Saturday, February 27, 2010

Photo: What Is It? (The Answer)

So, I put up the picture shown below and asked people what they thought it was. One last chance to take a guess before looking at the answer below:

Canon XSi, 75-300mm lens at 75mm, f/11, 30 seconds.

Last week, I was riding in a car on the Belt Parkway at night. I looked out the window and saw the crescent moon hanging in the sky. I decided to try to get the picture.

In reality, I knew even before I started that it was a futile effort. The road was bumpy, it was late at night and I didn't have a tripod to steady the shot (not that it would have helped because of the bouncing the car was doing). Nonetheless, I decided "what the heck," attached my zoom lens, pointed the camera out the window and opened the shutter.

I kept the shutter opened for 30 seconds, hoping to catch some part of the moon. The picture above is the result. The lights you see are streaks of light* from street lights, headlights and various buildings in the background as we drove by.

As it turns out, I *did* manage to get the moon in my picture. It's the wispy, smoky part of the image in the lower right corner.

The moral of the story: You never know what you're going to get and (at least with digital) it always pays to shoot liberally. I knew I had no real chance of getting a nice moon shot, but because I decided to try anyway, I ended up with a very different type of image.

The Wolf

* I discussed how to make light trails in this post.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Photo: What Is It?

Last Saturday night, I took this photo. I gave my Facebook fans first crack at figuring out what it was this morning. Now it's up to you. I'll put up the right answer on after Shabbos.

The only clue I'll give you is that I did not intentionally set out to take this photo.

The Wolf

Davening: Which Is Preferable?

A few nights ago, I was davening Ma'ariv in my local shul. Most of the shul is of the black hat/jacket type. I am one of the few who don't fit that mold - but that's all right. No one at the shul has ever harrassed me or even looked askance at my lack of jacket and/or hat.

That being said, on this particular night, I was dressed in a button-down work shirt (blue, dress-casual), no hat or jacket. A friend of mine was dressed in a button-down white shirt, tie, jacket... and a baseball cap.

The get-up led me to thinking... was wearing the baseball cap the right thing to do? If one applies the concept that one should daven as he would appear before a king, then I would think that the person should lose the cap. No one would go before a king with a jacket, tie and baseball cap*. Most people, I would think, would sooner go without the cap in just a jacket & tie. And even if you're going to argue that that's just a reflection of non-Jewish culture (which regards the removing of the hat as a sign of respect), you probably wouldn't go to the Gadol HaDor like that either. If you had to go and had no formal hat and the only choices were yarmulke only or yarmulke plus baseball cap, my guess would be that most would go without the baseball cap.

There is also the custom of having a double-head covering when davening. However, I wonder if this should be observed at the expense of making one look silly. What if the only "second cover" you could find was a jester cap (assuming, of course, it's not Purim), would you wear it for davening? Does the custom to have a second head covering really overrule common sense with regard to how one looks when davening in front of God?

What are your thoughts?

The Wolf

* Possible exception: if you were meeting the king at the ballpark and your cap was that of his favorite team.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tznius Lunacy Abounds

From the tznius craziness files this week:

Don't Sing So Well...

A young bride moves to Lakewood to be with her husband's family. Her sister-in-law, who is affiliated with a local tznius organization which was sending out a mass-mailing in the community. The mass-mailing was to include a CD with songs sung by women. (I would presume that the mailing was meant only for women.) The sister-in-law recruits the young bride (who apparently has had some voice training) to record a few tracks for the CD. Sister-in-law, who also sings (but not as well as the young bride) also recorded some songs for the track.

So, what happened?

my mother ending up slipping to me, that the tznius organization wasn’t going to be using any of the tracks that I sang on. They loved my voice, it’s beautiful, don’t get them wrong. However, in comparison to my sister-in-laws voice (which is quite nice) mine is much more trained, and since the purpose of the organization is to promote tznius, they didn’t think it was a good idea to have a voice like mine on their cd.

A trained singing voice is not tznius? Keep in mind, we're not talking about a woman singing in front of men, since were that the case, the women would not have recorded any tracks at all. We're talking about women singing in front of women -- and it's still not considered tznius! One wonders where this is headed next. Will women swimming together not be allowed to wear a standard bathing suit because it's not tznius?

