Friday, June 29, 2007

Recommend a Book, please

Well, the Wolf is in search of new reading material, and I figured that perhaps my loyal reading audience can recommend some good books for me to read.

While I would prefer books on a Judaic theme, I'm not going to limit the topic to that. Feel free to recommend any book that meets the following guidelines:

1. Written in English (preferably) or easy-to-understand Hebrew. Translations of other languages into English are acceptable too.
2. Less than a gazillion pages. Seriously, I do a lot of reading on the subway, which means the book has to be easy to carry on the train. Nothing the size of Shakespeare's complete works.
3. Small enough to fit into my laptop bag comfortably. No coffee-table sized books, please.
4. Nothing X-rated, please (although, for a fictional work, it doesn't have to be devoid of sex either... use your judgment).
5. Please, only recommend a book that you, yourself have read and enjoyed and give me a brief sentence or two as to why you liked it (or even the major point of the book).
6. Please, please, please, make sure to include the author's name. :)

That's pretty much it. Hopefully when I'm done, I'll post my own review/discussion of the books you recommend.

Thanking you in advance,

The Wolf

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Are Children Conceived Through IVF Spiritually Defective?

Rabbi Manis Friedman seems to think so.

In his essay, Rabbi Friedman writes about how important the circumstances of a child's conception are. He writes that ideally, conception should occur naturally with two parents who love each other. When it occurs in circumstances other than this, he writes, there could be serious consequences. If, during conception, parents are in other than ideal circumstances (disinterested in each other, or in the hopes that there would be no child are two example that he brings) then it can harm the child psychologically and spiritually. He states that children who result from these unions feel unloved or unwanted by their parents.

And then he asks:

If it is true that a compromised intimacy hurts the child, what happens when there is no intimacy at all?

While he does not come out and say it, the implication here is that when there is no intimacy involved, it is even worse than when there is "bad intimacy." To back up his implied assertion, he brings the following example:

According to Chasidic sources, both Isaac, the patriarch of the Jews, and Habakuk, the son of the Shunamit, were born with souls from alma d'nukva or "the feminine realm." It is interesting that both were born through extraordinary, holy circumstances, and even so were lacking an essential spiritual component. It would likewise take the extraordinary, transformative experiences of the akedah (the 'binding" of Isaac), and the death-and-revival of the Shunamit's son, for their souls to be made whole. The unnatural conditions by which these individuals were conceived would require "correction" later in life. All the more so our cause for concern when this takes place in situations that are decidedly less than holy.

There is one line in his article that seems to indicate that the target of his essay is the single woman who uses IVF (or some other assisted reproductive method)* to have a child. But the reality is that the women who do so are few and far between... and in the frum world (which is the target of his essay) those people are practically non-existent. In reality, his target seems to be the Orthodox infertile couples who use (or are considering using) IVF to have children. He is, in essence, telling couples who use IVF that their children are spiritually (and possibly psychologically) defective because they weren't conceived in a spirit of love and nurture. Well, as someone I know who happens to have one of those miracle babies pointed out:

As someone who now has a miracle baby rocking in his swing right next to me, I can honestly say that he is no less loved, wanted or lacking than my two daughters who were conceived naturally.

Not to take away from my love of my daughters, but my son was prayed for. I spilled tears that I would conceive him.

In the end, Rabbi Friedman asserts, all is not lost. If you already have an IVF baby, you can easily "fix" his problems. How?

Chassidism offered an antidote in the practice of Chitas -- an acronym for Chumash (Torah), Tehillim (Psalms) and Tanya. Just by reading the words, by absorbing the images of those letters and those words and those paragraphs in daily segments, the negative repercussions of assisted reproduction may be corrected.

Now, then, I'm kind of stunned. This seems to be the upshot of the essay - say Chitas and all will be well with your child. Does your child lack the proper soul because he came from a test tube? Say Chitas. Does your child have in utero memories from being rudely shoved into a uterus instead of arriving there the natural way? Say Chitas. Is your kid rude? Well, it must be because you didn't have the holiest of intentions during conception. It couldn't possibly be bad parenting or just simply that he's a kid and it happens sometimes. Say Chitas.

But I also seem to be left with this question: just what was his purpose in writing this essay? To stop single women from becoming parents via IVF? I highly doubt it. Firstly, most single parents end up as such the old fashioned way. Even those who deliberately want a child will usually try to find a good friend and someone whom they trust (and possibly love, even if not marriage material) to help with the conception of their child . The number of those who actually use IVF to become single parents is probably very small. And, as I mentioned, in the frum world, practically nil.

It seems to me that the article was written for, and aimed at, the frum couple who has (or is considering having) a child via IVF. But then, why write the article? I can only come up with three possible reasons:

1. He feels that couples shouldn't use IVF at all, and that it's probably better to remain childless than bring a "defective" child into the world. However, I would discount this as a motive as he makes the point that people can use IVF as an absolute last resort and in the context of marriage and Torah law.

2. He seems to think that there are frum couples who don't use IVF as an absolute last resort and that they run to the IVF center if they aren't pregnant within half a year. Otherwise, why scare people away from IVF by telling them that their children will be "defective?" However, this is patently absurd. As anyone who has gone through these treatments can tell you, they are dreadfully expensive, a lot of trouble, and painful - both physically and emotionally. And each time it doesn't work, it really hurts. I don't think that *anyone* would put themselves through IVF unless they really, really, really, really wanted a baby more than anything in the world and that there was just about no other way to have one.

3. He feels the need to tell people who have had children via IVF that their children are "defective" and that they need to recite Chitas in order to rectify this "defect." Personally, I find the idea that a child conceived in marriage to parents who love each other and who want and pray and shed tears for said child is spiritually and psychologically defective to be repugnant. But that's just my belief. If he wants to believe that they are defective, it's his right. However, there are certainly better ways to get parents to recite Chitas than by telling them that their children are "spiritual rejects" (my term, not his). I find his approach insensitive, boorish and outright offensive.

