Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What I'm Discussing Around The Web...

Over at ChabadTalk, I'm having a discussion with some members on the age-old subject of whether God can or cannot create a rock He cannot lift.

Money quote:
"Sure G‑d can create a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it. G‑d can do anything. And He could even lift that rock that He cannot lift as well."

Over at YWN's coffeeroom, I got involved in a discussion when a poster brought up a story about a woman who had been in a coma for 73 years. I pointed out that the record for coma length is, in fact, 37 years. Certainly, if there was a longer coma (especially by such a margin) it would have been well-known and written up in medical literature. The response to that?

Oh and Mr. Musings,
If the Almighty decides that he wants someone to be in a coma for over 70 years, thats exactly whats gona happen;))))))) 'Record Shmecord.....

When I pointed out the difference between stating that HKBH has the power to do something and stating that that something actually happened, I got this wonderous response:

But now that we both agree that G-d rules the world, he obviously didnt want this story to be publicized in the Guinness Book of records, and frankly, thats why you havent heard of it!

Ah, yes. The very best from the "the best evidence of a conspiracy is the fact that there is no evidence" school of thought.

The Wolf

Visiting Day... The Wolf Answers Another Letter

Rebbetzin Jungries' column in the Jewish Press this week features a letter from a parent about camp visiting day. After three paragraphs of praising R. Jungries, the letter writer finally gets to the point:

I am writing this letter because I feel that something must be done about the nightmare that Camp Visiting Day has become. It is a situation that needs an airing, and while we may not be able to influence events on the world scene, this is something that is definitely in our hands and could ease the burdens of many families, and G-d knows, people have enough to contend with nowadays.

My husband and I are the grateful parents of five wonderful children (bli ayin hara), with, Baruch Hashem, a sixth on the way. My husband is salaried – he works very hard, but by the time the deductions are made from his paycheck, there is not much left, so I try to supplement his income with a part-time job. It is not easy, but Baruch Hashem, we manage to pay our bills, even if there is nothing left at the end of the year. My parents are not in a position to help – my in-laws are divorced and have their own problems. As for my siblings – they are struggling, as well. I write all this to give you a better understanding of the dynamics of our family, which I don’t think are too different from the challenges that most have to contend with these days.

It is a sacrifice for my husband and me to send our children to camp. Nevertheless, as difficult as it may be to write that check for camp fees, we do not want our children to feel deprived or different from their friends, and we do not think this is a matter of spoiling or indulging them. Nowadays, camp is not a luxury (although there may be some who consider it as such); if we didn’t send our children to camp, they would be totally lost. None of their friends are in the city, so camp has become a necessity. And now, to the immediate reason for my letter – the Visiting Day nightmare.

No sooner do the kids depart, and it’s visiting day, and like it or not, we all have to go, because all the other parents are going, and if we’re not there, our children will feel deprived and abandoned. I have always felt that these visiting days are ridiculous, and I dread them. The traffic is always horrendous... we have an old car, and more often than not, it overheats. There is always some problem on the road – a flat, the little ones are crying, whining, getting carsick, and having to make pit stops every minute. Then, when we finally arrive at camp (between our girls and boys we have to visit two different ones, the logistics of which is another nightmare), no sooner do we arrive than the kids clamor to be “taken off grounds” to get something good to eat!

So we head toward the nearest village (which is a nightmare in itself as well as an unnecessary expense). By the time we finish, we have run up a sizeable bill. Finally, it’s time to get back to camp, tip the counselors and waiters (another hefty sum), go through the traumatic weeping goodbyes (my daughter always gets very emotional), and pile into the car for our trip back to the city. If the trip up was bad, the return is 10 times worse. The traffic is more congested, the little ones are tired and cranky, and we return home muttering to ourselves “Never again!”

This year, however, presented even greater problems than before. Our family, like most, has been affected by the financial crunch. Prices are constantly soaring – everything has gone up, and unfortunately, our income isn’t keeping pace with the higher cost of living. Mind you, I am not complaining. I know people who unfortunately have been laid off and have no income at all, so I thank G-d for whatever we have. I know that I don’t have to tell you that gasoline prices have gone out of control. The round-trip to the mountains, plus the tolls, costs us close to $200. No matter how frugal we try to be, the cost is tremendous, and we, as most families, can ill-afford it. The expense and aggravation of visiting day is something that we can all do without!

In view of this physical, emotional, and financial wear and tear, I would respectfully recommend that visiting day be abolished or at least put on hold. I think that the camp directors would also be grateful since the day interrupts the routine that the children have finally acclimated to. As for the parents, they would certainly be happy. I have spoken to many people and they all agree that they could do very well without this aggravating day. Everyone would be grateful! Nowadays, we have enough to contend with in our lives, and this is one pressure that can easily be eliminated. I hope that, through your column, something constructive will be done.

A Frustrated Parent

Here's my reply:

Dear Frustrated Parent,

Thank you for your letter. I can certainly understand much of your frustration. I've had three kids in camp for the last three summers, and have certainly gone through my share of visiting days. I never look forward to the driving, sitting in traffic and tolls -- and with the sharp spike in gasoline prices over the last two years, the cost of the trip has risen significantly.

