Monday, October 29, 2007

Two Wrongs...

Here are some pictures you don't see everyday!!

Jews for Jesus vs. the Chabad messianic movement.

Photos from krint01 on the WeirdJews Livejournal group.

The Wolf


There are occasions during the course of a year which give one reason to look back and reflect on where they've been and what they've done over the last year. In the Jewish religion, we have Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, which afford us the chance to try to right the wrongs we've done in the last year. Among the secular culture, New Year's Day, with its famous resolutions, afford people the opportunity to resolve to make their lives better over the course of the next year.

There is another example of a date that can be used for reflection and resolution -- one that is personal to each individual person. That day is one's birthday. Everyone has a birthday once a year (even those people born on February 29 have a birthday every year, it's just celebrated on March 1st.) and can use it as a chance to look back at the past year and reflect on the upcoming one.

Most Orthodox Jews are well aware of the fact that they have two birthdays, one in the Gregorian calendar and one in the Hebrew calendar. The two calendars sync up on a nineteen-year cycle, so that every nineteen years, most people have their Hebrew and English birthdays together again.*

Today is my birthday, and it is a birthday that is a multiple of that nineteen year cycle. This affords me a chance to not only look back at the last year, but also at the last nineteen, and reflect at where I was in life nineteen years ago, what has changed for me since then, and what things might be like (and what I want them to be like) nineteen years from now.

Nineteen years ago, I was a young kid.
Now I am fully an adult.

Nineteen years ago, I was thin.
Now I'm fat -- although in the interim, I was fat and thin and then fat again.

Nineteen years ago I had a girlfriend with whom I wanted to spend my life, with whom I wanted to raise a Jewish family and with whom I was completely in love.
Now, I'm married to that same girl, have three children, a home of my own, and realize that what I felt then for Eeees was barely an infatuation compared to the feelings I have for her now.

Nineteen years ago, I was in my first year of college.
Today I'm applying to go back to college yet again.

Nineteen years ago, I had four living grandparents.
Today I have one.

Nineteen years ago, I had five aunts who were all happily married.
Today, only two are still married. Two are divorced and one is widowed.

Nineteen years ago, I was helping Skipper (my sister) get through high-school math.
Today, I'm helping Walter (my son) get through high-school math.

Nineteen years ago, I was a firm believer in a young earth, in biblical literalism and an avid follower of the books of R. Avigdor Miller and the like.
Today, I'm an old-earth Creationist. I'm pretty convinced of the truth of evolution, of the age of the Universe and most of the evidence that is used to support it. I'm far more skeptical today than I was nineteen years ago.

Nineteen years ago, I had pictured that I would make my mark writing fiction.
Today my non-fiction is read far more widely than my fiction ever was.

Nineteen years ago, I was just beginning to appreciate the value of Jewish learning. Having come out of a wasted high school career, I was certain that learning Gemara was a waste of time. The beis medrash I was enrolled in back then was slowly beginning to change my mind.
Today, I see immense value in Jewish learning. I see that it can teaches and instructs us in how to live our lives. I have learned to see value and opportunities for understanding in lessons that I might have considered obviously false and worthless nineteen years ago. I've learned to appreciate Midrash for what it is, and not for what others try to make it out to be.

Nineteen years ago, I would have believed anyone who told me about mekubalim, miracles performed by modern-day rabbis and the like.
Today, I'm far more skeptical. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but I've set the bar of proof a lot higher than I used to.

Nineteen years ago, I followed professional baseball passionately.
Today, I follow the game casually. I watched about two or three innings from the just-completed World Series. Other interests have caused baseball to fade into the background. Now, I spend more time on photography, on game design, on my blog and with my family.

Nineteen years ago, I didn't appreciate how much my parents put into raising Skipper and myself.
Today I have a far better understanding of what they went through.

Nineteen years ago, I was conflicted about who I was and what I wanted to be. I wasn't sure if I belonged in the yeshivish crowd, or among the Young Israel crowd, or in any of half a dozen other groups.
Today, I am finally comfortable where I am, in the middle of no particular group.

