Monday, December 26, 2005

Pity the Poor Chazan

This shabbos, the chazzan in our shul, during mussaf, mentioned the wrong month during Mevarchim HaChodesh. He started out by saying "Rosh Chodesh Kislev..."

Of course, it's a pretty simple mistake to make. After all (as I heard him explain to someone else later on), with all the talk of Channukah, Kislev gets pounded into your brain. It's very counter-intuitive (although factual, of course) that part of Channukah falls out in Teves as well.

The Wolf

Friday, December 23, 2005

On Segregated Worlds

I saw this posted over at Yeshiva Orthodoxy. The story involves a mall being opened in B'nei Brak for women only.

Some of the "highlights" of the mall to be include:

  • No men will be permitted to shop in the model
  • Clothing offered in the mall will be subject to Rabbinic approval
  • Mall workers will be dressed modestly
  • Mall workers will be trained to be sensitive to the frum consumer.

To be honest, I don't have a problem with most of the provisions listed above. However, the idea that only women can shop in the mall and not men sounds so much like the latest "chumra of the month" club.

Truthfully, I cannot for the life of me, fathom why the frum world has to come up with ever more and more ways of seperating men and women. I'm certainly not advocating anything inappropriate, but the idea seems to be that men should never even know that there are other women in the world aside from his wife, mother and daughters.

Of course there are those who will tell you that by minimizing the opportunities that men and women have of seeing each other, you are also minimizing the possibility of inappropriate behavior between the sexes. While that is certainly true in it's literal sense, you could use the same logic to ban cars altogether on the grounds that by doing so, you're preventing anyone from dying in a car crash.

Of course, no one seriously wants to ban automobiles (except maybe Rav Shach) because we all understand that the cost of banning them outright would far outweigh the benefit. Likewise, this monomania that the chareidi world has with the separation of the sexes in every single possible way is likely to cause more harm than good.

I, personally, happen to enjoy spending time with my wife. I enjoy the fact that I can go out in public *with* her and do things *together*. It's not a sin, folks! For example, I have a policy that I will not go to a chinese auction where there are separate viewing hours for men and women only.* I like going around to the different tables and discussing with her what to go for and what not to go for. To have to play "tag team" at these events is just too difficult, too cumbersome, and goes against the reason I married my wife to begin with - to be able to spend more time with her.

Again, I want to reiterate here - I'm not advocating inappropriate behavior. I stand firmly and squarely against adultery. But this idea of having people living in, essentially, two separate worlds is getting worse and worse.

The Wolf

*I don't have a problem, of course, if they have separate hours for men and women and then other times for both together. Heck, that would be great, since it would serve all people based on their particular wants.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Frumteens on Lice and Spontaneous Generation

Last week, a poster asked on Frumteens about Lice and how Chazal stated that they are generated spontaneously. The moderator posted his reply today and it's a doozy.

You see, when Chazal said that lice generate spontaneously, they didn't really mean that they generate spontaneously as the scientists of their day believed. Oh no, they were far more advanced than that. You see, they were merely using a figure of speech to indicate that lice aren't animals in the halachic sense, but are in the category of domem (non-living things). Lice, according to this theory, are actually "organic programs" that reproduce, but really, they're not alive in the halachic sense.

To use his words:

So when Chazal say that lice come from dirt, they mean that spiritually lice have a Nefesh HaDomem, and Halachicly their status is that of dust, not animal life. The fact that scientists will tell you lice reproduce means nothing here. They see a Mommy louse, a Tatty louse, and a baby louse, but thats just the way this construct was programmed to function.

He continues by analogizing it to plant life:

Plants also “reproduce” – the pollination process involves moving a seed (the pollen) to another "organ" (the stigma) which causes reproduction - so we have a Daddy plant, a Mommy plant, and a baby plant -- but plants arent animals. And Chazal had a tradition that neither are lice, Halachicly, because the way lice are reproduced -- with a Mommy louse and a Daddy louse -- does not involve the result in the creation of an animal Nefesh the way the reproduction of other animals does.

(The "stigma???" I'm pretty sure he meant to say the stamen, but the correct organ is the pistil. -- see UPDATE below) In any event, no one suggested that plants were animals. But saying that something that is clearly alive (lice) aren't even afforded the status of animals??

He sums up by saying:

And so they concluded that based on what they had by way of tradition regarding nature of reproduction of lice, that they "come from dirt", so to speak, i.e. they are really Domem, and so it is permitted to kill them on Shabbos, because the prohibition to kill does nto apply to Domem.


It's OK to crush a domem on Shabbos? Is that what he's saying? I can take a sledgehammer and go out to my quarry and start crushing rocks? Rocks are a domem and apparently, if lice are a domem and it's OK to crush them, then rocks should be OK too.

It's stunning how here he says that things can be interpreted in a non-literal sense, yet, heaven forbid you try to re-interpret other sayings of Chazal...

The Wolf

UPDATE: After seeing Mike Koplow's comment, I looked up "stigma" in the dictionary and found that it, indeed, is a part of the pistil (specifically the part that receives the pollen.) As such, the FT Mod was correct there. I offer my apologies for that mistake.

The Wolf

On Tzar Giddul Banim (Pain of Raising Children)...

I had the following conversation (verbatim) with S1 this morning who didn't want to get dressed and go to school:

(after about two minutes of back and forth)
Me: Stop talking back to me.
S1: I'm not talking back!
Me: I'm telling you to get dressed so that you'll be ready when your ride gets here.
S1: And I'm telling you something else!


The Wolf

Thursday, December 08, 2005

On the Ipod Meme

Just Passing Through has tagged me with the "what's on your Ipod" meme.

Firstly, I don't have an Ipod, but a Creative Labs MP3 player.
Secondly, it's broken.

Therefore, when I hit shuffle and play, I get:

1. Silence
2. Silence
3. Silence
4. Silence
5. Silence
6. Silence
7. Silence
8. Silence
9. Silence
10. Silence
11. Silence
12. Silence
13. Silence
14. Silence
15. Silence

The Wolf

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On Secular Education in High Schools

We all know that the level of secular education in boys' yeshiva high schools is, to it mildly, abysmal. I, myself went to a very RW high school in Brooklyn well over twenty years ago and the situation then was not good. In grades 9-10, we had four subjects (math, science, social studies and English) of about forty minutes each. By 11th grade, the science class was dropped and by 12th, so was the mathematics. And, of course, there was no preperation for the SAT.

Somehow, despite the poor quality of my education, and lack of an SAT score, I managed to get into college without requiring and remedial courses. I doubt that any of my other classmates went to college.

But, of course, that was twenty years ago. While I didn't expect the situation to change much for the better, at least, I thought, it couldn't get much worse.

Boy, was I wrong.

Mrs. Wolf and I were recently speaking with one of my sons' (S1) English teachers. It so happens that Mrs. Wolf knew the teacher from college (we were all part of the EMS squad on campus, although I had graduated before the teacher arrived). Anyway, while we were discussing S1's performance in school, the topic turned to the high school. He's been teaching at the school for a few years and he's seen how the school had gone, over the course of a few years, from offering 3 AP (advance placement) courses in high school, to offering two AP courses, to offering one, to offering none. Beyond that, they have, in essence, eliminated secular education in 12th grade! There are no formal English classes in the 12th grades - the students are directed to do some independent study and hand in papers. That's it! There is no classroom instruction. As the teacher described it "12th grade is just like Beis Medrash here." The rest of the high school secular curiculum has also been watered down considerably.

While I certainly think that Talmud Torah should take precedence over secular studies (since whatever my children do with their lives, they will still be Jews and need to live as Torah-observant Jews), I find the situation at my sons' school's high school very frightening. Until now, I had no idea that this was the situation there (Having elementary school-age children, I never paid any real attention to the high school). As soon as we left our conference with the teacher, my wife said to me "we're sooo no sending our kids here for high school." I found that I could not disagree with her.

As I'm writing this post, I'm reminded of a conversation that my wife had with the Menahel of our kids' school earlier in the year when he seemed genuinely disappointed that my son wanted to be anything other than a Rosh Yeshiva. I guess that's the sort of mindset that shapes the high school cirriculum that the school has.

The Wolf

On Lakewood: My Own Two Cents

Bill Selliger, in a comment to my previous post asked the following:

What's wrong with wanting to live in an insulated community? If that's what they believe in, and everything they need and desire is found within that community, and they're happy with it, then kol hakavod! Don't you try and shelter your kids from violence, drugs, and other shmutz? So these guys take it one step further, and shelter their kids from outside thought. They're completely entitled to do so. (And don't start with how violence, drugs, and other shmutz are different than other modes of thought. To these people, they're equally poisonous. Right or wrong - I'm not saying. This is what they hold.) I don't understand why this bothers you. It's their community, and they have a right to dictate what is and isn't acceptable for their kids. If someone living in the community doesn't agree, then they can move out. Last I checked, there was no border police checkpoint at the Howell County Line.

Are there drawbacks to such an approach? Of course there are! But on a whole, it works for them. So leave them alone already. They leave you alone. They didn't say that you can't use the internet.

Bill, of course, is right in some respects. People and organizations are entitled to set standards for the way its members live. A shul certainly has an interest in maintaining a "Jews-only" membership rule. No one is denying the Lakewood yeshivos the rights to make rules as they see fit. I, however, also have the right to comment on such rules, even if I don't live in Lakewood.

