Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On 800 Pound Gorillas Sitting In The Corner...

I recently received a letter from a reader about my post on miracles. The reader went on to state (capitilization his):

"NO ONE serious in even the LW Chareidi world takes the mabul literally. NO ONE. Honestly, I assure you. I know well known Rabbis who have told me personally that its not literal. They don't preach itto the masses because they don't want to get into trouble."

(-- N.B. The author mentions later on that what he means here is not that LW Chareidi world doesn't hold of the factuality of a flood, rather that they doubt the factuality of a world-wide flood )

The above statement, to me, shows how backwards we have become. Assuming that the first statement of the quote is true (or reasonably close to true) then why have we become so afraid to speak our minds? What is the fear of harsh words from the "right wing?" In short, the issue of absolute literalism, according to the above quote, has become our 800 lb. gorilla sitting in the corner - no one wants to talk about him, but we all know that he's there.

I suppose that there are several questions that need to be asked here:

1. Is the initial statement of my corrospondent correct (or reasonably close - in other words, does, say, 75% of the LW Chareidi world accept that the mabul story as written in Noah did not occur literally as written) ?

2. If the above statement is reasonably true, then why is everyone so afraid? Are we afraid of becoming the next Nosson Slifkin? Are we afraid of being branded heretics? Does the "right wing" of the Chareidi world really hold that much power over everyone else?

3. Even if my last question in #2 above is answered in the affirmative, we then have another question: is keeping silent about one's beliefs justifiable in the name of societal convenience? We're not talking about Conversos here, where keeping your mouth shut about your beliefs meant staying alive - we're talking about simple societal convenience. If there are truly enough of "us," then wouldn't it be proper to establish our own institutions - yeshivos, shuls, etc. if the "right wing" won't have us because we refuse to ignore evidence placed in front of our eyes?

(And, yes, I do include myself in the above. As I stated in other posts, I have always been a big believer in being "out there" and not hiding under the cover of anonymity. I regularly post on one of the larger message boards on the internet - and I do so with my real name, unlike the majority of the posters on the board. The people on those boards know a great deal about my personal life. I really don't like "hiding" behind this wolfish mask. Yet, when I broached the subject a while ago, the unanimous concensus of people who both replied to my post and contacted me privately indicated that I should remain anonymous, since they feared that if I were to go public, I would "lose my voice.")

4. Of course, the last question that I suppose one must ask is this: Even if we accept that the mabul story cannot be understood literally and can be viewed as either allegory or partially accurate (i.e. in describing a local flood, rather than a worldwide flood), then one must ask where the line is to be drawn? Can one say that the Avos were allegorical? Moshe? Mattan Torah? The wanderings in the wilderness? At what point must one stop and say: this is true because the Torah says it is - and it cannot be understood any other way? At what point do we turn to the person with the alternate interpretation and say "you, sir, are out of bounds - come back to the fold?" And when we draw the line for them, how do we justify where that line lays?

The Wolf

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Rabbi Wieder's Shiur

Last night, Rabbi Jeremy Wieder gave a lecture in Manhattan on the topic of:

How Old Do We Believe the World is ?
Non-Literal Interpretation of Scripture, the Story of Creation and the Controversy over the Works of Nosson Slifkin

Having never before met or heard Rabbi Wieder, I must say that I was impressed and enjoyed the lecture immensely.

The focus of the lecture was really more on the Non-Literal interpretation of scripture, rather than the age of the universe. He brought several sources from the Rishonim (most notably the Rambam, Ramban, Sa'adiah Goan and the Rashba) showing how it is permissible (in most cases - there are exceptions) to interpret Tanach in a non-literal sense and even in ways that negate the actual literal meaning of the scripture.

He summed it up very well at the end last night when he noted that according to the Rishonim above, if something one observes (through scientific observation, for example) is found to conflict with the Torah, then the Torah must "give way" to being reinterpreted (provided it does not conflict with one of our ikarai emunah). And, he noted, with regard to the controversy of Rabbi Slifkin, that the banners seem to hold the opposite position - that if one's senses and observations contradict something in the Torah, one must "throw out the evidence" (so to speak) and make the science fit the Torah.

As I said earlier, I enjoyed it immensely and was glad to have the chance to meet and talk with Rabbi Wieder afterwards.

The Wolf

Confidential to the gentleman who showed me that I was on the wrong subway platform -- thank you. :)

The Wolf

Monday, May 23, 2005

Of All God's Miracles Large and Small

... the most miraculous one of all/
is the one I thought could never be/
God has given a brain to me...

I was thinking about miracles as reported in the Tanach and the Midrash. It's certainly easy to brush off a miracle as an impossibility - after all, doing things that are outside the normal operating procedures of nature seems to be the very definition of a miracle. So, while one may say "the sea splitting? How could you believe such nonsense?!," others simply view it as a miracle that happened - God caused the sea to split to let the Jews escape from the Egyptians.

