Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Infallible Gedolim Or Just A Looney Letter?

I'm sorry folks. I know it seems like I'm beating a dead horse but I can rarely resist when I see letters like this.

This week's Letters to the Editor of the Jewish Press contains a letter that is just so irrational and full of silly logic that I just have to step in and say something. Here's the letter verbatim:

Re the criticism leveled by readers at the banning of the Lipa Schmeltzer concert (Letters, March 21):

Whatever happened to “naaseh v’nishmah” or “kiymu v’kiblu”? Whatever happened to listening to daas Torah and emunas chachomim? Chazal say the common sense of people is the opposite of the wisdom of the chachomim.

The same rabbonim who pasken on whether the chickens we eat are treif are now paskening on whether our entertainment is treif. We trust them for kashrus – why not for our ruchnius? Perhaps we should have a mashgiach’s hechsher haskomah on our “kosher” entertainment, especially when we expose our children to it. Why can’t we have kosher concerts with completely separate seating with mechitzas and shomrim for tznius? We sit separately in shul and at simchas – why not at concerts?

It was a complete chillul Hashem that this story leaked out to The New York Times. The secular world does not have to see us degrade our rabbonim by calling them “dictators.” They are infallible! These gedolim from across the spectrum are very responsible, caring, concerned, sincere tzaddikim who worry 24/7 about our hashkafa – our ruchnius and our gashmius.

The cancelled concert was billed as “The Big Event.” The real Big Event for B’nai Yisroel was Mattan Torah at Har Sinai, when we accepted our zekainim our leaders, our daas Torah. We have to listen to our gedolim even when we have questions. If Chazal say it’s night, we must trust them even if it’s really day.

These rabbonim help people day and night with agunas, almonos, yesomim, shidduchim, children at risk, chinuch, parnossah etc. They daven for us and make time for us to answer our questions, solve our problems, etc. There’s an aveirah min haTorah of “Lo sosur m’divrei chachomim” – which applies even when we disobey the chachomim in our days. If we’re not going to obey our elders, why should our children respect us when they disagree?

On Purim, the Jews did teshuvah for disobeying Mordechai and once again accepted his leadership and decisions. Let us reestablish our own commitment to our chachomim, our gedolim, our tzaddikim, our rebbes.

Oy. Where to start? Well, I suppose we can start at the beginning:

Whatever happened to “naaseh v’nishmah” or “kiymu v’kiblu”?

Sorry, but when the Jews said "na'aseh v'nishma" they said it specifically on things that were coming from God, not from Moshe. In fact, having learned about the Dor HaMidbar (the Generation of the Wilderness), I'm always willing to bet dollars to donuts that they were only willing to accept what God gave them. Had Moshe said "oh, and I have this 614th mitzvah for you as well" they would have rejected it out of hand (the prohibition of Bal Tosif [adding commandments] notwithstanding).

Whatever happened to listening to daas Torah and emunas chachomim? Chazal say the common sense of people is the opposite of the wisdom of the chachomim.

Sorry, but "Emunas Chachomim" has never meant completely shutting off your brains and literally following the gedolim without seeking to understand why they rule as they do.

The same rabbonim who pasken on whether the chickens we eat are treif are now paskening on whether our entertainment is treif. We trust them for kashrus – why not for our ruchnius?

There is a very good reason why we should not trust the rabbanim on this issue (at least specifically with regard to the Lipa concert). When I bring a chicken to a rav and he rules trief, I know that I can be reasonably assured of four things: (a) he will actually look at the chicken in question and base the decision on his own findings (b) I can also inspect the chicken and look up the halachos and also determine that the chicken is treif, (c) if I take it to another rav, the overwhelming likelihood is that he, too, will say it's treif and (d) if I bring another identical chicken to the rav, he will give an identical ruling.

That's not the case here. The Lipa Schmeltzer concert was banned based on false information, rumor and innuendo. The gedolim (to the best of my knowledge and according to published reports) did not so much and pick up the phone and contact the organizers of the concert or the performers to find out if the rumors they were hearing were true or not. They simply took the word of the instigators and relied on that without any further efforts. In other words, they didn't even look at the chicken.