My problems with the Lakewood rules are threefold.

1. The rules are over-reaching and affect those who should be beyond the yeshivos' reach. If the yeshiva established a rule that said that no *student* could use the Internet, I would not have such a hard time with this. I may personally disagree with the rule (I think that children should be allowed to use the Internet under a parent's direct and constant supervision [that's the rule in our home - no saying "OK" and then leaving the kids unsupervised]), but hey, they "rule" over the kids, and so they can set these policies. My sons' school has a "no students at the movie theather" rule which, despite my disagreement with, we strictly adhere to (for which I get complaints from my son all the time - other kids in his class do go to the movies, but that's for another post). But this ruling affects far more than the kids who attend the school - it affects everyone in the family and household of the attending students. Parents, grandparents, graduated siblings or anyone else living in the house are held "hostage" to the rule. To my view, this is simply the yeshivos reaching out to areas that they have no business reaching out to. If the Lakewood community, as a whole, wants to enforce a "no Internet" rule on the entire community, then let them do so - but to have it affect only those people who have school age kids is wrong.

2. The ban was sprung on parents in mid-school year. Schools should not issue major rules changes in the middle of the school year. If they had sent around a letter last May or June (or even during the summer) stating the rules beforehand, it would not have been so bad - parents who disagreed could have taken action, sent their kids to different schools, etc. However, by issuing the rule in mid-year, the parents are now trapped. Unless they want to switch schools (and incur the added expense of another tuition payment), they are simply forced to adhere to the rules. To use an extreme and silly example - if the school tomorrow ruled that all students must wear bumblebee costumes to school, that's within their rights. However, it is wrong for a school to decide this in mid-year. A decision such as this should be decided in the summer and then parents can decide for themselves whether or not they want to send their kids to a "bee" school or not.

3. The schools are all conspiring with one another. I don't have a terrible problem with a school setting a rule (persuant to what I wrote above) regarding what its students do. However, I have a problem when *all* the schools in the area consipre with one another to enforce a rule. Very simply, all it does it leave parents with no choice but to move or accept the rule. And while it's true that there are no border checkpoints at the Howell County line, nonetheless, forcing someone to move simply because they want to be able to pay their bills on line, shop at Amazon or even get divrei Torah off the Internet seems well to far fetched. If one school, or a subset of all schools had issued the rule, then that at least leaves the parents who didn't want the rule some choices - but here the parents are left with only two choices - 1. send their kids to public school or 2. move. No one should be forced to make either of those two choices over the private use of the Internet.

The Wolf

Monday, December 05, 2005

On Selling The Internet to Chareidim

I had a short conversation with a friend last night. He's an IT pro who has a plan to get the Gedolim of the Yeshivish/Chareidi world to accept the Internet. Of course, all objectionable content would be filtered out. In this way, he reasons, situations such as the one in Lakewood (where, no doubt, some parents are clandestinely flouting the no-Internet edict) people could be above-board and open about their Internet use and have all the conveniences of the Internet.

My feeling on the matter is that it would never work. The reason, very simply, is that they have neither reason nor desire to permit it. Sure, it may be possible to filter out the objectionable content with a 100% guarantee. Sure, you may make it possible to only allow certain sites to be viewed. You could meet all the demands that they may put on you from a technical perspective, nonetheless, my feeling is that it will never work - at least not in the next ten years.

The official reason they may provide is that they have heard that no filter is 100% safe, and that even one possible viewed image is enough to corrupt. Never mind that you may be able to prove that it is 100% effective, they will still quote the line as if it were Halacha L'Moshe MiSinai - unalterable and immutable. And that will be the end of the discussion.

The *real reason* that it would never work is that they want Jews to not have access to information about the world around them. They'd rather live within their insulted and isolated communities and not have anything to do with the outside world. They'd rather return to a shtetl-type existence, where each community is self-sufficient and has no need of the outside world. Since communication with the outside world is, perhaps, the main benefit of the Internet, it goes without saying that they certainly don't want to accept it.

My friend pointed how ironic it is that, throughout history, Jews have never been always been at the forefront of accepting new technology; but now, we have become the Luddites.

The Wolf

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

On Clarifying an Earlier Post

Just to clarify (since there seems to be some confusion) some matters about my On Further Encroachment post:

1. I have not seen the letter detailing these restrictions in the school. I simply reported on a post I saw on another blog. That does not guarantee that the restrictions are accurate. Please view my post as assuming that they are, indeed, real restrictions. If they aren't, please feel free to disregard. In addition, if someone can send me some verfication that they are false, I will be more than happy to print a retraction and apology.

2. The second set of restrictions that I mention in my post (playing Scrabble, going to a pet store, etc.) are *NOT* part of the restrictions that the students of the school are bound by. They are the products of my own imagination (although I think that, the last one excepted, they could easily be forbidden by a not-to-great leap of the imagination).

My apologies for any confusion this may have caused.

The Wolf

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On Good... Nay, Great News

It seems that Heshy is gone!

Personally, I can't say that I'm sorry to see him go. He was sort of a blogger arsonist - just throw something out there on the fire and see if it'll burn. I do, however, have one regret about his disappearing- he never ended up explaining on his blog why he was opposed to the concept of alien life. I would have liked (in a morbid sort of way) to have heard that.

The Wolf

On Further Encroachment

Yeshiva Orthodoxy reports that Yeshiva Bais HaTorah in Lakewood sent a letter to all parents detailing their chinuch guidelines. As reported, the letter reads (in part):

General Chinuch Guidlines:

-- In compliance with the warnings of the gedolim about the dangers of the internet, it is prohibited to have internet in your home (even if you feel that you have safeguarded against access by children). In the event that internet access is a business necessity, the computer must have a password and be physically locked. Additionally, the Yeshiva must be told that you have internet in the home.

-- Non-Jewish magazines and periodicals are not permitted in the home.

-- Children should not listen to the radio. (It goes without saying that watching television, DVDs or videos is forbidden.)

-- Children may not visit the public library even with adult supervision.

-- Non-Jewish reading materials must be carefully screened by parents before being made available to talmidim.

-- Talmidim must refrain from following professional sports as it is not in the Torah spirit.

-- Talmidim should not play games on the computer or use a game boy.

-- Talmidim may not own palm pilots or cell phones.

-- Extreme caution must be exercised in relation to trips or visits to non-Jewish places.

While some of these restrictions make sense (hey, I'll give credit where it's due), others are a bit odd and open up the door to restricting just about anything and everything. Examples?

Playing Scrabble - forbidden. Not in the Torah spirit to play a meaningless game where one has to memorize and know obscure English words.

Going to a pet store - Use extreme caution - a non-Jewish place. In addition, there has long been a tradition against Jews having anything to do with dogs anyway.

Playing basketball - forbidden. Not in the Torah spirit, borders on Chukas HaAkum and may also lead one to start following professional sports.

Sending email to relatives in Israel (or elsewhere) - forbidden - Internet. In addition, who knows what materials they might receive from the relatives.

Family functions where non-frum relatives might be present - not relevant to our buchrim, of course - if you have a non-frum relative you wouldn't have been accepted into the yeshiva to begin with.

Visit to Museum - forbidden. We all know that dinosaurs were created by evil, atheist scientists solely to lead us astray.

Reading Magic School Bus books - forbidden. Contains magic. In addition, children will be told that the Earth revolves around the Sun instead of the other direction.

Visit to Zoo -- forbidden. Children may become interested in evolution, or even if not, it will surely be mentioned by some of the zoo guides. In addition, during the warmer months, there may be women dressed inappropriately.

Going to a Seforim store - forbidden. Children might see books by heretics whose books have not been removed from the shelves.

Except for maybe the last one (where I am exaggerating, but not by much), I can see all the above activities (and many other similar ones) being forbidden by schools based on the principles stated in the letter above. I'm left wondering why these schools don't just put out a list of accepted activities and say that children who do anything else will be punished.

The Wolf

Monday, November 28, 2005

Silly Question of the Day...


"If you know the name of a person who isn't very well and you don't say tehilim for that person and G-d forbid that person is Niftar does that mean that you killed them?"

Yes, dear. And if you don't personally knock on the door of every single person within 100 miles of your house and alert them to the dangers of not wearing seat belts and carbon monoxide poisioning, then if one of them dies in a car crash from not wearing a seat belt, or from carbon monoxide poisioning, then it means that you killed them.

The Wolf

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On Giving Thanks

I really don't want to get into the whole issue of whether or not it is proper to celebrate Thanksgiving from a halachic standpoint. Suffice it to say that there are enough arguments on both sides of the issue. Personally, I enjoy having a day off, but, not being a big fan of turkey, I don't have it for Thanksgiving (or for any other day for that matter).

Nonetheless, there is certainly wrong with taking time out of one's day to give thanks for one's blessings. It is, of course, wholly appropriate to give hakaras hatov for the good things that one has in life.

Therefore, I'd like to give thanks to the following people...

... to my wife, for being with me through everything during our many years of marriage. She puts up with me despite mood swings, sloppiness, losing things [boy, do I lose things!] and other general character flaws. Nonetheless, I know that she loves me (because she's sitting right here telling me this while I'm typing) and for that I am thankful.

... to my kids for the joy that they bring into my life. Sure, they can be a handful sometimes, and sure they are responsible for at least some of the white hairs on my head, but I still couldn't imagine life without them.