The Wolf

Hat tip: OnionSoupMix

* In this post, whenever I use IVF, consider it shorthand for "IVF (or other assistive reproductive method)." I don't mean IVF to the exclusion of all other methods.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Kol Ish

Yeshiva World reports (as does Ynet) about a new singer from Natanya named Eliyahu Haim Fayzakov. The twenty-year-old recently released his first album and was rapidly becoming a hit on chareidi radio stations.

Then, suddenly, his songs were no longer heard. Radio stations stopped playing them.

Was there a problem with the lyrics? Nope, they were fine. Was the music too "goyish?" Nope, that was OK too. So, what's the problem?

Well, the problem is that Mr. Fayzakov has a high voice, and his singing sounds like a woman's voice, which prompted calls from the listening audience. After listening to a clip of his singing (which can be found at the Ynet article I linked to above), I would have to agree that his singing could easily be mistaken for that of a woman.

But so what? The bottom line is that he *is* a man, and there is no more halachic problem listening to him singing than if he had long lustrous hair, was married and walked around without a sheitel. As long as the radio station identifies him by name (he has a man's name), he should be fine.

I'm kind of curious why people have no problem with imitation cheeseburgers, imitation bacon bits, sheitels that resemble real hair and any of the hundreds of other "kosher-equivalent" alternatives but seem to have a problem with this singer. I'd say that the items on my list are far worse in terms of violating the spirit of the law (while staying true to the letter) than listening to Mr. Fayzakov sing.

Now, to be fair, it should be pointed out that this seems to be a grassroots campaign against him. I'm not aware of any chareidi rabbi who has weighed in on the matter one way or the other. Hopefully, one of them will speak up and set the matter straight.

The Wolf

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Things (Almost) Every Jewish Home Needs

I had an odd dream last night which led me to this post. It's very simply a checklist of things that every Jewish home should, ideally, have. Of course, every home is different and your situation may not require you to have all of these. Nonetheless, I think that for most of us, all of these apply.

(Full disclosure: I, myself, am not perfect, and don't have all the items on this list. This is also somewhat of a checklist for myself as well. And no, I'm not going to tell you which ones I don't have yet.)

Physical Safety

Smoke Detectors
Every home should have smoke detectors installed. Ideally, they should also have carbon monoxide detectors as well. It's a very simple matter of safety -- in a fire, every second counts. You don't want to be sound asleep while a fire is raging through the house.

Make sure to check and/or change the batteries at least twice a year. Ideally, this used to be done when they would move the clocks, as the dates were roughly six months apart. Now, it's a bit more than that. Really, any two dates on opposite sides of the calendar work well -- the solstices, the equinoxes, Erev Pesach and Erev Succos, whatever...

Fire Safety Plan
If there is a fire, does everyone in your home know how to get out? Are they aware of alternate routes for escape? In the Wolf house, there are alternate exits for all floors except the basement (maybe we'll change that when we have the basement redone). The main floor has multiple exits. The upper floor has the main exit (down the stairs) and, alternately, out the window of our bedroom to the lower roof. From there it's about ten feet to the floor. There may be a broken bone on landing, but that's far better than staying in a burning house.

Of course, merely having the alternate exits don't help if people don't know how to use them. Make sure everyone in the family knows about the alternate exits and when to use them.

Fire Extinguishers
One should be located in the kitchen (the most likely source of a fire). Of course, it needs to be charged periodically. In addition, make sure that people know how to use it.

Emergency Preparedness
What if the kids are at school and some major, major event (think 9/11, a major flood, etc. or the like) happens, God forbid. Do your kids know where to go? Do you have an outside rendezvous point? Do your kids have an alternate person to contact in they can't get a hold of you? These things should be planned out in advance. Of course, you can't cover every contingency, but a set of rules should be put in place that will cover some of the more likely ones, depending on where you live and the ages of your kids.

Financial Safety

A Will
If you're single and you don't care what happens to your stuff after you die, then you don't need a will. Even if you're married without kids and don't mind all your stuff going to your spouse, then you also don't need a will. But if you have kids, a will is something you must have. It specifies where you want your minor children to go if, God forbid, something happens to both parents. Of course, this may require you and your spouse to have some uncomfortable conversations, but it is something that is necessary. In addition, make sure that you OK your choice of guardian with the people in question. It's *very* bad manners to just dump your kids on someone without asking.

In addition, make sure that you keep your will up to date. Make sure that you remove ex-spouses or deceased persons as beneficiaries (don't laugh, this happens more often than you'd think). Make sure your will reflects your current situation. For example: Anna Nicole Smith's will left everything to her son, to the exclusion of any other future children. As it turns out, she had a daughter after her will was drawn up, and the son ended up predeceasing her. Had the son not died, he would have inherited everything and her infant daughter would have been left out in the cold. However, little Danielynn was "lucky" that her brother died, since his death invalidated her will and left her to inherit Anna's estate. Now, you may not care much about Anna Nicole Smith and her lifestyle, but her will should serve as an example of how you have to keep your will up to date to make sure that *all* your loved ones are provided for. Not keeping it properly updated could end up hurting someone you love and leaving them in a big lurch.

Lastly, once you have a will, make sure that people know where it is. Your choice of guardian for your kids, or your plans for the distribution of your property isn't going to mean much if no one knows where your will is kept.

Life Insurance
You don't want to leave your loved ones unprotected in case of a disaster. The responsible thing to do is to provide life insurance to cover them in the even that something bad happens to you (God forbid). How much do you need? Well, the rule of thumb is that you need between 10 and 20 times your income; but that number is really something that should be discussed with a financial adviser, as everyone's situation is different The goal here, however, is to replace your income, so that your loved ones can continue living.

