Thursday, July 27, 2006

Index Added!

I've added an index of most of my previous posts to the sidebar on the left side of this blog.

The Wolf

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On Friendship and Non-Jews

My 10-year old niece is back in town after spending a month away in summer camp. I met her (and her mother - my sister) on the subway after they were coming home from a doctor's appointment. As we approached her home, she was re-telling some of her camp experiences when I heard her say "my shiur teacher says you're not allowed to be friends with someone who's not Jewish."

"She said what?" I repeated.

"She said that you can't be friends with someone who'se not Jewish."

Now, I know that there are all sorts of halachos that are designed to prevent intermarriage with non-Jews and that some of these halachos do have the effect of distancing Jews from non-Jews socially. And, I suppose, to some degree, that *is* a good thing. Intermarriage is a terrible calamity and positive steps should be taken to avoid it.

However, I'm not aware of any blanket prohibition against making friends among non-Jews. After all, just about everyone who has worked among non-Jews in the workplace has made friends with some of them. Of course, I can't go out to bars with them, and I can't eat at their houses, etc., but that doens't mean that they aren't my friends and that I can't count on them when they need help (and likewise, of course, they know that they can count on me).

I think it's sad that this is being taught to young kids without at least some qualifications. From the way it was described to me, it sounds like the shiur teacher was telling them that you'd better not have anything to do with "them" - or else. Sigh.

The Wolf

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Wolfish Theory Of Creation

Inspired by R. Aryeh Kaplan and R. Natan Slifkin.

Please keep in mind that this is simply my pet theory of creation. It has no special standing and please feel free to critique it and point out any flaws/errors that you may find.

As we all know, much ink has been spilled and many electrons disturbed over the perceived conflicts between the current scientific understanding of the origin of the universe and the literal Torah account of God's creation. What I propose is a reconciliation of those two accounts while maintaining a fairly close literal reading of chapter 1 of Beraishis (Genesis) and while adhering (as much as possible) to current scientific understanding. In no way do I claim that all differences will be reconciled.

My theory of creation rests on Chaos Theory. In short, chaos theory (also known as the butterfly effect) states that small changes at the start of any given system can have enormous differences in the end-state of that system. The theory was later popularized by the Ray Bradbury story "A Sound Of Thunder."

Another aspect of chaos theory is that events that are seemingly random can, in fact, be deterministic. A deterministic result is a result, which, fed the same input, will always produce the same result. For example, a function that doubles a number is deterministic, because when fed any given value, will always produce the same result. If you fed the function "2," it will always return "4" no matter how many times you run it. A non-deterministic function, on the other hand, may return a different value every time. For example, a function that multiplies a number by a random number is non-deterministic, since it will produce different results each time it is run.

There are actions that we perform in our everyday lives that seem random, but, in fact, are deterministic. Take the roll of a die, for example. The result of the roll is seemingly random and (assuming the die is balanced and weighted equally on all sides) will, over the long haul, have each side come up about 1/6 of the time. Which side will come up on the next roll, however, usually seems random.

In reality, however, the result isn't random at all. The result of a die roll is really a function of how the die is held, the arc with which it is thrown, the surface it lands on, the spin put on it while it is thrown, air resistance, any intervening objects that it might hit on the way and probably a few other factors that I missed. The point is that if you could successfully account for all these factors, you could predict the result of every throw of the dice. Using the same method, you could determine the result of a flipped coin or the next throw of the Roulette wheel. These actions, while seemingly random, are, in fact, deterministic if one knows all the variables that surround the particular action.

However, it is important to note that any slight change in any of the factors going into the function can have dramatic effects on the result. A change in how I hold the dice before they are thrown can change the result from snake-eyes to boxcars.

So, to get to our point...

In the beginning God created the universe. As the next verse tells us, the "earth" was void and without form (tohu va'vohu). The universe, left alone at that point right after the Big Bang, would have produced nothing. Perhaps simple elements such as hydrogen and helium might never have formed. But on that first day (and you can translate day as a literal 24-hour period if you like... or you can use some other time period if you prefer) God made a quantum change in some or all of the matter in the universe -- and light became possible. It may not have existed at that time. Perhaps God only made a small change at the beginning of creation which may have made light possible later on down the road, via the butterfly effect.