In addition, I know that if I bring my rav a chicken, I can ask him *why* the chicken is treif. I can ask him to show me where in the Shulchan Aruch or later authorities it says that it is treif. In other words, I can ask him what the basis for the ruling was. No real basis for the ruling was given in the kol koreh that was distributed.

The biggest problem, however, is the last item I mentioned above. There have been countless other concerts in the past that have gone on, some with mixed seating and some with separate seating, without any problem. In addition, there are concerts coming up in the future that have both mixed-seating and separate seating sections and there is no kol koreh concerning them. Why not? If one of the criteria for a concert being "bad" is the presence of mixed seating (as indicated later in the letter) then why haven't the 33 rabbanim who signed the previous kol koreh against Lipa also signing one against the upcoming Miami Boys Choir concert? In short, if a rav rules my chicken treif and then one that is more obviously trief is ruled kosher without explaining why, then I *have* to question the rav's judgement. Of course, if he can tell me the reasons for his ruling, then that's a different story. But that's not what is happening here.

Why can’t we have kosher concerts with completely separate seating with mechitzas and shomrim for tznius? We sit separately in shul and at simchas – why not at concerts?

The short answer to your question is because there is no halachic requirement to have a mechitza by a concert. If you want to hold to the chumra of separate seating by a concert, then kol hakavod -- but don't force your chumras on me or everyone else.

The even shorter answer is that the Lipa concert had *ony* separate seating -- so don't try to pretend that that's the reason the concert was banned.

It was a complete chillul Hashem that this story leaked out to The New York Times. The secular world does not have to see us degrade our rabbonim by calling them “dictators.”

If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... Seriously - if you're suggesting that the gedolim be given the power to dictate every last detail of our lives, then what else would you call them but dictators?!

They are infallible!

I don't know how any rational, thinking person can believe this. I have to conclude that the letter writer is completely ignorant of Jewish history where gedolim who were far, far greater than the current group have made errors - sometimes very grave ones with terrible consequences for the Jewish people as a whole.

Only God is infallible. To suggest that any human being is infallible is bordering on heresy IMHO. He is attempting to ascribe to a human being a quality that God alone has.

These gedolim from across the spectrum

From A to B (okay, maybe from A to D). I didn't see anyone outside the yeshivish/chassidic communities signing the prohibition. Or does the letter writer just assume that people who fall outside the narrow band of the communities represented by the gedolim aren't "Jewish enough" to be included?

are very responsible, caring, concerned, sincere tzaddikim who worry 24/7 about our hashkafa – our ruchnius and our gashmius.

I'm certain that some of them are. But that doesn't make every decision that they make very wise or even correct.

The cancelled concert was billed as “The Big Event.” The real Big Event for B’nai Yisroel was Mattan Torah at Har Sinai, when we accepted our zekainim our leaders, our daas Torah. We have to listen to our gedolim even when we have questions. If Chazal say it’s night, we must trust them even if it’s really day.

You might want to check out the Yerushalmi in Horiyos on that. It says that you should listen to Chazal only when it is correct -- not when they make obvious errors.

These rabbonim help people day and night with agunas, almonos, yesomim, shidduchim, children at risk, chinuch, parnossah etc. They daven for us and make time for us to answer our questions, solve our problems, etc.

That's all true and to their credit. And yet, it's completely irrelevant to the question of their fallibility.

There’s an aveirah min haTorah of “Lo sosur m’divrei chachomim” – which applies even when we disobey the chachomim in our days.

Again, see the Yerushalmi in Horiyos. And I'd like to ask the letter writer the same question that I asked last week -- if a rav told him to do something completely drastic (divorce his wife, move to the Congo, kill his neighbor, send his kids to live with frum strangers on the other side of the country, etc.) would he really then follow up and do so without a second thought or without *any* hesitation?

If we’re not going to obey our elders, why should our children respect us when they disagree?

There's a difference between respect and blind obedience. I respect my father, but if he told me to take my 401(k), cash it out, and invest it in a uranium mine in Asbury Park, or no-cal pizza, I'm not going to do it (unless he can really convince me that it's the right thing to do). We owe our parents respect for the hard work and effort they put into raising us, but not blind obedience. They same applies to the chachamim. They deserve respect for their Torah knowledge and for their efforts to the community; but not blind obedience.

