Thursday, July 28, 2005

On Begging and Beggars

Let me start off by saying this: I know that there are plenty of beggars in the frum community. I generally take it at face value that they are all for real. I know that there may be any number of fakers and phonies in the bunch, but I look at it from the other side - best to err on the side of "caution:" If he's fake, so he's cheated me out of a quarter or a dollar; I'll survive anyway. If he's real, then I've made a small difference for the better in their lives.

Furthermore, let me also state that I'm talking about beggars, not charity collectors (many of whom, however, engage in the same kind of behavior that I describe for the beggars). I'll deal with them later in the blog.

That being said, in New York, there seems to be no shortage of frum beggars. You see them wherever you go: in shul in the morning, they make the rounds during minyan. They intercept you in the street and disturb your meals when you're eating out. They hold out their hands at weddings and bar mitzvahs. They knock on the door of your house and approach your car.

I am of two minds about this phenomenon, and I go back and forth between the two. The first is that these people are unfortunate and need money to survive. I don't know what kind of a living you can eke out asking for quarters in the street or making the rounds at morning minyan, but, (assuming that they are genuine, of course) they have needs. I know that if, God forbid, my family were starving and we had no other means of support, I would do whatever I needed to to get food on the table (or at least I'd try -- I'm really not the pushy type. I don't think I'd survive as a beggar). If it meant disturbing people during their daily routine a bit, I can certainly understand that.

But, on the other hand, there is the fact that I don't *want* to be disturbed. For example, I have a limited amount of time for lunch. If I stopped and gave to every person asking for money on the streets of Manhattan that I see during my lunch period, it turns into a significant bother. In addition, I, like most people, would like to eat without being disturbed. Maybe I'm more sensitive than most in this, but when I sit down to eat by myself, I don't want anyone to bother me short of telling me there is a fire in the building. When someone comes to my table asking me for charity, I've got two issues to deal with: 1. I don't want to be disturbed and 2. I find myself feeling slightly guilty because I have and the other person doesn't (even though those feelings of guilt are completely unwarranted). I should have the right to be reasonably free from unwanted disturbances in my daily life.

Of course, the idea is to find a balance between the two - between the fact that the beggar needs to survive and my desire to not be overly bothered. How to reconcile the two? Where does one draw the line? When you go to minyan in the morning, how many people have to approach you before you feel justified in telling the next one "I'm sorry..." How many times do you have to be interrupted at an affair before being able to justify saying to the next one "I'm sorry...."

There are those who would say none; that a beggar has no inherent "right" to disturb you. To some extent, that is certainly true. But, on the other hand, one must (IMHO) take into consideration the fact that these are desperate people and should not be turned away without good reason. In addition, it's a good reminder that there are those less fortunate and that it is our duty to help them.

On the other hand, there are also those who state that we should help everyone who comes along. While that is certainly noble, and for anyone who is willing to and able to do so, it is a wonderful and meritorious thing, it should not be made binding on everyone. For a while, I made it a habit that when I went to a certain shul for shacharis, I would bring along a small pack of singles (usually between five and eight). When a beggar approached, I'd give one. When I ran out of those singles, I ran out... it didn't make a difference if I had more money in my pocket - that was it, no one else would get. One is certainly not obligated to give all his money to charity and a person is also free to give his charity to the people/organizations of his or her choice. I'm not required to give my money to beggars any more than I'm required to give it to Tomche Shabbos, Hatzoloh or any other organization. And, after a certain point, I think that people have earned the "right" to be free from such disturbance. Of course, the beggar has no way of knowing how many beggars came before him, so I suppose this is not really practical, but nonetheless, we shouldn't have to put up with the constant barrage.

So, what's the solution? Where do we find the middle-ground? Of course, in the end, everyone has to make that decision for themselves - there is no "one size fits all" answer. But there should be some general guidelines that we, as a community, can come up with.

The Wolf

OffTopic: Things I've Learned While Blogging

I've learned that the frum community is not nearly as homogenous as I thought (and I didn't think it was all that homogenous to begin with).

That there is a place where people can express their ideas, have them put to the test of public criticism and be able to react to those criticisms.

That most of my traffic comes from the same twenty or so sites. Except...

