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?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

G'Mar Chasima Tova

I want to wish all my readers (and everyone else) a G'mar Chasima Tova. May you all be inscribed for a year of happiness, health, parnassah and chayim tovim. May it be a year in which all our requests are fulfilled for good. May you all merit to have a complete m'chila, s'licha and kapparah, and I humbly request for any and all of you m'chila for any harm or ill feelings my writings may have caused you.

The Wolf

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Being Uninformed Is Not The Same As Being Stupid...

Over in the Coffeeroom, someone opened up the whole science/Torah can of worms again. In this case, the topic came down to what happens when the empirical evidence that you can see with your own eyes contradicts traditional Jewish sources.

Charlie Hall, who sometimes comments on this blog, mentioned that the available evidence shows that the world is more than 6000 years old. A poster named Joseph, took him to task on this stating:

charlie disagrees with the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida amongst others.

I choose the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida over charlie.

When another commentator vouched for Charlie's intelligence, Joseph responded as follows:

Smarter than the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida combined?

Smarter than any one of them.

Charlie and I both responded to that with the same point almost simultaneously -- that the aforementioned sages did not have access to the evidence and information that we have now.

Sadly, I see this from yeshiva people all the time - anytime you bring up the idea that X did not know Y, they take it to mean that you think that X is stupid (or less intelligent than modern people who do know Y). But that's not the case -- it's simply that we, today, live in a society that has the infrastructure and knowledge base to know Y while X did not.

To give a simple example: Could Rashi have constructed an airplane? The answer, very simply, is no. And that's not because Rashi was stupid -- on the contrary, Rashi was extremely intelligent. But he lived in a society and a time where it would have been impossible for *anyone* to build an airplane. Rashi did not have access to the physics and engineering that we have today. If he lived today, could he have done so? Maybe -- but we'll never know for sure. But to say that he couldn't do it is not to say that he was stupid or any less intelligent than today's engineers. It just means that today's engineers have access to better resources.

Similarly, the chachamim that Joseph mentioned did not have access to the scientific evidence that we have today regarding the age of the universe. That doesn't make them "less intelligent" than Charlie - it just means that they went with whatever information and evidence that they had at the time - just as we do so with the evidence that we have today.

The Wolf

P.S. The shocker in the thread came a bit later on. Charlie asked Joseph:

Would you eat a piece of meat that the author of one of your sources had told you was kosher, when you yourself had seen it taken from the carcass of a pig?

To which Joseph responded: Yes. Just utterly shocked.

The Wolf

Friday, September 18, 2009

K'siva V'Chasima Tova

I just want to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a K'siva V'Chasima Tova. May we all be inscribed in the books of Life, Health and Parnassah Tova. May we see a year in which there is more Kiddush HaShem than Chillul HaShem and a year in which there is more Shalom between man and his fellow man and between the various communities of K'lal Yisroel.

The Wolf

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What's The Ideal Message To Send To Kids?

George's school held a start-of-year function for parents so that we could meet the rabbeim, teachers, etc. Personally, I think these are good things... they give parents a chance to put a face with a name, get acquainted with other parents and, most importantly, to become familiar with the curriculum and what the educators expect of the kids.

Before we broke up into individual classes, the Menahel addressed the parent body. In his remarks, he tried to make the point that we should be instilling in our children the desire to learn and to achieve in Torah. We should be willing to show our children that learning and Yiddishkeit come first and that they should be the priority of one's life. In that respect, I agree 100%. However, he used a very curious example to make the point.

He noted that there were a group of parents that made such sacrifices for the school that, should they ask for a favor, he said, he would be unable to refuse them. These parents were to be commended for their actions and the demonstration that they made to their kids in showing how important school is.

What was this great act of sacrifice, you ask? What was this noble deed that the parents did that deserved such high praise?

Apparently, these parents had scheduled family vacations during school period. They were going to pull their kids out of school for four or five days or longer so that they could go to Florida or wherever. And yet, once they became aware of how important yeshiva was, they changed their tickets (at extra cost to them) so as to send the message to their kids that going to yeshiva was more important than vacation.

I don't want to undermine what the parents did -- indeed, by spending the extra money to change their plans, they did demonstrate a commitment. But I'm kind of curious as to why that is the "ultimate" act that got such high praise. To tell the truth, as a parent who wouldn't even think of pulling a kid out of school for a vacation in the first place, I was kind of peeved. I would think that our policy on this (which the kids are well aware of) would be even more praiseworthy... but apparently not. I guess to send my kid the right message, I have to first arrange to pull them out of school for a vacation and then reschedule.

Yeah, I know it's petty on my part... but that's the feeling I had last night.

The Wolf

Biting My Tongue

I've tried to make a commitment for the Yomim Noraim to be less knee-jerk reactionary and to try to become more even-tempered and fair in my postings.

Yet, sometimes you run across something that is just so appalling, foul and disgusting that your mind screams out that you have to react.

