Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Remembering My Blessings

I've been going through a bit of a rough patch in my life.  Things aren't exactly going according to plan in various circles of my life and, truth to tell, it's been getting me down of late.  I sometimes (probably selfishly) bemoan (largely to myself) how my life isn't exactly the rose garden I thought it would be.

Truth to tell, it's not nearly as bad as my emotions would tell me.  I do have a roof over my head.  I'm not going hungry.  I have a good job.  Eeees and I are still madly in love with each other after all these years.  I am relatively healthy, as are the members of my family.  There are lots of people who would love to have all my problems, as long as they came with the good parts of my life as well.

I was given a reminder of this point recently, when I volunteered to work at the annual TAFKID Purim carnival.  TAFKID is an organization that is devoted to helping the families of children with special needs (both physical and mental).  They provide support and advocate for these children.  At the carnival, I get to interact with the children -- of all levels of disability.  I see those that are high-functioning, and those that are confined to wheelchairs and barely able to communicate.

In many ways, it hurts to see these children.  It hurts to see that many of them will not have the opportunity to have the things that I have come to take for granted in my life -- the ability to walk; to marry and have children; to hold a job; the ability to express myself and make my wants and desires known without too much difficulty.  They and their families face hardships and challenges that I, thank God, do not know.

It's sometimes very easy to focus on our own problems and forget the blessings that HKBH has given us.  Perhaps it's a good thing that I volunteer here and, at least once in a while, am reminded that, despite my own personal problems, I still have it pretty good in life.

The Wolf

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fighting Smoking Is A Battle Worth Fighting

Rabbi Yair Hoffman wrote a recent editorial (publish on 5TJT and republished on YWN) about the dangers of smoking among our youth.   He starts out with an over-the-top picture of a young widow-to-be who is losing her husband to cancer because he smoked when he was younger.  Yes, it's a sappy scenario, but the bottom line is that smoking does kill.  It's really that simple.

Rabbi Hoffman places a good portion of the blame on the boys in Beis Midrash, whom the younger bochrim look up to.  Because they smoke, he posits, the younger kids want to emulate them and smoke as well.  Their activity is undermining any anti-smoking message that the school or parents are hoping to communicate.

Maybe it's because I was never one of the "cool kids" in school, but I could never quite understand what drives someone to smoke.  It always seemed to me that it was a dirty, smelly habit -- aside from any health problems that it may cause.  My mother is a long-time smoker, and, fortunately, as much as I look up to her, I never once thought to follow in her footsteps in this matter.  Even at a very young age, I was able to understand that smoking is simply bad.

You wouldn't think that there could be anyone who would actually defend smoking.  Even the smokers that I know would never tell a person "It's okay, smoke, you'll be able to quit if  you want to."  And yet, someone actually wrote into Matzav.com in response to Rabbi Hoffman's editorial, defending smoking.

Y.W. actually defended the practice on the grounds that "it is one of the only permitted outlets for our young men, our yeshiva boys."  He observes (rightly) that we should pick our battles when it comes to our kids and not say "assur" (forbidden) all the time.  However, he (wrongly) chooses smoking as something to let slide.

He goes on to state:

Having been involved with youth for many years, I can tell you with certainty that the large majority of boys who smoke stop after they are married. Don’t believe the propaganda that the activists will try to sell you about young husbands dying from smoking. It’s a lie. Again, most boys who smoke stop after matrimony.

Personally, I find it a bit hard to believe that the "large majority" of boys who smoke manage to stop before marriage.  I've seen plenty of people smoke after marriage and I know how difficult a nicotine addiction is to overcome.  But, for the moment, let's grant him the point and say that the majority can quit cold-turkey.  There are still two relevant points:

1.  There's a way to help even the minority who can't quit -- simply don't start.  How about instead of saying "you can quit anytime" (which, according to Y.W. helps only the majority), we say "Don't start smoking" which helps almost everyone.

2.  Even if they can stop after marriage, the damage may have already been done.  Smoking during an early part of a person's life can affect them even long after they quit.  I, personally, know someone who died of lung cancer decades after he quit smoking.  Leonard Nimoy (the actor who portrayed Spock in the Star Trek franchise) recently announced that he suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder -- and he quit smoking thirty years ago!  Why should we allow our young men to damage their bodies now, even if they can stop adding damage later?

