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Bay Area Orthodox Jews are definitely not mainstream

It’s not uncommon that I’m the only FFB at the table. It’s also not uncommon when I try and explain that Bay Area Judaism is unlike that of anywhere else. The orthodoxy is not mainstream by most anyone’s standards and I’ve been exposed to things I’ve never seen until I moved here, below is a short list of some of the strange practices of orthodox Jews in the Bay Area. 

The Gender Neutral Bencher: I’m a dude who grew up with mostly dudes, so I’ve never even noticed that benchers were geared toward dudes until I started seeing the liberal version of the NCSY bencher everywhere I ate for shabbos meals. The Harvard Bencher as it’s known in some circles is gender neutral, so God is neither a man nor woman. I wonder at what point God gets to be told of his or her gender, of if it’s like those parents who never tell their children. This bencher has no He or Him or His, although I’ve found some screw ups where they refer to God in the masculine they don’t refer to God in the feminine even once.

Orthodox Women making hamotzi: Generally, in mainstream orthodoxy, women don’t do much in terms of ritual. They go to the mikvah, pop out children and make challah, but round these parts where the women are a bit freer they make hamotzi, havdallah and sometimes even Kiddush. No joke, it’s almost strange to hear a man say hamotzi in a modern orthodox home.

Kosher weddings with treife wine: I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if I would be the kosher supervisor at a wedding if they were going to be having non-kosher wine. It appears that the entire masechta of avodah zarah was skipped over by people who think that kosher supervision will somehow lesson the sins of drinking non-kosher wine. Just so happens to be that it may even be worse, halachically to drink treife wine than to eat treife food. I have been in my fare share of “kosher” homes where there was treife wine as well, kudos to those people who have warned me upon inviting me to their homes as to what their standards were.

Seats for self identified women: If you asked me two years ago what exactly a self identified woman was, I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you. Sounds like one of those gender issues to me, but I would never have imagined to see such writing on a chair in a shul or a bathroom.

Solar powered sinks in a shul: You may say that those Conservative Jews know nothing, but I still found it a little shocking that a shul would have electric sinks that would specifically cause many people to be mechalel shabbos, at least they’re being green about it by using the solar energy generated by the lights in the bathroom to power those faucets. I guess I expected that a conservative shul would be a little more private about the whole shabbos breaking thing. Mipharhesya’s a bitch!

Chabadnicks who compost: One of my first Bay Area experiences was when I was yelled at by someone in the chabad of Berkeley for not composting my apple core and banana peel. Sure they must have been joking, but her scowl was not and I was told that it could never happen again. Since when did frum yidden care about the environment.

Frum people who say “I ate at”: Until 2 years ago I had no idea that “ate by” was weird. Only recently, through contact with people who didn’t grow up frum did I realize that it sounds very weird. I remember people asking me to write about the usage of the term “By” and having no idea why it made a difference. I now know the truth and notice every time I use the word by, like “I stayed by so and so” makes no sense, yet I know no other way.

Frummies not being racist: I know it’s strange, but I’m so used to frummies being racist and using the N-word in regular talk that I find it kind of weird when they aren’t, yet I’ve never heard one black hat person in the entire Bay Area (there are about 20 of them not including chabad) ever use the N-word. Sure they use shvartze, but that’s fairly PC compared to the N-word. In fact, I sometimes miss the non-political correctness of the east coast.

Women saying Kaddish: Women generally don’t say kaddish, it’s not prohibited, but from what I understand it’s a time related mitzvah and therefore those ladies don’t have to do it. Here in the Bay Area, women say kaddish, no matter what level of frumness your shul is – you can find a woman saying kaddish there.

Milchigs on shabbos: I actually like milchigs on shabbos, unfortunately, most of those having milchigs have fake milchigs are rarely bust out the cheesy goodness of shavuos. They usually just have quiche and fish, rather than lasagna or eggplant parm. Still, you will find regular frum folks having non-fleishig shabbos meals which rarely happens on the east coast.

Orthodox couples living together before they marry: I’ve met quite a few couples who are frum and lived together before marrying. Sure, most of them weren’t that frum at the time, but usually frum people don’t talk so frank about such things.

