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

Off Topic: On Menashe's Problem

This past week's parsha had an interesting little incident at the end of it that warrants some discussion.

The leaders of Menashe were concerned over the fact that Tzelofchad's daughters would be inheriting land in the Land of Israel. If they should marry out of the tribe, the leaders of Menashe argued, their portions would eventually pass to their children, who would be members of other tribes, which would diminish thier own tribal area. Moshe agreed and decreed that any daughter who inherits land must marry within her father's tribe.

This incident, however, raises several questions:
1. What, exactly, were the leaders of Menashe worried about? It certainly wasn't about population -- they weren't concerned about any of their daughters marrying out of the tribe, but rather land. But, were Tzelofchad the only person among the Jews who didn't have any sons? I would think not. In reality, there were probably plenty of people who had only daugters (or other female heirs) from all the tribes. So, so what if Machla married someone from Zevulun? Certainly, in the end, it would all average out anyway.

2. While Menashe's complaint sounds like one that would apply down through the ages, for some reason, it didn't. The requirement that an inheriting daughter marry within her tribe only applied to that generation. Later generations were not bound by this requirement, and yet, even so, the same logic should apply. So, why didn't this requirement carry onward?

3. Of course, even if the requirement to marry within the tribe did carry on, it still wouldn't prevent the "problem" of "islands" of territory within one tribe belonging to another tribe. After all, there were, no doubt, situations, where a married daughter (possibly even with children already belonging to another tribe) finds herself an heiress after the death of her brother.

So, in any event, it seems that there really is no way to prevent this from happening, and after that generation, no effort was made to prevent it. If that's the case, what was the validity of Menashe's claims?

The Wolf