But I'm holding my tongue. Even though it was totally outrageous and inexcusable, I'm biting my tongue. I'm teaching myself patience. I will not react in a knee-jerk fashion. I will improve over the Yomim Noraim.

The Wolf

(Sorry... I know it's cryptic. It's really more for me than my readers)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Photos: September 11

I took this picture last September 11. Yes, I know it's a rerun (I put it up last year too).

The Wolf

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Story of Revital Avraham - Fact? Fiction?

For a while now, the letter of Revital Avraham has been making the rounds of the internet and shuls. However, it seems that the story finally found someone who can give it major publicity -- Rebbetzin Jungries. As she writes in her weekly Jewish Press column:

Special Note: A young girl, struggling with the Angel of Death, wrote the following letter. At her request, the letter was sent to many rabbis and rebbetzinsin a position to disseminate her message among our people. Tragically, she is no longer here to see her letter published, but as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, her neshamahwill surely have an aliyahin the knowledge that her request has been fulfilled and her message read and taken to heart by many.

She then reprints her letter in full. I'm not going to reprint it, but I will provide a summary. The letter can be seen in English and the original Hebrew here.

In short, the letter from Revital Avraham says that she is nineteen years old and is dying. She was a young girl blessed with physical beauty from an early age. She attracted attention from others around her and grew her hair long. She was told by her teachers to keep her beauty for that someone special in her life, but she did not listen and continued to flaunt her looks.

When she was sixteen, she received a warning when her hair caught fire while frying an omlette. She was terribly upset that her hair was gone. Her father tried to console her saying:

Revital, Hashem has made a miracle. You could have been entirely burnt! You now have an opportunity to change and leave your foolish attitude behind you."

However, she was sixteen and probably had an attitude like many teenagers. Her hair grew back over the next two years. She began wearing tight clothes and even "got involved in some trouble." (Her words -- we have no way of knowing what that entails.)

When she was 17, her beloved grandmother died. Her grandmother had tried to help her on her mend her ways, but could not do so. After her death, Revital changed her behavior for the better for a while, but then fell back into her old habits.

A while later, Revital had a dream. Her grandmother was sitting on a stone crying. When asked why she was crying, she wordlessly pointed to her head. However, Revital ignored that warning as well.

A short while later, after complaining about headaches, she went to see a doctor where she was given the bad news that she was dying.

Now dying, Revital is writing this letter to warn young girls of the dangers of dressing immodestly and being overly beautiful.

The letter ends with the postscript that Revital died shortly after composing the letter and asked in her will that it be distributed.

Let me state up front that I have no idea whether or not the story is true. In fact, that's a part of the purpose of this post -- to ask if any of my readers knew Revital (even second-handedly) or any of her relatives.

To me the language of the letter in no way sounds like it came from a nineteen year old -- nineteen year olds simply don't speak that way -- it's just idiomatically wrong. But then again, that's because I read the translation. I read the original Hebrew, but I'm not familiar enough with modern conversational Hebrew to know if it's more in line with the way an actual nineteen year old would write.

Another problem that I have with this is that in all my searches on the web (and I've done a few already), I could never find any other details to corroborate the story. No place of residence, no date of death, no name of school -- nothing. A lack of detail in a story is one of the first signs that it's an urban legend.

The last concern I have about this letter is the implication that it makes -- i.e. be sure to keep the mitzvah of tznius properly or else be subject to terrible life-threatening illnesses. Assuming for a moment that the story is true - how does Revital know that her illness is due to her lack of adherence to the mitzvah of tznius? There are, unfortunately, people who are very stringent in tznius who get sick and there are those who are lax and live long, healthy lives. Is it because she had a dream where her grandmother pointed at her head? That's quite a leap to come to that conclusion. And it's also quite a leap to apply it universally as a warning -- especially when we see that there are plenty of people who are lax in the mitzvah of tznius and don't end up with brain tumors.

So, does anyone know of any corroborating evidence for the story? Does anyone know if the whole thing is a hoax or urban legend?

The Wolf

Stupid Comment Of The Day

Sometimes, you just have to wonder if people ever think before they type or speak. Case in point from the comments thread of this VIN post. One commentator (#6) actually said:

A characteristic of goyim is that they fight among themselves. Their lack of achdus is a hallmark trait.

Mr. Kettle, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Pot. He has a lovely word for you.

The Wolf

Friday, September 04, 2009

Is Lying About One's Age Grounds For Breaking A Shidduch? brings a question that was asked to the author of the Chelkas Ya'akov, R' Mordechai Yaakov ben R' Chaim Breisch of Zurich. The question was whether or not a shidduch could be broken because the bride lied about her age. In the specific case at hand, she said at the time of engagement that she was 28, yet when it came time for the wedding three years later (three years??!!), it turned out that she was 36 at the time.

The Chelkas Ya'akov answers that the only time one can break a shidduch because of age is if the woman is over forty (because of childbearing concerns). Otherwise, a lie about one's age is not grounds for breaking a shidduch.