For some reason, every third or fourth day, I'll get a bunch of hits from other Blogspot blogs with absolutely no connection to my blog, Judaism or any other subject that I have any interest in. None of these blogs reference my blog at all. I might think that it's someone randomly clicking through the "Next Blog" button, but it's always about 40-50 hits, and all the hits come together... not randomly distributed through the day, as you would expect.

That certain features don't work well with the template I've chosen, but I'm not going to change it because it's too much trouble.

That blogging takes more of your time than I thought it would... and I'm not a particularly active poster (2-3 posts a week).

That frum Jews, like the rest of humanity, has our share of people who cannot be reasoned with.

That no one has bought any shares of my blog on Blogshares.

That it's not easy to keep track of all the comments that you leave on other people's blogs.

That there are people who have some of the same thoughts and feelings that I have had but kept quiet about for a long time.

The Wolf

Monday, July 25, 2005

On Heshy's Special Knowledge

Heshy cooked up a real doozy this time...

He maintains that the reason that New York was hit by terrorists on September 11, 2001, was because of the passing of Rav Pam and Rabbi Miller earlier that year. And the only thing preventing terrorists from striking New York now is the Skuelener Rebbe.

Of course, I immediately asked him why they didn't protect us on February 26, 1993, the first time the World Trade Center was bombed. His "answer" to that was:

The 1993 attack was for another reason but I cannot disclose it for security reasons.

So, Heshy, are you privliged to know some special knowledge from Above regarding when and why attacks happen? Of course, you'll let us know in advance when the next one comes, right? (Lo Ta'amod...)

Of course, at the end of his post, he takes a pot-shot at the previous administration:

Only the merit of tzadikim (righteous sages) keeps our city safe; it is not the FBI, CIA or local police, because their hands are still tied by the previous Clinton administration’s liberal, pro-criminal attitude.

Which kind of leads one to question: If it's only the merit of our sages that keep us safe, what difference does it make what kind of attitude the last (or any other) administration has?

The Wolf

Friday, July 22, 2005

On Things I Learned In Yeshiva...And Things I Didn't Learn In Yeshiva

Things I learned in Yeshiva...
And things I didn't learn in Yeshiva...

There was a major Posek in the Middle Ages known as the Rambam. He composed the Mishneh Torah, a major encyclopedial work on Jewish law.
He was highly controversial in his day and was influenced by Aristotlean ideals.

There was a commentary on the Talmud known as the Meiri.
That commentary was lost for hundreds of years and only found long after his death.

That there was a prophet in ancient Israel known as Yeshayahu (Isaiah) who was righteous.
That he preached that substance was more important than form; that what was more important was how your heart felt about the Creator and your relationship with Him rather than how many sacrifices you brought or other external shows of piety.

That there was a book called Iyov that explained why bad things happen to good people.
That the explaination boils down to because "God said so and I know better than you."

That Dovid's soldiers routinely gave their wives divorces before warfare, lest they should be lost in battle and force their wives to remain as agunos.
That there is absolutely no mention of this anywhere in Judaic literature until much, much, much later.

That there are twelve months in the Jewish year, each with their own names.
That the names of the months come from Babylonian dieties.

That the Torah is true and that everything in it is literally true unless hashkafah demands that it be explained differently (such as the anthropomorphical statements about God).
That it is legitimate to state that the Torah sometimes uses metaphor to convey a point and that not every point must be *literally* true.

That Chazal knew science perfectly. The Tana'im and Amoraim could have built airplanes if they wanted to.
That this idea is so totally ridiculous that if you believe it, you're seriously hallucinating. But I didn't have to learn that in Yeshiva. I knew that already.

The Wolf

On Heshy, Organ Donation and Shari Kurzock

I find it ironic that on the same day that Heshy posts his categoric "forbidden to donate organs..." diatribe, the OU put out a press release asking for liver donors for Shari Kurzock, a young woman who gained acclaim by leading a 345 city "Save A Life Tour" to stress the importance of regular blood donation.

Heshy said: Why are ther no real rabbis who advocate being an organ donor?Why are there no rabbis who are known in the real Jewish community?

I guess according to Heshy, there are no real rabbis in the OU.

Shari needs a complete liver transplant within the next few days to survive. Potential cadaver donors must be Type A or Type O blood. Anyone wanting to help Shari with a liver transplant referral should call: 877-223-3386 or email:

The Wolf

Thursday, July 21, 2005

On the Unorthodoxy of Orthodoxy

It's often amazed me how we've come to be known as "Orthodox" Jews, despite how inappropriate the title is.

