The laugh is always on the loser

A few days ago another story about a rabbi’s inappropriate behaviour hit the news. And later the news are that his conversions are brought into doubt by the Israeli rabbinate. These statements were retracted soon afterwards, the conversions are kosher, case closed (Amanda Borschel-Dan: Freundel scandal highlights converts’ vulnerability).

Case closed? What must these converts be feeling? Not only do they have to deal with the thought that some pervert might have a video of them showering (if female, that is), in addition they must fear that their Jewish status is coming into question. In other words, they have been the victim of a pervert rabbi and the consequences are that their, the victims’, integrity is questioned??

And for all of you who say it’s just a formality, you do a quick gerut leChumra (conversion to remove any doubt) – it isn’t. This is no small matter. It may have all sorts of ramifications. What is your status in the meantime before you schedule the mikva date? What about children born between the conversion and now? Marriages? What if you just moved to another community and as they don’t know you they require you to go through the whole process again? What if in your (new) community there is no possibility to convert? And in the future, what if they ask you for your conversion certificate and the doubt will always fall back onto you?

All in addition to the psychological effects, questioning your identity, the feeling of insecurity that something like this may happen again at any given moment and you have absolutely no power to stop it. No matter your sincerity, your commitment, your adherence to halacha, your lifestyle and choices – it falls onto you. At any given moment, without you having any influence on when, why or how it affects you. Here’s a quote by Bethany S. Mandel from her bill of rights for Jewish converts about her fears:

10. We should not have to live in fear about the status of our conversions in perpetuity. I should not be afraid that the actions of a rabbi on my Beit Din could mean my conversion won’t be universally respected somewhere down the line. My first instinct hearing reports of Rabbi Freundel’s improprieties after shock was fear. Fear for my status, fear for what it would mean for my daughter and unborn child. I have lived an Orthodox Jewish life since the moment I emerged from the mikvah. I should not have to be afraid of how the actions of others who I have no control over (but who at one time yielded plenty of control over me) could affect myself or my children. I have no indication that my conversion is in any way jeopardized at this moment, and I have asked around plenty to ascertain if there is (I want to make that crystal clear for other Freundel converts). Yet, I live in the real world where I have seen this happen too many times already.

The validity of a conversion should never be doubted afterwards. Especially not only because some faults of the supervising rabbi (not fraud on the part of the candidate) have been discovered. I am glad that the rabbinate and the RCA re-affirmed the validity, but there should never have been a question in the first place.

Holiday season is over

So, that was it for the high holidays this year. What to say?

Rosh haShana: I made a planning error and didn’t realize my business trip fell on Rosh haShana (Jewish new year). So this is the first time in 11 years that I have worked on Rosh haShana. And I felt… surreal at first, but then I sort of forgot and enjoyed myself quite a lot. Even though I had previously planned not to write or use my computer, I accidentally did. Well, there’s always next year.

Yom Kippur: I used the day before Yom Kippur to put up the succa and we only finished about an hour before the fast, then I showered and ate quickly. But it was fun and in the end it was only decoration – we could have stopped earlier, so I didn’t feel rushed (in contrast to one year where we were stuck in traffic and I arrived after a 6 hour trip with only 15 minutes to eat, shower and get to synagogue!). Still, this year I felt especially unprepared for Yom Kippur. Maybe because I missed Rosh haShana with it’s introduction of the central themes of the holiday season. But it was the first time I actually fully enjoyed the services. No cellphones, no people talking all the time, it wasn’t too cold (I get cold very easily when I fast), but cold enough so that thirst wasn’t much of a problem. And a relaxed atmosphere.

Succot: Beautiful weather, best that I can remember ever. I have never spent so much time in my succa! And the construction gets better and better every year, this year we improved the roof and made the entrance easier. And I added more decoration (mostly ivy, thuja, colorful leaves).

Simchat Tora: As I only hold one day of holidays but my community is orthodox and holds two, the dancing with the Torah is actually always on the evening after my holiday ends. It’s still fun, but it also feels weird. This year I didn’t go as I had a visitor (and anyway, my holiday is sort of over at that point).