Nineteen years ago, I could barely learn Mishnayos.
Today, I just recently completed a siyum on all six sedarim of Mishnayos.

Nineteen years ago, I never could have imagined the Internet.
Today I earn my living through it. My life (and just about everyone's) is permanently changed because of it. Sometimes I wonder how I got through most of my life without it.

Nineteen years ago, I was a social wallflower.
Today, I'm still somewhat of a wallflower... but thanks to Eeees, I've become more social over the years.

Nineteen years ago, I was a slow-to-anger kid... it took a lot to get me upset, but when I finally got pushed over the line, I let it all out.
Today, I've learned to control those outbursts so that I don't even let it out anymore. I try to keep it as bottled up as I can and let it out in small doses over time.

Nineteen years ago, I was an Emergency Medical Technician.
Today I have no inclination to go into the medical field at all.

Nineteen years ago, I had just been fired from a job as a Ba'al Kriah for incompetence.
Today, I am a competent ba'al kriah, thanks to a shul where they were willing to work with me and help me to improve my laining.

Ninteen years ago, I thought I knew everything.
Today, not only do I not know everything, but I know that what I know now will be nothing compared to what I'll know in another nineteen years.

Nineteen years ago, I was committed to leading a life of Torah and Mitzvos.
Today, I still have that same commitment.

That's a brief picture of where I was back then and where I am now. I suppose the next question is, where am I going? What will I be like in nineteen years? What do I want my future to be like in nineteen years? Well, let's see, in nineteen years, my kids will all be in their 30s -- far closer to my current age than they their current ages. It's likely that all of them will be parents as well. With HKBH's help, they'll all be living Torah-observant lifestyles, raising their children to do the same.

But what about me? How do I see myself in nineteen years? I'm not sure that I can answer that... and maybe that's a failing on my part. I suppose I see myself having a lot more books in my head, both Judaic and secular. I certainly hope to see myself better able to learn Torah and far more advanced in my Torah learning than I am today. But I also hope to be far better read in science, literature and culture than I am today. I hope to be able to further build my skills in debate and rhetoric so as to be able to better articulate my feelings and ideas. I hope to become a better lomed mikul adam (someone who learns from everyone else).

And I hope to continue falling even further in love with Eeees; and that she does so with me. :)

The Wolf

* Alas, this isn't the case for me. Nineteen years ago, the cycle was off by one day for me. Furthermore, the cycle will again be off for me in 2026, 2045 and 2064. The next time these two dates come together on this cycle is in 2083.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Our Kids... Do We Want To Force Them To Keep The Mitzvos?

Rabbi Horowitz (who has been recently appointed at the "Bloggers' favorite rabbi") wrote a new article concerning teenagers. He makes the point that there are kids who rebel at young ages (13 or 14) and no longer have an interest in being frum. These aren't kids who are getting involved in drugs, alcohol, sex, etc., they just aren't interested in keeping the mitzvos (commandments).

As he says:

I am getting a new wave of parents begging me to speak to their children. The profile is chillingly similar: 13-14 years old boys and girls. High achieving in school. No emotional problems; great, respectful kids from great homes. Well adjusted. They just don’t want to be frum. Period. They are eating on Yom Kippur, not keeping Shabbos, not keeping kosher; et al.

No anger, no drugs, no promiscuous activity. They are just not buying what we are selling. Some have decided to ‘go public’, while others are still ‘in the closet’. In some of the cases, their educators have no idea of what is really going on.

Without offering any concrete ideas on what should be changed, Rabbi Horowitz correctly points out that *something* must be done.

What I found interesting was that right away, the very first commenter, chose to bury his (or her) head in the sand. The comment was:

I dont believe it. 13 and 14 year old kids are still very much under their parents control. They might not be as frum as their parents might want them to be, but eating on Yom Kippur and being Mechalel Shabbos at home with their parents there? Personally I think that you are trying to scare up some business for yourself. Maybe get more speaking engagements or more people reading your column. Kids at that age are not bold enough to go against their parents.

The commenter, IMHO, missed the point entirely. Could a parent enforce observance on a thirteen or fourteen year old? Probably. They could probably lock up the kitchen on Yom Kippur, make sure the kid doesn't go to parties on Friday night, bentches after every meal and so on. But is that really what we want? In my opinion, if you have to *force* kids to keep the mitzvos, then you've already lost a good deal of the battle.

Teenagers (and yes, even ones as young as 13) are old enough to begin searching for their own identity and to begin forming world-views. They are no longer at an age where they will simply accept the hashkafos of parents simply because it's what their parents believe and do. They are beginning to find their way in the world and will not be stuffed back in the bottle. As the parent of three kids in the age range of 11 to 14, I can tell you that they can all think independently of how you *want* them to think.

The goal, as I said earlier, is not to enforce observance of the mitzvos. The goal should be to foster an environment in which your children *want* to keep the mitzvos. That's the only method that has any chance of success... because the time will come when your thirteen-year-old turns twenty, and you have no control over him/her at all. At that point, the only thing that you have left is how much you made your kids want to keep the mitzvos. You won't be able to force them anymore.

The Wolf

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Geocentrism: Jewish Press Readers Let Amnon Goldberg Have It

Last week, Amnon Goldberg wrote a letter to the Jewish Press advocating that the hard-geocentric model (i.e. that the earth is the center of the universe, not just the solar system) as the Torah-true model. I blogged about one little absurdity to the theory.

Well, in today's Jewish Press, there are six letters to the editor, all of which concern the extended debate surrounding Rabbi Natan Slifkin. Of the six letters, five take issue with Amnon Goldberg's letter and theory. Several of them even brought up the point that I made in my post, that a "rotating universe" would require most objects in the universe to zoom by at speeds far faster than the speed of light.

The Wolf

Monday, October 08, 2007

You Don't Have To Buy The Whole Package

Eeees and I recently attended a Bar Mitzvah. In fact, it was the Bar Mitzvah of the son of the couple with whom we had our snootiness problem about two years ago. Over the last two years, we have become friendly with the family, had them over to our house for meals, invited them to our son's Bar Mitzvah and now attended the Bar Mitzvah of their oldest son.

This Bar Mitzvah was not like the Bar Mitzvah that we had for our son. We had separate seating, they had mixed seating. All of our music was Jewish, theirs had quite a few modern tunes. Ours had a mechitza for dancing, theirs didn't. At theirs, the DJ gave away a giant blowup Simpson's couch to the best dancers (thank God our kids didn't come away with that - they were orange! :) ). We didn't have a DJ or prizes. But that's fine... no one has to do things our way, or their way.

During the festivities, Eeees and I talked about how our Bar Mitzvah was different from this and concluded that this type of affair was not one that we would have. If we had Walter's Bar Mitzvah to do over again, we would probably do it the same way again. Aside from the separate seating (which we did for other reasons), we preferred the way we did it to the way this Bar Mitzvah went. That's not to say that this Bar Mitzvah wasn't good... we had a great time, and loved being present to help celebrate our friend's simcha. It's just not the way we would do it... but that's fine - as I said above, two people don't have to celebrate the same simcha the same way.

One of the things that we talked about at the affair was how we seem to be somewhere in-between several different mehalchim (paths). We're not Yeshivish, yet I wouldn't say that we're really Modern Orthodox either. This past Shabbos we ate with a family who could be described as Yeshivish, maybe even Chareidi-like... and we were comfortable and had a great time. At the same time, we are also comfortable with our friends who just had the Bar Mitzvah, and they are clearly Modern-Orthodox and have a good time with them as well. We daven in a shul that could be described as Yeshivish, but yet has many people who are not in the Yeshivish mold. I don't wear a hat, nor do I cover my head with my tallis, and yet I am the regular ba'al kriah there and sometime ba'al tefillah as well. We hang around with people who are to the "right" of us and the "left" of us. So, where do we fit? What's our "label?" With which community to we belong? That was the question that Eeees asked me yesterday.