... to my fellow bloggers, for helping to show me that there are other reasonable Jews out there; that I was not alone with my doubts and rationality. For providing laughs and ideas that provoke and make me think.

... to God above, for all the above mentioned blessings, plus the countless other things that He does for me and for my family on a constant basis.

For these things, and many others, I give thanks every day, whether or not it is Thanksgiving.

The Wolf

Thursday, November 17, 2005

On Jumping Elephants and Popes

Gil, at his excellent blog, brings an essay by Rabbi Slifkin (PDF) on the great debate of whether or not elephants are capable of jumping.

The debate seems to be between Tosafos, on the one side, who says that elephants can jump, and modern science, which states that elephants are incapable of jumping.

Of course, as Rabbi Slifkin puts it, some people will take the view that "if Tosafos says that elephants jump, then elephants jump!" End of story. He reasons simply that Tosafos, having lived in twelfth century France, never saw an elephant and never even saw an accurate drawing of an elephant, and so could easily make a mistake as to whether or not it can jump.

Fanatics aside, Rabbi Slifkin then goes on to ask how this matter should be presented to students. At one points, he wonders if we should just throw up our hands and say "we don't know." However, as he puts it:

One might suggest that it is better to simply state that we don't know the answer. That may sometimes work. But the odds are that the student will eventually discover the truth about elephants anyway - it's only a Google-search away.

This, of course (IMHO anyway) is the second (unstated) reason for the internet ban in Lakewood and other places (I know of someone who enrolled his son in a yeshiva here in Brooklyn and was told that an internet connection at home was unacceptale. They relented when the father pointed out that he was an IT professional and that his livelihood [and their tuition payments] depended on his internet connection). It is to prevent people from access to information which might possibly upset their simplistic world view. The same type of people who will believe that elephants jump simply because Tosafos says so, are the same ones who don't want to allow any fact that might upset the infallibility of Chazal.

I find it interesting, of course, that Catholics are castigated for their belief in papal infallibility. Yet, they only extend this doctrine to when the pope speaks ex cathedra. We, on the other hand, in some segments of our population, have extended this infallibility to not just one person, but to a whole class of people, and on just about anything that they utter. And yet, we castigate them for the doctrine of papal infallibility. Mr. Pot, meet Mr. Kettle.

The Wolf

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On Acceptance

When I was born, my parents were not frum. As a result, for the first few years of my life, I grew up in a non-frum household. Even though we weren't frum, we did keep several Jewish practices - we went to shul somewhat regularly, my mother lit Shabbos candles (somewhat regularly), we kept kosher (in the home) and the like.

One thing that my mother always insisted on was that we have a Jewish education. As a result, when I was six years old, I was enrolled in a frum yeshiva for first grade. I can honestly say that it was one of the best Judaic experiences I had as a kid. My rebbe that year was a phenomenal man who kept the children engaged in learning.

I don't know if my parents had a hard time getting me enrolled there or not, but I was there - and the effects of my year there continue to influence me positively to this day.

The year afterwards, my parents moved out of state and I was enrolled in the Hebrew Academy of Morris County, a Conservative yeshiva in New Jersey. I was there for three years until my parents separated.

My mother took my sister and I and moved to Brooklyn. Shortly after her separation, she became a Ba'alas Teshuva - and my sister and I did so as well. However, she found it difficult to get me into a yeshiva. One wanted to start me in the third grade (I was already ten years old - far too old for third grade). Another was only willing to accept me if I did not have any contact with my non-frum father. I eventually found a temporary home in a yeshiva in Brooklyn that primarily served children of Russian descent. I was one of only four frum kids in the school. After two years there (where I learned every Russian curse word - though I would never speak them) I was finally enrolled in a "mainstream" yeshiva (albeit held back one grade in Hebrew studies). It was in this yeshiva that I had many of the problems that I've blogged about here before.

I find it interesting that the one year I spent in a frum yeshiva as a non-frum kid was far more influential in my life than the years I spent as a frum kid in a "mainstream" yeshiva. While, to be perfectly honest, I can't say that I'd be frum today just by the experience I had in first grade, I can also say that I might not be frum today if not for the experiences of that year.

I find it interesting, however, that my parents (who weren't rich, by any means) were able to get me into a frum yeshiva in first grade, when they themselves (and I too) were not frum at all, and yet, four years later, as a frum parent with frum children, my mother was unable to get me into a frum yeshiva without all sorts of unacceptable conditions. What happened in those four years?

Of course, I realize that the yeshiva world is not a monolithic bloc, and that I may simply have been lucky that my parents found someone with a more open mind back in first grade. But I wonder what the people who turned me away back when I was trying to get into fifth grade would say if they knew that because a frum yeshiva accepted a non-frum kid, that the non-frum kid is a frum adult with frum children. I also wonder if stories such as mine aren't more common - or, more precisely, potential stories - where children from marginally observant families who apply to frum yeshivos and are rejected end up turning away from Judaism altogether.

The Wolf

Friday, November 11, 2005

Is It Just Me?

I'll be the first to admit that I haven't read the article. I'm simply commenting on the headline.

The Yated, in it's coverage of the unrest in France has an article titled A Realistic Solution to the Moslem Problem.

Is it just me, or does anyone else have a real problem with this? The headline sounds an awful lot like "A Final Solution to the Jewish Problem." While I don't doubt that the Yated probably has problems with Muslims in general, I find it very odd that they chose just this sort of headline. Mind you, if a Muslim newspaper had a similar headline about Jews, I'm fairly certain we'd be hearing about it all over the media.

The Wolf

On Jews And The Media

I don't know how the anti-Semites can say that Jews control the media. I work for one of the largest media companies in the world. We recently tried to start getting together a minyan for Mincha every day.

We have eight. :)

The Wolf

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

On Yom Tov and Shabbos Food

Over Yom Tov, we had my sister and her family over to eat in our sukkah. Before Yom Tov, my wife asked my nieces, nephew and kids what they wanted to eat on Yom Tov. The answers that we got were the ones you might expect of kids - hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. So, that's what we made. We also had some meatballs, sphagetti and other food as well.

My sister made the point (in a totally friendly, non-offensive way) that the fare wasn't exactly what one would term "Shabbos food" or "Yom Tov food." To that I'll agree - usually when one thinks of Shabbos/Yom Tov food you think of chicken, chulent, kishke, kugel and maybe a roast. Hot dogs? Hamburgers?

And yet, the day was a hit. It certainly made the kids moods better that they got food that they liked, rather than food that was, to them, boring. Now, I'm certainly not the type to cater (literally, in this case) to our childrens' every whim - but once in a while finding out what they like and making it for them rather than the standard fare is certainly of no harm. In fact, it may generate some good Shabbos/Yom Tov memories that they can carry forward to adulthood.

And yet, I can't help but believe that there are certain segments in our community that, looking for anything or anyone who is different, would condem this act of culinary heresy. I remeber a converstation that I eavesdropped on (yes, I know it's bad manners - I'm not perfect!) where one person was downright shocked that someone they know didn't serve chicken on Friday night. Apparently, the idea of even the slightest thing deviating from the norm is too much for them.

At least the person never found out about the barbeque Sheva Brachos that I once went to. *That* would have blown his mind!

The Wolf

UPDATE: My wife wants it publicly known that there was more than simply hot dogs, hamburgers and spaghetti/meatballs served that day. There was also stuffed cabbage, honey chicken, kugels and homemade muffins.

I am now back in my wife's good graces again. :)

The Wolf

Sunday, November 06, 2005

On Lying and Absolutism

S2 is a bit of an absolutist. If something is wrong, then it's wrong, according to S2. He still has yet to really learn the meaning of "shades of grey" in his black-and-white world.

This was really brought to a head by a game that we played over Shabbos with some relatives of ours. During the game, each player takes on a role in the scenario. Since everyone's role in the game is hidden from the other players and a lot of the strategy revolves around secrecy and bluffing, there is a certain amount of lying and deceipt that goes on in the game.

S2 actually won the game, but he wasn't very happy about it. All the way to Mincha, he was complaining about the lying that was going on in the game. He mentioned the Torah's prohibition on lying and mentioned that he wished the game had never been made. I tried to explain to him that in a situation like this, where lying and deception are expected and acceptable parts of the game, it isn't a problem. He wasn't having any of it. He maintained his position and countered with "and if there was a game called 'Get Naked In The Street' would it be OK then too?"

Of course, he was right in that point. If there was such a game, we wouldn't permit it on the grounds that it is a "expected and acceptable" part of the game. So, why would it be permitted here? Of course, one can't reasonably compare a harmless white lie with public nudity, but the basic principle still stands. How does one play a game where it involves the prohibition of a Biblical commandment (albeit in a minor and mostly harmless fashion)?

I still haven't quite found a way to explain to him the difference. Of course, my sechel tells me that there is a vast difference between a simple card game and, say, lying about securities fraud or to a grand jury or even telling a lie to my mother. But how do I explain the intricacies of these nuances to a ten year old with an absolutist world view?

The Wolf

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

On Marriage - Good or Bad?

I had a discussion with someone recently on the state of marriage and Orthodoxy's responsibility (or lack thereof) to their non-Orthodox brethren with regard to ensuring kosher marriages.