In summary, it was not my most observant year, I probably haven’t spent that little time in synagogue during the high holidays since I started this whole journey. In terms of teshuva I fear that I failed miserably, partly due to lack of preparation. And also because I cannot find real strength to fight some issues right now (which are all between me and G-d, and I guess he knows how I’m feeling and I hope he still gives me a chance).

G-d Our King

In the days of awe one of the prominent topics is G-d as our king. But as a modern person who lives in a democracy, a monarchy is not my ideal form of government. Sure, a monarchy with a perfect king would be better than all the historical examples of kings we have. But still, is it some ideal I am praying for? Not really.

Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way. This is how the blogger of Rationalist Medical Halacha resolves the issue with the help of the Rambam (Clashing Values – Rosh Hashanah and Rationalist Medical Ethics):

But the term management, when applied to God, has not the same meaning which it has when applied to us; and when we say that He rules His creatures we do not mean that He does the same as we do when we rule over other beings. The term “rule” has not the same definition in both cases: it signifies two different notions, which have nothing in common but the name.
(Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim 3:23)

We should not project our human concepts onto G-d. The language we use is just an approximation of what G-d or his reign is really like. It’s a metaphor, not to be taken literally.

I wish all of my readers shana tova uMetuka. May you be inscribed for a good life in the coming year.

Divinity of Hebrew – letter values and the real world

In this post we are matching word values to reality to prove that the language Hebrew is divine. The first claim goes as follows:

Hand is יָד (yad) in Hebrew. The numerical value of yud-dalet is 14. We have 14 joints in our hand. Amazing!

It actually is true that we have 14 bones called phalanges in each hand. But this count includes only the fingers! Finger is אֶצְבַּע (etzba) in Hebrew, the numerical value of alef-tzade-bet-ayin is 163. If you count all bones in your hand, there should be 27 (Wikipedia:Hand), so we need additional letters (I’m open to suggestions).

Another one:

Pregnancy is הֵרָיוֹן (herayon) in Hebrew. The numerical value of he-resh-yud-vav-nun is 271. 271 days is the approximate amount of time that a woman is pregnant. Amazing!

For the duration of pregnancy the value 271 is reasonable, but it is not the only choice. A cursory reading of the Wikipedia article on pregnancy gives values of 268, 280/281, and 283/284 as reasonable choices, but as giving birth is not an exact science we could chose any value from that range, so no big coincidence that the word has this exact value.

In fact, English is divine too and I have proof! Set a=1, b=2, …, j=10, …, s=100 and so on (just like in Hebrew). Then the numerical value for "beget a child" is (2+5+7+5+200)+1+(3+8+9+30+4) = 219+1+54 = 274! Amazing!

I apologize to all of you who take gematria seriously. But please don’t waste gematria on nonsense like this!

Divinity of Hebrew – words and molecules

Another Hebrew-is-divine proof. This time through chemistry!

Water is spelled Mayim mem-yud-mem. Interestingly, the chemical makeup of water is two atoms of hydrogen surrounding one atom of oxygen.

Ok, first I would like to know if H2O is the only example for G-d encoding chemistry in Hebrew or are there others? I couldn’t find any others through web search (I couldn’t even find this one on a serious page). If you know of any, please tell me.

But if we just extrapolate from yud=oxygen and mem=hydrogen, what can we get? The Hebrew word yam (yud-mem) means sea, so that would be OH. That’s not stable, it’s the hydroxyl radical which can cause serious damage to organic compounds. So the sea can be dangerous? Maybe that’s not it. As a hydroxyl group -OH can attach to some carbonyl group and form different alcohols (methanol, ethanol, etc). So a sea of alcohol? We could also turn the letters around, mi (mem-yud) is "who", but does that make more sense?

Maybe two letters is too short. What about adding another letter, e.g., a vav for yom? We have hydrogen and oxygen and one other element. That could be sodium hydroxide, potassium hydroxide or the hydroxide of any other alkali metal. Any connection to the concept of a day?