That being said, however, I think there are several points in your letter that need to be addressed. You don't state where you live, but I'm going to make the assumption that, if you're traveling by car for visiting day, that you are somewhere in the New York City metropolitan area. That being said, I have to start with the very first assumption that you made; specifically, that camp is not a luxury. In this, I have to disagree with you. You gave two reasons why you feel that camp is a necessity and not a luxury; you stated that they'd be "totally lost" with it and the fact that none of their friends are in the city. I'm not quite sure what you mean by "totally lost." I'm assuming you mean that they won't have any structured activity at all and that they'll just "bum around the neighborhood" all summer. While I agree with you that that is not an ideal situation, I would submit that there are alternatives. One such alternative is day camp. Yes, maybe your son's friends might not be there, but this might also be an opportunity for him to make some new friends. The cost is less than that of sleepaway camp and you'd be spared the whole visiting day hassle.

However, let's lay this discussion aside. Let's assume that all the day camps in your area closed or are completely and utterly inappropriate for your child. And, furthermore, let's say that you can afford sleepaway camp and want them to go. So, off they go to camp. However, then we have to deal with visiting day.

It sounds to me, from your letter, that visiting day is a major expense for you. In your letter, you indicated four major sources of expenditure for visiting day: gas, tolls, tips and going off-site to eat. This is aside from the frustration of traffic, driving, automotive problems (such as your chronically overheating car), the traumatic goodbyes, etc.

For the expenditures, there are several ways you can mitigate the costs. You can share a ride with another group of parents. More than once Eeees and I have taken other parents up to the country for visiting day. While they didn't offer to pay, you could easily offer to split the gas and tolls with someone who would otherwise have room in their car. Many camps charter buses from the city for a nominal fee. That too, is cheaper than driving.

For tips, you could give smaller tips, or send your kids to a camp that doesn't allow tipping. You can also bring up sandwiches and the like to eat and not go off site. Will these things make you a popular parent with your kids? No, probably not. But so what? Visiting day is about spending time with your family, not going out to eat. I went to sleep away camp for seven years as a kid and never once went off-site to eat on visiting day. I was not traumatized, nor was I scarred for life by having to eat the camp food on visiting day. Neither will your kids. If your kids are mature enough to go to sleepaway camp, they can be mature enough to understand the idea that the day is expensive enough as it is. Will they be happy about it? Probably not. But not everything is about their happiness.

There is also the option of just not going up for visiting day. Now, before you jump down my throat and state that this is a ridiculous position, hear me out. You state that there are many problems involved with going up to camp on visiting day. Some are problems that affect everyone who drives from New York City (the traffic, the travel time, etc.). Then there are problems that seem to be a problem for only some people (the cost, car troubles, the traumatic goodbyes, etc.). I don't think it's a good idea to abolish visiting for all parents because of the problems that some parents have. Not everyone has a problem paying for gas. Not everyone has a bad car and not everyone's kids suffer emotional trauma at the end of visiting day when it's time to go home. In short, I'm sorry that you have these problems, but that's not a reason to cancel visiting day for those parents who don't have those problems. Likewise, while you (and I) might not want to deal with the frustration of driving, that's no reason to abolish it for those that are happily willing to put up with it. Using your logic, we should abolish sleepaway camp altogether -- after all, there are some people who just cannot afford to send their kids to camp at all. However, I don't think that you would advocate this position. I think you would say that it should be available as an option for those who can/will pay for it. The same applies to visiting day.

That being said, that leaves you with a choice. Perhaps, if the cost is so great that it's going to cause a major financial hardship, or the frustarations involved are so great that the day is going to be ruined, then perhaps you should not go up for visiting day. Again, your children will certainly not be happy with your decision to stay home, but if they are mature enough to go to camp, they should be mature enough to understand the financial considerations involved. You should be able to explain to your children that $200 is a major expense that just cannot be borne at this time. If you've trained your children right in life, they should be able to understand it, even if they aren't happy about it.

All that being said, I think that there are changes that could be made to make visiting day a more pleasurable experience. Perhaps the camps could stagger the Sundays of visiting day (although, in a year like this one where Tisha B'Av falls on a Sunday that can be difficult). Perhaps camps should have programs for kids whose parents are not expected up, so that they aren't just sitting around feeling lonely. When I was a kid in Mogen Avraham many years ago, there was only one visiting day in the summer, now there are two. Perhaps we can find a way to go back to one. In short, there are ways to make visitng day better for all involved without eliminating it altogether, which is unfair.

Wishing you an easy trip this year,

The Wolf

Va'ad HaTznius in Lakewood?

Yeshiva World is reporting that there were two meetings in Lakewood this past week concering the current state of tznius in the Lakewood (and, presumably, the greater Jewish world). Among the speakers were such luminaries as R. Mattisyahu Solomon, R. Shmuel Kamenetzky, R. Malkiel Kotler and R. Ephraim Wachsman. There are links to the audio on the YWN site, but, for whatever reason, I have not been able to get the links to work properly. As such, I don't know directly what was said, but can only go by second hand reports. However, it seems that at least one person broached the idea of setting up a Va'ad Hatznius in Lakewood.