The Wolf

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Parody Or A Touch of Reality?

I'm sure many of you have seen the "Sheasani Kirtzono" posters that have popped up of late. For those of you who have not seen them, here it is:

(click on the image to enlarge)

Yes, I'm well aware that the poster is a Purim-inspired parody of the popular "Asher Yatzar" posters. But yet, while being amused by the parody (I love the X'ed out woman davening with a tallis on the bottom), sometimes I wonder if the line between parody and reality is beginning to blur in our communities.

In many of our schools, it is being taught that the main goal in life for a woman is to be able to support her husband so that he can learn. Her own learning is unimportant (beyond the knowledge of how to properly run a home) and her learning certain subjects is forbidden (the extent of which varies from community to community. At least one Satmar school takes it to the extreme that girls can't learn anything -- even Torah SheB' Ksav -- from a sefer!). In addition, in some communities in Israel, girls are also not allowed to engage in a secular education which will help them in their goal to support a husband who learns Torah. In short, the message is pretty clear -- educating women is bad -- an idea that is parodied in the poster but in some cases, hits just a bit too close to the truth for my tastes.

The Wolf

(Hat tip on the poster: Critically Observant Jew)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wow! Now There's A Rebbi Who Needs To Retire!

As many of you know, I am often critical of the Yated and some of the articles/letters that are found in it. However, there is one part of the Yated that I am actually starting to enjoy reading -- The Chinuch Roundtable. Each week, The Chinuch Roundtable features a question from a parent or teacher about chinuch and the proper approach, followed by responses from about six to ten professional mechanchim. While I have to admit up front that (aside from my experience as a parent) I have no background in chinuch, I usually find myself in agreement with the roundtable participants.

This week's letter (I'm sorry, I don't have it with me, so I can't quote it verbatim) is from a parent of a child (the letter doesn't specify the age) who sometimes causes trouble in class. The rebbi decided to punish the child (I think we can generally agree that a disruptive child does need to be disciplined) by having him write lines -- 1500 times! When the child failed to turn in the assignment, he upped the ante -- he told the child that he had to write "I will be more responsible" 5000 times!! Five. Thousand. Times.

To their credit, each and every participant in the round table criticized the practice of having children write lines as a form of discipline -- even if it it's only fifty lines, let alone the absurd number of lines that the rebbi gave the student.

That being said, I'm really surprised that there are teachers who are so out of touch that they think that any child (even a teenager) can really complete such a task. One participant of the roundtable actually remarked that the task was not a punishment, but a sentence. I can't even begin to fathom the enormity of the task that this rebbi laid before the child. 5000 times! Aside from it being a waste of two hundred pieces of paper, it also does nothing to improve the child's attitude or disposition. All an assignment like this can do is breed anger and resentment for the rebbi, the school, and possibly yiddishkeit in general.

We all know that there are good teachers out there and bad teachers -- my kids have had their share of both -- but they've never had anyone who proposed such a mindless, pointless, demeaning task as punishment. I think that this is clearly a rebbi who needs to leave chinuch and go on to something else. He clearly has no idea on how to relate to children.

Do any of you have any stories about bad punishments that you or your kids received? Or how about creative punishments that were especially good and helped you to change your ways?

The Wolf

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lipa Ban: JP Letters To The Editors

This week's Letters To The Editors in The Jewish Press is devoted entirely to the issue of the Lipa concert ban. Of the six letters published, five express concern and/or dismay at the ban and/or the way it was handled. The sixth letter, however, is from Dr. Yaakov Stern (I seem to recall hearing that name before on this blog). After telling over a story about a chassid and his rebbe, he continues:

This story illustrates the faith we must have in our religious leaders. Sadly, we see how far we are from this ideal in light of the reaction to the banning of the Lipa concert. I hate to use clichés, but in the matter of following Gedolei Yisrael, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do or…” You can fill in the blanks, and they should be taken literally because not only we are dealing with a lav of the Torah (Lo Tosur), but to malign our religious leaders is to undermine the foundation of Yiddishkeit.

