Publications

America, the Earth is too small to be far from you
There is not a segment of Earth that is not touched by America. Although Americans see themselves as diverse and riven, we who are far from you, like the astronauts seeing our planet from space, see a single light: the light of liberty.
Originally published in Tax Notes

We cannot part
I once asked: how can they shut down civilization? But one sick person turned into two, and two into four and four into eight, and it only takes twenty-seven days of doubling to go from one to a million… So we tell our loved ones goodbye; we will see you again in another season, or another year or on the screen.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Jewish Action

The Corona Diaries, family Zoom calls
We are exceedingly busy doing absolutely nothing. Washing our hands again and again then washing the towel that washed the hands.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Jewish Action

Family time during COVID-19
The strongest human need is the need for each other. We wish for connection, we ache when we cannot find it, and we are punished most intolerably when we are cut away from one another.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Commonweal Magazine

Isolation during COVID-19
We are in isolation now we and all the world. Each household on its own. And in our isolation, we are together. I had called my friend to comfort him, but the conversation ended with him comforting me.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in First Things

The Gift of Prayer
It is still early and dark. Next to me my sister sleeps, but I wake with the sound of my father preparing for work. He is soft so as not to disturb my mother. The window stirs, a ripple of white in the room
From Viva Hammer’s piece in First Things

Sabbath Alone
The sun falls between the leaves outside the kitchen window as I prepare for my first Sabbath alone. Beginning on Thursday morning, Sabbath greetings have arrived, and they have not ceased.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in First Things

Matchless: An Observant Jew Searches for Love
I came to America in the hope of a husband, leaving my birthplace and my parents’ loving home ten thousand miles behind. Not a man in Australia ever asked me on a date. I was the only observant Jew at the University of Sydney, with girlfriends of all stripes, but having a male friend would have caused a scandal and dating out of the faith was unthinkable.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Commonweal

Bareheaded: Uncovering My Hair After Divorce
Will you uncover your hair? they ask when they hear I’m divorcing. I am taken aback each time; it’s a private matter. The morning after my wedding, I tied on a scarf and walked to synagogue. My mother didn’t do it, nor did hers, but my father’s mother, who lived next door when I was growing up, covered her hair for eighty years, from marriage to grave.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in First Things

Orthodox Baby Boom!
The most startling finding of the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS) was the intermarriage rate – which has remained stable in the last decade – but the low Jewish birthrate.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Jewish Action

Choosing Homeschooling
One day when my son was four years old, he came home and announced that school was stupid and boring and that he didn’t want to go. For a while after this announcement, my husband and I encouraged Mikhael to keep going to nursery in the mornings. Some days one of us accompanied him; other days we watched him get on the bus alone and in tears.
From Viva Hammer’s piece

Women’s right to divorce
It’s odd to have a coffee-table book about agunot, women who can’t get Jewish divorces, but The Tears of the Oppressed: An Examination of the Agunah Problem: Background and Halakhic Sources by Aviad Hacohen and Blu Greenberg (Ktav, $39.50) is exactly that. With its large, glossy cover and elegant text, I am assuming the publishers wanted to distinguish this book from the myriad of others on the same topic while highlighting that the aguna issue is central to the struggle for women’s rights in Judaism.
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Lilith.org

Changing Jewish Laws About Women?
Orthodox feminists live with a conundrum. The revelation of Torah at Sinai, the foundation of their belief, occurred more than 3,000 years ago, when equality for women was unimaginable. AH subsequent Jewish law and literature derive their authenticity from that event, and the further we are from that time, the less significant any authority or text is considered to be.
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Lilith.org

Medieval Jewish Women Make Great Role Models
It is hard to imagine a book about medieval Jewish women being a bestseller, but in Israel this book was. In Pious and Rebellious: Jewish Women in Medieval Europe by Avraham Grossman (Brandeis University Press, $29.95), there is no retelling of potboiling stories, or unearthing of scandal. Grossman is a cautious historian, refusing to make grand statements about his sources, or to speculate about events he cannot know. So what makes this book so compelling? Why did I find this dry history so difficult to put down? The answer, I think, is this: Grossman loves these ancient Jewish women, and indeed, there is much to love.
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Lilith.org
Reprinted in Jewish Women’s Center of Pittsburgh, OU.org, and translated into Italian.

