Author Archives: Matthue Roth

About Matthue Roth

Matthue Roth's newest book is Automatic. He is also the author of three novels and the memoir Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and is an associate editor at MyJewishLearning.com. His screenplay 1/20 is currently in production as a feature film.

We’re the Best!

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Or, as we should say, we’re among the best. MyJewishLearning is excited to share the news that we’ve been named one of the nation’s 50 most innovative Jewish nonprofits in Slingshot ’11-’12, a resource guide for Jewish innovation.

Slingshot is an organization that’s devoted to identifying trailblazing organizations that grapple with concerns in Jewish life such as identity, community, and tradition. This year marks the third year in a row that MyJewishLearning was chosen for SlingshotKveller.com, MyJewishLearning’s parenting website, which launched in September 2010, was also highlighted in the official Slingshot entry.

So thank you, Slingshot, for featuring us, and thank you folks for visiting and reading and engaging with us! We’ve got more great stuff planned. Keep checking out MyJewishLearning.com, and keep letting us know what you think — you’re the reason we’re here!

Posted on October 27, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Dressing the Part

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

So a few weeks ago I stumbled across this weird video. It’s a fashion show from the ’80s, a Jean-Paul Gaultier collection featuring hot bored-looking chicks dressed up as Hasidic Jewish men.

Of course.

I was basically compelled to feature it in a Jewniverse, which I did (it’s out next week–subscribe right now to get it!). Then I wrote it. Then I thought that was the end of it.

It wasn’t.

Today I’m wearing a white button-down shirt. It’s a far cry from the punk-rock t-shirts of my choice, the vaguely hip blazers of my wife’s selection, but it’s what I’ve been wearing more often lately. Like Gaultier, I might be going through a phase of my own — albeit, less fashionably. And, uh, less revealingly.

I have to say, I kind of like it. I feel more serious — about work, about myself, and about little things. (My posture is improving dramatically.) It’s a little more distinguished. And when I walk down the streets of my own relatively ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn, I get this whole stare of respect and/or identification with a group of people whose respect or comradeship I never thought I’d be after. Which is to say, the old guys. I always wondered why the bulk of retired people didn’t just wear t-shirts and Bermuda shorts. Now I think I know.

Anyway. A few weeks ago, the online show Rew and Who did a feature on 1/20, the movie I wrote. It’s filmed in the East Village, in a studio in the back of a bar called Otto’s Shrunken Head, and it’s every bit as punk and alterna-something as you think it is. I was invited in for an interview along with one of the stars. Heading out of the office, I shed my starched and Jewish shirt and changed into a more-suitable Mumm-Ra t-shirt (which you might think is related to Mamre, where Abraham pitched his famous tent, but is actually the bad guy on ThunderCats) and ran downtown.

So that was how I filmed the first interview:

 

We got invited back today — we’re appearing with Alan Merill, who wrote “I Love Rock ‘n Roll.” And again, I’m wearing a white shirt. This time, I’m not taking it off. After all, there’s nothing more punk than not looking very punk in the first place. This might not be all of who I am, but it’s a part of who I am.

Even if they mistake me for Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Posted on October 26, 2011

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A New Shema Every Time You Say It

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Today’s Jewniverse is about a translation of the Shema prayer — only, it’s not the prayer as you’ve ever heard it. Rabbi Darby Jared Leigh talks about the word-to-word translation, asking whether “Israel” refers to the place or the people Israel — and why would you start a prayer off “Hear O Israel” when you can’t hear?

Rabbi Leigh’s thoughts on the matter are pretty incredible. And he seems like a pretty blow-away guy as well — check out his author page on MJL, and this hilarious video of the heavy metal band Twisted Sister playing during his rabbinical ordination. But really, check out his version of the Shema. And then check out your own. And see how thinking about his version changes yours.

