Friday, January 29, 2010

Photos: Iguana

On a cold day like today, I like to remember warmer times and climes.

A few years ago, Eeees and I had the chance to spend a few days in St. Thomas and St. John. This was when I was just beginning to get into photography. I didn't have an SLR yet, but I did have a fancy point-and-shoot.

Anyway, we were enjoying a morning at Coral World on St. Thomas. At Coral World, the iguanas hang around the food court, having learned that they can get the food that people drop.

Sometimes, however, they didn't always wait. Eeees and I watched as one of the lizards jumped up on an eleven year-old kid to grab his slice of pizza!

Even though I didn't have any food, they didn't seem shy at all about allowing me to get close enough to take some shots, such as this one here:

Canon Powershot S3 IS

The Wolf

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Perhaps I'm Not Truly Orthodox After All?

Due to the recent earthquake in Haiti and the efforts of ZAKA to provide help, a lot of attention has been paid to the question of whether or not one is allowed to do melacha on Shabbos in order to save the life of a non-Jew.

I'm not going to pretend that I have the answer to that question. I have to state up front that I am not a rabbi and not a posek. A commentator on a previous post of mine said that it's an explicit halacha in Shulchan Aruch that one may not perform melacha on Shabbos to save the life of a non-Jew. He may well be right, but he may also be wrong in that circumstances have changed since the SA was written. Others have indicated and brought sources that this may not be the contemporary halacha. In short, I simply don't know.

But there are some things that I am fairly certain of -- and one of them is this: I don't think I would be able to avoid saving a life on Shabbos if the situation presented itself.

Imagine the scenario: It's 11PM on a pleasant summer Friday night and you are sitting on your front porch. Most of your neighbors have left for the country, giving your block an unusually quiet and peaceful Shabbos evening. In the place of the usual sounds of neighbors, pedestrians and the various other noises in your community, you can actually hear the crickets chirping. It's a welcome change.

Suddenly, the peacefulness is broken by a careening car that appears from down the street and appears out of control. Loud honks fill the air as the car swerves from one lane to the other, clearly out of control. You worry as it starts to head in your direction, but at the last minute, the car swerves and hits a telephone pole right in front of your house with enormous force.

It takes you a minute or so to get over the shock of the accident. The car is a wreck -- the front is totally crumpled. Thank heavens the telephone pole withstood the crash, or it might have gone right into your home. There's a fair amount of smoke coming from under the hood and rear and you think you might have seen a flame as well. Rushing over to the car, you quickly note that there are two occupants -- a barely conscious driver and an eighteen month old toddler strapped into a car seat in the back screaming hysterically. Both are obviously not Jewish.

You quickly glance around to see if anyone else is coming who might be able to help the crash victims or at least call 911. No one appears -- it looks like it's just you and the crash victims.

Through the broken window, you can quickly sum up the situation. The driver is hurt - bad. Blunt trauma for certain, possible (probable?) spinal injury. Bleeding coming from somewhere on his torso, but you can't see where. A nice gash on his head where his skull met the windshield. Moving him would almost certainly be a bad move but for the fact that you're now certain that you smell smoke and see flames coming up under the hood. Nonetheless, whether you move him or not, he needs an ambulance and a doctor - and quickly. The child, while frightened and screaming, seems to be okay. You're no automotive expert... is the car about to blow? You have no way of knowing for sure... but you know that smoke and flames in a car can't be good.

The guy groans and grabs your attention. He holds out his phone and begs you to get his daughter and himself out of the car before it blows and call 911 for an ambulance.

What would you do? Make the following assumptions:

  • There are no non-Jews (or even other Jews) around to do any prohibited actions.
  • No one else saw the accident. No one else is calling 911.
  • There is no question of aiveh (hatred) as there is no one else around and you could (if so were so inclined) just waltz back into your house and claim you were sleeping and missed the whole accident should anyone question you.
  • In order to save them, you will have to perform an action that is a melacha d'oreissa.

Could you just look the guy in the eyes and say "Sorry, my religion doesn't allow me to get you out of the car or call 911." Could you just walk away and almost certainly doom the man to death from his injuries and possibly the kid from an explosion? Could you ignore his pleas and just walk away? Could you be so callous if your religion demanded it of you?