Frum folks not having two beds: I have noticed that many orthodox folks in the Bay Area have one bed in their bedrooms, I know that sleeping in a separate bed is another Niddah chumra, but I’ve always thought that it’s a generally accepted practice to have two beds, at least to pretend you’re keeping taharas hamishpacha.

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  • A. Nuran

    In all seriousness, I heartily approve of the first one. To give God a human gender is to make God in our image, to worship an idol. I understand that it’s sometimes difficult to get around this in speech, but if God is consistently “He” and never “She” you’re constantly making that old graven image.

    • Lex Luthor

      You have to weigh that against the problem of it looking as though there are several different powers. As it is the various names cause enough confusion; he said she said would just cause chaos. Anyway, anthropomorphic attributions are not idolatry. There’s nothing wrong with them as long if one understands that they are figures of speech, and that is something every frum kid is taught at a young age.

      • Telz Angel

        Lex, You are correct, we are all taught that although God is gender neutral, that all holy people worth admiring are male. Hence the “He is great, He is merciful, He is executes true justice” is really referring to the gedolim. It’s a different kind of idolatry.

      • A. Nuran

        In theory. But if it were true you could use the feminine pronoun without raising eyebrows. Do it and you will not get an understanding reception.

      • Seriously??

        There is meaning in the use of gender in the Torah. Look at the language: G-d is masculine everywhere outside of the Mishkan/Beis Hamikdash. That is why we are forbidden to make a matzevah (which is a phallic symbol) – WE are the women in the relationship with G-d.

        Except in the Beis Hamikdash – where the word Shechinah is used. Shechinah is feminine. The cohen is masculine. Why the gender reverseal? In the Beis Hamikdash, it is the people who take the initiative. And the place where G-d is feminine is where Yaakov built matsevahs. Jacob SWITCHED the gender for that place.

        Everyone is where they are. But when they refuse to read the Torah and see the depth that is in it, it makes me weep.

        • Yochanan

          Can you tell me the chapter and verse of Psukim where God is feminine in regards to the Mishkan/Mikdash. I’d like to look them up in mechon mamre.

          • Seriously??

            That is the only place where the name shechinah is used. Just search using your handy Davka tool.

            • Yochanan

              Yes. I know Shechinah is femenine. But at the same time, there are no verses that go “Brukha At” or whatever.

              Also, when we pray, aren’t we taking the initiative?

              • Seriously??

                Good point, and one I had not considered. Perhaps we are taking the initiative.

                I spend more time listening than talking when I pray; I think that is what prayer was for the Avos. But, like any relationship, there is conversation. My wife is female, and she has no trouble initiating a conversation – so what I am trying to say about gender roles is rather more fuzzily defined. But I think most people know “feminine” versus “masculine” when they see it.

                • Yochanan

                  Could it also be that people 3,000 years ago would not have the proper yira if they thought of a deity in feminine terms?

        • A. Nuran

          So God is male. Thanks, idolator. No further questions.

    • Dan

      Yeah, I don’t think calling something generically in the male form is giving it a gender. I think that generic things have always been given the male form.

      Only recently have we started with the gender neutral business. But I don’t do gender neutral for anything else, so I don’t do it to G-d.

      • A. Nuran

        In English. Not all languages are saddled with its shortcomings. And not all cultures believe that women are less than fully human as the Abrahamic faiths contend.

        • Dan

          In English, and also in Hebrew.

          Less than fully human? Who believes that? Are you citing to that strange ralbag that I had never seen until some girl who liked learning showed it to me, and has no counterpart in the entire rabbinic literature?

          • Dan

            Hmmm. Looks like you didn’t even know about the ralbag. Look it up, you’ll like it. It’ll tickle you pink and make you feel all superior.

            But every time you think of it, you’ll also have to remember how you needed to find out about it from me.

      • thinking outloud

        …I don’t think Hebrew has a gender neutral option

  • David

    Very interesting.

    I live in New York, and I rarely hear people using “the N word”.
    Also,I’m pretty sure the separate beds thing (during the wife’s Niddah status) is in the Shulchan Aruch.

    • Lex Luthor

      Yeah, it is. It’s in the Gemara as well.

      • Yochanan

        At first I thought you said the n-word was in the Gemara.