Now, let me state up front that I don't live in Lakewood, so I don't have a particular dog in this fight, so to speak. However, the whole notion of setting up such a council here in the United States is troubling to say the least. Nonetheless, let's say for the sake of argument that this is something that is actually going to happen. I think, however, that there are several important questions that must be addressed in public before setting up such a Va'ad.

Among them are the following:

1. Who will be on the Va'ad Hatznius. Specifically, it's fine and well for R. Solomon, R. Kotler et al to call for the formation of them, but are they going to be involved in a day-to-day basis? Or is the leadership of this going to fall into the hands of lay-people? The reason I ask is that while I might trust R. Solomon with decisions on how to handle recalcitrant people, I'm also certain we all know people who would go beyond the bounds of what we consider normal in dealing with people. Considering that this type of an organization is one that, by its very nature, would attract those who seek to simply control other people's lives, what controls are going to be in place to make sure that it's led and operated by people who are *truly* acting l'shem shamayim and not simply on a power trip?

2. What powers, specifically, will the Va'ad have? Will they have the ability to expel people's kids from school? Refuse them entrance into the shul? Demand that they sell their homes and move out of the neighborhood? Slash their tires? In short, what is the prescribed method for dealing with people who cannot/will not dress in a tznius fashion in the neighborhood? What are the grounds for appeal (if any). What does it take to get back into the good graces of the Va'ad?

3. Will there be a mechanism in place to deal with people who take things too far. If one person throws acid at someone whom they deem to be dressed in an untznius fashion will there be a mechanism for punishing that person and making sure they don't do it again? In short, how do you prevent vigilante action by rogue members (or rogue former members) of the Va'ad?

4. Will there be a mechanism for the community's voice to be heard? It's all fine and well to say "it's up to the gedolim..." but I don't think that will fly well - even in Lakewood. If people start becoming concerned with the way the Va'ad is operating (for whatever reason), will they have a voice in rectifying the problem, or will they be shut out and subject to a "if you don't like it, move" attitude?

5. How do you prevent people from spying on one another to turn in people whom they have a grudge against? If I have an argument with my neighbor, I don't want to have to worry about the Va'ad showing up the next day because he claims that he saw something not tznius (real or fabricated). In other words, how do you substantiate claims, who has the right to make a claim and under what circumstances can claims be made?

6. Whose standards of tznius will be used? For some women, walking around with bare feet is not a problem. For others, feet must always be covered. In some groups, a married woman must always wear a sheitel... others hold a sheitel is, in itself, untznius. In some communities, the color red is verbotten, in others it is not (unless it is intentionally loud). In other words, whose standards are going to be used? Will it automatically be the most machmir standard? And what if someone doesn't want to adhere to that standard, but to a standard which is halachically acceptable, but not up to the "community standards?"

7. What expectations of privacy can a person have? In the YWN thread, one poster tells of an incident in his own personal private back yard where someone commented that his wife was not tznius enough in her own private backyard. Is that private enough? Can a woman walk around bareheaded in her own backyard if she has a reasonable expectation of privacy there (i.e. that no one will come in and see her?). What about in one's home? Or do I have to worry that the Va'ad will take action against me if my wife dares to take off her sheitel in her own home amongst her family? In short, in what places/circumstances will a claim be automatically disregarded?

These are only some of the questions that I think must be fully answered. Unfortuantely, I don't think that it is possible to run such an organization here in the United States. I think that there is too much potential for abuse in such an organization. As always, I think that the best way to advance the cause of tznius is to show the beauty of the mitzvah and not to ostracize people.

The Wolf

Friday, July 25, 2008

An Update

Just a quick update on the letter we sent to George's day camp rebbi.

We never heard back from him. Not a phone call, a note or an email.

George is now in another camp,* so I don't expect to hear from him again.

The Wolf

* To be fair, he was going to another camp at this point in the summer anyway.

Mind-blowingly Stupidest Quote of the Week

The Forward has an article on the battle over Mehadrin buses in Israel this week. In it, one of the women who favor segregation made the following statement (emphasis mine):

I see Haredi women who sit at the back as being the Israeli Rosa Parks,” said writer Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, one of the leading proponents of segregation. “We see it as a stand against the deterioration of standards in the public arena, and view the chance to sit at the back without men gazing at us as a form of empowerment.”

Um..... words just fail me on this one. If you want to argue that the Mehadrin system has it's merits, then by all means go ahead and do so. If you want to say it makes you feel more comfortable to sit in an area with no men, then say so. If you think the plan has merits and should include every bus line, then, please, make your arguments. But to compare yourself to Rosa Parks is simply mind-blowingly ignorant. You realize that she refused to sit in the back, right? She fought for the right to sit anywhere on the bus she darned well pleased. In her case, it was about race, but I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that had it been gender, her reaction would have been the same.

Oh, and one last point...

Men can still gaze at you. Sitting in the back of the bus doesn't solve that problem. All they have to do is turn around.

The Wolf

Hat tip: Pravda Ne'eman

Thursday, July 24, 2008

100,000 Visits!