There are numerous miracles mentioned in Tanach - the sea splitting, the flood, the manna falling from the heaven, the sun stopping for Joshua, Elisha's raising of the dead. That is by no means a complete list. There are plenty of miracles that are mentioned outright in Tanach. Let's call those "primary miracles."

In order to support those primary miracles, however, one must also accept the premise of "secondary miracles" - miracles not mentioned directly in Tanach, but which have become associated with the prime miracle, and, in some cases, must be accepted if the prime miracle is to make sense at all.

The Mabul (flood) is a primary miracle that seems to be rife with secondary miracles. Problems with spatial dimensions, logistical problems concerning feeding, waste disposal and disease, gathering up all the animals (and then returning them to their proper habitats afterwards!), are all matters that one must ascribe to "secondary miracles" if one is to believe the primary miracle.

In some cases, believing in the secondary miracle makes some sense - for example the miracle of the manna falling. The Midrash teaches several miraculous qualities that the manna possessed (it's taste could be altered, it did not possess waste material, etc.). Personally, I'm inclined to accept these since as long as we're positing God miraculously bringing food to millions of people daily (talk about a delivery service!) then it's not too much more of a stretch to say that the food itself was miraculous.

Other secondary miracles, however, strain the credulaty of the story. I suppose the Mabul (Noah's flood) is one of the main stories that feature these types of "secondary miracles." The water itself, I suppose would be the primary miracle - there simply isn't that much water in the world - so God created it to destroy the world. Fine, there's the primary miracle.

The secondary miracles, however, abound like rabbits. Spatial problems, logistical miracles concerning feeding, ventilation, waste disposal and disease, the problem of gathering animals from far away locations (and returning them there once the flood was over!), and many others are "secondary miracles" that are attributed to the flood.

Some of these secondary miracles make sense to the average reader - after all without them the story could not happen. So, how did Noah get all those animals in the ark to fit? It was a miracle. How did the carnivores survive for a year on vegetable matter? It was a miracle. How did disease not spread with the bottom level of the ark containing waste for an entire year? It was a miracle. How did animals from specialized environments survive out of their environment for an entire year? It was a miracle. You get the picture. In order to accept the flood story at face value, you have to accept many, many other miracles along with the main story.

Some of these "secondary miracles" however, don't make any sense. How did the animals from the Americas and Australia get to the ark in the first place? I suppose they came on their own (miracle?), as the Torah seems to indicate. But the Torah gives no indication of how they got back to where they came from. How did the llamas get back to South America? How did the kangaroos get back to Austrailia? Did the penguins fly back to Antarctica? What about the dodo - how did it get back to Mauritius? The Torah makes no mention of this, and, oddly, neither does the Midrash (to the best of my knowledge - if someone knows differently, please feel free to let me know). The way the story seems to read is that Noah simply opened the doors of the ark and let everything out to migrate back to it's proper location. (We'll leave off how they would survive in their proper location if it was devestated by the flood - that's another question for another time). And I'm still not aware of any reason why God would erase geological evidence of a world wide flood.

Another example of incredible "secondary miracles" surrounds Og, king of Bashan. Here is a creature which the Torah describes as a giant. OK, well, giant means different things to different people. The Midrash takes this to an extraordinary degree. The Midrash pegs Og's height at thirty amos (cubits) tall - at the ankle!

Well, surely the existence of such a creature is surely a miracle. No creature on earth is that tall or massive. Not even the blue whale, the largest animal creature to ever exist on earth can compare to that. But what about all the secondary miracles needed to explain Og?

Such a creature, under normal circumstances, should not have been able to move. It should have collapsed under it's own weight - even taking into account the added muscle that it surely must have had (remember, while area doubles by the square, volume doubles by the cube - Og would have much more weight bearing down on each square inch of his feet than you or I would).

In addition, one has to account for the fact that a creature of that size would need to consume a great deal of food to survive - possibly more than the region could produce and sustain the nation living upon it. Could the area have supported such a creature? And if so, was it a miracle?

Of course, one of the most vexing issues that I have with Og's reported height is the complete lack of him in any extra-Biblical or extra-Midrashic text. A creature that size would have been a legend for hundreds of miles around. In addition, assuming that Og was able to move (the Midrash reports him as being able to lift a mountain over his head!) I'm surprised that Bashan wasn't the superpower of the region. After all, what ancient nation, possessing a weapon as formidable as Og would not conquer it's surrounding nations? So, then, how do you explain the absence of Og from any extra-Biblical or extra-Midrashic literature? I suppose one could attribute it to a miracle, but then one must also ask "why?" What purpose would there be in God deleting Og from all places except Torah literature? It just doesn't make sense.

Assuming, of course, that one accepts "primary miracles" as having happened (more or less) as reported, how does one treat the secondary miracles? Certainly some of them are believeable and perfectly within the "scope" of the story. But some of them are just way out there and I find them very difficult, if not impossible, to believe.

