Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year-End Round-Up: The Best Of The Wolf in 2009.

Last year, I did a round of all my best posts for 2008 and thought I should do so again. So, here are (IMHO) my best posts in 2009. The ones I think are the best and most important are in bold.

Bans, Banning and Banners... and the attitudes they love

We all know that some factions of our community view technology as bad. As a result, they had the idea that a kid + Ipod can only have one result. I disagreed with that.

I firmly believe that the gedolim can no longer just issue bans or make rulings. They need to explain them as well.

If the gedolim are unwilling, unable or afraid to speak their opinions, are they truly gedolim (in the sense of communal leaders) anymore? I'm not so sure.

The Torah and "Proofs"

Is absolute proof of the Torah's truth required for observance? I don't think so.

Can you even question bad proof without it being a Chillul Hashem? I don't think so.

Don't start an argument you can't win -- which is more accurate? The Jewish calendar or the atomic clock?

The Chumra Monster's Coming To Get You!

Not content with foods with two hechsheirim, now we have milk with FOUR.

My very real fear about the dangers of retroactive conversion nullification and the fact that it will irreparably fragment the Jewish nation and spell the end of conversions as we know them.

When one segulah isn't enough -- it's time to sell the double segulah! Next up -- the Super Segulah Deluxe!

There must be something in the water in Lakewood. People leaving anonymous notes about nees [sic] showing and snoods not being dignified. But that's peanuts compared to this one where the letter writer comes close to being a false prophet (while being completely insensitive and boorish at the same time)

Tznius... When does it go too far?

Women are told not to cry at funerals. Right or wrong?

At least one seminary in Israel is teaching their girls that brides shouldn't wear makeup on their wedding day. Silly me... I could have sworn that brides were *supposed to* look beautiful on their wedding day...

If it wasn't so sad, it would be comedy... A phone center opens up to employ chareidi women in Israel. Said phone center takes calls, among other things, for pharmaceutical companies. Then, when the women get calls about drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, they consider the calls obscene.

Tznius.. .the princess or the prostitute. Is there no middle ground? How to lose your audience in the first sentence of your speech.

Do risque fashions in the larger community in which we live save the mitzvah of tznius?

Should we be rude to men/women because of tznius? Am I a deviant because I say "thank you," "I'm sorry" or "good morning" to women? I don't think so. Others, however, disagree with me (although they stop short of calling me a deviant).

Skewed World Views

Remember when Dr. Mazeltov Borukhova was convicting of hiring a hit man to kill her estranged husband? Naturally, some people said that it was a frame job. Which led to an interesting discussion over the rights of U.S. to try Jews at all.

A yeshiva rejects a child with Down's Syndrome. Not because the school can't accommodate the kid's disability. Not because the kid isn't capable of being a member of the class -- but rather because of what people might say about the school.

Some believe that stealing from the government isn't the same as stealing from "people." And they say this unashamedly and with a straight face.

Judaism... oh yeah, that *is* what this blog is about, right?

A discussion on the fact that the Torah is eternal and does not change, but Judaism does.

An interesting set of lecuters about the Jewish books that were composed between the time of Tanach and Chazal.

Lately, I've been very depressed about, among other things, the state of the frum world.


Mechanchim are given the opportunity to meet with the gedolim and ask tough questions about chinuch. Did they use the opportunity wisely? I don't think so.

Urban Legends, Irrational Thinking and Other Miscellaneous Stuff

Non Sequitur shows us what science is like, fundamentalist style.

Were the Kennedys cursed by a gadol? Or if they were, was the curse effective? I'm not convinced.

Does the Vatican have the Temple Vessels? I don't think so.

If you're going to get a tattoo in Hebrew, at least get a Hebrew speaker to proofread it *before* you have it done.

Some people believe that ignorance = stupidity. If we say that a sage was ignorant of a fact, does that mean that we're saying he's stupid? I don't think so.

Apparently, there is a boy in my shul who looks up to and admires me.


A common sense shidduch suggestion. I'm sure it's doomed to failure.

Shidduch madness -- parental interference and potential honesty all rolled into one.

Yes, we're not immune to stupidity

The absolute, hands-down, best reason why frum Jews should discard science.

What's the hallmark of a "goy?" Ah, yes, the lack of achdus. Pot meet kettle.

Someone thinks we should toss out religious protections in the workplace. After all, they interfere with our frum lifestyle.

Is there a post of mine that you liked that you think I missed? Let me know...

The Wolf

I'll Have The Shwarma With A Side Order Of Gears & Screws...

Spotted on East 16th Street in Brooklyn:

The Wolf

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Standards In Marriage, or Is Their Marriage Inherently Bad?

There is an interesting discussion going on over at One Frum Skeptic. She was speaking with a kollel wife who delineated her husband's daily schedule (Shabbos and Yom Tov aside). In short, he goes to kollel early in the morning, comes home late at night (11PM) and is home during the day for a brief period during breakfast and for an hour or so during dinner. Other than that, he's out learning at kollel all day. As OFS puts it:

This lady who was telling me, has spent her entire married life, seeing her husband with these teeny amount of hours... meaning their first year of marraige.

I cannot fathom how a marraige can possibly function properly, if the couple sees each other soooo seldomly. Especially the first year of marraige... how in the hell can they possibly get to know each other, with hours like that? Can one even say they're living with each other, or just AROUND each other like roommates?

I responded in the comments section that it is important to discern if the woman was telling OFS about her husband's schedule or if she was *complaining* about it. The difference, I think, is critical, because if she's not complaining, and assuming she's happy (or at least content) with the arrangement, then who cares how many hours he's away from home?

I've learned that not all marriages are equal. For example, Eeees and I are very "touchy-feely" in our marriage. We openly hold hands in public. We don't have a problem expressing intimacy (within limits, of course) in front of our children or even others. And personally, I can't imagine a marriage that doesn't have that.

And yet, I have relatives whose marriage is NOT like that. They are far more reserved in their conduct. They would never hold hands in public. They would never kiss each other in front of their kids (let alone me). And you know what? They're fine with that. Their marriage seems to be working for them. Do I find it a bit odd? Yeah, but so what? It's not *my* marriage -- it's theirs.

The same could apply here. Assuming that the wife that OFS was talking to is happy/content with the situation, then what's the big deal? Yeah, I might not want my marriage to run that way, but it's not *my* marriage that we're talking about here -- it's theirs --- and if they're happy with it, then so be it.

Interestingly enough, I got a bit of flack for that over at OFS. One person accused me of going for an "ignorance is bliss" attitude. My response is that in some cases, ignorance may, indeed, be bliss.

Mlevin, who sometimes comments here, said:

I really hate "If they are happy" excuse. It has been used to defend the ignorant lifestyle of chassidim/ultra frum who do not know anything about outside world and therefor don't know what they are missing. I heard this excuse used to justify poverty in Bangladesh, if these people are happy without getting electricity on regular basis or good food or regular health care who are we to judge. They are happy after all.

I think we could use the same excuse about slavery. If slaves are happy with their lot, because they don't know any better, why do we need to outlaw it, especially since others benefit from it?

Aside from the fact that I think making the comparison to slavery (where human rights are violated) is unfair, I think that this, too, is wrong. Take the statement:

It has been used to defend the ignorant lifestyle of chassidim/ultra frum who do not know anything about outside world and therefor don't know what they are missing.

Well, guess what? The same could be said about the swinger lifestyle. Eeees and I have only slept with one person each -- each other. Neither of us have had any other partners. Perhaps we should start swinging? After all, what do we know from the swinger lifestyle? Perhaps we're missing something?

Maybe we are. Perhaps we're missing the most exciting sexual experiences of our lives. But so what? That's what we want* out of our marriage. We *want* to be faithful to each other and if it means sacrificing some other pleasures, then so be it. That's our choice and that's what makes us happy.

