Friday, October 31, 2008

Photos: Trinity Church, September 11, 2008

Time for another photo! I took this shot in downtown Manhattan on the night of September 11, 2008. The building is Trinity Church, a New York landmark. The blue lights behind the church are the Tribute In Light, a memorial for the victims of the September 11 attacks.

From Wolfish Musings Pictures

Picture details
(for those who care)
Canon XSi, 18-55mm lens at 18mm
f/3.5, 3/10 second

As always, comments, critiques, criticisms, etc. are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Pictures: Manhattan Tulips, Dragonfly

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Do Our Kids REALLY Need?

An interesting letter appeared today on YeshivaWorldNews, penned by a "Chana L" looking for advice as a parent. Specifically, she's looking for advice on how to allow her kids to keep up with the Jones' kids.

Here are some relevant excerpts from her letter:

Parents that have been blessed with wealth certainly have every right to spend it how they see fit, and if they choose to purchase Juicy pajamas for their daughter for $150, kol hakavod. It is their money. Quite frankly it is none of my business and I do not resent it in any way.

My issue however is what has been going on recently with both girls AND BOYS alike as far as brand name clothing is concerned. Many of us do not realize that many sixth and seventh grade girls are going to school with $175 knapsacks. Sweatshirts that run $75 a piece, and can’t be worn more than once a month. I recall being in school and wearing the same pair of school shoes all winter. Now the girls need their Ugg boots ($110), and three pairs of shoes.

Many high school boys are now wearing ties that I am told run upwards of $150. That is correct…..$150. Their glasses (and g-d forbid you should only have one pair) are all designer names many of which I have never ever heard of. Belts can run over $200 and yet somehow so many of these yeshiva bochurim have them.

She then follows this up with the "parent's lament" of stating that she'd really like to say "no" to her kids, but she's afraid that they'll be ostracized, shunned and forever scarred for life if they can't be like their peers. (Okay, she didn't use those terms, but that's the sentiment). She also seems to think that most of the people who say "no" don't have school age kids.

For what it's worth, the first commenter gave the best and most succienct answer you could ask for -- just say "no."

Well, here's my two cents -- and I have three older school age kids. Just say "no."

*No one* (and I don't care if you're Donald Trump, the President of the U.S., etc.) *needs* a $150 tie. *No one* needs a $200 belt. No one *needs* Ugg boots (who would want to wear something called "Ugg" anyway?) or sweatshirts that can't be worn more than once a month (what are those anyway?). Your job, as a parent, is to see that their *needs* are met, not their wants.

I'll make two points about keeping up with the Joneses' kids:

1. If the Joneses' kids are going to make fun of your kids because their not wearing $150 ties and $200 belts, then I think your kids need new friends. How a person deals with others who are less fortunate than themselves says a lot about their character. Do you want your kids to hang around with people who snobbishly look down at others, or do you want your kids to hang around with other kids who value people for who they are and not what designer labels they are wearing?

2. While saying no to your kids in the short run may make you unpopular, in the long run, you will be doing a great service to your kids. You will be teaching them the meaning of fiscal responsibility. You will be teaching them to learn to live within their means. You will be teaching them that it is far more important to enjoy what you have, rather than be envious of what other people have.

So, Chana, my advice to you is to do the right thing. Just say no.

The Wolf

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

(Mar)Cheshvan? What about MarTammuz?

A year ago, I was leading the services in shul on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh (Mar)Cheshvan. As is the custom on the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh, a short prayer is inserted wherein the time of the New Moon is announced, as well as which days are going to be celebrated as Rosh Chodesh. As a part of the announcement, the name of the month is mentioned. And so, when I was ready to make the announcement, I began "Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan...." Immediately I was stopped and asked to announce it as MarCheshvan.

Mar, of course, means "bitter" in Hebrew. The most common explaination given for the addition of this prefix to the name of the month is because Cheshvan is devoid of Jewish holidays. As such, it is deemed to be "bitter."

Personally, this has always troubled me. After all Elul has no holidays either. But let's write off Elul by saying that it's swept up in the whole pre-Rosh HaShannah hype. But certainly Cheshvan is no worse off than Tammuz. Tammuz also has no holidays and, in fact, has a major fast day. At Cheshvan has no negatives at all! So, why do people refer to Cheshvan as MarCheshvan but not to Tammuz as MarTammuz?