The later days of creation follow a similar pattern. On the third day, God made a minute change to some of the matter of the universe which allowed for the eventual appearance of dry land on earth. Perhaps, without that change, the Earth might have been a planet resembling Water World. That doesn't mean that the dry land appeared on the actual third day of creation (in all likelihood, there was no earth yet for there to be dry land on), but it was God's actions on that day that allowed for the eventual appearance of dry land... and plants.

On the fourth day, God set in motion the chain of events that would result in stars, galaxies and the formation of the solar system. Had He stopped then, perhaps we would have had a dead earth; much as the other planets in the solar system which support no life. God changed that on the fifth day with more small changes, which allowed for aquatic life to form. On the sixth day, God set in motion the sequence of events that would result in terrestrial life and man. And on the seventh day, God changed nothing, and in commemoration of God's ceasing of creative activity, we cease creative activity each week.

With this theory, you can probably have the best of both worlds. You can translate "yom" to mean a 24-hour day - when God made His changes are (to us) irrelevant. You can have evolution, cosmology and geology as well. The world appears to be billions of years old because it *is* billions of years old. More complex life forms evolve from more primitive life forms because they *did*. But in the end, God created them all in six days (and you can even say literal days) because He alone could account for all the variables that would be required to achieve the desired result. He alone could determine how the change of spin on one electron in the primordial chaos could allow for wonderful panoply of life that we see around us. And He alone could do so in six days and then "sit back" as the results unfolded over billions of years.

Part of this was inspired by something I read from R. Aryeh Kaplan. In his book Facets and Faces, he discusses miracles and how God likes to work within nature rather than disrupting the natural order of things. In his work, he takes the example of a ball. A ball is composed of an incredible number of molecules, all moving in a chaotic jumble. Usually, the result of this chaos is that the movements of all the molecules cancel out and external forces are allowed to act upon the ball. Thus, when you let go of the ball, it falls - because the motion of the individual molecules cancel each other out and gravity is allowed to act upon the ball. However, questions R. Kaplan, what if all the molecules in the ball suddenly moved upwards together? The result is that the ball would move upwards (assuming that it had the force to overcome gravity, of course). The chances of all of the molecules of the ball suddenly moving in any one direction are astronomical - you could probably wait billions and billions of years before it might happen naturally. But if it did happen, it would certainly seem miraculous.

He then goes on to talk about Krias Yam Suf (the Parting of the Sea). Of course, water, like the ball in our previous example, behaves in expected ways because the movement of the molecules of water will cancel each other out, allowing gravity (or other forces) to act upon them. However, what if, during the week of creation, God "planned" for the molecules of water in the Sea to suddenly "jump up" and form walls and passageways. Certainly such a thing happening by itself would be highly improbable - to the point where the odds against it couldn't be described using our nomenclature. But God, on the other hand, could have "fixed" the odds during creation, so that at the precise moment that the Jews would need to go through, the molecules would be in the proper state to cause the highly, highly, highly improbable to happen. It probably wouldn't even take much - change a few hydrogen molecules at some point during creation and let the result unfold when needed millions of years later.

It was when contemplating this "theory" of his that I thought that the same could apply to creation itself. What if God, at the outset, during the first week after the Big Bang, manipulated events so that the end result is what we see now. What must seem to us to be random events (the placement of the earth in the solar system, the placement of the solar system within the galaxy, the formation of life and the myriad of species on the planet) are all deterministic for God, who has the ability to compute all the variables necessary for the universe to turn out the way it did.

So, that's my theory. I can't vouch that it's correct. I certainly can't claim that it is a scientific theory as, short of direct Revelation, it is cannot be tested and is unfalsifiable. I can’t vouch that it will shtim with every Rishon and Acharon (in fact, I can guarantee that it won’t). But it’s still a pretty good one, IMHO. Of course, if you don't like my theory, there is always 42.

What do you think? I'd love to hear...

The Wolf

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Mama, Where do Jewish Doctors Come From?

Mama, where do Jewish doctors come from?


Where do Jewish doctors come from?

Why do you ask shaifele?

Because my rebbe told us today in class that you're not allowed to go to college.

Well, he's right. College is a horrible place where they teach you all sorts of things that are against the Torah. A good yid never goes to college.

So, then where do Jewish doctors come from. Don't doctors have to go to college?

Yes, you have to go to medical school, which is an advanced college for doctors to become a doctor.

So, then if it's assur to go to college, how did Dr. Goldberg become a doctor? He's such an erliche yid - he wouldn't do something that's assur, would he?

No dear. He wouldn't. We all know that Dr. Goldberg is such a nice man and a shomer Torah u'Mitzvos.

