Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Roundup

I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at some of the (IMHO) more interesting posts I put up in 2008. I've picked out what I thought were some of the better ones. Here are my picks. The ones that I think are the best of the best are boldfaced.

Silly logic and bad arguments

1/31 -- A Yated reader's take on Science and its predictions -- and my response to his silly examples.

11/19 -- People should stop issuing silly "Torah proofs" which have so many holes in them that you'd think they were made of swiss cheese. They do far more harm than good.

11/13 -- And the same goes for arguments against evolution.

Keeping Up With The Times

1/24 -- Sometimes it seems that some segments of the Jewish community refuse to acknowledge that the world changes and that things that worked in the past do not necessarily work now.

1/28 -- For example, the status of women driving -- is it the same as it was fifty years ago?

11/25 -- And is anything that a gadol says applicable at all times and in all circumstances? Or is it possible that some of what he said might have been influenced by his times and enviornment?

The Gedolim

2/26 -- Written in the wake of the fiasco surrounding the banning and cancellation of "The Big Event," I wondered if the gedolim are (regrettably) slowly becoming irrelevant to our daily lives because they don't relate to us as they did in the past.

3/4 -- Likewise, do the gedolim understand the nature of today's society, and how it differs from life in the shtetl?

Living Beyond Our Means (with no mention of tuition)

5/2 -- Should we spend more than we can afford for Chol HaMoed trips? You'd think the answer is obvious -- but apparently not to everyone.

10/30 -- How about for Ugg boots and $150 ties?

Going Overboard

2/6 -- Is it possible that we're going overboard on tznius issues?

12/21 -- Or is possible that we've gone even further than we thought possible (see the comments to this post).

9/4 -- There seem to be a lot of Rabbinic Committees lately. Is this where we're headed in the future? (dark humor)

How About Just Doing The Right Thing?

6/19 -- Yeah, copying tapes and CDs may be techically permitted in some circumstances. But is it right? What ever happened to just plain old honesty?

6/5 -- Yes, I want to increase halachic observance. So do haredim. But sometimes people cause far more harm to the cause with vigilante actions. Kind of makes you wonder if that's their goal to begin with...

10/5 -- And yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to demonstrate your commitment to Torah values. Too bad many people always choose the wrong way.

7/2 -- You'd think that a school that preaches the values of Kibbud Av V'Em wouldn't, at the same time, undermine a child's respect for thier parents. We'll, you'd be wrong.

Parenting and Education

12/23 -- It's sad how many people think that anedcotal evidence of the success of some high-school dropouts is a valid excuse to not pursue a secular education.

12/16 -- How about this? Instead of banning something (like the internet) outright, how about teaching responsible usage? Bans are a short term solution, but a long-term disaster waiting to happen.

11/26 -- And while we're at it, how about teaching your kids to make responsible choices in life in general -- even if it means an occassional mistake.

11/19 -- And please don't tell me that we have to ban something because if even one child falls victim to something it's automatically bad.

And How Can We Not Include Some Shidduch Maddness?

11/3 -- You'd think that two people who are engaged to be married could be adult enough to tell their parents to butt out when it comes to a dispute over whether to wear peyos up or down. You'd be wrong.

5/29 -- Boy on a date: You look very nice. Girl: How dare you say that to me? I'm not going out with you again!


1/26 -- How much of our Jewish practice comes from areligious sources and historical circumstance? How much of it is "Steam Pipe Judiasm?"

6/23 -- Exactly what is the function and purpose of Kollel? Perhaps if we knew that, then we would have a better idea of how to run the institution.

8/11 -- If we censor information that runs counter to traditional Torah thought, is there anything left to read? What would be left in Rabbi Falk's encyclopedia?

2/13 -- There are a lot of similarities between Orthodox Jews and the Ferengi from Star Trek.

That's my roundup. If you think I missed a post that you thought was very good, just let me know!


The Wolf

What's The Ideal Marriage?

A while ago, I posted about the "custom" of the chosson stomping (or gently stepping) on a bride's foot after the chuppah to "show her who the boss is." Of course, the vast majority of people do not follow this "custom" (which is probably a good thing for shalom bayis all over the world).

Well, apparently, there are some who think that doing anything in moderation is never enough. I don't know if this is just one sick individual (I'm sincerely hoping it is) or something that happens more often. Ariella, over at Kallah Magazine blog points us to a Q&A with Rav Aviner on disclosing possible defects in shidduchim. At the very end of the Q&A is this tidbit:

Rabbi Aviner told of a groom who slapped his bride on the cheek in the Cheder Yichud (right after the wedding ceremony), "to teach her who is boss from the very beginning." When the girl came out crying, her cheek all red, her father called off the marriage on the spot.

I don't know how anyone with more than two functioning brain cells could possibly think that giving your brand-new bride a slap in the face in the Yichud room is a good way to start a marriage. But let's say (and for heaven's sake I hope) that this is just a sick individual.