The Wolf

What I Want For My Birthday

One of the days this week is my birthday. People often ask me how old I am and when I do, I usually give them my pat answer of 97. Of course, I'm not actually that old -- in reality I'm well over three millenia. :)

People often ask me what I want for my birthday. Well, B"H, I have most of what I could really want. I have a wonderful, understand (and beautiful) wife, I have kids who are good (most of the time) and whom I am proud of (most of the time). I have a wonderful extended family, a job which brings in a salary (although I could always use more :) ), and am doing pretty well in school. In short, I don't have much that I can really complain about personally.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't have things that I want for my birthday. Eeees, in particular, has been asking me what I want for my birthday. Allow me to elaborate on what I want by telling a short family story first.

About a year or two ago, we as a family decided to go out to eat for my birthday. We went to a local Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately, this was a day when Walter, George and Wilma decided that bickering was the national pastime. So there we were, sitting in the restaurant, looking at the menus with "stop it," "don't hit me" and "Mooooooom!" piping up every twenty seconds or so. Finally, Eeees turns to me and asks me if I've decided what I want. I looked at her, pointed at the menu and said "I'd like a happy family.*" She understood the double meaning right away -- it took the kids a few seconds to catch on, but they did and we actually ended up having a pleasant meal.

So, here's my birthday wish -- I want a happy family. And, by family, I don't mean only Eeees and my kids, or even my parents, Skipper and her family or my extended family. I mean all of K'lal Yisroel. Modern Orthodox, Chassidish, Litvish, Yeshivish, Chareidi, and yes, even Conservative, Reform, et al. Let's all try to be one happy family. That doesn't mean that you have to agree on everything -- heck, I have serious disagreements on lots of issues with members of my family -- but they're still my family. I'll vigorously argue points with them, but I won't denigrate or attack them. I can try to tell them six ways to Sunday that they're wrong, but, at the end of the day, I won't attack them personally for their actions. I have relatives who are not Shomer Shabbos. I have relatives who are intermarried. They all know how strongly I feel about these issues, and yet, I won't attack them personally**. I won't throw rocks at their cars because they drive on Shabbos. I won't throw acid in thier faces because they don't dress up to my level of tznius. And the fact that I don't attack them on these issues doesn't mean that in any way I validate them. And yes, it works the other way too. I have friends and relatives whom I would classify as "frummer" than me (despite the fact that I *hate* that word), some very much so. I may disagree with them, and again, sometimes vehemently so, on the way things should be done. I may have very different opinions than they do on halachic and hashkafic issues. Yet, at the end of the day, they are still my family and friends. We get along fine. There are no wars between us over my failure to keep up to their particular standards.

If I can have this among my family and friends, why can't we have this in the K'lal in general? Why must there be these little wars between the various sects of our community? We don't have to agree. Heck, we don't even have to validate each other's opinions. I'm not asking that chareidim validate or even respect the position of those who drive on Shabbos. But not respecting someone's actions is different than attacking them personally. Likewise, I'm not asking that anyone has to agree everytime a gadol tries to ban something or other. If you're not going to listen to the ban, then fine, don't. But there is no reason for calls of "Taliban" and the like. Make your argument, forcefully if you must, but make it respectfully. There's no reason to mock or insult gratuitously. There's no reason to disagree on anything more than theological grounds.

So, that's what I want for my birthday. Shalom in K'lal Yisroel. A pipe dream? Maybe. But I like to follow this approach. Reach for the stars. You may not get them, but at least you'll end up higher up than when you started.

The Wolf

*Just for clarification... there is a Chinese dish called Happy Family.
** Es chatoai ani mazkir hayom -- there was one case of a relative who intermarried and I did handle it very poorly. Let's say that I've learned a lot from my mistakes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You've Gotta Love Arguments Like These...

The Jewish Philosopher* has a post about the Flood on his blog. In his post, he brings up the questions that many people have about the flood -- where did the water come from, where did it go, how did all the animals fit, etc. He then answers it by stating, simply, that God did it. Or, to use his words:

The answer is: God did it. In other words, these events cannot be explained according to the laws of physics, chemistry, biology etc. They can only be explained by miraculous divine intervention.

He follows this up later by taking the view that the lack of evidence (and, perhaps, the evidence of lack) does not matter. He says:

There is no geological evidence of the Biblical Deluge, however when one considers the miraculous nature of the Deluge, this is hardly surprising. Surely no one would argue that the lack of scorch marks on Mount Sinai proves that the Ten Commandments were never given there.