(UPDATE 2/25 8:30AM: See below for explanation on this next item)
Your Blog Might Lead To Mixed Dancing

Next up on the hit parade, Altie, of MoVinG oN, a Chabad-Lubavitch female blogger, reports that she received an email from "The Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Purity" (whomever they may be), telling her that she must close her comments to males and restrict what she writes to things that don't reflect badly on Chabad or Crown Heights. Ideally, of course, it would be better for a Bas Melech to not blog at all, as the idea of a woman expressing her thoughts violates the principle of kol k'vudah bas melech p'nima. As the letter states:

Kol kvuda bas melech pnima. A girl’s purpose is to be a mekabel. Not to overly express herself to the world around her. Al achas kama vkama to express herself in a way that is nontznius, and therefore is a drastic chillul Hashem and chillul shem Lubavtich.

and (emphasis added)

Obviously, to cease to express yourself through the derech of the internet, or bchlal in the world, as stated above: kol kvuda bas melech pnima, that would be the ideal. We hope that one day you will realize this remedy on your own. As for now, we are merely requesting the abovementioned guidelines to follow.

From the positive can be inferred the negative, and we hope that “a word to the wise is sufficient”. We would hope to not have to resort to any unpleasant measures, but of course we will do what must be done.

Interestingly enough, in their next email, they asked her to rat out her "blogging friends."

Incidentally, if you could share with us some information about a few of your 'blogging' friends (which as you know, the Rebbe would be very against having such friendships in the first place. It goes against everything the holy Torah dictates), then your help would show your sincere desire to not cause us to take necessary actions.

The committee would have made ol' Joe McCarthy proud.

The Pop Star Who Came To Lakewood

Moving right along, we have the letter from a store clerk in Lakewood who doctors products when the containers contain non-tznius images... and then catches flack when he or his staff misses one of the thousands of packages. He tells the story of one instance where a package contained an image of a female teen pop-star. The store clerks went to work marking up the containers but apparently missed at least one. A woman who bought a missed package came into the store and made a scene, screaming “What if a boy bought this and took it to another level?”

Took it to another level? What was he going to do? Call Miley Cyrus' agent to arrange a hook-up?

Eventually, the matter went to a local posek who ruled that as long as the images are covered, they can be sold.

The clerk, however, put the problem in focus:

There are so many problems. But no. A picture of a teen pop star was more important to wast the posek’s precious time. We have people dealing drugs to our kids, and this woman convinced the posek that our disposable package with a smiling girl will destroy our kids. I work in a store. I hear all. I know what is going on in this town. There are so many crazy problems. I never once heard someone say their child went off because of a fruit snacks package with a cd offer from M.C

Tznius Is In The Eyebrow Of The Beholder

And lastly, we have the case in Israel where an eyebrow shaping advertisement has drawn the wrath of local officials in Modiin Ilit (in Israel). It seems that the shape of an eyebrow is enough to cause the passions of men to erupt and, as such, the ads are not tznius. As Rafi (from Life In Israel) points out, this is likely to have an economic impact on the women of Modiin Ilit, as cosmotology is a very popular career among the wives of the community.

I always find it amazing how overboard we go with tznius. It's one thing to have rules and guidelines. There should be guidelines for acting and dress (for men AND women). I do believe that there is wisdom in a limited separation of the sexes. But the extremes to which some people carry it are just too much. I've often observed that the very first place we encounter tznius is when the prophet tells us to walk humbly with God. When he told us that, he wasn't advising us regarding skirt lengths, stockings and women singing in public. Do you think the women who caused a scene in the Lakewood grocery was adhering to the principle of Hatzneah Leches Im Hashem Elokecha? I don't think so - on the contrary, I'm convinced her actions were the direct opposite.

The Wolf

UPDATE 2/25 8:30am: Apparently the item on Altie's blog was a hoax. My apologies for posting it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

One (Hopefully) Last Word On The Execution Of Martin Grossman

Unless you've lived under a rock for the last two weeks, you're probably aware that Martin Grossman was executed last week for the murder of wildlife officer Peggy Park in 1984. As the execution date drew closer, the case gained a lot of publicity as many Jews in the Orthodox world (as well as many non-Jews as well) attempted to persuade Governor Crist to either commute the sentence to life in prison without parole or grant a stay of execution. In the end, Grossman's appeals were exhausted and he was executed.

