This Is What Happens To Your Brain When You Meditate

Spoiler: It literally changes. LITERALLY.

1. Meditation is hardly a new topic of conversation. But, there’s still plenty that remains unknown to most about the practice of training the mind, including the effect it can have on the brain.

Headspace / Via

While many people still associate meditation with the art of “thinking about nothing” it is actually the opposite, according to Dr. Craig Hassed, a senior lecturer at Monash Medical Faculty.

“All meditation practices involve training attention but also training the attitude of acceptance and non-reactivity, as well as attention on the breath and the body,” Hassed tells BuzzFeed Life.

So, rather than thinking about nothing, real meditation practice is about properly acknowledging all of our thoughts, training our brain out of its default setting of letting life pass by.

And if you practice meditation regularly, researchers believe that it can have wonderful effects on your brain. Here’s what might happen:

2. First, you should understand: Your brain can change and grow throughout your life.

CBS / Via

This is called neuro-plasticity, and it’s a relatively new buzzword in the field of neuroscience.

“The way that scientists used to think about the brain, until recent times, was that the brain wires itself in early development and early childhood, then after that, the only thing that happens to the brain is that it loses cells as we get older,” Hassed says.

But recent research has poked big holes in that theory. Neuroscientists now know that you actually can teach an old brain new tricks.

“Today we know that our brains are changing all the time. Most changes take place on the micro-anatomical level and are very short-lived — so it is harder to measure them — but some changes even take place on the macro-anatomical level and can be captured by modern imaging technologies, such as MRI,” Eileen Luders, Ph.D, Assistant Professor at UCLA School of Medicine Department of Neurology, tells BuzzFeed Life.

3. Some research shows that meditation is associated with a change to the amount of grey matter in the brain, which is a pretty big deal.

Partizan Films / Via

But, what even is grey matter — and why is it so impressive that it can change?

“When people talk about grey matter, they’re talking about cells — the brain cells that connect to each other,” Hassed says. “When a person learns a particular skill — like meditation — they’re exercising those areas of grey matter, whose job it is to form that skill.” Like you notice muscle gain after physical exercise, research shows that meditation may stimulate the growth of new brain cells — which means more measurable grey matter in certain areas of the brain.

Beyond reported differences in grey matter between meditators and people who don’t practice, meditation has also been associated with a slowdown in the natural loss of grey matter, which occurs with aging. “In our latest study, we extended our focus of research by looking at the potential impact of aging on the brain, specifically the impact of aging on the brain’s grey matter. Again, our analysis revealed a striking difference between meditators and controls: meditators’ brains seem to be much less affected by the normal, natural age-related gray matter decline,” Luders says.

What this means: People who meditate regularly may slow down their brain’s aging process. Go meditation!

4. Meditation has also been linked to changes in the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for forming memories and spatial awareness.

A 2011 study compared the brains of people who meditated for about 40 minutes each day with the brains of demographically-matched people who didn’t meditate at all.

Brain scans revealed that there were some areas of the meditator’s brains with more grey matter — and one of these areas was the hippocampus.

5. The same study also compared the brains of non-meditators to those who had just undergone an eight week meditation program, finding the same results.

This area of the brain, responsible for converting short-term memories into long-term memories, is pretty important — so extra grey matter in the area is something to get excited about.

Here’s a guess as to why meditation may impact the hippocampus in this way: “When we’re not paying attention, the memory centre is offline, so we don’t remember things,” Hassed says. “When a person is continually and regularly paying attention to what is going on around them (read: bring mindful through meditation) the hippocampus is being engaged, so in the long-term a healthier memory centre is the result.”

6. Meditation also is linked to brain cell growth in your pre-frontal cortex — the part of your brain responsible for decision-making and good judgment.

Right behind the forehead, the pre-frontal cortex is responsible for everything from deciding between right and wrong to analysing situations to a person’s abstract thought. According to Hassed, this is another area of the brain that sees thicker grey matter among those who meditate regularly.

7. While some parts of the brain appear to grow with meditation practice, the amygdalas of people who meditate is typically smaller than average. But that’s a good thing.

“If you’re trying to get away from a tiger or a shark, your amygala will fire off; it triggers that fight of flight response. It’s the stress centre,” says Dr Hassed.

Obviously it’s important to have a working stress centre, but the trouble arises when the amygdala is firing for no reason, which is what happens when a person is chronically anxious and stressed — as many people are. As meditation calms the mind, it in turn may calm the amygdala, reducing its activity.

Like other areas of the brain appear to grow with increased activity, grey matter in the amydgala seems to shrink the more a person meditates, allowing mindfulness and reasonable thoughts to flow freely. This change also goes deeper than grey matter, down to the DNA cells in the brain, switching off stress genes that are unnecessarily present, Hassed says.

8. Meditation may literally be brain-changing. And it only takes a small amount each day to make a difference.

“A person can start to see significant difference with mindfulness meditation, practicing for five minutes a couple of times a day, but if a person does more practice, then the person is going to get more benefit — it’s the same thing as exercise,” Hassed says.

9. So, there you have it: the human brain is changeable, and research shows that meditation might be able to make it bigger AND smaller in important ways.

Go and think about that. Then meditate.

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Our Long National Pet-Feeding Nightmare Is Coming To An End

Finally, the technology industry has developed a solution to a question that has plagued us for decades: How exactly do you feed a dog?

Pets are great, but feeding them? It’s a challenge on par with the space program, and few have really mastered how to feed a dog.

There are so many variables to consider — what kind of animal is this? is it hungry? how much food should I give it? — that most of us just give up and don’t feed our pets at all, leaving them to fend for themselves and find nutrition from couch cushions and strips of carpeting, like they do in the wild.

But no longer. A solution to the problem of feeding animals is being pieced together by Petnet, a Los Angeles tech company that has developed a kind of pet-feeding robot that connects, as all things must, to your iPhone.