        • Lex Luthor


  • With regard to separate beds, I know couples who have a single double bed, but while she’s a Nida they have a separate pull out be or camper bed for one of them (normally him) to sleep in.

    Pretty sure that not sleeping in the same bed while she’s a nida is basic halacha, not a chumra.

    • Dan

      I always assumed that the people who have only one bed, the woman sleeps on the floor when she’s a nidda. It’s her fault anyway.

      • Telz Angel

        Yup, that’s how we do it in my home.

      • A. Nuran

        And you sleep in the doghouse the rest of the month?

        • Dan

          Is that what you call my wife? Not very nice.

      • Seriously??

        The halacha is that it is HER bed. The guy moves.

  • Telz Angel

    Another weird one: Milchik crock pots. I just heard about this over the weekend from a west-coast friend. A terrible that should be assur-ed. What could you possibly make in a crock pot that is milchik? Nothing kosher, I’m sure.

    • A. Nuran

      I make cheese in a crockpot. Only milk has ever gone in there. Only utensils that are used exclusively for cheesemaking touch it.

    • Dan

      Yes. My roommate has a pareve crockpot. I think it is a toeva. It should be per se assur to use.

    • Person

      lasagna… mac and cheese… some sort of milchig soup I’m sure…

      • Seriously??

        We have milchig crock pots. Soups at big simchas….

  • Ichabod Chrain

    Speaking of the Bay Area, I’m not a fan of Chabad, but I wish more Chabad rabbis were like the one in Berkeley . I haven’t seen him for a few years now, but I remember him being very sharp and having a great sense of humor. Definitely a cut above many of the others I met.

    • Anonymous

      nasty. how do u feel when people speak that way about jews?
      I’m not a fan of jews, but I wish more jews were like the one in Berkeley . I haven’t seen him for a few years now, but I remember him being very sharp and having a great sense of humor. Definitely a cut above many of the others I met.

      • Ichabod Chrain

        You missed the point. How I would feel has nothing to do with it. Chabad has an ideology. I don’t think highly of it. Many people don’t. The point was that I wasn’t praising the Chabad rabbi because I blindly support Chabad. It means that I was saying something good about the rabbi, even if I can’t say the same things about the rest that I konw. A better example that what you gave is if someone said he didn’t think much of Judaism with all its minute regulations, but thought that Einstein was a brilliant physicist, a cut above the rest.

        • Anonymous

          ok, point taken, but if u don’t want to cause offense, perhaps u should specify chabad ideology. the word chabad, to many, denotes a community as much as a philosophy.

      • Seriously??

        Anyone who worships recycling is engaged in avodah zorah. It just makes Chabad even less Jewish than they already are.

        • Ichabod Chrain

          Who said Chabad “worships” recycling?

  • R.W.

    “Mipharhesya?” Really? Is that how the frummies pronounce the word in the Bay Area?

    • Should be working

      What the hell does it mean anyway? It’s not in the glossary.

      • Should be working

        I can’t help it, I wasn’t raised with this language. Please tell me: What is this word and what does it mean? I’ve been googling it and can’t find any variation on this spelling anywhere.

        • Dan

          It was a typo. It should read “bipharhesya.” It means publicly.

          • thank you

            • Should be working

              Yes, thanks Dan. Can someone please update the glossary for us know-nothing Reform folks? (I love the glossary.)

  • Dan

    I’m still claiming that my community is weirder. But I’ll have to compile a list of things to prove it.

    I daven at the frummest show in town, and it is the only place I will daven at. (And even there, maybe not on shabbos). There is a girl who comes to shachris, and wears a tallis and tefillin.

    Why a talis? She isn’t married! I don’t wear a tallis!

    So maybe because she doesn’t wear tzitzis. But then, why doesn’t she wear tzitzis?

    So maybe she doesn’t want to ruin the look of her outfits. So you see, even feminism has a limit–not ruining how your clothes look.

    • Micah T

      Just curious. What city do you live in, and which branch of Judasim do you belong to?

      • Dan

        Me? I’m a former yeshiva guy, with yore yadin smicha.

        I’m not ready to say where I live. I’d rather keep you in suspense.