We, as parents, should certainly be picking and choosing our battles.  We should not be saying "assur" all the time.  But there are issues to give in on and issues where we *should* draw a red line -- and smoking, which can cause lifetime addiction, illness and death, should be one of the latter issues.

The Wolf



Tuesday, February 11, 2014

New Template

I hope you will all forgive me... but I've had the same template since I began this blog back in 2005.  I think that it's time for an upgrade.

Feel free to provide any feedback.

The Wolf

Monday, December 23, 2013

Wages And Attitudes In Lakewood

Of late, I've begun reading the Coffee Room section of the Voice of Lakewood.  In it's pages, various issues of importance to the residents of Lakewood are debated back and forth.  The current "hot issue" is whether or not the elementary schools should translate Chumash into Yiddish, even if the kids don't understand it.  But that's not the issue that brings me back to my blog today.

Another debate that has been going on for the last few weeks is the rising price of cleaning help in Lakewood.  Various people have put forth suggestions including capping the salaries of cleaning ladies. 

What I find interesting is the complete one-sidedness of the attitude of those who seek to restrict the salaries of cleaning ladies.  In the Nov 14 issue, a writer complains that her cleaning lady had the nerve to ask for more money (after having gotten a raise) because she received a better offer elsewhere.  The money quote (pardon the pun):

I would like to know when everyone will realize that cleaning ladies shouldn't be allowed to be in control.  If we keep on giving in to them, they will keep requesting more per hour.  Let us put a stop to this bidding game.  There has to be a specific amount that is approved to be the ceiling amount.  Why can't $10 be the ceiling amount?  No one should give more than this ceiling amount.  Otherwise, we will be constantly wrapped around the cleaning ladies' fingers.  We must stop this before it spirals out of control.

It would seem, based on this letter and similar ones like it, that there is a shortage of good, reliable cleaning help in Lakewood.  The fact that cleaning ladies are in demand for higher and higher rates indicates that there may not be enough cleaning help to go around.  This is basic, simple economics.  The letter writer wants to impose a wage ceiling on cleaning ladies, thereby circumventing the natural equilibrium between price and demand.

Of course, as most people know, these types of mechanisms tend not to work very well.  There are several things working against the imposition of a wage ceiling, including the fact that there's no enforcement mechanism, there is probably a market for cleaning help outside the yeshivish community and the fact that the cleaners may choose to find other work to do if their wages are capped (which would further exacerbate the underlying existing problem).

What's troubling about the letter, however, is that the letter writer advocates something for the cleaning help that she would never accept for herself.  Imagine if she went for a raise and was told that not only can she not have one, but that all the employers in town have agreed to limit the salaries.  Would she agree that this is fair and proper?  Would she be willing to accept that for herself or for her husband?  My guess is that the answer is no -- she would not.  But when it comes to (presumably) non-Jewish help, then it's all well and good.

To be fair, there has been another writer in the Voice trying to make the point that there is an equilibrium between supply and demand and that the community cannot (and should not) be capping salaries. I'd be very curious to see how the "cappers" respond to this person in the coming weeks.

You might think the attitude expressed in the letter above is sickening and silly, but believe it or not, it actually gets worse.  In this week's (Dec 19) issue, a writer pens the following:

Dear VOL,

Recently there was a back and forth about putting a ceiling price on cleaning ladies to avoid losing your help.  However, the real issue is that it's become accepted to take someone else's lady!!  Why is this normal?  It's outright stealing!

Don't take someone's cleaning lady the same way you wouldn't take their money or possessions...

Signed,

Messed Over Many Times

I'm utterly shocked and flabbergasted that she views a cleaning lady as her own personal property.  In the letter writer's eyes, she no different (other than the fact that you have to pay her) than a car, a toaster or any other possession.  So outraged is she by this that she's willing to label as a thief someone who makes *her* cleaning lady a better offer.  She would advocate that no one be allowed to hire someone's cleaning help without first obtaining their permission. 

