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