The same could be said with regard to OFS's friend. It's not a marriage I would select for myself. But as long as she isn't complaining and is happy/content, then who are we to interfere? Who are we to say that because we're incapable of imaging a successful marriage that way that we're going to legislate that couples must spend X hours together every day?

The Wolf

* Halachic considerations aside. Even if we did not keep halacha, I can't imagine being with someone else.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Please Read This Article!

I'm fairly sure that everyone who reads my blog also reads Rabbi Maryles's blog, but just in case, I wanted to point everyone to a guest post written by Rabbi Yossi Ginzberg on Da'as Torah and Da'as Ba'alei Batim in modern times.

It's rare that I do "see this" posts, but I felt that this one is well worth the read.

The Wolf

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's Very Depressing

I'm sure you've probably noticed that over the last month or so I've been posting more infrequently than I used to. Over the last three months of 2009, I haven't had a single month where I put up ten posts.

I suppose a large part of the "blame" for this comes from the fact that I've just found the news that comes out of the Jewish community so... depressing... of late. Whether it be this scandal or that scandal, or some group of zealots trying to force their (usually distorted) version of Judaism on everyone else, the simple sinas chinam (baseless hatred) that comes out some camps, or the various "crises" -- real and manufactured -- that plague our communities, and a dozen other various little things -- it's all just depressing -- and it gets tiring seeing the same things happen over and over. One would hope that we would learn from our mistakes. But that doesn't seem to happen with us -- we merely blunder along from one disaster to another and lurch from one crisis to the next. And it's very depressing.

We are a splintered people, who seem to be flying further and further apart as the days progress. This group doesn't trust this hechsher, this group doesn't like that group's geirim. This one's bais din isn't good enough for the other. This one's definition of tznius isn't good enough for the other one, to the point where people are beating women in the street. This group's for the eruv, this one's against it. This group says that people who work aren't really keeping the Torah, that group says that communities who learn all day aren't living a proper life. And on and on. There's no unity among Orthodox Jews anymore -- to say nothing of the fact if we add in non-Orthodox Jews as well... and it's very depressing.

The press constantly reports on our misdeeds.* It seems like it's almost a weekly occurrence that you hear of a story in the mainstream press about a rabbi who embezzled or otherwise stole money, or molested a kid, or otherwise betrayed the trust of the community. It seems like we hear story after story about segments of the Jewish community trying to impose their standards on non-observant Jews or non-Jews, or trying to run roughshod over the rights and/or sensibilities of those same people. Yes, nothing truly illegal was done with regard to the Williamsburg bike lanes, or the East Ramapo school board, or any of the other cases -- but they still paint us in a very bad light... and it's very depressing.

We no longer seem to have any leadership. Sometimes our leadership acts wrongly and rashly -- without attempting to discern the facts before issuing rulings and bans. Sometimes our leadership is manipulated into acting a certain way by community zealots -- proving to all that they are not, in fact, leaders. Sometimes our leaders have strong convictions but are afraid to express them** for fear of being labeled "fake gedolim," once again showing that they are not true leaders. And, what's worse, the prospects for true leadership are very dim. Not because there aren't capable people who may be able to do the job, but because we are so fractured as a nation that one group won't accept the authority of another group's leadership -- no matter how capable and learned the person in question may be***. Most groups will only accept "their" leader and anyone outside those daled amos is either outright passul (unfit) or else just second-class. And it's very depressing.

We're a community that seems to look for ways to make our lives more difficult. Not content with merely preventing teenage boys and girls from meeting, we have so overly complicated the shidduch system that it's almost a miracle anyone actually manages to get through the system and get married. We make our economic lives difficult by not only demanding a yeshiva education (K-12) for our sons and daughters**** but then complicating it by making a year or two of learning in Israel practically de riguer. Far too many of us play "keeping up with the Jonses" when we just simply don't have the financial capability to do so. We make our communal lives more difficult by demanding that now every possible policy have "Da'as Torah" behind it and an array of rabbinic approbations. We seem to have surrendered any notion of independent thought, reducing us all to merely actors who must follow pre-ordained scripts in every aspect of our lives no matter how minute. And it's very depressing.

We've become a nation of self-appointed judgers. This one's kids can't play with the other one's because they're not of the same group. This woman must be bad -- her skirt is only at the knee and she's not wearing stocking in ninety degree weather. This yeshivish guy must be an idiot to decide to call his Rebbe and ask for advice on personal life matters. This one doesn't eat only cholov yisroel, that one doesn't wear the right type of hat by davening. This one wears a colored shirt, that one wears only black and white. This one davens in a shul where the mechitza is only seven and a half feet high, that one davens in a shul where they sing more of the davening, this one davens in a shul where the rav wears a knitted yarmulke. This one's cousin went off the derech, so there must be a problem in the family, that one's uncle is on the derech, but doing time in Otisville. This one's kids go to a co-ed yeshiva (does it even then qualify as a yeshiva?) and this one's goes to a yeshiva where secular studies are a joke. We can't have this girl in our school because she's a Sephardi. We can't have that boy because his father doesn't learn six hours every day. We look at our fellow Jews and find them wanting for not following our own derech -- too far to the left or the right and find fault (and, yes, I too have been guilty of this) and look down on them with disdain. And it's very depressing.

Unfortunately, I don't have the answers to any of these problems. I really wish I did, but I don't -- and nor do I think that anyone else does. And that, too, is very depressing.

The Wolf

* I'm not saying that our misdeeds should be kept hush-hush.

** Yes, I'm well aware of the irony of an anonymous blogger taking leadership to task for being afraid to express their convictions -- but then again, I am NOT a community leader and I don't have the same responsibility to the community that they have.

*** I've always had a pet theory regarding Moshiach. I've always felt that a sure sign that someone is Moshiach is that he's able to get all Jews to agree that he's the leader. If anyone can do that, he *has* to be Moshiach.

**** I'm not saying that this is a bad thing either.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dei'ah veDibur -- Are They Allowed To Have A Website?

As many of you know, the chareidi gedolim issued a ban on chareidi websites. At least two prominent sites -- Etrog and Chareidim, are closing their doors. One site that is not is Dei'ah veDibur, the website of the Israeli Yated.

Mordechai Plaut, the editor of DvD (heh, how's that for an acronym) put out the following statement concerning the ban and their website:

Statement about Dei'ah Vedibur

The focus of the campaign of the Gedolim against chareidi Internet sites is directed at the forums and blogs that are conducted on an anonymous basis for fun and profit.

Dei'ah Vedibur is the opposite of these. I am fully identified. The site is run on with a low-key style with the aim of informing about the issues that affect the chareidi community. The site has no advertising and no one benefits in any material way if there are more or fewer viewers.

We do not wish, by our presence, to be seen as in any way endorsing or encouraging use of the Internet.

Mordecai Plaut

OK, so Mordechai Plaut basically gives himself a pass because he doesn't make any money and is not anonymous. However, when I look at the translation of the ban that DvD put up, I see nothing that says that a site is exempted if it's owner is identified, if it's low-key or if it doesn't generate revenue. Their main concerns of the organizers of the ban are slander, lies, possible denigration of talmidei chachomim and increasing machlokes (dispute).

They then go on to state:

Even if these sites were free of all of the above prohibitions, they lead people to use the Internet, which is impure and has led to the downfall of numerous Jews.

and (bolding theirs)

These channels must be uprooted and removed from our midst.

I think it's pretty clear. Based on my reading of the ban, I don't see how DvD is exempted from this. I don't see how a site is exempted simply because they are low-key, non-anonymous or have no advertising. Or am I missing something?

The Wolf

(P.S. Personally, I think it's a good thing that DvD continues to operate -- for the chareidim's sake. As a commentator on YWN pointed out (comment #5), the internet is here to stay. By forcing two "clean" sites (Etrog and Chareidim) to close, the chareidim who are going to use the internet are only going to go to other sites which have far more objectionable content [from the chareidi point of view]).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mind Boggling Comment of the Day...