And today, the company said its robot will grow more intelligent:

Petnet(io) announced today that it has entered into an agreement to acquire SlimDoggy Inc., giving Petnet access to SlimDoggy’s world class pet food database and patent pending technology which the company plans to incorporate into its “Smart” line of pet products. Together, Petnet and SlimDoggy aim to make feeding a pet and selecting appropriate pet food as simple and convenient as possible. The acquisition allows Petnet to leverage the data and methodologies SlimDoggy has developed into an innovative pet feeding system that empowers pet owners to improve the overall health of their pets through proper diet.

“Petnet will be integrating the SlimDoggy pet food database of almost 6,000 dog and cat foods, as well as our patent pending feeding and food analysis algorithms into all of the Petnet Smart products,” SlimDoggy said in an announcement of its own.

The Petnet SmartFeeder device costs $199, although the company says limited supplies mean you’ll need to reserve one (“request an invite”).

But once you’re let into the exclusive circle, the SlimDoggy acquisition means a whole new layer of data-enabled dog feeding. “The amount and type of pet food is the single biggest decision a pet owner can make to impact their pet’s health. With the long and confusing pet food labels, consumers are left to guess when trying to make intelligent, healthy food and portion control decisions,” said Steve Pelletier, SlimDoggy’s founder.

“We are excited to work closely with Petnet to improve the way pet food is served, evaluated, and purchased, all the while helping to keep pets as healthy as possible.”

SlimDoggy, which has a sister site called SlimKitty, says its founding inspiration came from a 105-pound labrador named Jack, who managed to drop 25 pounds by eating based on SlimDoggy algorithms. “Little did we know that there are a lot of dogs like Jack,” the company says on its site. “We decided to share our work and create an iPhone App (Android version coming soon) and attack the dog obesity problem head on.”

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I Was Sure Freezing My Eggs Would Solve Everything

When I was 35 and single in New York City, I was convinced I’d be alone forever. Undergoing a costly procedure to buy myself time seemed like the right choice.

Illustration by Kelsey King for BuzzFeed

I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I started thinking about whether I was going to be able to have kids, but it occurred sometime between February 2012, when the guy I’d been sort of dating for the past few months broke up with me, and May 2012, when I turned 35, because that is the age after which, as a single woman in New York City, everyone knows that no one will ever love you.

I knew, very, very, very deep down, that this wasn’t actually true — that in fact people found love and even had children after the age of 35, even in New York City — but it felt like this knowledge was a tiny little nugget of rationality that had been wrapped in duct tape and put in a steel box and locked with a code and launched into space, and was therefore inaccessible.

Also, I had — have — never been pregnant, so there was a part of me that was convinced that something was deeply wrong with my ovaries; in 15 or so years of having sex, I’d only twice been worried enough about a broken condom or a failure to pull out to take Plan B. I told myself that if I weren’t infertile, there would have been at least one abortion in there, and secretly envied my friends who’d had abortions, because at least they knew that they could get pregnant.

Dating got weird. I didn’t really want to be dating in the first place — I was still thinking about the guy who’d dumped me in February, who I was still really sad about, to the extent that I cried during Savasana, and cried even harder when I realized I had become one of those women who cried at yoga. But the voice inside my head that told me, every morning and every night, that I was running out of time was the voice that put me on OkCupid and HowAboutWe, even though going on mediocre dates made me feel even worse. This was who was out there? And simultaneously: Could this be a person I want to create another human life with?

What I really needed was time. Time would allow me to meet people without the added pressure of trying to figure out, within five minutes of meeting them, whether we would make a nice, normal baby. Then I saw an article about egg freezing that said it was becoming SAFER AND MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN EVER BEFORE!!!!!!!! — or at least that was what I gleaned from it — and I thought, Time. This will give me time. I made an appointment.

You could say that I panicked, and you would not be completely wrong. But I got spoiled in my late twenties and early thirties because I usually had a boyfriend, which meant I always had a wedding date. But after I broke up with a Serious Boyfriend, aka the one I thought was maybe The One even though I outwardly scoffed at the notion that there was such a thing as The One — maybe One of Several Potential Ones? But enough of A Potential One that we moved in together, and our families met each other, and he told me about the monstrous 6-carat diamond he and his brother were supposed to split with their intendeds (I pictured a man in a yarmulke on 47th Street cutting it precisely in half with a laser) — I was suddenly, at 33, the Single Friend, because I was never dating anyone for long enough that they would be a potential wedding guest. But I had never been the only single person at a table of couples, or had to have the awkward conversation with the only single guy at the wedding, the guy who was surprisingly handsome and sweet but who turned out to be going through a nasty divorce, was a deeply religious Christian, had two children, and lived in Maine, and yet made me think, Well, this could work.

I distanced myself from my friends who got married, mostly because it felt like a reminder of my own personal failure. I was unapologetic about the selfishness of this stance, as I was about the selfishness of allowing myself in general to be selfish. I got off OkCupid and told my friends that even though I was 99% sure I would never have sex again, it also felt liberating to be alone, to never have to think about anyone else’s needs or fears. Then again, that also meant I was only ever listening to my own.

Illustration by Kelsey King for BuzzFeed

In my twenties, I felt like the shared experience of struggle comes with it the shared experience of possibility, and possibility is still exciting. Every choice doesn’t portend a monumental, potentially life-altering result; it seems like the Choose Your Own Adventure book still has many potential endings. In my thirties, though, choices started to feel overwhelming, each one pushing me farther down a specific path beyond which there was no turning back. I started to see the appeal of religion — never to have to make any decisions! There was, I realized, freedom in that too.

I told my therapist that I was considering freezing my eggs, and she said she thought it was a good idea if it would alleviate some of the anxiety I felt about dating, and I said it would but it would also cause me a different kind of anxiety because it was so expensive in New York City — thousands of dollars in tests, then thousands of dollars for the drugs to stimulate egg maturation, then thousands of dollars for the extraction of the eggs. All told I would be looking at close to $15,000 to buy myself a few years of reduced anxiety, plus $2,000 or so each year to keep them frozen. I told myself it could be amortized over, say, five years and then it didn’t seem so bad. Still, I needed to come up with the money, so I cashed in a couple of 401(k)s from short stints at other jobs that had a couple thousands dollars in them each, and put a freelance check in my savings account, and figured I would charge the rest.