Nonetheless, there *are* those in the Jewish community who advocate the fact that the man of the house has to be... the man of the house, so to speak. No less a personage than R. Avigdor Miller wrote in his book, Awake My Glory*:

1095. (There cannot be two kings. The marriage relationship is two-fold. 1) The wife is submissive. This is not only Jewish but natural. There can be no harmony when there are two commanders. Without this indispensable condition, the home is disordered. "Arrogance is unbecoming a woman" - Megillah 14B. For a man it is not an ornament, but for a woman it is as if she wore a mustache. 2) The second, but equally essential foundation: a man must always demonstrate respect for his wife. This is "the way of Jewish men that... honor and support their wives in truth" as stated in the Jewish marriage contract. "He honors her more than his own body" - Yevamos 62B, Bava Metzia 59A. He is the captain,but she is the First Mate whose counsel is respected. She cannot be made a doormat, she need not beg for money, she deserves some assistance in the house chores, and the husband sides with her against his kin. He must express frequent appreciation and give words of encouragement, and he should remember his wife from time to time with gifts, big or little. Husband and wife should always say "Please" and "Thank You" and never forget to be always polite to each other.)

I find it interesting that Rav Miller thought it had to be that the man was in charge and that there is no other way. His worldview dictated that the man has to be in charge, and that the wife has to be submissive (although I highly doubt he would have ever advocated hitting one's wife to make the point).

And yet, I know of many Jewish families where that isn't the case. I know of quite a few marriages where (from my outside perspective -- granted I don't know what goes on behind closed doors) the wife is the dominant person -- and that it works fine for them. They're happily married, they manage to raise kids that are perfectly sane, normal and well-adjusted and are indisputably leading a frum lifestyle and adhereing to halacha.

I can even tell you that, in my own household, we don't follow the "the man is the boss" gameplan. Neither Eeees nor I are dominant personality types (in fact, we're both quite laid back). We're both perfectly happy to run a marriage as a partnership. Of course, that doesn't mean that no one can make an independent decision - but I would never make a major decision that affects the whole household without seeking her approval. Nor would she do the same without seeking mine. In other words, we both have veto power over major decisions. To use R. Miller's phraising, we don't have two kings -- but we do have two partners. Our household is not a kingdom, and does not need an absolute monarch.

But then again, that's what works for Eeees and I. Other households may have different requirements based on the personalities of the people that are in them. In other words, I don't think that you can make a general rule for marriages that the man has to be the boss. Every marriage is different, because the people who are in the marriage are different than the people in any other marriage. Each marriage has to work as it sees fit - whether with one person in charge (whichever it is) or as a partnership.

The Wolf

* Any typos or spelling errors are mine.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Ghosts of Grand Central

This is a photo of Grand Central Station in New York City. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see that there are people who have been "ghosted." This was done by leaving the shutter open for a long period of time -- 30 seconds in this case. People who stood still the entire 30 seconds came out in the picture. Those that moved around appear as "ghosts," with the degree of "ghostness" varying depending on how long they stood still.

Canon XSi, 18-55mm lens at 18mm
f/22, 30 seconds

Another thing to take note of is the fact that I used a *very* narrow aperture (f/22 -- remember: the higher the f/ number, the smaller the aperture and the larger the depth of field), and therefore just about all of the picture is in focus. If I used a larger aperture (such as f/4, for example), the entire background would have been a blur.

I'll go into more of a discussion on shutter speed at another time. In the meantime, enjoy the photo.

As always, comments, critiques and criticisms are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Third Night
Shooting From A Different Angle
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Should We Post About Extreme Customs?

In my post on (what I thought would be fictional scenarios of) segregation of the sexes, ZachM made an interesting comment that I felt deserved a response.

Here is Zach's comment:

Please, everyone, we know that these aren't rational approaches, do not make sense, and are completely abhorrent, but only some of us know that it is not the norm. Living in a modern orthodox community, i have been privileged to live with common sense, a strong sense of values, and equality and I truly believe that these are the sentiments of most Jews--not the crazy separatist views portrayed by those ultra-orthodox (though i do not like this designation, as it makes them seem more right, when all they are is ridiculously extreme and wrong); however, many especially *outsiders* looking in do not know this! Imagine how we Jews look to others who see posts like this! If i did not know that this was a small minority, i myself would be turned off of Judaism! Please, everyone, in your posts we could avoid a huge Chillul Hashem by pointing out that these outlandish customs are just that--outlandish--to the rest of the Orthodox community!

I'll admit off the bat that Zach has what is potentially a valid point: that people who read about the customs of some of the extreme (or even not-so-extreme) fringes of our society may be turned off to Judaism and may just dismiss us as a bunch of provincial, backwards kooks. However, I do have to disagree with Zach. I think that it behooves us to actively make the point that these customs do *not* represent normative Judaism. If we fail to do so, and simply hope that people who are "on the fence" about becoming frum aren't going to find out about the extreme fringes, we are doomed to failure -- because they will eventually find out. In today's day and age, where information flows freely, they will hear about the people who demand separate seat buses, or who beat up girls who walk through "religious" neighborhoods anyway. It's up to us to actively bring to the fore the fact that these people *do* exist and that they are *not* a part of normative Orthodox Judaism.