OnionSoupMix put up a post about a Spinka fundraising letter that went out. The Spinka yeshivos are facing some financial difficulties due to the financial improprieties of it's leadership.

In response to OSM's post, a poster named Mindy went on to state that the only reason the yeshiva was financially viable was because they were defrauding the government*. Now that they can't do so anymore, they need to find alternative sources of income. A poster responded to Mindy that aside from the financial harm, there is also the fact that the Spinka Rebbe probably taught the kids (if not in words then certainly through his deeds) that tax fraud is perfectly acceptable.

Mindy's response:

and I still dont consider tax fraud stolen money. He committed a crime against the US govt, he didtn still from people.

Words just fail me on this one. Money gained through tax fraud isn't stolen money because it's not stolen from "people?" The government IS the people. The government of the United States is owned by me, by Mindy and by every other U.S. citizen all over the world. When you steal from the government, you have the unique opportunity to steal from over 300 million people at once.

How a frum Jew comes to this type of mentality (that stealing from the government isn't the same as stealing from "people") is just mind boggling.

The Wolf

* I have no idea whether that's true or not.

Are The Inmates Running The Asylum?

R. Jonathan Rosenblum has a column on Cross Currents dealing with the issue of whether or not the current kollel situation is sustainable in light of the crushing poverty that it brings to the chareidi Israeli community. In it, he argues that the "everyone in kollel" was meant to rebuild the Jewish community that was destroyed by the Holocaust and that, at this point, that task is complete. Perhaps the time has come, he argues, to tell people to go to work and that only the best and the brightest, the ones who are willing to dedicate themselves to serving the community and who have the potential to be the next generation of leaders be allowed to continue in kollel indefinitely.

One reader took him to task on this asking if his position is backed up by any of the current gedolim. R. Rosenblum noted that there was no such proclamation from the gedolim and he provided two reasons for that. The second reason is as follows:

There is another reason that there will be no such public statements. Any such statement would be met with vicious attacks by the “kenaim,” who would say about the gadol in question precisely what KollelGuy asks me: Who are you? The Chazon Ish did not say what you are saying; Rav Shach did not say it.” Perhaps KollelGuy remembers the attacks on one of the Sages he mentions for his tacit support of Nahal Chareidi. (Even Rav Shach used to say that he was afraid of the stone-throwers.) One of the members of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States told me recently that the gedolim cannot even discuss questions surrounding poverty because if they did the “street” would just label them fake gedolim.

I find this rather frightening. I thought central idea of chareidi life was that they are supposed to listen to the words of the gedolim. If the gedolim are afraid to express their opinions about the right and wrong derech, then of what value are they? We might as well just have mob rule (or is that, in effect, what we have already?).

Now, this may sound a bit strange coming from me. After all, a while ago, I suggested that the gedolim need to be accountable to their constituents. But I think that there is a qualitative difference between what I called for and what is going on (according to R. Rosenblum) in chareidi society.

I don't necessarily have a problem with a gadol saying that X is forbidden or that Y is bad -- provided that he can explain to us why it is so. In short, the days of a gadol saying "X is assur" and leaving it at that are done and gone. Today's public needs to be informed as to the reasons behind the decrees of the gedolim if they are going to listen to them. But in the end, I expect a gadol to speak up if he feels something needs to be said for the good of the community -- whether popular or unpopular. If he feels that everyone needs to be in kollel, then he has to say so -- and articulate why. If he feels that the kollel system we have now is crushing the populace and unsustainable, then he needs to say so -- regardless of the consequences -- and, again, articulate why that's the case. But a gadol who is afraid to speak for fear of losing his position and is willing to allow countless people to continue suffering from crushing poverty for the sake of not being labeled a "fake gadol" is already a fake gadol.

The Wolf

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Still Here

Nope, the blog's not abandoned.

However, I have been sick for the past week and a half. On top of that, I'm in the middle of finals. And on top of that, I'm suffering from a bit of writer's block. But I hope to have something new shortly.

The Wolf

Monday, November 23, 2009

ShidduchVision... What's Right and What's Wrong

It seems that there's been a bit of hoopla over the opening of the first ShidduchVision center in Lakewood. The purpose of ShidduchVision, as stated on its website, is as follows:



(Yes, it's in ALL CAPS).

OK, I grant that there might be a few upsides to this: It allows for a guy/girl who come from out-of-town to see each other first before making a long trip in. Sometimes dates will fizzle just based on looks alone, and this will allow some people to avoid wasting travel time and money on dates that just won't lead anywhere.

I suppose that it might help with a guy/girl who is brand new to dating and nervous about spending a few hours alone (or as alone as you can be in a hotel lobby) with a guy/girl. This might prove to be a less threatening atmosphere by which the two can meet for the first time. Hopefully, after they've broken the ice, s/he will be more comfortable meeting in person.

There may be other positive developments as well. However, when I read the FAQ of ShidduchVision, I get a very uneasy feeling -- one that tells me that despite however well-intentioned this is meant to be, it will end up warping the dating process even more than it is already warped.

Consider the following "features" of the Shidduch Vision system:

In differentiating themselves from simple webcam usage, the SV site states:

With webcams there is no control involved, so singles who ‘date’ via webcam are working outside of the Shidduch system.

Huh? What "controls" are involved? Is there a monitor listening in to the conversation to make sure it doesn't stray from the straight and narrow? I don't believe that to be the case, based on the other FAQs. So then, what sort of "control" is there? And how is doing so "outside the Shidduch system?" If a duly-recognized Shadchan sets up a couple and privately arranged a webcam meeting then that's "outside the Shidduch system?" How is it any worse than if the Shadchan actually sent them on a physical date?

The FAQs also constantly emphasize the "znius" and "kedusha" of the dating system. Of course, if you think about it, considering that the couple are now totally alone in an isolated environment (certainly more isolated than a hotel lobby), perhaps it's possible that something inappropriate might be shown or discussed. The FAQs cover that as well:

Although inappropriate behavior is extremely unlikely, it could possibly happen (as indeed, it could on a traditional face-to-face date). Therefore we have put a reporting system in place so that anyone reported (by the single or Shadchan) to have acted in an inappropriate manner will be have their privileges of using the ShidduchVision™ system revoked permanently, and will be reported to his/her Rebbi/Rebetzin, etc. We will have zero tolerance for such issues.

Of course, if both parties wish to engage in ribaldry, then there is no way to catch them (officially). The system presented above relies on one party to report the other. Since the couple in the Shidduch Vision booth is now *more* isolated than they'd be in a hotel lobby, I would think that this presents more of an opportunity for inappropriate things to be said/seen.

Another concern I have is in the consequences involved for inappropriate behavior. The FAQ states that if one party acts inappropriately, s/he will have his SV privliges revoked and be reported to his/her Rebbi/Rebetzin. I have two major concerns with this:

1. Since when did Loshon Hara and public shaming become permissible -- even if the accusation is true?
2. Considering the fact that the conversation is not recorded and that no one is supposed to be monitoring it, how can anyone's charge be substantiated? Ultimately, it must come down to a he said/she-said. And without any proof at all they're going to embarrass the person in front of their rebbi/rebetzin and quite possibly ruin future shidduch possibilities?

Lastly, I have a concern on how this might become part of the "chumra creep" that is encompassing many of our communities. As I said at the top of the post, there are certain positives about this system and it can serve a useful purpose in a limited set of circumstances. What I am afraid of, however, is that this is going to go from being a useful tool to being the popular, then the norm and finally de rigueur. Do you think that in ten years or so a person will be looked down upon for going on a "physical" date right away without doing Shidduch Vision? I think it's a real possibility. I'm afraid that this will become just another "layer" of dating and another "rule" that singles have to follow, lest they be shunned. And the last thing we need to do is make the shidduch dating even more complicated and cumbersome than it is now.

