Thursday, May 28, 2009

Off-Topic: Ow! The Irony! It Hurts!!

Headline from Jewish Breaking News:

San Jose student reaches final of national Spelling Bee sorrectly spelling yiddish word ‘kichel’

Folks, you just can't make this stuff up.

The Wolf


For a long time, I've felt that there is a significant problem to the way that Orthodox Judaism is practiced today. That problem is that we worry far too much about what other people will think rather than what actually counts.

The point was driven home to me yesterday as I was reading a post written by a father who was trying to get his son with Down's Syndrome into kindergarten in a school in Jerusalem.

The father met with the principal of the school. All seemed to go well and the parents were invited back for a subsequent meeting with the rebbe and an administrator. Discussions centered around how to integrate the child (and his "shadow") into the classroom. The child is a high-functioning child and the teacher seemed confident that he could successfully teach the young child.

Alas, it all fell apart when someone higher up put the kibosh on his enrollment. Was it because they were afraid the child wouldn't be able to fit in? Was it because they were afraid for his safety or the safety of the other kids?

No -- it was because they were afraid of the yeshiva's reputation. They were afraid of what people would think of the yeshiva if they saw a child with Down's in the classroom.

This is just so wrong on so many levels, that I just don't know where to begin. But let's start with the question raised -- what would people think?

I don't know about any of you, but I can only wonder at who would be so small-minded as to think any less of a yeshiva that would include a Down's Syndrome child (assuming, of course, that the child can truly fit into the class*). I thought we moved beyond the times when kids with disabilities were locked away and hidden from view and were considered embarrassments. I thought that we in the Orthodox Jewish world have finally come to realize that even children with disabilities such as Down's can be given a Torah education (up to his or her own capabilities, of course). We have developed programs to help and educate children with disabilities and to allow them to mainstream whenever possible. It's really a shame to see that there are still some people in the frum community who would see it as an embarrassment to be associated with a school that has a child with Down's.

Of course, there's also the idea that school has a mission -- to teach. I would think that if a school could successfully teach (and mainstream) a child with Down's it would be a major coup for the school. I would think that the school would look at this as an opportunity to prove that a Torah education is accessible to all and that they are so good, that they could even help mainstream a child with Down's. But the school chose to discard this opportunity as well.

I can't help but wonder what will be next. Will schools start giving IQ tests** and not accepting those who don't score over 115 for fear of being labeled as a "school for dummies?" Will they start turning away kids with wheelchairs or missing fingers for fear of developing a reputation for taking in "different kids?" Or are our schools to become places where only "perfect" kids are able to attend?

I know it's little consolation to them, but I think that perhaps the parents of this child with Down's were lucky to dodge a bullet. I'm not so sure that I'd want to enroll my kids in a school where the value system is reputation before things that are really important.

The Wolf

* The father, in fact, made the point that if his son couldn't fit in, he'd withdraw him from the school, but that didn't seem to make a difference.

** To be distinguished from an achievement or skill test which, IMHO, is perfectly acceptable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Day A Long Time In Coming...

Let me tell you a story about a woman I know.

This woman (we'll call her Ginger for convenience) is an old friend of Eeees's. Up until last year, Ginger was an older single -- one of the legion of early 30s women stuck in the shidduch crisis. It should be pointed out that Ginger is not one of those people who was single because she was a misanthrope, or because she was hard to get along with, or because she weighed 450 pounds. On the contrary, she's a delightfully sweet person, kind, considerate, slim and wonderful around children (she's an extremely dedicated teacher). But, for whatever reason, she couldn't find the one right for her -- and so she remained single all through her 20s and into her 30s.

I always felt that part of the problem was that she was making it far too difficult for herself. Perhaps because she had been burnt before in the frum dating world, she was always very exacting about whom she would go out with. I often encouraged her to go out more, in the hopes that it might increase the number of prospects for marriage. "What do you have to lose? What's the worst that could happen?" I would tell her. "The worst that could happen is you have a lousy time and you don't see him again. But compared to the potential upside..."

Alas, she did not listen to me. But hey, she was a grown woman and capable of making her own choices.

Ginger also placed another restriction on herself as well. Her father had passed away when she was a teen, leaving behind two daughters -- Ginger and her older sister. The older sister has been married for quite a while now, but, to this point (and we hope it changes soon) has not yet had any children. So, Ginger felt that when she married, she had an obligation to name a child after her father. As a result, she would not even consider dating someone who possessed the same name as her father -- and it's a very common name. Presumably, that also included someone with a living father or grandfather with that name as well. And, again, in the complete spirit of friendship and concern, I told her that I thought she was making a mistake by limiting her options so. Of course, I hoped I was wrong. I hoped that she would have her every wish fulfilled -- but I was also hoping she'd be realistic and allow for more opportunities to date.