The Wolf

Sunday, May 22, 2005

And AddeRabbi Follows Him Out The Door...

AddeRabbi has also decided to end his blog. I enjoyed reading his blog too, and that too, shall be missed.

The Wolf

And the Godol Has Left The Building...

I'm sorry to see that GodolHador has decided to quit blogging. It seems a shame - his posts have always been thoughtful and with a twist of humor. He's going to be missed and I hope he turns up to comment on different blogs from time to time.

First Misnagid, now GH... why can't we seem to keep good bloggers around?

The Wolf

Friday, May 20, 2005

Rabbi Slifkin Responds To A Critique

Rav Ya'akov Segal apparently wrote a critique on The Camel, The Hare & The Hyrax and sent it to Rabbi Slifkin. Rabbi Slifkin has responded to the critique.

I'm still in the middle of it, and, since I'm not a native Hebrew speaker, I'd be lying if I said I fully understood everything Rav Segal is saying, but so far it's interesting reading.

The Wolf

On Yovel (Jubilee Years)

This week's Torah reading contains a description of Yovel. In short, there are three main halachic consequences of Yovel approaching. They are:

1. Not working agriculturally (as in a Shvi'is year)
2. Freeing "slaves"
3. Returning property to it's ancestral claimants.

I was thinking about how (or if) they were observed in ancient Israel. I'm not really going to focus on the first one - it's primarily Bein Adam LaMakom: If they grew crops during Yovel, then they did - and if they didn't, then obviously God provided for them because they survived.

The second of these, freeing "slaves" requires a bit more discussion. I put "slaves" in quotation marks because the slavery that we're dealing with here is not the type of slavery that we, in the 20th and 21st centuries, have come to recognize as slavery - i.e. chattel slavery. While there was chattel slavery in ancient Israel (Cana'anite slaves were almost true slaves in the sense we understand it) they weren't affected or freed by Yovel and so are not part of this discussion. The "slaves" in question here are Avadim Ivrim (Jewish "slaves") who became slaves because they either sold themselves for a term of six years, were sold by the courts as payment for thievery for six years, or voluntarily chose to remain with their masters until Yovel. These people were not slaves in the American sense of the term - they had property rights, were not considered as chattel, etc.

I'm curious to know, of the 14 or 15 Yovlos that Israel lived in ancient Israel (from the time of the division of the land under Joshua until the exile of the Trans-Jordanian tribes) how often this release of "slaves" occured and under what conditions. I suppose that in the presence of a functioning court system, it would be fairly easy to enforce - there would be no doubt of the date of Yovel and when it passed.

The third of these consequences, the return of land to it's ancestral claimants is the most tricky to my mind.

In short, upon entering into Israel, Joshua divided the land among the tribes. Lots were given to each of the people who left Egypt. Of course, most of these people were no longer alive, having been killed during the forty years in the desert. However, their claims and lots were passed on to their children. And so the land was divided.

Of course, as time goes on, land changes hands - people buy property, sell property, put it up as collateral on a loan and then default - whatever. Under most circumstances (there are a few exceptions) when Yovel comes around, the land is to be returned to the person who originally owned it. If that person is no longer alive, then it's to be returned to his heirs.

I'm curious as to how (or if) this was implemented in ancient Israel. For starters, proving original ownership must be very difficult. Unlike today, where you can march down to City Hall and check up the land sale records for your house for the last 150 years, I doubt that there was a "city hall" that kept these records. I even doubt that the local court kept such records. More likely, a contract would be drawn up between the buyer and seller and they would each keep a copy for protection lest the other make a claim; but I doubt that they actually filed a copy in some central municipal repository.

So, figure that Re'uven buys land from Shimon shortly after Yovel. Re'uven lives on the land, raises his family there, perhaps even grows old and dies. To Re'uven's heirs, they've lived forever on the land and it's theirs. Shimon, of course, retains the right to come along after Yovel comes along and claim the land again - nothing fraudulent about it - it's clearly in the law and Re'uven was well aware of it at the time of purchase.

OK, now fast forward fifty years. Shimon has long since left this earth and possibly even left his family impovershed - the money they received from the sale long ago is long gone. Now, however, they realize that they have an opportunity to gain some new assets - after all, their father had always told them about their ancestral lands and how, after Yovel, they can reclaim them.

However, when it comes time to actually reclaim it, there are all sorts of problems - how do they prove that they are Shimon's heirs? They certainly aren't going to be doing any DNA testing? Does Shimon still have the bill of sale from 50 years ago (do YOU keep receipts that long?). Would neighbors/witnesses be able to corroborate the fact that the place was sold 50 years ago (do neighborhood memories go back that long)? It seems to me that short of a perfectly amiable handover of long-held property (and I don't know how often THAT happened), there are any number of obstacles that a family would face in trying to reclaim it's long-lost property. As such, I wonder how, or if, this policy was successfully implemented in ancient Israel.

The Wolf

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Just A Reminder...