It seems that Dr. Stern's position is that when a Gadol says something, we are to immediately turn off our brains and simply do what we are told to do. I suppose that's one way to conduct one's life... but I highly doubt that many of us would really do so. I'm wonder; if a Gadol told Dr. Stern to do something truly drastic in his life (give up his house, divorce his wife, kill his neighbor, etc.) would he actually do it without a second thought? I don't know Dr. Stern, so I can't rightfully answer that question - but I will say that if the answer is "yes," then it is downright scary the amount of control over his life that he's willing to cede to others; and if the answer is no, then he's simply being hypocritical -- after all, I don't think that in his Torah the lav (negative commandment) of Lo Tosur doesn't have any exemptions.

Rashi, on the verse of Lo Tosur, quotes the Sifri, which states that you have to listen to the sages even "if they tell you that right is left and that left is right." Well, that is one way of looking at it. Then, there is also the Yerushalmi's way of looking at it. The Yerushalmi in Horiyos (1:1) seems to state just the opposite. It states:

יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהיא שמאל ועל שמאל שהיא ימין תשמע להם ת"ל ללכת ימין ושמאל שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין ועל שמאל שהוא שמאל. (I might think that if they [the Rabbis] tell you that right is left and that left is right that you should listen to them, the verse, "to go right or left) comes to tell you that [you should listen to them only] when they tell you right that is [really] right and left that is [really] left.

In other words, one is only required to listen to the Sages when, in fact, you know that the ruling is based on solid fact. If they make a ruling that is mistaken (telling you that right is left, for example), then you aren't under any obligation to follow them. I often find it interesting how whenever anyone brings up the topic of listening to the Gedolim, the Sifri is always mentioned, but the Yerushalmi is usually ignored.

But hey, we can say eilu v'eilu, right? He can follow his way if he likes and we can follow our way, right? Alas not. He continues...

Alas, I fear this exhortation will be lost due to the modern day Korachs who appeal to the masses to reject the edicts of those who seek only our best long-term interests.

Alas, it seems that someone who disagrees with anything a gadol says is a "Korach," no matter how sincere or well-intentioned he is in his belief that the Gadol may have made his ruling on facts in error. I find it interesting that Dr. Stern chose to use Korach to describe anyone to disagrees with him, since the dispute of Korach is given in the Mishna in Avos as the archetype of a dispute that is not l'shem shamayim (for the sake of heaven). If I read enough into his statement, I suppose I can say that he is implying that if you disagree with a Gadol, your opinion can never be truly l'shem shamayim, since you are just like Korach.

If that's the case, it's sad. Sad that some feel we've come to the point where differing opinions are bad and that one must shut off one's brain in order to be a good Jew. It's also sad to see that some people have to resort to ad hominem attacks (calling people with differing opinions "Korachs" to make their point.

The Wolf

(Just as a final point, there is one point in his letter that I agree with Dr. Stern on. If one disagrees with a Gadol and thinks his ruling is based on facts that aren't true, that's one thing. But it's no license to "malign our religious leaders." Disagreement with anyone, whether it be a Gadol or a layperson, should be done with respect.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Should I Have Gotten Up?

In order to get home, I usually take a train and then a bus. By the time I got to the bus last night, it was already after 9:30 (I worked late last night). Being fairly tired after such a long day, I plopped down into an open seat.

Fairly soon, the bus began to fill up and empty seats became more scarce. However, the seat next to me remained unoccupied. An frum older woman (not frail and old -- but clearly past 60) got on and stood next to where I was sitting. She never said a word to me, but gave me a look. My interpretation of that look was that she wanted me to get up and give her the seat. Now, had there been no seats left, I probably would have offered her the seat willingly. But there was a seat next to me. No one was stopping her from sitting down in it. Why was she not sitting in the empty seat? Was it because she didn't want to sit next to a man? To be honest, I don't know. But, for whatever reason, she did not take the seat next to me - and gave me a look once or twice over the rest of the trip.

