Friday, November 28, 2008

Photos: Sunflower Arrangements and Depth of Field

Every camera, whether it be film or digital, is, in essence, a light-proof box. To take a picture, you open a hole in the lens, called the shutter, to let light in. The light then hits the film or the digital sensor in the camera and the picture is taken.

As I described last time, there are two ways to control the amount of light that goes into the camera -- you can change the size of the hole that the light goes through (the aperture size) and/or you can change how long the hole is open for (the shutter speed). It's important to get the right amount of light into the camera -- if you have too much light, the picture is overexposed; too little light causes an underexposed picture. But by controlling the two variables described above (aperture size and shutter speed) you can control just how much light gets into the camera -- make the aperture wider or hold the shutter open longer, you get more light. Narrow the aperture or allow less light, you get less light.

You might wonder why there are two ways to control the amount of light. After all, you get the same amount of light whether you use a wide aperture and fast shutter speed or a narrow aperture with a slow shutter speed. So, what difference does it make?

Well, there are some differences, and this post is about one of them. Specifically, we're going to discuss a topic called depth of field. In short, depth of field refers to how much of the picture (in terms of distance from the lens) is in focus. The general rule is this -- if you use a wide aperture, you will have a shallow depth of field. If you narrow the aperture, more of the picture will be in focus. Here's an example:

This picture was taken with a narrow aperture, while holding the shutter open for 10 seconds.

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, f/22, 10 seconds

The next picture is pretty much the same shot, except that I widened the aperture as far as the lens would go and kept the shutter open for only 1/6 of a second.

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, f/2.8, 1/6 second

As you can see, when I made the aperture wider, the flowers in the back were thrown out of focus. Whereas in the first picture, the depth of field of the lens reached all the way to the flowers in the back, in the latter picture, the DOF ended right after the sunflower.

So, remember this: when you widen the aperture, more of the picture will be thrown out of focus. When you narrow the aperture, you'll get more in focus (but you'll have to keep the shutter open longer to get more light).

As always, comments, critiques and criticisms are welcomed and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Pictures:

Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teens, Boundaries and Trust

Rabbi Horowitz's column in this week's Jewish Press* addresses a problem that many parents of teens have -- balancing the want (and need) of kids to "do something" on a long winter Saturday night against the need of the parents to make sure that their kids are in a wholesome environment.

He makes one recommendation that parents take the proactive step of organizing an activity for their kids, such as an organized athletic league. Depending on where you live, you may find such programs already exist. There may be basketball leagues for the athletically inclined as well as learning groups for those who want to devote some extra time to learning.

However, not everyone has access to these, or has kids that want to participate in an organized activity. Sometimes, kids just want to "hang out" with friends, go to the local pizza place, or engage in some other "disorganized" activity. I remember when I was a kid, I spent many a Saturday night out with friends of mine. Sometimes it was bowling, sometimes to a movie, or to some other place. And, yes, before anyone asks, it often was mixed (boys and girls). My friends' sisters and their friends were often along for the ride. But we'll get back to that later.

In his article, Rabbi Horowitz makes an important point about establishing a trusting relationship with teenagers while remembering to allow them the freedom that they need. Teens are not five and ten year olds... in many respects, they are young adults, looking to find their own identities. If they are to do this, they have to be allowed a certain amount of freedom to explore. That's not to say that you have to allow everything, of course, but, as a parent, you have to be somewhat flexible. Sure, you might not like to have your son spend his Saturday night at a bowling alley, but you have to may need to compromise to show your teen that you trust him or her.

When I was a kid, my mother trusted me to make certain decisions for myself with regard to which friends to hang out with or where I wanted to go on a Saturday night. Of course, she was always ready to listen to me if I needed advice, but, for the most part, I was allowed to make my own decisions. The reason is that I had her trust - she knew that I was (for the most part) a good kid and hung around with kids who were (again, for the most part) good kids. Yeah, maybe she wasn't so thrilled that I was spending time in mixed company, but I demonstrated to her early on two important traits, which I believe most teens can be taught: (1) that I could develop good judgement and be responsible and (2) that I could learn from mistakes that I make.

My mother had a few rules for when Skipper** and/or I went out. The first was that she had to know where we were going. The second was that if we were going to be late, we had to call. She didn't mind if I stayed out until midnight or one (provided, of course, I made it to the yeshiva's minyan the next day on time) as long as I called her and let her know I was okay (and remember, this was before cell phones).

That's not to say that I was a perfect teen. But I knew enough to know when to "say when." I knew, from the lessons that my mother gave me, what was right and what was wrong (and how far I could venture into the gray area in between). And, most importantly, I had her trust.

I suppose, in many ways, Rabbi Horowitz was writing about my teen years. He stresses the importance of cutting teens slack, and my mother did. He also stresses the importance of maintaining some rules (curfew, checking in if you're going to be late, etc.), which my mother did. And he mentions the importance of, while maintaining a veto power over your teens' choice of destination, using it sparingly -- even if it means going to an activity that you might otherwise disapprove of -- and my mother did that as well.

Walter is now in his mid-teens. George has just entered them and Wilma is not far behind. They are no longer little kids, and Eeees and I can no longer supervise every moment that they spend out of the house with friends. The way I see it, we have a few options: (1) We can just let them go out and, as long we don't get a call from the cops, all is okay. (2) We can forbid them to go anywhere unless the activity and the people are completely pre-approved by us. (3) We can give them some freedom (as is age approriate, of course) and work to instill in them a sense of right and wrong, and give them the mental and emotional tools to allow them to make decisions on their own.

The proper path, I think, is obvious. The first one is the easiest for Eeees and I to follow. However, the risk of things going wrong is just too high that something can go wrong. Kids (yes, even teens) need boundaries and "don't get arrested" is just not enough of a boundary, IMHO. The second path is also a pretty bad one. Yes, the kids won't get in trouble if you supervise and monitor everything they do as teens (assuming you physically can do that). But what happens once they are no longer under your control. However, the day will come (whether it's when they actually become adults, or move out of the house, or when they simply get tired of what they perceive to be excessive parental influence in their lives and rebel) when you simply cannot be on top of them all of the time. If you haven't given them a chance to practice making decisions, then how are they to know how to act once they are out on their own?

Sadly, I think too many parents in our community take the first option out of sheer laziness or the second option out of genuine concern, while not realizing that they are robbing their children of the learning experiences that will serve them well in later life. The last approach is the one taken by my mother and the one that I think is the best to take with kids. Is it possible that the kid will make a bad decision? Yes, it certainly is possible. But you are also giving them the chance to learn from their mistakes, to grow and mature, and, most importantly, to acquire the necessary experience to enable to make responsible life choices in the future.

And isn't that our ultimate job as parents anyway?

The Wolf

P.S. Oh, yeah, I said I'd get back to the mixed company I kept as a teen. Here's the short story: yes, we went out as a group -- my friends, their sisters, some of their female friends. Number of girls I kissed, held hands with or had serious physical activity with at (or as a result of) those meetings: none. Number of girls who became pregnant at any of those meetings: none. Number of "serious relationships" that developed from those meetings: none. Number of times I or one of my friends ended up drunk or high: none. Number of times that we were arrested: none.

Related Post:
Our Kids... Do We Want To Force Them To Keep The Mitzvos?

* This post in no way means to imply that R. Horowitz would have approved of my actions as a teen (described later in the post).

** It should be noted that very often Skipped did *not* go out with my friends and I -- but the rules applied to her as well, whomever she was out with.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

LaLaLaLaLaLa I'm Sticking My Hands In My Ears And I Don't Hear You!!