Blood Rhythms
Tonight is the fourteenth night of my menstrual cycle and I am going to the mikva. Ever since I first saw blood two weeks ago, I have not touched my husband. We have not passed things one to another, nor carried a load together. I sleep in bed alone. If we share a meal, there must be something extraneous on the table to remind us of our status. We have not poured each other’s drinks, nor eaten food from the same plate. My husband has not seen any part of my body that is normally covered in public. This man whom I know more intimately than any other is more forbidden to me than a stranger.
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Lilith.org

Confessions of an Aguna Activist
There was already a knot of people huddled at the demonstration in Borough Park, Brooklyn by the time we arrived, on that sunny Sunday morning. It was 20 degrees below zero.
A woman out front took the megaphone and began her admonishment, “Avraham Zvi Silver stein* is in contempt of Jewish court. He refuses to give his wife a get (write of divorce). He is an abomination amongst the People of Israel. The bais din [Jewish court] has asked us to do everything we can to help this woman. He is a shame to the whole community!” The demonstrators trudged around the courtyard under this man’s apartment, chanting “Avraham Zvi Silverstein, give your wife a get!”
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Lilith.org

Sacred Books
Even before I had his ring on my finger his books arrived. Tomes of Talmud and Codes of Jewish Law that his mother had been calculating the moment to expel. She engaged him to me for that alone: so she could fill the space he emptied to mine with more of her own. She never discards books, only expels them to others.
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Brooklyn Non-Fiction

Always Artful Jew
A bibliophile was guiding me through a collection of antique Haggadot, when he paused to lament the primitiveness of the artwork. “Jews are people of the word, not the image,” I reminded him. It was not always so. The Pentateuch lavishes long passages among its spare and precious prose on the making of the Tabernacle, detailing precisely dimensions, materials, processing of the materials, colors and how to source the dyes for those colors.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=197685

Black Fire Upon White Fire
Weeks before I left Australia forever, bulldozing through final law school exams, I was called upon to form a women’s prayer group. I had only myself to blame for this. Ever since I had come back from America, aglow with the freshest experiences in the Jewish world, I had been speaking at every corner about women gathering in prayer. My proselytizing had resulted in a flurry of young voices imploring me to create the experience in the Antipodes.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=195909

Voice of a Woman
Gentlemen, I have no voice (so those hoping to be aroused should listen elsewhere). Sometimes hoarse, sometimes low and creaky, what sound can I produce with no training and no practice? When my daughter came of age, she was frum, shy and proper and declined both ceremony and celebration. In this she followed me, who shuddered in relief as I walked up to my silent unmarked bat mitzva in the women’s gallery at Sydney’s Mizrahi synagogue.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=206633

Brides of Blood
I spent the week between my son’s birth and his circumcision on the kitchen floor, breast pump in one hand and telephone in the other, searching for a mohel. The baby was born on Shabbat Rosh Hodesh Nisan, and the circumcision was to be on Shabbat Hagadol, one week before Pessah. Manhattan, where we lived, was not thick with mohelim and so I had to import one.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=171547

Hametz and Taxes
April 15 is the day Americans must file their taxes, which means that for Jewishly observant accountants, the Pessah season is as hellish at work as it is at home. That Gregorian date invariably falls immediately before, during or just after Pessah. But the coincidence of timing between tax filing and Pessah is a mere superficial connection between the two. Earlier in my career, I learned of a more subtle connection.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/Magazine/PersonalNotes/Article.aspx?id=171793

Every Hour a Kiss
I am forbidden close physical contact with any man other than my father and grandfather, son and grandson, and – periodically – husband. Two unforgettable events remain with me from my last visit to Israel: a kiss and a hug.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=173244

Mothertongue
When my daughter was thrust into Hebrew immersion in first grade, I seized the chance to start speaking Hebrew at home. For an Australian living in America, this wasn’t an obvious choice. My Hebrew is as mysterious and unquenchable as the burning bush. With lubrication (e.g., an evening of Srugim), I speak like a native. Israeli security is always suspicious. “Your Israeli passport?” None. “Israeli parents?” No. Eyes narrow. “Why do you speak Hebrew like that, then?”
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=174326