I also had the idea that egg freezing was basically foolproof; I’d get the eggs, and a couple years later, when I decided I was ready to have kids, I’d just knock on the door of the ol’ fertility clinic and they’d stick some more needles in me and voilà, babies. It turns out, according to the fertility doctor I met with, who had the genial, slightly condescending “I know what’s best for you” air of a good salesman, that egg freezing has only a 40% success rate. He must have seen the disappointed look on my face because he assured me that that was in fact at least double what it would be out in the wild, and if I waited a few more years, my fertility would drop precipitously. He drew a crude representation of this on a sheet of paper as we talked, and I swore I could feel it dropping even more.

Still, 40% sounded better than 0% or even 20%, so I had him take blood and do an ultrasound, and it turned out that I had eggs, I was healthy, it would be fine. I had eggs to freeze.

It would be fine. I would be fine.

Still, there were moments of deep, and scary, loneliness. Sometimes I tried to tell myself that these moments were somehow making me a stronger person, but at other times I thought, Fuck being a stronger person — where is the joy in being a stronger person? When Hurricane Sandy happened, I sat on my couch in my apartment in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and the wind and rain scared me less than the feeling that I was really alone, that I could have been one of those people on Staten Island who drowned in their houses whose bodies weren’t discovered for days.

After a couple days I made my way to Chelsea, where I usually volunteered once a week walking an old disabled woman’s dog, to see if she was OK because she wasn’t picking up her phone, and she was sitting in her apartment in the dark with the dog. Everything smelled bad, but she seemed to be in relatively good spirits, and I walked the dog and came back and gave her my flashlight, and then she asked me, in the voice of the truly lonely, when I was coming back.

I didn’t tell many people I was planning on freezing my eggs — it was a private thing, the world didn’t need to know. But I think what I really feared was the momentary flash of pity in their eyes before they told me what a good idea they thought it was. I saw that flash — or at least, I thought I saw it — in the eyes of the few close friends that I did tell, the ones who told me they admired what I was doing and empathized with how much it sucked that the biological clock was so real and how much it sucked that it was so expensive and how much it all, well, sucked.

I called the fertility clinic and told them I wanted to do it in February 2013— you had to sign up a couple months in advance, and I was going to L.A. for most of January for work — and they told me to come in for a final round of tests and an orientation session where a nurse would go over everything. At the session, I sat around a conference room table with four other women; we each had folders in front of us with various documents and brochures. Everything had to be executed perfectly: You had to pick up the drugs at one of only a few pharmacies in the city that stocked them, and they suggested buying only a batch at a time because they had to be kept in the fridge and they cost thousands of dollars and you didn’t want them to go bad. Then there was a whole timed, two-week regimen of injecting yourself with hormones — everyone had a different drug cocktail prescribed for them, scribbled on a sheet of paper by our respective doctors at the practice, tailored to our age and, presumably, how fertile the tests had shown we were — and a schedule of when we had to come back to the office for more tests during the two-week window. They had us practice filling up the special syringes for one of the drugs, and one woman raised her hand and said she was afraid of needles, and could she hire a nurse to come to her apartment twice a day to inject her? (Yes, but it would be very expensive.) You weren’t allowed to exercise during the two weeks, and you might get bloated and be in pain a lot of the time, and could also be quite weepy, though the nurse, a very no-nonsense type, probably didn’t actually use the word “weepy.”

Then when the hormones had stimulated all your eggs to mature and release and you were ovulating, you’d come back to the office and one of the doctors would extract your eggs and freeze them, and we had to make sure we had someone who could pick us up, and I mentally ran down the friends I could count on to do this and came up with a couple potential candidates, and then momentarily felt sorry for myself that I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband to do this and then reminded myself that it was exactly because I didn’t have a boyfriend or husband that I was doing this in the first place and that in some convoluted way this would be something that would help me get a boyfriend or husband, and felt a little better.

The nurse told us the eggs were held at the clinic, and she assured us that it was not susceptible to flood or power failure; it was an NYU clinic and the NYU hospital had, famously, flooded and lost power during the hurricane and the patients had to be evacuated and I thought, No one would care about a cooler of eggs during a hurricane, now would they? Before I left, I signed the form that said in the event I no longer wanted my eggs, or I stopped paying for their storage, that I wanted them destroyed.

Illustration by Kelsey King for BuzzFeed

I spent most of January 2013 in Los Angeles for work, and when I tell the story of why I decided to move, I like to say that the abundance of the Pasadena Whole Foods was what finally put me over the top, which always gets a knowing laugh, particularly from anyone who has tried to buy produce at the Key Foods on Avenue A or waited in line in the rain outside the 14th Street Trader Joe’s just to get inside or visited the Union Square Whole Foods bunker on a Sunday afternoon and wanted to die. And certainly it was a factor, but so was a coffee meeting I had in L.A. with a friend of a colleague who wanted, I think, a job, although we ended up discussing dating in Los Angeles versus New York.

Dating, he said, was very hard in Los Angeles.

“Oh?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s much harder than it was in New York. I mean, I was a guy in media in New York. It wasn’t exactly tough for me.”

I looked at this unremarkable man, and thought, Right. I’m sure it wasn’t.

The rest happened fast. I got back to New York and my boss agreed that moving to L.A. was a good idea, and then I was pricing out movers and looking at apartments online and getting excited about not having to buy a new winter coat, like, ever again. In the flurry of getting ready to move across the country, I almost forgot that I was supposed to be getting ready to ensure that my future self would have a 40% chance of artificially conceiving a child.

And then at the last possible moment, the day or so before I got my period, I decided I wasn’t going to go through with it.

It’s the most apt metaphor to say that I realized I was putting all my eggs, literally, in that particular basket, and I had imbued the idea of freezing my eggs with so much meaning that I expected to see all of my anxieties and fears about getting older and being single and dying alone to disappear instantly the second I went through with it.

But I also felt like if I went through with it, the eggs would be left behind in New York, in cold storage, in some petri dish or vial or however they preserve them, and I would be across the country. It would mean no clean break, no fresh start. I’d be actually leaving a part of myself 3,000 miles away, as though to keep just the most microscopic connection to my old life, and I wouldn’t get the clean break with all of those anxieties that I needed.