Not me. Even if you told me the halacha is that I have to walk away and let him (or them) die. I just couldn't do it. Of course, I would do what I could to minimize the melacha done, but if push came to shove and I had to open the door to grab the kid (thereby turning on the lights in the car) before the car went kaboom, I'd do it. In an instant. May God never give me such a test.

That being said, I'm curious what that says about me.

Let's assume, for the moment, that the halacha is that it is absolutely forbidden to save their lives. I have just admitted that, under a certain set of circumstances, I would violate Shabbos - knowingly. That being the case, perhaps I should not be considered Orthodox anymore. Yes, I'll grant you that (despite having been an EMT in a former life) I haven't actually been in this circumstance yet (and let's hope I never am) and therefore I haven't actually knowingly been mechallel Shabbos. So perhaps for now, as long as I don't act on my beliefs/feelings/impulses I'm still "in the clear." But let's say that this coming Shabbos I am put in the situation? Should I call my rav after Shabbos, tell him that I'm no longer shomer Shabbos so that he can get a new ba'al kriah?* Should I just consider myself non-shomer shabbos even though 99.9999% of the time I do not knowingly perform melacha on Shabbos?**

At first, I thought about this in terms of some of the recent scandals that we have seen in our community. We still call people who commit financial crimes (and even, in some cases worse crimes) "frum" despite their transgressions. For the most part (and, granted, there are exceptions) they don't get thrown out of shul or suffer other communal punishments. Certainly, then, I might still be considered frum.

But then I thought about it again and realized that there is a fundamental difference between myself and the other cases we've seen. In the case of the Spinka Rebbe, for example, he certainly didn't mean to sin publicly. It was only the fact that the authorities discovered the crime that led to the public knowledge of his actions. Otherwise, he certainly would have continued hiding it. I, on the other hand, have no such defense. In the above situation, given the assumption that saving the driver and his daughter is forbidden, I would probably sin and so publicly and openly. That's a far cry from those who simply give into temptation once in a while and do so secretly and wish that they wouldn't do it.

Orthodoxy (in the modern sense) is usually defined by the "big three" mitzvos. We tend to consider people Orthodox if they publicly keep Shabbos, kashrus and taharas haMishpacha. Now that I find my status of being a shomer Shabbos in potential jeopardy, I wonder if I can, in all honesty, consider myself Orthodox anymore.

The Wolf

* The question of whether or not a non-shomer shabbos person can serve as a ba'al kriah aside, I'm willing to bet that most Orthodox shuls would want their official functionaries to be Orthodox and shomrei shabbos.

** Would you consider someone to be shomer Shabbos if they refrained from melacha most of the time but occasionally cooked a meal in public?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Photo: Father & Son

It's been a while since I put up a photo. Truth to tell, between school, work and professional training, I haven't had as much time for photography as I would have liked to have. I hope to get back to more shooting as soon as I can.

In the meantime, I take camera to family functions, including brissim. I took this shot at my cousin's bris. The hands belong to the baby and his father -- hence the title of the picture: Father & Son.

Canon XSi, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/40 sec

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

The Wolf

Previous Photos:
Bee on Flower
Foot In Hand (similar shot to this one)
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

Monday, January 18, 2010

When Does "Dan L'Kaf Z'Chus" Apply?

It seems that some Jews have a very interesting mindset as to when to extend the benefit of the doubt to someone and when not to. See some of the comments about this VIN story about the ZAKA workers who worked through Shabbos to save lives:

WHAT A SHAME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

can any 1 tell me which "posek " gave them "heter" 2 desecratShabbat


Chilul Shabbos! Plain and simple.


There is no machlokes here; there is NO opinion that permits this.

In other words, according to some of the commentators, there is absolutely no possible way that ZAKA could have done what they did without violating halacha. Seems fairly harsh. Of course, there were other commentators who were presenting the possibility that the actions of the ZAKA team were fine and commendable. Eventually, after some arguing, one commentator said the following:

How wonderful. If its a child molester, someone who steals from the government, or Tropper all we hear is 'dan l'chaf zechus!!!'. But when it comes to people saving lives all we get is righteous indignation and outrage from some people. Disgusting.