Again, however, the issue of fairness comes into play.  How would she feel if she found that her employer was allowed to preemptively block and other offers of employment for more money?  How would she feel if that was done to her husband?  You can bet she'd be outraged, and rightfully so.   But when it comes to someone outside the community, virtual indentured servitude is seemingly okay.

The fact that there is a segment of the Lakewood population that thinks that fairness is a one-way street and that seek to impose oppressive economic rules on others that they would never accept on themselves is just sad. 

The Wolf

Friday, August 02, 2013

Look In The Mirror Rabbi Birnbaum.

In the Yated, Rabbi Avrohom Birnbaum finds himself in search of “Ahavat Chinam.”  He laments the fact that the American Modern Orthodox community expresses “unprecedented enmity” towards the Chareidi community.  According to him, we have Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) for those to the left of us, but for those to the right, only contempt.

It’s ironic, of course, that in the course of the article, instead of searching to find common ground between his community and the left upon which to build a foundation of love, he instead engages in bombastic “we’re better than you” chest thumping.  Instead of finding something good to say about the left, he instead chooses to accuse them of baseless hatred.

What Rabbi Birnbaum fails to realize is that one of the key issue at hand is legitimization.  Very simply, we recognize Chareidim as legitimate in terms of their observance of Judaism.  Yes, we may not choose to lead such a lifestyle ourselves, but that doesn't mean that we don’t think that learning Torah, restricted modes of dress or following the strictest possible interpretations of halacha are bad things – they’re just not what we do.

It’s too bad, however, that you don’t see the same tolerance from Rabbi Birnbaum’s community.  How ironic is it that he asks “Is there no baseless love left for Torah observant Jews who have a different view than you?” when it is this very same baseless love that is completely absent on a communal level from his side of the aisle.

While we on the left may have complaints on the way the Chareidi community does things, we don't seek to delegitimize the movement.  We view it as a fully valid form of Judaism, albeit one we do not observe ourselves.

Imagine the following scenario:  a nineteen year old Modern Orthodox youth, about to move out and embark on his own, goes to his parents and says in a serious voice “We need to talk.”  He then sits them down on the couch and says “I’ve decided to become more frum.  I’m going to learn more, I’m not going to have a television or cable in my home.  I’m going to keep Cholov Yisroel and dress only in standard yeshivish clothing.”

What would the parents’ reaction be?  Would they weep and cry and ask themselves the soul-searching question of “where did we go wrong?”  The answer, of course, is no.  They may have concerns about the welfare of their child (which parent doesn't?), but, on the whole, there isn’t going to be any real anguish over the situation, because the parents see yeshivish as a valid, frum lifestyle.

On the other hand, many Chareidi parents practically insider their kids "off the Derech" if they wore a kippah s'ruga (you know, the article of clothing that makes you partof Amalek according to Rabbi Shalom Cohen?) or didn't keep the strictest standard of halacha or even believed that there was value in secular learning for its own sake.   The Chareidi parents whose children become Modern Orthodox would likely spend the rest of their lives wondering what went wrong with their kid.

It’s ironic that Rabbi Birnbaum talks about intolerance of the left for the right when, in fact, the reverse is far more common.  You don't have those on the left screaming at little girls because they keep their particular brand of tznius in dress.  You don't see those on the left yelling at women who chose to sit in the back of the bus.  You don’t the Modern Orthodox community protesting against or threatening to shut down stores where there are separate shopping hours for men and women.  You don’t see the left causing a chillul HaShem at the Kotel by protesting Charedi women who don’t wear a tallis and choose to daven by themselves.

The real issue at hand is the very fact that, in the eyes of many Chareidim, we may as well not even be frum Jews.  I've heard of instances where people who aren't dressed as Chareidi or yeshivish weren't even counted as part of a minyan.

A friend of mine told me of a time when he was in an airport and a group of Chareidim/yeshivish people went looking for a minyan.  When they finally had one, one of the men asked if anyone was a chiyuv.  My friend said that he was.  The person asked again if anyone was a chiyuv, hoping to find someone more acceptable to him.  Again my friend said he was a chiyuv and was ignored.  The man then went ahead and began to daven for the amud himself.  Yes, this was only one incident and only one person, but it is this type of attitude toward those on the left and in the Modern Orthodox community that is pervasive in the Chareidi world.