I held the opinion (and I could be wrong, of course) that perhaps it's better, whenever possible, to ensure that when non-Orthodox people get married that a proper, kosher wedding is performed (such as serving as witnesses to the ceremony - kosher witnesses being a condito sine qua non for the ceremony).

My disputant took the opposite position - that we should not ensure that they have proper marriages. I don't know if he would have gone so far as to say that we should actively discourage halachicly kosher marriages whenever possible, but based on his reasoning, I think he would have even agreed to that.

His primary concern, which is a valid concern, is the issue of mamzeirus. As we all know, if this woman were married in a halachically valid ceremony, and then were divorced (and, in all likelihood, there would be no get or an invalid one) then any children she had from any subsequent marriages would be mamzeirim - unable to marry anyone in the community other than other mamzeirim or converts (and their children would be mamzeirim as well).

I agreed with his reasoning that this is a concern; but I felt that there were too many possibilities that would reduce mamzeirus to a negligible concern:

  • First of all, who says that they are going to get divorced? Yes, there is a high divorce rate (my disputant provided the customary 50% rate, I wasn't so sure that that was really accurate), but then again, even if they get divorced...
  • There is the possibility that she will get a kosher get. It's not unheard of, of course. I have a relative who was in such a situation - she got married by a Conservative Rabbi (who didn't know what he was doing because he married them on Chol HaMoed!) in a ceremony that was, in all likelihood, not k'das v'k'din. Later on, when they split up, she had become Orthodox and was able to get an Orthodox get so that she could remarry if she wanted to.
  • Then there is the possibility that she will not choose to remarry OR the possibility that her former husband will die before she gets remarried (or has kids from that subsequent marriage).
  • Lastly, there is the question that if she remarries, will she have kids? Will she marry in enough time to have kids (before her biological clock runs out)?
All these factors reduce the chances of mamzeirim being born.

My argument in favor of a kosher marriage was that you'll be saving the couple from having illicit relations. True that other, more serious prohibitions (such as Niddah, for example) will be violated -- but they're going to be violated either way - there's very little help for that (short of getting her to accept Taharas HaMishpacha - a tough sell for someone non-Orthodox). But just because they have the more serious prohibition of Niddah doesn't mean that they shouldn't have to violate the lesser prohibition of illicit relations. By "preventing" them from having a kosher marriage, you are causing them to violate today for a situation in the future which may or may not happen.

My disputant went on to mention that Chazal seemed to want to take whatever steps were necessary to reduce mamzeirus. And that despite the mitigating factors that I presented above, there remained a chance of mamzeirus and therefore we shouldn't do anything that would increase that probability.

My counter argument to that was that if we are concerned about preventing any possibility of mamzeirus, then we should simply abolish all marriages to begin with. If no one performs kiddushin, there are no marriages and then (barring cases of incest) there is no mamzeirus. Of course, I wasn't seriously presenting this as an option, but merely to show that the idea that we should do anything and everything to prevent any chance of mamzeirus is fallacious.

Of course, there is the opinion (was it R. Ya'akov Kaminetsky? - I'm not certain who) that if we see a couple living together as man and wife, even without the benefit of a valid kiddushin, they have a chazakah as a married couple and would require a get anyway. I'm fairly certain that R. Moshe Feinstein holds the opposite opinion (I'll have to listen to the Rabbi Frand shiur on that topic again).

Of course, I am not a posek and neither was my disputant - it was just a back and forth conversation that we had. Anything that either of us said could be off the mark halachically. I'm curious as to what other people think.

The Wolf

On Weddings and Music

I was at a wedding last night where a young rabbi in our community got married. It was certainly a lively affair, with lots of music, dancing and food. I certainly enjoyed myself immensely and had a great time. (I also apologize if I stepped on any of my fellow bloggers' toes during the dancing.)

I found, however, some of the choices in music interesting. At different times during the affair, I heard Black Magic Woman and Hotel California. During the dance sets they played the Battle Hymn of the Republic and As The Army Goes Marching Along. Neither the bride nor groom, to the best of my knowledge were ever in the military. Maybe one of their parents? I've definitely never heard either song used during a dance set before. :)

It's interesting how music tends to "bleed" through cultures. After all, we have tunes that were once pop tunes that have been adapted into Jewish songs and seem to have lost their "unclean" status. I've heard people sing D'ror Yikra on Shabbos to Simon & Garfunkel's Scarbourough Fair. I'm not terribly big on music, but I'm sure people could point out many, many other examples.

While one of the secular songs was playing, I kind of wondered if the some of the elder yeshivish crowd would have a collective apoplexy if they knew what they were listening to.

The Wolf

Monday, October 31, 2005

On God Planning and Man Laughing

Another one of the Divrei Torah that S2 said by the Shabbos table concerned the question of why Eve wasn't created until after the Etz HaDa'as (Tree of Knowledge)?

He answered this (again, via his rebbe) by bringing in the well-known Halacha from Shabbos. On Shabbos one is not allowed to read by the light of an oil lamp, lest he tilt it (an act forbidden on Shabbos) to get better light from the lamp. An exception to this rule, however, is that if two are reading by the lamp it is permitted, since if one reaches to tilt the lamp the other would (presumably) remind him that it is Shabbos and that such an act is forbidden.

So, too, God created Eve in order to "remind" Adam not to eat from the tree.

I wonder if the rebbe saw the obvious flaw in this or not.

The Wolf

Saturday, October 29, 2005

On Adam and Shehechiyanu

My younger son (S2) is currently in fourth grade. Like most fourth graders in Orthodox yeshivos, S2 comes home every week with Divrei Torah to tell by the Shabbos table. He came home this week with four Divrei Torah to tell over. I was generally pleased with them - with one exception.

The exception deals with Genesis 3:21:

וַיַּעַשׂ ה אֱלֹקים לְאָדָם וּלְאִשְׁתּוֹ, כָּתְנוֹת עוֹר--וַיַּלְבִּשֵׁם
And Hashem made for Adam and his wife leather garments and clothed them.

S2 then asked (via his rebbe) why it had to be leather garments, rather than, say, linen or wool garments.

The answer, according to S2's rebbe, lies in a Halacha in Shulchan Aruch which states that one must make a Shehechiyanu for new garments. However, leather garments are an exception from this rule because an animal had to die in order to produce the garments. Now, if God had made for Adam wool garments, he would have had to make a brachah on them before putting them on -- which he could not do because he was naked! So, in order to save Adam from having a shailah as to whether or not to have to make a Shehechiyanu, God made leather garments for Adam.

Now, I certainly don't have a problem with the rebbe teaching B'raishis literally, even if I personally don't put a premium on the literal view of it. I do have a problem, however, the Rebbe teaching that Adam somehow knew Shulchan Aruch and was even remotely concerned with making a bracha of Shehechiyanu on his new garments. Adam certainly knew nothing of the brachah of Shehechiyanu and certainly knew nothing of the concept of making this brachah for new clothing (clothing had never been in his experience before anyway -- why would he know any halachos of clothing?

Of course, this is not the first time I've heard of this sort of "anachronistic scholarship." The same principle is applied to explain what Ya'akov's sons did with the money that they got from the sale of Yosef. As the reasoning goes, they bought shoes with the money so that they would not have to make a Shehechiyanu on the ill-gotten goods (as if after having committed an act of kidnapping and selling, they were suddenly such tzadikkim as to be worried about a bracha on a piece of clothing).

But it's very interesting how this "anachronistic" knowledge of halacha disappears in other places. Amram, Moshe's father married his aunt. Didn't he know that it was against halacha to do so? Sure, it was before the Giving of the Torah and technically permitted -- but then again, there was no requirement to make a Shehechiyanu on clothing before Mattan Torah too (or even after it, of course -- the requirement to make a Shehechiyanu on new clothing is only a Rabbinic enactment).

I find it sometimes quite hysterical how the stories of our ancestors and biblical personages get hopelessly complicated by assigning to them knowledge of events or Jewish law that they could not possibly have had. They take our original ancestor and somehow turn him into someone who not only had knowledge of the Torah, but also the Rabbinic requirement of making Shehechiyanu on clothing and an expert on the parameters of that ruling.

The Wolf

Friday, October 28, 2005

On More Heshy Hilarity

I know I really shouldn't do this. It's just granting more attention to someone who really doesn't deserve it. Yet, like a child with a scab, I keep feeling the need to pick at it and pick at it and pick at it -- even though it's not going to heal.

Our pal Heshy has been at it again. His latest screed is entitled "Satmer is pro-Israel while Modern Orthodox are anti-Israel."

Heshy obviously went to the Big Brother school of logic, where "War is Peace" and "Freedom is Slavery." This is just soooo loopy that I'm not quite sure where to begin.

He starts out by bringing a supposed conversation between the Satmar rebbe and a Mr. Luchins to prove that Satmars are pro-Israel. Never mind the fact that there is no proof that this conversation ever took place. Never mind the fact that even if it did take place, a one-time comment by the Rebbe hardly means that the movement as a whole is pro-Israel. I guess the Rebbe must have missed the booing Mayor Bloomberg got for his stating in front of them that he was pro-Israel.

He then goes on to state that the Modern Orthodox are anti-Israel since "Their leaders were the first to shake hands with murders like Yassir Arafat just to enhance their egos and public images." He then goes on to lose based on Godwin's Law by stating that Modern Orthodox leaders "spew hatred of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public and private no less than Goering and the SS Nazi propaganda machine." (bolding mine).