And it struck me that he was right. It would not surprise me at all to find that some of the very same people who condemn the ZAKA crew would be the same ones yelling "dan l'kaf z'chus" or "you don't know all the facts!" with regard to Tropper or the Spinka Rebbe or any other similar situation. Personally, I believe there are sufficient grounds to be dan l'kaf z'chus here as I have little doubt that ZAKA is in consultation with rabbinic authorities with regard to what they can and cannot do. Do I *know* that? No, but I highly doubt that they went there and acted completely on their own vis-a-vis Shabbos.

I gave the matter some thought and wondered why this case is so different that the "righteous" are out there screaming bloody murder (or chillul shabbos, as the case may be) here and not in the other cases. And then the answer struck me -- in this case, unlike the others, the beneficiaries of the actions in question are non-Jews. It seems to be that whenever a Rav is the "beneficiary" of an action that may be against the law (and halacha) we hear warnings from people to give them the benefit of the doubt. But when the benefactor is a non-Jew, all of a sudden there is no possible halachic justification and any possibility of "dan l'kaf z'chus" gets tossed out the window.

Or am I viewing this wrong?

The Wolf

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sit Down, Shut Up and Don't Question

An editorial appeared today on concerning whether or not it is acceptable to publicly question "da'as torah" or the words of the gedolim. The editorial, written by Shmuel Miskin, is in response to an post that appeared on The Lakewood Scoop.

Beth Medrash Govoha (the big yeshiva in Lakewood) has a policy that prohibits its students from going to Blue Claws games (the Lakewood Blue Claws are Class-A affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies). An anonymous author (M.E.) wrote to the Lakewood Scoop wondering if BMG might consider loosening the ban on Blue Claws games in light of the fact that people today need a "kosher" outlet -- more so than the past.

To be fair, I know next to nothing about the Blue Claws, BMG or the restriction -- but then again, that's not really the point here. M.E. may have a point that the restriction should be lifted or he may be utterly and completely wrong. It's all beside the point for the purpose of this discussion.

Shmuel Miskin, in his editorial, takes offense that someone has dared to even ask a question publicly about the ban. M.E., in his post, was not critical or disrespectful of the yeshiva administration. He wasn't even saying that the yeshiva should rescind the ban -- he merely brought up the question. But apparently, even that's unacceptable for Shmuel Miskin -- his view (unless I read the editorial wrong) is that even asking a question in public about policy change is wrong, disrespectful and "nothing less than a Chillul HaShem." Our lot is simply to accept the rules and shut up.*

But what if the rules are wrong? Yes, I know that some people may not be able to accept the fact that gedolim can possibly make an error -- but I'm not addressing people who believe in the Jewish version of papal infallibility. We have, unfortunately, seen time and again that there can be instances when gedolim base their decisions on incorrect information, are harried and/or manipulated into making decisions without properly reviewing all the facts. Sometimes, they can make the right decision and, due to the laws of unintended consequences, still have it turn into a disaster. And sometimes, a gadol may just may be plain wrong. So, if you believe that a decision is wrong for any one of the above reasons (or perhaps for another reason altogether) -- and it's a public policy decision that affects many people -- then why shouldn't it be subject to public debate? If something affects me, should I not have a right to speak my voice on the matter -- even if in the end I am overruled? Or am I a sheep whose job is to simply follow the shepherd without so much as a bleat of independent thought?

I am a firm believer in civil debate. I believe that if you're going to debate someone on an issue, s/he deserves to be addressed civilly and with respect** -- and that certainly goes all the more so for the gedolim. It's unfortunate that some may abuse the idea of respectful debate and start calling the gedolim names and otherwise denigrating them; but I don't believe that because some abuse a system that all have to suffer. If you follow that path, then no one should be allowed to own a knife or a car. But there should be no reason at all to disallow respectful questioning on public policy in public.

In some respects, it may be sad that the world of passive acceptance of the words of the gedolim without question has passed us by -- but it is a product of a bygone world. Sadly, since the gedolim have shown that they can err (and do so very publicly), there has to be a mechanism in place to allow for the respectful questioning (and yes, in public) of those public policy decisions that affect us.