Gadol Hador posted this first a while ago, but I'm here to give people who are interested a reminder.

Rabbi Jeremy Weider, a Rosh Yeshiva at REITS and instructor at YU will be giving a lecture on:

How Old Do We Believe the World is ?
Non-Literal Interpretation of Scripture, the Story of Creation and the Controversy over the Works of Nosson Slifkin

Time: One week from today - Wednesday May 25, 2005 at 8:00pm
Place: Edmond J. Safra Synagogue - 11 East 63 Street, New York City.

I fully intend, Im Yirtzah Hashem (God willing) to be there. Hope to see everyone else...

The Wolf

P.S. If you're looking for me, I'll be the one with the long snout covered with fur.

The Wolf

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On The Media

I just finished watching Grey's Anatomy on ABC. It's an entertaining show that I happen to enjoy watching.

Tonight's episode featured a 17-year-old Orthodox Jewish female patient (named Devo, but not short for Devorah) who needed a heart valve replacement. The first option for such procedures is a porcine valve. Of course, the young patient refuses (hey, it's pig!) and is willing to die rather than allow the operation to proceed. In the end, they find a bovine replacement (which entails a riskier surgery as the surgeon is not familiar with using a bovine valve) and she goes on her merry way.

However, had the producers even bothered to simply pick up the phone and call an Orthodox Rabbi (heck, even a Conservative or Reform Rabbi too) they would have found out that using a porcine valve (especially before the bovine valve option was known) was not only permitted but required. Sure, it would have made for boring television, but at least it would have been more accurate.

As a side note, I also noticed that when the girl asked that a rabbi be brought in to bless her (?) before the surgery, they brought in a female Rabbi (who in her abbreviated MiSheberach invoked the Avos and Imahos!). *sigh*

The Wolf

On Snootiness... the conclusion

For those of you who are new to this blog, see the earlier parts of this subject at On Snootiness, On Snootiness - Part II and I Guess We're On The Right Track (Snootiness continued) .

I just wanted to report that the new neighbors came over for a Shabbos meal, just as they were invited to. We all had a pleasant time and it seems that both we and our kids made new friends in the neighborhood. It will be interesting to see how this relationship progresses as time goes on.

The Wolf

Friday, May 13, 2005

On Divine Caring

There have been many times that I've been asked about my observance of the Mitzvos by people who are either not frum or not Jewish altogether. While I wouldn't say that I encourage questions, I never turn them away either - answering each with caring and thoughtfulness according to my ability.

Very often the questioners are respectful and truly seeking information to either satisfy come curiosity, learn something new or to better understand me and my community. However, there are also the occassional wise-alecks.

One question that I get from the latter type of person on occassion is "Do you really think that God really cares if you ?" The questioner assumes that an All-powerful God certainly has more important and lofty concerns than me (and by extension, the rest of humanity as individuals) and my little life. Why would a God who has the entire universe to observe care if you eat a bit of pork, or turn on the light on Shabbos?

One person expressed it thusly: "If I had the power to create lower life forms, such as bacteria, I wouldn't care what they actually did to each other." In other words, because he is so far above the bacteria and doesn't really care about it's behavior (assuming a bacteria would be capable of rational behavior, of course), so too, a God who is so far above us must not care about us.

The problem with the question, in my opinion, is that they are trying to "humanize" God by asking the question in the manner that they do. They sort of view God in the sense of "If I were God, would I care?" The flaw in their reasoning is that they wouldn't care what their bacteria do - but that's only because we, as humans, are so far above bacteria that we have no meaningful way to interact with them. We cannot "guide" them or tell them what to do because meaningful communication between man and bacteria is impossible. So, then envision God as the "human" in our analogy and us as the bacteria.

But, as the verse says in Isaiah: Ki Lo Machshevosai Macshevosaichem... (for My thoughts are not their thoughts). We can't envision God's thoughts as akin to ours. We may be incapable of dealing with our creations on an individual level, but God certainly can - because His ken is beyond ours. God can pay attention to massive superclusters of galaxies and to the smallest subatomic particles at the same time. God certainly can care about my individual life at the same time as He cares for every other living and non-living thing in the universe. God does care about my individual life - and as such, cares if I observe the Mitzvos as well.

The Wolf

On Never Ending Madness

First, there was Frumteens, the site we all know and "love." (define "love" as you will)

Then came the blog FrumteensWatch to comment on what happens at Frumteens.

Now, there's FrumteensWatchWatch, to watch the FrumteensWatch site.

Now, I've grabbed FrumteensWatchWatchWatch so that no one else can continue this madness.

The Wolf

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

On Questions and Answers

Someone was recently looking at my post titled On Kids and the Museum of Natural History and asked some questions. I felt it would be better to answer them in another post, rather than in the comments section of a post that is two months old.