In addition, a non-working spouse should be insured as well. Let's face it, if a non-insured spouse dies, there may be additional costs that are incurred (child care is probably the #1 cost) by the family. Of course, you won't need nearly as much insurance as you need for the primary breadwinner, but you should have some coverage.

For insurance, most people recommend term insurance. It's cheaper than whole life, universal and other such products. Term life is better because the other products are, essentially, investments with a death benefit built in. However, the costs on these investments are usually pretty high... much higher than if you went with a "standard" investment such as a mutual fund.

Lastly, if you're single and have no dependents, you don't really need insurance. But it is bad manners, IMHO, to just "dump" the costs of the burial on your loved ones.

Emergency Savings Account
Things happen in life. The boiler breaks. The car needs a new transmission. You lose your job. Whatever. There are times when it is helpful to have money in the bank, even if only so that you can sleep better at night, so that you know that, in the short term, you have money to ride out the small emergencies. How much do you need? Well, that depends on each individual person... but ideally enough to cover three months' worth of expenses (not cover three months of salary... but you could do that too). This money should be kept in a money market account where you can get your hands on it when you need it. And don't raid it!!

How to fund it? If you bank on-line, your best bet is to set up an automatic transfer every month or every paycheck. It doesn't have to be big... start with only $10 if that's all you can manage. But make it a habit and bump it up every once in a while until you reach your savings goal.

Retirement Fund
This is a must, unless you want to end up living with your kids when you old. If your employer has a 401(k) available, take advantage of it. If they match funds, make sure you save enough to get the maximum match. To not do so is to turn away free money.

The great thing about 401(k)s is that the money is taken out of your paycheck before it gets to you. This way, you're not tempted to spend it. Ideally, you should put at least 10% of your income away. Of course, that number may change depending on your age, income, previous savings and any number of other factors. What if you can't afford to put away 10%? Start smaller. When I was younger and poorer, I started with 6% (so that I could get the maximum match my company offered) and then every quarter or half-year, I bumped it up 1%. The extra 1% will not amount to much being "lost" from your paycheck, but, if you have a lot of years left to retirement, it could amount to a lot of money when you are ready to retire.

One last point -- if you can only save for your kids' college expenses or retirement, which one do you choose? For most people, the correct answer is retirement. There are programs that will help fund your kids' college tuition. No one is going to fund your retirement.

Disability Insurance
Most working people should have disability insurance. This provides income for your family if you are out of work for an extended period of time. How much do you need? Most people replace 60-70% of their incomes, but, again, this is something that you need to figure out for yourself. In addition, if you pay the premiums with after-tax money, any funds collected are usually tax-free (make sure to double check this with your financial planner!!)

Spiritual Health

Mezuzos & Teffilin
I don't want to start a debate on whether or not mezuzos really protect your home. The truth of the matter is, it's really beside the point... you have to have them anyway. So make sure you have kosher mezuzos and have them checked, at a minimum, twice every seven years. Likewise, if you have anyone in the house who wears Tefillin, make sure to get them checked periodically as well.

Well, your home doesn't need this *in* the house, but you should have a Rabbi to go to when you have halachic questions. In addition, many Rabbis are also trained to help in other areas as well (grief counseling, etc.) and can be useful in non-halachic situations. Of course, you have to know what your Rabbi is capable of and not capable of. That changes on a rabbi-by-rabbi basis. But there should be someone whom you can turn to, whom you trust, when difficult halachic decisions need to be made.

This is just stuff off the top of my head. No doubt there is stuff that I missed (feel free to let me know) and stuff that can use correction and clarification. In addition, I also realize that there are families where the budgets are stretched to the max already and that many of the things that I put in the financial section may be out of reach. I understand that... I was in that situation at one time. But, nonetheless, try to start saving... even if only a little bit at first. It establishes a good habit and starts to provide you with safety net.

The Wolf

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Jewish Out-Of-Towner's Guide to New York

Chana, over at The Curious Jew, is trying to put together a guide to New York for Jewish Out-of-Towners (you mean there is civilization beyond the Hudson?).

Despite being an almost life-long New York, I'm not certain that I really understand Jewish New York (does anyone, really?). Nonetheless, I've added my two cents. Please head over there and add your experiences, insider tips and whatever else you think might be useful.

The Wolf

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dear Walter,

Dear Walter,

Mazel Tov and congratulations on your graduation from elementary school. Your mother and I are very proud of the accomplishments and progress that you've made over the years. We've watched you grow from a little five-year-old entering first grade full of promise, to a maturing young man who is well on the way to fulfilling that promise and potential. We've watched you grow physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Weve seen you grow in Torah, going from your aleph beis, through the study of Chumash and Navi and on to Mishnah and Gemara. We've seen you progress through your secular studies, going from one subject to the next taking on ever-increasingly difficult topics. We've watched with pride as your davening progressed from a simple recital of Modeh Ani to being the Shliach Tzibur in your daily minyan at school. We've seen you grow from a little boy to a capable, considerate young man.

But this is not the end of the journey... it's only a milestone along the path. Just as we've had incredible pride and nachas in your progress thus far, we look forward to watching your further accomplishments, to seeing you grow further in learning and yiddishkeit and to your becoming a full-fledged member of K'lal Yisrael and the community at large. Just as we've watched with joy as you tackled each educational task, we look forward to seeing you continue to make growth and reach for the stars.

Mazel Tov on reaching this momentous occasion. We look forward to seeing many more wonderful things from you.

With love and respect,


No, I won't forget Ya'aleh V'Yavoh

Two years ago, I posted about people who overemphasize the /z/ in tizk'ru in Sh'ma. Over Shabbos I was reminded of equally annoying behavior.