The Wolf

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Important Message From R. Yaakov Horowitz and R. Benzion Twerski About Suicide

By now I'm sure you've all heard about the tragic death of Motti Borger and the factors that presumably led up to what happened to him. Since this is a fairly high profile event in our community, Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz and Rabbi Benzion Twerski fear that there may be copycat suicide attempts. As a result, Rabbi Horowitz asked that the following be published:

This essay will appear in next week’s Jewish Press. Generally, as per my arrangement with The Jewish Press, I do not post columns until the issue is on the newsstand. However, due to the nature and timeliness of this subject, The Jewish Press is permitting its release prior to publication as a public service.

Abuse Survivors; Please Do Not Suffer Alone

By: Dr. Benzion Twerski and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz

In recent days, reports have circulated in the media and on the Internet about the tragic early passing of yet another young man in our community. Those reports indicate that the trauma of childhood abuse followed him and complicated his adult life to the point that it impinged on the quality of his personal relationships.

It is not the intent of these lines to substantiate these reports nor is it to dismiss them. Rather, we wish to use the opportunity presented by this horrible calamity and the dialogue it has created on the internet and in the street to once again loudly and forcefully reiterate the message we have been projecting for many years to victims of abuse – “Please reach out for help and do not suffer alone.”

For even in the event that the facts as reported in this particular tragedy are not accurate, they are most certainly consistent with the pattern we have unfortunately seen over and over again, where victims of childhood abuse go through unspeakable agony as they attempt to singlehandedly deal with the toxic aftereffects of the trauma they suffered in their formative years. We have each encountered numerous instances where untreated childhood abuse follows victims into adulthood, shredding their marriages and rendering them often incapable of entering into a loving and intimate relationship with their spouses until a trained mental health professional helps them sort things out. We have each been involved with more than a few childhood abuse victims who became addicted to heroin and/or cocaine, in an unsuccessful attempt to wash away the searing pain of their trauma. We have each paid more than a few shiva calls to families of abuse victims, who years and even decades later took their own lives.

There are a number of reasons why abuse victims would not avail themselves of intervention and assistance. Some are understandably reluctant or frightened to share the facts of their abuse with others. Others, who did have the courage to confide in adults in their lives were encouraged or intimidated into remaining silent – especially if the perpetrator is a respected individual or a close family member. This sends a horrible message to the victim – that he or she has done something that cannot see the light of day. The result is a that a never-ending video loop now plays in the mind of the victim, as societal pressure abuses them again and again, by forcing them to remain silent and unsupported.

There are many events that simultaneously involve more than one “system.” For example, when one gets arrested for driving under the influence which caused injuries or death, there are criminal penalties for drunk driving and financial reparations due for the damages caused. However, neither of these tracks deals with the fact that the perpetrator has a drinking problem. Courts realize they cannot treat alcoholism, as revoking licenses, impounding cars, and even jail terms will not prevent recidivism – especially if treatment is warranted but not followed.

Various efforts have been undertaken in recent years – all of which are necessary – in the arenas of prevention, education, training, and the need for reporting. And we both have proudly participated in many of them. However, despite the fact that these initiatives and the awareness they generate are often soothing to past abuse victims, none of these help them regain their footing. Only therapy by a licensed and trained professional can accomplish that.

We are therefore reaching out to anyone who was ever abused or molested in their childhood years and begging you to please do yourself the ultimate favor and get help.

Therapy may not solve all issues in your life, but it will do much to make your future brighter and filled with greater promise. In fact, many survivors thrive and build beautiful lives for themselves and their families following successful treatment.

It may be true that some people are resilient and survive with little apparent damage (apparent is the operative word). However, this is not the norm, and with the dangers involved, we would not recommend that you even risk this small chance. So; for your sake, and for the sake of your spouse and children, please, please get help.

This may mean several things:

  1. Contact a mental health professional who is experienced in counseling trauma victims. (I strongly feel that well-intentioned individuals like me, who do not have professional training in abuse treatment, are not equipped to deal with these issues and should limit our involvement to supporting the efforts of the professionals, and steering those who seek our guidance in these matters directly to them. Y.H.)
  1. Get information about trauma and its effects.
  1. Connect with other victims/survivors. The camaraderie and support are invaluable.

We strongly suggest that you ignore those who inform you, that getting married and starting a family will help you, “Get over it.” Experience has taught us that it will often complicate things rather than heal them.

Please, please do not suffer alone. Reach out for help today.

In closing, we offer you our sincere and heartfelt bracha that Hashem grant you menuchas hanefesh and simchas hachayim (tranquility and joy) in your lives.

© 2009 Dr. Benzion Twerski and Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz is a regular columnist in The Jewish Press. Dr. Benzion Twerski is a renowned and much sought-after mental health professional who holds a Ph.D. in psychology from University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Twerski has been one of the leading voices in our community on the issue of child abuse for more than a decade. He lives and practices in Brooklyn, N.Y. and can be reached at

The Wolf

So, I Guess Religious Protections In the Workplace are Bad...

VIN has a story about four women who are suing B&H Photo. The women are alleging that they were denied promotion opportunities for "religious reasons."

I don't want to comment on the specifics of the suit because, frankly, I have no idea what went down. I don't know if the suit truly has merit or not.

What I find interesting (and appalling) are some of the comments on the VIN story. There are those who are defending B&H based on rules of tznius. Others maintain that a frum company should be able to hire only Jews. Among the comments:

So a yid who wants to have a business where he can be shomer torah umitzvos can't do it. He must hire women, he must give benefits to gay partners, soon they will claim he discriminates because he doesn't allow the employees to work on Shabes and Yomtov.

let us create business for our people, what's wrong with that, is it too much common sense?

Why is not allowing woman because of religious reasons wrong? we don't discriminate because of "hate" it's because of "moral values".

What I find ironic about all this is that these people would probably be the first ones screaming "discrimination" if they applied for a job and were turned down for "religious reasons." Imagine the (rightful) hue and cry if they were turned down for a job because the owner felt it was "moral" to provide jobs to his fellow Baptists. Or imagine the story that would come about if a MO seforim store owner only provided jobs or promotions to those who were openly Zionist?

I find it just mind-boggling that people can so quickly forget that the laws that protect others from discrimination based on solely religious grounds protect them as well. Everyone loves to tell over the stories about how Jews were hard pressed to keep Shabbos 100 years ago because jobs required them to work on Saturdays. I can't count the number of times I heard stories of Jews who had to find new jobs every week because they would be fired weekly for refusing to show up on Saturday. We've become so "spoiled" by our ability to take off for Yom Tov and leave early on Fridays in the winter and our right to not be discriminated against that we take those freedoms for granted. Perhaps some people need to be reminded that the same laws that protect their ability to maintain both religious practice and the ability to earn a livelihood protect others as well. At the very least the person who made the following comment should be reminded of history.

We don't need anti-discrimination laws, and they have done us far more harm than help. All we need is for the LAW to treat everyone equally, and to leave people alone to do as they please.

Yeah, that's what we need... a throwback to the world where employees have no protection for their religious beliefs at all.

The Wolf

Friday, November 06, 2009

Bad Hebrew Tattoos.

I spent a fair portion of Thursday at the AdTech trade show. While I was there, I saw a person with Hebrew lettering tattooed on his forearm. The tattoo consisted of three words, and while the lettering was clearly Hebrew, I couldn't make out the words.

Then I realized what I was seeing -- the tattoo was backwards!

Once I realized that, I was able to read the first two words -- Elo-(h)-im Shel -- but I still couldn't make out the third word.