In the end, I didn't get up and offer her the seat. I figured that since there was another seat available, I wasn't under any moral obligation to give up my seat. But then, after I got home, I thought about it some more. Let's suppose that the reason that she didn't sit down was because she believed (whether correctly or not) that it is wrong for her to sit next to a man. That being the case, my sitting in my seat really did prevent her from sitting in the next one, just the same as if I'd gone and put my feet up on the next seat. Considering that the whole point of getting up and giving your seat to the elderly (or handicapped) is to make it easier for them to ride the bus (since standing can be physically taxing to them), it really doesn't matter whether the bar to their sitting down is a physical one (i.e. I piled a bunch of bags in the seat) or a religious one (she doesn't want to sit next to me on religious grounds) -- either way I was depriving her of the ability to sit down.

Or was I? How stringent is the prohibition to sit next to a person of the opposite gender on the bus (or train)? Is there really a problem with it? Or it merely a chumra (stringency)? After all, if it is a real prohibition, then my refusal to get up is a true bona fide bar to her sitting (much like a recalcitrant husband's refusal to give a get is a bar to a wife's re-marriage. Nothing is stopping her from legally going to a justice of the peace and getting married civilly, but we all agree that it is, nonetheless a bar, correct?). On the other hand, if it's merely a chumra (or perhaps not even that), then am I responsible for her decision to keep this chumra? Do I have to get up because she chose to keep this chumra? I suppose the situation might be analogous to a hungry beggar coming to my home and asking for food and then turning it away because it's not chalav yisroel or chassidshe shechita. Beggars shouldn't be choosers and all that.

And yet, she was an older woman. Would it have killed me to stand up and offer her the seat anyway? No - in all likelihood, I would have survived just as well had I stood up. Even if her request (had she outright asked) slightly bordered on the unreasonable, perhaps I should have offered her the seat anyway. Yeah, I was tired and it was late at night. But then again, it was just as late for her.

In the end, I did not get up for her. She stood until I got off the bus (which was about ten minutes). Oddly enough, had someone else taken the seat next to me, I probably would have then offered her my seat. That being the case, perhaps I should have offered it right away.

What do you think?

The Wolf

Friday, March 14, 2008

Off Topic: Does This Sound Like Your Child?

(click on the picture to enlarge)

Very often it sounds like one of mine.

The Wolf

Is Pesach In A Hotel Wrong?

Heck, it's not even Purim yet and we're already discussing Pesach. :)

Dayan Shalom Friedman, a rav in England, says that going away to a hotel on Pesach is bad because it takes people away from the task of cleaning their homes. As reported in The Jewish Chronicle:

The holiness of Pesach “rises with the many preparations that you perform before the festival,” he says in a letter circulated to the Charedi community.

Another quote from the article:

Dayan Friedman, the son-in-law of the former head of the Union, the late Rabbi Chanoch Padwa, said that a local hotel might be an option for people not well enough to make Pesach.

But “chas vashalom [Heaven forbid]”, he wrote, that people “should be tempted by the adverts to celebrate the holy festival in a far-away country on a beach with all the conveniences and royal service”.

Personally, I think it's a case of "different strokes..." Eeees and I are not the "hotel for Pesach" types. Even if we had the money to spend (which we don't), we wouldn't go for it. We feel that Pesach is best spent at home with family and/or friends and not in a hotel with a thousand other people. But that's just us. I have close relatives who *do* go away for Pesach to hotels. For them, it's okay. Who's to say that my way is the only way?

If Dayan Friedman is against hotels because of the environment, or the expense, or whatever, then he should just say so. Casting it in light of "... it bad because you won't clean your house" is, IMHO, fallacious. Ask yourself this question: if my parents lived in Chicago, and Eeees and I chose to go to their house for Pesach, would he *really* object and say "no, you should stay home and clean?" My guess would be no - he probably would not have any objections.

In addition, there's also the issue that arises from the fact that he clearly has many, many rabbanim who disagree with him. Who are these rabbanim, you ask? Well, they're quite easy to find... just open up the Jewish Press and look at the advertisements for Pesach getaways. Just about all of them feature who their scholars-in-residence are... and for some of these places, those scholars are "big name" scholars. By casting his remarks as he is, he is also casting aspersions on those rabbanim as well.