On Rosh Chodesh, we all the paragraph of Ya'aleh V'Yavoh to our Amidah. It is important to remind the congregation to say it since (at least in the case of Shacharis and Mincha) failure to add the paragraph means that you have to repeat the entire Amidah. So, I certainly understand the gabbai making an announcement to say it before the Amidah. I can even understand the *first* person in shul who gets to Ya'aleh V'Yavoh saying the words aloud since someone might have forgotten since the announcement. However, I don't understand why the next person has to say it out loud only thirty seconds later. It's not like most of us are going to forget it after the last person *just* reminded us. And then it is repeated again by the next person, and the next, and the next. By Ma'ariv on Friday night, I heard the words "Ya'aleh V'Yavoh" out loud during the Amidah at least a dozen times. What's the point? So that the person can "prove" to everyone in the shul that he said it?

The Amidah is a silent prayer; let's keep it that way.

(Just to be fair: In the shul that I davened in on Saturday, *no one* said it aloud -- but that seems to be the exception rather than the rule.)

The Wolf

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Clarification on my earlier post (re: Jonathan Pollard)

I have been contacted by the people working to secure a release for Jonathan Pollard. Apparently, they read something into my earlier post that I did not put there. Therefore I want to clear any ambiguity about what I said.

When the president of the shul was speaking, he was making the case that Jonathan Pollard was innocent of the charges upon which he was convicted. He was using *that* basis to make a comparison to Alfred Dreyfus. The people working on Pollard's behalf took my comments to mean that there is no basis for *any* comparison between Alfred Dreyfus and Jonathan Pollard, which is not what I said or meant to imply. I did not mean to say that Pollard and Dreyfus were not comparable at all, but rather that comparing Pollard to Dreyfus in terms of their *innocence of all charges* was wrong and deceitful, as even the people working to secure Jonathan's release acknowledge that he was guilty of (and only of) one count of passing classified information to an ally.

If my point was not clear and resulted in misinformation, I humbly apologize.

While I don't like to censor my commentators, I would greatly appreciate if people would, in the comments, stick to the point of what I said and not turn this into a debate on Jonathan Pollard, as that wasn't even the main point of my earlier post.

The Wolf

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Economics of Shtreimels

Dag highlights a piece in this week's Jewish Press (I guess it's pick on the JP week here) about an effort to stem the costs of marrying off children in the Satmar community. Here are some of the highlights:

On Monday, June 4 a large assembly took place, of Williamsburg Satmar yeshiva students, all of marriageable age. The focus of the meeting was the ongoing effort to stem the accelerating costs of marrying off children, particularly the cost of a shtreimel. Traditionally, the father of the kallah purchases two shtreimels for his future son-in-law. One, more expensive, is an elegant shtreimel meant to be worn under the chuppah, as well as for special occasions. The second, somewhat cheaper, is called a raigen shtreimel meant to be worn in inclement weather, thus preserving the other more costly shtreimel. The price of a first class, top-shelf shtreimel has exceeded $4,000.00.

The students at the meeting, future chassanim agreed to become part of Ateres Chassanim, and will not accept any shtreimel costing more than $1,200.

I think that this effort, while admirable, is flawed on several grounds:

Firstly, they addressed the wrong crowd. The assemblage was made up of young yeshiva students of marriageable age. They agreed to become part of a group that will not accept shtreimels costing over $1200. The crowd that they should have addressed was the fathers of girls of marriageable age. They are the ones spending the money, not the yeshiva students. If a prospective father-in-law wishes to dole out $4000 for his future son-in-law and presents him with an expensive shtreimel, what is the bochur going to do? Turn it down? Well, a few principled ones probably will... but the vast majority of them will accept it anyway, especially if his future father-in-law insists; and that would defeat the entire purpose. To make it more meaningful, they should have addressed the people who are doing the actual spending. They should have told them that they shouldn't spend so much on a shtreimel. Will some of them flout the decree and continue to spend more? Certainly... but it would still provide cover for those who don't want to (or can't) spend upwards of $4000 on a shtreimel.

Now, I'll admit that I don't know what the actual price of a shtreimel is. If it normally sells for less than $1200, then the next paragraph is not needed. If, however, it customarily sells for more, then this decree will still not work. Why? Simple economics.

Suppose the average cost of a shtreimel is $1500. That price, of course, is determined by market forces. It is reached by the combination of the fact that this represents the most that people are willing to spend for a shtreimel and the lowest amount of profit that the furrier is willing to accept. Unless the $1500 is an artificially high price, then a price cap imposed by the community is not going to work - market forces already dictate that $1500 is the lowest price that this commodity is going to be available at. If someone else could successfully sell them at $1400, then someone would certainly come along and do so to undercut the competition. The fact that no one has done so is because it is either impossible to make a decent profit at a lesser cost, or no one has come up with a more efficient way of making shtreimels which would reduce the cost of production, lowering the overall cost.

In any event, don't get me wrong. Despite the fact that I think the proposal is flawed, I sincerely hope that it is a success and that it proves me wrong. We should be doing everything in our power to facilitate people getting married and setting up Jewish homes... not setting up fur roadblocks.

Of course, I could go on about how a shtreimel really isn't necessary at all -- after all, not one single rav in the world will tell you that wearing a shtreimel is codified as halacha in the Shulchan Aruch or any other classic Jewish law text. Someone who is willing to buck the trend could easily save $1000, buy a nice hat, and be on halachic grounds that are just as secure. The $1000 could easily be put to better use helping the couple set up house, paying tuition at a yeshiva, or in some other manner. Normally, I wouldn't care -- after all, it's their money, they are free to spend it as they wish... but when it's clear that it's becoming a problem (as indicated by the need to have this gathering in the first place), then one has to start truly weighing the costs of whether money could be better spent on food and education than on fur.