The Wolf

* Yes, he does allow for private questioning, but I think that, at least with some gedolim, my chance of getting an audience is close to nil.

* *Of course, there are those that hold that the very act of disagreeing is disrespectful; but I obviously don't hold of that position.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Once Again, Banning Is Not The Way To Go...

YWN is reporting that teachers/administrators in Israel are being called to meetings to learn how to deal with students who come from homes where the Internet is available. The report states:

According to the latest HaMevaser report on the Internet concerns among Gedolei Yisrael Shlita, the organization of the nation’s seminaries are planning a kinos this coming Sunday to address the pressing matter. Principals of Chinuch Atzmai affiliated mosdos are also expected to convene in the near future to address the Internet problem.

Rabbonim have indicated they will not permit talmidim in mosdos if they come from homes with Internet connectivity. The same holds true for children of people who own, operate, or maintain an affiliation with chareidi websites, which have already been ordered shut, resulting in partial compliance.

I think that there is a frighteningly large potential for this type of ban to backfire that I wonder if the gedolim are truly analyzing the potential risks/rewards of their ban.

For a community that is experiencing massive parnassah problems (more so than the world at large), the decision to order the closure of websites that employ chareidim only exacerbates the problem. Now, people who were previously employed must go out and find other jobs -- probably in environments that are not as understanding of their social and religious needs as the chareidi websites were.

A person who cannot access the Internet will probably find it harder to find a job. I don't know what the situation in Israel is like, but when I need to find a job, the Internet is the first place I go to. I would be highly surprised to find that there weren't Israeli equivilents (or branches of) Monster, Dice, CareerBuilder and the like. Again, in a community where there is a large degree of poverty, we should be making it *easier* for those who are looking for jobs to find them, not harder.

By closing chareidi websites, people who used to get their news from "clean" sources will now have to go sources that are more likely to present the news in ways that the gedolim wouldn't approve of. Just to give an example... imagine that the gedolim ordered (and had the power to enforce) the closure of YWN, VIN and Matzav. What would happen? People would turn to FailedMessiah and OUJ and other sources for their news. Regardless of whether what those sites publish is true or false, I'm sure the gedolim wouldn't want people to go there for their news. The same applies to the chareidi websites -- by closing the "good" ones, they're only pushing people to ones where more salacious news will be reported. I believe this is the exact opposite of what the gedolim intended.

I also find it hard to believe that the ban is going to change the behavior of very many people. Those who were already listening to the gedolim long ago abandoned their Internet connections. Those that were already disregarding the gedolim in this regard will continue to do so. All that's going to change is that those who were accessing the Internet openly will now do so clandestinely. I think the last thing we need to be doing is setting up a situation where parents will be showing their kids that dishonesty is acceptable.* The gedolim certainly don't want to set up situations where kids will learn that it's okay to pay lip service to the words of the gedolim while secretly disobeying them behind their backs.

Then there is the issue of what will happen when a parent is caught with an internet connection. I have long been a proponent of the idea that you don't punish kids for their parents' sins. I said it with regard to Neturei Karta and I am willing to repeat it here -- unless the sin of the parent causes the kid to become a threat to the school or other students, you deal solely with the parent and not the kid. Yes, some might make the argument that the kid might see something on the Internet and repeat it to his/her classmates, etc. Hogwash. Firstly, the school can easily make a rule that *students* are not allowed to access the Internet and punish them for breaking it. Secondly, if you're going to punish the kid because he might pick up something, you can say the same thing about relatives/friends of the kids. Will you ban a kid from school because he has friends in his neighborhood with an Internet connection? Perhaps he might see something at his friend's house. What if his cousin has a TV? Maybe we should kick him out because his cousin might tell him a joke he heard on a Dick Van Dyke rerun that might make it back to the school? In other words, if you're going to kick a kid out of school because he might have secondhand access to material that you consider objectionable, then you have to extend the ban (and penalty of expulsion) quite a bit further than a parent with Internet access.

