Thursday, May 22, 2008

Woohoo!

I'm done!

This semester was crazy busy, and it's so nice to finally be able to really breathe . . . no more work hanging over my head.

Plays read: 14
Novels read: 12
Papers written: 13
Forums answered: 8
Newspaper articles authored: 6
Newspaper articles edited: 13

That's all my fuzzy brain can remember at the moment.

I'm ready for a break.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

It's a mystery, I tell ya

"Donations" to New York Public Library in form of payment for photocopying articles that didn't end up being used as a source in research paper: $4

Printing out old microfilm articles that did end up being used as a source in said paper: $6

Cost of subway rides to and from New York Public Library in a panic the afternoon before said paper is due: $4

Receiving an A despite writing said research paper in three hours the night before the morning due date: Priceless

Thursday, May 15, 2008

On Graduation

Well, I'm not graduating this year, but a bunch of my friends are. The thought of them leaving makes me overwhelmingly sad and happy at the same time.

I don't know that I can really articulate what these girls mean to me.

When I came to Stern, as an image-conscious, just-out-of-seminary, lost-in-the-sauce sophomore, I knew hardly anyone. There were a few girls from home that I was friendly with, but I came without anyone from high school or seminary. I was so lonely at the beginning, and so lost. I didn't know where anything was, my roommates and I didn't quite mesh, and I was still concerned with how people were going to judge me for going to Stern.

I had a lot of siyata dishmaya, though, and I was placed on a floor in the dorm that also contained two rooms of girls who took me into their circle and befriended me. (No one is exactly clear on how it happened . . . I think I probably just wandered into their rooms one day and never left.) Solid, frum, thinking girls. Girls who are fervent in their avodah. Girls who live intentionally. Girls who care to learn Torah and to live Torah. Girls who love to read and to have fun. Girls who are tzanua and modest. Girls who are principled.

I have never been happier than I am now at Stern. I have a circle of friends who are concerned about each other, always. Friends who care very much for each other's happiness. Friends who are bold enough to give mussar and sensitive enough to know when someone else is chafing. Friends who changed my life and have brought so much joy to me. Friends who taught me that it really isn't worth it be concerned with your image, with how other people perceive you. Friends who taught me that anyone coming from any kind of background can be a spiritual role model. Friends whose zeal for Torah learning is both intimidating and impressive.

True, some of us are remaining at Stern for this coming year, and I'm so thrilled to be able to get closer to them and share more with them. And for the girls who are leaving campus, I can't wait to see where they go and how their experiences outside of college end up.

But for now . . . thank you -- to those of you who are leaving, and those of you who are staying -- for two years of some of the best friendships of my life. And it's not going to end now.

:')

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A bone to pick

I recently realized something about myself that has been gnawing at me for a while, but took some time to articulate: I have almost zero confidence in discussing matters of halacha when there are men around. It's not like I don't know things, per se (although I don't have the greatest memory), it's that I a) don't feel comfortable correcting a guy even when I think he might have said something incorrectly or b) am afraid to introduce things into the conversation for fear of being wrong.

Okay, so maybe b) is a separate issue, but I think a) has a root in the way I was schooled.

In more right-wing schools, girls are often taught halacha in a very simple, non-source-based way. For example, where I went to high school, we learned halacha like this: the teacher (who was a noted posek who definitely knew what he was talking about, no question - I just take issue with the method) would hand out a sheet of questions on a particular topic, and then would go through the questions and give us the answers. There was no source sheet, we never had to look into a sefer - we were literally spoon-fed the answers.

What did this mean? Well, it meant that we knew an awful lot of information without a) knowing the sources b) knowing how to look at sources. Which is problematic. Why? Because there was an implicit statement of, "No need to teach you this, because you can rely on your father/brother/husband to tell you the answer when you have a question." It was practically a given that people would have someone like that to turn to for the answers.

But guess what. Not everyone has that. Not everyone has a father who spent many years in yeshiva learning gemara, or a brother who is currently in yeshiva, or a husband. And there comes a point where you want to look something up because you are tired of always relying on other people for what to do, but you know what? You can't. Because you've never been taught how, or where, to look. You haven't the faintest idea of the structure of the Mishna Berura, or the Kaf HaChaim. Shulchan Aruch? Forget it. You haven't a clue as to where a halacha originated in the gemara or the mishnah. Whenever a teacher referenced those sefarim, it was a passing mention and you only have a vague idea as to what the sefer actually contains and accomplishes.

This has a couple important ramifications. Firstly, what is essentially being told to women is that it's not even worth it to bother to learn how to use a source (or even what sources there are). Secondly, this makes women much more dependent on men (because the implication is "you can always just ask someone"), and therefore, much less confident in their knowledge in the face of a man's knowledge.

I'm not saying that the system of asking a rav a shailah should be torn down. Far from that. Rather, there needs to be a shift in the way that women are taught halacha in bais yaakov schools. There needs to be a lot more empowerment in terms of learning from sources and learning how to utilize sources. There needs to be more of an emphasis on the ability of a woman to discuss halachic issues with men.

I don't know - maybe my hesitation to contradict a guy who I think is quoting halacha incorrectly or to put my two cents into a discussion about halacha is an isolated thing, but it definitely relates back to the way I was taught. And it frustrates me so much. I dislike this imposed paralysis on my ability to confidently state what the correct course of halachic action is. (And I really don't like that consulting a source is so foreign to me or that it intimidates me too much to approach it.)

So what can I do about it? Well, I am lucky that I'm at the point where I can still take halacha classes with professors who *do* go back to original sources and use them in class.

But still . . . it frustrates me SO much! I wish it hadn't been that way.