The Wolf

Unintended Consequences

Yeesh. When I wrote this post, all I wanted to do was to highlight the absurdity of claiming that 80% of divorces were caused by computers. Of course, I had to open my big mouth (or is it my big keyboard in this case) and cite examples... and that's what's been the biggest reaction yet.

Believe it or not, I've now gotten emails from both the Jews for Jesus camp and the Jonathan Pollard camp about my post. Of course, neither Jews for Jesus, nor Jonathan Pollard were the real point of the post; but that sort of got lost in all the emails that I get. Just about the only people who haven't written to complain are the rabbis who handle gittin. :)

To be honest, I don't really mind the letters. After all, I have just as much a right to be called on the carpet if I make stupid statements -- and there are times that I do (not that I think this was such a time... but I'm certain that there are other times when I say things that are stupid). Furthermore, I always enjoy a good argument and I always encourage my readers to contact me and let me know when they think I've made a mistake. I'll defend myself and, no doubt, I'll win some arguments and lose some. But I always value your input. Just keep in mind that while I try to respond to every email I get, I do have a life outside of this blog, and so sometimes an answer may not be coming immediately.

The Wolf

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Internet Ban: Doomed To Failure

Bluke notes that in today's Hamodia, there is an article about the Chareidi population of Israel and the U.S. Embassy there. The problem is that the Embassy only sees people by appointment... and the only way to make an appointment is online. For those that are banned by their leaders from using the Internet, this could potentially be a very big problem. Furthermore, it appears that the Embassy has no plans to allow people to register for an appointment by phone.

As Bluke points out, this is a trend that will continue as many more services move toward an online-only model. Bill paying, banking, job searching, government services and many other essentials of modern life will eventually only be available on the Internet. Eventually, the Chareidi population will have to make a choice... to eschew technology altogether (no phones, no lights, no motorcars.... not a single luxury) or come to terms that the world is changing and if they want to remain a part of a functioning larger society, then they'll have to adapt to it.

What's Missing In This Description?

From an article about the upcoming Kovna-Brezna Chasunah in this week's Jewish Press:

Moshe Yaakov Greenbaum will marry Gittel Reizel Neuschloss, daughter of Rabbi Sholom Neuschloss, Brezna Rav, at Ateres Chaya Hall in Boro Bark on Thursday, June 21. The chassan is the son of Rabbi Menachem Zvi Greenbaum, Rav of Beis Medrash Hagadol of the Lower East Side; son of Rabbi Shemaya Greenbaum, author of Siyata D’Shmaya. The aufruf will take place Shabbos Parshas Korach, June 16, at Beis Medrash Emunas Yisroel at 4315-16th Avenue.

The chassan is the grandson of Rabbi Ephraim Oshry, zt”l (1914-2003) Kovna Rav, author of Mima’akim, Churban Lita, and The Annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry. Rabbi Oshry, upon his arrival in United States in 1952, after surviving the Holocaust, was appointed as Rav of Beis Medrash Hagadol of the Lower East Side, where he served with distinction for more than 50 years. Beth Medrash Hagadol is the historical pulpit occupied by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, zt”l (1840-1902) renowned first and only chief rabbi of New York City (1888-1902).

The kallah is the granddaughter of Rabbi Gavriel Yehuda Neuschloss of Williamsburg, and of Rabbi Meir Horowitz, zt”l (1927-2004) Shotzer Rebbe in Boro Park; son of Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Horowitz, zt”l (1898-1967) Shotzer Rebbe who arrived in the United States in 1928. Rabbi Yisroel Dovid was the son-in-law and successor to Rabbi Meir Moskowitz, zt”l (1853-1921) Shotzer Rebbe. Rabbi Gavriel Yehuda Neuschloss is the younger brother of Rabbi Moshe Neuschloss, zt”l (1911-1997) who served as Serdehaly Rav in Williamsburg and was appointed Skverer Rav with the establishment of the Skverer Community in Spring Valley in 1957.

First person to come up with it gets 20 Wolf points...

The Wolf

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Using Lies and Deception to Make Your Point

Leapa reports that a pashkevil hanging up around Boro Park (pictured at right) states:

The fact is: Eighty percent (80%) of Gitin (Jewish Divorces) .... are products of a computer at home, or a cellphone or i-pod in a pocket.

This is the dry fact. It is attested to by all Rabbonim which do Gitin.

Dear Young Person (Yingerman): If you do not want this device to throw you out of your house, throw it out first!!!

(Note: My Yiddish skills are minimal. The translation is Leapa's. However, from what little I do know, it looks reasonably accurate. If it's not, please let me know and I'll modify the translation accordingly.)

To be perfectly honest, I'm not an expert in the field of divorce, so I'll be the first to admit that I could be wrong. However, I *highly* doubt that 80% of all divorces among Orthodox Jews are because of a computer in the home (it doesn't even mention the Internet), an Ipod or a cellphone. Unless, of course, "being caused by" equates to "owning one," in which case, I'd say that over 99% of all divorces are caused by telephones and electricity.

Now, if someone wants to start a crusade against computers, cellphones and Ipods, I don't have a problem with it (as long as there is no coercion involved). I have no problem with someone asking me to get rid of my computer, my TV or my MP3 player (which isn't an Ipod), as long as they don't get involved in coercion or deception.

It's when people start using deception and make up facts that I start to get annoyed and begin to "push back." The best example from my experience, I suppose, is that I have no beef with Christian missionaries, whereas I have nothing but utter contempt for Jews for Jesus -- specifically because the former is simply advancing their ideas in a straightforward manner and the latter are being deceptive to accomplish their goals.