An interesting discussion has come up in the YWN Coffeeroom regarding women learning Gemara and other such subjects. In stating why women shouldn't learn Gemara, one poster quoted the Torah Temimah*:

Girls do not have the intellectual stability and are, therefore, unable to make profound inquries with a sharp mind and appreciate the depth of the Torah. It is possible thay by using their own minds, they will transgress the Torah.

Other, similar quotes were brought as well. One woman responded that the quotes:

were from a time when women did not go to Yeshivah, and basically knew nothing except possibly how to daven from a siddur. They learned the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha, how to kasher meat, bensch licht and take hafrasha when they would bake challah, but other than that, learning was done only by males.

To this, the response was:

The quoted meforshim are 100% Toras Emes. As true today, as the day it was written.

I sometimes find it completely amazing that otherwise intelligent human beings are unable to perceive the context in which a statement is made and assume that it applies at all times, in all places, in all cultures and in all circumstances. They think that rabbanim make statements in a vacuum, completely uninfluenced by their surroundings or their personal biases.** The very possibility that a rabbi suggested that a woman might be unable to make "profound inquiries" because in that place and time women were, by and large, uneducated, is not even a remote possibility.

Of course, like all people, these people may sometimes be confronted by reality. They may find it necessary one day (perhaps for the purpose of earning a livelihood, or for some other reason) to venture out of their own daled amos and they may run across a woman with a brain cell or two. They may even find that women have the ability to be every bit as smart as (and smarter than) men. They may find that there are women lawyers (for example) who can formulate a complicated question and who can follow a complex topic. They may find female doctors who can analyze data from multiple sources and come to a logical, reasoned conclusion. They may even find (assuming that they are willing to talk to a woman long enough to allow her to string a few sentences together) that the reality today is simply not as the Torah Temimah saw it in his day. So, what does he do then? How can he reconcile the apparent reality with the words of the Torah Temimah, which he sees as eternally true in all times and all places?

He (figuratively, of course) closes his eyes, sticks his fingers in his ears and yells "La La La La La La I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!) at the top of his lungs. In this way, the eternity and truthfulness of the Torah (as he sees it) is preserved.

How sad.

The Wolf

Related Posts:
Orthodox Jews And Ferengi: Two Of A Kind? (re: women being excluded from learning)
Parody Or Touch Of Reality (re: women being excluded from learning)
Admas Kodesh Hu (It Is Holy Land) (re: mothers excluded from a learning camp's campgrounds)

* NB: I haven't checked the source inside.
** Rabbis have personal biases??!! Perish the thought!

OK, Everyone, Let's Just Get Over It

The J-blogosphere seems to be buzzing about the WCBS News story (sorry, not going to link to it... a simple Google search should find it) from last night regarding infidelity in the hasidic community. While the report addresses the hasidic community in Williamsburg, I would not be surprised at all to find that this issue extends to every segment of Orthodox Judaism.

However, I'd like everyone to keep the following in mind: Hasidim (as other Orthodox Jews) are human beings. We all sin in some manner or form. I'm not excusing people who cheat against their spouses, but let's not sit here and pretend that we're shocked (shocked, I tell you!) to find out that this goes on. Anyone who thinks that we are malachim and are incapable of such things is seriously fooling themselves.

Are Orthodox Jews more faithful to their spouses than the general population? I don't know for sure, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say yes. But I never would have said that we were perfect, and anyone who is shocked by this piece is simply living in a fantasy world.

The Wolf

Monday, November 24, 2008

A Little Silliness: Personality Analysis Based On My Blog

Hat Tip: A Frum Punk

According to Typealyzer*, here's my personality based on my blog:

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

OK, I don't know if I agree with that analysis, but I'll leave it up to those who know me better to better judge its accuracy.

The Wolf

* I have no idea what criteria they use to make this determination. Use at your own risk.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Photos: Empire

A few months ago, I went out and bought a "fast lens" -- the Canon 50mm f/1.8.

A brief word of explanation on what a "fast lens" is. In order to take a picture, you have to allow light to pass through your lens. Light passes through your lens when you press the button on your camera and open the shutter. The amount of light that passes through the lens depends on two things -- how long the shutter is held open and how wide the shutter opening is. If you can open your shutter very wide, you don't have to keep it open nearly as long to get the same amount of light into the camera.

When someone tells you that a lens is a "50mm f/1.8" or a "100mm f/2.8," they are telling you two things. The first number is how far it is from the front of the lens to the film or digital sensors (50mm, 100mm, etc.). That number is not important for this discussion. The second number tells you how far you can open the lens. The lower the number, the wider the lens opens. So, my f/1.8 lens can open wider than my f/2.8, which opens even wider than my f/5.6.

Shooting in low light presents a problem -- camera shake. Suppose I want to take a shot at night. At night, there might not be much available light to take a shot. If I want the subject to be visible in the final picture, I need to get more light into the camera. But how do I do that? Well, one way is to open the lens as wide as it will go. However, suppose you've got it open as wide as it will go and you *still* don't have enough light. Well, the next solution would be to increase the amount of time that the shutter is open. So, instead of holding the shutter open for 1/50th of a second, I'll hold it open for 1/10th of a second.

The problem with that solution is that my hands shake. If you hand-hold a camera and keep the shutter open for 1/10th of a second (or longer), you are going to notice that your image is blurry. The longer you hold it open, the worse the "camera shake" becomes. The only other option* is to get a lens that will open wider. A f/1.8 lens is pretty wide, so I don't have to keep the lens open nearly as long as I would with my f/2.8 (or f/5.6) to get the same shot. Since I can shoot faster, the lens is called a "fast lens."

Anyway, so I bought the 50mm f/1.8 lens a few months ago. This shot, of the Empire State Building (shot from across the street) is one of the first shots I took with that lens. This shot would have been much more difficult with some of my other lenses.

From Wolfish Musings Pictures

Canon XSi, 50mm lens
f/1.8, 1/25

As always, critiques, comments and criticisms are welcome and encouraged.


The Wolf

Previous Photos:

Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

* Yes, you can bump up the ISO rating too. However, I don't want to get too technical -- this is a very basic description of a fast lens.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Donate Blood Tonight. I'll Be There...

If you're in the Marine Park area of Brooklyn at some time tonight, stop by 3307 Avenue N and donate blood. Come by and say hello... you might even get to meet me (although you'll have to guess which blood donor I am). I'll be there dropping off a pint of the red stuff.

If the chance to meet me doesn't attract you, how about free food for the donors?

So, come on down and help save a life and get some free food.

Place: 3307 Avenue N (the awning says "K'hal B'Nei Torah, but the shul since changed hands. Please note that there is another building that says K'hal B'Nei Torah about a block and a half away without an awning... that's not it. The proper place has a dark awning and has Mr. Nosh on the corner.

Date: Tonight. November 20.

Time: 5:45 to 9:00 (although I certainly won't be there before 7:00 -- but don't let that stop you from coming earlier.)

The Wolf

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The 'If Only One...' Fallacy

There is an argument that occasionally comes up when discussing communal policy. I call the argument the "if only one..." argument. The basic thrust of the argument is as follows: If only one life/soul is saved by implementing policy X, we should do so.

One of the latest examples comes from this Yeshiva World News article concerning teens and cell phones. One commenter said (bolding mine):

r’ webber is absolutely right as is the hanhala of bais shaindel but i ask all readers and comment posters if even one neshoma is lost due to texting or internet isn’t that reason enough for the small sacrafice of voice only phones for all of us and anyone saying that they know better is to blame for all future destruction caused by this epidemic

The fallacy of this argument is that it could be applied to almost anything. For example, perhaps we should outlaw the use of cars (except emergency vehicles). After all, if even one life can be saved, shouldn't that be reason enough?