The Wolf

UPDATE (12/26 7:22am): Apparently, I misunderstood ZachM's point. He agrees with me after all. My apologies for misreading your comment Zach.

The Wolf

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

How About Addressing The Problem Instead of Just Changing The Definition? reports on a new development in the Ger community in Israel. As it turns out, a Ger bochur is usually expected to become engaged to marry at the age of 18. However, for whatever reason, more and more Ger bochrim are passing the age of 18 without becoming engaged. Sometimes bochrim as old as 20 are still looking for their match. At that age, a Ger bochur is already considered "old."

I don't want to comment on whether or not an 18 year old is ready to get married. Let's just say, for the sake of argument that they generally are, and that it's a good thing for the community that they are married so young. That being the case, what do you do when you find out that more and more young men are becoming the Ger equivalent of "old maids" at 20 and 21?

Well, the Ger community in Israel hit upon a solution. They are simply going to add an extra year on to the elementary school curriculum. This will cause the high school graduates to be a year older. Therefore, 19 and 20 won't seem so "old" anymore.

Personally, this strikes me as simply a case of redefining what "old" is, rather than actually addressing the problem. If this is a major concern for the Ger community, what they should do is actually look into the reasons why bochrim are delaying engagement and address those reasons. Simply issuing a new definition of "old" is not going to solve the problem I'm willing to bet that, absent, any other action, we'll be hearing the same story in a few years, with the ages simply being one higher.

The Wolf

Third Night

Yeah, I know it's not Friday, but the photo is time-sensitive. This is Wilma's menorah. Enjoy!

Canon XSi, 18-55mm lens at 41mm
f/5, 1/100 sec.

As always, critiques, criticisms and comments are welcome, encouraged and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Shooting From A Different Angle
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Importance of a Good Education

Over at the CoffeeRoom, some of the folks were having an interesting discussion concerning the merits of getting a secular education. Most of the people there seem to believe that getting a secular education (at least through the high school level) is a good thing. As is usual in these types of conversations, some one puts forth the fact that there are those who have managed to succeed without an education. One poster put it this way:

there have been many successful people who have droped [sic] out of school

My response to this was:

I think that I would ask for a definition of the word "many" in this context.

Nonetheless, yes, there are people who have been successful despite dropping out of school - but those people are the (exceedingly rare) exceptions and not the rule.

Sure enough, someone pulled out a small list of people who did well despite dropping out from school. The list they provided was Albert Einstein, The Wright Brothers, Billy Joel, Tom Cruise "and a ton more."

Well, right off the bat, we can eliminate Einstein. While he may have dropped out at one point, he did end up earning a PhD from the University of Zurich. We can, in theory, also eliminate Cruise who did graduate from high school, but we'll discuss him a bit later.

The Wright Brothers did not complete high school -- that is a fact. Nonetheless, they lived in an age when completing high school was more luxury than necessity. Many people in the 1880s and 1890s did not complete high school; they were often forced to go looking for work to help out the family. That reality, however, does not exist today. You really can't use The Wright Brothers as a comparison. Were they alive as teenagers today, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would complete their high school education.

Billy Joel and Tom Cruise have a fairly unique quality -- they have been blessed with very unique talents. Not any shlub off the street can walk into a studio and open a $100M movie based on name recognition alone. Not any shlub can announce a concert at Shea Stadium and sell out the tickets 45 minutes after they go on sale. The fact is that these people (like many professional athletes) have such unique skills that they don't need an advanced education to make a ton of money. But the fact of the matter is that the reason they can make so much money is because their skills are exceedingly rare. You can't tell the average kid "it's okay to drop out of high school like Celebrity X," because the average kid doesn't have the God-given unique talents that Celebrity X has.

That being said, let's talk about what the more typical kid might find. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are the usual median weekly earnings of people in the US by education for Q3 2008:

Less Than High School: 471
High School Diploma: 618
Some College Education: 725
Bachelor's Degree: 1020
Bachelor's Degree or more: 1131
Advanced Degree: 1333

I have data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics going back to 2000 (email me if you want them, or you can get them from here), and the relationship between education and salary always holds. The more education the average person has, the more they earn.

Is it possible for a person with little or no education to strike it rich? Absolutely. But in just about every case, you'll find that the person either has an incredibly rare and valuable skill or is incredibly lucky (and won the lottery). For the other 99.99999% of the population, you need an education. In other words, you can't look at the exception and posit it as the rule.