It's when someone starts to use deception that my sympathies for their goal start to go downhill. For example, a few weeks ago, the President of a shul in my neighborhood got up on Friday night after davening and asked the congregants to contact their representatives (or was it the president?) about Jonathan Pollard. In his little speech, he said that the Pollard incident was "the Dreyfus Affair all over again." Now, we can argue whether or not Pollard deserved his life sentence; we can debate whether or not he should still be in prison; but one thing is clear -- Alfred Dreyfus was framed and innocent of all the charges against him. Jonathan Pollard, on the other hand, broke the law -- a fact that no one denies. Comparing him to Dreyfus completely destroyed his case, in my opinion. I have little tolerance for deception in rhetoric -- and yes, exaggeration is a form of deception. Are there divorces caused by computers (i.e. the Internet)? No doubt there are -- but 80%?

You often here this from members of our community regarding things that they want to do away with. Invariably, someone will get up and state that [fill in the blank] is the "greatest danger to K'lal Yisroel" today. It could be television, movies, cell phones, computers, DVDs, Ipods, mixed seating, college education, or whatever. If I had a dime for every time I heard something was the "greatest danger..., " well, I wouldn't be a millionaire, but I'd probably have at least two bucks. By definition, there can only be one "greatest danger" and yet it shifts every time to be whatever the particular speaker is talking about.

Is it possible to have an argument using just plain old simple facts? If you think that computers, cellphones and Ipods are deleterious to a marriage, then please make a cogent case for it. But don't pull numbers out of thin air. If you think that Pollard should be out of prison, then make a case for it; but don't compare him to an innocent man. And the next time someone thinks that some product or service is bad for the Jewish community, let him say so without shouting that it's the "greatest danger to K'lal Yisroel." Just make a good case using simple facts and reasoning.

The Wolf

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Another Home Run for Chananya Weissman

Rabbi Chananya Weissman is the director of End The Madness, an organization dedicated to combating the angst and hardships associated with dating in the religious Jewish community.

You would think that in these days of the Shidduch Crisis, people would be doing anything (within reason, of course) to facilitate people in their goal of getting married and not throw additional artificial and unnecessary roadblocks in their way. And yet, as Rabbi Weissman reports in this week's Jewish Press, that's exactly what is happening. What are the new rules?

As he writes: minhag in the shidduch world has been widely implemented: a younger sibling is forbidden to pursue marriage until all older siblings have been spoken for. If the younger sibling is not comfortable with waiting, he or she must ask for permission from the older sibling to date. If the younger sibling is successful in finding a shidduch, he or she must then ask for forgiveness from the older sibling.

Rabbi Weissman rightly trashes this new "minhag"in his piece. Personally, I just can't fathom why people want to put additional roadblocks in the way of people who want to get married. If a person (of marriageable age, of course) finds their bashert, they should go forward. There's no reason to toss the bashert aside simply because an older sibling hasn't yet found theirs.

Yet another reason that the world of shidduch dating needs a major overhaul.

The Wolf

Interesting Historical Curiosity

Events for June 7 (according to Wikipedia):

1099: Siege of Jerusalem begins during the First Crusade
1967: Israeli troops enter Jerusalem during the Six Day War

(Yeah, I know that this means that I messed up yesterday's post. And yeah, I know that the June 7 of 1099 isn't the same as the June 7 of 1967 because the former was in the Julian calendar and the latter in the Gregorian. So what?)

The Wolf

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yerushalayim. Forty Years Ago Today.

A friend of mine posted on her LiveJournal a translation of a transcript of an audio tape of the IDF soldiers entering Jerusalem forty years ago today. I found reading it to be very emotional and decided to pass it along.

The Wolf

Colonel Motta Gur [on loudspeaker]: All company commanders, we're sitting right now on the ridge and we're seeing the Old City. Shortly we're going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City. Eitan's tanks will advance on the left and will enter the Lion's Gate. The final rendezvous will be on the open square above. [The open square of the Temple Mount.]

[Sound of applause by the soldiers.]

Yossi Ronen: We are now walking on one of the main streets of Jerusalem towards the Old City. The head of the force is about to enter the Old City.


Yossi Ronen: There is still shooting from all directions; we're advancing towards the entrance of the Old City.

[Sound of gunfire and soldiers' footsteps.]

[Yelling of commands to soldiers.]

[More soldiers' footsteps.]

The soldiers are keeping a distance of approximately 5 meters between them. It's still dangerous to walk around here; there is still sniper shooting here and there.


We're all told to stop; we're advancing towards the mountainside; on our left is the Mount of Olives; we're now in the Old City opposite the Russian church. I'm right now lowering my head; we're running next to the mountainside. We can see the stone walls. They're still shooting at us. The Israeli tanks are at the entrance to the Old City, and ahead we go, through the Lion's Gate. I'm with the first unit to break through into the Old City. There is a Jordanian bus next to me, totally burnt; it is very hot here. We're about to enter the Old City itself. We're standing below the Lion's Gate, the Gate is about to come crashing down, probably because of the previous shelling. Soldiers are taking cover next to the palm trees; I'm also staying close to one of the trees. We're getting further and further into the City.


Colonel Motta Gur announces on the army wireless: The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!

All forces, stop firing! This is the David Operations Room. All forces, stop firing! I repeat, all forces, stop firing! Over.

Commander eight-nine here, is this Motta (Gur) talking? Over.

[Inaudible response on the army wireless by Motta Gur.]

Uzi Narkiss: Motta, there isn't anybody like you. You're next to the Mosque of Omar.

Yossi Ronen: I'm driving fast through the Lion's Gate all the way inside the Old City.

Command on the army wireless: Search the area, destroy all pockets of resistance [but don't touch anything in the houses], especially the holy places.

[Lt.- Col. Uzi Eilam blows the Shofar. Soldiers are singing 'Jerusalem of Gold'.]

Uzi Narkiss: Tell me, where is the Western Wall? How do we get there?

Yossi Ronen: I'm walking right now down the steps towards the Western Wall. I'm not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I'm touching the stones of the Western Wall.