Rabbi Birnbaum spends a great deal of time talking about the institutions that the Chareidi world has built – and, yes, they are great institutions.  No one argues that organizations such as Hatzalah, Misasksim and Tomche Shabbos are wonderful things, and no one seeks to take the credit away from the Chareidim and Chassidim who built and run those institutions.  Kudos to them and may they continue to do great things.  But that’s not really the issue here.  The issue isn't who does more chessed.  The issue is “do you really love us enough to consider us as Torah-observant Jews?”

We've all heard the expression that there are shivim panim laTorah.  However, the Chareidi community tends to take the Henry Ford approach to that maxim.  Ford was famous for saying “You can have the Model T in any color you want, so long as it’s black.”  Well, the Chariedi community is a bit more open than that.  They’ll recognize a different form of frum Judaism, as long as it’s black, onyx, obsidian, jet or ebony.

Until the Chareidi community learns to accept those on the left as legitimate, I can’t see how Rabbi Birnbaum can preach about Ahavas Chinam.  It is those on his side who do not love the left as a whole.  Yes, they may love us as individuals, but as a community, Rabbi Birnbaum’s claim of Ahavas Chinam for us falls flat.

I agree with Rabbi Birnbaum on one point - it is better to Look for Ahavas Chinam than to look for Sinas Chinam.  But perhaps, he should first tend to his own house before projecting his feelings towards others onto those saw others.  So, how about it Rabbi Birnbaum?  Can you bring yourself to say that Modern Orthodox Jews are fully Torah-observant Jews and that the movement is a perfectly valid form of Judaism? Can you bring yourself to publicly state that there is nothing wrong with living a Modern Orthodox lifestyle?  I'm not asking you to state that the movement is perfect -- heck, just as you acknowledge that the Chareidi movement has it's problems, I'll be more than happy to acknowledge that the Modern Orthodox community has it's own issues.  But will you recognize us as we recognize you?  If not, then perhaps you had better look at yourself before asking where the Ahavas Chinam is.

The Wolf

Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's The Summer... Which Means It's Time Again For The Biannual Visiting Day BellyAche

It's comforting to know that there are some events  that are so certain to occur that you can set your clock (or calendar) by them.  One of those events is the annual letters/complaints in the frum media about camp visiting day.  This one comes to us from Matzav.com.  A reader writes:

On the issue of visiting day in summer camps, for the most part, the men have been in favor of abolishing visiting day, while mothers and grandmothers are often up in arms over even suggesting something as horrible as not visiting their children. 
I am not going to take a side here. I will, however, share a shocking statement that someone made to me last Sunday, when I did not go to visit my children in sleep-away camp simply because it was too difficult for me to do so. The comment was, “Well, then, don’t be surprised when your kids go off the derech.” 

Huh? Dear Matzav readers, is this how far we have come? That my children will go off the derech because I did not shlep for three hours each way to visit them in camp? Have we lost our sanity?


Of course, his correspondent was being ridiculous.  Not visiting one's kids at camp on visiting day will not, in and of itself, send one's kids off the derech.  However, it does send a message to the child that s/he's not worth the shlep up for a few hours.

Personally, I find it difficult to understand how a parent can miss visiting day at camp.  Yes, granted, sometimes there are bona fide reasons for not going (medical emergency, must work, live an excessive distance away, etc.).  But to not go simply because you feel it is "too difficult" is, in my humble opinion, simply wrong.  It tells the kid that they are not important enough to bother yourself for a few hours.

My kids are older now, but when they were in camp, I made sure to make the shlep from the city to the country every visiting day.  Yes, there were times that I dreaded the trip itself, the traffic and the crowds, but I still went anyway.  It's important for kids to feel that they are wanted and appreciated.  Not going to visit on visiting day (again, absent some bona fide reason) just sends the message that they're not worth it -- even if that's not the message you're trying to spread.

And perhaps, the extra positive message that you send by visiting will help to keep them on the derech after all.

The Wolf

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Not Answering The Objection

A common debate tactic  (especially, I find, in frum circles) is the practice of not actually answering an argument or objection, but instead deflecting it.  Very often, this takes the form of "don't you think Gadol X thought of that?"  or  "surely he knew about your objection but if it didn't bother him then obviously it's not a valid argument."  Personally, I find it infuriating when people do that, as it violates any number of logical fallacies.

