Sunday, April 13, 2014

Four More Questions to Ask on Passover

Father, I'd like to ask you the Four Questions.  Why is this night different from all other nights?

The first question is:

Why do we get generations together for the Seder?


Because the whole point of the seder is the Haggadah, which literally means, the telling.  We're commanded, "And you should tell your children on that night saying, 'God took us out of the land of Egypt!'" Which essentially means that if you're wondering when is the right time to sit your kid down and transmit what you know and care about Judaism, this is the night.  So we get generations together so that one generation can transmit to the next what it's all about.  Being Jewish.  Being a nation.  Being free to be a Godly people.

The second question is:

Why is matzah so hard to digest?

Monday, April 7, 2014

My Kid, the Professional Jew

Dateline:  child is 5 years old.

Rabbi, I'd love to come to that class/Shabbat dinner/program/event, but we really can't.  My daughter is in a dance recital/my son is in a basketball tournament.  Maybe next time.  Hopefully next time.  For sure next time!

Dateline:  child is a teen.

Rabbi, I'm so distraught.  My kids are so disinterested in Judaism.  They're so busy with school and sports, it just really doesn't mean much to them right now.  I worry about their future.  What will Judaism mean to them on college campuses?

What we say:

I'm so sorry.  Maybe we can meet with him/her?  Talk, take a class, a program?  Trip to Israel?  Birthright?

Monday, March 31, 2014

State of the blog, take 3

OK, folks.  Buckle your seat belts.  OOTOB is making some great new changes, and here's what you can expect:

1. My new domain.

Check out your URL bar.  See how it says "outoftheorthobox.com" instead of the "blogspot" domain? Yup, we're growing up.  Cutting the blogspot apron strings and paying our own rent.  Whether you find this as exciting as I do, I don't know, but I'm liking it.  I'll also have an @outoftheorthobox.com email address, which I'll update on the contact page as soon as it's live.

2. Spreading my reach.

For a long time I resisted any other social media platform other than my familiar Facebook.  I even tried and left Twitter for awhile, and surely laughed that a place like Pinterest would make room for this blog.  But I've been educating myself on blogging and have decided to join those two platforms - not as myself, Ruchi Koval, but as OOTOB - just to put my blog in front of more eyeballs.  I'm building my reach slowly.  Help me by finding and following me on Twitter and Pinterest (and Facebook if you haven't yet done so, where I've created an OOTOB page - something else I've resisted for awhile), and sharing, liking, pinning, retweeting, favoriting my content there when you like it!

Note: on both Twitter and Pinterest, you can find me by searching for "Out of the Ortho Box" or outoftheorthobo - notice the missing "x."  That's because they limit your letters.  Just click the link above and you'll be taken to my page.

3. Blog makeover.

It's time to move off a free template from Blogger and actually get a designer to snazz up the blog.  I will definitely stick to orange, my favorite color and an optimistic one, and to the contemporary, clean feel, but I'm going to be adding some fun stuff:


  • You'll be able to find me on social media and email from the home page.
  • You'll be able to share each post on social media and email at the end of each post.
  • I will still retain the easy, no-need-to-log-in-and-create-an-account method of commenting, so no worries there.
  • I will have different pages for each different type of post (more on this soon).
  • In general, it will have a cooler, more interesting look - not exactly sure what.  I'm in the process of hiring a designer and I'm welcoming suggestions!
4. Categories.

It has long bothered me that I have something of an identity crisis here on the blog.  Like, I'm not exactly sure who I'm talking to when I post.  Some of my posts address non-Orthodox Jews, explaining why we do certain things, or how to do them.  Some are simply Jewish inspiration, more addressed to religiously-oriented readers who are looking for that.  Sometimes I make controversial observations.  To whom am I speaking?  Well, I finally sorted this out in my mind.  I am talking to all of you.  There are non-Jews, atheists, Orthodox Jews, and Jews who have never met an Orthodox Jew, and they are reading this blog.  So I have eight different types of posts on this blog, and some of my readers will find some of them interesting and others not - and maybe some will find only a fraction of them interesting, and others will find all types potentially interesting.  And that's okay, because I'm serving a super-diverse readership and this is a good way to do it.

To that end, I've gone back in to all 238 of my old posts and assigned each one one or more of the eight categories, and I'm going to create a page for each, so you'll be able to click on the page and see all the posts I've ever written in that category.  Fun, right?  

Further, with each of my future posts I will scroll regularly through each category, so you're getting an even range of my different types of posts.

Here are the eight:

1. Book reviews
2. Interviews
3. How-to Judaism
4. Controversial observations (these will require a glass of wine prior to posting)
5. Why Orthodox Jews do the things they do
6. Q&A received from real people in the real world
7. Jewish inspiration
8. (This is a new category) My favorite round-up of Jewish posts from around the web

I will also periodically, but not regularly, post about Jewish food, and about me and the blog.

5. Future posts.

I already said above that I'm going to be regularly posting on a schedule. rotating between each of the eight categories.  Some will overlap.  For example, I may do a book review that is also a controversial observation.  Or an interview that contains lots of Jewish inspiration.  Or a Q&A that will answer why we do the things we do or how to do something in a more Jewish way.