So then, how did he become a doctor without going to college?

I guess he was born a doctor, shaifele.

Oh. It's too bad I wasn't born a doctor - I wanted to be one too.


Of course, the above conversation never (to the best of my knowledge) took place. However, the underlying point remains - if, in some circles, going to college is assur for any reason, then how are there frum doctors in those circles?

Obviously, the question is one that is easily answered - the doctors come from those who obviously don't see gaining a higher education as an absolute prohibition. But then one must wonder - if they do maintain that (frum) Jews should not go to college at all, are they then conceding the point that frum Jews shouldn't become doctors (or lawyers, dentists, etc.) ? Do they *really* think that there is value is having no Jewish professionals? Do they really see that as a good thing?

The question that must be asked is this - is the frum community richer (and I don't mean in a monetary fashion) by the presence of professionals among their ranks? Are we better off that there are frum doctors to give advice on halachic questions, frum lawyers and politicians to guide our community and individuals through legal and political obstacles, and frum researchers, engineers and other professionals?

Personally, I believe the answer is an unqualified yes; we are better off for the presence of these people in our communities. However, if the absolute college-naysaysers also say that we should have professionals among our ranks, I'd love to know how they plan to that without allowing them to go to college.

The Wolf

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Challange Of Creation Book Launch

Tonight was the book launch for Rabbi Slifkin's new book, The Challange of Creation. The lovely eees and I both attended. There was certainly a better turnout tonight than there was when he spoke in Brooklyn last year.

The first speaker was Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President of the OU. He spoke about the need for a book of this type. Specifically, he mentioned that there were three types of people who were in danger of dropping out of the Orthodox community because of questions of science and Torah - specifically, (a) ba'alei teshuva, who often have these questions and may "drop out" if they are told to close their minds to them, (b) the young, who also may rebel if they are not allowed to ask questions and (c) the layman, who has questions such as these, and will not simply close his mind to them and pretend that they don't exist.

The next speaker was Rabbi Gil Student, the publisher of Yashar Books. Rabbi Student spoke about why the book is being published in spite of there being a ban against it. He gave three reasons why there can be such a book after a call for a ban against it - (a) there are authorities who permit it, (b) one is allowed to follow an authority in one's community and (c) these matters should be decided on a communal basis (since it is the communal rabbis who know best what the community needs) and that a one-size-fits-all p'sak should not be given in these matters.

Lastly, Rabbi Slifkin himself spoke. Rather than address issues that are in the book, he spoke about why he chose to put a picture of a dinosaur on the cover of the book. Aside from the fact that he personally likes dinosaurs (and yes, he mentioned the dinosaur that belives in itself - the apikorusaurus), he used it as a symbol to show readers that the book isn't meant for everyone - if you're troubled by the concept of dinosaurs and fossils, then the book isn't for you.

Overall, it was a very nice evening. Aside from Rabbi Student (obviously), I'm curious how many other bloggers were there.

The Wolf

On Our Students

A website,, has a presentation based on a text by Artscroll/Mesorah entitled Animal School. The presentation shows how different animals might perform in an "animal school."

In it, they decry how we don't live up to the concept of Chanoch LaNa'ar Al Pi Darcko (teach a child according to his nature) by using the example of the duck. They also decry that original thinking is devalued and looked upon as improper (the eagle and the kangaroo).

Of course, I find this very ironic considering that the main audience for Artscroll supports schools where the spirit of this message is roundly ignored. Children are taught with a "one size fits all" mentality in many yeshivos and original thinking is not rewarded -- indeed, it is often roundly criticized and can cause one to be labeled an apikorus (heretic).


The Wolf

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Ushpizin Isn't Kosher? Whod've Thunk It?

A poster on ChabadTalk (who admits that he, himself hasn't seen the movie) attempts to find fault with the picture. His complaints:

1. The two main characters are husband and wife in real life. Thus, there would have been a significant amount of lack of tznius in the production of the film, because the couple are seen passing objects to each other in almost every scene. Thus, it would have happened regularly that the couple told the others doing the filming, “err, sorry, we’ll have to leave doing that scene for another two weeks.” Then, “err, now we can do that scene.” Vedal.

Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps they scheduled the scenes in advance so that it wouldn't be a problem? Perhaps she (gasp!) was on birth control and therefore wasn't niddah for an extended period of time. Perhaps she never becomes niddah?