Here’s the way it’s usually said:

 

And here’s Rabbi Leigh’s version, and his explanation:

Thanks to director Antony Benjamin for the tip! And thanks to Ritualwell for making it.

Posted on October 24, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

She-mix-ni Atzeret

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Tonight starts Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah, the final round of Jewish holidays — for this month, anyway! Here’s a little mix that I stumbled into putting together, song by song.

This morning at synagogue I was getting ready for Shemini Atzeret, which starts tonight, looking ahead in the prayerbook — you know, like peeking at the ending. One thing I always forget is the Prayer for Rain, Tefilat Geshem, which is the beginning of the rainy season in Israel. Which immediately stuck this song in my head. It’s not exactly a part of the traditional liturgy, but I’ve been singing this song longer than I’ve been praying:

And the celebration kept coming, and so did the songs. The new Y-Love video, the first song from his upcoming album, is out today. (And the album has a shout-out to my book! And it features Andy Milonakis, who’s the weirdest and most original thing on MTV right now.

And, just to tie everything together, our house guest just wandered through the room and heard the song. “Oh!” he said. “Is that the new Drake video?”

I had no idea what he was talking about. “I thought you’d know,” he said. Apparently, the platinum-selling hip-hop artist Drake has a new single, too, and in the video, he and his companions are drinking Bartenura Moscato D’Asti — which my older daughter calls “blue wine” and which is the only kind of wine my mother drinks. It’s bubbly and sweet and basically like alcoholic soda. It makes family meals tons more fun…and is there any wonder that it’s the beverage of choice among Jewish soul singers?

Once again, here’s the money shot:

Happy Shemini Atzeret!

Posted on October 19, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

My Favorite Etrog

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Happy Sukkot! This year, I managed to snag a great etrog — my brother-in-law, who’s a rabbinical student, picked it out. He knows all about the intricate system of bumps and blemishes, and what each of them means for me, spiritually, in the coming year. I’m clueless. But I’m okay with that. I like surprises.

Still, my nifty new etrog has nothing on the etrog that Heshy Fried and I picked out last year. Check out this video of us plundering Crown Heights and terrorizing its innocent etrog dealers…all in search of that one elusive diamond.

Posted on October 17, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

The Most Fun Yom Kippur Ever

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Was it just me, or did this year’s Yom Kippur seem a lot less, well, dire than usual?

It started Friday night. Usually, Shabbat is a time of eating and plentifulness where we stuff our faces through three colossal meals crammed into one 24-hour span, but when it overlaps with Yom Kippur, there’s fasting all around. But the whole thing sort of felt like a joke — starting that morning, when I read this treatise from Shlomo Carlebach that stressed how Yom Kippur was a time of great happiness, and how everyone is supposed to act like they’re sure God is going to be happy with us and give us a good year instead of worrying that, well, we’re going to be smitten or something.

In synagogue, everyone was pretty chill. Afterward, instead of hurrying home to our Shabbos meals, we all stood outside and chatted. It was like Tisha B’Av in that we were hungry and wary and not 100% sure how to behave — we were wearing sandals and tallises at night and we’d just finished this super-long, super-intense prayer service and now there was nothing, Jewishly-speaking, that we had to do — but unlike Tisha B’Av, tonight we were standing around and talking and laughing. This one businessguy who’s sort of a secret undercover hippie was talking about our favorite synagogue in Crown Heights, and I was telling him how we’re planning to walk there on Simchas Torah (it’s about an hour’s walk). Other people were telling jokes. There was an underlying sense that, even though we were being judged, it was all going to be okay.

Really, though, the fun times are supposed to begin now. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about ascending to God’s level — they’re focused on yirah, which literally means “fear of God,” although it’s really more about being in awe and amazement and un-understanding of God. Sukkot, in Jewish liturgy, is nicknamed zman simchatenu — literally, “happy time.” First we’ve gotten into the habit of cowering and awe-ing before God, and ascending to a divine level. And now we’re prepared to bring that Godly power down into our own lives and have a good time and rave on — specifically, inside a sukkah, which is yet another Jewish holiday, but it’s a Jewish holiday that’s singularly about a whole week of parties.