It should be noted that an interesting development seems to be occurring in the chareidi world. The Jerusalem Post reported on Sunday that chareidim want to go to college. Many, however, cannot go to college because they lack the necessary skills that they would have learned in elementary and high school. However, I wonder if this isn't the beginning of a change in chareidi society towards seeing the value of a decent secular education as necessary to get by in day-to-day life. Even if these particular chareidim can never go to college, you can bet that they will see to it that their kids don't follow the same path that they did, and that their kids *will* get a decent high school education, even if they have to go through "back channels" to get it for them.

The Wolf

UPDATE (1:20 pm): The person who posted the original comment came back with this response, which I hereby dub "the stupidest quote of the day:"

i hold that statistics dont affect us yidden.

The Wolf

Monday, December 22, 2008

Some Random Observations

Has anyone ever noticed how well the words of Maoz Tzur fit with the tune of Deck the Halls?

If your latkes are baked in Canola oil instead of olive oil, is it really in commemoration of the miracle?

Who knew, when Adam Sandler wrote those immortal words "O.J. Simpson - not a Jew!" back in the '90s that anyone would ever care again beyond that year?

I'm not a big fan of Christmas carols. Aside from the fact that I'm Jewish, they just don't... move me. However, there is one that I happen to think is hauntingly beautiful - the Carol of the Bells. To hear a beautiful men's a capella version of it, click here.

It's very disheartening to read that things that you thought were so extreme that they surely can't exist actually, in fact, do (read the comments).

The Wolf

Sunday, December 21, 2008

They're At It Again! This Time It's Separate...

... checkout lines at the grocery store.

You know, for the crowd who likes to scream "HaChadash assur min HaTorah" (that which is new is forbidden by the Torah) at every technical innovation, they never seem to frown at new ways of keeping men and women separate. Separate sides of the sidewalk? Separate seating on buses? Separate checkout lines at a grocery store? Yeesh, where are we headed?

One wonders where this is ultimately going to lead. Anyone want to take bets on how long it'll be before any of the following happens?

-- Separate weddings -- the kallah will send a shliach (messenger) to accept the kiddushin from the chosson. Separate receptions (in separate buildings) will be held for men and for women. The only time that a man might see a woman at all during the night is when the chosson and kallah arrive at their new home after the simcha.

-- Separate seating at the Shabbos table -- families will now have to eat the Shabbos meal separately. This is especially true if there are non-family guests who are invited over. A system will have to be devised so that men and women do not meet accidently in the kitchen while retrieving food for their separate dining rooms.

-- Single gender Parent-Teacher meetings -- only parents of the same gender as the teacher/rebbi will be allowed to meet with the teacher/rebbi. IOW, only fathers should go to meet their son's rebbeim, while only mothers should meet their daughter's teachers or son's pre-school moros (the issue of female pre-school teachers for boys will be addressed in the future).

-- Separate seating at restaraunts -- I'm sure it must be extremely unmodest to have women sitting out in the open while eating out with their families. After all, men from other families can ogle them from their seats. The only solution to this is to institute separate seating at restaurants.

All kidding aside, I think the best remark I've seen on this (and chumors in generals) came from a YWN commentator named gamzultova. He (she?) said:

When you make the derech 1 mm wide, don’t be surprised when more and more people fall off it.

How true.

The Wolf

Friday, December 19, 2008

Shooting From A Different Angle

A nice way to make your photos more distinctive is to shoot them from a different or unusual angle, so that we see the subject in a different way than we are used to seeing. For example, take another look at my Manhattan Tulips picture from a few months ago.

Sure, I could have shot the flowers from on top looking down at them. But that's how we *usually* see tulips. I didn't want just an ordinary photo, I wanted an extraordinary one. By shooting the flowers from a different angle than the one that we are accustomed to viewing them, the picture takes on a much different quality. The viewer sees the tulips in a way that he or she is not used to seeing them.

Another thing you can do by shooting at a different angle is create a perspective illusion. A perspective illusion is an effect whereby some aspect of the subject is made to appear much different than it truly is. I shot this picture in the Marine Park Salt Marsh.

Canon XSi, 18-55mm lens at 33mm
f/4.5, 1/1000 sec.

In reality, this plant was not very tall -- not taller than my waist. I took the shot while laying down on the ground underneath it, shooting upward. Sure, I could have shot the plant while standing up... but then it would have been just a boring picture of a nondescript plant. By shooting from a different angle, however, I made the picture (at least, IMHO) much more interesting.

Have you taken any pictures from unusual angles to make the subjects more interesting? If so, feel free to link to them in the comments section.* I'd love to see them.

As always, comments, criticisms and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

*Hey, it's a Jewish (and family) blog. Please don't post links to inappropriate pictures.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

You've Got To Love The YWN Commentators...

As many of you know, the city created dedicated bike lanes in several parts of the city. One of the new bike lanes runs along Kent Street, in Williamsburg. Some of the local residents, fearful of the effects of untzniously-clad cyclists in their neighborhood, have asked the city to remove them.

The cyclists have decided to "fight back" in a rather unique and innovative way. They held a "protest" by dressing up as clowns. They arrived in their clown costumes (and bikes) and rode down to the lane.

