Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sometimes Opus Really Speaks To Me

(click on the image to enlarge)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Was This Yeshiva's Money Well Spent? What About The Student's Time? is reporting that Rabbi Leibel Kaplan, Rosh Yeshiva of Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch Montreal gave monetary prizes to students to learned Gemara ba'al peh (by heart). The biggest prize went to Yehoshua Heshel Mishulovin, who was awarded a check for $4,000 for learning the entire tractate Bava Basra by heart, with Rashi and Tosfos.

Now, let me state up front that this is an impressive feat. Bava Basra has 175 pages. Just doing the Gemara by heart is very impressive. When you add the Rashi and Tosfos on top of it, it's almost superhuman.

The extraordinary magnitude of the feat aside, I have to ask the questions -- was the Yeshiva's money well spent? Was the student's time well spent?

I'm sure that the act of memorization must have taken him months. I'm sure he put a tremendous amount of effort into it. And I'm also sure that by memorizing it, he has become extremely well versed in the text of the Gemara, the Rashi and the Tosfos. But could his time have been spent better? Was it necessary for him to learn it by heart? Or could his time have been better put to use by learning it extremely well and moving on to another tractate and learning that very well too? Is there a point at which the extra effort of learning it by heart causes diminishing returns in the extra understanding of it that he gets from an extra review? I'm not a chinuch expert, but my guess would be that his time would have been better served by studying for a comprehensive test on the entire tractate (with Rashi and Tosfos) and then moving on to conquer another tractate.

The second question is whether or not the Yeshiva's money was well spent in this effort. I agree that yeshivos should encourage extra learning and if monetary prizes are a part of that strategy, then so be it. But you have to realize that when you devote $4000 to a prize to one student (no matter how impressive the accomplishment was) then you are advertising that you have "money to burn." $4,000 could probably be better spent in a way that would allow more student to learn Torah rather than awarding it to a one student who performs an impressive feat.

The Wolf

Is This The Newest Dating Craze... Don't Compliment Your Date?

A few months ago Chananya Weissman posted on his website about an article that he saw in the Jewish Press's Im Yirtzeh column. The writer was a kollel boy who had gone out on three dates with a "Bais Yacov type" girl. All was fine and well until, on the fourth date, he made a fatal error.

He told his date that she looked nice.

Now, neither Chananya and I were present when this dreadful act occured, so I can't relate exactly how he said it. My guess, however, is that he didn't start howling like a wolf and have his eyes grow to the size of saucers and bulge out as in a Tex Avery cartoon. My guess is that he didn't start drooling over her in public. My guess is that he didn't say something along the lines of "Hey hot mama, you're one fine lookin' dish." What probably happened is that he politely, respectfully thought that his date put a lot of effort into looking nice for him and wanted to acknowledge it and compliment her. He probably said something to the effect of "you look very nice tonight."

Wrong move. Apparently, with this girl, a compliment is the kiss of death. Things quickly became awkward. The date was cut short and the girl immediately telephoned the shadchan and said that it was over. His compliment showed that he was "just a guy," whereas she thought he was something else.

When I first read his posting, I thought it was strange, but, okay... you have some people with strange ideas in every group. So she doesn't want to be complimented. How many like her can there be?

Well, apparently, there is another. This week's Letters to the Editor in the Yated had a letter from a boy in yeshiva who started going out with a girl. Here are some excerpts from the letter (any typos/misspellings are mine):

The first three dates were amazing. The conversation flowed beautifully and I felt that we were both enjoying it. There were more than 10 hours of enjoyable time spent together. After every date, I was getting more excited. The sahdchan even asked you afer every date if you ahd any hesitations and you said there were none.

Then came the fourth date.

It definitely had a more serious tone than the first three, but that is normal. Then you told the shadchan that it's over. No reasons, no explanations, nothing.

I was devastated.

I sat for hours trying to figure out where I messed up. I was shocked and couldn't figure it out. The shadchan finally got one sentence out of you: "It was too personal."