OK, that's fine. If you choose to simply ignore all the physical evidence and posit that God deliberately created counter-evidence to a global flood, you're free to do so. *I* don't believe it, but I won't stand in your way of believing it either.

However, in the same post where he says that physical evidence doesn't matter, he brings archaeological evidence of the dating of the Flood**. In other words, his position is this: where evidence exists to support me, I welcome it. Where evidence exists against my position, I'll simply ignore it by saying "God did it..."

You've gotta love these "heads I win, tails you lose" games.

The Wolf

Related posts:

Exactly Whom Is Doing The Arguing? (on the approach Young Earth Creationists SHOULD take)
Of All God's Miracles Large and Small (on the Flood and miracles)

* Believe it or not, this is the post I was going to publish about the Jewish Philosopher today, not the one I put up earlier today.
** I'm not going to comment on whether or not his evidence is correct or not. It's not relevant to the point.

How NOT To Treat Frum Atheists

The Jewish Philosopher has a frightening post on his site about how to deal with the issue of "frum" atheists. After giving some examples of people who are outwardly frum but secretly atheistic and violate halacha, (and, without any proof or assertion, blaming the problem of the Monsey chicken scandal, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases in the frum community on athiests), he comes up with a solution to this problem:

I would suggest that anyone who suspects his spouse or child of being a secret atheist should ask that person to take a lie detector test, during which he will be asked about his belief in the divine origin of the Torah. In addition, he should be asked to take an STD test and a hair drug test. A refusal to be tested should be taken as an admission of guilt.

Once a person is found to be guilty, then all communications with him should be severed permanently and his name, address and photograph should be published on a website established for this purpose.

Yeah, that's the ticket. Break up his family and have him publicly shunned and humiliated. By all means, let's not work on possibily being mekarev him. No, instead let's make it so that (a) he'll never want to come back and (b) even if he wanted to come back, he can't since he'll be on the official "banned list."

So, any spouse or parent can order a lie detector test? What about a neighbor? What if I think my son's friend's parents are closet athiests? Can I have them tested for drugs and STDs? What next? A website to publish the photographs, names and addresses of those who dare to converse with those on the official "banned list?"

Viva la Inquisition!

The Wolf

EDIT: (10/30/08 4:25PM)
Never mind... I just found out that JP/JS doesn't inhabit the same reality that you and I do.

Here's the clincher:

JP: Get rid of the pot, coke, porn and whores and open the gemora and eventually you will believe in God.

Me: What about atheists who don't use pot, coke, porn or whores? What about atheists who do learn Gemara?

JP: Show me one.

Me: Are you stating that you believe that *every* secret atheist in the frum community uses pot, coke, porn and whores? Are you stating that *not one* secret atheist learns Gemara?

JP: Yeah

So, never mind. I'll just leave him to his little fantasy world.

The Wolf

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Implications Of Not Paying Wages On Time

Sephardi Lady (over at Orthonomics) has an interesting piece on a story that ran in the Times Herald Record last week. The story (carried by both YWN and VIN) concerns hotel workers upstate who were not paid on time because of Yom Tov. Specifically, as the story goes, the paychecks were sent to an office in New York, but because no one was there over Yom Tov to forward them to the hotel, the workers pay was delayed.

The workers were last paid on Oct 2. It would seem to me that they are probably paid every other week (or else they would have gotten their Oct 9 paycheck after Yom Kippur).

While you might think that this is just the sort of screw up that happens once in a while (hey, we're all human, right?), it should be pointed out that the same thing happened last year as well. One would think that the hotel staff would learn from past experience and try to prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

I've worked in several places throughout my long and varied career(s). When I worked for frum employers, not only did they make sure that Yom Tov didn't delay wages for two weeks, but they actually made sure to pay *early* if Yom Tov or a legal holiday came out on a payday. Payday was Friday, but if Yom Tov came out Thursday and Friday that year, we had our checks before we left the office on Wednesday. Needless to say, the non-frum (or non-Jewish) employers also made sure that (depending on the place) (a) if payday was a holiday we got paid early or (b) we got paid on the next day -- and everyone knew well in advance of the policy and the delay was never longer than over the weekend.