Even the lone restriction of Sukkot — that is, that everything you eat has to be inside a sukkah — is an enticement to partying: Go find a sukkah! See what everyone else is doing inside it! Get outside your life and outside yourself for a bit. (And, if you’re me, trek across the city and actually breathe some real air while you’re scavenging for a bamboo hut in midtown Manhattan.)

Posted on October 10, 2011

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Yom Kippur Jury Duty

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

So I need to tell you, it’s really weird being called onto a jury the day before Yom Kippur. When I tell people, they’ve mostly been quick to freak out about the religious rules about it — mostly, that I’ll be in court until an hour before the holiday starts, and apparently you’re supposed to have a great, grand feast the day before Yom Kippur. In the exact words of the Talmud (I don’t remember; I’m totally paraphrasing) — “Anyone who stuffs his face the day before Yom Kippur, it is like he fasted for two days.”

Something tells me people don’t eat in courtrooms. I don’t know this for sure, but I feel like I’d remember it if I saw someone on Ally McBeal or Law & Order crunching on some Dipsy Doodles. (Or, on Ally, probably unpeeling a suggestive-looking banana.) I actually don’t know at all what to ally mcbeal courtroomexpect, beyond the specifics of the trial. Officially, I’m not allowed to share it with you, but let’s just say I found it strange that they still accepted me as a juror — considering my new book came out last week, and I told them all about the accident at the center of the story. *whistles*

I know I should have tried to get out of it. Believe me, as a small nonprofit employee who writes a daily email and a father of two, it’s really freakin’ hard to make the room in my life for it. (And I guess you could make the case that I did try to get out of it — see above, the part about my book.) The real kicker came when I asked a lawyer-friend, and he said, “You’ll get off without a hitch. They never choose Orthodox Jews for a jury.” And now I sort of feel like I’m the first Hasidic Jew who’s ever served on a jury, and I’ve gotta make a good run of it, or else everyone will think Hasidic Jews are draft-dodgers. Jury-dodgers. Whatever.

But as the trial date gets closer and closer, I find myself getting both more apprehensive and more excited. Partly it’s that I’m going to be put in charge of somebody’s future, someone’s fate, and maybe a lot of money. Partly that it’s reflexive. Just like this person’s going to be standing in front of us, I’m going to be standing in front of God, defending my lifestyle choices and excusing my slip-ups and asking for another shot.

I don’t think any of this renders me partial to the defendant or the plaintiff. Or maybe it does? That’s all any of us can really do, right? — take our life experience and apply it to our verdict. I’m talking about the New York District Court case, and to my own divine case.

So I probably won’t get to have my pre-Yom Kippur feast this year. But I have a feeling it’ll still be meaningful. Plus maybe I’ll meet Lucy Liu?

Posted on October 5, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Gemach Directory

This entry was posted in Life on by .

The word gemach is an acronym for the Jewish term gemilut hasadim (acts of lovingkindness). A gemach is a Jewish recycling agency of sorts, a repository of useful items that people may borrow and then return. Here’s a collection of different gemachs we found around the world, and the best places on the Internet to go looking for a gemach. For more about the idea, check out our article.

Chosson-Kallah Gemachs
A directory of gemachs related to Jewish weddings, both for participants and attendees.

International Association of Hebrew Free Loans
One of the oldest gemachs in the world, based on the principle that a Jew is not allowed to charge another Jew interest on a loan.

Bicycle Gemach
Encouraging good health practices and environmental awareness among Hasidim. No idea why it’s men-only, but still fascinating.

Yad Sarah
An organization of volunteers — and volunteered goods — for disabled children in Israel.

Baby Gemachs
Newborns and children are a huge part of gemachs — since babies outgrow their clothes so frequently, and people are always needing more.