The fact of the matter is that every activity that we engage in has a specific amount of risk. Every time a person gets into a car (or walks down the street, or plays baseball, or eats, etc.) there is a small possibility that the activity will cost them their life, God forbid. Yet we, as a society, determine that we're going to accept a certain number of fatalities for engaging in this activity. About 42,000 people die per year in car accidents. Shouldn't we invoke the doctrine of v'nishmartem m'od l'nafshoseichem and ban car driving (again, except for emergency vehicles)?

I don't know the number of people who die from alcohol poisoning on Purim, but shouldn't we ban it even if only one person could be saved?

Heck, perhaps we should prevent our kids from coming into contact with any other kids. After all, if even we can save one neshoma from coming into contact with a bad influence and going off the derech, shouldn't we accept that small sacrifice?

Of course, the above questions are ludicrous. The fact of the matter is that we, as a society, have determined that having the benefits of automobiles available to all of us is worth the 42,000 lives that it costs each year. We, as a society, have determined that the value of being able to drink on Purim is worth the possibility that some people may abuse the privlige and die from too much drink. We, as a society, determine that our kids having friends is worth the risk that one of them might turn out bad, even to the point where it might cost us some neshomos down the line.

Now, it should be pointed out that my argument has nothing to do with whether teens should be allowed to have cell phones or not. There are valid arguments for both sides. But the "if only one..." fallacy is not a valid argument -- and it turns up all too often in public policy decisions.

The Wolf

Something To Watch

The comments thread at this VIN article about the age of Rivkah at her wedding ought to be interesting to watch. Perhaps I'll comment on it later.

The Wolf

I'm Convinced 'Torah Proofs' Cause More Harm Than Good

Sometimes I have to wonder if people who peddle "Torah proofs" aren't, in fact, doing more damage than good. They proclaim that they have "scientific proof" that the Torah is divine and then follow it up with arguments that could be called faulty at best and downright loony at worst. Personally, I feel that no proof is better than a bad proof. If I tell you that I believe that God exists and that the Torah is divine, it's not subject to refutation. True, a belief on my part is not as strong as a "proof," but unlike a bad "proof," it won't leave someone feeling "lied to" when they discover the truth of the argument.

I just listened to one such lecture given (downloadable here) by Rabbi Yossi Mizrachi. The title of the lecture is Proof That Torah is Divine Part I. In his lecture, he claims to bring "scientific proofs" that the Torah is of Divine origin. Sad to say, very few of his "proofs" stand up to serious scrutiny. He goes through a lot of material in his presentation, and for me to debunk everything he says would simply take too much time. However, I don't actually have to debunk everything he says. Right at the beginning of the lecture, he presents his cardinal rule for debunking religions -- if a mistake can be found in the "holy book" of a religion, then it is a proof that the book is not Divine and the religion that it supports is bunk. So, the net result is that, according to him, if I can show that any one of his premises regarding the Torah is false, and that the Torah has a flaw, then Judaism itself is bunk. That's a rather high bar to set and, if I apply to Judaism the same conditions that he applies to other religions, then it's easy to show that Judaism is false.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: I *do* believe in Judaism. Just because a person shows that a "proof" to Judaism is flawed and invalid doesn't make the religion itself flawed and invalid. I *do* believe that the Torah is of Divine origin and if a real proof to it is discovered one day, I will wholeheartedly embrace it. But I will not embrace flawed proofs, shoddy logic or emotional claptrap.

Biblical Errors And Consistent Standards

As I mentioned earlier, Rabbi Mizrachi begins with his cardinal rule; that if an error can be found in a "Divine book," then that error serves proof that the book is, in fact, not Divine, and that the religion that it supports is false. As an example, he brings up the verse in Acts 7:14 which states that Jacob went down to Egypt with 75 people. Of course, we know from Beraishis (46:27) and Shemos (1:5) that the number of people that went down to Egypt was only seventy. Did God forget how many people went down? Of course not, hence, it is argued that Acts (and, by extension, the rest of the Christian Bible) is a flawed document and not Divine.

On the surface, it's a sound argument. However, one has to wonder if Rabbi Mizrachi actually gave the Christians and honest and sincere hearing on the matter. Assuming that most of the Christian clergy are not total idiots, I'm fairly certain that some of them must have noticed this contradiction. Has he asked any of them for an explanation? Somehow, I doubt it. A simple Google serach turned up two possible answers that Christians can use to reconcile the 70/75 count; and, truth to tell, those answers are entirely plausible -- or at least certainly as plausible as the answer given to explain why the total given in Beraishis 46 is 70 while only 69 names are mentioned.

In other words, I can support the basic premise that Rabbi Mizrachi puts forward -- i.e. that if you find a flaw in a book claiming to be Divine then the book is not Divine. What I do object to, however, is the fallacy of holding Christians accountable for contradictions in the text itself, without giving them a chance to reconcile the contradictions, while allowing Chazal, the Rishonim and Achronim to engage in explanations that, to an outsider, would sound far-fetched and forced. In other words, if you're going to call out Christian books because they contradict themselves (or other established sources), then you have to allow the adherents to explain the contradictions; much as you wold allow yourself to explain the apparent contradictions in Tanach. I'm not saying, of course, that you have to accept the explanations offered, but, in the name of honesty, you have to give them the chance and to accept the possibility of an explainable if it sounds plausible. Somehow, my gut tells me that Rabbi Mizrachi would not accept *any* explanation from a Christian of the 70/75 discrepancy, but would entertain almost any effort to explain an apparent error in the Torah.

Mass Revelation

Rabbi Mizrachi also brings up the argument of mass revelation. In short, the argument is that Judaism is unique because it has, at its origin, a mass revelation. Millions of people (he says between six and fifteen million, but that's quite a stretch, even accepting the 600,000 number as literally true) stood at Mt. Sinai and literally heard God speak. Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that the only proof that this happened is because it says it in the very book you're trying to prove, it's a fair argument. Most religions, begin with a single individual who makes an unverifiable claim (Mohammed receiving the Koran from the angel Gabriel, Joseph Smith receiving the Golden Plates from the angel Moroni, etc.). The fact that Judaism makes a claim of mass revelation is a striking point in its favor. However, Rabbi Mizrachi is not content with that. He says that if *any* religion can claim that they had an origin even involving one other eyewitness, then that proves the Torah is false, since (and I don't know his source for this) he says that Torah says that no other religion will be able to make the claim of a plural origin.

Sadly, his claims do not stand up to scrutiny. The Aztecs, for example, had a mass revelation story. They believed that their god, Huitzilopochtli, led them (in person) to the site of present-day Mexico City. Based on Rabbi Mizrachi's assertion, the very fact that another group even claims a mass revelation shows that the Torah is not true. I suppose it's a good thing that I don't agree with Rabbi Mizrachi's underlying assertion. :)

Textual Variations and Consistent Standards

The next claim he makes is that if a "holy book" has multiple versions, then it cannot be divine. After all, how would you know which version is the correct one? He makes the point that there are over 150,000 textual variations of the New Testament (I don't know if this is correct or not... it's really beside the point) and therefore, it's impossible to determine which is the "correct" version that would have been Divinely given. R. Mizrachi makes the point that no matter where you go in the world, the Torah is the same. Since it's the same everywhere in the world, it must be divine. Well, I don't know if Rabbi Mizrachi has ever been to Yemen, but there are Jews there that have a different Torah than ours. In fact, there are nine differences. But even if we dismiss the Yemenite Torahs, we even have differences here in the United States. There are two different versions of the word "daka" in Devarim 23:2; some Torahs have an aleph as the last letter while some have a heh. So, which Torah is the correct one? The Yemenite? The daka-aleph? The daka-heh? Does this mean that the Torah is not divine? If Rabbi Mizrachi were to apply the same standard that he does to the Christians to the Torah, he'd have to say no, but I don't think he's going to do that.