Or, the other way around, what about CO2, carbon dioxide? That’s pretty important, what word could it be? It has to have two mem and one other letter. As the structure is O=C=O (just like H-O-H), the other letter has to be in the middle. My rigorous scientific research* got me the candidates מָדָם (madame), מָהֵם (what are), מוּם (deficiency), מֵחַם (samovar), מֵעִם (from), מִקֵּם (to place). Plus a few combined forms with the prefix מִ (from) like מִשָּׁם (from there). Well, none of these words has any connection to carbon dioxide that I can see.

Ok, let’s assume there are other examples people more intelligent than me have found. What are the rules for replacing letters with atoms and vice-versa? Why is mem hydrogen? The oxygen atom is bigger than hydrogen, mem is bigger than yud, shouldn’t yud be hydrogen? But size cannot really be a good indicator, so let’s look for something else.

Every Hebrew letter has a numerical value. Every chemical element has a unique atomic number. So let’s find some correspondences by using a periodic table. Yud is 10, the element with atomic number would be neon. Mem is 40, that would be zirco­nium. I don’t think that gives us something connected to water. What about starting from the atoms? Hydrogen has an atomic mass of 1, oxygen is 8. Two alef and a chet? Is that a word?

During my search for other examples I came across various Christian pages that try to translate the tetragramaton to chemical elements**. They used the atomic mass instead of the atomic number (although with isotopes of different masses this does not make much sense, but I digress). So let’s try this. There is no element with standard atomic weight 10, but the isotope boron-10 is stable. Calcium has the standard atomic weight 40. So can you do something with calcium and two boron atoms? I doubt it.

Ok, this got longer than planned, but it brought back memories of school and was a lot of fun. I would suggest nobody employ this particular "proof" in an argument as it has no basis at all, not even a tiny little straw to cling to.

* I put מבם into Milon morfix and clicked on the suggested autocorrections.
** The idea is something like the tetragramaton corresponds to the atoms that form the molecules that form DNA, i.e., G-d is the basis of all life. The replacement rules were yud=hydrogen (atomic number 1/ standard atomic weight 1), he=nitrogen (7/14), vav=oxygen (8/16), gimel=carbon (6/12). Where the gimel comes from and how they arrive at these substitution is beyond me. They claim the rules are "based upon their matching values of atomic mass". Whatever. I won’t link to such pages so search for yourselves if you are interested in crazy things.

Can positive Jewish experiences save the community?

Rabbi Fink wrote a piece on Keeping the Orthodox Orthodox. I encourage you to read the whole piece, but here is the snippet I want to discuss:

We have to make our actual Jewish experiences into positive experiences. That doesn’t mean we just give out candy whenever people are not enjoying themselves to distract them. I think the way to do this is by shifting our communal focus from knowledge and beliefs to rituals and experiences.

I want to tell you a bit about my community. It is a very small community with an orthodox rabbi. The vast majority of members are immigrants from the former Soviet states [we call all of them Russians] and do not know a lot about Judaism. Many of them use the services of the community (help with appointments, forms, medical advice, social services, etc), but very few ever show up in the synagogue.

The community tried to find activities to engage the people who never show up. And it worked. We have Russian literature readings, a chess club, piano concerts and events to honor the Russian war heroes. And these are well attended. I am sure these are positive experiences. But this does not translate to a minyan on Shabat or an interest in religion. And that is why the community will eventually vanish. I am sure R. Fink was not thinking of this type of experiences, but I want to point out the danger that lies in putting experience first and religion second.

So what is the solution? How can my community survive? Well, to be honest I think most German communities will die in the next 30 years. But for those that could survive I agree partly with R. Fink. We must create positive experiences, but Jewish religious experiences. Lively services. Enjoyable Shabat dinners. Communal holiday celebrations. But I think it is not enough to have experiences, there has to be an element of learning. This may be specific to communities like mine where there is no Jewish education to speak of. Knowing the structure of the service enhances the experience by a large factor. Discussing Torah can be fun and engaging and I cannot get it anywhere but in the community. Attending a dinner to mark a holiday is more meaningful than just spending a random evening with your friends (for which you wouldn’t need to pay membership fees).