My anonymous commentator asked:

Its been a while since I checked in on this blog...Doesn't the Torah state that there was a worldwide Mabul. One that covered everything...one that (l'havdil!)was Kevin Costner Waterworld like (despite the fact that Noach didn't get any awards for his role either)??How far is Ararat from Eretz Yisrael (pardon my obvious lack of geographical knowledge); and, if it wasn't worldwide, wouldn't some things have survived?? If areas weren't destroyed and other animals survived, what is the big deal over Noach saving the animals in the Ark and being "rewarded" with the permission to eat meat after the Mabul?

Now, I certainly don't claim to have all the answers. Heck, if I did, I'd be a famous Rav. But I can offer my own perspective on the questions asked.

The first question asked was:
Doesn't the Torah state that there was a worldwide Mabul. One that covered everything...one that (l'havdil!)was Kevin Costner Waterworld like

My response to that is:

When the Torah says "the entire earth," it does not necessarily have to refer to the entire planet. For example, while bringing the plagues on Egypt, HaShem says that He is bringing so that L'ma'an sapeir sh'mi b'chol ha'aretz (so that they should tell (of) My name in all the land). Do you think that the Native Americans that were here then were in any position to hear of the Makkos? Or the people in Japan or Polynesia? No, obviously not. When the Torah there says "b'chol ha'aretz" it's referring to the local nations, not the entire earth. Likewise, when the Torah says that the entire earth was covered, it need not necessarily mean literally the entire earth.

The next question asked was:
if it wasn't worldwide, wouldn't some things have survived??

And indeed things did survive. There are giant Sequoia redwoods today out in California that have lived for the last five thousand years. How would they have survived a world-wide mabul. Indeed, how would plant life in general (which wasn't taken into the Ark) have survived?

The next question asked was:
If areas weren't destroyed and other animals survived, what is the big deal over Noach saving the animals in the Ark and being "rewarded" with the permission to eat meat after the Mabul?

Firstly, while it says that Noach was given permission to eat meat after the Mabul, there is no explicit pasuk that says that Man did not eat meat beforehand. I believe it is recorded in the Midrash, however. But, in any event, even if we accept the Midrash at face value - Noach did save the animals that were indigenous to his region - and it was those that he was given permission to eat. One could argue that as long as man was eating meat, it no longer mattered whether he was going to eat those that were saved by Noach and those that weren't.

Of course, the assumption that every single animal in the world was on the Ark leads to a very serious question (setting aside space issues). The question is - how did the kangaroo get to Australia? How did the dodo get to Mauritius? Did the passenger pigeon fly all the way from Ararat to North America? What about the llamas of South America?

In short, there are many species of animal life on the planet that exist only in certain locations. If one is going to posit that the only living examples of these animals came off the Ark, then one has to ask how these animals got to the places where they now reside. How did the llamas get to South America? Did the flightless penguins walk all the way to Antarctica? How did the flightless Dodo get to Mauritius? Did the lemurs swim to Madagascar?

Of course, my answers are open to refutation - as they should be. But at least I'm willing to think critically about the answers.

The Wolf

I Guess We're On The Right Track (Snootiness continued)

On Shabbos, on my way home from shul, my son and I stopped over at the house of the new neighbors I had written about earlier. The Mrs. of the house greeted us at the door. After a pleasant "Good Shabbos," I extended an invitation to them for the following Shabbos. Since her husband was not home yet (my shul lets out very early) she did not accept on the spot. Since my wife passes by her house each day to drop my daughter off at her bus stop and she sees her do this daily, we left it that she and my wife would talk.

Today she and my wife talked. Part of the conversation related to the fact that the Mrs. told my wife that she felt that many in the neighborhood were not very friendly. She commented that people look at you funny if you dress different, or use a different tablecloth, etc. All the while, my wife told me, she was feeling somewhat uncomfortable, considering that we were guilty of just this attitude. The Mrs. of the house also told my wife that she felt that we were among the friendlier families in the neighborhood.

In any event, I guess that means that we're on the right track. And they accepted the invitation.

The Wolf

On Reason and Literalism

I remember having an argument with a classmate of mine back in high school. We were chavrusas (study partners) that year spent a fair amount of time arguing issues that weren't necessarily in the Gemara (Talmud) that we were studying at the time.

One argument in particular that I remember is when he brought up the "halacha" (law) of Eisav Sonei L'Ya'akov (Esau [i.e. non-Jews] hates Jacob [the Jews]). He insisted that every non-Jew hated every Jew because of this "halacha." I, having been exposed to and having been shown kindness by non-Jews in the past, knew that this was bunk (as a "halacha"). Sure, there were non-Jews that hated Jews - no one could dispute that - but that, as a general rule every single one of them hated us? To me that was completely ludicrous; and I told him so. My chavrusa, being far more of a fundamentalist than I ever was, insisted that since it was a "halacha," it had to be true. When I pointed out to him instances of non-Jews saving Jews in the Holocaust (at the risk of their own lives) or even kindness done to me, his response was "well, they were only doing it for their own sakes." No amount of reasoning could persuade him of this.