Faulty "Scientific" Proofs And Dubious Claims

In his lecture, Rabbi Mizrachi attempts to give "scientific proof" to the divinity of the Torah, but all that happens is that he comes off sounding incredibly uneducated about science. He trots out various "proofs," however, very often the underlying assumption of the proof is simply wrong.

For example, he tries to prove that the Jews knew, through the Torah (specifically, a verse in Isaiah), that the world was round before anyone else. He mentions that before Columbus, no one knew that the world was round. The spherical nature of the earth was discovered when Columbus sailed off to the west and returned from the east. Of course, that's not true. In order to do that, you have to go around the world, something that Columbus never did. It was not until Magellan's voyage, in 1521, that anyone actually went around the world. However, even that's not important, because people *did* know that the world is round many years before Columbus. The ancient Greeks knew the world was round because they observed that the earth casts a circular shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse.

He also tries to show that the Zohar, written in the days of the Tanaim (itself a very dubious claim) revealed many secrets of the world, that could not have been known before the advent of modern science. However, for two of the proofs that he brings, it's very clear that the Zohar was *not* written by a Divine Being. A Divine Being would not have peddled such incorrect information.

One proof from the Zohar that he mentions is a passage that descibes that there is one place in the world where it is always light and only dark for one hour a day -- the North Pole. However, that statement is simply not true. The North Pole is not always bathed in light except for one hour. The fact is that the sun is above the horizon at the North Pole for six months in the summer and below the horizon for six months in the winter. In other words, it is daytime for six months straight and night (to various degrees) for six months. In other words, the Zohar is completely wrong in the way it describes the North Pole.

Another "proof" from the Zohar is the fact that different people in the world look differently. According to the Zohar (at least according to Rabbi Mizrachi -- I haven't actually checked the source material), the climate affects the appearance of people. Or, to put it in Rabbi Mizrachi's words: "In Africa, everyone is black, almost the same face. Same hair, same face, same shape in the face. You go to China -- copy machine. Two billion copies." Rabbi Mizrachi clearly doesn't know what he's talking about here -- Africa is the most genetically diverse place on Earth. To say that everyone in Africa has the "same hair, same face, same shape in the face," simply shows that Rabbi Mizrachi hasn't done a great deal of reading about genetics or geography. In any event, to get to the point, the fact that different people in different regions look different is hardly a surprising discovery, even in the days when the Zohar is said to have been written. Anyone who had traveled would have known that.

As another proof to the idea that only God could have written the Torah, he mentions the Gemara in Megillah which purports to give the exact number of stars. Rabbi Mizrachi states that the number given is 1019 , although the true number mentioned in the Gemara is approximately 1018. However, we can forgive him the math error. What's harder to overlook is the simple logical mistake of using the Gemara's figure to prove the actual number of stars. In other words, the Gemara gives a really number, so it *must* be right. The fact is that the only way to prove that it's right is to compare it to another counting. The current estimate to the number of stars is actually 7x1022.

There are other "proofs" that he brings in his speech, which are equally easy to discredit (the four animals proof, the fins/scales proof and the calendar proof stand out most prominently), but this post has already gone on for quite a while.

Where R. Mizrachi Completely Disproves His Own Point

There is, however, a deeper, more fundamental problem with Rabbi Mizrachi's argument. He attempts to prove that the Torah (and by extension, the Oral Torah) is Divine because it's an error-free document and contains information that only a Divine Being could have possessed. However, by allowing supporting proof from the Gemara and the Zohar, he also leaves them open to refutation. In other words, if you're going to claim that the Pentateuch is divine, then you can only find fault with items in the Pentateuch. But by stating that the Gemara and Zohar are also divine, Rabbi Mizrachi is asserting that they, too, are error-proof. He's also asserting that they, too, must be free of textual variations (since a divine document must have only one version). The fact of the matter is that there is no one today who will say that the Gemara doesn't have textual variations. So, according to Rabbi Mizrachi's definition, the Gemara is not Divine; and if the Gemara is not divine, then the religion it supports, Judaism, must be false.

Far More Harm Than Help

At the beginning of his speech, Rabbi Mizrachi states that over 100,000 people are religious today because of this lecture (whether delivered by him or someone else). All I can say is that I find that *extremely* hard to believe. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, and yet, I was able to pick apart most of his arguments pretty easily. If this is the "proof" of Judaism, I'm left to wonder if his lectures don't do far more harm to the kiruv movement than help.

The Wolf

Monday, November 17, 2008

Recommended Reading: The Institutionalization of Personal Choice

ProfK over at Conversations In Klal has an excellent post regarding the loss of individualism in the Orthodox Jewish community today. As she writes:

There is a push to institutionalize the practices of Klal down to the smallest item, such that personal choice is being pushed out of existence. There have been communal minhag changes that boggle the mind of anyone with even a modicum of common sense. And we are all at fault for letting this happen.

This is actually one of those things that I wish I'd written about, except that ProfK has done a far better job of it than I ever would have.

The Wolf

Friday, November 14, 2008

Photos: Hovering Bee

It's Friday again, and that means that it's time for another picture. This shot was taken in Hudson River Park this past August. I took a *lot* of shots and engaged in a lot of trial-and-error to get this shot.

Picture Details
Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens
f/2.8, 1/3200 sec

As always, comments, criticism and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Evolution And Shoddy Logic

It seems that the Evolution/Creation debate has broken out in the YeshivaWorldNews coffeeroom. To his credit, the YW Editor has been putting up both pro- and anti-evolution posts.

One thing that often amuses me about arguments like this from the Creationist* side is the fact that the Creationists inevitably end up using shoddy logic to prove their point. I have long maintained that it would be much more logical for Creationists to simply ignore the evidence and state that they hold their position solely as a matter of faith rather than argue with the evolutionists on a scientific basis. By waging the battle on the "scientific turf," they open themselves up to arguments that simply do not work.

I had a good example of this in the YWN thread. A poster named Bogen came up with this gem:

Evolution is just a theory, not a fact. (And a false theory, at that.)

Past evidence for evolution has been overturned. In the past, major scientific revolutions have overturned theories that were at the time considered factual.

In the past there have been scientific hoaxes regarding evolution, such as the Piltdown Man forgery.

Pieces of "evidence" for evolution such as Ernst Haeckel's 19th-century embryo drawings, were not merely "scientific errors" but frauds; Biology textbooks have continued to reproduce such "evidence" long after it had been debunked.

Evolution is a pseudo-religion (evolution is based on faith, supporters of evolution revere Charles Darwin as a prophet, and supporters of evolution dogmatically reject alternative suggestions out-of-hand.)

Evolution is "unfalsifiable" (there is no tests that could be made that would demonstrate that the statement is false). Any "fact" can be "fitted" into the evolutionary framework. Past events of speciation are not observable and repeatable, and therefore evolution is not falsifiable. In 1976, Popper himself said that "Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme".