Letter to the Editor: Lakewood Salaries and Employment Economics

I know that when I fall into a bit of a blogging funk, I can always count on the Yated to print something interesting. This week is no different.

Here's a letter to the editor titled "What A Joke." Any spelling errors or typos are my own.

Dear Editor,

I must say that the salaries that women receive in the city where I live - Lakewood, New Jersey - are pitiful. It is a disgrace that they get little more than $10 an hour. I am not sure what the situation is like in other places such as Brooklyn, Monsey and the Five Towns, but in this city, where so many upstanding people are struggling financially, it is simply disgraceful that our wives can't find jobs that pay decently.

Some people now highly regret that their wives, when they were single, didn't get some sort of degree to enable them to get jobs that pay decently. I don't want to get into a whole discussion about whether a girl should or shouldn't get a degree, because that really isn't the point here. The point is that, in a city where the concept of "hashkafaToraso umnaso" can be applied to so many people, the fact that wives can't earn a half-decent salary to keep their families afloat is a serious problem that has not been discussed sufficiently. In most cases, even where the husband is the primary breadwinner, the family needs the mother to earn a decent salary to help cover ever-growing expenses.

In Lakewood, apparently, $10 an hour is supposed to cut it.

$10 an hour is what you give the guy off the street who you hire to clean your backyard.

$10 an hour is what you give Maria, your cleaning lady, for scrubbing your floors.

Because of the large number of young (and not-so-young) married wives who need jobs, storeowners and business owners can - and do - dictate how much they will pay their employees. And let me tell you, they are taking full advantage of the situtation. I know of two companies that are seriously contemplating moving to Lakewood for one reason only - cheap labor.

Not Mexican cheap labor.

The cheap labor of our neshei chayil, who can be hired for "bubkis."

It's a shandeh.

Eli Parkowitz

Here's my response:

Dear Mr. Parkowitz,

I can certainly understand the frustration that you and other people in the Lakewood community are going through in your efforts to raise your families. Gas prices have shot through the roof, food prices are up, and it seems that even the basic necessities are now more expensive than they've ever been. While this is certainly true in most places, it must be impacting the Lakewood communtiy all the more, considering how many of the residents are involved in full-time Torah study. I wish you and all the Lakewood families much hatzlacha in being able to support your families.

Now then, however, I do feel that there are several things that need to be pointed out about your letter. You don't state in your letter what type of work the wives in Lakewood are looking for, but my guess is that it is largely unskilled labor. The wages for unskilled workers will, of course, usually be lower than that of skilled workers. I highly doubt the doctors, medical technicians and computer programmers in Lakewood are earning only $10 an hour.

You have to understand that companies do not exist in a vacuum. Companies that employ workers usually have to compete with other companies who provide similar or identical products or services. In order for a company to exist, it must remain competative with others in their field. If I produce widgets at $10 each and my competitor comes along and is able to produce them at $8 each, I will have to do one of two things -- a. find a way to produce my widgets at a similar cost or b. go out of the widget business.

As such, if the women in Lakewood earn $10 an hour, it is because that is what the market will bear. Employers have to find people that will do the job properly at the lowest cost. If I need a secretary (a common example of an unskilled laborer) I will find one that can do the job at the lowest cost. If your wife doesn't want to work for $10 an hour, but I know that there are ten other candidates who will, then there is no reason for me to hire your wife.

In short, if I'm paying $10 an hour for a secretary, it is because of the following two reasons:

1. There are enough candidates who are capable of and willing to do the job properly for $10 an hour.

2. If I only offered $9 an hour, the candidate pool would shrink to the point where it would be too difficult to find someone who can or will do the job properly.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'd love to hire your wife at $20 an hour and help support your Torah lifestyle. But (and forgive me for saying so) the marketplace doesn't care about your Torah lifestyle. My competitors (many of whom are not Jewish) don't care about your Torah lifestyle either. They're not going to raise thier prices to match mine because I have the extra cost of hiring a Lakewood wife. Since they're not going to raise their prices, I can't afford to pay extra to hire your wife. To do so would make my company uncompetative.

Now then, is there any solution? Of course there is. While we all recognize that our parnassah comes from HaKadosh Baruch Hu, we also all recognize the fact that we have to put in the proper hishtadlus. And that doesn't just mean showing up in the morning, doing the job and going home in the evening. It goes far beyond that.

You write in your letter that you don't want to get into a whole hashkafa debate about whether or not a girl should get a degree. But, in reality, this isn't about degrees... it's about job skills. If your wife (or anyone else, for that matter) has a valuable skill that they can bring to the marketplace, then they can command a higher salaray. The general rule is that the rarer the skill (and the more in demand that it is), then the higher the salary the person can command. In many cases this means a college degree, but it does not necessarily have to be so. Allow me to give you an example:

When I started out in the workforce, I was earning only $10 an hour. I was young and newly-married. While I had some skill at using computers, it wasn't anything terribly specialized. I knew how to use WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 (am I dating myself?) and some other basic computer programs. In short, while I had some marginal computer skills that placed me higher than a "shlub off the street," I was still certainly in the category of unskilled labor. As such, I earned a meager salary for a few years.

It was only later on that I began to realize that if I wanted to earn a higher salary, I would have to make myself more desirable to employers. So, I went out and learned some computer skills that are more uncommon. I went to an adult education center and, for the next year, took eight courses in computers covering programming and databases. As a result, because I invested in my human capital, my value in the market place went up and I was able to command a much higher salary.

Human capital is basically what you have if you were dropped off on a street corner with nothing more than the clothes on your back. Just to give you an example (albeit an extreme one), consider what would happen if two people were put in that situation. Let's suppose that Bill Gates and I were both stripped of all our possessions. He loses his billions, his mansion, his Microsoft stock -- everything. Me -- well, I lose my house, whatever savings I have in the bank, my 401(k), etc. We're both dropped off on a street corner with nothing more than the clothing we're wearing. Which one of us will be better able to provide for our families? The answer is Bill Gates, because he has more human capital than I do. He has skills and contacts that I don't have. He has years of experience in running a multi-billion dollar corporation. I don't. The combination of skills, contacts, experience that he has is worth far, far more on the labor market than mine. As a result, he will (in all likelihood) find a job faster than I and earn a higher salary than I.

The best way to improve your earnings for the long term is to invest in your own human capital. Tell your wife to go out and learn a skill that will make her more valuable to employers in the Lakewood area. That's the *best* way to ensure that she will be able to command a higher salary. Is it a quick fix? No, of course not. It takes time and money. It took me over $5,000 and a year to take the computer courses I mentioned above. It was very difficult -- my family had to make significant sacrifices for me to be able to scrape together the money for those courses. However, with the higher salary I was able to command when I finished, I earned the money back within a year. I'm now further investing in my human capital in two ways: a. I'm always looking to improve my skills at a database administrator/programmer and b. I'm going back to school for an advanced degree. You can rarely go wrong by investing in your human capital.

If you want your wife to earn more than "bubkis" then she has to be able to bring valuable skills to her employers. However, if she is indistinguishable (in a professional sense) from thousands of other women in Lakewood, then no employer can pay her more. She has to work on setting herself apart from the crowd. There's a reason that Maria only earns $10 an hour -- because anyone can learn very quickly how to scrub floors. Likewise, almost anyone can learn very easily how to answer phones. It's only when the skills become rarer and more valuable that the salaries start to rise.

Wishing you much hatzlacha,

The Wolf

Friday, July 18, 2008

Completely and Utterly Off Topic -- but Refreshingly Funny

Yeah, I know this is off-topic, but hey, it's my blog, right? :)

If you want to see something refreshingly funny, head over to Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. Act I and Act II are up and Act III should be up tomorrow. I can't wait to see the conclusion. It's funny and touching. Plus, watching Neal Patrick Harris and Neal Fillion act over the top is a big treat.

Warning: The word for male genitalia is toward the end of Act II. Otherwise, it's pretty clean.

The Wolf

Are Women's Shabbos Clothing Inherently Immodest?

There's an interesting item tucked away in this week's Machberes column in the Jewish Press.

Ultimate Coats by Modest Design announced, in chassidishe advertising weeklies, that it has two styles of coats for weddings or other occasions. The ad notes that the Rimanover Rebbe, in his city, had ordained that Jewish daughters should wear an oiber malbush, loosely translated as an upper [outer] garment or overcoat. Presumably, this is a light overcoat that covers dresses, etc. When women are elegantly dressed, on their way to or returning from smachos, the overcoat would cover their nice outfits and embrace them in modesty.

OK, seems nice. But why is it necessary?

Regarding Ultimate Coats, Rabbi Shraga Feivish Hager, Kosover Rebbe in Boro Park, writes that he has been troubled for years that when Jewish daughters go to smachos they are dressed in their finest Shabbos and Yom Tov outfits. Of course, they are going to a mitzvah in making their friend happy, especially kallos at their weddings. Nevertheless they are going through the streets or on the Boro Park/ Williamsburg bus, etc., where there are married men and bochurim. He has long been searching for a solution. Thank Heaven, the Kosover Rebbe writes, that righteous women have come up with an answer. A nice thin overcoat that will guard them well. Though it may be hot in warm weather, it is a good thing, he says. Rabbi Getzel Elyakim Berkowitz, Kiryas Yoel Dayan, in a letter written last year, also praises the new garment for street wear, especially when going to smachos.

What this says to me (and perhaps I'm reading it wrong) is that Shabbos and Yom Tov outfits are inherently immodest. After all, if they conform to the laws of modesty, then why the need for an additional cover? If they are inherently immodest, then why have women been walking in the streets in them until now?

Of course, we're all aware that there are women's outfits that may fit the technical definition of tznius but violate the spirit of the law. However, I'm inclined to believe (and again, please correct me if I'm wrong) that the followers fo the Kosover Rebbe already wear garments that are tznius according to both the letter and the spirit of the law. I don't think the Kosover Rebbe has too many "Hot Chanies" in his kehilla.

In addition, this leads to other questions as well. Once we've decided that a woman should not be seen by men in her Shabbos finery, then what does a hostess wear? Imagine if a couple wants to have his wife's sister and husband over for a Shabbos meal. What do they wear? Can they wear their Shabbos finery in front of their brothers-in-law? If so, then why not in the street? If not, then are they required to change into something less fine specifically for the meal? I'm sure that there are other perfectly legitimate social situations where similar questions could be asked.