He then goes on to laud Neturei Karta as heroes because they "infiltrate" international terrorist organizations (proof, Heshy?)

One anonymous commentator put it best:

Moron, ben Moron:
1 - If Luchins whispered it into the Stamar guy's ear, how did you hear about it?
2 - The first people to shake Arafat's hand weren't the MO leadership, but the Naturai Karta - and they are as Ultra as Ultra gets.
3 - Who from the Modern Orthodox shook Arafats hand? Or is Rabin a Modern Orthodox Jew in the bizarro land you inhabit?

But of course, we know what kind of bizarro land Heshy inhabits. He inhabits a bizarro world where:
And the topper of it all, the grand prize of Heshy lunacy...
In truth, as far as Heshy is concerned, I'm curious about one thing that maybe someone else can answer for us:

What terrible sins have we done that we have Heshy in our midst?

The Wolf

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

On Torah Learning and Olam Habah

There's a popular song sung in shuls on Simchas Torah during Hakafos. The first two lines of the song are:

Olam Habah is a gutta zach
Learning Torah is a besser zach...

(Translation: The World to Come is a good thing, learning Torah is a better thing...)

This song has always struck me as kind of odd. Olam Habah is supposed to represent the ultimate reward that we receive for following God's will. It's the light at the end of the tunnel, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, etc.

And yet, the song seems to state that learning Torah is a better thing. Does this mean that when Talmedi Chachamim die it is a punishment for them since they can no longer learn Torah here on Earth and going to Olam Habah is a "lesser" good?

The Wolf

Friday, October 21, 2005

On the Approach of I-Day in Lakewood

As we all know, the Internet-descision Day is approaching in Lakewood. That's the day (whether it's Isru Chag or the day after) when the kiddies in Lakewood have to come to school with the notes signed by their parents stating that they don't have Internet access in the home (or have permission from one of the four "authorizing" rabbis) or else be sent home from school, never to return until the paper is signed.

I'm kind of curious as to what kind of absolute numbers we are looking at here. Specifically, how many families are there in Lakewood with children in the affected schools, how many of those families never had Internet access (and so it's [for now] a non-issue to them) and how many of those that do have Internet access (and don't have the appropiate OK) and will have their kids expelled from school.

I find it kind of ironic how the Lakewood community made sure before the school year started that every student would have a place in a school and that now they are talking about numerous potential explusions, completely independent of the merit or behavior of the individual children involved.

As an aside (since I'm not terribly familiar with the Lakewood community) are there any other yeshivos in the town where this ban is not being enforced? And is it likely that parents of expelled children will send their kids there?

The Wolf

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On How Life Imitates Blogging

It's kind of interesting how I posted the Seven Things post right before Yom Tov, simply because a few of them were reinforced over the holiday.

I lained (as I usually do) and did a pretty good job. I also lained the Haftorah, which I did pretty well. Then they asked me to daven Musaf. If you look at the list of seven things I can't do, the first one is "carry a tune." And boy was it proved. My Kah Keili was waaaaaay off. And yet, they keep asking me to daven...

We also bought a new table for our sukkah. I thought I bought one that was 36 inches wide. It took a guest to confirm for me that it was only 30, not 36. D'oh! That's covered under my inability to visually and judge distances.

The Wolf

Monday, October 17, 2005

On Seven Things...

I've been tagged by Krum, so here goes:

7 Things I Can Do:
  • Lain - anything (OK, not Tehillim, Mishlei or Iyov). But anything else I can do - regular, RH/YK, Megillos, etc.
  • Write mirror image - a more-or-less useless habit I picked up in college.
  • Make my wife laugh - pretty good considering how long we've been together.
  • Design Games - I enjoy creating games - every step from designing the rules and concepts to prototyping the parts. I don't enjoy marketing them, however, so I don't.
  • Explain complicated concepts simply - I can generally explain almost anything to almost anyone (provided I understand what it is I'm explaining, of course).
  • Keep my mouth shut - I'm very good at keeping confidences, and I know well that one learns far more by keeping one's mouth shut rather than flapping it on every occassion.
  • Relate well with children - of almost any age. Many adults I know don't know how to deal with infants, toddlers, schoolage chilren or teenagers. I can easily relate to and communicate with any of them.

7 Things I Can't Do:
  • Carry a tune - I can lain decently, but beyond that, not too much. I used to be able to sing nicely until my voice changed as a teenager. I still enjoy singing, but I know that it's not too good.
  • Meet people in a crowded room - I'm terribly shy in large groups. If I'm at a large group where I don't know most of the people there - just look for a guy standing in the corner by himself - it's me.
  • Judge distances visually - for some reason, if you hold your hands apart, I can't estimate how far it is. Same thing with larger distances. I know my sukkah is 8 by 12, but if I didn't know it from the start, I'd never be able to guess it.
  • Speak very quickly - I start stumbling over my words (except when I lain the Tochacha, which I can do *very* quickly and clearly)
  • Stand on my hands - I've been trying since I was a kid.
  • Build anything with my hands - I am the most unhandy person on the face of the earth.
  • Make a decision when there is no real difference - if my wife asks me to choose between two outfits for her and they both look equally nice on her, I simply cannot make the choice.

7 Things I Hope To Do In My Life:
  • Teach my children to be good, honest, warm, caring human beings (far above anything else I hope to accomplish with my life)
  • Learn more Torah
  • Write a fantasy or children's book or two
  • Learn to build something
  • Learn safrus - all my years of laining has given me a deep appreciation of safrus and I really hope to learn the craft someday. So far, my search for a teacher has been futile.
  • Make my wife the happiest person on the face of the earth for many, many, many years.
  • Win the lottery

People I'd Like To Infect With The Same Meme:

The Wolf

Friday, October 14, 2005

On Word Verification for Comments

I'm sorry, folks. I put it off as long as I could, but I have to turn on the word verification for comments. I'm getting too many spam hits and can't spend hours chasing them all down and deleting them (nor do I want to just let them remain).

I'm sorry for the inconvenience.

The Wolf

Friday, October 07, 2005

On Feeling Validated

As you know, I've had a couple of posts recently about the fact that my son wants to be something other than a Rosh Yeshiva.

Well, imagine my surprise when I opened up my copy of The Jewish Press this week, to find an article by Chananya Weissman (of EndTheMadness fame) about problems in our Yeshiva systems today. Toward the end of the article, he writes (bolding mine):

And shouldn’t we recognize that the goal of Jewish education should not be to churn out roshei yeshiva, that impressing parents with a rigorous curriculum often comes at the sacrifice of all but the most brilliant? Is it really a surprise that so many kids are turned off to Torah and Judaism? What do they really learn about either of the two?

At least I know that my voice isn't the only one out there. It's nice to know that there are others out there besides some of my blog readers (and who knows if he reads my blog?) that agree with me.

The Wolf

Monday, October 03, 2005

On the Internet and Parental Responsibility

Much electronic ink is being spilled over the recent takanos from the Lakewood community regarding the availability of the Internet to children. I don't think I have to belabor the obvious pitfalls that the Internet holds.

However, there is one aspect of this whole affair that bothers me. Specifically, whose job is it to raise a child - the parents' or the Yeshiva?

The takanos that were enacted seem to say to me that the latter, and not the former, is the final authority on how a child is raised. The takanos (to me, anyway) seem to be telling the parents "You cannot be trusted to advise your children which parts of the Internet are healthy and good and which are unhealthy and bad; so we will make that decision for you. Furthermore, unless you have a real business need (subject to our discretion) you cannot be trusted for yourself either."

Now, we all know that there are parents who are not careful with what their children do and watch. We all know that there are children who watch TV shows that they shouldn't, read material that they shouldn't and visit web sites that they shouldn't. But, I'm willing to bet, in the vast majority of those cases, we are dealing with parents who, either out of excessive permissiveness, sheer laziness or naiviety (or some combination of all three) abdicate their authority as guardians of what their children see, hear and participate in.

Unfortunately, you cannot legislate good parenting. There will always, among us, be parents who fall on all sides of the spectrum, from the stifling, overbearing and overprotective, to the extremely permissive and not caring. Most of us, I'd like to believe, fall somewhere in the middle, in the "golden norm;" we watch what our children watch, we know what our children read, and we introduce them to more mature concepts (whether it be death, love, sexuality or any other concept) in an age-appropriate manner and time. We don't let our children have free reign of the library, the internet or the video store (or even our own video shelves at home).

The question it seems before us is this: We all know that there are those of us who abdicate our parental authority and guidance. Is it the yeshiva's place to stand in for the parents and "take control" from them. And, if so, then is it the yeshiva's place to stand in and "take control" even for those parents who do control their children's access to the Internet. In other words, if I want to shop on, pay my bills on line, be able to download a shiur, or even write a blog, is it the Yeshiva's place to come into my home and say "because there are negligent parents, we won't allow you to do any of these things - regardless of how well you may restrict your childrens' access to the Internet."

The Wolf

A Shana Tova to All...

I just wanted to wish all my readers a Shana Tova. May it be a year filled with life, health, peace, prosperity and Torah.

The Wolf

Friday, September 30, 2005

On Children's Aspirations Part II

In my previous post, Mississippi Fred McDowell made the following comment:

>He looked at her and said "We had hopes that he'd aspire to be a Rosh Yeshiva."