Search for Gemachim
A searchable map of every gemach in the world.

Posted on October 3, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

I Just Nullified My Sins, and Now I Can Do Anything

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

I’ve been going to synagogue every morning this week, which is rare for me. I used to skip synagogue all the time because I slept too late, and then it was because my kids were up too early. I never got to see them any other time because of this full-time-job thing (you know, the one that enables me to write stuff like this, and for you to read it)…so mornings seemed like the perfect opportunity to do that, and let my wife sleep late (bonus points).

jewish prayingBut this week I’ve been getting into the swing of it. Putting aside my religious snarkiness, and telling myself that I’ve got a four-day weekend for Rosh Hashanah, and I’ll spend plenty of time with the offspring then. Also–I’ll say this quietly, because I really don’t want to jinx it–the kids have been sleeping later.

Also, services have been keeping me on my toes. It’s not just the normal routine of praying and saying amen. There are different things you do every day. All week, before services we’ve been saying selichot, this really intense 15-minute-long prayer where you recount all the bad stuff you’ve done this year and then ask G-d to forget about it. And then tachanun, which is another confessional sort of thing, not to be confused with Catholic confession, because when we take account of our slip-ups, we do it directly to G-d. And then the shofar blasts at the end of services, which are supposed to literally scare the living sin out of you.

And then, this morning, hataras nedarim.

If you’re saying what?, rest assured, dear friends, so did I. We all gathered round a makeshift rabbinical court — that would be three of the old dudes at the synagogue, because according to Jewish law, basically anyone can be a judge (well, sorta) — and we all recited this liturgical thing that listed all the oaths and promises we may have inadvertently made, and asked them to nullify those things. I’d never done it before. Or maybe I just don’t remember? But now that I have, I sort of feel the infinity of infancy. Like I’ve sworn away all my oaths and all my sins, and now I can do anything. I just have to not think about taking a nap or checking my Google Reader stream.

I have this irrational idea in my head that, just because I wrote a book with Yom Kippur in the title, I’m some sort of authority on repentance. Whereas the truth is, I’m probably just an authority on how to mess up really badly, and on a grand scale. But that’s what the High Holidays are most fundamentally about, I think — coming face to face with the stuff you’ve done wrong, and trying to make it better. And then, being able to do anything.

Posted on September 28, 2011

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Selichot 2011

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This Saturday night, September 25, 2011, a lot of Jews might be getting a lot less sleep than usual.

In my head, the midnight Selichot service is mostly known as the dividing point between normal prayers and pre-Rosh Hashanah prayers. It’s the first time when you actually start to say the al-hets — the set of lines that starts “for the sin which we’ve committed before you by ________ and for the sin which we’ve committed before you by ________.” It’s one of those intense, will-we-live-or-will-we-die prayers, a little bit impassioned and a little bit scary.

And, as I mentioned, most synagogues hold this service between midnight and 1:00 A.M.

In the past this wasn’t a problem. In fact, I have distinct memories of stopping at synagogue on the way home from a Saturday night out. (On one occasion, it was an almost-compromising-situation that I slipped out of. Which was, to be sure, a great inspiration for asking forgiveness from G-d that year.) This year, however, the main complication is not that my Saturday night would be interrupted, but that I’ll still be awake. Having kids will do that to you. Having kids who get up at 6:30 on a good day will really do that to you.

But this, I think, is what religion’s supposed to be. Not something that makes us comfortable in our lives, but that specifically makes us uncomfortable with our lives — to remind us that there’s a greater order to the world than our petty little routines of waking up and going to sleep at the same time every night.

And then, of course, waking up a mere few hours after that and remembering the other greatest things in the world.

Selichot starts this Saturday night at midnight! Learn more about the service on MJL, and be on the lookout for Matthue sleepwalking like a zombie through your local synagogue.

Posted on September 23, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy