Thursday, February 28, 2008
A Rabbinic Ban I Can Stand Behind 100%
Let's hope that this ban is as effective as the recent concert ban. (The cynic in me says no, but I like to try to be optimistic anyway. Someone please pass me my rose-colored contact lenses.)
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The Gedolim And How They Relate To The Common Person
Yossi has some excellent points in his post and I don't want to seem like I am contradicting him. A lot of what he says is true. And yet, in some ways, I think that part of the problem is the fact that the gedolim aren't accessible enough to and don't relate to us (the common person).
There are several issues to be addressed here:
1. The gedolim aren't accountable to the people they are leading.
I know that this may sound like heresy, but if the gedolim want the respect of the people they are leading, they have to be accountable too. The problem isn't that gedolim issue bans - the problem is that no one clearly knows *why* things are banned and no one knows the thought process and decisions that go into those bans.
For example, consider the latest ban on the "Big Event" concert, which caused one of the performers to back out. When the ban came out, it was unclear whether or not the ban applied to this concert only, or to all concerts. Why this concert? Why not the HASC concerts or any of the other concerts that go on around the country. Is there any official explanation to this? Have any of the gedolim issued a follow up statement explaining why *this* concert is bad but others are okay?
Here's an even better question -- why was the concert banned? Look at the banning document (from Life Of Rubin): okay, there's something there about the singers and kalus rosh (frivolity) but (unless I missed something), I didn't see a single reason listed -- it basically boils down to "because I said so."
Of course, for some people, that's good enough. Some people will follow a gadol blindly no matter what he says. He'll just assume that the gadol's decree comes straight from Heaven and follow it no matter what. Well, if that's the way you want to live your life, then fine... if it works for you, gezunt. However, it doesn't work that way for all of us. Heck, it doesn't even work that way for most of us. If something is assur, I'd like to know why. Call it a lack of emunah on my part, if you want -- it doesn't matter. Some may scream that "Gadol X doesn't owe you an explanation!" You're right, he doesn't "owe" me an explanation... but if he wants me to follow his words, he should provide one. The world of old doesn't exist anymore... gedolim cannot continue with a "because I said so" approach. It may have worked a hundred years ago, but it is falling out of favor with an ever-increasing portion of the frum community.
And lest anyone think that it's beneath his dignity to have to explain his reasoning to the common man, let him feel free to open up an Igros Moshe, where R. Feinstein zt"l didn't just say "assur" or "muttar," but oftentimes went to painful lengths to explain his reasoning.
2. The gedolim live in ivory towers.
In the past, gedolim used to do first-hand research to discover the facts of a situation before they ruled on it. Yes, there were times that they got it right and there were times they got the facts wrong... but at least they tried to get them.
Today, however, it seems that gedolim simply take their cues from neighborhood zealots. They are fed misinformation about a situation causing them to rule on cases that do not exist. I can think of two examples off the top of my head:
a. The concert ban at hand. Chaim, at Life of Rubin, shows how gedolim are fed misinformation to get them to sign onto bans. One person signed only after he told that there would be mixed seating, when, in fact, the concert is separate seating.
b. The ban on Rabbi Slifkin's books. His books were banned by rabannim who, for the most part, had not even read the books. Even three years later, some of his opponents are still seeking to continue the ban (warning: PDF) based on misinformation and distortions of what he said.
We're all familiar the idea of GIGO -- garbage in, garbage out. In order for a posek to make a ruling on an issue, he has to have first-hand knowledge of the facts of the issue. If you're going to ban the circumstances of a concert, at least make sure that the facts are as they've been presented. If you're going to ban a book, at least make sure that the book actually states what you think it states.
3. The gedolim take a heavy-handed approach
It seems of late that the gedolim have taken a "my way or the highway" approach to rulings. For example, it is my understanding (and if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me) that before there was no effort to contact the concert's organizers and address the objections before the ban. Not one of the gedolim reached out (or had their representatives reach out) and see if the concert could be changed to accomodate them. It was simply "no, don't have it," and that's it.
The same thing occurred with Rabbi Slifkin and his works. He was simply told "retract," without being a chance to explain or justify his works. None of them contacted him privately beforehand to say something to the effect of "Reb Nosson, we've been hearing some very disturbing things about some of the books that you've published. Is it true that you said X? Do you really hold of Y? Do you think we can allow a book that says Z to be owned and read by members of our community?" From my understanding (again, if I'm wrong, please feel free to correct me), that did not happen. Rabbi Slifkin was basically given an order to cease and desist without any opportunity to discuss the matter.
It seems that there is no desire on the part of the gedolim to privately fix whatever they perceive to be the problems in the community before going public with a massive ban. While some problems can be fixed with diplomacy, they seem to be fixated on using a bazooka to kill every roach.
4. There has to be a better way for the gedolim to communicate with the community
I find it bizarre that in this day and age, the medium of choice for the word of the gedolim is the broadsheet. I understand that they don't want to get involved in television, radio or the Internet. But there are definitely better ways for gedolim to be able to verify that they have, indeed, signed onto a banning document.
Consider what happened when the concert ban occured. At first, no one knew if the document was real or not. Some figured that it was a Photoshop job of an earlier ban. The next day, a (forged) pashkiville came out stating that the first one was a forgery. In the end, it was verified that most (if not all) of the signatories actually did sign... but there has to be a better way. I can even suggest one.
I live in New York. The climate here is usually pleasant, but on occasion, we get blizzards and lots of snow. When this happens, the schools sometimes close. But I don't have to speak to the administrator of the school to find out if the school is closed on any given day. I have a number that I can call and hear a recording. The recording tells me whether or not I need to bring one of the Freds into school that day. No direct human contact is needed. The same could be done here. How hard would it be for a gadol to pick up a phone and record a three minute message: Hello, this is gadol X. Yes, I did sign on the ban for the concert. It is my opinion that it is wrong to attend this concert because...?" Last time I checked, no one "assur"ed the telephone, answering machine or recording device.
I don't want it to seem like I'm bashing the gedolim here... that's not my purpose or my intent. I can (and do) hold the gedolim and their Torah learning in high respect even if I disagree with the way they choose to communicate with us or the way they investigate situations before they issue bans. But sometimes it seems like they are completely out of step with all except the "we'll follow blindly" portions of our community.
Off-Topic: Twenty Wonderful Years
For me, such a moment occured twenty years ago today. It was twenty years ago today, Feb. 26, 1988, that Eeees and I met in, of all places, the Brooklyn Public Library. I am eternally grateful to HKBH that this beautiful young lady chose to say hello to me on that day, allowed me to walk her and her sister to Ocean Parkway, and allowed me to continue seeing her. Since then, my life has never been the same. It's been a whirlwind of love, happiness, joy, comfort and sharing. It's been one where I have someone with whom I can share life's triumphs and tragedies. It's been one where I know that someone out there truly loves me.
Eeees, thank you for being a part of my life for these past twenty years. I love you and hope we have many, many more years together.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
How Not To Teach Your Kids About Dinosaurs
One poster put in with this comment:
I don't see why there's any need to validate the museum's "hashkafa", or not imply that it's not what we believe.
Surely your son understands that the museum guides aren't Jewish, and he can be simply told that the whole dinosoar thing is goyishe . It shouldn't be hard for him to understand that while we are so lucky we have the Torah, where it tells us how Hashem created the world, Breishis Borah Elokim, etc., and the Torah is truth, Toras Emes, so we know the truth,
but that goyim don't have/ believe in the Torah, and sometimes they make things up taht are not true, like dinosoars and other "shtusim" e.g. fairy-tales.( you don't have to go into the whole evolutionary theory and refute it here, for your innocent little three year old's keppeh'le, just say that it's not what it says in the Torah, and goyim made up these stories.)
Now, if you want to believe that "the whole dinosaur thing is goyishe," I suppose I can't stop you. After all, it's your life and you're free to believe whatever you wish, however mistaken and foolish it might be. But I really want to focus on is not so much her personal belief, but the way she would choose to express it to her son.
Her approach is to tell her son that the "goyims'" lives are so empty without Torah, so devoid of purpose, that they have to make up silly things like dinosaurs in order to give their lives meaning. The main problem with this approach, very simply, is that it is a big, fat lie. I wasn't aware that the prohibition of m'dvar sheker tirchak ended when talking about non-Jews.
Putting aside the aspect of the prohibition, there is another problem with this approach -- very simply, what happens when the child finds out that what his mother told him is simply not true. Lying to children in order to teach a lesson is always bad policy. From the rebbe who tells his students that foods taste better when you make a bracha on them to the parent who tells their kid that scientists are only interested in taking people away from serving HaShem, they spread lies and misinformation to children who, at that age, don't know better.
There is also the question of what happens when the child finds out that she or he has been lied to. No matter how insular your community, there is likely to come a day when you might actually have the opportunity to talk for five minutes with someone another faith, and you find out that they *don't* believe that dinosaurs were made up to give their hollow, empty lives meaning. They might even find out that some of them take their faith in Christianity or Islam or whatever religion seriously, and draw real strength and inspiration from it -- much as they do from the Torah. They may even realize that the non-Jew they are speaking to doesn't believe in dinosaurs either. :)
Even if they never meet Christian or Muslim or Hindu or whatever for a length of time long enough to start a conversation, there's even the danger that they may be able to piece it together for themselves. They may eventually reason "why would they make up something so silly as a dinosaur to give their lives meaning?" They may begin to wonder why billions of people would be willing to walk around in self-delusion about the existence of dinosaurs.
And you don't have to be an adult to reason that out -- heck, I did it in eighth grade. I had a classmate at the time who tried to tell me that all the Christians in the world *know* that Judaism is the true religion, and that they are all just faking it. Now, I didn't know a single non-Jew at the time -- and yet, I was able to instantly spot how ridiculous that sounded. I sometimes wonder if my classmate ever met a devout Christian at some point later in his life, and if he did, how he reconciled the man's faith with his own world view.
With children, however, I think it is very important to always tell the truth when trying to impart important life lessons about Yiddishkeit. Basing your lessons on lies is dangerous, because once the child learns the truth (and, in all likelihood, they *will* learn the truth), they will begin to realize that they've been sold a bill of goods, and they might not be able to distinguish between the lies that they were told, and the truth that they were told. And that road often leads to total rejection.
In short, if you don't want to tell your kids about dinosaurs, then by all means, don't say anything. But don't say something as ridiculous as that the "goyim" make it up because they don't have the Torah.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Guest Post: Why Gedolim Fail
Aside from formatting, there was no editing done on my part.
Why Gedolim fail
The failure of the Gedolim is perhaps the most frequently complained about topic in Orthodox Jewish blogdom.
Their failure to protest issue X, behavior Y, their failure to support initiative Z. No better is when they do decide to act- The Indian hair isn’t really forbidden, the concert tickets were already sold so it’s too late, why attack that person while ignoring this worse one. All are ripe fodder not only for the small fearless media, but also for conversations across every community that isn’t totally black-hat territory, and even some that are.
Why do we do this to them- destroying the precious image of our leaders in our own minds and in the minds of our kids- and why do we do this to ourselves- torturing ourselves into a situation where we continue to obey those whom we have written off in our minds?
I’d venture to put forth that this is a huge issue and must be dealt with soon, because whatever the causes are, it can only get worse, and at some point there won’t be even be a minyan to accept more directions or Daas Torah.
I’ll offer my analysis, and let’s see if anyone agrees.
Our history books have drawn for us a fairly clear picture of the relationships between the people and the gedolim. There were, in every era, the occasional “big” issues, but for the most part each community had it’s own leader, it’s own accepted halachic decisor. The term “Marah D’Asrah” meant exactly, Master of that Place. Local rabbis ruled on all the day-to-day issues, and for everyone, that was enough. On the rare “big issue” occasions, the Rabbi himself would get together with other Rabbi’s, to make the larger decision for the area. Examples would be the Takanos Rabbenu Gershom, the Vaad Arba Haaratzos, the meeting called to discuss the issue of electricity on shabbos, and the like.
Chassidim would of course go to their Rebbe for visits and for a bracha, but did not have phone access to call for piskei halacha or the like; they too relied on the local rabbinate for their daily needs.
Every town had it’s own Rabbi, the larger cities of course having several different kehillos, but still, the same reality applied: With your rabbinic issues, whether shailos or advice, one went to his own local posek. No second opinions, no calling to the Gadol in Israel.
I have been privileged to spend a fair amount of time in the homes of various high-profile Rabbi’s, both pulpit rabbi’s and Roshei Yeshiva. The common denominator in both was that the phone rarely stopped ringing. Some ignored it, others had a tape giving a time when calls could be accepted, some had children answering to say call later, and so on.
Who are all these callers?
Few are congregants or talmidim.
They are Askanim who need to discuss an idea, they are tzedaka trustees needing a letter or an approval, they are a million people from anywhere in the world who have heard that Rabbi X is a gadol, and they want to pour out their hurt, or ask for help with a shidduch, or get his approval for their project, or find out something about someone. No one writes letters anymore, and since few rabbis are reachable by email, telephones are the way to go.
Unless they visit.
Anyone who ever was a talmid or a congregant now has carte blanche to visit whenever they want, whether they actually need the time or not. If they’re VIP’s, they need to return home saying that they met with rabbi so-and-so. If they’re askanim, they need another approval, another haskomo, another pat on the back and acknowledgement that they are very important to Judaism. (This is not to denigrate the real- but very rare- actual crisis that needs a meeting.)
Since even Rabbi’s and roshei yeshiva need to sometimes eat, sleep, and speak to their wives, the constant barrage of calls and visits creates a situation that rapidly becomes untenable. Given that even for them a day is 24 hours, what happens?
What happens is that they run themselves ragged, trying to satisfy all the various people that each demands a piece of him. Whether they put in extraordinary efforts to do that or not seems not to matter one whit- easier access just means that more people will try.
The fallout appears in many forms. For the reputed Gadol/ Rabbi, it will be a congregant with serious issues not being able to get through in a timely fashion to discuss or perhaps resolve them. I know of many cases of people whose Get was delayed months by inaccessible rabbi’s, and many others who needed advice on a shidduch or a yeshiva for a child and were on tenterhooks because it was hard to get. One cannot blame the rabbi, since his obligations are in fact to the community, but his income is frequently greatly enhanced by the out-of-area askers, so when it’s an issue between being with a newly-bereaved congregant and a more profitable get, too often being close loses because the rabbi too has a lot of expenses. The person who is neither a congregant nor a profit center- say someone calling to ask about a congregant for a shidduch- too often may be left hanging on a back burner.
(A personal note: I have been on the calling side: I had a very ill baby many years ago, and a well-meaning person suggested to a distraught mother that a bracha from the Ribnitzer Rebbe (a”h) would help. Unfortunately, he was in Miami and we weren’t. I spent many frustrated hours on the phone unsuccessfully trying to get to him, stymied by his circle of protectors. I cannot blame him, of course, and I’m sure he was totally unaware, but the tears of parents in pain fall to the account of whoever controlled that phone)
For a Rosh Yeshiva, priorities are different. Or at least they should be.
One would think that a Rosh Yeshiva’s primary allegiance, timewise, would be first to his current talmidim and after that to the supporters of the yeshiva since, after all, someone must pay the bills.
Yet, it’s apparently too often not that way. Aside from the obvious aberrations, where Roshei Yeshiva are dragged into local political battles or domestic disputes, somehow the idea has evolved that if one ever learnt in any yeshiva, that Rosh Yeshiva owes him an audience at will.
More, Roshei Yeshiva have been conflated with poskim, not to imply that they aren’t capable. Still, it adds an unnecessary burden.
Worst of all is the daily invasion by askanim. These range from real communal activists to do-gooders, and from politically motivated to profiteers. Each feels that he is the most important meeting on the Rosh yeshiva’s agenda for the day, and has no compunction about making his feelings known.
An important fiber in this web of time-wasting for the Rabbi’s is this:
Borders have disappeared, thanks to air travel.
Every day, one hears of people flying to or from Israel for a haskama on something or other. If not a sefer, it’s for a new tzedaka idea. If not that, it’s so he can have a photo in the Orthodox paper, showing how important he is, that Rabbi XXX is taking time off to meet with the famous klal askan Rabbi YYY.
We’re no longer constrained by the old boundaries of travel. And the result is that well-known gedolim have not only their talmidim, former talmidim, and supporters to deal with, they have to meet every self-appointed askan in the world. Every visiting Rabbi, every wanna-be rabbi, and every person who, thanks to easy access, just wants a bracha.
One last causative factor: One of the coping mechanisms used by long-term yeshiva students is having inflated self-esteem. Where and when this started I have no idea, but it is in fact necessary, so as not to be jealous of classmates who went on to become doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs. While this does very much aid long-term Torah study, it has negative side effects. This was been remarked upon extensively years ago in the book “The World of the Yeshiva”, and is the dissatisfaction created when, after years of intensive study, students cannot find the prestigious positions they feel entitled to. Add to that their continued study in the Daf Yomi programs, and the result is that in too many religious communities, the Rabbi is looked upon as a colleague rather than as an authority. As one wag put it, “What frum guy today hasn’t slept through shas at least twice?”
So, what’s to be done?
First, let’s stop treating the Gedolim as if they didn’t need to sleep. There’s no benefit to Klal Israel in parading them around like traveling exhibits.
Then, let’s stop the pressure on them to endorse every tzedaka project. If someone comes asking for tzedaka for orphans, it really makes no difference at all if the father was a first-tier talmid chachom or not- They’re just hungry kids, and you should give what you can irrelevant of the signatures on the letter. It doesn’t take the gadol hador to testify that the story is true. The same applies for Mosdos and other projects- anyone with enough money to donate can tell if it’s a worthwhile project easily.
Second, let’s get the askanim away from them. At least 90% of those meetings can be skipped without any difference to anyone. The same for haskomos- get one good letter from wherever you learned, there’s no reason for 20.
Third, let’s not treat them like some kind of magic amulets. Should you happen to see one I the street or at an event, fine, but don’t make a whole social call to ask for a bracha. It’s not that I don’t respect their powers, it’s that I respect their need for time more.
Fourth, realize that 99% of your questions and needs can be met by your local Rav. It is of course not as prestigious to say, “I showed my esrog to Rabbi Plony” as it is to say, “The Chazon Ish liked my esrog”, but that could be your donation to the future accomplishments of whatever gadol you restrained yourself from seeing. Local rabbi’s re quite competent, and the yeshiva’s are full of qualified candidates praying for positions, if you need more in your area.
The results will be excellent for all sides. You kids will be more inclined towards torah, because the Gedolim will deal will real issues, because they have less time-wasting calls and visits, and you won’t be frantically searching for brachos.
Win-win, it’s called.
What will the gedolim do with all this new-found time? Let’s hope they’ll deal with the problems we all talk too much about.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
On Kids Getting Older
Walter is a high-schooler now. George and Wilma are not too far from high school either. These kids at one time used to be small, but now they've grown. Walter now travels on the train by himself. The kids go off to sleep away camp during the summer. They are responsible around the house for chores and for doing their homework. They are growing up, doing things and taking on responsibilities that they did not and could not when they were younger. And I began to wonder:
When was the last time I said Sh'ma with them before they went to sleep? I used to do it every day, and now I don't do it with them at all. They're just too old for it. But I don't remember the very last time I did it. I'm fairly certain that the last time I did it I wasn't conscious of the fact that it would, in fact, be the last time.
When was the last time I carried them in my arms? When was the last time I changed one of their diapers? When was the last time that I handed one of them a bottle? When was the last time I read a Dr. Suess book to them?* When was the last time I fed them by hand, scooping the food onto a spoon and making airplane noises to get them to laugh and open their mouths?
Don't get me wrong... I'm not actively looking to return to those days. In many ways, I'm *glad* my kids are older now. I certainly don't want to change their diapers again. But what I regret is the fact that I can't identify the last times that I did these things. I know it seems kind of silly, but the passage of each of those events was a milestone of sorts -- only at the time I didn't know it. When I last said Sh'ma with my kids at night, I didn't know it would be the last time... I probably just assumed that I would do it again the next night or the night after. When I last fed Wilma by spoon, I didn't realize that the next time she would pick up the spoon on her own and would no longer need me to make silly noises. But yet, that very last time came and went; and I wasn't cognizant of it enough to realize that I should remember that moment as the moment that my kids grew up just a little bit more.
* Actually, I read the Hebrew version of Fox In Socks to them about two weeks ago. But it just wasn't the same as when they were younger.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Michelle at In My Humble Jewish Opinion talks about another silly shidduch issue -- that some girls won't go out with a boy whose mother doesn't cover their hair.
ProfK, at Conversations in Klal, discusses the idea that seems to be circulating that the concept of retirement isn't Jewish.
Lastly, Little Frumhouse on the Prairie gives us a look at what happens when Pesach prep is taken too far.
(Oh yeah, and check out my post today).
While this is truly an unfortunate circumstance, there are those in the community who seem to think that they can rewrite economic law by fiat. For example, while the dollar is now worth about 3.6 shekalim, the kollellim, in order to help support the people who are learning, are still paying at the rate of 4 to 4.25 shekalim per dollar. That's fine and well, I suppose, except for the fact that the dollars they bring in still only fetch 3.6 shekalim. Thus, the institutions have to raise about 10-20% more to cover the difference.
Bluke points out that the decline of the dollar is hitting the community hard in another area -- that of the Areivim "insurance" program. This is a program whereby several thousand residents band together and self-insure each other, agreeing to pay $50,000 to any unmarried child who loses a parent. In the past, such a sum would fetch well over 200,000 shekalim. Now it's down to about 180,000. In order to deal with this situation, the administrators of the program have decreed that the program will pay out benefits at a minimum rate of 4 shekalim to the dollar. That's all fine and well, but, as we all know, there is no such thing as a free lunch. You can't make the shekel equal a quarter of a dollar by fiat. The only way this could work would be to increase the amount that families have to contribute. I don't know if that has happened or not.
In any event, as some bloggers have pointed out, this plan is not really actuarially sound. I'm not an actuary, so I'm not going to pretend that I know exactly what the problem is; but it seems that several actuaries have already commented that the plan will not work.
One thing that I am curious about, however, is how they avoid the problem of adverse selection. For those who don't know what adverse selection is, I'll give you an example drawn from Charles Wheelan's book Naked Economics.
When Bill Clinton was running for president in 1992, he proposed an idea called "Hope Scholarships." Hope Scholarships would provide loans for college. However, instead of paying back a set amount of money over a set amount of time (as in a traditional loan), a person receiving a Hope Scholarship would pay back a set percentage of their incomes.
The program was supposed to pay for itself. The administrators would figure out the average salaries of people after they graduated, add a small amount to cover the cost of administering the program, and viola - those who earn more would pay more, those who earn less would pay less and the differences would "all come out in the wash" as we like to say.
The problem, however, was that the program did not (and, indeed could not) account for adverse selection. While this program might sound attractive to teachers, social workers and artists, it would not be a good deal for future heart surgeons, Wall Street tycoons and high-powered attorneys. For all these people, a regular student loan is a much better deal -- and they know it. As a result, they would simply opt out of the program. However, once the highest-income people opt out, you can't count on their income to subsidize the educations of the teachers and social workers. So, you have to rework the math so that the program pays less. But once you've done that, then those who are now the highest-income producers of the remaining students will opt out. And so on and so on. Since people know their future economic positions better than the administrators of the program, they can choose to opt out of a program that forces them to subsidize others.
I'm wondering if the same problem exists with the Areivim program. After all, surely there are those in the community who can afford to buy actual insurance. Those people are the ones who have more financial means than the ones who are dependent on the program. If they can get a better deal elsewhere, they will simply opt out of the program, leaving a smaller pool of contributors to support the rest. I'd be interested to hear from any actuaries out there regarding this.
But one thing should be fairly obvious, even to those of us without economic degrees -- you can't just change the exchange rate of currency by decree -- something that some of the community leaders in Israel are trying to do. They are simply ignoring the economic reality and decreeing that in their community, the shekel is worth a quarter of a dollar, when, in reality, it is worth more. To me, that sounds like a recipe for trouble.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Did You Know That Ashkenazi Wedding Customs Were Ugly and Vulgar?
Rav Yosef, it seems, it (rightfully, IMHO) upset about the fact that Sephardim worldwide are being encouraged to adopt Ashkenazi customs. In particular, Rav Yosef focused on wedding customs, including:
- The seclusion of the bride and groom (yichud) right after the wedding (Sephardim do it after the meal*)
- Allowing the bride and groom to hold hands as they leave the chuppah (I guess Sephardim don't allow that)
- Being accompanied to the yichud room by friends and family (Sephardim only allow family).
What I don't understand is where he gets off calling Ashkenazi customs "ugly" and "vulgar." I'm sorry, but Rav or not, when you start calling the customs of millions of Jews around the world "ugly" and "vulgar," then you're out of line. It's not like Ashkenazim are a fringe group with "weird" customs... we're the majority here! So, how about a little respect? You don't have to accept our customs, but don't go around denigrating them. If you want young Sephardim to follow Sephardi customs, then show them the beauty and meaning of those customs. But don't denigrate the customs of the majority of Jews in the world.
It's like my mother told me... you don't build up your position by knocking someone else down.
* I'm taking the article's and Rav Yosef's word that these are actual Sephardi customs. I, personally, don't know.
What the Rebbetzin Should Say...
Even though everyone predicted that she'd be among the first in her class to be married, she has, for whatever reason, failed to find her bashert. Since she wasn't busy raising a family, she decided to continue her secular education, becoming a lawyer. Now, she's finding that having a professional degree is further working against her in the shidduch world, as a professional degree seems to intimidate some men.
Four months ago, she met a guy on her own and they clicked. They share common interests, conversation flows, they enjoy each other's company. As she puts it, he just feels "right."
Of course, there is a fly in the ointment (if there wasn't, she wouldn't be writing to the Rebbetzin). As she writes:
So what, you may ask, is the problem? Why don’t I get engaged? Well, there is a problem, and it’s huge! – He’s not observant of the mitzvot. He did go to a day school through high school, but his commitment is marginal. Sad to say, he’s not really Shomer Shabbos, and while he doesn’t eat treif meat, he has no problem eating fish in a non-kosher restaurant. He certainly has a Shabbos table, makes Kiddush, etc., but more than that, I don’t know.
He tells me that at this point in his life, he is involved in many business dealings and cannot suddenly make a radical change, but he assures me that once we are married, he will become Shomer Shabbos and fully observant. He comes from a traditional background, so it’s not foreign to him. I tried to get him to a Torah class, but he just doesn’t have the time; he promised me that if we marry, hewould attend classes. On the plus side, he is very kind and considerate of me, but can I trust him to keep his promise?
When I discussed the matter with my parents, they were very frank with me and said that they would never have considered such a shidduch in the past, and they have strong reservations about his religious commitment, but they did say that because of my history – the difficulties that I have encountered in the past, my age, and the fact that my younger siblings are already married, they would not stand in my way even though they are very concerned.
In short, she wants to know if she can trust him to keep his word that he's going to keep his word to increase his level of observance after they get married. She's terrified of saying "yes" to him only to find that he can't/won't increase his level of observance, but she's also terrified of saying "no" in that she's afraid she may never again meet someone that she can connect to as she does with him.
I don't know what the Rebbetzin will say. Here's what I think she should respond to the unsigned letter:
Dear Single and Frustrated,
It must be terribly painful to watch your classmates and younger siblings all moving on with their lives, getting married and having children, while you seem to be stuck as a single. I hope and pray that HaShem will help you find your bashert as lead you into marriage as soon as possible so that you can start building a bayis ne'eman b'yisroel.
That being said, let's turn our attention to your current suitor. Off the bat, I have to state that I do not know him personally, and, as such, cannot make any definitive statements about him. What I can, do, however, is hope to guide you in terms of general trends of behavior.
The general rule is that people do not change their basic natures because of marriage. There have been countless brides and grooms who have gotten married to someone whom they knew had a flaw that could be fatal to the marriage, with the understanding that the person would change after the wedding. Sad to say, in the majority of cases, this change does not occur. That's not to say that it's impossible, of course -- sometimes people do successfully change, but the percentage of those who do solely for the sake of marriage is exceedingly small. Since you know your beau far better than I do, you are the one best capable (aside from him, of course) of determining whether or not he will really change.
However, even if you determine that he cannot or will not change, that doesn't necessarily mean that the two of you can't be happy together. There are many people who get married to partners who may not be the "ideal" mate that they thought they were looking for, and yet turn out extremely happy. However, in order for that to work, you have to look deep inside yourself, and decide whether or not his religious deficiencies will cause your marriage to be unhappy. If it will, then you absolutely cannot enter into this marriage. On the other hand, if you think that you can live with his level of religious observance, then, by all means go ahead. You have to look deep inside yourself and decide just how important the level of religious observance is a potential spouse.
In addition, please do not take into account whether or not you will ever find another shidduch. It's a non-factor. If you can go with his level of observance, then you'll be happy. If you can't and you say "yes" anyway, you'll just end up miserable. Would you rather enter a miserable marriage or remain single? Most people, I believe, would choose the latter. Entering into a marriage that has a fatal flaw because you're afraid of not finding another is a bad move, in my opinion.
Lastly, while I think that it's nice that you are going to your parents for advice regarding this particular difficult question, I think that at age 26, you are old enough to decide for yourself. You no longer need your parent's permission to marry. I'm glad to see that they are willing to let you decide and determine your own future.
I wish you lots of success and happiness in the future, whether it's with this particular young man or with another.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Oh... So *That's* Why Jews Become Agnostics!
From AskMoses (regarding the law of Cholov Yisrael):
This law also has spiritual reasons. Drinking unsupervised milk causes agnosticism. The milk may in fact be 100% from a kosher animal, but if no Jewish person was present to watch the milking, it has the effect of casting doubts in our core beliefs.
Boy, am I glad that *that's* cleared up. And here I thought people might become agnostics over deep intellectual or emotional issues. But no, the culprit has been my Hershey bars all the time.
Orthodox Jews and Ferengi: Two Of A Kind?
Eeees and I have spent the last two years or so watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (IMHO, by far the best-written of the five Star Trek incarnations) on our Netflilx subscription. We started with the beginning of the series and have now finished season six. If you get a chance to watch the series from start to finish, I highly recommend it.
In the series, there is an alien race known as the Ferengi (Quark, the most well-known Ferengi to Star Trek fans, is pictured at right). The Ferengi are a race that are pretty much interested in one thing and one thing only -- making profit. Their entire culture is built around it. Their "bible" is called the Rules of Acquisition. (Rule #1: Once you have their money, you never give it back.) The favorite game of Ferengis is Tongo, a game where you try to financially outmaneuver the other players. The Ferengi ruler lives in the Tower of Commerce, which is a part of the Sacred Marketplace. If one has been a good Ferengi in life, then you go to the Divine Treasury in the afterlife.
There is, however, another side to Ferengi culture - the complete disenfranchisement of females (Ferengis are always referred to as "males" and "females;" never as "men" or "women."). Females are not allowed to wear clothes, are required to stay at home, are forbidden to work, enter business or earn profit, and are expected to be the servants of the house. In fact, they are expected to pre-chew the tube grubs (a common Ferengi food) for the males in the household. Needless to say, no females are ever involved in Ferengi government.
Over the course of the series, this slowly begins to change, when the Ferengi leader is influenced by a female who actually has a brain and business acumen (Quark's mother, incidentally). He begins to realize that the Ferengi are completely failing to utilize half of their potential workforce and human capital. Females, he discovers, can sometimes be just as capable as males of making good business deals, earning profit and running a household. Influenced by Quark's mother, he begins making reforms in the Ferengi government.
Some have tried to point out that the portrayal of the Ferengi in Star Trek is antisemitic. In his book, The Religions of Star Trek, Ross S. Kramer writes that the Ferengi "almost seem a parody of traditional Judaism." He argues that the emphasis on greed and the oversized facial features (ears for Ferengi) are negative stereotypes for Jews. While I don't think that the Star Trek creators were being antisemitic with the portrayal of Jews, I do think that there is something to be said about some of the commonalities between the Ferengi and some segments of Orthodox Judaism.
I think you can easily equate the Ferengi obsession with profit and business with the the obsession in some Orthodox communities with learning Torah*. The Ferengi's entire existence is built around commerce and profit. It occupies their every waking moment. Earning as much profit as possible is the ultimate goal in life. It's what a proper Ferengi male should be doing with his time. Any activity that does not earn profit is considered a waste of time.
The same could be said for some communities in the Orthodox Jewish world. Their entire existence is built around learning Torah. It occupies their every waking moment. Learning as much Torah as possible is the ultimate goal in life. It's what the proper Jewish male should be doing with his time. Any activity that does not involve learning Torah is considered a waste of time.
Another interesting correlation between the two cultures is the exclusion of females from the very activity that is considered the most important and vital in the community. Ferengi females are forbidden to earn profit under any circumstances. They cannot participate in business, they cannot talk to strange males, and are relegated to being the caregivers to children. A female who earns profit is subject to extensive penalties from the ruling authorities.
Interestingly, similar things happen with women in some Orthodox Jewish communities. They are excluded from learning Torah, the one thing that matters most in the community. They are strictly limited in which books they can learn, and, in some cases, cannot learn from books at all. In conversing with a woman online once, I found out that when she went to a Satmar school as a child, they were forbidden to use any sefarim (books) to learn from. Not even a chumash (Bible) was allowed. When I asked her if this was still the situation in her school today, she affirmed that it was**. The girls learn from photocopied sheets that the teachers and/or administrators create. The result was that when I was discussing a point with her, she made an assertion that I didn't agree with. When I asked her to back up her assertion with some proof text, she quoted an Avraham Fried song as her proof. When I pointed out to her that Avraham Fried lyrics can hardly be shown to be a proof of anything, she responded that it was all she had, because Satmar girls are forbidden to learn from texts. Any educational system that results in a person being unable to come up with a better proof text than an Avraham Fried lyric is just utterly sad.
Even among those communities that do allow girls to learn from books, there are very few that allow girls to learn Torah SheB'Al Peh (defined as Mishnah, Gemara and their commentaries). In most schools they are limited to Chumash, Navi (with the result being that they know Navi far better than most yeshiva boys), basic hashkafah and halacha (I don't know if they learn halacha from standard texts or in the "recycled" form of summary sheets and the like). However, for the most part, they never learn the reasoning behind the halachos that govern their lives and how they evolved to their modern form. Very often it becomes just a set of dry instructions (do this, don't do that, do this...). The classic arguments that are behind those dry lists, however, are closed off to them. In short, they can't participate in what is the very raison d'etre of the community.
Hmmm... kind of makes me wonder if some of the creators of the Ferengi were Orthodox Jews after all.
* I am not condemning this obsession.
** I don't know if this applied only to her school or to all Satmar schools. However, considering the fact that she told me that this rule (of girls being forbidden to learn from sefarim) came from the Satmar Rebbe, I'd guess that it applied to the majority, if not all Satmar girls' schools.
UPDATE (5/12/2009): I just came across a web page that links to this post. On the page, the author makes the claim that I am stating that the creators of the Ferengi in Star Trek meant the race as a "slam" against Orthodox Jews. That is not the case. I am merely pointing out some commonalities between the two cultures. My apologies if that is not clear.
Valentine's Day: Worth Repeating
And yes, we're still "the newlyweds."
Sunday, February 10, 2008
An Update on the Sheital Store Boycott
I don't know if the owner caved to pressure, if they reached an amicable settlement with the yeshiva, or if I drove by during an hour that they were changing their display.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Going Overboard on Tzniyus
Baseball Fans love to argue over who belongs in the Hall of Fame. Every fan has his or her own opinion both on players who are not yet in the Hall and on players who are actually in the Hall. We can spend endless hours arguing over the merits of Phil Rizzutto vs. Pee Wee Reese, whether Don Mattingly or Bert Blyleven really should be inducted or if we should induct players who were undoubtedly great on the field, but had off-field problems.
Part of the problem, I suppose, comes from the fact that there is no clear definition of exactly who a Hall of Famer is. Bill James, the noted baseball writer and statistician, said in his book Politics of Glory “The Hall of Fame is a self-defining institution that has by and large failed to define itself.” Since the guidelines of what, exactly, a Hall of Famer is are vague and ambiguous, there will always be arguing about who belongs in the Hall.
A similar problem exists with regard to the Orthodox Jewish community and the concept of tznius. When we hear the word “tznius,” the first thing that pops into our heads is a myriad of restrictions regarding clothing, appearance and behavior – with about 90% of the regulations aimed at women. And yet, the very first mention of tznius (as a concept) has nothing to do (specifically) with women… it has to do with the way we behave in general. The prophet Michah (6:8), exhorted us to “walk humbly with God.” From the context of the paragraph, it’s fairly clear that he wasn’t thinking of skirt lengths when he uttered his famous phrase. It’s clear that the idea was meant in terms of one’s behavior and that it applied to everyone -- men and women.
For good or for bad, however, the concept of tznius has morphed over time, to include restrictions on how women (and, to a far lesser extenet, men) dress and behave. However, as with the Hall of Fame, there is no clear definition of tznius, but rather one that varies greatly over time and distance. It’s kind of funny in a way – no matter where (or when) we come from, we all agree that a esrog is the fruit indicated in the verse pri etz hadar and we all agree that tefillin need to be black and have four parshiyos. Yeah, we may disagree in some minor details (the order of the parshiyos, etc.), but we agree in the main details. And yet, when it comes to tznius, the definition of how women are to dress varies greatly from one community to the next. In some communities a wig is the only acceptable head covering. In others, a wig is forbidden, only a kerchief or a turban is acceptable. In some communities, women shave their heads completely upon marriage, thus making absolutely sure that no one sees their hair (including, I guess, their husbands). And on and on it goes. Since we’ve failed to establish some universal standards for tznius (beyond, I suppose the bare minimum) each community argues for what it thinks is the proper standard.
However, of late, I think that we’ve been taking things a bit too far. We’ve taken the concept of tznius, as it relates to women’s dress and behavior, and begun carrying it to an extreme. Whereas at one time it may have meant simply being modest in dress and behavior, it is now approaching the point where we have ever-increasing restrictions and regulations. It has been noted in more than one place that black seems to be the newest fashion trend among Orthodox Jewish women. However, it that because it is just the “fad of the season” or is it because we’ve become afraid to wear any other color because it might be ruled “untzniusdik?”
There are things that are happening today in the name of “tznius” that would have been unheard of fifteen years ago. Consider the following paragraph from Miraim Shaviv’s recent article in the Jewish Chronicle:
Firstly, standards of modesty are becoming increasingly stringent and require increasing effort to follow. A CD recording by a top rabbi from
Shiny shoes that reflect their underwear?! Who thinks these things up?! I can't remember the last time I heard something so bizarre! Do shiny shoes reflect underwear? And even if they do, who looks at girls’ shoes to see their underwear? Swinging their arms? This is a problem?! Colored banana clips is a violation of tznius? Where do these things come from? We’re going from the idea that a woman should dress modestly and not call undue attention to herself with immodest dress to the extreme where she can’t wear anything that is the least bit out of the “ideal” and behave in any way that causes them to be anything other than completely socially invisible.
The extreme example of this, of course, is the recent case of the followers of Rabbanit Keren in Ramat Beit Shemesh in
Lest you think that I’m being alarmist, please consider the case of the Mehadrin Buses in
Lest you think I’m being alarmist, we’re approaching the point where we are delegitimizing any forum where women and men might possibly appear in the same place at the same time. Concerts with family seating (as the famous Lag BaOmer concert in Beit Shemesh), weddings, school functions, etc. are being phased out. More and more fundraisers (such as Chinese Auctions) are becoming either gender-segregated.
Lest you think I’m being alarmist, we’re reaching the point where the very image of a woman is a problem. Major newspapers such as the Yated and HaModia have a long-standing policy of not publishing pictures of women. This has, in turn, forced book publishers to no longer put women’s faces on the covers of books, since books with pictures of women could not be advertised visually in a display ad. Women’s faces are being “Photoshopped” out of official photographs. Oorah put an ad in last week’s Yated, saying that if there was enough demand, they would publish their auction catalog without women’s pictures. Is it any wonder that some women have gotten the wrong impression and began wearing face-concealing burkas?
Lest you think I'm being alarmist, we have now come to the point where rabbis issue hechsherim on clothing stores(!) and people commit violence against stores which sell clothing that is in their opinion, immodest.
Lest you think I'm being alarmist, we have now come to the point where rabbis issue hechsherim on clothing stores(!) and people commit violence against stores which sell clothing that is in their opinion, immodest.
As with just about all things in life, there is a key word that one must apply to one’s actions and thoughts – moderation. In all things, one must be moderate. Going overboard on anything is a bad thing – and that includes tzniyus. Going overboard on tzniyus regulations to the point where you begin measuring how thick stockings have to be, or how shiny your shoes are or what color banana-clip you can wear in your hair only serves to alienate women from Judaism, not to attract them to it. And when you alienate women from Judaism, it's usually the tzniyus restrictions that are the first thing to go.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Off Topic: What Happens When You Post Something To Your Blog?
Check it out.
Monday, February 04, 2008
So, Who Do We Vote For?
“It is very important for our community to demonstrate its appreciation for our wonderful country by exercising our civic obligation to vote. However, it is even more important that we do not support any candidate whose position is in any way antithetical to our Torah based morality. Candidates who support abortion on demand, the “toeiva” agenda, liberal attitudes towards pornography of any sort - are antithetical to our way of life and it is forbidden to support or vote for them.
“Our former president, internationally acknowledged as the premier legal decisor, Rabbi Moshe Feinstien was most vigorous in condemning abortion on demand and the “toeiva” agenda and we take his legacy as our guide.
“If one has to vote in an election or primary where both candidates are anti-Biblical family values, G-d forbid, that they use the “lesser of two evils” approach. Rather, let the voter cast a write-in protest vote, but do not compromise by voting for the “lesser evil”. If we value the purity and holiness of our children and grandchildren, we dare not compromise.
“It is our sincere hope that not only our own Jewish community, but our fellow citizens of all faiths, and their leaders, will draw a line in the sand and institute policies forbidding voting for anti-traditional family- values candidates. We are confident that were this policy instituted, within one or two election cycles, we would find many more pro-family candidates on every level of government.”
OK, my question is as follows:
Since freedom of religion is antithetical to Torah-based morality (after all, Avoda Zara [idol worship] is forbidden even to non-Jews according to halacha), just whom are we to vote for? I don't think any candidate favors restricting the worship of any deity except the Jewish Deity. As such, they are *all* have positions that are antithetical to our Torah-based morality and hence, according to the proclamation by Rabbi Levin, it is forbidden to vote for any of them. So, stay home everyone!*The Wolf
Source: Yeshiva World
*I'm kidding. Go out and vote.
Friday, February 01, 2008
When Monopoly meets Chassidic Fundamentalism...
"Yiddishe tokhter! Du hust dikh gerukt in a zayt ven a mans perzon iz gekumen antkegen" (Jewish daughter! You moved to the side when a man was approaching." "A tzniyusdike gefil un a khoshevkayt fun di neshome."
"Yiddeshe Tokhter! Du host aroys gelakht ven mener hoben gehert! Zeyer a groyse pritzus! Shtel dokh in 'mikhutz lamakhane' un blayb aroys 3 gang." (Jewish daughter! You laughed when men could hear you. Very immodest! You're excommunicated! Lose three turns.)
"Geredt English tzuvishin zikh! Yiddish redn taylt up fun di goyim! Shtel dokh in 'mikhutz lamakhane' un blayb aroys 3 gang." (You spoke English amongst yourselves. Speaking Yiddish separates us from the Gentiles! You're excommunicated! Lose three turns.)
"Getantzt mit shtrik in gas! Vi iz dayn gefeel fun tzniyus? Batzol shtrof $50 un blayb aroys a gang." (You jumped rope in the street! Where is your modest sensibility? Pay a $50 fine and lose a turn.)
"Geleynt a treyfene bikhl! Tomey, Tomey! Arayn in Gehenom un blayb aroys 2 gang."Ungevoren di 2 tayereste pletzer vos du host." (You read an unkosher book. Unclean, unclean! Got to Hell and lose two turns. Lose your two most valuable properties!)
"Geholfen di Tziyonistishe medinah! Fun a shaykhes tzu reshoim kumt keyn guts nisht aroys! Nor shoden! Tu teshuvah! Zitz in a yeshivah 2 geng, un tzol far di yeshiva vifel es kost far yededn aroys gebliben gan $50 far tzedokoh!" (You helped the Zionist country! No good can come out of an association with evil people, only bad! Repent! Sit in a yeshivah for two turns, and pay $50 tuition per day to charity).
Oh yeah, and there are spaces for "michutz lamachane" (outside the camp) and Hell. No, I kid you not!
Go over to Blog in DM where he has the entire rule set, the cards, a good photo of the board and far more "gems" on this game.
Get A Life, Part II
The Yated editors titled it "False Titles." I would have gone with "Get A Life."
I recently noticed a certain advertisement for a yeshiva dinner in your newspaper. Among the honorees are two couples being honored as "Parents of the Year." There are pictures of both husbands, but not their wives. Incredibly, under the pictures of the husbands is the title "Mr. and Mrs...." When did a man become both husband and wife?
Seriously, I understand your policy not to display pictures of women and I commend you for it. Nevertheless, if you are not prepared to show a picture of the wife as well, it would be better not to show a picture at all. Above all, it is sheker to give a title "Mr. and Mrs..." underneath a picture of only the husband. No chumrah should ever override an issur from the Torah, in this case midevar sheker tirchok.
To be frank, I don't hold of the chumra of not posting photos of women. But then again, it's not my paper, so my opinion doesn't really matter. However, I don't think anyone is being deceived by the Yated posting a picture of a man and labeling it as "Mr. and Mrs..." What next, call it sheker if someone uses an idiom because some idiot might understand it literally? Oh wait, we already covered that...