Instead, I set off for Los Angeles, not completely sure I was doing the right thing but also pretty sure I wasn’t doing the wrong one. I even thought that maybe, one day, I might find that duct-taped box I’d sent hurtling through space, the one I thought was definitely gone forever.

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Retro Recipes That Don’t Need To Make A Comeback. Ever.

Oh, the mid-century! People greet this period with more pained eye rolling than the 80s. When photographic evidence of this era comes to light, people rise to its defense and claim, “Everyone was wearing that…”  

Someone came up with the idea in the mid-century that housewives were looking for new ways to delight their families during mealtime. With this in mind, companies created “innovative” recipes sold on printed cards. Recipe cards usually came in sets and were ordered by phone. Struggling to outdo each another and to promote their own products, companies often featured horrifying concoctions. We’re talking recipes only seen in films involving mad scientists playing God. Staple ingredients included gelatin and mayonnaise, usually together, and nary a fresh vegetable… unless it was suspended in one of the aforementioned substances.

Feeling hungry? Check these out. You won’t be hungry afterwards.

1.) Crown Roast

These are weenies fit for royalty. I don’t even know how you’re supposed to go about eating this, assuming you’d want to do so in the first place.

2.) Treasure Chest Salad

Not even fruit is safe from the mayo onslaught. In this practical and time-saving recipe, one has to fashion a treasure chest out of fruit and then fill it with more fruit. And then dump mayonnaise on it. That’s the recipe. Put fruit in other fruit and then cover it in mayo.

3.) Seafood Mousse

This dish was also used to educate people about the effects of nuclear fallout on marine life.

4.) The Californian Jello Ring

Keep telling yourself this is a combination of the period’s photo technology and faded ink is responsible for the coloring. Oh, and this is a dessert.

5.) Steak Pudding

Don’t worry. It’s the good beef suet.

6.) Meat-za

Meat-za. The recipe involves molding a pizza crust out of ground beef, because if the term “meat crust” isn’t appetizing, I don’t know what is. Then you fill it with tomato soup and float cheese on top. Yum.

7.) Aspic Aquarium

The next time someone starts waxing nostalgic and talking about everything was better before kids and their cell phones, remind them about aspic. Aspic is food, usually meat or something savory, suspended in gelatin. This one features an ocean scene made out of shrimp, vegetables, and elbow macaroni. Usually one has to garnish it, of course, with a healthy slather of mayonnaise.

8.) Liver Sausage Pineapple

While it would make a good band name, this recipe involves molding a mixture of mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, and liver sausage around a jar to make a “pineapple.” The best part is that it calls for a “real pineapple top,” implying you had a perfectly good pineapple and made this instead.

9.) Deviled Lettuce

Check out the glob of Miracle Whip on this thing. In keeping with the trend of waging war on vegetables everywhere, this recipe calls for hollowing out a head of lettuce and filling it with mayonnaise, cream cheese, and deviled ham. The dish is then topped with more mayonnaise.

10.) Fancy Chicken

This chicken in a pastry tux is nowhere near as revolting as the rest of the food pictured here. Still, think about the person who created this, and the thoughts the kind of person who puts a pastry tuxedo on a chicken must have on a daily basis.

11.) Party Sandwich Loaf

This is a fishy, chickeny sandwich masquerading as a cake. See what looks like creamy icing? That’s cream cheese. You have a sandwich masquerading as a cake that you have to eat with a fork.

12.) Perfection Salad

I have a fresh, healthy salad full of actual vegetables. I feel like it’s missing something, though. I know! I’ll encase the whole thing in gelatin. Perfection.

If you’re wondering why packaged, chemical-laden foods were so popular during this time, I have a conspiracy theory for you. It’s unfounded, of course, but it claims that during the 50s, the US government promoted these types of non-perishable foods (Spam, Tang, Jell-O, etc.) so people would get used to living on military-style rations in case of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Nuclear winter would be more palatable if you were already used to eating grayish lumps of tinned meat. Whatever reason may be for this stuff catching on, be glad that aspic and filling heads of lettuce with mayo is no longer fashionable.

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Indo-US joint military exercise Yudh Abhyas 2016 begins – Times of India

The opening ceremony for Exercise Yudh Abhyas 2016 – the joint military training exercise of the Indian and US Armies was held at Chaubattia in Uttarakhand. The ceremony saw the unfurling of the national flags and playing of the national anthems of both the nations.

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Feminism In Faith: Sara Hurwitz’s Road To Becoming The First Publicly Ordained Orthodox Jewish Rabba

How do you follow a historic achievement that was called a “radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition”? By starting a school to help train the first generation of female Orthodox Jewish clergy in the hopes they can do the same.

Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

When Sara Hurwitz says she loves going to synagogue so much that she would “cross rivers” to get there, I assume she means it as a figure of speech. But no: Growing up in Florida, Hurwitz always had a long walk to get to synagogue, so she took any shortcuts she could. Usually, that meant cutting behind houses, walking through fields, and crawling between a riverbank and a barbed wire fence. But one day, she found that the water level had risen too high above the bank.

“The only way, once I got to that barbed wire fence, was either to turn back — which was inconceivable — or to just duck in the water,” says the 36-year-old mother of three. “And so that’s what I did.” Looking a little sheepish, she adds, “It’s actually an embarrassing story. Because I was 15 — old enough to know better — and there was an alligator in that river with me. I feel like it’s a metaphor for me, trying to fight alligators.”

Hurwitz is the first woman in America to be publicly ordained as an Orthodox rabbi. She’s also the dean of Manhattan’s Yeshivat Maharat, the only Jewish seminary dedicated to training Orthodox women as synagogue clergy. Over the past five years, both she and the seminary have met with intense criticism from within the community — by becoming a female rabbi, Hurwitz has broken the mold of Orthodox Judaism. And by establishing a school like Yeshivat Maharat — which just last summer graduated its first cohort of three women — she’s given others an opportunity to earn the credentials for a career that, without her, would have been unthinkable.