Since the primary group fighting against the Kent Street bike lane is the hasidic community, YWN covered the story. As with most YWN stories, commentators are free to comment. Sure enough, it didn't take long for someone to throw out the dreaded "A" word. The very first comment (by Flatbush Bubby) read as follows:

They have to be anti-semites to want to do something like this.

Yes, that's right Flatbush Bubby. Anyone who wants to have a bike lane in Williamsburg must be an antisemite. After all, we all know that bicycling in Williamsburg is a terrible act of Jew-hatred. Heaven forfend that someone might have a disagreement with a Jew on whether or not bicyclists can or should ride through a Jewish neighborhood -- after all, anyone who doesn't go along with your groupthink must be an antisemite.

Seriously... sometimes I think we should require a "common sense" test before allowing people on the Internet.

The Wolf

Can Someone Please Explain This To Me, Part II

A recent article in Hamercaz relates that "around ten" students in Israel were expelled from their yeshiva in Israel for learning how to drive and getting a driver's license. The Rosh Yeshiva decided to seek guidance from Rav Kanievsky on the matter. His take on the matter, as reported was:

Sources say that R' Kanievsky told the head of the yeshiva that, "A person who categorizes himself as a Ben Torah should not have a license, which takes him out of this category."

Of course, this is not new. The article notes that Rav Shach had already banned the practice of yeshiva students driving.

R' Kanievsky added that R' Shach had already said decades ago that this practice should not be allowed, because aside for the dangers involved, it takes people away from learning Torah. Therefore, he said, despite his anguish over the issue, the students should be expelled from the yeshiva.

Now, the article does not really give any context for this ruling. Are we dealing with high-schoolers? Students in Beis Midrash? Kollel people? And exactly how does being a licensed driver remove one from the category of a Ben Torah? How does it take one away from Torah? And is this something that is peculiar to Israel, or would Rav Shach and Rav Kanievsky say the same should apply to the United States as well?

I'm looking for an honest and simple explaination of this. Please leave any snark at the door.

The Wolf

Related Post:
Can Someone Please Explain This To Me...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Teaching Kids To Use The Internet Responsibly.

G (over at SerandEz) brings up a very interesting interview that Horizons Magazine had with Rabbi Yaacov Haber, the national director for education at the OU. In the interview, Rabbi Haber talks about some aspects of the state of Jewish education today. He champions (as I long have) the idea of education over banning. Here's his take on the matter:

The internet has proven to be capable of a great amount of damage to Jews of all ages. However, it is important to remember that the internet is a reality. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when it will be impossible to pay a bill, bank, make a phone call or even turn on a light in your house without using the Internet. Instead of forbidding the Internet and non-kosher cell phones, it would seem to be more prudent to teach students how to interact with the Internet responsibly. If we were to forbid everything that we can use the wrong way we must include cars, mp3 players, and for that matter---women! We have to be very careful with internet technology---but forbidding it is not the answer in the long term.

The timing of this article is rather serendipitous for me. It was just this past week that Walter signed up for his first Facebook account. Eeees and I, as parents, allowed him the account, but with some restrictions. He knows that we are watching. He had to add Eeees and I as "friends." We can see what he posts on other people's walls and what they post on his wall. And, conversely, he can see how we use Facebook. Both Eeees and I are on Facebook (if you know who I am, feel free to send a friend request) and we both use it responsibly. We keep in touch with family, friends (both old and new) and classmates around the world. And this is how we hope he will use it. Sure we can give lectures about how it's to be used (and yes, we will be giving some instruction on responsible use), but more importantly, as we do in many other areas of life, we're hoping to teach by example. We realize that by acting responsibly ourselves, we deliver the strongest message that we can on the responsible use of technology.

Does that mean that it's impossible for something to go wrong? Of course not. There is always the possibility that something could go wrong in every aspect of life. Every time someone gets out of bed in the morning, there is some element of risk. But we can't live our lives by lying in bed all the time. We take the risks associated with going out of our houses each morning because we realize that the potential benefit of doing so (whether it's to go to work, school, the ballgame, etc.) exceeds the potential risk. The same applies to technology. As Rabbi Haber points out, there is going to come a time, in the not too distant future, where technology will be required to function in today's society. If we don't train our kids to use it responsibly we face one of three possibilities, none of them appealing:

1. We ban it outright. They accept the ban and choose to live life without the Internet. They are then marginalized by society. They will find it nearly impossible to go to college, get a decent job and function in daily life. In short, they will be marginalized in society.

2. We don't educate our kids and let them do as they will. Then they'll surely run into some of the seedier sides of the Internet and not be prepared to handle them.

3. We ban it outright. The kids don't accept it and sneak Internet usage behind our backs. Or, when they finally become adults and are no longer under our direct supervision, they move out and access the Internet in their own homes. Then scenario #2 (above) plays out.