Personally, I find this to be another symptom in our over obsession about tznius. Yes, modesty is important - but, as in all things, one has to find the happy medium.

The Wolf

UPDATE:  I just saw that Josh, over at Parsha, has a much better and extensive take on this.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Only Ten People In Shul For Laining And the Kohen Leaves...

We had this problem in shul this past Shabbos. We had exactly ten people, with one Kohen. For whatever reason, the Kohen decided that he did not want the first aliyah. In order to preclude the gabbai from calling him up, he walked out of the shul into the hallway.

The problem, however, was that there were only ten people in shul. The gabbai called up a Yisrael, but now we were stuck. The person who was called up can't say Barchu, because we only had nine people. If the Kohen walks back in, even after Barchu, we have to set the Yisrael aside and call up the Kohen. What to do?

The rav thought about it for a moment and ruled in an interesting manner. He ruled that the Kohen was, in a manner of speaking, both present and not present at the same time. He was present for the purpose of having a minyan (he was still visible to us in the hallway), but yet, by getting up and walking out, he clearly demonstrated that he did not want the first aliyah and so, in that respect, he wasn't there. To do otherwise, he explained, would make two people unhappy - the Kohen, who clearly didn't want the aliyah, and the oleh, who would have to be set aside and stand by the bimah until the third aliyah. To cause two people unhappiness on Shabbos, the rav said, was something that he didn't want to do. So, the Yisrael said Barchu and the Kohen walked back in as the oleh was making the bracha.

The Wolf

Hey, Vos Iz Neias... What's Up?

Vos Iz Neias reports today on the article in New York Magazine about Gitty, the run-away wife from Kiryas Joel. In his write up, the VIN editor says (bolding mine):

Monroe, NY - Yet another hate-filled, biased and anti-religious article appeared in the New York media this week— under the headline ‘Escape From the Holy Shtetl’ one that for obvious reasons was not reprinted by VIN News but which stoked a firestorm of controversy.

That's fine and well, except that I know that it's not true. VIN not only reported the article, but even reprinted a part of it yesterday. I know this because it was because of the VIN article (which I got through my RSS feed) that I first heard of the story. It was reported that day under the headline "Kiryas Joel, NY - NY Magazine: Rebellious Woman Who Left Community Fights For Her Child." The article must have been taken down shortly after it was printed, because when I went to the page, it was no longer there.

I commented on the VIN piece, advising the author that his claim was not true. All I really wanted was that he should correct the post (he could say that he retracted the post). Instead, my comment has been removed and thrown down the memory hole.

What's he trying to hide? Interestingly, the VIN poster calls the NY Magazine author "holier-than-thou" and then lies saying (in effect) "but we would never reprint this" when, in fact, VIN did just that. Why not just correct the post?

The Wolf

Friday, July 11, 2008

Just How Far Does A Beis Din's Jurisdiction Extend?

Does it extend for five thousand miles? Or across three centuries?

It seems that (according to Vos Iz Neias) a Kol Korei was issued in Kiryas Joel* banning silver and gold shoes for women because such shoes are immodest, stunning and attention-getting.

According to the Kol Korei, the basis for the prohibition of gold and silver shoes is a ban issued by the Bais Din of R. Yechezkel Landau (the Noda B'Yehuda, who passed away in 1793).

Now, I'm sure that the people in Prague (where the R. Landau lived) would certainly have adhered to the ban. But just how far does the jurisdiction of R. Landau's Bais Din go? Does a local Bais Din have the power to prohibit all Jewish women everywhere in the world from wearing a particular style of shoe? Do the Rabbanim of Kiryas Joel follow the decrees of every properly constituted Bais Din in the entire world? If so, how could you possibly avoid running afoul of contradictory rulings? (It reminds me a lot of Ned Flanders' plea to God: "I've done everything the Bible says - even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff!")

Of course, I don't think that's the case. A local Bais Din's ruling should only apply to the community in which it is located. I can't see how basing this ban in Kiryas Joel based on a ban by a Prague Bais Din makes it legitimate.

Interestingly, according to the article, it seems that shoes that were bought in Prague before the ban were not included in the ban. This leads me to two thoughts:

1. The ban was not entirely for tznius reasons. If it was, why should shoes bought before the ban be exempted? Were they any more modest than the post-ban bought shoes?

2. The ban was about tznius, but R. Landau was concerned about the welfare of the community to such an extent that he didn't want to see people lose money on the shoes they already bought and was willing to let women in his community wear shoes that were non-tznius anyway, becuase he understood that you can't be a tzaddik with someone else's money.

If the latter point is true, then perhaps some of today's community leaders can take a lesson from this and understand that you shouldn't cause undue monetary losses to people in the name of enforcing chumras.

Nonetheless, I'd still be interested in hearing from people on this. How far does a Bais Din's jurisdiction last? How much time has to elapse before a ruling can be reconsidered? Or do we say that since we aren't as wise as R. Landau, we can't convene a Bais Din to overrule him and therefore the shoe ban lasts forever?