Within minutes of meeting Hurwitz at the yeshiva, it’s clear that she is beloved. The student body — which this year includes 17 women, twentysomethings and grandmothers alike, all clad in the modern yet modest skirts and dresses of Orthodoxy — has just been released from class and descends upon Hurwitz in the hall. Even after we sit down — first in the beit midrash, or study hall, a large room whose walls are lined with volumes of the Talmud, and then in the classroom where we are forced to relocate, thanks to the electric thrum of voices debating the meaning of this foundational Jewish text — our conversation is punctuated by her urge to wave at the women who pass us by. Every single woman excitedly waves back.

Hurwitz, dressed in a plain skirt and long-sleeved shirt, her hair covered by a hat, was born in South Africa to traditional but non-Orthodox parents. Drawn to Orthodoxy from a young age, she never dreamed that she might someday be ordained. “I never had that ‘aha!’ moment of saying I wanted to be a rabbi,” Hurwitz tells me. “I never allowed myself to, because I didn’t know that it was going to be an option.” Even after she’d spent three years studying rabbinic texts at the Drisha Institute in New York, ordination didn’t seem attainable.

Then she began serving as a part-time congregational intern at Rabbi Avi Weiss’ Orthodox synagogue, the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, in the Bronx. And the congregation responded so well to her that she and Weiss both started wondering what it would take to make her a full member of the clergy. They knew she’d need more learning under her belt to be respected as an authority. So, without knowing exactly what the end result would be, she decided to undertake another five years of study. And then she was done. She’d mastered all the texts required of male rabbinical students. She’d passed all the exams. She and Weiss were faced with the question “Now what?”

Rabbi Avi Weiss Mary Altaffer / AP Photo

One option — the reasonable, cautious option — was for Weiss to ordain Hurwitz in private, something that had already been done on a few occasions in the U.S. and Israel. In Orthodox Judaism, any public attempt to deviate from the age-old division of gender roles is bound to raise hackles. It’s a religion that has for centuries encoded women’s status as very different from men’s; the still-recited men’s prayer “Blessed are you, Lord our God, for not making me a woman” is a pretty stark case in point. Rabbis have barred or discouraged women from a myriad of activities: chanting from the Torah, singing in public, reciting the kaddish, or mourner’s prayer, studying Talmud, donning religious garments like tallit and tefillin, acting as witnesses in rabbinical courts, ritually slaughtering animals, circumcising male babies, becoming Torah scribes, sitting with men in synagogue, wearing pants — the list goes on.

In recent years, Orthodoxy has set itself apart from other denominations by clamping down even harder on women’s ritual rights. While the Conservative and Reform movements were encouraging women to publicly read from the Torah, serve as cantors, and wear tallit and tefillin, Orthodoxy was further excluding them from public space, silencing their singing voices, and discouraging them from adopting rituals — like tefillin — for which there is strong historical precedent of female participation, and zero textual prohibition. Keeping Hurwitz’s ordination private would allow Weiss to avoid tripping the alarms of the Orthodox establishment.

But Weiss isn’t exactly known for being cautious. Over the decades, his political activism has targeted everyone from accused Nazi war criminal Kurt Waldheim to Jimmy Carter to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate; he’s not a man to shy away from confrontation. He and Hurwitz wanted to show other women that they could pursue serious Torah study and have it actually evolve into a synagogue position.

So, in 2009, they decided to hold what they called a “conferral ceremony.” There, Weiss conferred upon his protégée the title of “maharat,” a Hebrew acronym he’d invented to mean “leader in Jewish law, spirituality, and education.” To their surprise, nobody leaped up in horror. The Orthodox establishment didn’t respond with a blast of outrage. Instead, women started coming up to Hurwitz and asking, “How do I sign up?”

That’s when Weiss and Hurwitz decided to try an experiment. They took out an ad in a Jewish newspaper announcing the opening of Yeshivat Maharat. Once again, they held their breath. But rather than the angry condemnations they expected, they received 35 applications. The next thing they knew, they had a school.

Everything might have gone very smoothly after that if Weiss hadn’t decided, in early 2010, to change Hurwitz’s title. She went from maharat, a word that nobody had ever heard of and that was failing to gain traction in the community, to “rabba,” a term instantly recognizable as the feminine form of “rabbi.” This time, all the alarm bells went off.

“These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition,” said Agudath Israel of America, a major ultra-Orthodox rabbinic body. “Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.”

“We cannot accept either the ordination of women or the recognition of women as members of the Orthodox rabbinate, regardless of the title,” declared a unanimously passed resolution of the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), the largest Orthodox rabbinic organization.

Weiss tried to explain that nothing about Hurwitz had changed but her title. Though she would be functioning much like a rabbi on a day-to-day basis — teaching classes, counseling couples, answering questions about Jewish law — she had every intention of faithfully obeying all of Orthodoxy’s ritual “red lines.” She wouldn’t count in a minyan, the quorum of 10 men required for certain religious practices. She wouldn’t lead prayer services. She wouldn’t sit on a beit din, a Jewish court, to oversee a marriage or a conversion.

But none of that mattered. Soon rabbis were accusing Weiss of corrupting the Torah, cheapening the word of God, and sabotaging the community. As Abigail Pogrebin later wrote, one respected scholar at the RCA’s annual convention reportedly went so far as to place the ordination of women in the category of yehareg ve’al ya’avor, which refers to religious prohibitions — like those against murder and idolatry — that a Jew should sooner die than transgress. The public mood escalated to such a feverish pitch that Weiss told a colleague, “The way people are reacting, you would think I killed somebody.”

“It was a very trying time,” Hurwitz tells me, laughing. “There were so many days when I wanted to take it all back.”

And she might have too — if not for the fact that it would have come as a huge disappointment to the many Orthodox girls and women now excited about the possibility of becoming a rabba. Because, although some Orthodox women had dismissed Hurwitz as beyond the pale of Jewish law, or become defensive at the idea that women can and should take on “male” roles, others had started sending her fan mail. Hurwitz recalls a letter sent to her by teenager Eden Farber, begging her not to take “rabba” back. She couldn’t bear to let Farber down; she would keep her title.