2. There are a number of scenes where the couple (don’t engage in any physical contact whatsoever, of course, but) speak to each other romantically, which is licho’oiro a clear issur.

Speaking to one's wife/husband romantically is a clear issur?! Oy vey.

3. There’s something inherently non-tznius about a woman acting knowing that men will be watching her.

You're right. So, let's keep all of our women behind closed doors forever where men cannot watch them.

4. The non-frum characters are seen without any head covering in many scenes.

Firstly, who says the actors were even frum? Or even Jewish at all (there are non-Jews who can speak Hebrew, you know)? And even if they were frum, one is allowed to not wear a kippah for professional reasons -- and an actor playing the part of a non-frum person definitely qualifies as a professional reason.

5. The main female character is seen smoking on occasion, vos dos past nisht.

So, she smokes. She also leaves her husband. She also gets angry during the movie. In other words, she's a human being with faults. Heaven forbid there should be any of those in K'lal Yisrael.

I suppose that if you want, you can find fault in almost anything. I suppose the poster would have liked it had the female character been played by a male (as was done in Ancient Greece and in Shakespearean times), been portrayed only as a perfect tzadekkes (much like an Artscroll biography) and with the non-frum characters (can they be shown?) wearing a kippah (or, even better, a black hat) and tzitzis in every scene. Oh yes, and the "couple" must pretend to act like roommates - we can't have them showing any affection that might lead us to believe that they are actually married to each other.

Sigh. Sometimes you just can't please somebody no matter what you do.

The Wolf

Monday, July 03, 2006

Are They Girls, Or Is It An Meat Auction?

I've been re-reading SephardiLady's post on the "Shidduch crisis" and was struck by the fact that it seems that in some (many?) cases, the shidduch market has turned into a meat auction, with sons "selling themselves" to the girls whose parents can give the most money in support. In the post mentioned above, Sephardi Lady quotes a letter that was written to the Yated where several parents of marriageable-age girls are complaining that they cannot get shidduchim for their daughters because they don't have the means to support their future sons-in-law to be for X number of years. In one particularly egregious case, a young man rejected a girl out-of-hand because her parents didn't have the funds. But once a neighborhood person was willing to kick in some money for her, all of a sudden the doors were wide open.

Personally, I find the whole attitude a bit sickening. Are we actually going back to the concept of dowries and marrying for money? What ever happened to looking for someone who has good middos, someone who shares your outlook on life, or even someone whom you fall in love with? Have we become so shallow now that money is the primary focus?

Of course, this sort of thing doesn't go on (generally speaking -- of course there are exceptions) in the secular world. You don't often find a fellow who wants to focus his attention on genetics, for example, who will hold out until he finds a father-in-law who is willing to support him while he gets his Ph.D. Such a thing is practically unheard of -- and we'd all roundly criticize (and rightly so) a prospective future geneticist who did so. Of course, some may marry spouses who are willing to support them - but that's a decision of the prospective spouse and not one that her father and mother are held "hostage" to.

Of course, this is a problem that has more than one root. Part of the problem lies in the fact that earning a living is considered "pas nisht" in some communities. Part of the problem lies in the fact that in some communities girls are told that the only way they'll matter in life is by being the wife of someone who learns full time. And part of the problem lies in the fact that if a girl decides that she does want to marry a full-time learner, it seems that even if she says she's willing to support him ( a commendable goal, if one is capable of doing so), she *still* can't get the go-ahead without a large bank account in her or her parents' names.

Sigh. I cannot tell you how happy I am that I never had to put up with the shidduch world. I was fortunate to meet my wonderful wife at a young age, before we ended up in the shidduch scene. My mother was broke, my father wasn't wealthy. Her parents weren't wealthy either. When we got married, I went to work to support our family. That's not to say that her parents didn't provide some help - they did (and still do!); but it was never a condition of my marrying their daughter and it was never asked for outright. I could not see asking my in-laws to support our family full time, even if it was because I wanted to go into learning full-time.

But, to get back to the point, I think we need to change our attitude toward matrimony. We need to focus more on the positive reasons to marry someone, and not on the size of the in-laws' bank accounts.

The Wolf

Theme Challas, part II

Last Channukah, I posted about my wife's dreidel challahs. Well, last month, our fifteenth anniversary came out on a Friday. So, to celebrate, my lovely and talented wife (eeees) made 15th anniversary challahs!

While they were delicious, I'm glad they weren't made out of crystal (the traditional 15th anniversary gift!).

The Wolf