Then, he threw me the "well, if you and your "friend" the goy were starving and there was only food for one, let's see if he doesn't hate you then?"

At the time I was too young and naive to come up with the obvious rejoinder to that, so I let the matter drop, although I still did not agree with him. But the fact that he was reading a text so literally that it's plain meaning was so obviously false (although, I suppose, if you live a sheltered enough life maybe it's not so obvious) disturbed me. Thinking back, that may well have been the first "crack" in the armor, the first time I questioned either the accuracy of a text or whether the text must be understood completely literally.

Of course, as I grew older and developed critical thinking skills, I began to question the literalness of other texts as well. Moshe Rabbeinu's height; Og's vast girth, longevity and the tale of his survivial of the flood; the stories of Rabba Bar Bar Channah's travels; the stories told of the Ba'al Shem Tov and others; the Geocentric description of the universe in the Rambam, and many, many other texts. I wasn't willing to completely disregard these texts as "fairy tales" or simple embellishments, but simple reason told me that they could not be true on a very literal level. This was further "confirmed" for me when I began to realize that in order for some things l was led to believe to be literally true, not only must the current scientific knowledge of it be false, but there must also be a massive conspiracy covering up the truth - for example, if the solar system was truly geocentric, then not only is the science wrong, but NASA and every astronomer on earth must be actively covering up the truth. While I like a conspiracy theory just as much as the next guy, it simply defies reason to believe it.

That's probably why the whole affair with Rabbi Slifkin's books resonated with me, because this conflict has been a very large part of my Jewish thinking for the last twenty years - and now here it is out in the open for discussion. People are finally coming "out of the closet" (if I may borrow a metaphor) about understandings that they've had for a long time but have been afraid to express for fear of being shunned by the community. And, of course, once the bottle has been uncorked, it's going to be nearly impossible to put the genie back in.

And that gives me hope for the future.

The Wolf

Monday, May 09, 2005

On Man's Inhumanity To Man

(Nothing really to do with the frum community, just something that's on my mind)

There is a man in my neighborhood who I wouldn't say I was close enough to to call a friend, but certainly a good acquaintance. He has a lovely wife and two wonderful small children. I've known him for a while as we used to live in the same neighborhood and went to the same shul before we both moved to our new neighborhood. Since then, we've seen each other in shul several times, and I've even had a Shabbos meal at his house. His daughter likes to play with my daughter. In addition, he was instrumental in my getting a position as a ba'al kriah in my shul.

Last month, he was hit with a car while riding his bike to work one morning. He's been in the hospital for a while and has finally gone on to rehab. I saw him today for the first time since his accident.

He has a tube in his throat to help him breathe. As such, he can barely talk (and he was the type to talk a mile-a-minute). The right side of his body is so weak he can barely move it. He's as thin as a rake.

What burns me up about this is not so much that he was hit (although that's bad enough, of course). What's so horrible about this is that the driver stopped after hitting him, got out of his car to look at his victim and then drove off. Words just fail me. I just can't imagine anyone doing that and not even calling 911 or doing anything to help. Maybe I'm just too naive, but I just can't fathom it. Although the accident was witnessed, the driver was never caught.

He's looking at a month of rehab in the hospital and then several more month's (at least) at home. When he'll be able to return to work is not yet known. For those of you who do so, please add the name Kalman Avraham ben Malka Miriam to your tehillim list.

What amazes me even more is the lack of conscience that this driver has. If he panicked and ran off, I could understand (not that it excuses it - but I can see it). But even if that happened to me, I know that I wouldn't be able to sleep at night knowing what I'd done to another person. My soul would eventually force me to come forward.

I don't know if the driver of that car can sleep at night or not. But I do know that everyone receives his rewards or punishments in accord with his deeds and actions. And I hope he receives his.

The Wolf

Off Topic: I just finished reading a great book

I happen to love the fantasy genre and I happen to love parodies and satire (and, of course, I absolutely *love* The Princess Bride, where the two intersect.)

Well, I just finished reading The Unhandsome Prince by John Moore which is also at the intersection of the two genres. While it doesn't have the "bite" that TPB has, it's still a wonderful read, especially if you're looking for something fun and light.

And there is a Jewish connection in the book.

The Wolf

Thursday, May 05, 2005

On Averting Potential Disasters

My oldest son loves animals. Ever since he was a little boy, he's always been intensly interested. The zoo has always been a particularly favorite place of his. I'm willing to bet that he knows more now (at age 11) about animals than most adults do.

So, it was quite interesting when I came home today and he told me that he was speaking to a friend of his and mentioned The Camel, The Hare & The Hyrax. He asked me if he could bring my copy to school to show his friend.

While I've discussed some of the concept of the book with him (what exactly is a ma'aleh geirah? What animals might qualify as a shafan or arneves? ), he's never actually read the book. He is also completely and utterly oblivious to the controversy surrounding the book.