This is exactly the kind of stale thinking that Eliezer Berkovitz deplored, particularly in his history of Halakhah, "Lo Bashamayim Hi". He points out that in a real society there simply must--must!--be doctors as well as sanitation workers as well as scholars as well as even artists and poets--and zoologists too. The Torah envisions us as having a real society. Sadly, to many in leadership positions like your son's principal don't get that.

Truthfully, it doesn't take Eliezer Berkovitz to tell you that a society can't have *everyone* doing the same thing. Even in primitive hunter-gatherer societies, where the vast majority of the population of any given group *did*, in fact, hunt and gather, you still had some specialists who performed other necessary tasks. This is all the moreso in the non-hunter-gatherer society that we live in.

The problem, as I see it, is that much of the Chariedi Yeshiva world wants it both ways - they want to be isolated and have their own community free from the influence of the "outside world" and yet, still be able to have Torah as everyone's occupation. They look back at Jewish history and read Midrashim on the existence of the Jews in the wilderness, where they spent all their time learning Torah (taking, for the sake of argument, that this is factual) and all their needs were taken care of by heaven.

Unfortunately, we don't live in that sort of world. We don't have manna coming down from heaven to provide us with food. Our clothes and our shoes do, indeed, wear out. We don't have heavenly clouds to provide shelter for us. We have to go out and earn our living by the sweat of our brow. And this is all well within the guidelines of the Torah. The Torah clearly recognizes that people can be farmers, business people, shipwrights, craftsmen, etc. - and not on a "if you can't/won't learn full time" basis - but as a preferred option. Sure, in some pipe dream world it would be nice if everyone could be a Rosh Yeshiva. In a similar scenario in the secular world, it would be nice if everyone could grow up to be the President of the United States. But that isn't going to happen. And the fact that there are millions of people who don't become the President doesn't take away from their intrinsic self-worth. Likewise, someone becoming a zoologist, a computer programmer, a doctor, a lawyer, a plumber, etc., doesn't take away from their intrisic self-worth as a Jew. Certainly one is required to learn when he can - no one is disputing that - but the idea that people are "failures" or "disappointments" because they don't want to (or don't have the temperment to) be engaged in Torah learning 24/7 is downright fallacious.

The Torah recognizes that a society has to have people of all occupations to survive. It's too bad that there are segments within our population that can't see this obvious fact.

The Wolf

Thursday, September 29, 2005

On Children's Aspirations

My oldest son (S1) is an animal nut. Ever since he was a pup, he's always loved animals. To him, a trip to the zoo is a great day. His favorite computer game is Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon. He reads animal books whenever possible. For a long time, he wanted to be a farmer when he grew up. When he found out that most forms of farming are more about the agriculture than the animals, however, he switched his goal to becoming a zoologist.

Naturally, you'd expect a kid like this to want a pet. And naturally, as good parents who want to encourage him to chase his dreams, we were open to the idea of pets. (As a side note, I had two dogs in the house growing up, so I certainly was no stranger to the concept of animals in the house). However, for a long time we were renting and has leases that did not allow pets. In addition, certain relatives of ours are highly allergic to cats and dogs; and since we value thier company in our house, such large animals were ruled out, even when we got a place of our own.

Even before we had kids, my wife and I had hamsters in the house. By the time the kids came around, however, we had stopped having them (the ones we had died and we simply did not get any new ones). So, naturally, when S1 decided he wanted a pet, we went with the animal that we had experience with, that wouldn't cause allergy problems, and wouldn't get us evicted from our apartment - hamsters.

Hamsters, being small rodents, have a lifespan of only two to three years. My son, because of his love for animals, tends to become attached to them. He's already lost a few hamsters over the years (we usally have more than one at a time), but each time he loses one, it hurts. Sadly, we lost a long-time hamster (over three years) this week and it left my son upset and crying.

As it turns out, my wife (W) had to go to the boys yeshiva to speak to the Menahel about a matter concerning my son (unrelated to the hamster). While she was there, she also mentioned the fact that his hamster had died and that he may be "out of sorts" for a day or so.

Now, this Menahel is a very fine gentleman, one for whom I have respect. In all the years that our kids have been in the yeshiva, he has always shown to have our children's best interests at heart. While other officials in the yeshiva are seemingly ready to knock the kids down (figuratively) whenever possible, he always looks to build them up. Of course, he is very Chareidi and has one view of the world, as was again illustrated to us this day.

So, W told the Menahel about the hamster and S1's attachment to it. She explained to him that he *really* loves animals and that he has aspirations to be a zoologist one day.

He looked at her and said "We had hopes that he'd aspire to be a Rosh Yeshiva."

Now, of course, aspiring to be a Rosh Yeshiva is certainly a good thing - for those who aspire for it. While one's life should be filled with Torah and Mitzvos regardless of the occupation that one goes into, there is certainly nothing wrong with aspiring to be something other than a Rosh Yeshiva. After all, we can't ALL be Rosh Yeshivas. There certainly isn't anything wrong with recognizing the fact that one wants to spend one's life in the pursuit of other goals. The Torah certainly recognizes it, of course - that why it gave us laws for farmers, buisnesspeople, hunters and the like. If everyone was meant to be a Rosh Yeshiva, we wouldn't need laws telling us to give Terumah and Ma'aser from agriculture - since there wouldn't be any Jewish farmers anyway. There wouldn't be any laws concerning false weights and measures - because there wouldn't be any Jewish grocers - they'd all be learning in Yeshiva. The fact that the Torah gives us laws regulating our daily lives in business shows that it is acceptable to persue those occupations.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with a classmate when I was in high school. As a high schooler (and to this day) I've always had an affinity for computers. Sure enough, I ended up making my living working with them. Anyway, I had invited a classmate of mine to come to my house to play computer games. He came and we played, and it became a semi-regular thing for him to be at my house playing computer games with me during lunchtime or on Sunday afternoons. However, there was one time when I invited him over that he expressed some hesitency. When I asked him what the problem was, he told me that he was concerned because he was sure that his father wanted him to be a talmid chochom and not a computer programmer when he grew up.* Even at that time, I knew the two didn't have to be mutually exclusive, but nonetheless that seems to be the prevailing theory even to this day. I often wonder: if any of my high school classmates could see me today, would they think that I was a failure because I don't spend all day learning? And, if so, have they ever given any serious thought to what the world would be like if we all were Roshei Yeshiva and no one engaged in any other occupation?

The Wolf

* Of course, we all know that one does not become a computer programmer from playing computer games. But even then, I had a feeling that I would end up on the path I took.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On Yeshiva Parents and 529s

A 529 (for those not in the know) is a savings plan, designed to help people save money for future college expenses. There are certain tax-benefits involved with 529s that make them very attractive.

Of course, most people send their children to public school, and so might have money to set aside for 529s. Most Yeshiva parents (who want to send their kids to college), on the other hand, probably do not put money into 529s - largely because the cost of the Yeshiva itself is very large and does not leave much money left over for college savings. (Of course, folks like Heshy [who believe that there shouldn't be any Jewish doctors, dentists, lawyers, etc.] have no need of a 529).

I'm not really looking to start a rant on Yeshiva costs here - we all know that Yeshivos do have expenses to meet. What I'm really looking for is advice and ideas. For those of you who do manage to squeeze a couple of extra dollars into the 529s every month, how do you do it. I know, of course, that a automatic withdrawl solution might be best, but, truth be told, things are tight enough as it is now.

Of course, I'm funding the 401(k) that I have. I'm following the old adage "there are programs to help finance your kid's education, but there are no programs to finance your retirement," meaning that the 401(k) comes before the 529. So, for the moment, the kids' college accounts are empty.

So, for those of you who are putting away extra money in a 529 (or similar) plan, please share your success stories. How did you do it while still paying Yeshiva tution for a kid (or multiple kids)? What sacrifices did you make to do it? Are you happy with your investment so far? Do you think you'll meet your investment goals? And are you paying full Yeshiva tuition? :)

The Wolf

Friday, September 23, 2005

On Convictions and Conversions

There are two places on my daily trip home from work every day where I encounter Christian missionaries. One is at the start of the trip, when I enter the subway. There is usually a woman there with a microphone going on about how if one accepts Jesus, all will be well with you in the afterlife.

When I get off the train, I catch a bus. At the corner where I catch the bus, there is usually another person there missionizing. He does it a bit differently. He simply stands there with a bicycle and a sign and waits for people to approach him. I've eavesdropped on some of his conversations and he seems like a fairly intelligent person. I've never actually spoken to him directly.

This story is not about either of those people. :) (Hat tip: Douglas Adams - go to page 2).

This is about someone who approached me while I was listening in on a conversation the bicycle evangelist was having with someone else.

I was approached by a balding gentleman, about 40 years old, short, with a short red beard. He was wearing what looked like maroon hospital scrubs. He came to me and asked me if I believed in Jesus. I decided to entertain him and answered that I did not.

"Why don't you believe in Jesus?" he asked me.

"Why should I?" was my response. He responded with a verse from the Christian Bible.

"You do realize," I informed my disputant, "that quoting from the New Testament to convince me isn't going to do you any good, since I don't hold of the authority of the New Testament to begin with."

"But he died on the cross for you," was the next line of argument. Rather than get bogged down in the historical accuracy of the statement, I decided to try a different tack.

"So?" I said. "What does that mean?"


"You said that Jesus died on the cross. What does that mean? How did he die for me? Lots of people died on crosses. What makes his death any more special to me than any other?"