The worst part of all this is that the gedolim don't seem to realize that the battle is already lost. I can only believe that there are a significant number of chareidim in 2010 that still have Internet connectivity in their homes -- if it were a small minority, then there wouldn't be a need for such a strong public measure. If there are still a significant number of chareidim who are not willing to abandon the Internet after several years of decrees by the gedolim, then I am forced to conclude that the Internet is here to stay -- even among the chareidim.

Imagine living in a society where some people keep fierce guard dogs. The dogs are there partly as pets, but also partly for the utilitarian purpose of protecting the home from theives and other dangers. Of course, not every family has, or needs a dog. Some families may not have anything worth stealing -- and so they don't need a guard dog. Sadly, every so often, a guard dog may attack and injure a family member -- but yet a significant number of the community decide that the rewards of having the dogs around outweigh the risks. The mayor of the town, who is usually well-respected, starts speaking to people about the dangers of having the dogs around. Surely, he tells the people, you can get by without the dogs. So, some people get rid of the dogs while a significant number of them retain the dogs. Some start looking for ways to hide the dogs. Meanwhile, the families that had dogs but got rid of them begin suffering as thieves begin targeting their houses.

As time goes on, the mayor's opposition to the dogs grows. Anytime a child is taken to the hospital because of a dog bite, he takes the opportunity to hold a press conference about how badly the dogs need to go and how big a menace they are to the community. And yet, while some people heed his advice, others find the dogs too valuable to the functioning of their households to give them up. Finally, the mayor issues a law banning the dogs outright. Yet, despite that, there are still dogs in the community. Those that were inclined to heed the mayor already got rid of their dogs. Those that didn't, didn't. And so, even though the dogs are hidden, some people still managed to get attacked by dogs. Usually, it's in the dog-owning families, but occasionally, someone from a non-dog family might be attacked as well. And, of course, the thieves continue to strike because there are fewer guard dogs.

What's the next course of action to take?

The ideal course of action would be to understand that the dogs are necessary to the functioning of the neighborhood. Some people need the dogs to fend off the burglars and will not give them up. But by allowing people to have the dogs, you then have the opporutnity to encourage (and perhaps even mandate) training in dog-handling. You can teach people in the community how to react when a dog comes running down the street barking fiercely. You can teach the members of the community when and how to avoid the dogs, how to properly treat the dogs and how to properly use them. IMHO, education about the proper usage of dogs or the internet or anything else that is going to be encountered in life is the safest way to go. Will someone in this community still suffer the occasional dog attack? Certainly - but that's a far cry better than the situation they're in now.

The Wolf

* Note that this does not excuse parents from their actions -- but we shouldn't be intentionally setting up situations where this will happen on a large scale.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

What An Interesting Concept... An Open Minded School

Eeees and I have an 8th grader, who, for blogging purposes, is named George. As you can imagine, we've been looking at various high schools for George. Usually, George accompanied us to these open houses so that he could see what the school was like, but there was one open house to which we did not take him. Sadly, George was sick that day.

As it turned out, Eeees and I were somewhat impressed with what we saw that day. We were a bit sad that George missed the open house as it seemed like the type of school that would be just right for him.

Fortunately, the school held a "Spend the Day" program this past week for potential incoming students. And so, I drove George to the school for Shacharis that morning. Since I was in the neighborhood, I also stuck around for davening as well.

While I watched the students enter the shul and get ready for davening, I noticed something very interesting -- the lack of uniformity among the kids. Some wore hats and jackets with white shirts. Others wore hats or jackets. Some didn't wear either. Some kids had the big black velvet yarmulkes. Some had leather yarmulkes. Some had knitted. One kid had the large knitted cap that some sephardim wear. While all the boys wore button-down shirts, some wore white, while other wore colored shirts. Some even had stripes (sometimes of numerous colors).

I found it very interesting that this school is willing to accept (and seemingly embraces) kids from a wide variety of derachim (paths). In addition, it seems that they are willing to let each kid be who he is and not try to force him into a mold that he might not be comfortable with.

Quite refreshing to see. I think we might have a winner here.*

The Wolf

*Not for that reason alone, of course... but the seeming open-mindedness was a nice surprise.