Well, of course, as happens in many of these stories, my advice was not listened to. And, as often happens in these stories, everything worked out fine and (at least in this case) I turned out to be completely wrong. HaShem led her to her intended. They got married in August and now, nine months later, they have a beautiful baby boy. Eeees and I attended the bris this morning where they named the baby boy after her father (and her father-in-law who had the same name).

During the meal, Ginger's husband (we'll call him Sam for convenience) got up and told a bit of his family history. As I said before, Sam was an older single -- in fact, he's my age. What I didn't know is that Sam's father was an older man when he became a father too -- in fact, his father was born in 1919 -- making him about fifty when Sam was born. While Sam is not an only child, he is an only son, as was his father. So, when he spoke at the bris about there being another person with his last name in the world, it was truly a joyous moment.

As I mentioned earlier, Ginger is a teacher. In fact, she's a teacher in the school that my sons attended -- they were both in her class. The one-time menahel of the school (he's since retired) is a man I've posted about before. While I may disagree with him on various issues, the man has my utmost respect and admiration. He always, without question, had the best interest of his students in mind and in his heart when he ran the school. I may have disagreed with him on hashkafic issues, but I never once doubted his integrity or his intentions.

This menahel also served as a mentor and a father figure to Ginger through her years of dating. Indeed, I have little doubt that he cared for her as he would have his own daughters. The menahel was at the bris today and when he spoke he quoted the verse from Tehillim - זֶה-הַיּוֹם, עָשָׂה יְהוָה; נָגִילָה וְנִשְׂמְחָה בוֹ. -- This is the day which HaShem has made, we will be rejoice and be happy in it. He mentioned this day, the day that we could celebrate by the bris of Ginger's son, was a day that was a long time in coming. And indeed it was a long time in coming -- but nonetheless, it has finally come. Ginger now has a beautiful baby boy named after her father.

Just as he entered into the bris, so to he should enter into Torah, the chuppah and good deeds.

The Wolf

P.S. There's still time to enter the contest to win a signed print of one of my photos. Click here!

Mazal Tov to Rabbi Student

I know that there is practically no one who reads my blog who doesn't also read Hirhurim, so everyone reading this probably already knows the news about Rabbi Student's new job at the OU. Nonetheless, I want to offer him my personal best wishes, Mazal Tov and hatzlacha on the new job and to congratulate him on finally escaping the corporate rat race.

Mazal Tov and much hatzlacha on the new job!

The Wolf

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

These Are "Tough Questions??"

Yeshiva World News has a recording of some questions that were raised at the recent Torah U'Mesorah convention. About a thousand rabbeim, principals and others involved in Torah education got to ask the Roshei Yeshiva questions. What were the burning issues that were discussed? What were the "tough questions" (as indicated by the YWN headline) that were asked?

  • Does a Rebbe taking his class out for a day (such as to play ball on Lag B'Omer) consitute Bittul Torah?
  • Should the "Chinuch Roundtable" columns in the Yated be discontinued?
  • Should a child who has poor reading skills be allowed to be a Chazzan in school?

Now, I don't want to denigrate the questions. The questions asked are certainly valid questions and should be asked. However, I would think that if you have the opportunity to have such esteemed Roshei Yeshiva as Rav Avrohom Chaim Levine Shlita (Rosh Yeshiva Telsh Chicago), Rav Shmuel Kaminetzky Shlita (Rosh Yeshiva Philadelphia), Novaminsker Rebbe Shlita (Rosh Yeshiva Novaminsk) and Rav Aron Feldman Shlita (Rosh Yeshiva Ner Yisroel Baltimore) on hand, you could find far tougher and more important questions to ask. Here are two far tougher questions that I (who, aside from being a parent, is not involved in chinuch) could think of off the top of my head:

  • I suspect that a child in my class may be being abused either at home or by another teacher in the yeshiva. What's the appropriate course of action to take?
  • Under what conditions should I be allowed to ask the menahel to remove a disruptive child from my class? What options do I have to exhaust first before taking that step?
So, what was it? Were the rabbeim afraid to ask really tough questions? Or were they afraid that the Roshei Yeshiva would be offended by tough questions? Why would you ask such softball (but legitmate) questions when you have all these distinguished Roshei Yeshiva on hand?

The Wolf

P.S. There's still time to enter the contest to win a signed print of one of my photos. Click here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Brooklyn Bridge

I've pointed out in the past that one way to take an interesting picture is to shoot it from a different angle or perspective than we normally see it at. Here's a shot of the Brooklyn Bridge that I took last year which, I think, illustrates the point.

