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