When I leaf through the community newspaper I see very few things that speak to me. I am not looking for a Russian culture club or a neighbourhood tea party. I am interested in religion. I want to mark religious occasions. I want to discuss spiritual topics, the search for meaning, ethics, G-d. Just to have some company I can go to a sports club, choir, book club or any other place that has less Russians, less complicated application procedures and less fees.

I will probably have to say more about this topic, but this post is long enough. Basically, positive experiences YES, but with a connection to religion.

Divinity of Hebrew – ear and balance

Some people try to prove the divinity of the Torah by saying that Hebrew is divine. The divinity of Hebrew supposedly proves that someone (i.e., G-d) has designed it. Apart from the fact that it is quite a leap from the divinity of Hebrew to observing all commandments in the Torah, these linguistic proofs are pretty much nonsense.

One famous example is that ears in Hebrew is אָזְנַיִם (oznaim) and measuring/weighing scales is מְאזֹנָים (me’oznaim). Why would these two words be related? Because the sense of balance which the scales use to measure weight is located in the ear. Which of course G-d would know and take into account when He creates a language.

So how can we explain the relation of these two words without divine intervention? First thing to check is whether this is actually a modern discovery. Since when humans know about the connection of the ear with the sense of balance? If this was common knowledge in the ancient world, there is no argument here. The discovery of the vestibular system is attributed to Pierre Flourens in the 19th century. This does not exclude the possibility that the ancient Israelites knew something and the knowledge was lost, but it is improbable.

Next question we need to address is if the words are really related. Words that have two unrelated meanings but are pronounced the same way are called homonyms. One way this can happen is if two words that were originally pronounced differently change their pronounciations over time and end up being pronounced the same way. A German example is "kiver" (jaw in Middle High German) and "kienforha" (pine tree in Old High German) which have converged to "Kiefer" in modern German (Wikipedia: Entstehen und Verschwinden von Homonymen).

A simple way to test if there might be homonymy going on is to look at the two words in related languages. So let’s check Arabic. Wikipedia gives أذن for ear and ميزان for scales. I don’t read Arabic, so I have no clue how to pronounce this, but the middle letter in ear is clearly a dal (pronounced [ð], like "th" in "that"). The middle letter in scales is a zayin (pronounced [z]). The pronounciation difference in a very related langugae makes it probably that there might have been two different words in Hebrew at one point. Additional evidence is that the pronounciation difference reportedly appears in Ugaritic as well, ‘udn is ear and mznm is scales (Does Hebrew moznayim, scales, derive from Hebrew ozen, ear? citing a mail from Ishinan).

Linguistics is actually a field of research and there is loads of research on the origin of languages and their developments. I am too lazy to go to the university library, but a web search turns up quite some results on consonant shifts between Proto Semitic and Hebrew and also during the development of Hebrew. Here are some references for those interested: Consonants in Semitic languages, Proto-Semitic Phonemes (Consonants) Exhibiting Sound Shifts in Hebrew and their Equivalents in Aramaic and Classical Arabic, Phonetic mergers in the Semitic languages (or if you want a book Aron Dolgopolsky (1999) From Proto-Semitic to Hebrew). All of the references contain a merging of [ð] and [z], so in my opinion the homonym theory is a very plausible one.

But even if you don’t believe in linguistics, and you see the relation between ear and scales as hard evidence for divine design, you are not done yet. To make the argument work, you would need to prove that there is no other language where the two concepts share the same word (I assume Hebrew should be the only divine language). And by prove I mean not just say it, but actually check all languages. Which is quite a task.

What would be different the day after I convert?

I have been to some workshop for work and one thing got me thinking about my conversion. The presenter more or less said that sometimes we think we want something when in reality we want something else and the key question to ask is "what would be different the day after you got it". So, what would be different in my life the day after I went to the mikve (officially converted)? So this is a description of my life the day after I converted.

I am cooking in my kosher kitchen (which was already kosher before minus the fact that there was a non-Jew cooking there). Before I eat I say brachot and sometimes I even remember to say them after eating. Shabat I keep just the way I have been for some years now. I contact friends to arrange plans for the upcoming holidays. Quite a bit of my free time is spent reading, learning and discussing about Judaism.

