On Being Shomer Shabbat and Studying For the Bar

I’m taking the bar exam in 8 days, so obviously, I’m blogging instead of studying.

Throughout this whole process, the biggest strain I’ve felt was shabbat. I am privileged enough that I was able to take off the entire summer to devote solely to studying for the bar. I signed up for Barbri, the most popular bar review course. Barbri has an intense “paced program” in which they assign a combination of lectures, outline or notecard making, essays, and multiple choice questions. They say the expectation is that you do about 8 hours worth of work a day, 7 days a week. In reality, I found myself spending closer to 10-12 hours a day on the program. This does not take into account shabbat. I don’t study on shabbat. I certainly don’t make notecards, write essays, or bubble in answers to multiple choice questions, but I also don’t feel comfortable reading over my notes, either. I know there are halachic opinions that go both ways on this, but my opinion is that it’s really, REALLY not within the spirit of shabbat. Part of what I love about shabbat is the forced mental reprise, the time to get away from work and focus on friends and family.

But, I pay the consequence. As a result, I spend Saturday nights up until way late doing everything I was “assigned” for Saturday. It’s really draining. I’ve been googling things like “Barbri shomer shabbat” and “studying for the bar shabbos” to no avail. I was hoping to find someone that compiled a list of tips for handling both the Barbri paced program and not studying on shabbat, but I couldn’t. I concluded that either singles shomer shabbat bar taker either had no need for sleep, did a lot of studying over shabbat, or just fell way behind in the program. Since I don’t fall into any of these categories, I guess I should be that person that writes a list of tips. If you have any tips of your own, feel free to leave them in the comments section.

1. Have a strong support system behind you. 

I know that this is really not a choice for most people. You either have it or you don’t. I’ve been blessed with the most amazing husband in the world, and there’s no way that I’d have been able to do this without him. For the past 8 weeks or so, I haven’t done a single load of laundry or washed a single dish. I haven’t scrubbed any toilets. I think maybe I’ve swept the floors twice. The fact that he comes home and takes care of all the household chores so that I can study was pretty much the only way this would have happened. Other people might have the luxury of being able to move in with parents or relatives during this time, and I’d highly recommend it, if it can work for you.

2. Don’t go to lectures on Fridays. 

Barbri gives all students the opportunity to either watch the lectures at home or go to an actual lecture hall to watch the lectures with other students in a classroom setting. In general, I suggest going to the lectures. I find that I am more focused when I’m physically present at the lectures. However, I found Fridays to be tough. Since I had to be ready for shabbat by 8pm or so, that meant I had to be done studying at the latest by 7, earlier if I was making meals. In order to accommodate, I tried to wake up early on Fridays and start the lectures at 7am instead of 9:30 at the lecture hall location. This eliminated the hour long commute I had each day and gave me the ability to maximize my time. I’d throw a chicken in the oven with some bbq sauce during the two 10-minute breaks in the lectures.

3. Minimize the amount you cook for shabbat. 

I like to cook, so this was a hard one for me. We spent a good number of these summer shabbatot at my in-laws house, allowing me the luxury of not cooking. We also bought take out once or twice to serve on shabbat, again allowing me the luxury of not cooking. Friday is much less hectic when basically all I have to do is shower and light candles.

4. Be at home-or in a study appropriate place-when shabbat ends. 

I found that if we were spending shabbat at my in-laws, I often wouldn’t get home until 10 or 10:30 pm (even though they live less than a mile away from us and shabbat was over by 9:15 pm) because you can’t just run out the minute the clock strikes zman. Therefore, we’d try to walk back home before shabbat was over, so that I could immediately hit the books after havdalah.

5. Know that you can utilize Mondays and Tuesdays for catch-up, too. 

At first, I’d spend all of Saturday night and Sunday catching up from Friday’s and Saturday’s work. It just wasn’t feasible. In a ~30 hour period, you just can’t do 30 hours worth of work. It’s not possible. Therefore, I’d save things like reading over model essay answers (if you haven’t figured this out, don’t write out the model essay answers, ever, unless they tell you to. Do a BRIEF outline of what you’d answer–like, just spot the issue and maybe the conclusion–and then just read the model answers!) for Monday and Tuesday, which helped a lot. I didn’t get too behind.