Truthfully, there really is no excuse for what happened at the hotel. Yes, as I said, people screw up sometimes. But then there are ways to handle it. As I've done before on my blog, I'll present the right way and the wrong way:

Wrong Way:

Workers ask about their paychecks on the 16th. You think to yourself "oh no, they're probably in the Brooklyn Office which is closed for Yom Tov." Oh well, they're poor workers, what can they do? Quit? Nah, they won't do that -- they'll be afraid that they'll never see thier money at all. I'll just call the Brooklyn office and leave a voice message telling them to mail out the checks first thing in the morning when they come back from Yom Tov vacation next week.

Right Way:
Workers ask about their paychecks on the 16th. You think to yourself "oh no, they're probably in the Brooklyn Office which is closed for Yom Tov." You get on the phone with someone from the Brooklyn office. You apologize profusely for asking them to go into the office on Chol HaMoed, but this is an emergency. You ask them to go to the office, find the package of checks and have them sent Fedex overnight to the hotel so that they'll be there first thing in the morning. Failing that, you actually go down to Brooklyn yourself and get the checks and bring them back to the workers.

Barring that, you call up the payroll company and order them to overnight new checks to the hotel. Then you call the Brooklyn office and instruct them to destroy the checks when they get back from vacation.

In short, you have to do everything in your power to make sure that workers get paid on time. One of the commenters on YWN makes the point (I'll take his word for it that it's correct) that the lav (negative commandment) prohibiting delays in worker pay does not apply to non-Jews. That may or may not be so. However, even if delaying the payment of a non-Jews wages does not result in a violation of the commandment, there are still three very important points to consider:

1. Are you sure that *all* the workers are non-Jews? Isn't it possible that some of them *are* Jews and, therefore, you *are* in violation of the mitzvah?

2. Even assuming that they're all non-Jews, so what if one is not in technical violation of the commandment? It's *still* not fair or right to withhold wages. If you make an agreement with your workers that they will be paid on a particular day, they have a right to expect payment on that day. It's simple honesty, courtesy and the way that you would want to be treated.

3. I'm no lawyer, but I'm fairly certain that New York state has laws that require wages to be delivered to workers on time.

One thing that always puzzles me about this sort of scenario is how is reflects on the trustworthiness of the proprietors of the establishment. After all, if they're willing to delay someone's wages, in violation of state law (for which there are legal mechanisms of enforcement), how can you know that their business isn't being run in ways that are in violation of other halachos (for which there is no effective legal enforcement mechansim). Once someone openly displays dishonesty (and withholding of wages is dishonest), how can you consider them to be trustworthy with regard to the mitzvos?

Interestingly enough, I've had this experience twice over the last three years with both of my sons' bar mitzvahs. The first time was when I went to commission the writing of Walter's tefillin. The second time was when I went to pay the caterer for the kiddush in shul in honor of George's bar mitzvah. In both cases, I was given the opportunity to "save" the sales tax by paying in cash. In both cases, I turned it down -- and in both cases, it left a very bad taste in my mouth. If they were willing to be dishonest about the taxes, how could I be sure that the tefillin or the food were completely kosher? In the former case, at least, I can report improvement. When I went back for George's tefillin (you can check out the original post for the reason I was willing to go back) there was a sign in the store indicating that *everyone* must pay sales tax. In the latter case, this problem only surfaced after the kiddush was already over. But I can say this -- as nice as the caterer was to us (and he was) I would have serious hesitations about using him for any future function.

I'm not going to sit here and claim that I've never done anything wrong in the past and that I've always been honest in everything I've ever done. I'm only human and, yes, I've had my weak moments and acted in ways that I am less than proud of. But I don't go around offering people ways to cheat and steal from others (and, let's face it, that's what tax evasion is). I'm also not going to say that I pay every bill on time -- sometimes things happen and payment gets delayed. But when it does happen, I try to make sure that they get paid as soon as possible and I try to take any and all steps possible to see to it that it happens. I certainly don't use excuses such as "the office was closed." Especially when it's the worker's sole livelihood and the delay is an unacceptable two weeks and when the excuse is a lame "the office was closed."

The Wolf

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Some Random Yom Tov Thoughts

We have a child in our shul, about ten years old, who has (I believe) Down's Syndrome. He's an adorable kid and is well-liked by everyone in shul. To look at him, you wouldn't know his age; you'd assume he was about six. He usually stands on a chair at the opposite side of the bimah from me when I'm laining and watches and listens intently while I lain.

So, this year, he came to shul with his stuffed Torah for Simchas Torah dancing. One of the happiest moments that I had during the dancing was watching him, with his stuffed Torah, dancing happily with a huge smile on his face, as a group of six to ten year olds danced around him. It was very heartwarming to see. Very often, kids that age can be very cruel to someone who is different, but they made him feel like he was the center of the world as he davened with his Torah. Seeing that the other kids chose (even if only for a short dance) to make him feel special really warmed my heart.


I found that it's very heartbreaking to see *very* young kids who stay in shul for yizkor.


It's interesting where little theological battles will break out. During one of the hakafos on Simchas Torah night, a group of Chabad bochrim came into our shul and began dancing. As it happened, the song that was being sung at the time was "Olam Habah is a gutta zach..." The Chabad bochrim started singing it too, but in a slightly different version. So it went, with the rav emphasizing his version and the Chabad group emphasizing theirs. No harsh words (or any words other than the song) were said, no one made any untoward gestures and no one made any faces, but make no mistake, there was a subtle little battle being played out.


One of the saddest things I heard over Yom Tov: shvartzes have no relationship to HaShem. This from a little kid.


At home, we try very hard to drill manners into our kids... especially table manners. Yet, there are times that they fail and forget something. But it's nice to know that when we go to someone's house for a Yom Tov meal, they can act like perfectly civilized gentlemen and ladies. Good job kids! I'm proud of you.

The Wolf

So, How Does Your Shul Rate On Simchas Torah?

Lakewood Falling Down posted a list of things that he doesn't like about his shul's services on Simchas Torah. Here's his list and how my shul fared:

Bidding wars. The first issue is the silly grins the gabboim get on their faces when the bidding on aliayas starts. You also can’t really judge how bad the economy is when some Hocker bids $15,000. 00 on Chosson Torah. Many shuls have tried different approaches to stop the madness, but to no avail. And why should they when a large chunk of change will be coming the shul’s way and you get a Kiddush sponsored to boot!

In my shul, we don't sell aliyos, or any other honor. There are only a few times that money is even mentioned in the shul at all. One is before the Yomim Noraim. Another is after an aliya, a person has the option of giving something to the shul (but it's by no means obligatory). And, lastly, sometimes, when Yizkor is said, the rav will work a sentence into his speech about giving in memory of those who have departed (but there is no public announcements of donations). So, to get back to the point, Ata Horaisa is not sold. In fact, the rav says Ata Horaisa and then various other members of the congration get to say the following pesukim.

Next is the “cool guys” who go out for a smoke with all of the kids milling around. Way to set an example you Hockers.

No one in my shul goes out to smoke.

The orchestration. This is a time of year when shul board members and hockers come into their full prime. From telling you where you can dance (or even worse, that you have to dance), to what kind of candy you are allowed to even give your own kids, these guys are in their element on Simchas Torah. Heaven forbid you want to sing a different song after singing the same “Anah, anah anah…” 200 times.

In our shul, there are pretty much no set rules. While there are certain piyutim/mizmorim that are sung with some hakafos (such as Ain Adir, HaAderes V'haEmunah, etc.), and a somewhat rigid time limit on hakafos, there are no other real rules. No one tells anyone where to dance, no one polices the candy and there is no official list of "approved songs."

The dancing. I don’t really know what non Jews call dancing, but endlessly marching around in circles and occasionally stomping one foot seems a lot more like an ancient druid ritual than dancing. This is what Jews call dancing. Why can’t I stand on the side if I feel like it without some board member or hocker trying to pull me into a circle just so I can get my foot stomped on?

Yeah, well here's one where we fall fail on LFD's list. We also do the "dance in a circle" bit, but I think that's pretty much universal.

The time. There should be a Kol Korei on Hakafos that last more than 15 minutes, and that’s stretching it. I always get so mad, some hocker/board member has stretched the Hakafa out really long and had been holding the heaviest torah, and sweating all over it. They come over and practically dump the darned thing in your lap and go on to more pointless foot stomping. It’s really annoying.

Actually our hakafos are rarely longer than 10 minutes. I think there was one that got extended to fifteen this year because the dancers didn't want to end it, but that was it.

No real food in most shuls on Simchas Torah night. I need to have something more that cake if I’m going to be held hostage until 11:00 at night. BTW, I’ve offered to co-sponsor some food along with two other friends, but the “board” doesn’t want it so it will not be happening. And for the record, I’m not davening with my shul on Simchas Torah.

Since we do limit the amount of time for hakafos, we don't have this issue. We were done shortly after 9:00. As such, we didn't need "real food" in shul. By day, the rebetzzin provides stuffed cabbage (yum!).

The drinking. This is not Purim, get a life people!

We have a few drinks out, but I have yet, in my five Simchas Torahs there, to see anyone even tipsy, let alone drunk.

The sugar factories. When I was a kid, we got peanuts, chick peas, sponge cake and a lollypop. Last year there was so much candy I thought my kids would go into sugar shock. Certain shul members noticed that the gross lollipops that the shul picked out. They looked like a male’s privates with a hole in the center that squirts up goo when squeezed. Thank you Pazkes. I can’t imagine a more obscene candy, yet the Cahreidim haven’t banned it yet.

We're guilty of this one too. Sure the kids have candy, it's almost as big a tradition as dancing with the Torah. :)

So, we fail on two of LFD's points -- and those are the two least worrisome in my book. How did your shul do?

The Wolf

Friday, October 17, 2008

Photos: Manhattan Tulips

This was taken in midtown Manhattan last spring. It's simply some tulips in a planter on Fifth Avenue and 45rd Street.

From Wolfish Musings Pictures

Picture Details:
Canon XSi, 18-55mm at 25mm
f/4, 1/25 second

Previous photos: Dragonfly

Attack of the Torah-Learning Zombies

I came across an interesting Imamother post regarding what to expect when Moshiach comes. The thread is titled "PSA from Eliyahu HaNavi." It was originally posted before Succos.

Gmar tov to all yidden everywhere!

As promised I am letting you know a day before that mashiach is coming this motzai Shabbos (ohr l'yud gimmel Tishrei). Please be aware of the following:

1. Please report to airports straight after havdalla. Planes will be waiting. You can leave your sukkos and freezers full of YT food behind.

2. Please ensure your dress conforms to halacha. Any doubts should be checked with your LOR.

3. Our customs officials in EY will now check your baggage for strict adherence to ratzon Hashem. Please do not embarrass yourselves or them by bringing secular literature, equipment for using media not in accordance with ratzon Hashem, computers etc. Those who had heterim for using certain equipment for parnassa reasons - the heterim are no longer valid, since you will be living directly from Hashem's bounty, with your work done by non-Jews and therefore will have no need for parnassa.

4. Each family will be allotted a small apartment in line with their needs. These are Israeli sized, so please do not bring excess baggage. Please do not bring more than the minimum necessary amount of clothing for each person. No electric/ electronic gadgets (as mentioned you will have non-Jewish help).

5. Each family will be allotted their apartment in their chelek (portion) according to their original shevet (tribe). Please do not embarrass anyone, including yourselves, by requesting a particular location or neighbours. Please be aware that your neighbours will include original family members who may have been living in any country previously - many already lived in Israel, or are from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, South America etc. We are sure that your ahavas Yisroel knows no bounds and you will enjoy their company.

6. All boys will be enrolled in Talmudei Torah teaching only Torah. We are sure that you are aware that those rabbonim who allowed secular studies in the past did so only for parnassa reasons. Now that this no longer applies all boys will learn Torah exclusively.

7. All Jews will spend their time learning Torah and in avodas Hashem.

8. All food will be with the kedusha of EY and its accompanying mitzvos and spiritual benefits. This means no food will be imported from outside EY. Please do not bring any as personal baggage either.

Shavua tov and bruchim habaim!

While the post is certainly cute, original and entertaining, it also (perhaps inadvertently) reveals some interesting ideas that she has.

For starters, I wonder if she thinks there is any room for individual creativity outside the realm of Torah learning in the days of Moshiach. Take me, for example. One of my hobbies is photography. However, it would seem from her post that digital photography is out. After all, without a computer (prohibited by point 3), there is really very little that I can do. Even if you maintain that pictures of flowers, insects, animals, etc. are a waste of time, there are still enough legitimate uses for photography (pictures of gedolim, family pictures, snapshots, etc.) that I would think that it should be permitted -- and without amateurs and hobbyists, you rarely end up with professionals.

Of course, photography is not the only example I can think of. Music (composition, performance, etc.), writing, etc. are also hobbies that use modern equipment which would probably be prohibited in her vision of Moshiach's days.