During the course of the campaign, some people decided to reach out and harass the mother of Peggy Park for not joining the campaign for clemency for Grossman. The blogger, OnionSoupMix, lives in Mrs. Parks' neighborhood and has written a letter to her apologizing for the actions of her more extreme coreligionists. You can find it on her blog, Matzav and ChabadOnLineLive. I urge you to read it and, if you agree with her sentiments, send her your name so she can attach it to the letter.

Personally, I am sickened by some of the sentiments expressed by people towards the Park family in the aftermath of the execution. Some of the "choice" comments from Matzav and COL commentators include (anything in brackets is my own translation/interpretation):

L’ma’ashe she caused retzichah, we do not have to apologize, even mitzad menshlachkait.
(Translation: In fact, she caused murder [Martin Grossman's, I'm presuming] we do not have to apologize, even with regard to being a mentsch[acting properly]).

the man did tishuva [repentance]! all he wanted was to live in jale [sic] for the rest of his life….and even so this rishanta [wicked woman] insisted on his death and went to watch it!

wow, it would be nice to focus more on ahavat yisroel [love of your fellow Jew] than feelings of a mother who waited 25 years to have a Jew dead!

"halacha shesav sone leyaakov" [it's a "law" that non-Jews hate Jews] she hates you and you r [sic] going to gather apology signatures!

tell her to get A LIFE!
Martin Grossman killed Margaret Park in 1984.
the state of Florida executed Martin Grossman in 2010.
MOTHER OF PEGGY PARK, MOVE ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Personally, these comments disgust and sicken me and make me feel ashamed to be in the same species, let alone religion. Whether you think the execution was justified or not, I utterly fail to understand how someone cannot empathize with a woman who has waited twenty five years to see justice done in the murder of her daughter. People who, God forbid, lose children NEVER "get a life" and "move on," even when they die natural or accidental deaths.

To me, someone who cannot empathize with a mother wanting the full measure of legal justice for her slain child, regardless of the length of time involved, is simply uncaring, unfeeling and does certainly does not possess one of the traits that is supposed to be characteristic of Jews -- rachmanim (people who have mercy). And I feel sorry for them -- moreso than I do for Mr. Grossman. At least, at the end of his life, he learned to empathize with someone else and apologize for causing them pain. Others in our community seem to relish in it and want to victimize the Parks all over again.

The Wolf

An Experiment I'd LOVE To Try...

There is a non-Jewishly owned pharmacy near where I work. Like many large pharmacies, they carry a wide range of products, including some groceries, candies, etc.

Around Channukah time, the store put out some Pashkez gold coin candies. They were put out in a Pashkez display box and were sold in the little red net bags. The red net bags had a little tag that identified it as a Pashkez product and had the hashgacha printed on it. In addition, many of the coins had the word "Pashkez" raised on the gold wrapping.

The coins were out for a while, but it seems the store got stuck with a few too many of them. Today, I saw a big plastic jar on the counter. It was filled with red and gold coins -- the red ones presumably being Christmas coins and the gold ones clearly identifiable as Channukah coins. The coins were no longer in the little net bags, but yet, on many of the gold ones, you can clearly see the word "Pashkez" raised on the coin. The coins were on sale for a nickel each.

If I had the time and the guts, I'd love to take 100 frum people (who would otherwise eat chocolate) into the store and offer to buy them a clearly identifiable Pashkez coin. I'd love to know how many people would fall into each of these categories:

a. Eat the chocolate

b. Not each the chocolate because of appearances/discomfort (because the coin was in the same container as possibly non-kosher coins).

c. Not each the coin because they have a very real fear that some non-Jews, in order to trick Jews into eating non-kosher food, removed the kosher chocolate from the Pashkez wrapping, inserted a non-kosher chocolate coin, and re-wrapped it again.

The Wolf


I'm sure by now, many of you have seen (or at least heard of) the Rosh Yeshiva in Israel who is so against computers that he and members of his yeshiva engaged in a "computer smashing ceremony."