A variation of this appeared today in a column on Vos Iz Neias.  Rabbi Yair Hoffman, a regular correspondent on the site, wrote a long article advocating stricter observance of the halachos of Bishul Akum in restaurants.  Bishul Akum is the rule that a Jew may not eat cooked foods (with certain exceptions) that were not prepared by a Jew.  This rule was enacted centuries ago as a preventative measure against intermarriage.

All in all, Rabbi Hoffman's article was cogent and well-written.  However, at the end of the article, he says the following (emphasis his):

A counter-argument. One might counter that in a restaurant setting, it is not highly likely that bishul akum would result in intermarriage. While this may be true, we must consider that the sages who enacted the protective fences of Judaism were much wiser than we are. Aside from the respect that we must have for halachah itself, there are also farther-reaching repercussions to consider. The issue of laxity involving the bishul akum of household help is serious and has, unfortunately, led to some serious lapses.

Here, Rabbi Hoffman raises a very powerful counter-argument for loosening the rules of Bishul Akum in restaurant settings.  Yes, Bishul Akum may work as a preventative measure against intermarriage in residential and social settings, but if I'm dining in a restaurant, I'm not likely to go looking to socialize with the chef who made my steak.

However, rather than address the very objection he raises, he simply goes ahead and pulls the "they're much greater than us so we can't question/change anything" card.  Personally, I find that very unsatisfying.  Perhaps the halachos of Bishul Akum *can* be relaxed in a restaurant, as modern restaurants didn't exist when these halachos were codified.  Perhaps there are valid reasons to continue to apply these halachos to restaurants.  Personally, I'm not enough of an expert to have a valid opinion one way or the other.  But if you're going to bring up the objection, at least answer it with a well-reasoned rational answer.  Rabbi Hoffman, on the other hand, chose to answer it with "they're so much wiser than we are..."  I find that to be a very poor answer.

Again, I'm not saying that the halachos of Bishul Akum should be loosened in restaurant settings.  I don't know enough about the halachos to make that sort of statement.  But I do know enough to know that if you're going to try to head off an objection that your opponents may make, you should actually try to answer that objection with valid arguments.

The Wolf

(PS:  Just for the record, I don't know if Rabbi Hoffman's suggestions vis-a-vis Bishul Akum are correct or not -- I'm not an expert in these halachos.  My main point is not the article itself, but his failure to address his own objection/)



Tuesday, July 02, 2013

PSA: Bone Marrow Drive -- Help Save a Life (Brooklyn, NY)

I was asked to post this as a public service announcement:

=======================================
 Save a life today at a bone marrow donor compatibility drive for

Mordechai Fastag לרפואה שלימה.

If you are 18-60 years old and have never been tested before please come in for a simple cheek swab test to check genetic compatibility to cure Mordechai who is suffering from Leukimia.

There are two venues for the test.  Both are in the Midwood section of Brooklyn:
For men @ Rabbi Landuas Shul corner of Avenue L and East 9th Street from 2 PM-11 PM

For Women @ 1325 East 5th Street Between Avenue L and M from 6 PM-10 PM

רחמנים בני רחמנים

Please have a heart and, possibly, save a life.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Can Someone Please Explain To Me The Big Fuss Over Daylight Savings Time In Israel?

It is being reported in the news that daylight savings time is being extended in Israel the end of October, as it observed in many European countries and in the United States.

The situation with daylight savings time in Israel has been a contentious issue for a number of years.  In past years, the religious parties fought to have DST end before Yom Kippur -- the reasoning behind it being that having one less hour during the end of the fast (i.e. ending the fast at 6:00 instead of 7:00) makes it easier for people.

Of course, the entire argument is nonsense.  The fast of Yom Kippur lasts approximately 25 hours, regardless of whether it falls during daylight savings time or not.  If you're going to end the fast an hour "earlier," then it's going to start an hour earlier too.  And the idea that the hour is somehow shifted from the end of the fast to the beginning is just as fallacious -- if you're going to feel a certain degree of hunger and weakness after 25 hours of fasting, then you're going to feel that same weakness at the end of the fast -- whether it's 6:00 or 7:00.