As bad as that sounds, I think that there is even a deeper level to her idea of when Moshiach comes... the idea that creativity and individuality themselves are a bad thing. In her world, it seems that all men will learn Torah all the time and have time for nothing else. After all, to her, nothing else has intrinsic value. Secular literature -- verbotten. Practical learning -- who needs it? The non-Jews will do all our work for us anyway.* Creativity? Heck, who needs to waste time with things like writing, art, music, poetry, etc.?

In short, it seems that in her vision, we're all to just become drones who have no desire except to learn Torah every day all day, with nary an outside interest. We'll simply become "zombies" with the desire to do anything other than learn Torah simply sucked out of us.

Ultimately, I find it interesting that this is the vision of Moshiach's times that she has. Now, I don't want to say that her opinion is wrong; I don't know for a fact that it is (nor do I think anyone will know until it happens). However, I'd like to think that the same Creator who created us with a diverse set of skills, talents and desires will want us to continue using them in the future. I'd like to think that a photograph of the beauty of nature will lead one to a further appreciation of the wonders of Creation and a greater appreaciation of its Creator. I shudder to think of a world where I wasn't allowed to take a day and go out and shoot some flowers or insects or beautiful landscapes because I simply lost the interest in doing anything else. I can't imagine a world where God grants us the wonderful gift of creativity and being forbidden to use it except in one narrow area. In short, I can't see how it is that God wants us to become Torah learning zombies.

Does that mean that I think that Torah learning won't increase or be a major factor in life in the days of Moshiach? No, not at all. In fact, you can argue that the incredible growth in Torah learning in the last twenty years or so is a step in the right direction toward the coming of Moshiach. But I just don't see it as being the only thing in life -- even in Moshiach's days.

The Wolf

Hat tip: OnionSoupMix

* Just as an aside, the idea of having a group of people who do all the work and another group that simply benefits from it eeriely brings to my mind the words "Morlocks" and "Eloi."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

A Quick Question

If you make an online tzedaka payment for Kaparos, do you swing the computer around your head three times?

A G'mar Chasima Tova to all my readers. May we (and all of K'lal Yisroel) have a year of health, parnassah and peace -- especially between the various sects of our fractured people.

The Wolf

* Yes, I made an online payment. No, I didn't swing my laptop.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Right Way and The Wrong Way

I was reading Rabbi Maryles's post this morning about the upcoming Jerusalem mayoral elections. In his description of the chariedi candidate, R. Maryles quotes from the World Jewish Digest that in 1987, the candidate entered a movie theatre on Shabbos and started shouting "Shabbos! Shabbos!" to the people in the theatre. I suppose that he was hoping to make an impression on the moviegoers as to the importance of the mitzvah of Shabbos. I don't know how well he succeded in his mission, but my guess would have to be that he probably failed. I'm willing to bet that most moviegoers in that situation would be completely put off by someone shouting in the middle of the movie and would be, at best, indifferent to the shouters message and, at worst, antagonistic to the message.

If this was a one time event, then I would say that it's just the actions of one person who doesn't understand human nature. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. In many chariedi communities in Israel, people seem to take the negative approach to kiruv. Rather than trying to reinforce in a positive manner why people should keep the mitzvos, they respond in a negative manner which, in all likelihood, destroys any chance of their message being heard. I highly doubt that anyone who had a rock thrown at their car on Shabbos is now keeping Shabbos because of that rock (or at all). I think the chances of someone keeping the mitzvah of tznius (however they choose to define it) because they've had acid thrown in their face is are infintesimal. I'd be willing to wager dollars to donuts that no one who was on the El-Al flight that was disturbed by a man who didn't want to see a movie is any frummer today because of his example.

Now, I'm not casting any judgements on the chareidi point of view regarding the requirements of tznius, not watching movies, keeping Shabbos, etc. What I am making judgements about are their methods. I don't know why they seem to think that the enforcer's role is the best one. The enforcer's role only works when there is no other option - but in Jewish communities almost anyone on the globe today, one can always opt out (i.e. cease belonging to the group, or being frum altogether). So, forgetting for the moment whether their goals are right or wrong, their methods are clearly the wrong ones to use.

Therefore, as a public service to the chareidi community in Israel, I would like to offer the following guide:

Instead of throwing rocks at cars on Shabbos:
  • Line the roads when a car goes by and sing Shabbos zemiros.
  • Hand the drivers literature about the beauty of keeping Shabbos.
  • Invite them to come spend a meal or a Shabbos afternoon with you.