"Pray with me..." was the next tack.

Now, I knew the answers to the questions that I asked. I'm actually fairly well versed (for an outsider) in Christian theology. I know the significance (in Christian thought) of the crucifixion, the resurrection, Original Sin, etc. But I find it interesting that my disputant, who was trying to convince me to become a Christian, could not even tell me the very basics of *why* he was a Christian.

"Don't you want to be saved?" he asked me.

"What do I need saving from?"

"From Hell."

"Why do you think I'm going to Hell?" I asked him. "I'm not a wicked person."

"Because you don't believe in Jesus."

"But why would I be going to Hell because I don't believe in Jesus?"

"Because Jesus said so."

"But since I don't hold of the authority of the New Testament, that basically boils back to "because I said so." I replied. "That's not enough. If you want me to believe, you have to give me a reason."

"I believe it," he said. "Isn't that good enough for you?"

"Of course not," I replied with a smile. "I believe Jesus wasn't the messiah. Isn't that good enough for you?"

In the end, he left me alone, he simply could not convince me. No surprise there... I don't think he really had any idea why he was a Christian himself.

Of course, that got me to wondering how many frum Jews know why they are frum Jews. I'm sure that, as a whole, frum Jews are far better educated about their religion than most Christians (especially those who didn't go to a parochial school or religious seminary). And I'm fairly certain that most frum Jews *inwardly* know why they are frum Jews. But how many can express that in words; in clear coherent sentences. I'm not looking for people to bring proofs to the authenticity of Judaism (a la the Kuzari)... just simple statements that explain why they believe what they do.

The kiruv movement has brought this more into the spotlight in recent years. After all, as my disputant showed, you can't convince someone else of something unless you can articulate what it is you're trying to sell. And I don't think that you have to trot out false "proofs" to convince people of the wonderfulness of Judaism. All you have to do is be able to articulate what it is you find special about Judaism; the wonderfulness of the holidays, the meanings behind some of the rituals we observe; the bond that forms in our communities (barring the rotten apples, of course :) ), etc. *That's* the point that needs to be emphasized when speaking to people about Judaism.

The Wolf

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

On Closemindedness and Cluelessness

My wife is a class mother in all of our children's classes. She finds that it's a wonderful way to get to know our kids' classmates and parents better, as well as a way to have a better insight into the workings of the schools that our kids attend.

One thing that always frustrated my wife was that in my son's school, they never give out a class list to the parents. My wife gets the list because she is the class mother, but if not for that, she wouldn't get one.

She was speaking to the head of the PTA at our sons' school last night to confirm that she wanted to be the class mother again. While she had her on the phone, they got to talking about class lists and the fact that the school doesn't distribute them. While the PTA head didn't know why our school doesn't distribute it, she gave us an insight into antother school's reasons for not distributing class lists. The reason this other school didn't do it was because at one time they did, but some parents became upset. Not over privacy issues, mind you, but over the fact that they felt that distributing the lists would cause certain kids to want to be friends with other kids, and they didn't want their kids to be unduly influenced by these other (presumably less worthy) kids.

Aside from the fact that such thinking is utterly provincial and backwards, it's also one of the stupidest things that I've heard on the face of the earth. You're sending your kid to a school where the kids spend eight to eleven hours together per day, six days a week (maybe Sunday is only half a day) and you're worried that an hour spent together out of school is going to cause your kid to be unduly influenced by this other kid? If you're that concerned, don't send your kid to school with other kids that you don't approve of!

The Wolf

Friday, September 09, 2005

On Being Bored with Gemara

My oldest son (S1) is currently starting his third year of learning Gemara in yeshiva. The first year (as is traditional, I suppose) was spent learning Eilu Metziyos. Last year, he did a perek in Bava Kamma. He went back to school this week, only to find out that he's going to be learning another perek in Bava Kamma this year.

I haven't had a chance to talk with S1 about this, but I've been informed by my wife that he is bored with Gemara. It just doesn't hold much interest for him.

Now, I know he doesn't really have a problem with learning in general. He will easily learn Nach or Chumash on his own and is currently learning Mishnayos with me (Moed) for his Bar Mitzvah without complaint (sometimes he even comes and asks me to learn it with him).

I'm wondering if maybe he's just bored with the topic of civil law. I know, personally, that of all the areas of halacha, that is the last one I'd voluntarily approach. Knowing who is liable when someone's ox gores another ox is not terribly interesting to me. (Yes, I understand that it's not just limited to oxen per se; but the whole idea of civil law just never interested me, even at the secular level).

During my first four years of learning Gemara in yeshiva (way back in the day), we covered Eilu Metziyos first, but then went on to learn Makkos, Kiddushin and Gittin (in that order). I must admit that I was certainly exposed to a wider variety of study than my son is currently being exposed to. If I had to learn Nezikin (and when I say Nezikin, I mean Bava Kamma, Bava Metziya and Bava Basra -- not Sanhedrin, Makkos, etc.) for the first three or four years straight, I probably never would have picked up a Gemara again in my life.

I could always bring this up with the yeshiva, but they're not going to change their curriculum once the year has started. I suppose I could always try to learn something else on the side with my son, but he's got quite enough on his plate for the coming year - I don't really think that he can handle an additional Gemara seder on top of everything else he has.

I'm going to speak with S1 over Shabbos and see if this is really the case or if there is some other problem here.

However, I'm kind of curious... is this now the norm? As I mentioned, when I was younger I covered a broader set of topics in my first years exposed to Gemara. I know that yeshivas often gravitate toward the more "yeshivish" tractates and don't learn others at all (except maybe in a b'kius setting). Is this still the case? Do yeshivos still tend to focus on Nezikin moreso than other topics, or is this just a fluke on the part of my sons' school?

The Wolf

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On Yeshivos and Personal Lives

"Any parent planning on making a Bar Mitzvah Simcha must speak to me first before any plans are made."

"Any boy caught going to a movie theathre will be expelled from the Yeshiva."

These are just some of the tidbits that came along with the rules and regulations for my sons' Yeshiva. I suppose I shouldn't complain... I haven't been forced to sign a contract that states that I don't have a TV or that my wife and I keep separate beds or that we only use Chassideshe schita meats.

I find it amazing how much of our personal lives we cede when we send our kids to Yeshiva. I'm not talking about things like dress codes. I'm talking about clauses that regulate how *parents* behave in their homes, such as requiring that parents not even own a television or go to the movies (regardless of whether or not the kids are involved). Of course, one can simply lie to the yeshiva, but that really sidesteps the issue - that a yeshiva feels that they can make this sort of demand on parents in the first place.

Of course, I realize that a yeshiva is a private institution and, as a private institution, from a legal standpoint, can make any rule it wishes. If they wanted to, they could mandate that my wife and I go around in bumblebee costumes all the time and, if we want our kids to attend, we have to comply or leave the yeshiva.

I'm curious as to why we allow our kids' yeshivos to assume this kind of authority over our lives. My guess would be that it is due to the lack of competition among yeshivos. While it is true that there are umpteen yeshivos in Brooklyn, the reality is that, for any individual household, there are probably only two or three that they would really consider sending their kids to. The rest are just about as foreign (and possibly even more so) than a public school would be. For example, I would never send my kids to a Satmar yeshiva, nor would I send them to a co-ed school like Yeshiva of Flatbush. My gut feeling is that most families also have their "type" where they will send their kids and would not consider any other except in the most unusual of circumstances.

I'm wondering if this can also help explain the tuition situation. The fact is that schools know that there are only so many other places where you'll send your kid, and so they don't see a real need to "compete" against each other for kids.

I've long been curious about the requirement in my kids' school to see the Menahel before Bar Mitzvah plans are drawn up. What are they going to require? Are *they* going to decide whether or not my son lains his Bar Mitzvah parsha? (As an aside, I've been teaching Bar Mitzvah bachurim to lain for fifteen years. I have a *very* good idea which kids are capable of laining a parsha and which are better suited spending their time learning a Mesechta or Seder of Mishnayos for their Bar Mitzvah.) I think that this is a decision that should be made by the parents, the Bar Mitzvah boy and his teachers. In fact, I can't think of one decision that should be made by the yeshiva. So, what do they need to meet with parents for? Has anyone been through this before?

The Wolf

Sunday, September 04, 2005

On Disabling Bloglet

To those of you who have subscribed to my blog through Bloglet, I regret to inform you that I will be discontinuing this subscription. I found that Bloglet was sending out posts that I had only saved as drafts and not as final versions. Until Bloglet can fix this, I will have to disable this feature.

My apologies.

The Wolf

On Blog Abandonment

No, I haven't abandoned mine. I've just been very busy of late. I will try to post more regularly.

The Wolf

Sunday, August 21, 2005

On Rock Erosion

Mrs. Wolf and I recently took a trip to Niagara Falls. We had a truly wonderful trip. We had a wonderful view of the Falls from our hotel room, where I took the picture at right of the Horseshoe Falls early in the morning.

One of the things that we learned about the Falls while we were there is that the Falls are receding every year due to rock erosion. All the water going over the falls causes the rock underneath it to erode a few inches each year. Previously, it used to erode up to ten feet a year, but that was slowed when a large percentage of the water that goes over the falls was diverted to electrical plants further up the Niagara River. But 2000 years ago, the falls used to be located all the way up beyond where the Rainbow Bridge currently is.