I responded to her that you don't have to buy the whole package from any one group. You can take some elements that you like from the Yeshivish mehalech, and some elements from the Modern Orthodox mehalech and some elements from other mehalchim and synthesize them into your own mehalech. There is no one, I told her (apart from some Chareidim) that say that you have to take the entire package of any one group and live by it. Feel free to borrow from here or from there. Sure, you may not end up fitting neatly into one of the "labels" but who cares? People don't (or shouldn't) live their lives to fit into a label -- they should live their lives according to the values, ideals and mores that they hold dear and wish to live by. And that's actually how we've been living our lives for the last sixteen years, taking a bit from here and a bit from there to form our own whole. Maybe we should start a new mehalech called "Wolfish?"

It's very interesting living in-between the different communities. We have a television in our house (and yes, it's in the living room -- not hidden away in our bedroom or in a closet). We go out to movies. I'm a firm believer in higher education (read: college) and critical thinking. I'm a firm believer in encouraging children to ask questions, not stifling them. If you're a regular reader of my blog, then you know my position on many matters regarding Judaism today. I'm very open about who I am and what I believe.

And yet, Eeees covers her hair -- not because of societal pressure, but because she believes that it's the right thing to do. I learn every day, not because I think it's an interesting intellectual pursuit or because I think that the learning police are going to catch me if I don't -- I do it because I think it's the right thing to do. I don't have secular music at a seudas mitzvah not because I don't like secular music, but because I think that, for me, it doesn't have a place at a seudas mitzvah. I monitor which television shows my kids watch, what movies they see and what internet sites they visit, because I think it's the right thing to do. (As an aside, George won a Simpsons blow up doll by the Bar Mitzvah. The DJ asked him who he likes better, Bart or Homer. Eeees and I were laughing because we knew that he had no idea who either of them were -- we don't let our twelve year old watch The Simpsons.) We have some definite ideas about what is considered tznius and how a young girl should act. We have rules on how we feel that our sons, as B'nei Torah should act, both in the Bein Adam LaMakom and Bein Adam L'Chaveiro categories. We have standards of kashrus that the kids know that they can't eat in certain places, even if they are labeled as kosher.

So, we're neither here nor there. But you know what? I'm happy that way.

The Wolf

(Side note: While I was composing this post, Walter called me to inform me of two extracurricular clubs he is joining at school. One will work through mishnayos Seder Nizikin and finish by the end of the school year. The other is a Latin club. It seems that he too wants to take from multiple mehalchim as well.)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Quick Take on Geocentrism

This past week's Jewish Press had a letter from Amnon Goldberg, of Sefad, Israel, advocating geocentrism as the Torah-true view of cosmology. He relies on Mach's Principle (something that has never been fully accepted by the scientific community) to make the point. He states:

Mach’s Principle shows that a universe going around the Earth every 24 hours will produce exactly the same effects as Foucault’s Pendulum, Coriolis forces, earth bulge, weather patterns etc., as an Earth rotating in its axis every 24 hours.

Now, I'm not going to claim that I fully understand Mach's Principle, but one of the main problems I have with it is this:

The Andromeda Galaxy is the closest galaxy to the Milky Way. It lies aproximately 2.5 million light-years away from us. If one maintains that the entire universe rotates around the earth every day, that means that the Andromeda Galaxy would speed along, making a 15.7 million light-year journey every day (circumference = pi * diameter)*. That results in a speed *much* faster than the speed of light. And objects that are even further away would have to travel even faster to make it around the earth every day. To me, a rotating earth sounds much more reasonable.

The Wolf

(*Yes, I know the path that the galaxy would take would be an elipse and not a circle -- I just used the formula for the circumference of a circle as an approximation.)