6. The Guzman lectures will kill you, but they’re worth it. 

Towards the end of the paced program, you will take a model MBE (Multistate multiple choice section of the bar exam). There will be 15 hours of review lectures afterwards. Mine were given by Prof. Raphael Guzman, yours may be given by another professor, but regardless. They’re actually really helpful, but ain’t nobody got time for them. Find the time. I found that listening to them while commuting was a good use of time, although I wasn’t able to take notes this way.

In general, just relax, remember “this too shall pass”, take a deep breath, and study on. Oh, and I spent a few Saturday nights not studying and watching movies instead. I felt incredibly guilty, so much so that I opened my laptop just so that I could feel a little bit like I was studying, but I needed it. Remember that shabbat is a mental break, but you might need a different type of break to get back into the study mode, and that’s okay.

Good Luck!!

On Equality and Maturity

I think that one sign of maturity is the ability to say “You’re right” even when you don’t think the other person really is right. So to the ability to remain silent when you know there is no purpose for your words. I’ve sometimes said things I regret saying, later to reflect and realize that there was really no reason for me to say those things, even if I was absolutely correct in my statements. I’m working on that skill, but it’s hard.

So, I write. And you listen. And you can tell me I’m wrong if you want. But there’s no point in me telling others they’re wrong, because they don’t care.

Today on facebook, a friend posted this article:

“Even though it’s legal, I still can’t marry my girlfriend”

The article is about a lesbian in a long term relationship with another woman. The author lives in California, where the prohibition on same-sex marriages has recently been abolished by the U.S. Supreme Court, and therefore, couples of the same sex are now legally entitled to marry.

She writes that she still can’t marry her girlfriend, because he girlfriend lives in Alaska. Her girlfriend lives in Alaska because she can’t get a job in California. She can’t get a job in California because she is a convicted felon. According to the author, the girlfriend committed the felony a long time ago, served her time, and is now a “changed woman”. Still, employers are unwilling to give her the chance, and therefore, she felt compelled to accept the only job offer that came her way, a position in Alaska.

The article then goes on to talk about the inadequacies and hardships convicted felons face, and also, in the same breath, that White Men arguing for Equality just don’t get it, they don’t face the same hardships that Black Women face, and therefore, the White Men who are celebrating the fail of PROP 8 and DOMA should really not be celebrating, because we still haven’t yet achieved equality.

I take issue with bringing up the two issues in the same article. Same-sex marriage rights really have nothing to do with rights, or lack thereof, of convicted felons. I acknowledge that the author is right about the [unfair] hardships convicted felons face. Still, don’t blame the White Gay Men for that. They lobbied for equality in marriage, but they haven’t lobbied for equality for felons because that’s not their job! I don’t deny that maybe some changes should be made in the way rehabilitated convicted felons are treated in this country, but don’t rain on the parade of the gays. Like one commenter on the article succinctly said, “It’s like saying to someone saving the whales: ‘Well, that’s all well and good, but you’re a bastard for ignoring the seals!’ “.

I could have written this as a response to my friend’s post (or a shorter version of this. Maybe just copied that line above.) But I chose not to, because this friend is not very receptive to ideas that she doesn’t agree with. She doesn’t just debate, she gets personally offended. I didn’t want to start an argument with her, and I didn’t want to offend her. So, I remained silent. But the thoughts were still inside, and I had to get them out, so I spilled them here. Hope you enjoyed!

And, if you disagree, I welcome dialoge.

Niddah Diaries: Harchakot

I have’t published Niddah Diaries recently, perhaps because I’ve gotten complacent in my niddah practices.

My husband and I have been (sort of) keeping niddah for almost a year now, and I think it’s working. So much so, that when I went to a Q and A session on niddah run by several yoetzot halacha, I couldn’t think of anything to ask, and completely forgot to bring up the issue of strictly keeping the harchakot. I can’t remember if I’ve posted here before about the distinction between the harchakot and other niddah practices, so I’ll give a basic overview.