Furthermore, let's argue, for the sake of argument, that the chareidim are correct -- that the fast is somehow easier if it occurs outside of DST.  Well, there's a simple solution for that as well -- just pretend it doesn't exist.   During Yom Kippur, it's not like you have any outside appointments to keep, buses to catch or meetings to make.  On Yom Kippur, you're most likely going to be in only two places -- in shul and at home.      So, simply pretend that, for Yom Kippur, DST doesn't exist.  Turn your clocks back an hour (or simply pretend to).  If sunset happens at 7:00, you call it 6:00.  If you would normally daven Shacharis at 8:00AM on Yom Kippur, then start at 8:00 standard time (which would be 7:00AM DST).

It's not like there's an official government official going around checking the shul's clocks to make sure they adhere to DST.  So simply change your clock, or mentally subtract an hour from it for the day.  This way the chareidim can have Yom Kippur their way and everyone else can be on DST as they wish.

So, why is this such a political battle every year?

The Wolf

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Will Recognizing Yeshiva Study As A College Degree Solve Problems In Israel?

UPDATE (5/13/2013):

Man, oh man, did I blow it with this one.  Obviously, I was completely ignorant of the nature of college education in Israel and just assumed it was like the US model.  Thanks to my commentators for correcting me on this.  I'll make sure my next post isn't nearly as flawed.

Original Post:
The following news item appeared on YWN:

MK (Yahadut Hatorah) Rabbi Yisrael Eichler presented a query to Minister of Industry & Trade (Bayit Yehudi) Naftali Bennett. He explained that Israel’s civil service does not recognize yeshiva study, and as a result, chareidim are barred from apply for many jobs. He explains they are told that since they lack a bagrut (matriculation) diploma and an academic education, they are not qualified to apply for civil service positions. Eichler feels that limud Torah should be credited as an equivalent for in most cases, the chareidim are indeed qualified for the public sector positions but lack the paperwork under the current requirements.

Rabbi Eicher certainly has a point.  Torah study (especially in Israel) should be no worse than studying history, music or art.  The study in many yeshivos can certainly be intense and there is no question that in the more elite yeshivos, the level of study could certainly qualify one for an undergraduate degree.

Rabbi Eichler then goes on to state that because yeshivos cannot issue degrees, their "graduates" earn less in the marketplace and this is a form of discrimination.

However, there are two problems that I find with Rabbi Eichler's query:

1.  Undergraduate degrees are designed to produce well-rounded students.  For example, an accounting major does not *only* study accounting.  In most universities, an undergraduate student has to take a set of courses in various subjects (English [in the US], history, arts, basic sciences, etc.) regardless of their major.  There are no accredited schools that I know of that give an undergraduate degree in Biology (just to pick an example) while allowing the students to only take Biology (and other science) courses.  To meet this requirement, a yeshiva would have to teach other non-Torah subjects as well to produce a well-rounded student - something I don't see most (if any) Chareidi yeshivos in Israel doing.

2.  Let me preface this part by saying that I could be wrong here simply because I don't know about Israeli employment matters -- so if I'm wrong, please feel free to chime in and let me know.

If I understand correctly, the Israeli government does not mandate higher salaries for college graduates.  If a company needs someone to answer phones, they are going to pay an employee whatever they feel is appropriate -- regardless of whether or not that person has a college degree.  Simply having a college degree does not necessarily produce higher salaries.  What produces higher salaries, ultimately, is a demand for the skills of the worker and the relative scarcity of those skills.  Simply possessing a college degree in Talmudic studies will generally not lead to higher salaries for that person (unless, of course, the person is applying for a job where their Talmudic studies are relevant and germane to the job).  Recognizing four years study as a college degree will not magically open up doors for chareidim in the marketplace.*

The Wolf


* That being said, I do realize that there *are* benefits that may come with simply having an undergraduate degree with regard to some government jobs and the ability to apply to graduate schools.  But I don't see many chareidim applying to graduate schools outside of the yeshiva system and I doubt there are enough government jobs to employ large swaths of the chareidi society.