But, because of the pushback they’d received, Hurwitz and Weiss agreed to backtrack on that title where future students of Yeshivat Maharat were concerned. So far, they’ve stuck to their word, calling their graduates maharat.

That makes Hurwitz the only woman out there currently known by the title of rabba — a reality she describes as lonely. “I hope that changes. I hope I’m not always the only one,” she says. But, in a tone remarkably free of anger, she adds, “In the meantime, we have to move with the temperature of the community.”

In June 2013, Yeshivat Maharat graduated its inaugural cohort in a historic ceremony. It was the first time Orthodox women were being ordained publicly and with the backing of an institution. Adding to the festive mood was the fact that all three graduates already had jobs lined up: one at a synagogue in Washington, D.C., and two at a synagogue and school in Montreal. Despite all the invective the Orthodox establishment had hurled at the maharat program, it turned out that community leaders were willing — even thrilled — to hire its graduates.

“I saw it as a great opportunity to service the spiritual needs of the congregation,” says Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who hired Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman to work at Ohev Sholom, his Orthodox synagogue in D.C.

Herzfeld says his congregants were “incredibly supportive” of Friedman’s appointment. He counters the notion that a woman serving as spiritual leader is at all problematic. “This is very natural and in accordance with halacha,” he says, referring to Jewish law. “In our community, it makes perfect sense. Women are leaders in every single aspect of their lives, and then when it comes to spirituality, you’re going to say, ‘You can’t be a leader’?”

Impressed with Friedman’s work, Herzfeld has become an outspoken ally for her colleagues. “The maharat has done such an amazing job that I find myself telling other congregations, ‘I cannot imagine now how a synagogue cannot have a maharat.’”

Echoes of this positive reception have made their way to Yeshivat Maharat, bolstering its dean. “Since the graduation this past June, there’s been a shift,” Hurwitz says. “There’s been a newfound sense of confidence. We’re establishing facts on the ground, and it’s changing the Orthodox community.”

This change isn’t completely without historical precedent: Non-Orthodox Jewish denominations have been ordaining women for decades, starting with the Reform and Reconstructionist branches in the 1970s and continuing with the Conservative movement in the 1980s. Even in Orthodox Judaism, there have been a few women throughout the ages who effectively acted in rabbinic roles, though they were never officially ordained. Take the Maiden of Ludmir, who became a Hasidic rebbe in the 19th century. Or Marat Osnat, who took over from her father as head of the Yeshiva of Kurdistan in the 16th century. These women are the real role models for Yeshivat Maharat’s graduates, all of whom are determined to start serving their communities now, even if those communities aren’t quite ready to recognize them as rabbis. Though they may chafe at Orthodoxy’s careful, plodding, slow-to-evolve system, the graduates also revere and trust it fully; after all, it’s what has preserved Jewish tradition across the centuries. Instead of jettisoning it, they want to push it from within.

How the Orthodox movement will respond to the graduates remains to be seen. “It’s hard to know if they’re perceived as mainstream,” Hurwitz says. “I feel mainstream, and I feel like they should be.” She embraces the word “feminist,” but bristles at words like “reformer” and “trailblazer” — and says the three maharats out there would probably do the same.

But the maharats-in-training, it seems, have a bit more fire. Dasi Fruchter, who at 24 is one of the yeshiva’s youngest students, is easy to spot as she sits poring over a Talmud in the beit midrash: She’s the one wearing bright red lipstick. When I ask her if she considers herself a feminist reformer of Orthodox Judaism, she simply says, “Yes.”

She also tells me that, whereas the inaugural cohort of graduates has to be somewhat careful, because “whatever they do will be much more scrutinized,” the next generation of maharats “will have the luxury to ask harder questions.” It’s like a chess game, where each tiny strategic advance lays the groundwork for the next, more daring move. For Fruchter, the fact that the religion is slow to change isn’t annoying; it’s comforting. “I love the molasses nature of Orthodoxy,” she laughs. “It’s sweet and gooey and slow and rich.”

Fruchter isn’t sure what honorific she’ll get when she graduates in 2016. Whether Weiss will once again be willing to give out the title of rabba by that point, she can’t say. For now, she notes, he’s “definitely picking his battles.” And the term “rabba” is clearly still embattled: Asked whether he would hire a woman who came with that title, Herzfeld declined to answer, saying, “I’ll leave the semantics game to other organizations to work out.”

In the meantime, the contrast between Fruchter’s demeanor and Hurwitz’s is striking. “I don’t feel lonely,” Fruchter says. “Because we’re a community now, challenges from the outside don’t feel so scary or threatening.”

This confidence owes itself, of course, to Hurwitz, who fought the initial battle and created Yeshivat Maharat so that the women who came after her wouldn’t have to go it alone the way she did. Fruchter says that leaves her and her peers with a serious responsibility: “Our job as students is to make sure that what happened to Rabba Sara never happens again.”

If the word “lonely” comes up a lot in conversation with Hurwitz, there is only one word that surfaces more frequently, and that is “necessary.”

“It’s my new buzzword,” Hurwitz laughs. The more time passes, she says, the more she realizes that female leadership is “necessary to the survival of the Orthodox community.”

Hurwitz doesn’t resort to the essentialist argument that women clergy members are necessary because of their uniquely “female” traits, like willingness to collaborate. Instead, she notes that women will often feel more comfortable coming to female clergy members for advice on issues related to the body, fertility, and sexuality — and that these clergy members will have the advantage of being able to draw on their own experience. Besides, “just taking from 100% of the pool is going to be better for the community,” Hurwitz says. She believes the Orthodox establishment will inevitably come around to this pragmatic point of view, with the dawning realization that women’s struggle for ordination — like feminism writ large — isn’t about angry women trying to usurp power from men, but about women’s sincere desire to do what comes most naturally to them.

Is it safe to assume, then, that the Orthodox world will consider ordaining women “kosher” 20 years from now? “I have to assume yes,” she says. “We’re on the right side of history.”

Something about Hurwitz’s smile — wry, but totally empty of resentment, and full of confidence in her co-religionists’ ability and willingness to evolve — disarms me. Suddenly, I find myself leaning toward her, eager to confide.