Instead of going into movie theathers and shouting "Shabbos! Shabbos!" at the moviegoers:
  • Stand outside the theather and invite people on the ticket line to come home with you for a Shabbos meal.
  • Invite them to come to your house or shul after the movie for a friendly discussion on the beauty of Shabbos.
  • Describe to them how keeping Shabbos is much more meaningful on many different levels than going to a movie.

Instead of attacking women and setting fires to stores for violations of tznius:
  • Organize an economic boycott.
  • Educate people about the importance of the mitzvah of tznius.
  • Explain to people that it's not merely about keeping "women in their place" -- tell people that tznius applies to both genders in various regards.
  • Encourage people to innovate new fashions that meet both the letter and spirit of the laws of tznius.

Instead of looting electronics stores for selling MP3/MP4 players:
  • Organize a peaceful economic boycott.
  • Educate people about how bad these devices are with the goal of eliminating demand.

And on and on. In other words, find a peaceful means to get your message across. Now, you might ask (and rightfully so) how many potential Shabbos drivers will stop and agree to spend a day with a chareidi family? I agree the answer is not many. But there are still two advantages to this solution: 1. However few, the number of people who pull over and stop driving will be greater than the number of those who continue driving (and speed up, compounding the issur of driving on shabbos); and 2. Even if no one agrees, you're doing far less harm to the cause of Shmiras Shabbos by following my suggestions than you are by throwing stones.

In short, I ask you to keep this in mind: a person is responsible not only for his or her own sins, but also, to varying degrees, for sins that he or she causes other people to commit. I would venture to say that by pushing people further away from keeping the mitzvos by these actions (both the people who are the victims of these actions AND those who might have chosen to become frum but now chose not to because of your actions) you are doing far more harm to yourself and your standing in Heaven than if you simply left matters alone.

The Wolf

Friday, October 03, 2008


Not many of you know this, but I have several hobbies aside from blogging. One of those hobbies is photography. From time to time, I'm going to put up a picture that I took. Feel free to comment, criticize, etc. If you would rather I didn't put up photos in the future (or if you'd like me to put up more), just let me know.

This one is of a dragonfly. It was taken in Hudson River Park, in New York City.

Photo details for those that care:
Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens
f/4, 1/1000 second

The Wolf

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Is This The Last Go Around For The Wolf?

I'm normally not big into omens and superstition, and yet, this has me mildly disturbed.

When the Torah is taken out, there is a prayer that is recited on weekdays after the 13 Middos are recited. There are two versions of this prayer -- one for the Three Festivals (Pesach, Sukkos and Shavuous) and one for the Yomim Nora'im. The YN version has a line "m'chol li al kol avonosai..." Translated, this reads as "forgive me for my sins."

On the second day of Rosh HaShannah, however, when saying this prayer, I mis-spoke. Instead of saying "m'chol..." I said "m'chok..." which has a *very* different meaning. Of course, I caught my mistake as soon as I said it and re-said it properly.

I think that I might have dismissed that if it occured alone. However, I also (independently) came across the following mishna over Yom Tov (Berachos 5:5).

ה,ה המתפלל וטעה, סימן רע לו; אם שליח ציבור הוא, סימן רע לשולחיו, ששלוחו של אדם כמותו. אמרו עליו על רבי חנינה בן דוסא, שהיה מתפלל על החולין ואומר, זה חיה וזה מת. אמרו לו, מניין אתה יודע. אמר להם, אם שגרה תפילתו בפי, יודע אני שהוא מקובל; ואם לאו, יודע אני שהוא מטורף.

Someone who prays and makes a mistake, it is a bad omen for him. If he is a messenger of the congration (i.e. the chazzan), then it is a bad sign for those who sent him (i.e. the congregation), since a messenger is like the person himself. It was said about R. Channina ben Dosa that he would pray for the sick (and afterwards) say "this one will live and this one will die." They said to him "how do you know this?" He said "if the prayer flowed easily from my mouth, I knew that it was accepted; and if not, I knew that it was torn (i.e. rejected)."

I think the combination of the two, however, has me feeling uneasy, which, as I said, is unusual for me, as I'm not usually into omens and the like.

I'm curious as to what you all think. Do you think I should be worried about the coming year? Or am I just building this up in my head over nothing?

The Wolf