Soldiers: [reciting the 'Shehechianu' blessing]: Baruch ata Hashem, elokeinu melech haolam, she-hechianu ve-kiemanu ve-hegianu la-zman ha-zeh. [Translation: Blessed art Thou L-rd G-d King of the Universe who has sustained us and kept us and has brought us to this day]

Rabbi Shlomo Goren: Baruch ata Hashem, menachem tsion u-voneh Yerushalayim. [Translation: Blessed are thou, who comforts Zion and builds Jerusalem]

Soldiers: Amen!

[Soldiers sing 'Hatikva' next to the Western Wall.]

Rabbi Goren: We're now going to recite the prayer for the fallen soldiers of this war against all of the enemies of Israel:

[Soldiers weeping]

E-l male rahamim, shohen ba-meromim. Hamtse menuha nahona al kanfei hashina, be-maalot kedoshim, giborim ve-tehorim, kezohar harakiya meirim u-mazhirim. Ve-nishmot halalei tsava hagana le-yisrael, she-naflu be-maaraha zot, neged oievei yisrael, ve-shnaflu al kedushat Hashem ha-am ve-ha'arets, ve-shichrur Beit Hamikdash, Har Habayit, Hakotel ha-ma'aravi veyerushalayim ir ha-elokim. Be-gan eden tehe menuhatam. Lahen ba'al ha-rahamim, yastirem beseter knafav le-olamim. Ve-yitsror be-tsror ha-hayim et nishmatam adoshem hu nahlatam, ve-yanuhu be-shalom al mishkavam [soldiers weeping loud]ve-ya'amdu le-goralam le-kets ha-yamim ve-nomar amen!

[Translation: Merciful G-d in heaven, may the heroes and the pure, be under thy Divine wings, among the holy and the pure who shine bright as the sky, and the souls of soldiers of the Israeli army who fell in this war against the enemies of Israel, who fell for their loyalty to G-d and the land of Israel, who fell for the liberation of the Temple, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and Jerusalem the city of the Lord. May their place of rest be in paradise. Merciful One, O keep their souls forever alive under Thy protective wings. The Lord being their heritage, may they rest in peace, for they shalt rest and stand up for their allotted portion at the end of the days, and let us say, Amen.]

[Soldiers are weeping. Rabbi Goren sounds the shofar. Sound of gunfire in the background.]

Rabbi Goren: Le-shana HA-ZOT be-Yerushalayim ha-b'nuya, be-yerushalayim ha-atika! [Translation: This year in a rebuilt Jerusalem! In the Jerusalem of old!]

Prayers, Prayors-For-Hire and Emotional Commitment

Orthomom and others have highlighted an "insurance program" that is out there called Shmira Bidirachim. The basic idea is that if you make a donation to Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project, children in the yeshivos will pray for your safety on the road.

I'm not going to rant over how this is, in fact, not an insurance program (the disclaimer on the page specifically says that you cannot claim monies from the Project), nor about how this smacks of hucksterism.

What I would like to discuss is the idea of praying for a large group of largely anonymous strangers and in what way (if any) it is beneficial.

As most of us are probably aware, God does not need our prayers. Our prayers do nothing for Him. He doesn't need us to ask him for anything -- whether it be for parnassah (livelihood) to put bread on the table, guidance on how to raise our children, recovery from an illness for ourselves or a loved one, or anything else.

So, then, why do we pray? After all, prayer is not, according to some authorities, a biblical commandment (with one exception). Certainly the forms of most of the prayers that we recite daily are not biblical in origin. So, why do we pray?

Many commentators have offered many answers for this. My personal favorite is that praying is done for *our* benefit. We pray to make us aware that there is an Omnipotent One from whom all of our blessings derive. We pray to make ourselves better people by acknowledging the good that is done for us. A good analogy for this is the example of when I give my children a present. When I do so, they should say "thank you." If they fail to do so, I remind them. It's not because I *need* the thanks. I do it because instilling a sense of hakaras hatov (being greatful for good done to you) is important to me and makes them better people. I want my children to acknowledge when someone does something good for them. Likewise, we should acknowledge all the good that God does for us. Not because He needs the acknowledgement... but because we become better people because of it. It's interesting to note that the words to pray "l'hispallel" in Hebrew are in the binyan of hispael -- a reflexive tense. It is something that is done to, or for oneself.

So, I pray to God for all the things I need in life. I need parnassah... and so I pray. I need help recovering from a fever... and so I pray. I need guidance in rearing my children, and so I pray, and pray and pray. And it benefits me because it helps me to realize what is important to me and helps me acknowledge the Source of my blessings. I see that God grants me parnassah, I see that God helped me overcome the fever I had last week, I see that God helps me to raise my children. I see God's hands (so to speak, of course) in my life.

But what happens when I'm removed from the events that I'm asking for? About a year and a half ago, I posted about a boy from my extended neighborhood who was fighting cancer. A friend of mine, who lives on the same block as the boy, asked me (and other people) to say tehillim (Psalms) for the boy... something I agreed to do. Now, I personally never met the boy. I had not seen him prior to his illness and, to the best of my knowledge, I have not laid eyes on this boy since. I have, however, asked my friend about the boy's progress. I have taken an interest (even if minimally) in his welfare and health. Does the fact that I do not know the boy personally make my prayer less effective than the prayer of, let's say, his parents? Well, I'll be the first to admit that I probably didn't pray with the fervor that his parents did. I probably didn't put in nearly the emotional commitment to the prayer and certainly not any of the heartache, tears and appeal for mercy that his parents must have put in. Since my prayers were not nearly of the "quality" that his parents put in, they certainly didn't have the effect on me that they must have had on his parents. I was certainly affected in my prayers, but not nearly to the extent that the boy's parents were by theirs.