I said no to his request. :)

The Wolf

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On Rabbeim

I've got to say, I love my boys' Rabbeim. I may not agree with everything that they say regarding Torah and Yahadus, but I love 'em anyway.

My younger son is in third grade. His Rebbe is simply amazing, but we already knew that from when my older son had him. He puts so much of his own personal time and effort into making learning interesting for the children. The fact that he's techno-savvy is a big plus.

The younger one is starting to learn "Az Yashir" now. So, what did this Rebbe do? He made a PowerPoint presentation where the children can click through one pasuk at a time, see the text of the pasuk and listen to either the translation or with truppe (cantallation), and sent it home on CD with the boys. When the boys started learning Mishnayos, not only did he make a celebration for them (making sure that all the boys participated), but he also made sure to send home for each boy a certificate with a picture of the boy as he appeared that day. In addition, his whole family chipped in to help with the celebration - his wife baked cakes and cookies for the occassion and she was there to help set up. When my son's yeshiva had a father-son brunch, he took his digital camera there, made sure to get shots of all the boys with their fathers (or alternate male relatvies who attended) and then sent home a nice picture of the boys framed with the words of a song that he had taught them for a presentation at the brunch. When they learned the Makkos, not only did they just learn it, but he arranged for a Makkos fair for the children. When nine boys from the class were absent, he conferenced called them so that they could learn together with the class. When my older son was in his class and was out sick for a few days, the Rebbe called him on his cell phone from class and used his own personal cell minutes to make sure that my son kept us as much as he was able during his illness.

My older sons' rebbe is not as tech-savvy as my younger son's rebbe. He doesn't send home pictures of the boys and doesn't send presentations for them. He doesn't call them from the classroom when they are ill. But he makes up for it in the pure love that one can see that he has for the boys. He takes great pains to see to it that every boy is taken care of. He paired my son off with another boy to learn b'chavrusa (together). My son's chavrusa didn't take the responsibility seriously enough (he never called our son, when my son called him he was difficult to get a hold of, etc.) and so we asked the rebbe to switch our son's chavrusa. He did - he took the job himself. For several months, he and my son learned on the phone most nights b'chavrusa. How many grade-school Rabbeim would do that? He arranges for trips for the boys who don't watch TV to meet with Gedolim (and dinner for those that go) on his own time and from his own money. He arranged for all the boys in the class to be able to go to a gym and swimming pool one Sunday night. These aren't among his official responsibilites as a Rebbe - but one can see the love he has for teaching and the love he has for his students. He comes off as just such a warm person.

My sons have had some good Rebbeim in this school, and they've had some downright awful ones - ones who have burned out for years and ones who belittle the children. But these two are so far above any other Rabbeim I have ever met! If only I had such caring, nurturing and thoughtful Rabbeim when I was in elementary/high school - I might have turned out much different than the maverick I have become.

The Wolf

If you were subscribed, you need to subscribe again

My apologies, everyone, but I had a problem with Bloglet and had to re-initialize my account. Anyone who subscribed to receive my posts is going to have to do so again. I'm sorry.

The Wolf

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On Snootiness - Part II

Firstly, I'd like to thank everyone who cared enough to comment on my previous post - even you DovBear - whether your comment was a helpful suggestion, observation or even a criticism.

I spoke with my wife last night and showed her my previous post, along with everyone's comments. I was relieved to find out that she, too, had been bothered by our treatment of our new neighbors. We had a long talk about these matters - including the halachic standards that we want to maintain for our children. It's a tough balancing act - after all, you can't shield your child from everything. They go to school, and have classmates that may influence them; and they go to camp where other campers and counselors can influence them. In these places, we, as parents can "shield" our children even less. But the concept of the feelings that I felt truly bothered me.

For a long time, I've always considered the following question: If you had a choice between your children being mentschen or being Shomrei Torah U'Mitzvos, which would you choose? My answer, of course, is "why can't I have both?" And, truth to tell, there really isn't any reason why you can't strive to have both - there are plenty of people in the world who are STU'M and are decent, kind, caring human beings. But, of course, that doesn't *really* answer the question - what if you *had* to choose between one and the other - which one is it?

I have always tried to put that question out of my mind, yet, for years, every now and again, it has always tugged away at the corner of my brain, reminding me that it's still there and that I still haven't fed it the answer it craves. I have always been a strong believer (I know you wouldn't think it from my last post, but it's true) in stressing bein adam la'chaveiro with my children more than bein adam la'makom; simply because that's always been the focus in my life. Not that I ignore the latter, of course - I keep Shabbos, I keep kashrus, etc. But my first thought when encountering a situation is not usually "what will God think" but "will so-and-so be bothered by it." Sometimes, it can't be helped and BALM comes first, but in most cases, I make a concious effort to try to put BALC first.

