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