You might think that bad Hebrew tattooing doesn't happen very often -- but you'd be wrong. There is, in fact, a blog dedicated to bad Hebrew tattoos -- which includes misspellings, horrible transliterations, backwards words, incorrect (or nonsense) words being used, and all other sorts of possible errors. You'd think that if you were going to go to the trouble of having a foreign word permanently tattooed on your skin -- and (because more often than not when Hebrew is used it has a religious theme) it has some deeper meaning for you, you would double and triple check to make sure that everything is correct.

I considered telling the guy at the show about the tattoo, but then decided against it. I figured that one of the following were probably true:

1. He already knew about it.
2. He didn't know about it, but neither did anyone he hung out with.
3. He didn't know, but since it was done already, there was no point in making him feel bad about the mistake.

The Wolf

UPDATE: A little research has turned up what has to be the worst Hebrew lettered tattoo of all time -- the one belonging to Danielle Lloyd.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Give A Pint... Have Some Dinner... See The Wolf - TONIGHT

I had a nice time by the Tweet-Up last night. I got to meet Shlomo, Heshy, Moshe and Jacob Da Jew for the first time. Nice job putting it together Heshy!

Tonight, a friend of mine is hosting his fourth annual birthday blood drive... and I'll be there dropping off a pint and I hope lots of you come too. Donating blood is a great thing to do. If that's not enough to get you there, how about free food?

So come on by, donate a pint, have some food and say hi to me. I'll be the one with fur and a snout.

The blood drive is at:
Congregation Mayan Yisroel
3307 Avenue N (between East 33 and East 34)
Brooklyn, NY.
5:00 - 9:00 (although I won't be there before 7:00 at the earliest.)

The Wolf

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Wolf Sightings

I'm going to be out and about this week -- so if you want to come meet me,* feel free.

The first event will be on Wednesday, Nov 4. Since I work in the neighborhood, I'll probably stop by at the Jewish Tweetup (they say bloggers are welcome too) at the 92Y Tribeca at 200 Hudson Street. The event is called for 5:30-7:30. I can't be there at the start, but at some point I'll probably swing by and say hello to people.

The second event will be the next day -- Thursday Nov 5. A fellow that I know arranges a blood drive every year for his birthday. I've given a pint for the last few years and I'll be dropping off a pint of W+ (W for Wolf, of course) blood. The event will be at:

Cong. Mayan Yisroel
3307 Avenue N
Thursday, Nov 5
5:00 - 9:00

Come on down and give a pint. I'll be there (although not before 7:00 at the earliest). And if that doesn't get you to come, how about the idea of FREE FOOD! In past years he's had deli sandwiches... and I have no reason to believe that this year will be any different.

The Wolf

* Provided you can identify me, of course.

Monday, November 02, 2009

THE NUMBER and My Irrational (or is it?) Fear...

Eeees and I are now in the process of looking for high schools for our two children (a boy and a girl) who are graduating elementary school this year. That means that next year we will have three high-schoolers at once (including Walter, who is already in high school).

Part of the process that we are going through is attending the open houses that various schools have. We've already pretty much narrowed the prospects down to about two or three schools for each kid. However, as we attend the various open houses and get the information for each school, the thing that strikes the greatest fear into our hearts is the number. You know which number I mean -- THE NUMBER -- the one with a dollar sign in front of it, followed by five digits and then the decimal point. Usually, the first digit is a 1, but sometimes, after transportation and all the other "miscellaneous" extras are added in, that first digit could easily blossom into a 2.

I did a rough, off-the-cuff calculation and figured that, at full tuition, we're looking at about $55-60 thousand dollars next year in tuition. I don't mind telling you that this is *significantly* higher than what we are paying now and there is simply not the room in the budget for it. Short of us winning the lottery, it ain't happening - at least not if we want to keep eating. Perhaps in about two years, after Eeees and I both graduate from grad school such a sum might be possible, but for now? No - it's just too large a sum to include into our budget along with the other required expenses. That being said, we'll be applying for tuition breaks from all three schools (yes, it'll be three different schools).

Have you ever had a fear that was completely irrational -- and yet, you were still afraid? For example, when I was a younger pup, I had a horrible fear of vampires. Eeees and several freinds can vouch for the fact that I didn't do very well when we watched The Lost Boys together many years ago. The fear was completely irrational -- there was a 0% chance of my actually being attacked at any time by a vampire -- but nonetheless, I was terrified.

Well, I have a tuituion fear that is probably irrational, but certainly has a greater chance of happening than being attacked by a vampire. What is that fear? Very simply, the fear is that when we apply for tuition breaks from the schools, they will simply tell us no -- that we should get the other two schools to give us breaks. "Why should we subsidize your sending your other son/daughter to a different school?" is what I'm afraid I'm going to hear. School A will tell me to get a break from B and C -- B will say to ask A and C and C will tell me to go to A & B. In the end, no one reduces their tuition and that's that.

Yeah, I know... in reality they will (hopefully?) take other tuitions into account. But this irrational fear actually sometimes keeps me up at night. Anyone else have any experience in this area? Is my fear truly irrational? Or am I headed for a big heap of financial trouble next year?

The Wolf

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I Don't Know What's Sadder...

So, here's the scene...

-- A sizable portion of the male chareidi population in Israel learns all day and does not work.
-- Charieidi families, like all other families, need to purchase food, clothing, etc.
-- Due to various factors (education, the economy in general, etc.), it is difficult even for chareidi women to find employment.
-- Chareidim (like all other communities) want to boost employment in their community.

With me so far? Good, because here's where it starts to get tricky.

-- The chairman of the Shas party arranges for a government call center to open near where chareidim live and employ chariedi women in Northern Israel.
-- Said government call center handles various different services, including health care organizations and pharmacies.

So, the calls start coming in. The women answer them, direct them to where they are supposed to go, whatever. Services are being provided and the women bring home a check, and all is right with the world.

Of course, I wouldn't be bringing this up if the story ended there. As you might expect, there is a fly in the ointment. As it turns out, some of the women have been getting calls regarding "virility pills." Older men are calling in asking questions about Viagara, Cialis or some of the other erectile dysfunction medications that are available. This has caused some problems for the women who view the calls as indecent and obscene. While I suppose it is possible that some of the calls could be what you or I would truly call obscene, I'm willing to bet that the vast majority (if not all) of them were actual honest calls for information about treatment for a medical condition. Since the call center handles calls for medical organizations and pharmacies, such calls are probably to be expected. Rav Asher Idan describes just such a call:

“She answered a call that was supposed to go to a pharmacy,” recalls Rav Idan. “On the other end of the line was a man of about 60, who wanted advice on pills designed to increase virility. He asked her what it does. Because she was unfamiliar with the product he had to explain it to her and then proceeded to ask detailed questions. Only when she realized what he was referring to did she hang up on him.”

Rav Idan then proceeded to state that answering such calls when not in her husband's presence* is a violation of the prohibition of giluy arayos (sexual immorality).

I think it's quite sad that people who are calling a health center about a legitimate health concern are considered "obscene" and "indecent."

I think it's also quite sad that these women are so sheltered that they had no idea that erectile dysfunction exists.

I think it's also quite sad that discussing health matters in a professional setting is considered as violating the boundaries of sexual immorality.

The bottom line is that people should not work in fields where they are unsuited to work. For example, I know that despite the fact that I like to cook, I can never work as a chef in a fancy restaurant. Why? Because of the prohibition of cooking meat and milk together. It would be disingenous of me to look for employment in that field and then say "oh, I can't cook this dish" and "oh, I can't cook that dish." Employers should make reasonable accomodations for employees, but if a bona fide criterion for the job is going to interefere with your religion, then you simply cannot take the job. If these women feel that they cannot truly work in a health center because answering bona fide questions regarding male health issues is obscene/indecent, then they should not work there.

Or, perhaps better, they should learn that not everything relating to male sexuality is obscene -- and learn to handle such calls professionally.