    • thinking outloud

      sepphardim wear a tallis after bar mitzvah, perahaps she thought it was a nice minhag; and sometimes its really cold on that side of the mechizta –a nice wool shawl does wonders

      • Isak

        Jeckes too….

  • Evan

    So what to do? I used to think “modern orthodox” simply meant people who pretty much dress normal, with some lax-ness on sniyos for women. Men “even” wear shorts. Knit kippot, etc. They watch TV can be lax on the whole kol isha thing, BUT never cheated on wine, or kashrus and shuls had mechitzas for MEN and Women period, and were generally shomrei mitzvot. If people cheated they would say “hey I don’t know… I just don’t do that -should I? I’m afraid to find out”. There was no “gender neutral” and well technichally it’s OK for women to make hamotzi and havdallah or have all women minyanim -WHY NOT? If people weren’t shomrie negiah they would say so but were somewhat discreet about it. I think it’s odd that it’s now taken on a new meaning that these things are a norm. Still, I personally resent the collective surrender I see everywhere to black hat frummyland everywhere. Your average Young Israel rabbi is a black hatter these days. Do you know what I daven for? I middle ground somewhere.

    • A. Nuran

      What we now call “Modern Orthodox” is what my parents’ generation called “Orthodox”.

    • Seriously??

      There is no plausible defense of Modern Orthodoxy. It does not believe in the Torah, or in being secure in who you are. It is a haven for weak-willed people who don’t even know what they stand for.

      • Yochanan

        Wrong! Modern Orthodox Jews are comfortable admitting their insecurities in their beliefs.

        • Seriously??

          That is what I said.

          • Yochanan

            Emphasis on COMFORTABLE ADMITTING. Just because they don’t admit it, doesn’t mean that Jews in other communities have doubts.

  • Beryl

    “Ate by” is easy to explain. It’s a literal translation of “essen bei” in Yiddish. The confusion is that the Yiddish “bei” is not always used the same as the English “by”, despite sounding the same. This mistake was probably first made about 150 years ago by the first Jewish immigrants to America and has stuck.

    • Avrumy

      …and I stand “by” it.

  • Yochanan

    I’ve witnessed wives making HaMotzi at meals in Washington Heights.

    And, know what I’d really like to see in a frum community?: One where people know you by your given name. It seems that every time someone asks me my name, I can’t just say “Yochanan”. If you ask a 5-year old his name, instead of saying “Shloymi” , it’ll be “Goldberg”.

    • Sounds like a Philip Roth thing

      • Yochanan


  • BZ

    I don’t know. I knows a Chabad family here (not in teh Bay area) where the wife makes kiddush because only she and the children (I believe sometimes male adult children, though I can’t be sure) didn’t hear it in shul. Also, in one of the shuls I attend (MO) there are women who say kaddish loudly. People don’t like it, but put up with it.

    I love Milchigs on Shabbos, especially since I’m on a diet which I only break on Shabbos and most of the good stuff I deny myself during the week is dairy. Typically only one of the Shabbos meals I eat is dairy, usually lunch unless lunch is not at home in which case it can be the third meal or sometimes even the first. I do realize my family is atypical and when we have have people over (unless they’re very close friends and we ask first) we serve meat.

  • balansen

    So would I be wrong to assume that if they compost the frum people in the bay area eat vegetables?

  • Lex Luthor

    They compost the frum people in the bay area?

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  • Tyler

    I lived in SF for a whole great place but very cold. 

    The easier place on the world to get laid, white girls, Chinese girls, Filipinos, Russian  etc, I even scored with some girls from the Mission Minyan. 

    Some unusual fact about the  Jewish Life:

    A shtible (Torah emeth) operates in the basement of a Chinese family house. 

    The Gay synagogue (shahar zahav) has more kids in the services than Orthodox shuls ( ie Adath Israel, Anshei Sefarad, Chevra thilim)

    A reform synagogue
      ( Sheerith Israel) has its high holidays services in a church. 

    The Giants’ rabbi is a local habbad rabbi, Yosef Langer (who is the nicest rabbi in SF)

    I could swear I saw him in Burning Man. 

  • “Since when did frum yidden care about the environment.”

    Nu, you never heard of the prohibition against wasting called bal tashchit?