Unless you're planning your children's adult lives (something no parent, IMHO, should do) and deciding that they should live a marginalized life (think of the Amish), the only responsible choice is to provide education on responsible internet usage. To do otherwise is akin to allowing your kid to using any other tool without basic training. You wouldn't allow your kid to use a circular saw without watching over him and making sure he knows the rules. The same applies here.

The Wolf

(Note: There were other parts of the interview that interested me as well. I think there may be another post in the future on this interview.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Parents Playing Favorites

I find it very interesting that Ya'akov, who grew up in a household where parents played favorites (with some bad results), chose to play favorites with his kids as well, again with results that had severe consequences for his descendants for hundreds of years.

Another consequence of his actions, of course, was the creation of this number. :)

(Warning: women dancing in this video... so don't click if it offends)

(As many of you know, I love Broadway musicals... and Joseph is one of my favorites).

The Wolf

Friday, December 12, 2008

Photos: Duck!

If you ever get a chance to go to your local botanical garden, I highly recommend it. It's a wonderful way to spend a day (especially in the spring). Aside from the flowers, there is also plenty of wildlife to look at (and shoot*).

At the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, you can visit the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden. Aside from the impressive looking Japanese structure in the middle of the pond (I have no idea what it is called), there are koi in the water and ducks on the pond. Here's one that I caught on film.

Canon XSi, 18-55 lens at 55mm
f/5.6, 1/500 second.

As always, comments, critiques and criticisms are welcome and encouraged.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

* No, not with a gun! With a camera. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How Can A Rav Say That He "Doesn't Want To Get Involved?"

Vos Iz Neias has a story about a young girl who was molested in Boro Park recently. The family first called Dov Hikind's office. Afterwards, they contacted four rabbanim to ask whether or not they are allowed to report the molester to the police. Here's how VIN reports it (emphasis mine):

According to State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has championed the cause of abuse victims in recent months, the family first reported the incident to his office. They then contacted four community rabbonim to ask whether they were halachically permitted to report the perpetrator to the authorities. Three rabbonim allegedly said they didn't want to get involved. The fourth, in contrast, permitted them, and apparently strongly urged them to proceed.

I don't want to talk about whether or not the family should have gone to the police first. I don't even want to discuss the wisdom of calling Dov Hikind's office first. Obviously, the family felt the need to seek out halachic guidance during this difficult time - and I'm not going to second guess their decisions while facing an extremely traumatic situation.

What amazes me is the fact that three of the four rabbis allegedly said that they didn't want get involved. How can a rav, in good conciseness, choose not to get involved? How could they turn away a family in pain with a vital question of communal importance and possible ramifications on communal safety? It's one thing to say that you don't know the answer, or that further reserach is needed. But to say that "you don't want to get involved?!"

If that's the attitude*, then they should just return to the beis midrash and stop accepting shailos from people. If you don't have the fortitude to even attempt to answer the tough questions, then just close up shop.

The Wolf

* Yes, I understand that there might be legitimate reasons for not wanting to get involved. One might be because the victim or perpetrator is a relative/close friend. But I don't think that's the case here -- especially with three different rabannim.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Are Yeshivos Economically Viable?

Unless you've been living on the third moon of Rigel VII for the few months or so, you're no doubt aware that we are in the midst of a severe economic downturn. As can be expected, the frum community has been hit hard by this recession. The extra costs that accompany an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle have severely allow for a much smaller economic margin of error than in a typical American household.

MoChossid commented that yeshivos and other Jewish institutions are usually the first ones to feel the pinch. He writes:

When people start to feel financial pressure, the monthly payment that goes first is invariably tuition. This, of course, is not surprising. As among missing mortgage payments, real estate taxes, car payments and tuition, the one with the fewest consequences is tuition. Schools will not toss a kid out for failure to pay tuition, particularly under these circumstances.

What he says is, for the most part, true. Most schools won't toss a child except in the most egregious cases of non-payment. They usually won't hit you up for late fees (although one of my kids' yeshivos does), and they certainly won't up your finance rate to 29.99% for missing a payment. They aren't going to toss you out of your home, throw you in jail or repossess your car. They're not going to turn off your lights or have your family living in an unheated house in the dead of winter.

Is it right that the yeshivos are on the bottom of the totem pole, so to speak? No, it's not. They should be at the top or on top. On the other hand, when the financial pie of any family is only so big, it's hard to fault a family for choosing to pay the mortgage, or the electric bill or the grocery bill ahead of the school; especially when the consequences for missing any of them are so much greater than the consequences of missing a tuition payment.

On the other hand, schools aren't merely buildings and institutions. They are actually made up of people - people who deserve to get paid (and paid on time) for the work that they do. But when parents begin to default on tuition payments*, and especially when that is coupled with a downturn in donations, it's usually the teachers and other employees of the school who suffer first. Most schools, when faced with a choice between paying the electric bill or the teachers, will go for the former.