That being said, I'd like to end the post on a lighter note. Here's what one "leading askan" said about the incident:

“Employing charedi women should not be taken for granted,” a leading askan in the North told Hebrew website NRG. “Because of modesty issues rabbonim do not recommend women work outside of the home – only in cases where the financial situation is pressing and the woman needs to go out and get a job. Such cases require halachic clarification and a she’elas rov.”

Isn't that priceless? They set up a system where men don't work, forcing the women to work. Now this guy wants to say that women should not work either -- unless they get a hetter (permission) from a rav. And all this in a call center that was set up specifically to emply chareidi women. Seriously, you can't make this stuff up.

The Wolf

* I'm not sure why it would be any better (or worse) if she answered such calls if her husband was there.

** Would they say it's obscene or indecent for one of them to call their male OB/GYNs with a gynecological question?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What Do You Do When There Is An Incentive To Be Irresponsible?

I have a friend (I'll call him Steve) who manages an IT group at a Midtown company. I don't know Steve's salary, but I have to imagine that he makes a decent salary -- certainly above the median for New York.

Steve also has three kids, the oldest of which is three years old. The kids are, obviously, not yet enrolled in a yeshiva, but at some point in the not too distant future they will be. I don't know where Steve would want to send his kids, but from what I know of him hashkafically and the location of his house (not in Brooklyn), I'm fairly certain that he'll be facing steep annual tuition bills. Assuming he has to pay his mortgage and other bills, it may well be beyond his ability to pay despite his above average salary.

For the moment, however, Steve's kids aren't yet in school. Steve is a pretty astute guy when it comes to finances. He's not a CPA, a financial planner or anything like that, but he has enough common sense and brains to be able to analyze a situation and a see what lies ahead in the future.

Let's assume (since I don't know this for sure) that Steve has the ability to put away some money from his job each month for savings. Simple logic would tell you that a person facing a long road of expenses in the future but with a current surplus would be wise to start putting away some money for that future expense. That's the entire basis of some of the various savings plans (IRA, 401(k), 529, etc.) that are out there - you put away now when you have excess to pay for a later expense (be it retirement, college education, etc.). So, if Steve can sock away a few hundred each month now to pay for yeshiva education for his kids later, he should do it. That would be the responsible thing to do.

The problem is that unless Steve's salary is very, very high, he actually has a disincentive to save.

If Steve's salary is very, very high, and he's able to carry the three tuitions in full (plus the tuitions of any other kids he may have in the future) in addition to his other expenses then he might have an incentive to save. But, in all probability, Steve does not have a salary quite that high. Three tuitions can easily add up to $25,000 a year or more -- quite a big hole in just about anyone's budget. So, in all probability, Steve (along with lots of other people) will be asking the yeshiva for a discount.

When Steve sees the financial aid application, there will probably be a question on there about how much he has stocked away in a savings account. Assuming that Steve has been responsible, he'll probably have been saving up and have a few thousand stashed away by the time his oldest hits first grade. The administrators will probably take this into account when they evaluate Steve's application for a reduction in tutition.

Now, Steve is an honorable, stand-up kind of guy. He's the type of guy who, if he could pay full tuition, would. He's not out to deliberately "cheat" the schools out of money that they owe. He's also not going to use the money that he would have otherwise put into the savings account to go on an expensive vacation, buy a big screen television, or go on a gambling trip to Atlantic City. He would put the money to use in ways that most of us would consider responsible -- he might pay off a high-interest credit card, or make an extra payment on his mortgage. But he probably can't help but notice the difference between himself and his less responsible neighbor - let's call him Mike.

Steve and Mike earn the same amount. Their houses are roughly the same price and they pay similar amounts in mortgages, bills, etc. Both have young children coming into the yeshiva in the next few years. Steve, being responsible, knows that he should begin saving now for the big upcoming expense. Mike, however, doesn't have a long-range vision. He knows that he's going to have to start paying tuition in a few years, but for now, it's not "on the books yet." He can take his discretionary income and spend it on whatever he needs or wants. So, Mike's family goes on a vacation this year -- because he knows that in a few years he won't be able to. He may purchase large-ticket discretionary items now. Heck, he may even be responsible and take the money and pay off his credit card bills. But whatever he uses it for, it's not going to be there when he enrolls his oldest in the local yeshiva.

Steve looks at Mike and his purchases and wonders to himself how he can buy these things. Doesn't he know that his kids have to go to yeshiva in a few years? He's just about positive that Mike doesn't have some outside source of income. He figures (correctly) that Mike isn't saving any money to pay for yeshiva in a few years. A casual conversation with Mike about the subject a few days later confirms his suspicions -- unless Mike hits the lottery in the next few years, he's planning on asking the tuition committee for a break on his kids' tuition when it's time to enroll.

Steve has to wonder to himself. He has the ability to make sacrifices to his lifestyle and to scrimp and save perhaps $30,000 over the next three years to pay tuitions. Of course, as the younger ones start enrolling and the savings account begins to deplete, he'll eventually have to ask for a tuition break himself - but for the first few years, if he really watches the pennies, he can probably pay the full tuition for his oldest. And that would be the honorable thing to do. But then he looks at Mike and thinks to himself -- "why should I save all that money when Mike will probably get a discount because he has no money in the bank? Why should I be "punished" financially for being responsible and being a roeh as haNolad*?" And so, Steve not only has no incentive to save -- he actually has a disincentive to save -- because if he does save, he'll either have to pay the entire tuition out of pocket or else the administrators will see the savings account on Steve's financial aid application and reduce his tuition based on the fact that he can draw on those savings.

In short, we've created a system where people are often rewarded for not being responsible and people end up worse off, financially, for doing the honorable thing and being responsible. And, perhaps, that's part of the problem that we have with the "tuition crisis" today.

The Wolf

* Literally "one who sees that which will be born." Figuratively -- somone with a longer-range vision than next week.

Furthermore, if what Steve hears about tuition committes are true, then he might be in even bigger trouble once the savings account is depleted and he has to start asking for a discount. Most committees are loathe, from what he hears, to give up their "full payers."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Princess and the Prostitute

Eeees and I were walking back from shul one Yom Tov morning when we passed by another shul in the neighborhood which we do not attend. As we passed by, she told me that the rebbetzin of the shul gave a speech to the women in the shul about their manner of dress in shul. Apparently, the key note of the speech was this: do you want to look like a princess or a prostitute?

Now, I know that some people might have a problem with the way some of the women dress in my neighborhood. Some of them might wear clothing that some would consider too tight. And, as the rebbetzin in the shul, I suppose she sincerely thought that she had some say in the matter, especially when it came to how they came dressed to shul.

Let's even say, for the sake of argument, that she was right -- the women dress in clothing that is too tight, perhaps the skirt is slightly above the knee (which, knowing the shul, I doubt), or the sheitel is too attractive. Nonetheless, I'd be willing to bet dollars to donuts that the women in my neighborhood do not, in fact, dress like prostitutes. There are many degrees of dress between princess (which, from the context, I'm assuming is code for tznius*) and prostitute.

In fact, I think that by framing the question this way, the rebbetzin probably lost most of her audience. Had she framed it in terms of a laxity in the spirit of tznius, her audience might have been able to internalize the message, seen how it applied to them and made the adjustments the rebbetzin was aiming for. But by framing it as "dressing like a prostitute," she probably lost them completely. The ladies attending the speech probably said to themselves "Well, that doesn't apply to me. I don't dress like a hooker!" and then proceeded to dismiss the rest of what she said.

The Wolf

* Although most of the formal gowns worn by European princesses certainly wouldn't qualify as tznius...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Spreading The Word

According to YWN, the wedding of Chani Kops & Shmuli Tevovitz tonight has suddenly been moved from Ateres Shlomo Hall to Ateres Chaya Hall (located at 1415 54th St) in Boro Park.

Just posting on the one in a million chance that a wedding goer reads my blog.

In case you know anyone going to the wedding, please pass along the info.