I don't mean to pick on Bogen personally here. These arguments are typical of the ones that you find in the less-educated corner of the Creationist camp. And every one of these arguments utterly fails when it comes to disproving evolution (which was Bogen's goal):

  • The fact that he mentions that evolution is "only a theory" shows that he does not understand just what a scientific theory is. Gravity, too, is a theory.
  • The fact that " major scientific revolutions have overturned theories that were at the time considered factual," hardly proves that evolution is false. After all, at one time we had theories as to how diseases were transmitted. Now,we have the germ theory. The fact that an older theory was overturned does not invalidate the germ theory. Likewise, the fact that older evolutionary models were overturned does not invalidate newer models.
  • The fact that frauds such as Piltdown Man and Haeckel's embryo drawings were perpetrated does not invalidate evolutionary theory. Fraud has existed in all branches of science at one time or another. The fact that the frauds were eventually discovered and discredited is a point *in favor* of the scientific method.
  • The claims that evolution is a pseudo-religion, that Darwin is revered as a "prophet," that evolutionists dogmatically support *anything* (isn't that against the very idea of the scientific method?) and that evolution is unfalsifiable and has never been observed are simply false. A simple Google serach or common sense will show them to be outright false.

Interestingly enough, I don't have a problem with a faith based argument, regardless of whether or not I can show it to be false. For example, a cornerstone of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus. Now, I personally wasn't present and can't state for certain whether it happened or not. I don't have a problem with a Christian who maintains that it happened -- after all, I have no argument to counter it and say that it didn't happen. I don't even have a problem with a faith based argument that is counter to scientific evidence. For example, someone can maintain that the universe is only 5769 years old and that God rigged the evidence to make the world look older. Now, I personally don't agree with that statement, but if that's what you want to believe, then go ahead.

Shoddy logic, or outright false claims, on the other hand, is something that I feel the need to address. In other words, when Creationists claim that evolution didn't happen because they maintain it as an article of faith, then I won't argue. I may consider you wrong, but not foolish. On the other hand, when they use bad logic and false statements, then they are wrong, and possibly foolish or malicious.

The Wolf

Related Post: Exactly Whom Is Doing The Arguing?
Also, check out The Rebbetzin's Husband's post regarding Creationist arguments.

* When I say "Creationist" in this post, I'm specifically referring to the Young Earth Creationists who maintain that evolution did not/does not happen. I fully recognize that one can believe in both Creation by a Divine Power and evolution at the same time.

NB: I don't mean to be attacking Bogen here "behind his back." However, past experience has shown that whenever I link to (or even refer to) my blog, the YWN editor does not put up the post. So there really is no effective way for me to alert him to this post. If someone has a way of getting the message to him, I'd appreciate it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ten Proofs That Moshiach Is Coming Next Year -- NOT!

I'm convinced that we need a Jewish version of Snopes. Snopes, for all those who are unaware, is a website that investigates urban legends and tries to determine the factuality of the legend. Sometimes the legend is verified, sometimes it's proven false and sometimes it is undetermined.

There has been an email going around, purporting to give ten proofs that Moshiach is coming this year. So, as a public service, here are the ten "proofs" and why they are not proofs at all.

1. Bircat HaHamah - The Blessing on the Sun - Once every 28 years

Since creation, there was only two times that the year we say Birkat HaHamah fell out on the 1st Day of Passover.
The first was the year Hashem redeemed Israel form Egypt.
The second was the year of Purim, when Hashem saved the Jews from the evil Haman, who wanted to kill and destroy all Jews.
This year Birkat HaHamah falls out on the 1st Day of Passover. (which will be the 3rd time in history)
When it was told to Hacham Ovadia Yosef, that this year Birkat HaHamah falls out on the 1st Day of Passover, he started crying like a baby.

Obviously the list writer never heard of the idea of putting your best material up front, since of the ten, this "proof" is, by far, the worst. The reason, very simply, is that it is flat out false.

The claim is made that Birkas HaChamah is said this year on the first day of Pesach. If so, then the writer obviously observes a different Pesach than the rest of us. I will be observing the first day of Pesach on a Thursday this year. I will be reciting Birkas HaChamah on the day before, on Wednesday. In fact, in our fixed calendar, Pesach can NEVER start on Wednesday, and so Birkas HaChamah can NEVER be said on the first day of Pesach. I'm sure the reason that Hacham Yosef started crying was because he realized that someone disturbed him about such nonsense without even bothering to check the calendar first.

It is possible, however, that the writer meant to say Erev Pesach. Birkas HaChamah *will* be recited on Erev Pesach this year. However, it is clearly not the first time since the miracle of Purim that this has happened. In fact, Birkas HaChamah was recited on Erev Pesach on April 8, 1925.

Lastly, assuming the traditional dating to be correct (and, assuming that Birkas HaChamah was always recited on a 28-year cycle), Birkas HaChamah was not recited at all in the years that we left Egypt or the year of the Purim miracle. You can verify this fairly easily by continually subtracting 28 from the current year (5769). You'll find that neither 2448 (the year of the Exodus) or 3404 (the year Haman was hung) appear on the list of years.

2. Chofetz Chaim in a Dream to His Student

Recently the Chofetz Chaim came to one of his last living students in a dream several times and said that Mashiach is born. When this was told to Rabbi Elya Svei, he said he knew about this for over ten years.

Many great rabbanim in the past (including some even greater than the Chofetz Chaim) predicted a date for Moshiach's arrival and were proven wrong. In addition, the claim seems to be somewhat contradictory. If the Chofetz Chaim came to a student in a dream recently, how did R. Svei know about it for the last ten years?

3. Rabbi Elya Svei Mashiach 2009, told to him from his Rebbe, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman

In 2004 at a funeral of a Rebbe of Mirrer Yeshiva, Rabbi Elya Svei said that Mashiach is coming in 2009. He said its was told to him and calculated by his Rebbe, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, who was the top student of the Chofetz Chaim. Incidentally Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman wrote books and spoke about that the timing of Maschiach is co mparable to a pregnant lady in her 9th month, which at any moment can give birth. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was murdered in the Holocaust, over 70 years ago, so in his times if Mashiach was so close, how much more so in our times more than 70 years later.

This is not a proof for two reasons. Firstly, see above with regard to the prediction made by the Chofetz Chaim. IOW, just because a gadol predicts that Moshiach is going to come does not mean that he actually will. Secondly, does this story mean to imply that R. Svei held no hope whatsoever of Moshiach coming between 2004 and 2009? Somehow, I highly doubt that. Lastly, the last point made (the comparison to a pregnant lady) is still not a proof. After all, one could have made the same claim last year or the year before. Since it did not hold true then, there is no reason to hold it as an ironclad proof for this year as well.

4. The Collapse of the Stock Market, Wall Street, Financial Markets, Housing Markets, Mortgage Markets, Insurance Markets, Real Estate Markets
Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merill Lynch, Wachovia, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual, Goldman Sachs
And surely MORE to come.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 8000 and dropped to a low of 7882

In what way is this a proof that Moshiach is coming in 2009? There have certainly been financial collapses before (including collapses of even greater magnitude) and Moshiach did not arrive then.

5. The Iran dictator (Yemah Shemo) declaring he wants to wipe Israel of the globe and definitely has Nuclear Weapons.

Since Hashem sent us a very good President George Bush, who is a true friend of Israel as well as shown that he want to eradicate terrorists, the Iranian Animal is petrified to start with Israel, but with this years election of a new President, who know what can happen.

Again, hardly a proof. This is hardly the first time that a power wanted to wipe Israel off the map. It's also not the first time that the Jewish State found itself in potentially life-threatening trouble. How does this prove that Moshiach is coming next year?

6. Barak Obama as President

Hes young and inexperienced as well as questionable loyalty and friendship to Israel.
With all that's going on with our economy and global ma rkets, in addition to Obama's liberal viewpoints it seams very dangerous to have him as a commander in chief.

Leaving the political swipes aside, so what? How does this prove Moshiach is coming next year?