Then it hit me. Towards the end of the date, after discussing hashkafah and feeling that we were on the same page, I complimented your looks. You thought/think that I'm a sick, one-track-minded pervert.

OK, so that's two people who think that way. Lest you think that that's it, there is apparently a third person who holds this opinion... the guy himself!

You see, however, I don't either believe that it's 100% tzniyusdik to give a personal compliment until after marriage.

So, why did I do it?

Because a famous shadchan recently told me that, if things are going well on a fourth date, I should find something to compliment the girl on. I put aside my own feelings on the matter because I figured that the shadchan had more experience than I do. I was wrong. I made a mistake. I admit it. I should have followed my own feelings and not followed the professional advice.

My guess is that once three people have a certain opinion, probably more do as well. So, now we've come to the point where if you dare to compliment your date on how nice she looks, if you even think to acknowledge and appreciate the effort that she puts into looking nice, if you have even a single thought as to her physical appearence, you must be a "sick, one-track-minded pervert."

At this point, I'm beginning to wonder what the point of shidduch dating is anymore. After all, everyone is expected to follow a script. Don't do this before the second date. Don't say that before the third date. Wear this. Don't wear that. The only acceptable places to go are a lounge, airport or other similarly boring place. Anything that uniquely shows you to be an individual is to be discouraged. In short, if you don't follow the script, you're toast.

So, what does that leave? Why even date? Well, I suppose that one way in which you are unique is in your appearance. Unless you have an identical twin, no one really looks like you. So, even if you have to follow a script and act like everyone else, at least you can be distinguished by your appearance. This includes your physical appearance and your "presentation" (i.e. how you dress, how groomed you are, etc.). But if we're now to not even notice the physical appearance of our dates, then what reason is there to even engage in the activity anymore? Why not just go back to completely arranged marriages and be done with it? Have the parents arrange the marriage, let them meet for a few minutes so that they can see that each "taka has a nose" and that's it. If we've reduced the dating activity to one of actors following a script so that you can't get an indication of the real personality of the person you're dating (to the point where if you minorly deviate from the script then you're out) and where you're not even supposed to notice the appearance of the date, then what is the whole point?

The Wolf

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Public Behavior

Earlier this month, I responded to a letter in the Yated from a father who complained that Pesach (and the assorted Pesach outings that one must take his kids on) were bankrupting him. I responded with a list of ten things that could be done in New York City at little or no cost. One of the things on my list was a trip to FAO Schwarz (which I misspelled in my original post).

Shortly after it appeared, I received a letter from Efrex, one of my readers. His letter said as follows:


I came by your blog fairly recently (you quoted a piece of mine from the blogosphere), and I wanted to respond to a post that you made a few weeks back.

In your piece on "Living in one's means," you listed a few things that a budget-conscious frum family could do on Pesach. On your list, you mention visiting FAO Schwarz without buying anything. This sounds innocuous, but is one of the sources of a HUGE chillul hashem that happens annually. My wife worked at FAO as a toy demonstrator for the first two years of our marriage, and she could regale you with horror stories of frum families who used the store personnel as their personal babysitters for hours on end. When, in a single day, dozens of frum families parade through the store, handling everything and buying nothing, I can assure you that none of the workers is thinking about the twenty other non-Jewish families who did the same thing; rather, they're thinking quite a number of unprintable things.

Frum families are EXTREMELY conspicuous in the city during Pesach time, and they need to be aware of the impression they make.

Sadly, I'd say that I have to agree with him. I, too, have seen public behavior by members of our community that makes me cringe. While I'm willing to believe that most of us are capable of behaving ourselves in public, the sad fact remains that the few of us who don't stand out and make a big (negative) impression on the rest of the public.