Now, I'll grant you that this Rosh Yeshiva seems to be very extreme in his beliefs and they don't reflect the beliefs about computers in the Orthodox world or even in the chareidi/yeshivish world. But nonetheless, we have to keep in mind that there are extremists out there who are always ready to shout "chadash assur min HaTorah" (that which is new* is forbidden by the Torah) about anything new innovation that might impact how Jews live their religious lives. Another example of this that comes to mind is a post from Hirhurim back in 2006. A new book was brought to R. Student's attention which had the following haskama (approbation):

However, the novelty is intensified in that you have completed this entire endeavor without the counterfeit aid (siyu'a she-ein bo mamash) of machines that are being innovated constantly (ha-mitchadeshim la-bekarim), like the invention of the "computer" and the like. For anyone who touches one of them is touching the apple of the eye of the Torah! For the Torah cannot being acquired through the pressing of the finger on a button, rather through strenuous labor that literally brings one close to death! And I declare that the difference between the such labor and the workings of the computer is like the difference between machine matzah and hand-made matzah, and those who understand will comprehend (veha-meiven yavin).

I wonder what the rav would have to say about the printing press or modern typographical innovations. I find it highly interesting that the rav who gave this hashkama objects to a person compiling a sefer by using a computer, but would (probably) have no objections to having sefarim printed rather than hand-written, or learning by the light of a nice electric bulb rather than by the light of a flickering candle as our ancestors did for thousands of years. And, of course, I would imagine that if he had to go somewhere outside of walking distance for a mitzvah, he would probably take a car or bus and not go through the "strenuous labor" of going via horse, mule or some other ancient method. (Side question: If you use a modern lighter to light your oven for matzah baking rather than using flint-and-steel, is that the equivilant of eating machine matzah?)

That aside, I find one other aspect of the computer-smashing ceremony highly instructive. According to the person who uploaded the video to YouTube, the computer was used for the purpose of earning a living. In other words, the guy who owned it was a "working" person who decided to stop. A yeshiva, geared towards ba'alei teshuva, is presumably encouraging those ba'alei teshuva to stop working and learn full time. I'm not saying that a ba'al teshiva should be prevented from learning full time if he can afford to and is willing/able to become a future leader (i.e. the same criteria I would use for the "FFB" crowd), but there is something important to consider. Such people (especially in Israel) are very valuable -- people who are frum, educated (secularly) and with marketable job skills (which he presumably has since he had a job). With an ever increasing chunk of Israeli frum society being made up of chareidim who, by and large (although exceptions certainly exist), are NOT educated secularly and do NOT have marketable job skills, I would think that unless a ba'al teshuva with such skills in the chareidi world would be extremely valuable in being able to help support the community, especially in such troubling economic times. I would think that to have him learn full-time (rather than work), his potential value as a leader would have to be extraordinarily high, considering the value that is being given up to have him learn full time. Perhaps that's the case here -- we don't have enough information to judge -- but I would think that the odds are against it. If the former laptop owner in question were truly a prodigy, he'd probably be in a mainstream yeshiva.

The Wolf

* The saying actually has halachic significance. It really refers to new grain which grows in Israel which is forbidden for use before the Omer sacrifice which was brought on the second day of Passover. Such new grain was called "chadash" (new) and, unlike old grain ("yoshon") could not be used before the sacrifice. The Chasam Sofer, in his fight against the emerging Reform movement applied the statement to refer not to new grain, but to new ideas and concepts in Judaism.

UPDATE (2:40pm EST): According to VIN, the computer owner is still working. He is a photographer who used the computer to develop his (presumably digital) photographs. Now he's going to go back to using film and developing the pictures traditionally. Knowing what I know about how much more efficient digital photography is over film, I think the guy's nuts or the whole story is a bit too fishy. Or, perhaps, he's a film purist... but those are few and far between, and I find it odd that he'd be using a digital camera up until now and then revert to film. Most film purists never switched to digital in the first place.

The Wolf

Friday, February 19, 2010

Not Abandoned

I know I haven't posted in a while, but I want to let you all know that I'm not retiring, nor "fading into the night." I've been a bit busy between school, work, photography projects and family (not necessarily in that order). In addition, I've been suffering from a bad case of writer's block and some small measure of general disgust over some of the stuff that goes on. But don't worry, I'm still here and have every intention to continue posting.

The Wolf