Orthodox, of course, comes from the roots "ortho" meaning "correct" and "dox" from the Greek for opinion, or thought. In other words, an Orthodox opinion is one that everyone subscribes to.

However, as we are all aware, there is precious little that all "Orthodox" Jews agree upon. Between our differences on Zionism, Hashkafa, Chassidus, and a host of other issues, I find the fact that we are termed as "Orthodox" rather amusing.

But, nonetheless, there is something that binds us all. There are a few beliefs that we all (barring some radicals, of course) do subscribe to. We all believe that God created the universe (arguements as to the time/method notwithstanding). We all believe that we are bound by the Torah (arguments as to what parts of TSBP are binding and authoritative notwithstanding), and we all believe in the binding nature of the Mitzvos. I suppose one could simply boil it down to a set of core beliefs -- oh, wait, someone already did that.

But aside from those and few other matters (I suppose the unacceptability of Jews for Jesus is something we all agree on), there really is precious little that we agree upon. And yet we're called "Orthodox" as if we are all a part of some big group mind.

I always had my own pet theory regarding the messiah. To me, it's not so important that he come riding a white donkey. It's not so important that he be preceeded by Elijah. How do I know who the messiah will be? Pretty simple. If someone can come along, and unite the vast majority of "Orthodox" Jews out there that he is the messiah -- if he can convince Chassidim that he is the messiah even though he's not a member of their particular sect, if he can convince "modern orthodox" Jews that he's it despite the fact that he may be opposed to some of their beliefs; if he can convince "Orthodox" Jews to put aside their petty factionalism and unite toward a grand cause across a broad spectrum, *that* person has to be the messiah - because to do all that, IMHO, requires Divine intervention or inspiration.

The Wolf

Thursday, July 14, 2005

On Shidduchim and Relatives

DovBear's recent post about Shidduchim got me thinking to an episode earlier in my life.

I happened to consider myself very lucky. Why, do you ask? Very simple... I met my wife on my own. I didn't have to endure the shidduch scene. I happened to marry the second girl I ever went out with... and I don't regret it for a moment.

When my wife and I met, we were very young. I was only 18 and just starting my first year of college. She was in high school. It wasn't planned, but we just happened to meet and knew that we were going to marry each other. It wasn't a matter of if, just a matter of when.

I first met my father-in-law about a month or so later. When I first met him, he was sitting shiva for his father. It was certainly an unusual way to meet one's future in-laws. Fortunately, I seemed to have impressed him enough. So, I never had to go through the whole "shidduch" scene, the "checking out" of the perspective spouse and family and the whole "money" thing. As "unJewish" as it sounds, we simply fell in love and that was that.

During the three years between the time we met and the time we finally married, my sister (who is about three years younger than I) was terribly upset at me. Not necessarily because of the girl I was dating (they soon learned to get along and become friends) but because she felt that my actions were costing her a potential good shidduch. She felt that I was "ruining" her name with my actions.

Well, all's well that ends well. She ended up with a very fine shidduch, she's married to a wonderful mentsch and we're all very happy. I guess I didn't ruin her life after all. :)

But, all flippancy aside, how is it that we've set up a system where people are held to account for other people's actions? There are circles where, if one family member goes "off the derech," it leaves a black mark on the entire family. Heaven forbid if a sibling breaks an engagement or gets a divorce; that could seriously diminish a younger sibling's chances of getting an acceptable match. It's one thing if the prospective bride or groom themselves has a broken engagement/divorce; but I see no reason to stigmatize the rest of the family. The same goes true for any other actions that someone in the family may commit. You're not marrying that person's brother, sister, aunt, uncle or grandparent - you're marrying the person - and you should look to that person's qualities. Punishing them for something that they have no control over is simply not fair. And besides, I'm willing to bet just about everyone has some skeletons in their family closet.

And while we're at it - was this the norm in the "freidikia doros" (previous generations)? Were prospective brides and grooms checked out as thouroughly 100 years ago as they are today? Did anyone really go around "hiring" private investigators to find out about tablecloths, robes, snoods/wigs and/or extended family? Or is this a recent form of insanity?