And, to be perfectly fair, I have to even add myself to the list of troublemakers. I recently attended a Broadway show (Macbeth) with my lovely wife. We sat in the balcony in the first row. At one point during the performance, I leaned forward (since I was in the first row, there was no one ahead of me) to get a better view of the stage. After a few minutes of sitting leaning forward, I received a tap on my shoulder from the person sitting behind me asking me to sit back because I was blocking her view. Of course, I gave a quick (and quiet) "I'm sorry," sat back and watched the rest of the show. After the show, I turned around and again apologized, telling her that I had no idea that I was blocking her view (if I knew I was, I certainly never would have leaned forward). While she didn't yell or curse or do anything outwardly hostile, I could also see that she wasn't going to be gracious about it either. The point is that I'm sure that I didn't just end up in her mind as the jerk who was blocking her view, but the Jewish jerk who was blocking her view.

Is it necessarily fair that our misdeeds stand out more than the "average Joe's?" No, not really, but as my mother reminds me (and I remind my kids), life isn't always fair. As Orthodox Jews who are very conspicuous to the public eye, we have to do our best to maintain proper behavior in public. As Efrex points out in his letter, it doesn't matter that twenty other non-Jewish families do the same annoying things that the few Jewish families did - it is the Jewish families who will be remembered.

I suppose it would be nice if we put the same effort into encouraging proper public behavior as we do in encouraging the latest tznius chumra or silly ban.

The Wolf

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Deaf? Don't Bother Applying For Conversion

Ynet is reporting that Rav Avraham Sherman, of the Chief Rabbinical Court, has issued a ruling stating that someone who is deaf cannot convert to Judaism. The reason for the ruling is the idea that the deaf cannot keep the mitzvos, they also are incapable of accepting upon themselves the obligation of keeping the mitzvos.

The idea that a deaf person cannot (or is not required to) keep the mitzvos is not new -- it goes back at least as far as the times of the Talmud. Back in those days, there was no way to educate someone who was deaf. Sign language did not exist, nor did modern methods of teaching the disabled. While they certainly had the mental faculties (absent any other defects) to understand right and wrong, there was no reliable way of teaching them and informing them what the Torah expects of us. As a result, the deaf were truly marginalized in society and could not really be expected to be able to properly observe the mitzvos.

However, that is not the case today. In today's world, the deaf can be taught to be productive members of society. Today deaf children can be taught Torah and can observe the mitzvos. With current educational techniques, deafness no longer has to mean a life of isolation. The reasons to exclude a deaf person from the obligations of mitzvah observance no longer apply. Today we have deaf boys becoming Bar Mitzvah -- accepting upon themselves the obligation of mitzvah-observance. Would Rav Sherman tell a deaf boy of fifteen that he doesn't have to put on tefillin today because he's exempt? Would he tell a deaf boy not to bother eating matzah on Pesach? Would he tell the parents of a deaf boy to put the kid in public school since he's not obligated to learn Torah?* I highly doubt it. Jewish-born deaf people today are held to the same standard as the hearing. And that being the case, then why shouldn't the deaf be capable of accepting observance of the mitzvos? If the sole reason to bar the deaf is because they are considered incompetent (like the mentally disabled), then there is no reason to bar them today, as they are now capable of being full members of society.

The Wolf

* Assuming, of course, there is a yeshiva locally capable of catering to the child's educational needs.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Loshon Hara causes.... Science

Warning... this could make your brain hurt.

We all know about the terrible sin of lashon harah (speaking evil of someone). It's a sin that causes untold grief, disrupts marriages, destroys friendships, and causes baseless hatred between man and his fellow man. Volumes have been written about this sin and the terrible disharmony that is a result of it.

However, there is a side effect of it that I bet you weren't aware of. As it turns out, lashon harah also causes advances in science. No, I kid you not. According to

As Rabbi Kessin has pointed out, if the Jews sin, then the Soton receives the flow of Divine energy, twists it into a physical caricature of its spiritual form, and gives it to the nations. In this case, the light of Moshiach, a divine wisdom which gives insight into the spiritual worlds, was converted into a body of knowledge that shows the mechanics of the physical world. And what is that? Science.