Canon Xsi, 18-55mm lens at 28mm
f/4, 1/1600 second
Taken from a Circle Line boat in the East River

As usual, comments, critiques and criticisms are welcome and appreciated.

Don't forget to check out my contest where you can win a signed 12 x 18 print of one of my pictures!!

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Photo Contest! Win A Signed Copy Of One Of My Photos!

Part of the methodology of becoming a better photographer (or becoming better at anything, I suppose), is listening to feedback -- both praise and criticism. At the end of every photography post, I put a line to the effect of "comments, criticisms and critiques are welcome." The reason, of course, is that it's easy for me to sit back and admire my own photos, but when people give you feedback (especially negative feedback) it motivates you to try and improve.

So, in that spirit, I'm basically asking for feedback on some of my pictures. I've chosen ten pictures from the ones that I previously put up on this blog. Click on the pictures to see larger versions. All you have to do, very simply, is pick two of them and comment on them. For the first, tell me what you like about the picture. For the second, tell me what you don't like and how I could have improved the shot.

That's it. Whomever has the best and most helpful comments (in my opinion) wins. While your comments could be full of photo-jargon ("you should have used an f-stop of f/11 instead of f/5.6..."), I won't be judging the winner based on purely technical matters. I'd love to hear from amateurs too and equal opportunity will be given to those to aren't professionals. While you don't have to send me three paragraphs on each photo, more than a sentence or two for each is appreciated.

Here are the ten pictures I've chosen (in random order):

On The Wings Of Gerber Daisies

April Showers


Borei M'orei HaAish

Trinity Church 9/11/2008

The Tranquil Road In the Salt Marsh

Hovering Bee

Manhattan Tulips


Close Up Flower

To enter, send your responses to (note that this is NOT my regular email address) and indicate by name which photos you are commenting on.

What's the prize? Well, the prize is a signed large size (12" x 18") print of the photo you picked as the one you liked. If you're in New York City and are we can arrange a meeting that is convenient to me, I'll even frame it and hand-deliver it. If not, I'll send the picture by mail (see the rules below) and Paypal some money to you for a frame (I'm scared of the idea of sending a frame by mail).

Additional Rules

The decision of the judges is final. There is no appeal. Contest void in Antarctica or where photography is forbidden by law. No deposit, no refund. Entries must be sent to the specified email address - while comments to this post or my regular email address are helpful and appreciated, they are not considered entries for the purpose of this contest. Photo will be signed "The Wolf" (sorry, you didn't think it would be that easy, did you?). Immediate family members are not eligible -- but then again I'd give them a signed print for the asking anyway. Photo will be mailed only in the U.S. or Canada -- if you reside elsewhere, you can still enter, but you'll have to get it from someone in the U.S. or Canada. Contest only open on days that have a "d" and "y" in their names. If you're happy and you know it clap your hands -- it won't help you to win, but it'll feel good. I will determine the exact amount to be sent via Paypal for a frame and my decision is final. The winner agrees to be identified by me as the winner by a nom du blog (or their real name, if they prefer -- if not, I'll keep your real name secret). In addition, the winner agrees to have their comments published when I choose the winner. Thirty days hath April, June, September and November. Contest ends June 1, 2009 at midnight EDT. All rights reserved. Have a nice day. Any questions, put it in the comments or send them to my regular email address -

Chabad and Taoism Shouldn't Mix

I find it very interesting that Chabad allows* their girls to use drums with Taoist symbols on them. Would they also allow them to use drums with a Christian cross on it?

The Wolf

* Yes, I'm aware that it was probably in complete ignorance.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Does the Vatican Still Have the Temple Vessels?

It seems to be a common belief among many Orthodox Jews that many of the vessels that were used in the Second Temple are presently in the custody of the Vatican. This belief is reinforced by the famous image of the Arch of Titus, showing the Romans carrying off the menorah and other artifacts from the Beis HaMikdash. Many Orthodox Jews to this very day believe that the looted treasure is still somewhere in the Vatican. Just today, two Israelis (I don't know if they are members of the government or not) tried to prevent the Pope from coming to Israel until (among other demands) the vessels are returned.

Personally, I'm a bit skeptical that the Pope has them. While I'm certain the Vatican has an impressive collection of historical memorabilia, including, probably, things that would be of incredible interest to Jewish historians*, I'm not so certain that golden vessels (especially something as large as the menorah) would be among them.

For starters, let's remember that the Romans who destroyed the Beis HaMikdash and plundered its treasures were not Christians, but were pagans. You might expect that if Christians had plundered the Temple, they might have kept the menorah out of some respect for an artifact from their "parent religion." The pagans, however, probably had no such sentimental feelings. In all probability, they probably saw the menorah and other Temple vessels as simply gold and silver -- nothing more. They would simply have no reason to keep them around in a dusty basement somewhere. Rome wouldn't become Christianized for a few centuries yet. It's difficult to say that the pagan Roman emporers would have kept all this treasure around without melting it down and using the gold/silver for their own purposes.

Another factor which leads me to doubt the presence of the Temple vessels in Rome is the fact that Rome has been sacked since the vessels would have arrived there. In fact, the city has been sacked several times:

It was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths
It was sacked again in 455 by the Vandals
It was sacked yet again in 546 by the Goths
And yet again in 846 by Arabs
And again in 1084 by the Normans
And yet again in 1527 by the Holy Roman Empire

I would find it very hard to believe that even if the pagan Romans held on to the gold and silver of the Temple that it would have survived the three barbarian sacks of 410-546 and the latter sackings as well.

Am I wrong? Is there some reason to really suspect that the Vatican is still holding on to the treasures of the Second Temple and that they survived the multiple sacks of Rome? Or is the general perception in the Orthodox Jewish world incorrect and there is little, if any chance, that the Vatican still has these treasures today?

The Wolf

* I once had a rebbe in high school who postulated the silly idea that there was a Talmud Bavli for every mesechta of Shas -- except that the ones that are lost today are actually sitting in a Vatican library somewhere. How the Romans managed to "steal" documents that did not exist until hundreds of years later in another part of the world was not quite explained to us.

Abuse and Going Off The Derech... What's the Relation?

I've been having a discussion (see the comments there) with an anonymous poster over at Yudel Shain about the phenomenon of kids being abused and kids going off the derech.

The anonymous poster made the claim that over 50% of the kids who go off the derech are abused.

I responded by stating that I found that figure to be a bit high. There are quite a few reasons why a kid (or anyone else) might go off the derech -- and certainly abuse is a potential reason to do so -- but to say that over half the OTD people are abused sounded just too far fetched to me. I thought that perhaps my disputant was simply phrasing his words incorrectly.

I asked if perhaps he meant that over 50% of abused kids go off the derech -- which is not quite the same as saying that 50% of OTD kids are abused. While I believe the former is in the realm of possibility, I'm far less certain that the latter is true.

Anonymous reaffirmed his original statement and, as a citation, brought an article by Rabbi Horowitz. In the article, Rabbi Horowitz quoted a person who operates a run-away shelter:

A close friend of mine runs a shelter/group home for charedi runaway kids. I recently ran into him at a wedding and asked him what his thoughts were on the correlation between abuse and the off-the-derech phenomenon. His immediate response was, “Yankie, all I deal with is abuse [victims],” meaning that virtually all the teens in his program were molested.

That's a pretty powerful quote. However, I began to think about it in the context of our discussion. It's possible, I thought, that perhaps this shelter operator is not seeing a representative sample of OTD kids. After all, he's not running a home for OTD kids, he's running a home for run-away kids. Many OTD kids don't run away from home -- heck, I know quite a few people who went OTD as teens who did not have the need to run away from home. On the other hand, kids that are abused (sexually and otherwise) frequently *do* have the need to run away from home. The shelter operator, in answering the question about the linkage between abuse and OTD kids, may be looking predominantly (or perhaps exclusively as per his claim) at abused kids. He never sees the kids who go OTD for other reasons.*

Furthermore, I went back and decided to read the entire article. As it turns out, the third paragraph in the article seems to say the exact opposite of what my correspondent was saying:

This is not to say that a majority of kids who are ‘off the derech’ were abused. But of all the complex and varied educational, social and familial factors that endanger to our children, the most damaging by far, in my opinion, is abuse. The very real threat posed by the external influences from which we all strive (in various degrees) to protect our children – such as media, Internet, and ‘bad friends’ – are all firecrackers compared to the atom bomb of sexual abuse.

Now, I absoltutely agree with Rabbi Horowitz (and my anonymous disputant) that sexual abuse is probably one of the strongest things that can cause a kid to go OTD. It's far more likely that a kid will go OTD from being sexually abused than from watching television, reading books about evolution or surfing the Internet. But all that means is that a kid who is sexually abused has a very good chance of going OTD. It still does not mean that the majority of people who go OTD are sexually abused.

So, what's the story? Am I reading this wrong? Is it really possible that half of the kids who go OTD are sexually abused? Or is my disputant just flat out wrong.