To me, I suppose, they are both essential. It's like asking which eye you'd like to lose - you don't really want to even think about it - let alone sit and try to rationally come up with the answer. I certainly don't want my children to grow up to be rotten human beings who keep the Mitzvos. Equally so, however, I don't want them to grow up abandoning the Mitzvos either, even if they turn out to be fine, upstanding human beings (don't get me wrong - I'd take pride in that anyway!). So, I leave the question unresolved and every now and again it continues to stalk at the corners of my mind.

So, where does that leave me? There is an old saying that the strongest influences in a person's life are his/her parents. As much as youngster would like to deny it, they take their attitudes in life and their lessons in dealing with other people from us, their parents. Perhaps that's why children of child abusers are more likely to become child abusers themselves. Children's behaviors (when they grow up) become modeled on their parents' behaviors. I see it happening with myself - I see myself slowly developing my parent's attitudes and sensibilities in life. I find myself dealing with my children as my parents deal with me. Every day I better understand what my parents went through in raising me because I am internalizing their lessons, attitudes and outlooks on life.

The vast majority of my family is not frum. Except for my mother, sister (and her family) and one branch on my father's side, no one in my family (including my father) is frum. And yet, my children know their (non-frum, and in some cases non-Jewish) cousins and thier grandfather and his wife (my parents are divorced). They see and deal with them and know that there are certain things that they may do that are unacceptable for them. They understand, for example, that when they go to a cousin's Bat Mitzvah and there is mixed dancing there that they cannot participate. They know that they have to ask questions before they can eat at certain places. Perhaps my kids aren't as fragile as I had thought them to be - after all, I've seen with my own eyes that they can associate with others outside their "frumness level" (for lack of a better term) and yet still maintain standards that I and my wife require of them.

In any event, my wife and I both decided that we want to make it up to them. Hopefully, they don't read this blog. We already have plans for this coming Shabbos, but I think we're going to extend an invitation for the next one.

The Wolf

Monday, May 02, 2005

On Snootiness

I suppose this isn't really a frum issue because people all over the world are snooty and look down their noses at others. But because there is a frum flavor of this and it came back to bite me over Yom Tov, I'll go on with it.

Over Yom Tov I met some new people who moved in one block down from me this past week. I'm not the most friendly person in the world (I'm more the quiet, blend-into-the-background type) and will rarely go out of my way to meet someone new. And yet, I always want to meet new people. So, when, as I was walking back from shul this man comes out of a house and wishes us "Good Yom Tov," I was quite happy.

We talked for a few minutes outside his house and discovered that he had moved in just this past week. He invited me to bring my family by (especially since he had a son in between my sons' ages and a daughter about the age of my daughter) later in the afternoon. I met no one from the family except him at that point.

Well, after the seuda, I drag the Mrs. out of the house, along with the kids to go meet the new neighbors. We were invited into the house, met his relatives, family and friends and made to feel very welcome.

Except that we (my wife and I) didn't feel all that comfortable. Maybe it was the way the wife was wearing a denim skirt on Yom Tov. Maybe it was their older daughter (ninth grade) going around nearly sleveless. Maybe it was the fact that none of the women in the house covered their hair.

We made polite conversation for about 45 minutes or so, welcomed them to the neighborhood, and then led them to a local playground where there were about 50-100 frum families playing. I introduced the husband to some friends of mine who were at the park.

But as we were walking (and out of earshot of the new homeowner), my wife told me that she didn't think that they were "our kind of people." I didn't let my wife in on it at the time (although I guess when she reads this [she does know about this blog] she'll know) but I was shocked at her statement for two reasons: (1) she's not usually a judgemental person and, more importantly, (2) I found myself agreeing with her a bit.

And that's where my trouble lies. I've always been a bit of a maverick. I don't wear a hat, despite traveling in communities where that is considered the norm. I wear a leather kippa almost as a statement of repudiation against my high school's overly fundamentalist hashkafas and the way they tried to "brainwash" me to them. But yet, I don't want to be thought of as less for that - indeed, I specifically try to make the point that I'm *NOT* less because of my leather kippa - I'm not less because I don't dress in the typical yeshivish fashion - and yet here I am looking down at other people for doing just that. It's disturbing to me, and very troubling.

If it was just me, I think that I might be able to look the other way (so to speak). But I'm trying to instill some Torah values in my kids - and among those values that my wife and I are trying to instill are that there are *some* standards for dress and modesty that must be adhered to. I won't demand that my son wear a hat when he's older and out of yeshiva, becuase I don't. But I will demand that my daughter wear sleeves. And I want my daughter to grow up to cover her hair when she gets married. I want my children to associate with people who will reinforce those messages, not undermine them. And, of course, then I think back to what other people think of me - how I might be viewed as undermining the the lessons and values that they want taught to their children - even as I insist that those values aren't necessarily valid or always true.

The snooted (me) has become the snootee in a fashion, and I don't really like it very much.

This has truly given me some food for thought.

The Wolf

Is Mis-nagid Gone?

His blog seems to have disappeared.

The Wolf