The Wolf

Monday, July 11, 2005

On Nature and Evolution

I find it very interesting how some people are willing to accept the concept of Nishtanu Ha-Tevaim (nature has changed) in the broadest sense when discussing Chazal's (allegedly) erroneous scientific information, but yet are so viscerally against the natural concept of evolution.

There are, as we all know, many statements made by Chazal that are not correct according to current scientific understanding. Rabbi Slifkin, in his book Mysterious Creatures, details five ways to approach this contradicition. The first one he focuses on is "Nishtanu Ha-Tevaim," the very nature of nature (so to speak) has changed between the times of Chazal and now. Various cures for maladies that are mentioned in the Gemara are no longer effective, the idea goes, not because they were wrong, but because nature has changed, and so the cures mentioned are no longer effective. Likewise, lice that spontaneously generate no longer do so because of Nishtanu Ha-Tevaim. Half-earthen, half-flesh mice? No longer exist - Nishtanu Ha-Tevaim. And so on...

Of course, I find it very interesting that the same people who will try to bring scientific counter-proofs to evolution, will accept this very counter-scientific reasoning. There really is no scientific proof of the concept of "Nishtanu Ha-Tevaim." There is some anecdotal evidence that is mentioned from time to time (with regard to women's vestos and the like) but that may not be 100% reliable or may be explained by better nutrition/healthcare or improved technology. But, ultimately, the "proof" for Nishtanu Ha-Tevaim really comes down to "well, this-and-this worked in the times of the Gemara and it doesn't now, so nature must have changed." Of course, this really just assumes the premise that Chazal were scientifically infallable to begin with.

However, isn't it possible to view Nishtana Ha-Tevaim as an "evolution of nature?" After all, if nature has changed appreciably in the last two thousand years, who is to say that it is now static? Maybe it is still in the process of changing and continuing to do so. One who holds the doctrine of Nishtanu HaTevaim should probably have to hold of this possibility as well, no? After all, is there *any* Torah source that mentions NHT that also indicates that this changing of nature has stopped? I don't think that there is (although if someone is aware of one, I'd certainly be willing to hear it). As such, there is really no indication that these changes in nature have stopped.

All this, of course, leads to the next question: If one holds that nature itself is changing/evolving, why is it such a sin (so to speak) to maintain that objects *within* nature (animals, plants, etc.) are changing and evolving as well?

The Wolf

Thursday, July 07, 2005

On Ethics and Vicarious Baptism

I have always had an interest in genealogy. For many years I've enjoyed the thrill of looking up the lives that my ancestors led; hunting down the clues that give me hints as to what they did, where they lived and the choices they made.

As most people who are involved with geneaology know, one of the largest collections of geneaological material that is available in the world is in the hands of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, colloquially known as the Mormons.

The reason for this is the fact that they have a belief known as vicarious baptism, where one can be "baptised" even after one's death. In order to facilitate more vicarious baptisms, the Latter-Day Saints have gathered extensive geneaological material from all over the world.

Of course, as an amateur geneaologist, I found the chance to use this collection to be irresistable. So, about fifteen years ago, I found a center in Manhattan where they kept some of their records. When I got there, I was asked to sign in to use the facilities. Aware of the concept of vicarious baptism, I was hesitant to give my name, and, in the end, made up a name and wrote it down.

I made some queries, didn't find any immediate information that would interest me, and left.

However, since then, there have been two issues that have bothered me about that episode.

The first is the fact that I gave them a false name. I suppose one could view the requested information as the "price" to use the facility. By giving them a false name, it seems to me, that I "stole" the use of the facility.

The second issue relates to the notion of vicarious baptism. It's not so much the concept itself that bothered me; it's the fact that I was bothered by the fact that I might be unknowingly "baptised." After all, I don't hold of the concept of vicarious baptism, so why should it bother me if they "baptise" me after I'm gone? It doesn't harm or benefit me at all. God's not going to punish me because the Latter-Day Saints have performed their rituals over my name. And yet, on the other hand, there is this... visceral feeling of revulsion that I get when I think that someone else may do this thing to me, even though it will not affect me at all.

I'm not sure which issue bothers me more; the fact that I "stole" from the LDS or the fact that if I had given them my name, they might baptize me (and may yet do so under a false name anyway).