Landswoman at a Jerusalem Mikva
Standing on the edge of the mikve pool, lighted and hidden by candlelight, in the midst of a total electrical blackout and of the darkness of the intifada, we chatted about the incomparably beautiful hometown which we had both abandoned.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=176762

Moonrise
It is my custom to go to shul on the mornings when my people celebrate the birth of the new moon. The moon is the woman’s parallel in the unequal upper spheres, and I show my partnership with her by joining the community in song on her monthly birthday.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=178046

Fasting, mourning and nursing at the Trianon Palace
When my boss offered me the sole US ticket at an international finance boondoggle, I was so flattered that I accepted immediately. Then he divulged the details: The meeting was in Versailles the week of Tisha Be’av, followed by a gala event in Manhattan on the day of the fast.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=180844

Communing While Commuting
Today I begin a new job and once again I’m davening on the train. I had not planned it like this. The morning was precisely choreographed to include exercise, chat with children, a gulp of breakfast – and final anointment with shaitel. All this left time only for the parade of blessings that open the prayer service, no more. So I’m on the Washington Metro greeting my maker.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=179404

The Rebbetzin Will Keep Her Name
One of the great debates after I became engaged to a Rabbi was how I would be addressed by my husband’s congregation. I did not plan on changing either my first or my last names after my wedding, but this would be an unintelligible decision to these parishoners. The world seemed to be clearly divided between those who cannot imagine why one half of a couple would change one half of her name upon entering into the holy bond of matrimony, and those who cannot imagine not doing so.
From Viva Hammer’s piece on Chabad.org
http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/456158/jewish/The-Rebbetzin-Will-Keep-Her-Name.htm

No Daddys Here, Please
People are always aghast when they hear me address my father. I call him by his distinctive Hungarian nickname, and he never protests. Although I was a child of the ’70s, we were no hippie family. Discipline and manners were the cornerstones of my parents’ child-rearing methods. My father and I were not on first-name bases with each other because he thought we were equals.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=181651

Runaway Sistah
A religious woman in our town left her husband and three children this year and ran off with another man. Poor, lucky woman her neighbors murmur. Poor for choosing such a man, with no qualms about filching her from her family. Lucky because she got away.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=183797

Chelsea’s Yarmulke
The shidduch – looks perfect, what we would call “invei hagefen v’invei hagefen.” Fruit from neighboring vines. Chelsea and Marc have known each other most of their lives, having met as teenagers at a salubrious Democratic pow-wow. All four parents are elected Washington politicians; both fathers involved in scandals. They have both lived under the glaring media light since birth and have successfully avoided it in adulthood.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=184569

Titles Do Not the Rabbi Make
There has been a divine hullabaloo this year about titles given to and withdrawn from women performing rabbinic roles in Orthodox synagogues. I am always willing to launch right into naming debates, as I did regarding my own title before I married a rabbi. But in the case of the women who can’t be called rabbi, the battle over what they should be called is secondary – nay! tertiary – and masks the tantalizing primary issues.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=186105

Making a Meaningful Bat Mitzva
Good frum girls don’t make Bat Mitzvahs–such was the prevailing view when I was growing up. And so when I turned twelve, I was proud to mark the occasion by doing– nothing. At the Australian day school I attended, this gave me the status of a draft dodger (or conscientious objector). The other girls missed months of Jewish studies classes rehearsing for their Bat Mitzvah pageants in which they dressed up in white wedding cake dresses to sing and prance in a sanctuary before a mixed audience.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Jewish Action

Kosher In Israel
You have to admire Israel’s kosher entrepreneurship. All a person needs is a bit of food, a hungry customer, a logo and – presto! – a new hechsher is born. For Diaspora Jews, it’s a misery of riches. Which hechsher is real and which a dream in a rabbi’s eye, religious food decoration?
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
Kosher In Israel