That's right... Science is only a perverted form of Divine energy. And is science a good thing? Well...

Certainly we have benefited from the many advances in science, along with the rest of the world. There has been a terrible price, however. Why does the Soton want the world to be filled with knowledge of science? Until science’s advent, atheism was unheard of; it had no intellectual underpinnings. Science, however, can be construed to present a form of reality that does not include Hashem, chas v’shalom. Once the Soton could influence the nations into giving up their religions (which, twisted they may be, still involve an awareness of a divine being), he could then turn the nations onto the Jews and “enlighten” them. How many millions of Jews abandoned their Torah when confronted with the very real powers of science? From simple shtetl yidden who were bowled over by their first glimpse of a locomotive train, to ambitious university students who felt obligated to drop their “backwardness” in order to get ahead, the fires on the altar of science have had no shortage of fuel. Today, nine of ten Jews are nebbuch totally non-religious, with at most a token “seder,” an occasional bagel, and a casual visit to a temple on the High Holidays to show for their heritage. We have no idea how many millions of “gentiles” are in fact lost Jews who fell away from our nation over the centuries. Furthermore, gedolim are becoming a rarity, as the siyatta d’shamaya dries up more and more. What’s more, the sheer effort to become a ben Torah has become a larger and larger mountain. As one rav ruefully observed, “The [primary] purpose of kollel today is to make frum ba’alabatim!”

That's right... Science is only a tool of Satan to get us to abandon God. Certainly HaShem doesn't want science, right? After all, it's Satan's tool.

And what should be the proper Jewish approach to the wonders of science? The author of the piece suggests the following (emphasis his):

Since all the advances in science came ultimately from the Soton, who had taken the ohr Moshiach that had been meant for us, had twisted it into a force for understanding the physical world, and had given it to the nations, we must take another attitude every time that we visit one of those big-box electronics stores to buy yet another appliance. As we gaze in wonder at the latest super-small, yet super-speedy computers (far faster than last year’s model) and marvel at the latest that technology has wrought, a sad thought must cross our minds: “All this is but a perverted shadow of what was really meant – for us!”

That's right. Advances in science are simply perversions of the light of Moshiach. And, therefore, what should we do?

Says Rabbi Kessin: Look at the damage done by loshon hora. Not only does a Jew’s speaking or believing loshon hora enable the Soton to prosecute him and then punish him, but this sin also gives the Soton the ability to take the kedushah which was meant for us, pervert it, and give it to the nations, who then can use it against us. Furthermore, when the Soton is able to take from the ohr Moshiach, the advent of Moshiach is delayed, and he is able to continue his destruction in ways never imagined before. On the other hand, one who guards his tongue not only preserves his mazal, his good fortune, but continues to direct the shefa of kedushah to Klal Yisroel (to both his and all Israel’s benefit), including the ohr Moshiach, thus directly hastening Moshiach’s arrival.

Yep, that's it. Don't speak lashon harah and the evil of science will stop. If we would all just stop speaking evil of one another, those awful scientists will stop trying to cure diseases. Hey, maybe if we're really good at it, they'll forget the vaccines to polio, smallpox and the like. Perhaps we'll even forget about electricity and go back to learning Torah by candlelight, as we were obviously meant to. Certainly many of the horrible agricultural advances that proved Malthus wrong could be turned around, and we can return to those wonderful times of the world population having to worry about famines every now and again.

Perhaps, if we're really good at curbing our hate speech, we will no longer have refrigeration and modern sanitation. Heck, the Torah *meant* for us to have cholera and other diseases brought about by unsanitary conditions.

In addition, I want to know whose lousy lashon harah inflicted us with the printing press. Don't we know that the sefarim that we have nowadays (produced until recently on a printing press and now on computers) are just products of the Soton and really should all be handwritten?