7. Iceland & Greenland Ice Packs

Iceland and Greenland is mostly comprised of ice. Scientist discovered that due to Global Warming, the shrinking of the Ozone Layer and the change in weather patterns, the ice packs in these two countries are starting to melt. They predict that in 5 to 10 years it will fully melt and the water (melted ice) would be added to the worlds oceans. This extra water, would increase sea level around the globe by 20 feet.
Basically all homes, buildings etc, that are built on locations that are at sea level (which is a good portion society), will be under water. Hashem promised NEVER to bring a Mabul (flood) again. If this is set in motion to take place, then Mashiach, must come before this happens.

Iceland is mostly composed of ice??!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!

But hey, let's give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume they meant to say Antarctica, and not Iceland. (Hey, it's easy to mix them up, they're only about 12,000 miles for each other, and one is a continent and the other is an island only slightly larger than Ireland.) In any event, even if the unthinkable happened and all the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melted and caused massive flooding, it would still only affect coastal areas. Kansas, for example, would still not be under water.

HKBH promised Noach that He would never cause a global flood that wiped out all life. There were no promises regarding local floods, even massive ones.

Lastly, is there any reason to assume that HKBH's promise is going to be null and void after Moshiach comes? In other words, the writer claims that Moshiach has to come soon because floods that are in violation of HKBH's oath are coming. However, the assumption here is that after Moshiach comes, HKBH's promise is to be rescinded. I'm not aware of any source for this.

8. Brisker Rav

The Brisker Rav said during the Holocaust, that within 70 years Mashiach will come. 2009 is the 70th year.

Actually, it's only the 70th year if you assume the Holocaust only occured in 1939. Many historians date the beginning of the Holocaust differently. In addition, it went on until 1945.

9. Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel said this past Yom Kippur 2008, was the last Yom Kippur. Hes been telling everyone to do Teshuva before Mashiach comes.

Again, not a proof. See above regarding other predictions. In addition, R. Wachtfogel's statement is somewhat ambiguous. It does not clearly and unambiguously mean that Moshiach is coming in 2009.

10. Rav Chaim Kanievsky

Chazon Ish (his Grandfather) and Rav Shach (one of his Rabbi's) came to Rav Chaim Kanievsky in a dream and both told him to tell everyone to do Teshuva in order to get ready for Mashiach, whom is coming very soon.

Its time to do TESHUVA!!!!!
The Chofetz Chaim said that people whom are not worthy won't even realize that Mashiach is here and whats going on.
We MUST ALL to TEHSUVA and come close to Hashem.
Send this to all the Jews you know.
We need Mashiach desperately.

See above. In addition, R. Kanievsky is the nephew, not the grandson of the Chazon Ish.

Lest I be misunderstood, let me make it clear: I hope that Moshiach comes in 2009 (or, heck, even in 2008). I'd love for someone to come to me when we're all living in Israel next year and say to me "Boy, Wolf, you sure blew it with that post..." But from a strictly logical standpoint, these predictions and "proofs" are sorely lacking, and people who create them should realize how foolish they sound.

The Wolf

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yeshivos Have A Duty To Teach Secular Studies To Our Kids

Rabbi Horowitz has a new article in Mishpacha Magazine touting the value of secular education in our community. While most yeshivos in the United States offer a program of secular studies, the attitude in many of them is that secular studies are a waste of time and not important. The kids pick up on this idea to the extent that when the school administration pays lip service to the importance of secular studies, the kids know it's a joke and, for the most part, learn next to nothing over the course of twelve years. In many schools, I'm positive that yeshivos would completely abandon secular studies in a heartbeat if they could get away with it.

Of course, if secular studies were something that could be easily dispensed with in today's society, then it might not be such a tragedy.* However, in today's society, in order to make yourself attractive to employers, you simply have to have certain skills, chief among them being a decent command of the English language, mathematics and basic computer skills. If you do not have those basic skills, you are going to find your options on the job market are very limited. Limited job options lead to limited pay and a greater likelihood that even when you are fully employed, you may still find yourself near or below the poverty line. And while being near or below the poverty line is bad for anyone, for an Orthodox Jews, it's far worse -- just imagine trying to pay yeshiva tuition for multiple kids on a salary of under $30,000.**

A significant part of the problem, in my estimation, comes from the fact that work, itself, is discouraged and looked down upon. Who cares if basic skills are needed for the job market if you never intend on looking for a job to begin with? I've commented in the past on how the very idea of working for a living is denigrated in our yeshivos (sometimes to the point where working fathers are denigrated in front of their children). So, since working for a living is deemed "unworthy" for a ben torah and life skills such as English, math, etc. are needed only for that purpose, the kids very quickly get the idea that the English classes are unimportant.

On top of this, you have to add the fact that computer skills are needed in today's environment as well. However, the hysteria over the (very real) dangers of the internet have caused some schools to shy away from computer studies at all -- even in an off-line environment. I don't have any definite examples, but it would not surprise me to find schools that restrict comptuer use, even off-line, in people's homes. As a result, some kids may try to enter the workforce without the slightest idea of what a word processor or a spreadsheet is. In fact, Rabbi Horowitz makes that point in this article:

A close friend of mine owns a business in an area with a large charedi population and is always looking to provide avrechim with jobs. His ‘entrance exam’ is rather simple. He gives prospective applicants a pad and paper and asks them to write two paragraphs in English expressing the reasons they would like to land a job in his company, and then to turn on a computer and type those lines. His thinking is that if an applicant cannot perform those two tasks, they are useless to him in his business.

That's it. Turn on the computer and write two paragraphs in English about why you want the job. Lest you think that this is not a difficult task, Rabbi Horowitz tells us about the results:

Suffice it to say that this would probably be my last column in Mishpacha if I shared with you the percentage of applicants he turns away because they cannot do that.

Unfortunately, the "learning only" model of the Jewish community is on the verge of bursting. Thousands upon thousands of people are learning and not working, and the signs have been apparent for a while now that this is a situation that cannot be sustained indefinitely. At some point, many of those people currently sitting in kollel are going to have to go to work. The real tragedy isn't the fact that they have to go to work (although, from a religious point of view, that is bad). The real tragedy is that many people are being thrown into the job market with few or no marketable skills. They've been told by their yeshivos (either explicitly or implictly) that obtaining job skills is a waste of time, and now they are paying the price for listening to authority figures they trusted.

People need to understand that yeshivos today are not the same as they were back in the shtetl. Yeshivos today need to serve a dual purpose. The first and foremost purpose is to teach Torah and instill Torah values in our children.*** But the second purpose is to provide a basic secular education for our children, to enable them to be able to enter the job market or puruse higher education when and if they choose (or are forced) to do so. If a yeshiva does not provide this basic education (and make sure that the students are sufficiently motivated to acquire these skills) then they are condemning the vast majority of them to a lifetime of poverty and struggle. And that, in my estimation, is probably a greater spiritual danger to them than anything they might encounter in a book, magazine, blog or college course.

The Wolf

* I, personally, believe that secular knowledge does has value in and of itself, but that can certainly be put up for debate.

** Poverty level for a family of 6 in 2008 is $28,400 in the contiguous 48 states.

*** When we went looking for an elementary school for Walter many years ago, there was one school that seemed good and seemed to fit us in a number of areas. However, for the younger grades, they had secular studies in the morning and Judaic studies in the afternoon. It was purely a scheduling matter, not a statement on the relative importance of the subjects. Nonetheless, we felt that it was important that Walter understand that Judaic studies were more important, and so we did not send him to that school for fear that the schedule would inadvertently send him the wrong message.

Monday, November 10, 2008

God's Promises -- Are They Always Kept?