After years of being a guest I am finally an official member of my community. Being a member does not change anything at the orthodox services as I am a women anyway. But I get to pay (yeah) and I get the community news and I’m officially invited to whatever happens. Which is nice, although with the years I have created my own sources for these news so that I don’t really need it that urgently.

I don’t have to go to awkward explanations every time I go somewhere where they don’t know me. Whenever I am now asked by security personnel I can say "yes, I am Jewish" and get to skip the stupid questioning. I can register for Jewish events without filling out the "I am not Jewish but want to attend" comment box or try to sneak in somehow. Also it doesn’t feel like I’m half lying when I tell people that I don’t eat/drink/celebrate/do X because I am Jewish.

But the most important change in my life is "legitimization". Now that I’m "really" Jewish I have more argumentative power to stand my ground. Whether it is in convincing my boyfriend’s family that I won’t come to church with them, or telling someone that I have separate dishes for Pesach, or planning my [hypothetical] children’s education with my boyfriend, or asking someone to introduce a Jewish element to my [hypothetical] civil marriage ceremony. Finally countery"arguments" like "you are not even Jewish" or "they don’t want you, why bother" don’t work anymore.

So basically, my life has not changed. It has finally been officially given the label it already had.

Why does the world care about Israel so much?

I’m going to summarize my subjective understanding of An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth by Matti Friedman. I encourage you to read the whole article although it is long. He does a way better job at explaining his point of view than I do. Still, here it comes.

The main question of the article is why the world is obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There are many conflicts in the world, many involve human tragedies. But we hear more about Israel than about any other conflict and there are more journalists reporting on it than on any other conflict.

In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

Does this mean that the average person knows more about the background of the conflict and the parties involved? On the Israeli side yes, every action is analyzed and critized (although maybe not put into perspective). But there is not much analyzing going on about the Palestinian groups. We do not hear much about the factions in Palestinian society or the motivations and dreams of the average Palestinian. Not even about Hamas’ treatment of the Gaza population in the last round of the war.

The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story.

Why? Because what the world wants to see is this conflict as the one where the Jews are the strong guys and thus the responsible party. They are the reason for the conflict (settlements, right-wing extremists, etc). Implicit is the assumption that if this conflict is solved, the whole region will have peace.

Some may say but that’s what it is. So what other views does Friedman offer? He has two alternatives:

Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state compromise.


An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen, and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive, as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.

I am usually not fond of explaining everything by shouting "antisemitism". Our national Jewish leaders do that far too often and that makes the argument stale when it is really warranted. But maye Friedman has a point here. He argues that the ills of the world are projected onto the Jews. At the moment people in the west see "racism, colonialism, and militarism" as the main ills of the age. And what is Israel accused of? Racism (or apartheid), colonialism (or occupation, or settlements) and militarism (or being the agressor, or occupying force).

So what is the real story? What is the real danger in the middle east?

The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.

Define your own derech (way)

I wanted to notify you about a very good post on Kol B’Isha Erva: Defining our own derech. In brief, it is a response to a BT (baal teshuva) poster who feels disenchanted with his observant lifestyle and the community he is in. There are many good points in the original post and I recommend you go and read it and the comments. But in my opinion this is the most powerful part:

It’s important not to abandon common sense and the lessons learned by experience, parents, and even secular teachers. [...]

I believe that, as baal teshuvas, we have the ability to create derechs that combine the best of both the secular and frum worlds, even if those innovations rankle those who follow the crowd. It takes koach and courage to buck the system, but BTs have already been there, done that. By bucking the secular system and joining orthodoxy, we have already proven ourselves willing to go against the grain. We have the ability to enact social change, and while that might make us dangerous to some, it also makes us pioneers to others.

I am not a BT, I am a convert-to-be. But in many ways the pressure to conform to the new, better way of life is the same. To be "in" we are told that we need to accept the whole package. But this sometimes means going against everything we learned as we grew up. And that’s not always healthy. Don’t throw all of yourself away. Re-evaluate it in the light of Judaism and keep what is good. Believe in yourself and your values. Don’t be afraid to create your own derech (way). And let the others label you "off the derech" as much as they want.