The “harcharkot” are rabbinic laws made to ensure that the husband and wife don’t even come close to having sex. These laws prohibit certain “romantic” acts between the spouses. Some are more “understandable” and what I call the “big ticket items”, like not sleeping in the same bed, and not touching each other. Others are more fine tuned, the smaller ticket items, like not eating from the same plate, or sitting on the same couch.

Even my kallah teacher acknowledged that the smaller ticket items can be hard to keep sometimes (and frankly, the big ticket items and the actual item, the no sex rule, can also be difficult to keep). She told me “not to fret” if I mess up on some of the harchakot, because it’s going to be a new halacha that I’ll be keeping for the first time, and will take some getting used to.

I wasn’t so convinced, and after a few months of getting frustrated with the harchakot (see my early Niddah Diaries posts), I decided that those just weren’t for me. Pretty much all of them. Definitely the small ticket items, and definitely sleeping in different beds. But the not touching made sense sort of and my husband was more insistent that we don’t touch, so we don’t. Sometimes we slip up and do, but it’s okay. We try to be very strict about the not touching at least the last day or two before I go to the mikvah, so that we can have that “mikvah night anticipation” that we both acknowledge as beneficial.

So, basically, we pretty much don’t keep the harchakot except the not touching rule, and thats fine. We may go back and forth about whether we should or shouldn’t touch, but we never go back and forth about whether we can serve each other food or sit next to each other. I just don’t even think about those things as relevant anymore. And I think that’s helped.

Back to the Q and A session. Not a single person asked about harchakot. I’m curious if this is because as couples get older, most of them sort of fickle out the way we did about being strict about them, or if all other couples are super complacent in their practices that they don’t need to discuss the harchakot at all, or if they all just had other pressing matters on their minds.

I understand that Niddah is supposed to be a private matter, and specifically because it involves couples’ sex lives, people are hesitant to talk about it. Still, I wish there was more dialogue specifically about the harchakot aspect of niddah, because it can really make the difference in being able to keep niddah at all or not.

My Last Name

Before I got married, I really debated about what I’d do with my last name.

On the one hand, I really wanted myself, my husband, and any future children we might have to be a “real, united family”, and share the same name.

On the other hand, I like my maiden name. I also don’t like the symbolism of just taking the name I was given and throwing it away, replacing it with my husbands name. Just because I’m married doesn’t mean I have to leave all my single life behind.

When my mom got married, she changed her last name to my father’s last name, and changed her middle name to her maiden name. But therefore, she no longer had any legal relationship to her given middle name. It just went kaputs out the window. I didn’t like that idea, either. I wanted to keep all the names I was given, but add on this new part of my life.

I decided that I would keep my given middle name, change my maiden last name to an additional middle name, and take on my husband’s last name. I’d go from “First Middle Maiden” to “First Middle Maiden Married”.

Two things complicated this.

First, when I got married, I was in my last year of law school, and about to start applying for jobs. I thought that this would be the perfect time to change my name, since I hadn’t actually started working full time yet. I could just introduce myself to employers with whichever new name I chose, and that would be the end of it.

I forgot that all those new potential employers will want to contact former employers, who know me by my maiden name. This requires explaining that I HAVE a maiden name on my resume, which in turn basically puts my marital status on my resume. So much for privacy.

Additionally, the state where we got married has some pretty funky rules for name changes. Apparently, if you want to do anything other than drop you maiden name and take on your husband’s name, you have to note so on the application for a marriage licence. I knew this going in, but there was no place on the licence that said “New Name”, so I got confused and apparently didn’t indicate the name properly. When I went to the DMV to change my name on my driver’s licence, therefore, I could only change it to “First Middle Married” without getting a court ordered name change. So, the legal system sort of forced me to take on a different name than I wanted.

I’ve been married for almost a year, and I honestly have no idea what my name is. All I know is that my first name is and will always be my first name, and I tend to rely on that. I sign emails and letters as much as possible as “-First”. On my resume, I wrote First (Maiden) Married. On Facebook and G-mail, I’m First Maiden-Married. If I had it to do all over again, I don’t think I’d change my name at all. It’s nice to have the same name as my children, but its really just not worth it in the end.