There is a very famous Midrash on this week's parsha. When Yishmael and Hagar are dismissed from Avraham's house, they end up in the wilderness where the boy begins to die of thirst. As God was preparing to show Hagar where the well was (to save Yishmael's life), the angles angels protested and petitioned God to let Yishmael die. They said that in the future, the descendants of Yishmael will cause many Jews to die of thirst and, to prevent this from happening, God should let Yishmael die now. God, however, responds by saying that He is judging Yishamel as is he is now (ba'asher hu shom) and since, at the present moment, he is not deservant of death, he is going to be saved.

It's a very nice Midrash, one that gives us some insight into how God administers Divine Justice. However, I had a very simple question. How could the angles angels petition God to let Yishmael die? Didn't God explicitly promise both Avraham and Hagar that Yishmael would grow up to found a new nation? Wouldn't God's promise to Avraham and Hagar preempt any possibility of listening to an angelic plea to let Yishmael die?

I spoke about with with a fellow congregant this weekend. He informed me of a Tzlach (which I did not see inside) which discusses how God's promise can be broken if it's for the benefit of the k'lal.

I'm not so sure that I really agree with that reasoning. There is a gemara (the exact location of which escapes me at the moment) which states that when God makes a conditional positive promise, the promise is always kept, even when the condition is not kept. It is logical to state, that if God always keeps a promise, even when He has a "legal out" (i.e. when the condition is not kept), could it not be said that He always keeps a positive promise when it is absolute and unconditional and therefore does not have a "legal out?"

I explained this to my friend on Shabbos, and gave him an example of his reasoning taken to the ultimate degree. If you are going to say that even God's absolute promises are subject to revocation "for the good of the K'lal), then suppose, under some bizzarre set of circumstances, it's beneficial for the K'lal that God should revoke His promise to Noach. Does that mean that He will then flood the world again despite His promise? That just does not sound right to me.

So, going with the assumption that God's positive promises are always kept (especially when given unconditionally), why did the angles angels even bother arguing? Furthermore, why did God give the argument of ba'asher hu shom? Why not simply state that He was bound by His promises to Avraham and Hagar?

The Wolf

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Is Picture Day At WolfishMusings!!

One area of photography that I love is macro photography. Pictures of flowers and buildings are nice and well, but when you can get thisclose to your subject and present it in a new light, you can really achieve something special (if you do it right, of course). One of the first lenses that I bought for my new camera was a macro lens.

Here's a picture I took of a sunflower about a year and a half ago.

Taken with a Canon S3IS

As always, any comments, criticisms and critiques are welcomed and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

Where Did Personal Integrity Go?

E-Kvetcher has a post today about frum people in Chicago who voted twice for McCain in the recent presidential election -- once under their Hebrew name and once under their legal (English) name. I don't know (and E-Kvetcher doesn't tell us) whether this was racially motivated or whether they simply preferred McCain's policies. In any event, it doesn't really matter, I suppose.

What I find interesting is how we pay a lot of lip service to the idea of honesty in all our dealings -- even with non-Jews, and yet we simply fail miserably at following through in real life. There is a story often told about a Jew who consistently returned a few cents that he regularly received in excess change to a non-Jew postal clerk. Years later that very same non-Jew, impressed with the honesty and piety of the Jew, goes on to save him and other Jews from the Nazis. Other vesions of the story exist (with a shopkeep, or with the Czar instead of the Nazis, but they're all pretty much the same story). Who among us hasn't heard a story of this type? I know I've heard it countless times -- and it's a good story. The point being made is that if you conduct yourself with honesty, and treat people fairly, they will respect you and see you (and possibly your community) as people to be treated fairly.

Sadly, this lesson has been lost on today's generation. Today's generation looks at the story and misses the point entirely. Instead of seeing the message of "be honest, you never know what the consequences are," the message has become "be honest when it only costs you a few cents. A few cents may save you in the future." But when it comes to larger issues, honesty falls by the wayside.

Now, I don't want to suggest that this is a simply a frum problem -- it's not. There are plenty of people around the world of all stripes who are openly dishonest; and, as a firm believer in karma (aka Divine Justice) I beleive that they will eventually have to answer for it. But we tend to pay a great amount of lip service to the idea of honesty. We say that the seal of HKBH is truth. We're taught to be scrupulously honest -- even with non-Jews. And yet, time and again, we see examples where we fail to live up to the very ideals we profess to hold as the highest values.

I'm not suggesting that we should be perfect. I understand that Jews, like everyone else, are only human. We're all subject to temptations and failings. We all (myself included) find that sometimes we fall short of the mark. But that's fine -- as I said, we're human and not meant to be perfect. However, when it comes to the measure of a person's character, I sometimes feel that what's more important is the subsequent actions that a person takes. If a person steals someting, are they ashamed of the fact that they stole? Are they willing to make restitution (even secretly) and resolve to sin no more? Or are they proud of the fact that they got away with it? In other words, are they essentially honest people who simply slipped up once and gave in to temptation, or are they simply dishonest people?

Much of our halachic system is built on the idea of trust and personal integrity. How do I know that the food Eeees prepares for my dinner is kosher? Because I trust her. How do I know when I go to a restaurant or somone's home that they food they serve is kosher? Trust. I rely on thier personal honesty. How do I know my tefillin and mezzuos are written in order (if they are written out of order, they are invalid -- and this is not something that can be caught on inspection)? Again, we rely on the honesty of the sofer. Heck, how did we know that the Kohen Gadol in the Temple performed the ketores service in the proper way? Sure, he was made to swear that he'd do it the right way, but once he swore, we relied on his honesty that he would carry out his oath. In short, much of our halachic system is built on the idea of personal honesty. To see it so casually battered in public speaks volumes, I believe, about how we've lost our way and how we've lost sight of what truly is one of the major underpinnings of our religion.

The Wolf

(EDIT: I suppose I was unclear in the post. I didn't mean to suggest that there is rampant election fraud in Chicago [or anywhere else]. The post wasn't really about the election, but the open dishonesty in general [collecting sales tax comes to mind] that goes on in our community. The election fraud is just an example. My apologies for all those who were misled by my post.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A YWN Coffeeroom Poster Thinks Racism Is Dead

From the thread's OP:

Yesterday's election proves what most of us long knew: that racism is dead. Sure there are exceptions with individuals who don't like blacks, but institutionally racism is a long dead animal.

I don't know if he's right. It racism may be dead (in the U.S.) on an institutional basis, or it may not be. However, hearing this from a YWN Coffeeroom thread, three words come to mind:


The Wolf

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Revised Take on the "Jewish Philosopher"

In a previous post, I mentioned that I though the Jewish Philosopher was someone who, well, let's just say that I thought he lived in a different reality than the rest of us. However, after conversing with him further (yeah, I know... I'm a glutton for punishment), I'm starting to become convinced that he is quite sane and doesn't actually believe a word of what he publishes. IOW, he is simply "poisoning the well" for the ultra-fundamentalists.

Why do I think this? Based on our last exchange.

Another poster: read Rav kook's essays on atheism before sounding off anymore on atheism.

JP: Sorry, but this blog doesn't follow Rav Kook.

Me: Okay, so which Rav does it follow? Who is the Rav who would advocate what you are advocating?


JP: If you only read blogs which are written under rabbinical supervision, I'm sorry, this blog is not. I do not have a rabbinical supervisor.

Me: You mean that you're advocating breaking up thousands of families, throwing thousands of people into permanent homelessness, forcing them to undergo lie-detector, STD and drug tests, and you haven't even discussed this with a Rav at all??!

JP: Yup.

I find it hard to believe that any ultra-fundamentalist would want to set up the program that he does without actually consulting a Rav at all. As such, I am forced to conclude that he doesn't really believe any of the stuff he spouts. He's simply putting on an act.