I just learned that one of my fellow "applicants" for conversion at the community here has recently converted. There were four of us who had interviews the same day and the community chose her (there was no rabbi involved, they said they can accept only one person because of limited resources, long story). While I am happy for her and wish her luck, I have spent the day thinking about my interview and what I might have said that made them accept her and reject me. And whether or not I should approach them again. And risk being rejected again.

Mazal tov to Morel and Mahmoud

For those who haven’t heard yet, Mahmoud (a Muslim Arab Israeli) and Morel (Jewish-born Israeli, converted to Islam) got married a few days ago in the midst of protests against their intermarriage*. I do not know the two, but I am ashamed that other people who likewise do not know them think it is their business to meddle in their lives becaus of their racist attitudes. What would you say if people protested a catholic girl marrying a Jew? Racism against Arabs is just as bad as antisemitism and especially Jews should know better. And living in a modern society not only means that you can freely live your life the way you please, but also to accept the choices other make, even if you don’t agree with them.

I wish the couple happiness in their marriage. And I hope they will be able to look back on this day together in 25 years and laugh.

* It’s technically not an intermarriage because she converted, they are both Muslim now.

You Can Do It In a Skirt

Just found this blog You Can Do It In a Skirt and thought it’s cute. I can check off hiking, climbing a tree, climbing around a playground, swimming (see my last post), horseback riding. Ok, I’m cheating a bit, sometimes I’m wearing a dress that goes not quite go until the knee over pants. Still I get strange comments from people, so that should count. I don’t think I have ever been hanging upside down in a skirt though. Maybe when I have kids…

I went swimming

I went swimming with friends. This statement in itself wouldn’t be too exciting for most people, but for me it is. I haven’t been swimming with friends for some years now. On the few occasions I was invited to a party at the pool with friends I put my feet into the water and no more.

I have always been rather modest and I never liked myself in a swimsuit. So Jewish modesty rules gave me sort of the excuse not to wear it again. But the price was not swimming. Which was sort of fine with me, but my boyfriend didn’t like it too much. So he got me a "burquini", the muslim version of a modest swimsuit (we didn’t find anything Jewish that was not horribly expensive with overseas shipping).

It consists of leggings that go to the ankle, a dress that goes to the knee with sleeves to the wrist and a hijab (veil). So I look very muslim. The veil is actually rather uncomfortable so I took it off after some time. The only annoying thing is that the skirt goes up in the water, I need to find a way to fix this. But apart from that I rather liked the experience and I felt fine. And I didn’t get any strange comments (but after all, these were my friends). When I wear it to a public pool I’ll report back.

Rebuilding the Temple

In Judaism we pray about the restauration of the temple and the temple service every day in the Amida (the central prayer of every service). At least for me this is sort of automatic and I mostly don’t think about it, but with Tisha BeAv around I couldn’t help it.

I am a modern person. I live in the city with no contact to animals. My food comes from the supermarket and I’m a vegetarian. I don’t want to see animals die. My religion is about prayer, books, morality. Not rituals with blood. When I read about the temple parts in the Torah it seems archaic, disgusting and just totally irrelevant to my life. When I look at how I am feeling when I just read the descriptions, there is no way seeing the temple sacrifices would bring me closer to G-d.

So why am I praying for the rebuilding of the temple? Wouldn’t it be more consistent not to pray for it? This is what Reform Judaism did, they removed all parts about sacrifices and the temple from the prayers (and more, but that’s a different topic). But that puts you out of tradition. And it is actually pretty difficult to define exactly what to remove. What about "rebuild Jerusalem"? Or the messiah (who is supposed to rebuild the temple)? But if I don’t remove it, can I pray things I don’t believe in? Or maybe, do I have to adjust my attitude about the temple?

I am still looking for an answer. Some parts (like in the Mussaf Amida with the description of the Shabat sacrifice) I simply cannot pray and I skip over them. Other parts (like in the workday Amida) I pray without really thinking about them. And sometimes when I pray parts that refer to the messianic age, I pray for peace, a good life for everybody, this sort of things. Not necessarily the temple. And I will wait for the Messiah to sort it out when he comes.