If Yeshivat Maharat had existed 10 or even five years earlier, I tell her, I could very easily have ended up as one of her students. In my early twenties, I had seriously considered becoming a rabbi. But, growing up in Montreal’s Orthodox community — a community that always struck me as insular and parochial — I couldn’t help viewing a life in the rabbinate as an exercise in masochism. Orthodoxy was evolving, I knew, but at an unbearably slow pace. That was why, when I heard last year that not one but two maharats had taken up roles in a Montreal synagogue, I was shocked.

Hurwitz lets out a deep sigh. “I hear this all the time from people, actually.” Many young women opt out of Orthodox Judaism, she says, because they feel like they don’t have a voice. If they knew that ordination were an option for them, they would remain more committed. “I can only hope that girls from now on will see Orthodox women reaching the highest level of authority within tradition — and stay excited.”

If young women like Fruchter are any indication, Hurwitz’s hope is fast becoming a reality. Still, Fruchter admits that being a maharat-in-training is not without challenges. She’s gotten negative pushback, mostly from Orthodox women who read in her actions an implication that the way they’re living isn’t good enough. She says maharats often have to prove themselves, especially when it comes to their knowledge of Jewish law.

Hurwitz says they all look forward to a time when it will seem completely natural for Orthodox women to pursue this career. “But for now, they have to be really good at what they do. They have to be better, probably, than their male counterparts. In the community they’re in, this is still uncharted territory.”


Continue to part II, “Kate Kelly’s Mission To Ordain Mormon Women.”

Return to the Feminism in Faith page.

Photograph by Macey Foronda for BuzzFeed

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Before You Eat Another Apple, Try This Simple Trick!

Do you touch all of the fruit in the grocery store before picking the perfect pears, peaches, and apples? So does everyone else.

That right there is reason enough to scrub your produce before chowing down, but did you know that there’s another equally nasty reason? Apparently, grocers coat some fruits and vegetables with wax to make them last longer on the shelves.

Fortunately for us, the folks over at Little Things came up with an awesome trick that’ll help you avoid eating wax the next time you reach for an apple.

(via Little Things)

I seriously had no idea that this was a thing, so I’ll definitely be adding this trick to my kitchen arsenal. Will you give it a try?

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17 Easy Dinners Everyone Should Have In Their Arsenal

Back away from the instant ramen. You got this.

1. A hearty slow-simmered chili:

Like this three-bean version you can make on the stovetop. Recipe here.

More ideas: 24 Chili Recipes That Will Warm You Up

2. A classic pasta that only needs a few ingredients:


Like Marcella Hazan’s famous four-ingredient tomato sauce, or a back-to-basics Cacio e Pepe. Recipes here and here.

More ideas: 21 Simple One Pot Pastas

3. A casserole that will feed a crowd:


Like this white chicken enchilada casserole that’s ready in less than an hour. Recipe here.

More ideas: 20 Casserole Recipes To Try

4. Chicken (or fish) in a simple white wine sauce:

Like this stovetop chicken piccata with lemon and capers. Recipe here.

More ideas: 23 Boneless Chicken Breast Recipes That Are Actually Delicious

5. A savory stir fry:

Like this one loaded with fresh vegetables and a DIY sauce of rice vinegar, sesame oil, molasses, and soy sauce. Recipe here.

6. An easy sheet pan dinner:

Like oven-roasted chicken breasts with tomatoes and chickpeas. Recipe here.

More ideas: 30 Easy One-Tray Oven Dinners

7. A foolproof slow cooker soup:


Like big batch minestrone. Recipe here.

More ideas: 24 Extremely Delicious Slow Cooker Dinners

8. A filling frittata that goes beyond breakfast:

Like this one with bacon, potatoes, green onions, and plenty of cheese. Recipe here.

More ideas: 31 Breakfast-For-Dinner Recipes

9. A light but filling fish fillet:

Like balsamic glazed salmon. Recipe here.

More ideas: 23 Quick and Delicious Fish Dinners

10. Homemade fried rice that’s even better than takeout:

Recipe here.

More ideas: 15 Make-At-Home Dinners That Are Better Than Takeout

11. From-scratch pizza that beats delivery:

Like this barbecue chicken version. Recipe here.

More ideas: 31 Exciting Pizza Flavors You Have To Try

12. A perfectly seared steak:


13. A meatless option that even carnivores will crave:

Like white bean ragout with cherry tomatoes and Parmesan. Recipe here.

More ideas: 29 Vegetarian Classics You Should Learn How To Cook

14. A healthy meal that puts everything you need in one bowl:

Like these spicy fish taco bowls with tilapia, red peppers, black beans, avocado, and brown rice. Recipe here.

More ideas: 21 Healthy and Delicious One-Bowl Meals

15. Mac ‘n’ cheese that doesn’t come with a seasoning packet:

Like Martha Stewart’s version here.

More ideas: 21 Mac ‘n’ Cheeses That Are Better Than A Boyfriend

16. A simple seafood option:

Like garlic butter shrimp over rice or quinoa. Recipe here.

More ideas: 15 Flavorful Seafood Recipes To Make This Summer

17. And a burger that’s not boring:

Like this one with cheddar, sauteed mushrooms, arugula, and homemade dijon. Recipe here.

More ideas: 28 Badass Burgers To Grill

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9 Signs That Your Body Is Screaming For Better Nutrition

We’ve been told since childhood that eating healthy food makes us stronger, which, if you’re gross like me, you’ve interpreted as eating an apple once every Arbor Day or so.

But as it turns out, your body needs a healthy dose of good nutrition every day, and if it doesn’t receive it, it will find the weirdest ways to tell you. Here are some warning signs of malnourishment that you should watch out for.

Digestion issues.

Not to sound like a pharmaceutical ad, but do you have trouble with constipation or diarrhea? Then you may be suffering from a lack of fiber. Doctors suggest eating things like whole wheat pasta and bran flakes to keep your intestines happy.

Delayed healing.

Nobody heals as fast as our determined friend Wile E. Coyote here, but if you have a wound that is taking a long time to heal, you should take stock of what you’re eating every day. Calories and proteins are essential when it comes to the healing process.

Brittle hair.