The Wolf

Is Anyone Having Problems Commenting?

I've received two emails from readers today stating that they cannot comment on posts. At first I wondered if this was because I went to in-line comments, but then again, I've had them for a few weeks now. Also, this seems to be a problem across multiple browsers.

Is anyone else out there having problems? If so, please feel free to drop me an email (link on the side of the blog).


The Wolf

Update (12:09PM): I put back the old "pop up box" type commenting. Let's see if that solves the problem.

Reflections On Voting -- Why Did I Even Bother Going?

This is the last election-related post, I promise.

I went to vote this morning. It was an experience in utter futility.

There were five contests on the ballot -- President/VP, Congressman, State Assembly, State Senate and local judges.

Congressman -- the only real choice was Anthony Weiner. The Republicans didn't put up a candidate.

State Senate -- the only choice was the Republican. The Democrats didn't put anyone up.

State Assembly -- the only choice was the Democrat. The Republicans didn't put anyone up.

Local Judges -- the same eight people ran on both lines.

President/VP -- there I had a choice. But then again, I live in New York, so it really doesn't matter anyway.

So, why the heck did I even bother going?

The Wolf

Bonus Picture: In Honor Of Election Day -- Lady Liberty Herself

Despite my earlier (lame) attempt at humor, it *is* very important that every eligible voter goes out and votes today. I *will* be casting a ballot today (yes, for a real candidate). In honor of the occasion, I present this picture of Liberty Enlightening The World. This picture was taken from a Circle Line boat in the harbor.

Picture details
(for those who care)
Canon XSi, 75-300mm at 300mm
f/5.6, 1/800

As always, comments, criticism and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

My Pick For President

As I said yesterday, I usually keep politics off this blog. However, this being an presidential election year -- a once in four-year occasion, I feel that I can make an exception. And so, I will make my case for my candidate for the highest office in the land.

Let me start out by saying that if there is one thing that I like to see in a candidate, it's an openness and forthrightness about the issues. Even if I vehemently disagree with you, as long as you are out in the open regarding where you stand, and as long as you are willing to back your position with facts and rational arguments, I can respect you. You may not get my vote, but you'll definitely be a step ahead of other candidates in my book.

Unfortunately, this election has been marred by excessive negativity. Both sides have engaged in smear tactics and negative campaigning. Personally, I don't want to hear you tell me why I shouldn't vote for the other guy... I want you to tell me why I should vote for you. In other words, if you can't back up your case without putting down the opposition, then there really is little to be said for you. Both sides have engaged in this type of campaigning, and, personally, I'm tired of it. I saw it in 2000, I saw it again in 2004 and now in 2008 -- and, sad to say, I'm certain that I'll see even more electoral nastiness in 2012.

So, what's to be done? Well, personally, I think that we should only support candidates who send out positive messages. S0, with that, I'm going to make my very first public endorsement of a candidate. My candidate never speaks ill of anyone. I've known this candidate for well over thirty years. In all that time, I (nor I think any of the other millions of people who know him) have heard him belittle others' opinions. He truly tries to send us a message of what is important -- being well-groomed is only of secondary importance to being constant in your message to the American (and global) public. He sends us a message that even people with disabilities, such as wandering eyes, for example, can still be trusted enough to occupy the highest office in the land. He tells us that transparency in your agenda is far more important than personality -- if you know where your candidate stands, you can then make an informed decision.

And so, I give you my candidate. He is constant in his message, he is caring and not at all negative. He is well-loved by the American public. I give you the Wolfish Musings choice for President of the United States in 2008...

The Wolf

(Inspiration by How To Measure The Years)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Completely and Utterly Disgusted

I purposely keep politics off this blog. Even when it relates to the Jewish community, I usually keep politics off of the blog. None of my readers (and I literally mean that -- none) know how I'm going to vote tomorrow. This blog is not about politics -- if you want a Jewish opinion about U.S. politics, there are plenty of fine J-blogs that will give you an opinion from both sides of the spectrum.

That being said, it was reported today that Barack Obama's grandmother passed away today, one day before the election. My heartfelt condolences go out to the Obama and Dunham families. It must be very painful and bittersweet to have her pass away and just miss seeing her grandson possibly elected to the highest office in the land.

You'd think that anyone with common human decency could simply respect the fact that a family member passed away and that not trample on the feelings of family members who are in mourning. You'd also think that Jews, who are described as rachmanim, people who have mercy, could understand this even more. Alas, that's not always the case. On the YeshivaWorldNews thread where the news is reported is what has to be simply the most disgusting, bigoted and offensive comment thread I have ever had the displeasure of seeing. From insinuations that... nah, forget it. I don't even want to mention them -- that's how ugly they are.

For the record, I would like to state that I am utterly embarrassed and ashamed to belong to the same religion and species as some of the commentators there.

The Wolf

Update (5:57PM): The YWN editor has removed most of the objectionable comments. Most, but not all.

Update (6:32PM): The rest of the hateful comments have been removed. Thank you, YWN Editor.

The Wolf

More Shidduch Madness

I came across this interesting post on Semgirl about some of the madness that goes on in the shidduch world. We've all heard some of the silly and stupid reasons that result in shidduchim being called off. Well, I think Semgirl spotted a new all-time low. As she writes:

A friend of mine really worked overtime, laboriously for months, making a Shidduch. Boy likes girl, girl likes boy , blaaaa blaa, blaaa. Wonderful, they get engaged.

So far, so good, right? Of course not!

One set of in-laws was adamant that the Choson wear his payos up, the other was just as adamant that he wear them down. Ultimately, it proved to be such a bone of contention that the engagement was called off.

That's right... a difference of opinion amongst the in-laws regarding how the Chosson should wear his payos caused the shidduch to be called off. Now, I'm going to go out on a limb here and make the assumption that both the bride and groom are adults. I'm also going to go on the assumption (and I know that I'm making a real leap of faith here) that the groom has a prefernce in the way he wears them (how has he been wearing them until now?) and that the bride has the brain cells necessary to make a decision regarding how important an issue this is for her. But here we have a set of forty-to-sixty year olds arguing over how an adult is going to wear his payos!! This has to be the absolute stupidest reason for the breakup of a shidduch ever.

I find it completely incredible that people are willing to completely abdicate all responsibility for the biggest decision in their lives to others. Whom someone marries is probably the single decision that will have the greatest impact on the rest of the person's life. I'm not suggesting that young people should have to make this decision alone -- on the contrary, it would be the smart and responsible thing to do to seek the guidence of parents, friends, mentors and other people whom you trust. But to *completely* hand over such responsibility to the point where the the in-laws are arguing over payos? What was the bride's opinion on the matter? Isn't this something that they could have worked out amongst themselves (or broken it off by themselves if, for whatever reason, this was a deal-breaker)? Heck, isn't this the type of thing she would have seen on the first date?! Since they went out several times (yes, an assumption on my part) and this wasn't an issue for her before the engagement, I'm assuming that to her it wasn't an issue. Yet, rather than acting like an adult and telling her parents (in a respectful manner, of course) that she doesn't care one way or the other, or that she'll work it out with him, she decides to let her parents scuttle the shidduch!

At least in this case, according to Semgirl, there was a happy ending:

After much heated negotiation and mediation, they got back together. Even though, the Shadchan was in Israel on business, they were cajoled into proceding , as its such a volatile situation, it was too risky to wait . I kid you not.

One wonders what sort of "heated negotiation" there could be regarding payos. But then again, I guess because I'm not in that world, I just can't understand the insanity.

The Wolf

Related Posts:
Singles -- Learn To Think For Yourselves!
Shidduch Silliness