With all due respect to the Chelkas Ya'akov, I find this answer a bit difficult. Rather than focusing on the fact that the number of years was inaccurate, how about focusing on the fact that if she's willing to lie about this, it reveals a serious character flaw about the person. I know that I would not want to start a relationship with someone who lies about their age.

I can understand that the woman was scared -- she was 36 and single and probably figured that if she didn't find a husband soon, then she would never find one. I really do understand that. However, the fact that she was willing to fib about her age shows that she understood that the guy didn't want an older wife -- a fact that was borne out by the fact that he asked the question about breaking the shidduch when he did discover her true age. And even if the age issue isn't truly worth breaking a shidduch (suppose, for example, she truly beleived that she was 28 and only later discovered the truth), I would think that the dishonesty and deception that she displayed would be valid reasons to break the shidduch.

The Wolf

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Ain't Gonna Do It

A "rabbi" (he may actually be one, but I don't know) puts up a blog espousing very fundamentalist views.

His blog is full of completely fundamentalist Jewish viewpoints and (as is typical on such blogs) blasting anyone who has a different opinion than he does, calling people who disagree with him animals, heretics and idiots. He believes that women should rarely, if ever, be allowed out of the house. He maintains that going to any institution (such as a museum or the like) that is not run by his interpretation of the Torah should be avoided. He, like others, maintain that Zionists are evil. He favors ad hominem attacks over reasoned argument. In short, his blog is just about everything that I stand against in my blog. His blog has been around for at least a few months, if not longer, but doesn't seem to draw much traffic (at least judging by the comments).

He then emails *me* to tout his blog. He says that my blog should be of interest to him. He says that he hopes that I am strong enough to "rise above the mediocre thinking based on a materialistic world outlook and consider adopting" his viewpoint.

So, I'm left with one of three conclusions:

1. He's too stupid to see that I completely disagree with just about everything he says.
2. He's too lazy to read my blog and simply sent me an email without considering my opinion
3. He wanted to provoke me into an outrage post in order to drive traffic to him.

My money's on the last one.

Sorry... ain't gonna happen. In fact, I'm not even allowing comments on this post (a highly unusual move on my part) since I don't want people pointing to his blog even in the comments.

Feel free to email me if there are any questions. That includes you too Rabbi blogger.

The Wolf

Yeah, I know what you're saying: "He succeeded -- you put up this post." True, but it's not going to generate any traffic to him. And the info I did provide was generic enough that it shouldn't come up in a simple Google search.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Today's Lesson: Bride + Makeup = Bad

Ynet is reporting that the Darchei Rachel seminary in Jerusalem is providing a scholarship of 1000 NIS (about $265) to brides from their seminary who forgo makeup on their wedding day.

The payment comes about as a result of an uptrend of girls who are wearing makeup. The administrators of the school would like to fight this trend and so they are putting this offer out there. It is too soon to judge whether or not the new rule is effective.

There are a few things that I find interesting about this new development:

Firstly, the new rule wasn't promulgated as an outright ban but rather as an incentive. My guess would be that the administrators knew that an outright ban would probably fail, so instead complience with the new rule is being incentivized. I'm sure that in addition to the payment, there will probably be pressure put on the girls from the teachers and the administration to adhere to the new rules. I'm curious, however, if it will morph into an actual ban once enough girls take the bait and it becomes the "norm" not to wear makeup to one's own wedding.

Secondly, I'm actually deeply disturbed by the whole idea that makeup on one's own wedding day is a bad thing. Although it's not explictly stated in the article, I would assume that the school administrators are viewing this as a breach of tznius (does anyone else have any other reasonable explanation?) . I thought the idea of being a bride is that they are *supposed* to look beautiful for their husbands. Hence, we even relax some of the restrictions of Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av for a bride in the period immediately following their wedding.

I suppose the point could be made that wearing makeup is a breach of tznius because she will be seen by other people (aside from her new husband) at the wedding. But that's just downright silly -- if that's the case, then there should be a prohibition on her wearing a white wedding gown -- that probably draws far more attention to her at the wedding than any decent makeup job will do. Or is that the next ban?

Thirdly, I'm concerned because this represents a further shift to the right in the Chareidi world, an instance of taking something that was perfectly acceptable until now and stating now that it is not acceptable. As one hareidi educator said in the article:

"This education institution is for the sector's most righteous girls, who are strict about everything. However, I remain skeptical in regards to the initiative's success, in light of the fact that makeup is acceptable in the haredi society and because it's a particularly exciting day."

In other words, they want to take something that, until now, was perfectly acceptable and make it now unacceptable (and, perhaps, in fifty to a hundred years, say that it was *never* acceptable).

Lastly, I'm concerned because they are taking the approach of using a bazooka to kill roaches. If there is a problem with girls wearing makeup, then why put pressure on brides? Why not incetivize the girls with a pledge not to wear makeup during their attendance at the school? The problem (to my view) is not so much that brides are wearing makeup, but that girls are. Well, if that's the case, then aim at the girls -- don't aim at brides where even if there was an outright ban on makeup you could still make a reasonable exception due to the nature of the event.

The Wolf