Ten Righteous Souls
There has been a divine hullabaloo this year about titles given to and withdrawn from women performing rabbinic roles in Orthodox synagogues. I am always willing to launch right into naming debates, as I did regarding my own title before I married a rabbi. But in the case of the women who can’t be called rabbi, the battle over what they should be called is secondary – nay! tertiary – and masks the tantalizing primary issues.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=186105

Diaspora Holiday Bonus
Survival of the second day of the festival is a vexing enigma of Diaspora Judaism. Every schoolchild knows of its primordial origins, when the calendar was fixed according to sightings of the moon. But the extra day should have become a mere historical curiosity after the adoption of the mathematical calendar.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=188910

Abominable Dilemmas
In the Sydney suburb where I spent my Orthodox childhood, the holy trinity of mother, father and biological children was the deviant household. Our townhouse complex encompassed singles with adopted children, empty nesters and a multitude of gays. There were conservative working gays, loud carousing gays and lonely single gays. The ones I knew best were the “boys” next door who helped with plumbing disasters and waved to us as we passed on the way to school. They were regular folk, good mates.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
Abominable Dilemmas

Holiday (mis)Givings
Harbingers of the holiday season, legions of emissaries come knocking on our door this time of year. If they come while I’m digging in the garden, the men in long frocks and longer beards usually skip our house. If they knock when I’m inside, I let my spouse take care of them. Repelled by these jet-setting beggars and discomforted by my repulsion, I am pressed by these men to consider again: what is charity?
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post

Be Thee To Me Betrothed
I generally avoid Nazi-occupied Europe. Kin blood gathers in pools upon the ground, glinting in refracted light, the soil too saturated to carry more than it holds. (The slaughter is the work of imagination on hearsay but is no less real than the knife held to my own throat: all memory, real and learned, is a flicker of current in the brain.)
From Viva Hammer’s piece

Stay at work (kollel) wife
When I left for work this morning, there were four men taking care of the home front: my cleaner (a decorated former Israeli paratrooper); my visiting father (a mathematician, businessman and Holocaust survivor); my 2-year-old son; and my stay-at-home husband. A friend told me that people talk about me behind my back. They envy me for finding a true balance between work and life, and for finding a New Age Man who agreed to stay at home when I took a job which meant he had to give up his. They consider us a model for the modern family.
From Viva Hammer’s piece

The best driving failer in the state
This morning I failed my driving test again. I did pass it once in a different century on a different continent, but that is no consolation now. My life is strung from flights from failure, and my person basted together from the leftovers of those mad dashes. But as I endure motor vehicle defeats stretching over a generation, I swerve, glimpse a different view of success and what we fail in achieving it.
From Viva Hammer’s piece

Falling on Deaf Ears
And the Lord said to him, Who gave man a mouth? Or who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Breezing past the mirror on the way out to work one morning, I halted, looked again. “My hearing aids!” I thought, annoyed at myself. Then I smiled. I was so accustomed to seeing my husband’s aided ears that mine appeared naked and incomplete.
From Viva Hammer’s piece

Are You Hungry?
As she approached her Jewish majority, our family opened discussions on finding a high school for our firstborn daughter. A thrill of excitement quickened in me as I contemplated a noble excuse for that most traditional of American pastimes: an educational shopping trip.
From Viva Hammer’s piece

Educating Bruria
For a year I tramped America searching for a suitable Orthodox high school for our daughter. Attending to headmistresses’ recitals, listening in classes and open houses, I heard not one answer to the question facing us: Why do we educate Jewish girls? The schools kept their charges madly busy, but none could tell me what they were trying to accomplish.
From Viva Hammer’s piece in The Jerusalem Post
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/Judaism/Article.aspx?id=194949

“Martin Ginsburg, Who Found a Good Job, Along With His Wife”
“No one would give my wife a job,” Marty Ginsburg announced, with fresh outrage, at our first meeting. That wife was Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had graduated law school 50 years earlier without a job, and had become a U.S. Supreme Court judge 15 years before the day her husband and I met. And as fresh as his indignation at the bigots who had refused to employ the top-rated graduate because of her gender was his glee at the final reckoning: Who among those chauvinist men had reached her exalted post?
From Viva Hammer’s piece in Forward, July 9, 2010
http://www.forward.com/articles/129060/