If only HaShem would forgive us for the horrible sin of lashon harah and take back the "curses" of modern medicine such as surgery, antibiotics, vaccines, preventive medicine and physical therapy. If only we could defeat the Soton and his handiwork of heavier-than-air flight, communications, agricultural advances, plastics and modern sanitation. If only we could stop speaking lashon harah, we could return to the wonderful way of life we had a thousand years ago:

  • when the life expectancy was not even forty
  • when families could almost be assured of losing at least one child to disease or accident
  • when women routinely died in childbirth
  • when Torah books were so rare that most people didn't even have a siddur in their house (let alone all the sefarim that they have now)
  • when any number of medical conditions from a ruptured appendix to diabetes to cancer meant certain death
  • when human and animal waste were almost omnipresent in homes and in the streets due to the lack of sanitation, inviting (often incurable) disease into our lives
  • when travel from one town to the next often involved fears of highwaymen
  • when the fastest that news could travel was the maximum speed of a horse or a ship
  • when food could not be stored beyond a day or two due to the lack of refrigeration

and lastly...

... when a community (such as Lakewood) where thousands of people learn all day and do not work could never exist.

The Wolf

Hat tip: OnionSoupMix

(And before anyone gets any wise ideas - no I'm not condoning Lashon Harah. My opening paragraph was meant sincerely. It's just the silly idea that LH causes science [thereby making science bad] that I'm taking issue with).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hey, Join In At The Rabbi Horowitz Hatefest...

... going on at YeshivaWorld.

Sickening. One commentator actually accused Rabbi Horowitz of writing "total kefirah."

The Wolf

UPDATE: To his credit, the YW editor removed some of the more inflammatory posts, including the "total kefirah" comment.

FURTHER UPDATE (5:20 pm): Now the whole thing is gone.

For the record, my last post there basically said that you don't have to agree with everything (or anything) that Rabbi Horowitz says, but at least present a cogent argument why you disagree with him rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks.

The Wolf

Silly Things That People Believe -- Part II

Yeranen Ya'akov points out that there is a meme going around that Birkas HaChamah (the once-in-28-years blessing on the Sun that we will be reciting next year) has only been recited on Erev Pesach twice in Jewish History -- and both times in the year of great salvation (bolding mine).

...This is interesting, because what I have seen this year I did not see the last time the Sh’mittah year came around. Someone from Montreal knew about it, faxed it to a friend of mine in Eretz Yisroel, who recently passed it on to me. It is from a sefer called, “Meir Einei Chachamim”, based upon the teachings of the Ostrovster Rebi. The following piece was said over in 1925, or the Jewish year 5685, the year of Kiddush HaChamah—the blessing over the sun that has returned to its original position at the time of Creation. He said:

From the time of Creation, there are three times that Kiddush HaChamah falls on Erev Pesach: the year they left Egypt—it is mentioned in the Talmud that Kiddush HaChamah happened on Erev Pesach on a Wednesday—and the second time was in the year of the redemption of Mordechai and Esther, who then fasted on the 14th, 15th, and 16th [of Nissan]. The third time Kiddush HaChamah occurs on Erev Pesach, not much time will pass before the redemption comes, God willing.

If so, then that is good news, VERY good news. For, the third time that the sun finds itself back in its original position on an Erev Pesach, which has to be on a Wednesday, the day on which it was put in its place during the week of Creation, will be in 2009, or 5769—the eighth year of THIS Sh’mittah cycle! What an amazing coincidence...

Well, as Yeranen Ya'akov and others pointed out, Birkas HaChamah was recited on Erev Pesach in 1925. But we can excuse the memory lapse. After all, that happened 83 years ago. What we can't excuse, however, is the lack of basic math skills.

Birkas HaChamah is predicated on a 28 year cycle which stretches back to creation. Based on this fact, we're going to perform a little experiment. For those of you with Excel, this should be fairly easy.

Start with 5769, the next year that Birkas HaChamah will be recited. Now subtract 28, to get the previous year that it was recited -- 5741. Now subtract 28 again. If you continue this 207 times, you will eventually work back to year 1 - the year of Creation. So far, so good.

Now, I'd like you to look over your list of years again.