The Wolf

* I have not seen the Kol Korei. If anyone can send it to me, I'll be more than happy to put it up.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Two Interesting Posts....

Josh Waxman over at Parshablog has an interesting post which discusses who was the better candidate to be moshiach: Rabbi Schneerson or David ben-Gurion. This is exactly the type of post that is sure to stir up the bees in some people's bonnets.

Professor Tyler Williams over at Codex has some posts (and pictures) about Hebrew tattoos that have gone horribly wrong.

The Wolf

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

More Proof That Kashrus Buzzwords Don't Mean Anything

I've known for a while that kashrus has been moving away from actual kashrus to marketing. For example, I posted last December about a package of unprocessed barley needing two (I guess one isn't good enough) hechsherim.

Today's Jewish Press has a gem of a letter from Dr. Yitzchock Levine:

Today I saw in a store a self-heating meal labeled “Vegetarian Stuffed Cabbage, Pareve.” Over the kashrus symbol giving the name of the supervising rabbi, there was Hebrew lettering that read “Glatt Kosher.”

I can’t wait to call this rabbi and ask him how they check the lungs of the cabbage and rice that are in this product!

It is so comforting to see a kashrus standard namely Glatt Kosher, Pareve that our great-grandparents never enjoyed.

More proof that kashrus "buzzwords" such as "Glatt Kosher," "Mehadrin" and "Chassidishe..." are losing their true meanings and are becoming mere marketing tools.

The Wolf

I Am Such A Wimp

After going on about honesty and copying media last month, I became involved in a situation in real life and acted less-than-honorably.

I'm starting a new accounting class in two weeks and I happen to know someone who is going to be in that class. For that class, we're going to need a particular accounting application. I already own a copy of this software from a previous class. My future classmate knows that I have this software and asked me if he could copy it, potentially saving himself about a hundred dollars.

I wimped out.

No, I didn't let him copy it. I lied and told him that I lost the disc.

I am such a wimp.

The Wolf

An Open Letter To George's Camp Rebbi

Dear Rabbi Ploni,

My son George came home from camp very upset today. Specifically, he was upset about something that he heard during your shiur. He reports that you told your shiur that anyone who marries a non-Jew will burn in Gehenim forever.

I would ask that in the future you please be a little more thoughtful about making broad sweeping statement of this type in the shiur. Unfortunately, in our family, we have family members who are intermarried. These are relatives that George (and the rest of our family) love and care for, despite the choice of spouse. I can certainly appreciate the necessity of educating our youth that intermarriage is wrong and is one of the greatest wrongs that a Jew can do today. Nonetheless, telling a child (and yes, even a pre-teen) that someone that they care about is bound to hell forever is highly traumatic and unnecessary. You can easily make the point that it is wrong without having to “scare them straight;” after all, we’re talking about pre-teens here – they’re not going to be marrying *anyone* for quite a few years.

I understand that this was not done out of malice on your part. You probably could not fathom the idea that a frum family would have relatives who are intermarried. Sad to say, however, this is the case and we must deal with it as we can. I ask that in the future you please consider the fact that not all families are in ideal circumstances and that there are children who, because of the nature of their families, can and will be hurt by broad generalizations of eternal condemnation of people whom they know and love.

If you wish to discuss this matter further, I will be happy to make myself available to you in the evenings. I can be reached by phone at [[phone number edited out]] or via email at

Yours truly,

[[Non Wolfish Name]]

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Interesting Wording

Recently, the Rabbinical Committee of Transportation (whoever they are) distributed a brochure in the Bais Ya'akov system advising girls to ride in the back of the bus (as is done on mehadrin buses) so that riding can be done in a "halachic" manner.

Of course, the interesting thing about all this is that it has nothing to do with halacha. There is no halacha anywhere in Shulchan Aruch or anywhere else that says that men and women cannot sit together when riding in public transportation. Were it so, then thousands (millions, maybe?) of Jews would be violating halacha every time they boarded the New York City subway system or rode on a city bus.

Call it a chumra. Heck, call it a hiddur if you like. But don't suggest that thousands and thousands of people who are shomrei Torah U'Mitzvos are violating halacha every day by suggesting that complete segregation is the only "halachic" way to ride the bus.

The Wolf

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Destroying A Young Person's Respect For Their Parents

For the last few weeks, Rebbetzin Jungreis' column in The Jewish Press has focused on the shidduch problem of "working boys" being viewed as "second class citizens" in the shidduch market*.

This week, she had letters from two young women - one who was looking for a "working boy" and one who was looking for a "learning boy" (while being respectful to workers). However, both girls had one thing in common -- their working fathers were put down to their faces.

The first girl writes (emphasis mine):

Once, my principal accused me of doing some inappropriate things that I would never dream of doing. When I told her that I was raised differently and that my Yiddishkeit meant too much to me to ever participate in the activities she accused me of, she said that she would expect such behavior from me because I was "not a good girl" as I unfortunately "come from a working family." Even more hurtful was when I was told to "not lower myself to my father's level" by marrying a working guy even if he would devote time to Torah.