Of course, the concept of erosion is nothing new. I don't know about other cultures, but Jews have certainly known about it for at least 2000 years. Evidence for this comes from the story of Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Akiva was an unlearned man in his forties living in Israel. The son of a convert, he never spent much time studying and was totally lacking in learning. As the story goes, one day he observed a hole in a rock formation, caused by flowing (or dripping) water. He reasoned that if the water, which is soft, could penetrate the hard rock, then surely Torah could penetrate his soul if he worked at it hard enough. The rest, of course, is history. Rabbi Akiva went on to become one of the greatest Tana'im in the Mishna and one of the most recognizable names in Jewish history.

Of course, we see evidence of rock erosion all around us. The best example that comes to mind, of course, is that of the Grand Canyon, which was caused by the Colorado River over the course of many years. One can very easily see the layers of the canyon formed by the river over the course of the millenia. There is really no other way (other than "it was created that way") to explain the formation of the Grand Canyon. A worldwide flood certainly would not have caused the canyon to form the way it did. Even Paul Bunyan's plow couldn't have caused the layering that appears in the rock formations. But, of course, expect more Jews to believe in the Paul Bunyan story than to believe that it took the millions of years required to form the Grand Canyon.

I find it odd how people can have evidence of certain facts literally right in front of their faces, but fail to see it. Rock erosion is certainly not some "theory" that scientists cook up... it can be observed right in front of us at the Niagara Falls and at other places around the world. Even the Gemara attests to it with the Rabbi Akiva story. And yet, when you point to the Grand Canyon, you get "water could never do that" from the Young Earth Creationist crowd. Sometimes it's just very frustrating...

The Wolf

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Where Are The Kinnos For The Ten Tribes?

I find it very interesting that there are no Kinnos for the Exile and Disappearence of the Ten Tribes. There are plenty for the loss of the Temples, for the massacres that took place during the seiges of Jerusalem, for the loss of Torah scholars and even for the communities of Europe that occured during the Crusades and the men, women and children who were martyred in them. All of these horrible events deserve kinnos.

But there is barely any mention of the fact that before the First Temple was destroyed, over 85% of the Jewish nation was taken away in chains. Surely there were massacres during the seige of Shomron (Samaria). Surely many of them died on the way to exile. And, the fact remains, that they are missing from Judaism to this very day. The Great Mosaic of Israel has been reduced to shreds, with only two sections of the original twelve still extant. Whether one wants to hold to the legendary "they're living beyond the Sambatyon" answer or the more mundane "they intermarried and are gone" answer, the fact remains that they are no longer here. Imagine how much fuller Judaism would be today with the influence of the other ten tribes for the last 2500 years.

It is true that there are some passing references to the Ten Tribes in Kinnos, but not many. The most explicit would be the Kinnah "Shomron" which is recited at Tisha B'Av night. However, even this mention of the TT is only made in conjunction to what happened in Judah/Benjamin.

So, why is this? Why are there no Kinnos for the vast majority of Jews that disappeared from the pages of history?

Is it possible that it is because of the rivalry that existed between Judah and Israel? I don't think so. It's been thousands of years since this rivalry existed. Surely in that time, someone could have come up with a Kinnah.

Is it simply because they are gone from the pages of history but we (the remenants from the kingdom of Judah) are still here? I'm not so certain about that either. After all, the kinnos themselves are all about things that we no longer have - the Temple, the Service, the Torah scholars and communities that have been wiped out?

I suppose one could say that it is simply because they have been reduced to a few sentences in II Kings which describes their exile. Unlike the periods of the destruction of both Temples, there are no extensive records from the Jewish point of view of the destruction of Samaria and the exile of the people -- and as such, there was little "source material" to work with.

But, I would still think that someone, in the last two thousand years, would have come up with something...

The Wolf

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Knish Hits It On The Head...

Chareidi Group Seeks Ban of Internet Creation from Yeshiva Textbooks

Great quotes:

The move to ban study of creation of the Internet came up in a series of contentious yeshiva board hearings this week as the group loudly complained that the State’s current textbooks are rife with references to the controversial creation, which they say may or may not exist.

“These textbooks state unequivocally that the Internet was invented, as if that were a proven historic fact,” said Midvar Sheker, the group’s leader and spokesman. “The simple truth is, the Internet is and has always been nothing but a theory.”

The Wolf

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

On The Law and Lawlessness

The Yeshiva Bachur reports on a meeting that took place last night in Boro Park. The topic of the meeting was that Orthodox Jews should obey the law. The general idea (from his report) was that Jews shouldn't cheat on taxes, insurance, mortgates, etc. They shouldn't think that they will get away with crimes. The Chaplain of the Federal Bureau of Prisons explained to them that life in prison isn't easy for the prisoners or their families. Other speakers mentioned how the acts of some bad "frum" Jews reflect upon all of us.

I find it very sad that such a meeting is even necessary. After all, aren't we the people who are supposed to be a "Light Unto the Nations?" Aren't we supposed to be setting the example to everyone else how to live? Aren't we the people who live by the Law? And while it's certainly true that the Law we primarily live by is Torah law and not United States law or New York State law, nonetheless, the Torah requires us to follow those laws as well, under the dictum of dina d'malchusa dina. Even without DDmD, many of the crimes covered are forbidden under the simple prohibition of stealing (where stealing from non-Jews is just as forbidden as stealing from Jews)!

I suppose that maybe a wake-up call to the frum community is necessary. We all know that this sort of "shtick" goes on. I suppose it shows that the frum community, just like any other community of people in the world, has it's share of theives, crooks and con men. We're no better or worse than others in the world... which is a darn shame, since we have a code that is meant to show us a better way to live as an example to others. It's a shame we don't always live up to our mission.

The Wolf

Monday, August 08, 2005

On Public Displays of Affection

No, don't worry. This blog isn't turning into BasTorah or Chossid.

My wife and I met when we were very young. We fell in love in the traditional sense of the term. Thankfully, to this very day, we're still *very* much in love. While we certainly don't "carry on" in public, we do commit public displays of affection. When able, we hold hands in public. We may even kiss in public (nothing more than a nice chaste kiss on the lips -- no necking in public). People who know us call us "newlyweds" even though we are most certainly not newlyweds in the literal meaning of the term. One of my mothers (long story-- don't ask) often tells us that she finds it hard to believe that my wife and I are married as long as we are - because we act like newlyweds all the time.

In short, I'm very much in love with my wife, and, I have no problem with anyone and everyone knowing it. Of course, I understand that there is a concept called "good taste" and we certainly aren't looking to transgress that. We don't stand in the middle of the street engaging in long, passionate kisses. We don't grope each other in public. It's really nothing more than simple, plain, innocent PDAs.

Of course, I understand the concept of "different strokes for different folks." My brother-in-law and sister are not like us at all. They don't believe in PDAs. I will almost never see them hold hands, and certainly never kiss - not even a chaste kiss on the cheek. But that's fine. I know that they love each other dearly (I can see it in other ways because I know the two of them so well) and they are simply not as outgoing and open about their affections for each other as my wife and I are. So be it - whatever works for them. As long as they're happy, I'm happy for them.

There are those, however, who would condemn my wife and I for our actions. I've read seforim which state that PDAs between a married couple are a Very Bad ThingTM. I've heard people speak against displaying any affection for your wife/husband anywhere outside the bedroom. I know people who won't even kiss or touch their spouse in front of their children - and state that others should (must?) do the same.

To me that's just plain silly, on several counts:

Firstly, my wife is the person I fell in love with and married. I didn't marry her just to get at her in the bedroom - I married her to be with her as much as I can throughout life. And, because of the depths of our feelings for each other, we feel that our displays of affection for each other must be made even outside of our bedroom. The amount of time we spend in the bedroom (awake) is a miniscule portion of a person's day. I don't want to treat my wife like a roommate during the time we're not in the bedroom - I want to treat her like my wife. That's why I married her! I want her to know that I love her and care for her always - not just when we're in the bedroom.

Secondly, I want my children to know that it's OK to express in non-verbal terms that you love your spouse. I believe that children learn more from their parent's by watching their behavior more than in any other manner. You can speak to your kids about a topic until you're blue in the face, but if you really want to make an impact on their behavior, you've got to "walk the walk." If you want them to see that a particular behavior is important to you - you've got to practice it yourself. As such, I want my children to know that (a) their parents love each other dearly and (b) it's OK for them to express it with each other. I want my kids to know that a married couple holding hands is not a "dirty act." I want them to see that spouses kissing each other is a healthy part of a relationship. Many kids I know are "disgusted" (and will often give the obligitory "ewwwww") by the thought of their parents kissing each other. Ours aren't - they simply view it as a natural part of our marriage.

Thirdly, I think that the way a couple expresses their affection for each other is simply their business alone. Of course, as I stated earlier, one must adhere to good taste - no one wants to see anyone groping their wife in public. But if I want to hold her hand, that's simply our way of expressing our affection for each other. It's not a violation of good taste and certainly not something that needs to be shunned.

My wife and I are very happy in our marriage and hope to be to many years more. Of course, it's not easy. We work hard at it. It makes me feel good to know that people look to us as an example of a "good marriage" and a couple who is "still in love after all those years." I suppose part of the reason is because we engage in PDAs. But if we can, through our example, inspire others to show affection on their spouses, I'm all for it.

The Wolf