The bottom line is this: it's up to each family to decide how they want to spend Pesach. Provided that they aren't actually violating any issurim, just let them be. You may think (as I do) that it's not the ideal way to celebrate Pesach... but don't project your preferences upon everyone else.

The Wolf

Hat tip: VIN

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Purim announcement in the Yated.

From a two-page public service ad in this week's Yated (paid for by the Agudath Israel of America)

1. The mitzva of "Chayav Adam l'v'sumet b'Purya..." is only with wine as it is stated in Chayei Adam (155:30) and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (142:6). Free use of whiskey and other alcoholic beverages is entirely inappropriate and contrary to da'as Chachomim.

2. Ba'alei Batim should not serve any alcoholic beverages, including wine, to groups of bochurim visiting their homes.

3. Those who drive under the influence of alcohol not only endanger themselves but all their passengers and other members of the public. Drivers must therefore not consume any alcoholic beverages, including wine, and must take extra care to drive safely, observing all applicable laws and safety procedures.

4. Nobody should enter a car if there is reason to believe that the driver is under the influence of alcohol, and all reasonable steps should be taken to prevent such an individual from driving.

Signed by 47 rabbanim.

Yasher Kochachem! Good job! Let's hope this decree is obeyed stringently.

The Wolf

Paying Salaries Based on Need

An interesting letter in this week's Yated:

Dear Editor,

I would like to raise an issue that has been bothering me for a few years.

I am a one-man-band in a large Jewish community. Having a wife and children, this is a good way to support myself by doing something that I enjoy. When I was a bochur, I began accepting jobs. Sometimes, when I would quote a price, it was not uncommon to hear comments that my price is too high, since I am only a bochur.

Let me explain the expenses of a one-man-band.

First of all, a good keyboard used by the wedding pros (which is not uncommon to be used by a bochur) costs a few thousand dollars. Secondly, a decent sound system, which includes speakers, a mixer and cables, runs in the thousands. This is in addition to the thousands of hours devoted to programming and practicing.

The next time you hire a one-man band, even if he's "just a bochur," realize that he still has many expenses.



Now, I don't know if this is a uniquely Jewish problem, but this is not the first time I've heard a similar story in the frum world -- where employers pay more to people with expenses (read: married) and less to employees without those expenses (read: single).

To me, this sounds very unprofessional and patently unfair. A person's salary (or fee) should be based on the value of the service provided. It should not be based on extraneous factors such as whether or not the person is married. In New York State, in regular employment situations, this is almost certainly illegal (I don't know how/if it applies to single-time engagements like a musician at an affair) and immoral. Should a musician with eight children demand for more money than one with two because he has more mouths to feed? The answer, clearly, is no -- because the six extra children do not add to the value of the service being provided. The musician's music isn't any better because of the six extra children. Likewise, a bochur's music isn't any worse because he is not married*.

Sadly, this is not the first time I've heard of such situations in the frum world. Like I said, I don't know if this is a "frum" problem or if it exists in other ethnic communities. But it should stop.

Do any of you have any similar experiences?

The Wolf

* Yes, it's possible that he was being asked to accept less because of his inexperience (which is acceptable), not his youth - but from the tone of Y.P.'s letter, that doesn't sound like the case.

Look Up At Noon

This is only indirectly related to the topic of this blog, as it was said by a Fundie Christian, not a Jew. Nonetheless, I found this quote (presented as a proof against the possibility of evolution) and couldn't resist passing it along:

One of the most basic laws in the universe is the Second Law of Thermodynamics. This states that as time goes by, entropy in an environment will increase. Evolution argues differently against a law that is accepted EVERYWHERE BY EVERYONE. Evolution says that we started out simple, and over time became more complex. That just isn't possible: UNLESS there is a giant outside source of energy supplying the Earth with huge amounts of energy. If there were such a source, scientists would certainly know about it.

Sometimes you can't make this stuff up.

The Wolf

Monday, March 10, 2008

One Final Note On The Lipa Concert

Sometimes it's nice to receive a confirmation of one's words.