The Wolf

Podcast: When Is Passover this Year

My friend Zach Kessin (together with Rabbi Hillel Maizels) put together a podcast for 365 Days of Astronomy about the Jewish calendar titled "When Is Passover this Year Anyway?."


The Wolf

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Do Risque Fashions Save Tznius?

The laws of tznius, as they are applied to clothing and commonly understood by many in the "frummer" parts of the community, seem to be composed of two related rules:

1. A strict definition on what parts of the female body have to be covered. Collarbones, knees, elbows, etc.
2. An ideal that a woman should not draw attention to herself. The skintight evening gown that may cover her collarbones, elbows, knees, et al, is still no good if it leaves little of her figure to the imagination. The garment may be "kosher" from a covering point of view, but it still attracts attention to the wearer and is therefore forbidden.

However, it should be noted that whether or not an outfit is risque (and attractive) often depends on the surrounding culture. What was considered scandalous a hundred years ago might not even be shocking by today's standards. I don't think you would have seen anyone in Victorian England wearing a bikini at the beach -- and yet, today, it's considered normal beach attire* and is not shocking at all to most people.

I think that if you took all the fashions in contemporary America and graded them in terms of how much they reveal and how likely they are to find acceptence as "normal" within society, you'd find that they probably fall into a bell curve. The most attractive (and/or revealing) outfits would be at the right end of the scale. You'd probably find burquas at the left end. The curve would be the percentage of the population who felt that the particular outfit was in good taste. As you got closer to the average, the percentage of approvers would continue to rise. As you went further out to the sides, the number of approvers would fall.

Tznius, would, in essence, say that only outfits that fall within a certain middle region of the curve would qualify as tznius. Too far to the left and you're attacting attention for being too dowdy (think about the comments that the Beit Shemesh burqua lady was getting -- even before the more serious allegations came to light) and too far to the right and, well... you're just not tznius anymore. In the middle of all this is the average -- the golden mean which would be the norm. So, if you took all clothing in a given society and rated them on a scale of 1 to 100 for attractiveness (with 50 as the average -- the height of the curve), you'd find some outfits (like a burqua) rated at 1 or 2 and some (like a very revealing bikini) to be a 95 or 100. A reasonable rule might be that in order for an outfit to be considered compliant with the rules of tznius, it must fall into a certain range -- say 30 to 70. Anything over 70 is too attractive while anything under 30 is just so ugly/unusual that it draws attention.

Now, let's pretend, for a moment, that Orthodox Jews are the only people who exist on the planet -- or, barring that, that Orthodox Jews live in completely enclosed environments where they will never see a non-Orthodox Jew.

Since Orthodox Jews are the only ones in this society, the (assuming that no one will willfully violate tznius standards) only clothing that will exist is that which falls within that portion of the curve which is acceptable. In theory, the average (the top of the bell curve) will remain the same -- the only thing that will change is that the extreme portions of the curve (to the left and right) will disappear -- as those fashions will be outlawed. So, in our Torah compliant society, only outfits rated 30 to 70 would exist.

The problem here, however, is that attractiveness (as opposed to objective rules about body parts that must be covered) is relative to the society. Therefore, in a society where only clothing 30 to 70 exists (and you'd better believe that the "70" outfits will be more popular than the "30" outfits), the outfit rated 70 now becomes too attractive. Men will start to stare at the outfits rated 60 to 70 (human nature being what it is) and soon those outfits will come under fire as well as being too attractive. Eventually, those outfits, too, are banned -- pushing more and more people to some center where everyone dresses virtually alike.

However, we don't live in such a world. We live in a world where there are people who are not commanded to keep the mitzvah of tznius. We live in a world where bikinis, strapless gowns, showing cleavage, etc. are not uncommon. In other words, having such fashions in our society prevents the mitzvah of tznius from regressing into some nightmare where everyone has to dress identically all the time -- a condition that is so restrictive that, in a free society such as ours, would probably lead to more women dropping out of observance of the mitzvah than keeping it.

In short, I think you can make the case and say that risque fashions save tznius from falling into obsolescence.

The Wolf

* And it works the other way too. In ancient Greece, athletes used to compete in the nude. I think most people, even today, woudl find that shocking.

Cantillational Drift

It's funny the things that you think of when you're laining.

On Simchas Torah, while reading the Torah, I began to wonder if the tune that I'm using is really the same tune that was used a thousand years ago (or longer). Or does the cantillation "drift" with time?

Language, as we all know, suffers from this drifting effect. No only do expressions, idioms and the meanings of words change, but also the pronounciation of those words change over time (and place). Words that are pronounced one way today were very often pronounced differently at other times. (For some excellent examples of this, read Bill Bryson's book "The Mother Tongue.")

That being said, I'm almost certain that the tune that is used for Krias haTorah has changed over the years (and miles) as well. I'm very curious as to how it must have sounded a thousand years ago.

Anyone have any ideas?

The Wolf

UPDATE: Mississippi Fred MacDowell provided some interesting info on this question here. Thanks MFM!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mister, You Couldn't Be More Wrong If You Tried

"A day like today must be torture for you," the man said to me between aliyos. "Reading the same thing over and over and over."

I was somewhere in the middle of my third or fourth cycle through V'zos HaB'racha. My throat was beginning to give out between the singing during hakafos and the leining. The soles of my feet were beginning to hurt from having been dancing and standing for the last two and a half hours. I hadn't yet made kiddush for myself, and I was hungry and thirsty. We were just beginning to finish giving aliyos to the young bochrim and were soon going to start with some of the older under-Bar Mitzvah boys.

"Nah," I told him. "I love Simchas Torah. The atmosphere is great. The kids are so excited about the whole day, and the fact that I'm there when some of them get their first aliyah is priceless to me."

And then there are the kids... the fresh-faced boys coming up for their first aliyos, some of them standing on chairs so as to be able to see the sefer torah on the bimah. There's the kid who needs his father's help to make the b'rachos. There's the kohen's son who brought a huge smile to my face when, during his aliyah, he pulled his father's tallis up over his head. And then there's Reuvain.

Reuvain is eleven years old, but if you looked at him and didn't know better, you'd swear he was six. He has Down's Syndrome. Some parents shamefully hide children with Down's for fear that their other children may not get shidduchim -- but Reuvain's parents bring him to shul whenever possible. He usually stands on a chair on the opposite end of the bimah from me while I'm leining. Often he's the one who will cover the sefer between aliyos. When he arrives at shul during leining, he always takes his position at the opposite end of the bimah, sticks out his hand and wishes me a "Good Shabbos." with a hearty smile. I've been watching him grow, in his own fashion, for the last five years.

Reuvain's bar mitzvah is coming up in about a year or so and his parents are a bit concerned over what he'll be able to do for it. He's been practicing singing Ein Keilokainu... and, apparently, he's been practicing the b'rachos one recites upon receiving an aliyah. Like many kids, however, Reuvein sometimes exhibits stage fright. Even though he knows Ein Keilokainu, he has yet to actually go up to the amud on Shabbos mornings to sing it. His parents, who know him better than anyone else, don't push him to perform... they know he'll do it when he's good and ready - they just hope he'll be good and ready in time for his Bar Mitzvah.

Reuvain's father wanted him to go up and receive an aliyah, but as we were coming to the end of the list of kids who were receiving aliyos, he was still unsure about going up. One kid and then another went up, and now it was his turn. Either he took an aliyah now or else we went straight to Kol HaN'arim. He decided to go up. With his father standing beside him and his mother watching all in smiles from the women's section, he went up, made the b'rachos and stood there for the aliyah and recited the b'rachos afterwards. Needless to say, everyone in the shul was so proud of Reuvain.

After shul, Eeees came over to me and told me the rest of the story. "Do you know why Reuvain went up today?" she asked me. "Because of you. When they asked him why he went up, he said 'Wolf*.'"