All this comes to forefront this week as the teachers of Bais Faiga in Lakewood are now in the third day of their strike. They haven't been paid in quite a while and have finally decided to take matters into their own hands. 1800 (yep, that's one thousand eight hundred) girls are now out of school until the matter is resolved.

Ezzie asks an interesting question. He notes that schools are heavily dependent upon donations to meet their annual budget. Donations, of course, rise and fall with the general state of the economy. To insulate schools from the effects of an economic downturn, the majority of thier income would have to come from more... consistent sources, such as parent's tuition. He asks (bolding his):

The real question is: Is it truly economically viable - in any Orthodox community - to support and maintain a school within its own budget? Does anyone know of a school whose revenues outside of donations exceed its expenses? If so, let's see it! If not... what must the approach be? Store away the donations in good years to make up the gap in other years, like the Yosef/Pharaoh analogy a commenter said yesterday? Is that realistic? What changes are possible within the frum community to make it possible to keep a school afloat on its own?

I don't know the answer to his question, but my first guess would be that there are no such schools. If they did manage to somehow meet their expenses based on tuitions alone, then the excess funds from donations wouldn't have been saved, but would probably have been spent on capital projects and the like. Unfortunately, that seems to be human nature -- you see this phenomenon in government all the time -- in good years, rather than save money (or give some of it back to the taxpayers), programs (worthy and not) get expanded, and when bad times come, huge deficits spring up.

Of course, all this is contingent upon parents actually *paying* the tuition. If they cannot (things happen in life -- job loss, disability, death, divorce, etc.) then the system collpases again. But I think that if a school can get to the point where the vast majority of parents pay their tution, they should be able to ride out the odd cases where things go wrong.

So, where does this leave us? Assuming that schools must collect tuitions to stay viable, how do they deal with parents who cannot pay? Unfortuantely, I don't have an answer to that. You don't want to toss a kid out of school because of factors that are beyond his/her control (or even the family's control), but the school has to pay it's bills too.

A basic rule of personal finance is that you cannot (or should not) spend more than you earn. If you do, you are going to wind up in trouble. Of course, in any large population, people are going follow this rule to varying degrees -- some will be very fiscally responsible while others will continue to spend, spend, spend as if there is no tomorrow. As much as we might wish that it were otherwise, yeshiva tuition is a form of spending, and must be accounted for in the budget. Tuition payments, as a budget item, fall into one of three categories for most people:

1. Payments that can be made comfortably (i.e. affecting no other items in the budget other than savings)
2. Payments that can only be made by cutting other non-essential items in the budget (i.e. belt-tightening).
3. Payments that can only be made by cutting essential items from the budget (like the electric bill, or the mortgage payment).

For most of us, I'm willing to bet that tuition falls into the second category. However, as the economic situation worsens, I'm willing to bet that more and more families are sliding into the third category. For families in that category, there are a few options:

a. Find ways to earn extra income, dip into savings, or go into debt, so that the extra income can go to the essentials, sliding tuition back to category #2.
b. Ask for a tuition reduction, sliding the tuition payment into category #2.
c. Not pay and hope for the best.

Of the three possible options (and, granted, I might have missed some), all but the first (the hardest to implement) put additional economic pressure on the school. While the school may be able to absorb a certain percentage of parents whose tuition payments fall into the third category, there is a breaking point, beyond which the school can no longer operate. At some point, as the tuition checks stop coming in, the school will be forced to stop paying its own expenses (including salaries). Even if there is no finanical mismanagement in the school (yes, I know that's a big if), a school will eventually be unable to meet it's expenses.

That's where Bais Faiga is today.

Many people would like to blame the situation in Bais Faiga on the kollel lifestyle, but I'm not certain that the kollel lifestyle is really the problem. It's certainly arguable that because of the kollel lifestyle, Bais Faiga is the among the first instituions to come to this, but I believe that it will eventually spread to the "working communtiy" as well. The question is, when (and if) it hits the working community, at what point does the whole system become unsustainable? At what point will yeshivos be forced to make the difficult decision to turn away kids or close? Or at what point will parents have to make the decision to send their kids to public school?

In short, is the entire concept of everyone going to yeshiva sustainable? Or have we ran it as long as we can and now that the bills are coming due, it can happen no longer?

The Wolf

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Paging Arthur C. Clarke...

Arthur C. Clarke, the famous science fiction writer, developed three "laws" of prediction, known as Clarke's Three Laws. The third of those laws is that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In other words, if you were to find yourself in Biblical times with a computer, to the people native to that time, the fact that the computer works will seem as magic to them.

Apparently, this law holds today as well. From YNet:

A recently released album containing songs performed by legendary cantors has been causing turmoil among the ultra-Orthodox community due to the simple fact that the performers are all dead.

Apparently, the concept of manipulating audio recordings is too advanced for some people, because they

flooded the company with questions and complaints: "How is it that the cantor knows to wait for the orchestra? There must be some sort of spell here – is this séance? Does the Halacha allow tampering with the voices of the dead?"