The Wolf

* Intellectual reasons, emotional reasons, or perhaps simply because they find the lifestyle too confining.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Okay, Sometimes It Takes A While To Come Up With The Follow Up Question...

Around Channukah 2007, I asked my Rav how we can make the bracha of "asher kidishanu... l'hadlik ner channukah" when, in fact, God never gave us such a commandment.*

His answer (which I belive is the classic one) is that we're commanded to listen to the words of the sages, so, in effect, it's as if God Himself did command us.

Okay, that's fine.

I finally thought of the follow up question (yeah, I know it's a year and a half -- I never claimed to be the sharpest knife in the drawer):

So, why then don't we recite the bracha of "asher kidishanu... lishmoa divrei chachamim" (to listen to the words of the sages) or some variant thereof. If that's the actual God-given commandment that we're following, then why not that bracha?

Anyone have any ideas?

The Wolf

*Of course, the same goes for the bracha before Hallel and the other mitzvos d'rabbanan.

Standards Of Halacha In The Workplace

Ynet (via Vos Iz Neias) is reporting that a new dress regulation will be taking effect at the Shas' Maayan Torah education network in Israel. Specifically, the regulation states that all women employed there must wear a full head covering when reporting for work. In addition, the only acceptable form of head-covering for women is a scarf -- wigs are not permitted (the article doesn't address snoods or other non-hair-like coverings). According to a source in the article, women have been threatened with dismissal if they do not dress according to code.

This new regulation has many women outraged. As you can imagine, there are women who work there who cover their hair with sheitels or other materials. In addition, the article makes no distinction between married and unmarried women.

Some of the VIN commentors have taken the approach that an employer has the right to dictate how employees dress and if you don't like it, you're free to go work someplace else. That's certainly true. If my boss, for whatever insane reason, dictated that employees come to work in bumblebee costumes everyday, I could either go to the costume shop or find a new place to work.*

However, in the above case, my boss has made his bumblebee decree for arbitrary reasons. In this case, however, there is a rationale behind the regulations -- obstensibly, the rationale is halacha. Whomever is issuing these decrees obviously feels that women are required by halacha to wear complete head coverings. And, I suppose, it's not entirely unreasonable to use halacha as a guideline for employee conduct in a religious office in a religious state.

But one has to wonder just how far this can be taken. If one can rule that millions of otherwise observant women who cover their hair with sheitels are violating halacha (despite the fact that millions of frum Jews around the world and in Israel itself view this as perfectly acceptable and within halacha) and therefore worthy of termination, then where does it end?

Should an employer be allowed to raid the contents of employee lunchboxes to make sure they're only using chassidshe shechita or cholov yisroel? Should an employer be allowed to tell employees that they can't go to an otherwise glatt kosher resturaunt for lunch because it doesn't meet his/her personal standards (real or imagined)? Should an employer be allowed to fire a worker who rides to work on a non-mehadrin bus where one is available? In short, where does it end? At what point do we say that the employer doesn't have the right to enforce his brand of halacha at the workplace

Yes, there is still the principle that a worker is not a slave and is free to quit her job at any time. If she doesn't like the rules, she's free to move on. But that's not really the answer is it? I don't know what the economic situation in Israel is like at the current time, but I can't imagine that they're unemployement problem is any better than ours is here in the U.S. Just saying "go get another job" is not the answer -- it's not always so easy. Who says the person can find another job quickly, and at the same salary? In addition, employees have certain intagible benefits that come from being in a job -- seniority, repuation, familiarity with co-workers and the surrounding of the workplace, job security and other benefits that we all enjoy from working at a place after a certain amount of time. By forcing a worker to move on, they lose a lot (if not all) of these benefits. I'm not convinced that forcing an worker to lose these benefits simply for the sake of someone else's interpretation of halacha (when their own is kept by millions of otherwise frum women around the world) is acceptable and proper.

Again, no one argues that there should be minimum standards of dress for both genders in the workplace. And, yes, halacha should probably play a role in that code in a religious office in Israel. But you can't just apply the strictest standard of halacha. It's simply not fair.

The Wolf

* Yes, I understand that there may be other options, but that's really beside the point.

Monday, May 04, 2009

What's Your Prediction? Great Idea or Mass Apoplexy

Yeshiva World News is reporting that the Star-K will begin a program of training women to be mashgichot. They will be trained to work mostly in catering halls and restaurants.

What do you think the reaction will be in the general Yeshiva world?

Will it be hailed as a way to help women earn a parnassah in this difficult time?
Will it be shrugged off as a "what took them so long?" moment?
Will it be denounced with shouts of "Kol K'vuda...?"

What do you think?

The Wolf