A few weeks ago, in this post, I said the following:

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.

This past Shabbos, the rav of my shul spoke and made the *very* same points that I did (and expanded on them a bit). He pointed out that the ban reflected a very severe lack of Ahavas Yisroel on the part of the askanim. After all, had it been their families' monies at stake, would they have pushed for this ban without so much as a phone call? Even if you want to be extremely generous, and state that their actions were l'shem shamayim (for the sake of Heaven -- motivated purely for the religious good), you can still bet that if it were their families monies, they would have at least tried to contact the producers and performers to express their concerns. They certainly wouldn't have had a ban instituted less than three weeks before the performance when the only possible outcome could be an extreme loss of money. The fact that they did this clearly shows a lack of Ahavas Yisroel on their part.

In addition, he also brought up the issue of the ban itself. Since it's apparent that at least some of the signers of the ban didn't have all the facts, he wonders how such a ban could have been signed. When issuing a p'sak (ruling), a rav has to have the facts of the situation. That means that he has to investigate all the details before issuing a ruling. He can't rely on second hand reports from people with axes to grind. Likewise, he pointed out, if you're going to ban a book, you have to make sure that it says what you think it says. You can't rely on a translation from someone who claims that it says something on page X without seeing it for yourself. Now, I should point out that the rav of my shul has been critical of Rabbi Slifkin and his writings -- but at least I know that he's read the books. He's ascertained that they actually say what it is he is critical of. To do anything else, IMHO, is irresponsible.

The Wolf

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Shidduch Resumes

A reader at (a site devoted to addressing the madness that is the current shidduch process), a reader posted about shidduch resumes. He describes a wonderful girl he knows - attractive, well educated, literate, good family background, a "fierce commitment to Yiddishkeit," etc. He received a copy of he shidduch resume, in the hopes that he could find a match for her. He says that when he saw the resume, he wanted to tear k'riah. In his words:
In two pages, she had somehow managed to completely obliterate anything that made her unique and interesting, and made use of the vaguest platitudes both for herself and her prospective bashert. For someone makpid in tzniut to the nth degree, she somehow saw no problem in including her dress size. She "loves reading and music" (with no details as to what material she finds interesting), and is looking for a "mensch with good middos" (I suppose as opposed to everyone else who wants a jerk). Finally, of course, she needs to list details about her married siblings (whom they married and what shuls their parents-in-law daven at), 13 personal references, and six references for her parents.

NOWHERE in this resume is ANYTHING that describes this woman, what her interests are, and why she is a unique and wonderful "catch." I could cross out 10% of the lines from this resume, and it would apply equally to my mother, my sister, my wife, my next-door neighbor, and my two-year old son!

This is madness, indeed, and I will not be silent about it.

Preach it, brother!

The more I think about this letter, the more I wonder if a person filling out a "shidduch resume" (as an aside: how did our ancestors ever get married without "shidduch resumes?") shouldn't approach it as one who is looking for a job? Having a "bland" shidduch resume only causes you to blend in with the crowd when what you really want to do is stand out. This is especially true for the single women who (if the anecdotal evidence is to be believed) far outnumber the single men. What they need to do is put stuff on the resume that will cause them to stand out from the crowd... stuff that will cause a prospective groom to look at it and say "Hmmm... she seems interesting, different and special."

Also, I'm curious if people customize their resumes for their particular goals. For example, my resume (as a computer professional) would not be the same as an architect's, or a doctor's, or a secretary's. Each one tailors their resumes to be attractive to the people who are seeking to employ them. Do *all* Jewish men want the same type of wife? I highly doubt it. Do the girls have different resumes that target the particular type of man that they are looking for? I have no idea.

Likewise, I'm curious if they customize their resumes for particular people. For example, when I was searching for a job two years ago, I had a "standard" resume. However, I often customized my resume for several potential employers, highlighting skills and experience that I thought might be relevant to their companies and omitting facts that might not be relevant to their needs. For example, when I applied to a medical supply company, I added the fact that I used to be an Emergency Medical Technician. Was the fact that I was an EMT really relevant to the job? No, I was applying for a position as a database programmer, not as an EMT. But by highlighting the fact that I had some connection to the medical field, I stood out a bit more than some of the other candidates. Do young men and women do the same with shidduch resumes? Again, I have no idea.