The Wolf

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

On Deconstructing Heshy

I know, I know... it's like shooting fish in a barrel, but someone's gotta do it. :)

I was looking at the header of Heshy's blog. It reads as follows:

We discuss why as Jews we oppose: abortion-on-demand, euthansia, evolution, gay incestuous & bestial marraiges, gun control, life on other planets, radical feminism, spaying & neutering of animals & women in combat. As Jews we support: death penalty, mandatory uniforms in public schools, seperate gender public schools, school vouchers, voluntary prayer in public schools and a strong U.S. defense.

Now, I was thinking that he is not so far from my beliefs after all. Let's take a look at what he opposes and see if I disagree with it:

Abortion on demand
OK, I agree that abortion on demand may be a bad thing. Especially for men. So, no abortions for Heshy.

I, however, am in full support of euthenasia. Feed them.

I agree with Heshy here too. We must oppose evolution. Of course that means that we should all not bother getting new flu shots this coming winter, since last year's will still be effective.

Gay incestuous & bestial marraiges
I support Heshy on this 100%. No man should be allowed to marry a dog who happens to be his male cousin.

Gun control
I support Heshy here too. After all, the right to bear arms is written right in the Talmud.

Life on other planets
Again, I agree with Heshy. Life should only exist here. If we find life on Europa, or elsewhere, we should wipe them out. And, while we're at it, let's wipe out the Rashi to Shoftim (Judges) 5:22.

Radical Feminism
Yes, I believe that it is proper to oppose radical feminists like SCUM.

Spaying & neutering of animals & women in combat
Once again, I must agree with Heshy 100%. Women and animals should not be spayed and neutered in combat.

As for the things Heshy says Jews should support:

Death penalty
I suppose Heshy thinks that the opinions in the Gemara which state "If I were on a court, the death penalty would never be applied" are not Jewish.

Mandatory uniforms in public school
I agree with Heshy 100% here. After all, if my kids, who don't go to public school have to wear uniforms, so should everyone else. Next, let's start charging public school parents tuition...

Seperate gender public schools
I agree with Heshy here too. Since he undoubtedly holds that women shouldn't really be too well educated anyway, I'm sure that his "separate but equal" idea will work fine. After all, historical precedent in this country has always shown that SBE truly produces equal results.
Besides, my kids are in separate gender schools. So, if my kids aren't getting any, neither should anyone else's kids.

School Vouchers
Once again, I agree with Heshy. The city/state/federal government should fund the Mormons, the Catholics, the Protestants, the Shia, the Sunni, the Hindus and the Satanists.

Voluntary prayer in public schools
Of course this is a good thing. When a traditional Catholic wants to mention the "perfidious Jew" it shouldn't be a problem, right? When the Satanists want to (voluntarily, of course) draw pentagrams on the floor, this shouldn't be a problem, right?

Strong U.S. Defense.
(Sorry, no comment -- I truly do agree with Heshy on this one. Hey - even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while).

So, folks, I say that we welcome Heshy with open arms. After all, his views aren't truly too different from our own, as I've shown.

The Wolf

Friday, July 01, 2005

On Faceless Men

There is an artist named Menachem Boas, who specializes in microcalligraphy (also called micography). One of his works is presented at right. The picture is made up of words - in this case, the entire text of the book of Joshua.

I happen to own this print. I came about it at a fundraising event at my children's school. They were selling several of his works there. However, this one wasn't on display. The person who was running the event (who is a friend of my wife) showed it to us anyway. We fell in love with it and took it home.

I asked her why this particular picture wasn't on display. I was informed that she was "not allowed" to show it because it represented a Biblical face. My first reaction to this was "Huh?" But it was explained to me that there are some people who object to having faces drawn on representations of people from Tanach, since we don't know what these people actually looked like. Interestingly enough, I seemed to remember seeing other drawings (including some that my kids brought back from school and in books and other publications) where Biblical personages are drawn either without faces (i.e. blank) or only visible from the back or from a 3/4 view from the back.

Now, I had never heard of this "prohibition," and, indeed, I can think of numerous examples where I *have* seen drawings of faces of Biblical personages. So, who knows what the case is. Is it one some silly "chumra" that someone thought up, or is there some substance to this "rule" (which doesn't seem to be too widely adhered to anyway...)

The Wolf

P.S. Another artist (who lives in Israel) who engages in this kind of work is Ellen Miller Braun. I own one of her works as well (specifically this one).