You'll note that 2448, the year of the Exodus, is not on the list. The closest year is 2437 -- eleven years earlier. There was no way that Birkas HaChamah was recited the year we left Egypt. In addition, you'll note that 3404, the year Haman was hung, is also not on the list. In 3404, they would have been thirteen years away from the next recital in 3417. In short, it is impossible that Birkas HaChamah could have been recited on Erev Pesach (or any other time of the year) in the years of Passover and Purim.

You'd think that before people start spouting nonsense, they'd perform the basic math to see if it actually works out.

The Wolf

Hat tip: DovBear

Silly Things That People Believe

"The order of eating the meal- first cholent, then kugel and meat- has been passed down through the generations from Har Sinai. Not only is the eating of these three foods a tradition, but so is the order in which they are eaten."

- Rabbi Yosef Yitzchock of Lubavitch (quoted on page 290 of Shabbos Secrets, R. Dovid Meisels)

I don't know if the above quote is accurate or not. However, I have to believe that if it is indeed accurate, it certainly wasn't meant literally. I simply can't imagine that R. Yosef Yitzchock believed that God dictated to Moshe that he should eat cholent first, followed by kugel and then meat at the Shabbos meal. Did they even have the first two in the Wilderness? And how is it that this tradition managed to avoid transcription between the time of Moshe Rabbeinu all the way to R. Yosef Yitzchock's time?

The point, I suppose, is not that R. Yosef Yitzchock made such a statement -- he could very well have made it in an offhand or joking manner. The point, I suppose, is that there are people who take everything any gadol says so seriously as if it were literally and absolutely true that they can't even stop and think for a second if such a thing could even logically be true.

The Wolf

Friday, May 02, 2008

Living In One's Means: A Letter From the Yated

I don't usually barge into Sephardi Lady's territory, but this letter (titled "Strapped For Cash") in the Yated caught my attention.

(Note: Any spelling errors/typos are mine)

Dear Editor,

Is anyone out there surviving financially? I, for one, am not. Pesach itself set me back so seriously. In addition to the cost of making Yom Tov with the sky-high prices of Pesach food - and food in general, there were Afikoman presents to buy and Chol Hamoed trips to go on. This all made my already dire financial situation that much more disastrous.

Take eight kids to an amusement part on Chol Hamoed and you'll walk out having spent close to $200. For what? And if, chas veshalom we don't take our kids on a Chol Hamoed trip every single day, somehow we are lacking as parents. That's the feeling we get. So the day after the amusement park, we went to the Liberty Science Center. That, too, cost a veritable fortune. On the third day of Chol Hamoed, I said that instead of going on a trip, we would go buy Afikoman presents. Frankly, the Chol Hamoed trip would probably have been a bargain compared to the prices we paid at the toy store. On Erev Shabbos, the last day of Chol Hamoed, we took the kids bowling. Who would imagine that you would have to pay well over $100 for a family to play two games of knocking down some bowling pins?

It is unbelievable what is going on out there. The gas prices are absurd. The cost of food is absolutely ridiculous. The only thing in the grocery store that is reasonably priced is the Yated, but, last I checked, this newspaper is not edible.

Is there any end in sight to this recessions that we are in?

Feeling Hopeless

Here's my response:

Dear Feeling Hopeless,

Thank you for your letter. It is certainly true that there are many people struggling to make ends meet during these difficult financial times. Food prices have risen dramatically over the last year and people with large families and limited incomes are indeed feeling the pinch.

However, it seems to me that the people in your household are lacking two basic ideas:

1. There is a difference between items that are necessities (food) and things that are luxuries (Afikoman presents and Chol HaMoed trips).
2. There are plenty of things to do around around NYC that don't cost a "veritable fortune."

You start out your letter by stating that you were in dire financial straits even before Pesach. I'm certain that shopping for a family of ten (eight kids plus, presumably, two adults), Pesach is great strain on the budget. Of course, I don't know what you purchased, but I'm sure that you did your best to contain costs and yet, still came away with a huge food bill. I only have three kids, and yet Pesach food put a nice hole in our checking account -- I'm sure that with twice the number of people, you were hit at least twice as hard.

