m going to discuss some of the core ideas.


The movie plays with the idea that there are many levels of ‘messengers’ or ‘agents’ who do the bidding of a higher power called ‘The Chairman’.  For every person there is a plan and these agents make sure that we are all staying on our plan because chance circumstances can sometimes derail things.  It’s a great concept to play with even to the point of having someone trip and fall which delays them just those few seconds needed to miss a bus etc. etc.


The bump in the plan is when the two heroes are determined to be together even though they’re not supposed to be.  The movie raises the question of whether or not you can change your plan.  After the movie I had a fantastic discussion about the Jewish themes that weave throughout the movie.  The concept of ‘angels‘ or ‘agents’ follows a Jewish thread but most importantly, the idea that determination and genuine heartfelt commitment can indeed change our fates, our ‘plans’.


That is the essence of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  The idea that there is a destiny drafted for each of us but that we can effect that draft before it is sealed.  We are in part the creators of our own destinies.  That’s why Judaism says we should choose every action we take and not allow things to ‘just happen’.


I definitely recommend the movie.  :-)


Looking Forward To Shavuot

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Posted by Rachael:


Shavuot is just a few hours away and I’m really looking forward to it. I’m not exactly looking forward to the spirituality of it or the meaningfulness of the Jewish people accepting the Torah (though we know how beautiful and meaningful that part is) but at this moment in time, I’m really looking forward to spending good time with family and friends. It’s been a tough few weeks in my house. The kids at school have just gone through the ‘crunch’ time with their classes - 1500 things assigned and all due today by 2 pm. It’s been weeks of anxiety, sweat, all nighters and meltdowns. On more than one occasion I laid down on the couch with one or another of my children lying in my arms crying…as I said, I’m really looking forward to Shavuot.


Aside from the rest and recovery, there’s a game I’m planning to play with the family that should allow for some good Jewish speculation as well as some wholesome venting. It’s called: ‘Why do you think God -’ and you play it by having to finish that sentence. There are no limits applied to the context or idea used to finish the sentence and everyone around is welcome to offer an explanation to your question.


But even playing this game, a small part of me wonders if in the wee wee hours of the night on Shavuot, I won’t wondering if God is sitting in the Divine Realms with the angels all around playing the game: ‘Why do you think people -’


Have a great Shavuot!

Pesach Prep… Again?

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

Rachael posted:

Wow, it’s Pesach prep again. I feel like I was just blogging about Pesach prep.  I don’t mark the year by when the school year begins for my kids, or by my birthday or any of the usual markers, but somehow when it’s Pesach prep I can’t believe that a whole year has gone by.


I also know Pesach is getting close because everyone I speak to has asked me if I’m ready for Pesach yet.  Every time I get asked that question I get a pang of panic flash through my stomach.  Then my head kicks into the conversation and reminds me that there is still a full week to complete the job.  I think the question ‘are you ready for Pesach yet?’ should be in the same category as ‘hot enough for you?’ or ’so when is that baby due?’  All of these questions have no correct answer to them.


For instance, ‘am I ready for Pesach?’ is always answered with ‘no’.  I can guarantee that I’m never ready for Pesach, there will always be one more thing I could have done, one more wipe of a cabinet, one more shopping trip, one more dish to prepare, one more SOMETHING. So, no, I’m never ready.  I think I can also confidently answer the question about the heat with a resounding ‘yes’.  Yes it is hot enough for me.  I am not a heat loving person.  Because I’m fair I have to stay out of the sun and you can’t solve the heat.  When it’s cold you can always put on another layer but when it’s hot, well, there’s only so much you can take off.  While we’re on the subject…the baby is due when it’s ready.


Phew, I feel so much better.  Sorry for the rant but I have to release some nervous Pesach prep anxiety.  So when I go home today I will try my best to see my house as my lovely home rather than seeing it as one, big, giant cookie box.  I’m sure the holiday will be beautiful and I’m also sure that once Pesach is done, within the blink of an eye, it’ll be Pesach prep again.


Chag Samaiyach

When Will It Be Christmas?

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

A few weeks ago I went shopping with my 10 year old daughter. We were walking through the store and she was pointing out all kinds of things she’d like to have. This was very unusual behaviour since our family has a pretty well understood shopping etiquette. We can admire things in the store without necessarily wishing to have them. If there is something special the kids would like to have then we negotiate chores and extra duties. That’s not what she was doing. She was pointing at things and saying she’d like to have them – pajamas, toys, candy, - all kinds of things.

It struck me that her behaviour was much more informed by the Christmas media than by our family values so I decided to play it out. “I have a great idea!” I said, “I’ll get you that for Christmas!” She immediately stopped walking, was quiet, then looked at me and said: “When is it ever going to be our Christmas?” I just smiled at which point she said, “That’s not funny.”

For the last few weeks, every time an extraordinary request is made within the family we all simply say, ‘I’ll get you that for Christmas’, or ‘sounds good for Christmas Eve.’

Within a Jewish household, it’s added a whole new meaning to Christmas.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Parshat Korach - Rachael’s Video Reflection

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

In this video reflection, Rachael talks about this week’s Torah Portion, Parshat Korach. This Parsha begins with an Israelite named Korach, stirring up a rebellion against Moses and his leadership and ends with Korach’s coup being spoiled by a little ‘Divine Intervention.’ Find out what happens.