I just don't know what to say... I'm at a complete loss for words.

The Wolf

Hat tip: Blog in Dm.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Questions About The New Lakewood Ban

Blog In Dm points us to a news article on HaMercaz about a play for women that was banned in Lakewood yesterday. There were two things about this ban that were very unusual.

Firstly, it was delivered by autodialer. A machine called up homes in Lakewood to advise people that the Roshei Yeshiva in Lakewood had banned the performance.

The second unusual factor about the ban was it was announced right before showtime. Literally.
According to the article, the phone calls were made after 8:00pm on the night of the performance. Most people had already left their homes by then.

Blog in Dm makes the valid point that there is absolutely no reason in the world why this ban should have been issued at the last minute. Much like the ban against the "Big Event" in March, the event was well-advertised ahead of time and that if one was going to ban it, it should have been banned well in advance. Banning it on the night of the performance is inexcusable and laughable.

To me, however, the whole thing just doesn't pass the "smell test." There are just too many troubling questions here. Some of the questions I have are:

1. Was this for real? Did the Roshei Yeshiva really ban the concert just hours before showtime (or at all), or is this someone's idea of a sick joke? Or was it an attempt by someone with an agenda to sabotage the event without the approval of the Roshei Yeshiva? After all, anyone with the proper equipment can set up an autodialer.

2. If the ban is real, who described the planned event to the Roshei Yeshiva and what, exactly, did they say would happen at the event. How accurately was the program depicted to the Roshei Yeshiva? The phone call didn't say why the show was banned, only giving a vauge "not in the spirit of tznius."

3. Were the organizers of the event given an opportunity to defend the show? Were they even consulted? Or did the meeting and banning happen entirely behind their backs?

4. Why weren't we told exactly why the show was banned? What, specifically, is objectionable?

5. Why was the ban issued at the last minute? Why wasn't this talked about and any possible objections brought to the fore in the weeks preceeding the event?

There are probably other questions that can be asked as well. I'm curious if anyone knows the answers to these questions.

The Wolf

Related Posts:
The Gedolim and How They Relate To The Common Person
Do The Gedolim Understand the Nature of Today's Orthodox Jewish Community?
One Final Note On the Lipa Concert

Friday, December 05, 2008

Photos: Gargantua

I was going to offer a discussion on shutter speed this week, but it's been a very busy week and I haven't really had the time to properly put my thoughts in order. So, instead, I'll put up a photo of my hamster, Gargantua (yes, I have a rather perverse sense of humor).

From Wolfish Musings Pictures

Canon XSi, 18-55mm IS lens at 55mm
f/5.6, 1/60 second

As always, comments, criticisms and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Pictures:
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The Charedim Finally Got It Right... Sort of

Vos Iz Neias is reporting that Egged (the public bus line that serves Israel) has rebuffed efforts by the Chareidi community to institute separate seating bus service to the Kotel. As a result, the Chareidim have called upon people to send money to establish their own bus lines.

In one respect, they finally got it right. If you're not happy with the service being provided and you think that there is enough of a demand for an alternative service, you should go out and provide that alternate service. Rather than forcing people who don't want to sit in separate seating buses* (and who don't hold that it's forbidden for men and women to sit together in public transportation) to accomodate to your wishes, it's far better to start your own bus line.

So, what's the problem? Well, the problem is that the community needs $100,000 to establish the service. The article doesn't state whether this is going to be run as a business or as a community service (and subsidized by charity dollars). My guess is that it's going to be partially subsidized by charity dollars, as I don't think there really is enough of a demand for separate-seating buses to the Kotel (if there were, wouldn't Egged agree to estblish the lines?)

Assuming the busing service is not going to be run as a business, I think it would behoove the chareidi community to decide if having the separate bus line to the Kotel is really worth it. In a community where children and families are going hungry due to a shortage of donations and kollelim might have to close (thereby reducing the amount of Torah being learned), I think the chareidi community needs to take a long, hard look and decide if this bus line is *really* necessary at this time. Resources in any community are scarce and sometimes tough choices have to be made in deciding which public projects should receive those scarce resources. I think that $100,000 could be spent in *much* better ways than setting up a bus line for separate seating to the Kotel.

The Wolf

P.S. I wanted to comment on some of the way over-the-top comments about mixed bus service (mixed journeys of promiscuity?), but I think I'll leave that for another time.

* When Eeees and I went to Israel several years ago, we were there for the first time. Never having been there, we weren't always 100% sure where we were going. Being able to sit together allowed us to feel far more comfortable riding the buses. Both of us riding separately in a country where we had never been, going to a place where we never went to before would have been very uncomfortable and unnerving.

Perplexing Question

I wonder why it is that people like to quote over the famous Talmudic dictum of

כל האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאולה לעולם

("Anyone who says something over in the name of the one who [originally] said it brings redemption to the world") without attributing it to the person who said it (R. Elazar and R. Chanina)?

The Wolf