Monday will be the day that I put up each new post.  You can expect a new post each week, barring unusual circumstances.  For those of you signed up via email (and see the right sidebar to sign up if you'd like to get an email with each new post) you will get the email around 1 am or 2 am early Tuesday morning.  This is an automated system that sends out all posts published within the previous hours.  It is not me staying up till 2 am to email you.

On the day I post something new, I'll post it to Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest right away, and the email will come that night.


Got it??  Those are all my updates.  I'm really excited about bringing the blog to the next level and making it more professional, even-handed, beautiful, far-reaching, and ultimately, educational and unifying.  Thanks for being my partners in making it so.





Friday, March 28, 2014

My Big Fat Orthodox Seder

Ever been to a Seder with no brisket that ends at 2 am? Twice in a row? I'm over at Mishegas of Motherhood today, blogging about just that.  Check out what's different and what's the same no matter who you are.

Monday, March 24, 2014

What to Bring to Shabbat Dinner?

Way back when I first started this blog, I wrote a post called "The 10 Things I Want My Shabbat Guests to Know." At over 10,000 views, it's my second-most widely read post, and probably at least once a week someone finds my blog by searching Rabbi Google with anxious queries about being invited to Shabbat dinners and not knowing what to do/say/wear.  Of course you can just ask your hosts, but if you don't feel comfortable doing so, this may be useful.

Photo credit: Hallie Abrams
So here's a follow-up post about what to bring when you're invited to an Orthodox (or any) Shabbat dinner.


1. A Shabbos-friendly toy or game for the kids, where applicable. To me this is your best bet because you win over the parents and kids in one fell swoop AND ensure that the kids will play happily while the adults linger and chat.

* For kids ages 0-3, any non-electric toy or game, like a doll or simple stacking blocks.

* For kids ages 4-7, we love games for Shabbos like:
Jenga
Magnatiles (these are pricier)
Perplexus (also great for older kids).



* For older kids, we find these to be timeless:
Backgammon
Card games
Othello
Bananagrams
Risk

2. You can also bring something new for the home - again, non-electric. New hand towels, a nice salad bowl or plate, a vase.

3. I'd say the last option I'd try is food. You just don't know what the family's kosher situation is unless you ask them.  You'd have to have a pretty good understanding of kosher, and be familiar with your kosher options where you live.  If you do go with food, make sure it is both kosher and pareve (containing neither meat nor dairy) with a reliable kosher symbol.

4. Flowers are tricky since they can't be placed in water after sundown - it's one of the Shabbat rules that Orthodox people follow. So either bring them before sundown, or bring them in a vase.

5. Kosher wine is also a nice option.

What are your ideas and suggestions?

Monday, March 17, 2014

I'm Praying For You... But How?

Notice I cropped out the name and avatar of the asker but not the compliment (cough, cough).

So the question at hand is: when someone says, "Pray for me," and you're Jewish... well, what does that actually mean?  How do you actually do that?  I'll add my own question, just to stir the pot.  What do you do with those group texts and Facebook posts to pray for people?  Do you truly pray for them all?  Do you forward them all as requested?  How do handle all this in the digital age?

First things first.  There are multiple "right" ways to pray in Judaism.  All are predicated on obtaining the person's Hebrew name.  That formulation is [Hebrew name] + [ben (for male)/bat or bas (for female)] + [mother's Hebrew name]. If any of these are unknown, just use the names you know, intending that God will understand who you mean.

That said, here are some options in terms of prayer, listed in order from "beginner" to "advanced":

1. Say a short prayer in English in your own words, and when you mention the person's name, use the formulation above.

2. Say a short formal prayer using the person's Hebrew name as formulated above.

3. Say a chapter of Tehillim / Psalms (or more if so inclined) - which chapters to say are highlighted in the link -  in either English or Hebrew (preferably in Hebrew, even if you don't understand the words), and when you are done, do #1.  Next step would be committing to saying a chapter each day for that person.

4. Do #3, but follow up with #2 instead of #1.

5. When praying the formal Amidah prayer, either at home or at synagogue, include the person's Hebrew name in the paragraph about healing.

Now let's talk about name management.  Here's what I do, personally.

I have a notepad app on my phone, and whenever I get a name to pray for I add it to my app.  I also note who the person is and where I got the name from so I can follow up.  Praying indefinitely for people I don't know and am not being updated on is hard for me.  I have learned to transfer the list to paper that I keep near my prayerbook because when I'm praying (as in #5) I don't want my phone out to check the names.

Which names get added?  People that have a connection to those I know personally, I add to my list.  Other names, such as texts and Facebook posts, I say a quick prayer (see #2) or chapter of psalms (#3) for and move on.  I don't forward such requests unless I know the sick person myself.  This may be wrong of me, but otherwise there's no end.

How do you pray?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sponsor Me?


Hey OOTOB readers,

This May, I am going to walk 100 miles along with a bunch of other JFX-ers (and fans of Israel from around the world) to raise money to bring more women to Israel in December with an incredible organization called JWRP.

No, not in one day!  Over one month, I'm going to wear a device that tracks my steps - 10,000 steps a day, which is about 4 miles - for a month.  Gah!!  I'm really excited, and I need some help.  Would you, my devoted readers, consider sponsoring me?  Just head over here - no donation too small!

Thanks so much!