However, while no one can fault you for complaining about the spiraling costs of food, I think you can be taken to task on your failure to understand that Afikoman presents and Chol Hamoed trips are not necessities. As kids, many of us managed to get through childhood without going on trips everyday. There were years that, as a kid, my sister and I didn't have Afikoman presents simply because our mother didn't have the money. And yet, somehow, we managed to survive and grow into mature, productive adults. Trust me on this... your children will not be scarred for life if they don't go on a trip or don't get Afikoman presents.

In fact, I was discussing your letter with Eeees last night, and she brought something to my attention. Last year Pesach time was kind of tough for us financially. Baruch HaShem, we weren't in danger of going hungry, but we didn't have a lot of leftover cash either. As a result, the kids didn't get Afikoman presents. We did, however, take them on a day trip. One of my kids this year brought up to Eeees that they didn't get Afikoman presents last year. Wilma Fred turned to him her and said "but they took us on a trip. Shouldn't that count?" In other words, (at least some of) my kids have learned to appreciate what they have, rather than bemoaning the fact that they don't have everything.

However, all is not lost. Since you mentioned the Liberty Science Center, I am going to guess that you're in the New York area. In New York City, there are plenty of things to do that cost little or no money. Here are some suggestions for next Chol Hamoed.

1. Go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens on Tuesday. It's free. The other days aren't too expensive either.

2. Go to the Prosepct Park or Queens Zoos. Adult rates are $6, kids 3-12 are $2. Assuming that of your eight kids two are older than 12 and one is under 3, the total cost (excluding transportation) is $34. Not bad for a family of ten.

3. Go to the Bronx Zoo on Wednesday. Wednesday is pay-what-you-wish day. Go, give $50, and enjoy the day with the animals.

4. Gather up a family or two, pack picnic lunches, Frisbees, balls and gloves and go have a picnic lunch/outing in Central Park or Prospect Park. There is plenty of room for the kids to run around all day. Subway costs for 10 people round trip: $40 -- assuming that all kids pay full fare.

5. Go to the American Museum of Natural History. While the suggested donation is $15 per adult and $8.50 per kid (for a total of $98), this is, again, a *suggested* donation.

6. Take the kids to FAO Schwartz. Just don't buy anything!

7. Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and spend the day in Battery Park.

8. Ride the Staten Island Ferry and see the new aquarium at the Staten Island end. You'll also get to see the Statue of Liberty close up. Best of all, it's free.

9. Visit the Sony Wonder Technology Lab. It's free!

10. Visit grandparents. They're likely to pay the kids!

There you go... ten suggestions -- and I'm sure that there are plenty of other low/no cost things to do around the city that I've missed. The point is that you don't have to spend a fortune on trips for Chol Hamoed. If you like, go on one "expensive" trips and make the rest cheaper trips.

Listen, I understand that we all want to seem like "good parents" who will splurge for our children whenever possible. But sometimes, it's just not possible. If going on trips is going to completely blow your budget so that you won't be able to pay the real bills, then you have to be strong and just tell your kids no. You have to realize exactly what is a necessity and what is a luxury, and understand that Afikoman presents and expensive trips fall into the latter category and not the former.

Here's a bit of unsolicited parenting advice: Not taking your kids on a trip every day of Chol Hamoed will not make you seem "lacking as parents." On the contrary, by making an unpopular decision (and explaining *why* you're making it), you will be doing your children a far greater service - teaching them that one has to be responsible, set priorities where they belong (i.e. necessities first and then luxuries) and live within their means. Teaching them that lesson will remain with them and serve them well throughout life, long after the memories of the "missed trip" are faded and gone. Instilling this lesson in them will show that you are indeed not lacking as a parent, but a parent who teaches his/her children the lessons that they need to live.

The Wolf