Now this was a case of my praying for one person, who was a friend-of-a-friend. While the kid was a stranger to me personally, he wasn't all that removed from my sphere of life. I could have, if I so wished, asked my friend to introduce me to the boy. I could have befriended his parents. I could have offered my help in other ways. The fact that I didn't is a shame, but really beyond the scope of this essay. The main point is that while the "beneficiary" of my prayers was a stranger, he wasn't all that removed from my life.

But what about when it's someone who is removed from my life (to the point where I will not ever meet this person) and that this person is not "special" to anyone that I know. When I receive a chain email to daven for so-and-so and I'm in the eighth iteration of that email, I'm then even further removed from the person for whom I am requested to pray. My emotional involvement is lessened by quite a bit. I don't know the "beneficiary," nor do I even know the person who made the appeal to pray for so-and-so in the first place. Heck, I don't even know the person who asked the person who asked the person who asked the person who asked... well, you get the idea. To me, it's just a name - nothing more. Can it harm to recite a chapter of tehillim and recite a prayer for the person? Of course not. But I simply can't make the emotional investment for a stranger like that (especially when I literally have nothing more than a name -- no details, etc.). It's very difficult. Does that make my prayer less effective? Well, judging on the quality of my emotional investment, I'd say that it is less effective. If the purpose of prayer is to arouse feeling within me, to get me to pour out my heart to God, to effect a change in me and the way I perceive life, then I'd have to say that, yes, the prayer is less effective. Does that mean that God listens any less? For that, I have no answer. Nor do I think that anyone else does.

But now what happens when it's not just one name, but a list of thousands of names? Or worse a prayer "for all those who are on our list" without knowing who is on the list. I suppose that if it's a one time thing, or a special circumstance, that it could make a big difference. I wasn't alive forty years ago when the Six Day War was being fought, but I have little doubt that had I been, I could have made an emotional plea to God to protect Israel and all its inhabitants from harm. Even though the number of people I personally know in Israel is rather small, I could have found the emotion necessary because of the unusual circumstances involved. But what if it's something done every day, day in and day out for the long term? What if it does not entail some exceptional circumstance or unusual occurrence? The example of our "insurance program" comes to mind. In this example, I'm being given a list of names to pray for... to pray that people on our list who are traveling reach their destinations safely. The list must no doubt be hundreds, if not thousands of names long. Can I really make an emotional investment in such a list of strangers (heck, I may not even see the list... it may just sit in a computer somewhere and I might be asked to simply pray for those "on the list.")? Does such a prayer, when made day in and day out really affect me? Or do I become immune to it after the fourth day and begin reciting them in a mindless fashion? In all likelihood, the latter is what happens. I just can't make an emotional investment in a list of names... and, I suspect, most people can't. Look at how many of us simply rush through our Shmoneh Esrei or Birchas HaMazon every day -- and these are prayers that affect us personally and directly! That being said, if the purpose of prayer is to benefit the prayor (is that even a word?), then what is the benefit of this program? Does God need prayers droned on emotionlessly by children who, in all likelihood, don't understand the prayers being said for a group of strangers whom they will never meet nor have any real connection to in any meaningful way in their lives? Is this of any value to Him? Wouldn't He rather have heartfelt prayers?

Personally, I think that there are better ways to do this. I can think of one right now. For a while, things were not going well for eeees and I financially. We struggled and had difficulty paying the bills. Thank God, things are better now, but for a while, we were receiving food from an organization called Tomche Shabbos. This organization consists of people who voluntarily give of their time and distribute food for Shabbos and Yom Tov to people who are in need of it. I think that this organization could do something similar and have it be legitimate. Ask people to donate to the organization. With the food, include a flyer asking the person receiving the food to pray for all those who contributed their time and money to this worthy organization. Will you have 100% compliance? Of course not... but certainly there will be some who will pray. And why is this different than the Ashdod Mercaz Chinuch Project? Because the people doing the praying have a reason to be emotionally invested in their prayers. They (should) realize that the food doesn't magically pop up on their doorstep on Thursday night... it is because someone donated money, because a grocer donated food, because people donate their time and efforts to sort and box the food into packages, and others donate their cars, vans and muscle power to deliver them. Being the direct beneficiary of someone else's goodness, they have a reason to say "thank you" and wish goodness on the people who help provide them with food for Shabbos; and that emotional investment in the prayers is what makes the prayers all the more meaningful then a prayer some anonymous long list of names.

Does this mean that God rejects prayers that are recited endlessly by people who put minimal emotion into them and have no connection at all to the person for whom they are praying? I can't answer that question. Certainly reciting such prayers don't hurt. But to "sell" them as if they certainly work (and yet, refuse to offer a refund when they don't!!) just strikes me as utterly wrong.

The Wolf

Friday, June 01, 2007

Head. Wall. Bang.

I had a conversation with an interesting fellow on the subway this past week. He tried to prove to me that the Torah is true from the "four animals*" proof.

Once he got into his shpiel I told him very simply that the hyrax and hare are not, in fact, true ruminants.

"Yes they are," he told me.

"If you're certain that the hare and the hyrax are ruminants, how do you answer zoologists that say that they've observed and studied these animals and found that they aren't ruminants?"

"I don't have to answer them," he told me. "I know that they are ruminants. How do I know? Because it says in the Torah that they are ma'ale geirah."

The Wolf

* The "four animals proof" to the divinity of the Torah goes like this: The Torah lists four animals that have only one of the two signs of a kosher mammal. The fact that the Torah listed these four shows that they are the only four in existence (otherwise, the Torah could have just specified the rule and not given the examples). Since no other animals with only one sign have been discovered, and we know that Moshe did not hold a PhD in zoology, the information could only have come from God.

For more on this, read Rabbi Slifkin's book "The Camel, the Hare and the Hyrax"