The second girl had a similar experience when applying for seminary:

I was not prepared for the hurt that was inflicted upon me. The person who interviewed me questioned me about my parents' professions and their heavy work schedules, and then went on to make some very unkind, critical remarks which I prefer not to repeat because, a) it's too hurtful and b) it would be disrespectful to my parents. I left the interview shattered and broke down in tears. I later found out that I was not the only one who had been reduced to tears – other girls were equally mistreated and put to shame.

What the hell is going on here? It's one thing to extol a learning lifestyle, but it's quite another thing to bash a young person's father in front of their face! We're not talking about men who are murderers, tax cheats, rapists or other social and/or criminal misanthropes. We're talking about fine, upstanding human beings who daven every day, go to work each day, probably set aside times to learn Torah, are shomrei Torah U'Mitzvos and obviously feel that their daughters' Torah education is worth the huge monetary investment that they make in it. And what do they get for their money? The administration teaches their kids that they are "on a lower level" and that the home is obviously not a good home. They feel that such people are open game for ridicule and harassment -- and not just behind their backs but to their kids' faces!

I'm also left to wonder about these teachers/administrators who make these remarks. How could these people possibly be allowed to be in chinuch? How can a teacher possibly teach the mitzvah of honoring your parents at one moment and at in the next belittle a child's parent to their face? How do we allow people who obviously have no idea what the mitzvah of lashon hara means to teach our children the halachos of that very mitzvah? How can any school (public, private, parochial... it doesn't matter) allow any teacher to have contact with kids when they destroy the most important things in the lives of those kids -- namely their parents? How dare they! Just who the hell do they think they are?!

I, apparently, wasn't aware of the famous "working father" exception to the mitzvah of kibbud av. I certainly didn't know of the well-known halacha that one is only not allowed to say lashon hara about kollel families. Silly me... I didn't realize that intentionally harming the psyche of a young person was permitted when the target of the attack doesn't spend eight hours in the beis midrash every day. I must have been out working the day they taught those halachos.

If this is the case, I don't know how any working family can send their kids to such a school. It would serve the schools right to have every working family pull out of the school (after all, why send your daughter to a school where she's going to be taught to view you with scorn and disrespect). Let's see the school try to financially survive without the very people that they are harming.

The Wolf

* Yes, I used the term market. That's what it's become, IMHO.

Two Quick Takes on MP4 Players and Non-Mehadrin Buses

Just a couple of quick takes on things that are happening. I may expand on these in later posts:

Banning MP4 players

It's been reported that MP4 players have been banned by rabbonim in Israel because of the possibility of accessing inappropriate content. This, of course, is on top of the ban on DVD players, computers, the Internet, and cellphones that aren't technologically frozen in the late 1980s.

Whenever there is a new technology available, there are two possible approaches to take:

(a) An outright ban
(b) A cautious acceptance with education

What are the possible outcomes of these approaches? My guess would be as follows:

(a) Some people will adhere to the ban while others will secretly disobey it. As the technology becomes more common in the mainstream, it will eventually filter into the hareidi society as well. Since there is an outright ban on the devices, no education on how to use it responsibly will be given. Youngsters may stumble onto content that they should not be accessing and, not having had any guidance in how to avoid it or why it is to be avoided, will stumble into it. Eventually, as the devices become common enough to be owned openly, you will have large numbers of people who have already clandestinely been viewing things they should not.

(b) Educate people on the dangers of having such devices. Teach them that it's better that they not own them and explain why. Play to the positives (i.e.... "It's not befitting a yid to waste his time watching videos. You're above that...") not the negatives. Encourage them to act responsibly. Will there be some who will go and search out bad stuff anyway? Of course there will... but I'm willing to bet that most of them will be the same people who would do so under the other scenario.

What's the best answer in the short term? Probably the first one. However, I think it completely fails in the long term - and this is the type of problem that you want a long term solution for... not a short term one.

In many ways, I'm grateful that the telephone was invented over a hundred years ago, otherwise, there would be people banning it now (after all, you could use it to call a member of the opposite sex).

(Yes, I know I ignored the vandalism aspect of the story. Perhaps I'll address it later.)

Women and Public Transportation

There are reports that rabonnim in Israel are trying to create additional mehadrin buses by encouraging the Bais Ya'akov girls to monopolize the back of non-mehadrin buses, thus forcing men to sit in the front. To be honest, I'm not quite sure how this would really change matters... after all, there is still nothing preventing a woman from sitting in the front of a non-mehadrin bus and nothing preventing a man from sitting in a spare seat he finds in the back. In addition, how are they to enforce this? Will they start punishing Bais Ya'akov girls whom they find riding in the front?

In any event, I personally find the whole idea demeaning and insulting. To be fair, "back of the bus" doesn't carry the same ugly racial and social overtones in Israel that it does in the United States -- so it may only be my cultural biases that cause me to react so... viscerally to this idea. And, nonetheless, while I try to be dan l'kaf z'chus whenever possible, I'm finding it very hard to see this other than as a means to denigrate women. Women and men travel together on public transportation all over the world in many cities without nary a problem of impropriety. Why can't the hareidim in Israel be expected to behave any better than a subway rider in New York City?

The Wolf