Does anyone have extensive experience with shidduch resumes? Do all shidduch resumes resemble the one described by the person I quoted? Or is this just a case of a young woman who doesn't know how to make herself stand out?

The Wolf

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Do The Gedolim Understand The Nature of Today's Orthodox Jewish Community?

In the aftermath of the BigEvent concert cancellation, BloginDM has an excellent set of questions that need to be answered regarding what transpired. I don't actually expect any of them to be answered anytime soon, but they should still be asked.

In any event, there is one quote that has come out of all this that has troubled me very much. The quote comes from Rabbi Asher Friedman:

"The gedolei yisroel don’t want that issue [to be discussed] on the radio and in newspapers. It doesn’t belong for the public to decide on issues that belong for Da’as Torah.”

In short, this amounts to "shut up, do as we say, and don't ask any questions."

Personally, this attitude troubles me very much. Not so much because it demands unquestioning obedience and unquestioning compliance (which is bad enough) but because it shows a complete ignorance of the reality of the world of today as opposed to the world of a hundred years ago or more.

Specifically, the issue at hand is the assumption that the masses are not only unable to decide these things for themselves, but that they are incapable of even understanding the issues involved. In short, by stating that the issues shouldn't even be discussed in public (let alone decided there), Rabbi Friedman (or maybe even the Gedolim themselves -- I don't know for sure) seem to think that having the public informed of the reasons for the decrees which bind their lives is a Very Bad Thing.TM

The problem with this approach is that while it might have worked a hundred years or so ago, it does not work today. The fact of the matter is that the laity today is far more knowledgeable and far more sophisticated than the laity of a hundred years ago. It is an ever-shrinking portion of our community who is saying that they will blindly and unquestioningly follow "Da'as Torah." The percentage is smaller today than it was a century ago, then it was fifty years ago, and even smaller than it was ten years ago. The Torah knowledge of the average Orthodox Jew today is much greater than it was back then. A century or more ago, a person took the rabbi's decree without question because they had no practical way to look up the issues involved. Today, thanks to better yeshiva educations, new and better translations of classical works, better communications and the proliferation of shiurim (Torah classes) available to the public, the average Orthodox Jew has a much better chance of looking up and understanding the Rishonim and Acharonim on any particular issue. In short, the average Orthodox Jew is far more "Talmudically literate" than he was a century ago. Whereas in the past, you pretty much had to take a gadol's word on the matter, today you can "double check" his answer and ask questions on your own.

It's the failure of Asher Friedman (and maybe the Gedolim -- although I don't see how they could miss this) to recognize this basic fact that is the most troubling of all. It shows that he (they?) doesn't have a grasp of how Jews today think and how to relate to the Orthodox Jewish community as a whole.

In addition, there is another factor that needs to be taken into consideration -- the fact that we live in the United States of America. One of the most basic ideas of Americanism is that the leaders are accountable to the people that elect them. The President, the Governor, the Mayor -- all of them have bosses -- the voters. If they want to implement a particular policy, they have to (at some level) explain it to us, the voters. Failure to do so is usually a good way to ensure that you don't get re-elected (unless you're in the New York State legislature -- but that's a rant for a different day). This idea (whether you like it or not) is creeping into American Jewish communities. While our gedolim are not elected, per se, they still need to be accountable to us. When they ban concerts, they have to explain why they are banning a concert and what the parameters of the ban are. While they can't be voted out of office for this, they face a worse danger -- being rendered irrelevant. If they can't (or won't) give people good reasons to listen to their decrees, they will find that larger and larger segments of the Orthodox Jewish world will simply tune them out and ignore them. And that would be particularly sad; because it will show that while they may have a great amount of Torah knowledge, they lack a very basic skill of leadership -- learning the needs of your followers and how to make them want to follow you. If you can't get people to follow you, then your relevance as a community leader is greatly diminished - no matter how big of a talmud chacham you might be.

The Wolf