If your hair is becoming straw-like and can be pulled out easily, you might need more protein in your diet. Any type of meat packs a healthy punch of protein, but if you’re a vegetarian, you can go for beans, eggs, and nuts.

Brittle nails.

Do your nails break as much as an affluent woman’s in an old-timey movie? You might actually have a magnesium deficiency. Eat more foods like avocados, whole grains, and bananas!

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Premature aging.

Studies show that a poor diet can create wrinkles on the face at an earlier age. To combat that, you need to eat more foods that are packed with vitamins A through E. Antioxidants are also your friends. We’re talking about fruits and vegetables here, folks.

Cold hands.

You might blame your icy hands on bad circulation, but it could also mean that you have an iodine deficiency. You should eat more things from the sea, like kelp and shrimp. Iodine-rich foods like cranberries, yogurt, and potatoes are great as well.

Fissured tongue.

If your tongue is starting to look like the ruins of Pompeii, you may have a vitamin B deficiency. You need to have more fish, soy, and bran in your diet.

Dry skin.

Dry, lizard-like skin can be caused by the cold, but sometimes, it can mean that you aren’t getting enough vitamin A. Have some more carrots, dark leafy greens, and red meat. You’ll be happy to know that BUTTER is also high in vitamin A!

Bad teeth.

Obviously, having bad teeth is often a sign that you need to cut back on sugar, but bleeding gums could also indicate that you need to get some more vitamin C. Try to get more citrus fruits and broccoli into your diet.

I know it seems like your body wants cookies and cakes, but, as lame as it sounds, it really wants a more balanced diet. It’s boring, I know, but it’s totally necessary.

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Stop Complaining. Take Care Of These 15 Things And You’ll Be Happier.

 The world is full of self-help books and advice on how to be a better/happier/more successful person. Most of it is useless, and all of it costs money. In the interest of creating more happy humans on this planet we’ve compiled a self-help list of our own. As a fair warning this post contains a heavy dose of truth. Those that are allergic to truth should probably stop now. Read. Enjoy. Implement.

1.) You suck at prioritizing the things that matter. 

Here’s a brutal truth: there are only 24 hours in a day. That’s it. You only have 24 hours to eat, sleep, work, Facebook, Netflix, exercise, complain, etc. So if you only have a certain amount of time to get things done, why do you wait until the last minute every time? A deadline is an immovable object, it won’t be going anywhere. So why are you acting like you have all the time in the world to get something done?  

2.) Because you suck at prioritizing, you get frustrated and complain that you didn’t have enough time.

Bullshit. Seriously stop it. You had plenty of time, but chose to spend it dicking around like a kindergartener during snack time. Now you’re stressed and annoyed, and you still have to finish you work. Maybe you learned something here?

3.) You are what you eat, and you eat like crap.

The old adage that you are what you eat is still around today because it’s true. If you eat terribly, then guess how you’re going to feel. Instead of going for that third helping of grocery store brand mac and cheese, maybe you could try something healthier with smaller portions? You’ll feel better and be more focused. Fun fact: Salads can actually be pretty delicious.

4.) Exercise. Just do it. 

You may think those modern day cavemen are crazy, but they have a point. We human beings evolved running and hunting on the savannas of Africa. We need to exercise in order for our bodies to function properly. It doesn’t have to be chasing (or getting chased by) tigers, a moderate jog should do the trick.

5.) You don’t need another drink.

There’s nothing wrong with drinking in moderation. It’s super social and a great way to unwind. However it stops being that the moment you start drinking yourself stupid. If the price is a day of two of feeling like complete garbage, then no thanks. Go home, sober up, and get a jump on the next day.

6.) Sleep late and forever be tired.

Yep. I know what I just said sounds like heresy, but it’s true. When you sleep late on the weekends, it throws off your whole internal clock. That just makes you feel extra horrible when you’ve got to shift back into your regular routine on Monday. Might this be the cause of your chronic tiredness?

7.) Don’t go to sleep drunk.

Or under the influence of any drug for that matter. Doing that is a guaranteed way to screw up your REM cycle, which will leave you feeling horrible when you wake up.

8.) Your friends are losers.

Of course you don’t want to spend time with people who take away from your life. You also don’t want to be around people who add nothing to your life. We are the sum of the people we spend the most time with. If you’re hanging out with directionless slobs, guess what you become?

9.) Following up is next to godliness.

Networking can be a great thing. It’s important to know though, that if you’re not following up and making an effort to stay in touch with people, then your time spent networking is wasted. Follow up, follow up, follow up. You might think you’re being annoying, but busy people appreciate the fine art of the follow up.

10.) You hate your job. 

Or maybe you only like it a little bit. Let me ask you though, is it what you want to do for the rest of your life? If you’re not happy then what the hell are you doing? You only have one life. Why are you wasting yours doing something you’re not passionate about?

11.) I want to follow my dream, but I’m waiting for the right time.

Excuse me, but what the hell are you talking about? There is never a “right” time for following your dreams. It will never feel “right.” You just have to do it. The more time you waste with excuses, the less time you have to live the life of your dreams. Just think about that.

12.) Healthy relationships? Who needs those?

Umm you do? Seriously. If all of your relationships crash and burn, then maybe the problem isn’t that “crazy” guy or girl. The problem is you. It could be time to do some self reflecting.

13.) Take 20 minutes to clear your head. 

In order to make the best decisions, your brain needs breaks. Maybe it’s meditation or taking a walk. Just pick something where you can let your brain do nothing for a little while. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel afterwards.

14.) You’re good enough, let’s move on. 

You’re good enough to achieve anything you want to achieve. Remember it, believe it. There are always going to be things we don’t like about ourselves. Pick the ones you can change and work on them. Accept the ones you can’t change, and move on. Don’t get caught up in the self sabotaging cycle of telling yourself that you’re not good enough. It doesn’t end well, because it doesn’t end.

15.) Stop telling yourself lies.

Stop it. If you keep lying to yourself about this thing or that, it’s going to be harder to ultimately face the truth. Your lies will only make you more bitter, and keep you from achieving your goals. Now that you’re pumped and ready to take on the world, make sure to share this post by clicking below.

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