So yeah, the soles of my feet were aching from having been standing for the last three hours. My voice was beginning to give out. I was hungry, thirsty and tired. And I have the adoration of a young kid in my shul. Torture? All torture should be so sweet.

The Wolf

* He didn't say "Wolf," of course... he said my name. :)

Friday, October 02, 2009

Am I A Deviant? I Think That Some Jews Would Think I Am...

In the comments to this post, a topic sprung up about the propriety of common courtesy vis-a-vis tznius. In the post, I mentioned that I was fairly certain that Rabbi Falk (of the famed tznius sefer Oz V'Hadar Levushah) would allow someone to say "thank you" to a person of the opposite gender who held a door open. Two people (Joseph and Rabbi Waxman over at his blog) have rightfully pointed out that it's entirely possible that Rabbi Falk would not permit it.

Truth be told, I don't know what Rav Falk holds. If anyone knows him personally, I'd love to hear what he has to say. But that aside, it's not really about Rav Falk, because (as Joseph pointed out), even if Rav Falk does not hold that way, there almost certainly is someone who does.

Upon reflection, I realize that to whomever holds that position, I must be a really dangerous deviant. After all, I am routinely (multiple times daily) guilty of the following breaches of tznius according to that position:
  • If a woman holds a door open for me, I actually have the nerve to say "thank you" to her.
  • If I bump into a woman on the subway, or step on her toe, or hit her with my bag, I actually say "I'm sorry."
  • When I get on the bus in the morning and evening, I say "good morning" or "good evening" to the bus driver -- regardless of the gender of the driver.
  • When I pass people on Shabbos* I say "Good Shabbos" to them if they appear to be Jewish, or "good morning/afternoon/evening" to them if they don't appear to be Jewish.
  • When I walk into the local grocery, I say good morning, etc. to the person behind the counter, who just as often is a woman as is a man.
  • I say hello to the person at a checkout counter when I buy something -- and yes, often times that person is a woman.

I suppose that with these multiple lapses of tznius that I commit daily, there are those in some communities who would view me as downright lecherous.

In the comments to my previous post, Joseph expressed a concern that such common courtesy can lead to inapporopriate behavior. In his viewpoint (and others, I suppose) the fact that a torrid affair could arise from a "thank you" is enough grounds to prohibit it. But in truth, I think he vastly overstates the danger. The odds of a simple "thank you" leading to something inappropriate are so remote as to be negligble. Does it happen? I'm sure it does sometimes -- but not enough to make a general rule of rudeness about it. Making such a rule falls right into the "If Only One..." fallacy.

The Wolf

* I do so sometimes on weekdays too, but more often people are rushing on weekdays and don't want to be bothered.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Photo: Bee On Flower

I know it's been a while since I put up a picture. Sadly, I haven't had as much time to devote to my camera work as I would like.

Here's one I took on a trip to the Queens County Farm Museum back in August. I took countless pictures of chickens, cows, pigs and other farm-related things, and, at the end of the day, this was my best shot of the day. :)

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens
f/4, 1/100 second

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

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Foot In Hand
Brooklyn Bridge
Ducks on Golden Pond
April Showers
The Tranquil Road In the Marsh
Are You Looking At Me?
Sunset Over The Hudson
First Day of Spring
Duck Again!
Llama -- an Unorthodox Picture
Yellow Flower
Panorama: Empire State
Borei M'Orei HaAish
Floral Macro: How Close Can You Get?
Shutter Speed & Light Trails on the Brooklyn Bridge
On The Wings of Gerber Daisies
Sometimes, an Out-of-Focus Shot Works Well Too
The Ghosts Of Grand Central
Third Night
Shooting From A Different Angle
Sunflower Arrangement (discussion of lens apertures and depth of field)
Empire (basic discussion of lenses)
Hovering Bee
Sunflower Macro
Statue of Liberty
Trinity Church, September 11, 2008
Manhattan Tulips

To The Girl on the B44 Bus Last Night...

Yes, you... the redhead reading Rabbi Falk's book on tznius on the B44 at 11:00 last night...

I know you might think it a breach of tznius to say "thank you" when a guy holds a door open for you. But I'm fairly certain that Rabbi Falk would approve of obeying common courtesy.

The Wolf

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

OK, But Why Is It Forbidden?

Yeshiva World News is reporting that several rabbanim in Israel (including Rav Wosner, Rav Eliyashiv and others) have ruled that one is not permitted to use Shabbos elevators. In their statement, they state that using such elevators on Shabbos violates an issur d'orissa (a Torah prohibition -- as opposed to a "mere" rabbinic prohibition).

The decree states that the ruling was reached after consulting with technicians and engineers that work on such systems. Personally, that's fine... I'm glad to see that the rabbonim are doing due diligience to ascertain the halacha (although please see the comment by Rav Rosen of the Zomet Institute in the original article). However, I was disappointed to see that there was no actual explaination given for the decree.

I know that there are some of you who will scream and yell "Rav Wosner doesn't owe you an explaination! He knows more Torah in his pinky than you'll know in your lifetime..." On the surface, I suppose that's true. Rav Wosner et al don't owe me an explanation. They don't *have* to tell me how they arrived at their conclusion that Shabbos elevators are forbidden.

Nonetheless, I think that an explaination of how the ruling was arrived at would be highly beneficial for several reasons:

1. It will increase compliance. Let's face it, today we're living in a world where you can freely choose to listen to the gedolim or ignore them. There will be those who will blindly listen to Rav Wosner and those who will choose to ignore him and continue using the elevators. But there's also a group in the middle - a group that won't blindly listen to the gedolim because of past (real or imagined) instences of "chumra abuse," but will listen to them where there are sound halachic reasons to do so. They may look at this latest decree as merely another chumra (despite the fact that the decree says it's an issur d'orissa) and choose to ignore it -- but when presented with solid halachic and technical grounds for observing it, they will do so. This will especially be the case where observing the ban will cause a great hardship -- infirm people who will, effectively, become prisioners in their homes for Shabbos or visitors to hospitals and other such institutions.

2. It will encourage Torah learning. When people see a decree like this, it's basically a "black box" type of decree -- you know that technical and halachic details went into the box, but you have no idea how the output (the ruling) was generated. As such, as a tool for Torah learning, it is very poor.* It could be made a much greater tool for Torah learning if the inner workings of the box were exposed and people could see how the ruling was arrived at.

3. It could result in a reversal. I know I'm going to tread on what some would consider to be hallowed ground here but, let's face it -- for all their learning (which is, by any measure, extremely great), there is the possibility that Rav Wosner et al made an error. By allowing for others to see how the ruling was arrived at, it's possible that someone could spot something or think of a possibility that Rav Wosner et al missed. I would think that especially in a case like this, where the ruling is going to cause significant hardships for some, that would want to possibly find ways to permit the use of these elevators if at all possible. By allowing more people to see the ruling, you allow a greater chance of finding just such a hetter that Rav Wosner can then consider.

There are those who will argue that it's demeaning to the gedolim to demand that they explain their rulings. There are those who will say that to do so is to possibly lead to a denigration of the gedolim by those who don't agree with their position.

To them I simply say to open up a copy of the Igros Moshe to almost page. Therein, one will find how R. Moshe Feinstein took pains to not only provide rulings on questions, but to explain those rulings, sometimes in painful detail. It was not beneath R. Moshe to do so... and even when people disagree with his rulings, it's done with respect. I don't see any reason why today's gedolim should be any different. For the reasons I listed above, I believe a reason should be given as to why shabbos elevators are forbidden. It doesn't have to be highly technical or highly detailed, but it should be enough that a person with a decent yeshiva background should be able to understand the ruling and "replicate" the results themselves.

The Wolf

* Yes, I know the ruling wasn't designed to be a Torah-teaching tool. But is there any real reason why it shouldn't be?