Friday, April 30, 2010

Photos: Macro: Pink Azalea Blossoms

I took this one with my macro lens two weeks ago. There is a shul in my neighborhood with a beautiful azalea bush growing in the yard. So, I snapped on my macro lens and fired away. Here was the result:

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, f/7.1, 1/100 second.

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

The Wolf

To see all of my photo posts, click here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Leggings Under A Skirt Is Not Tznius?

Perhaps someone can explain this to me.

A friend of Eeees recently received a letter from her kids' school. In short the letter said that it was a violation of tznius rules for a woman to wear leggings under her skirt (even if the skirt is of the proper length).

For the life of me, I can't figure this out. How are leggings any worse than tights? On the contrary, I would think that leggings are better than tights since it is less form-fitting on the exposed lower leg.

Can anyone please explain the logic of this to me?

The Wolf

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Someone Has A Strange Definition of Half

From an wig store ad in this week's Binah.

The Wolf

Friday, April 23, 2010

Photos: Tulip and Sky

I took this shot while walking around my neighborhood this past Sunday. I happen to enjoy taking pictures of flowers. However, at the end of the day, a rose is a rose is a rose -- we've all seen flowers before and we're all familiar with the more common types.

The question then becomes, how do you make a picture of a common flower (such as a tulip) more interesting?

One way to do it is to take the picture from an angle that we don't often see. More than 99% of the times that we see tulips, we see them from the top or the side. We don't however, look at the from bottom up. Since we don't often see them that way, that's the angle I chose for my photograph. I laid down on the ground beside the tulip and shot the picture.

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, f/2.8, 1/2000

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

The Wolf

See all my photo posts here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I Don't Know What's Scarier...

... the thoughts penned in this letter, or the number of people who commented to say that they feel the same way.

The Wolf

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Wolf Responds: Shidduch Woes

A letter appeared on from a young woman (pen named "A Crying Bas Yisroel" at the "ripe old" age of 23 who, sadly, has not yet found her husband. She's kind, well-put-together, cute and pretty (by her own description) and gainfully employed. So, what's the problem? According to her, the problem lies in factors beyond her control:

My parents don’t have money and we don’t have yichus. We don’t have “pull” and we don’t have connections. So with all my maalos, I am told that I am just like thousands of other girls. And so the phone does not ring.

My mother pursues shidduchim, only to get flat-out nos. I have been out with a handful of boys in four years of being in shidduchim. Think that’s nuts? Ask around. It’s not. That’s the lot that we’ve been given. We, girls, try so hard, doing everything we are supposed to in life, only to have to sit around, never knowing if our shidduch will ever come.

Personally, I think it's a shame that there are segments of our society that are so caught up in money and yichus for potential marriage partners that they don't look at the individual person.

You can read the entire letter on Matzav. I penned my own response:

Dear Crying,

I am so sorry that the Shidduch world has not treated you well. I hope that you find your bashert soon. No one deserves to be treated as you have been.

That being said, I think you need to take three important steps.

1. Drop the notion that 23 is old. It's not. There are plenty of women who got married later than 23 and went on tho have successful and loving marriages. 23 is not old -- despite the fact that some people may try to convince you otherwise.

2. Consider yourself lucky. I know it may not seem that way, but you are. You have just managed to avoid a bunch of jerks who are interested only in money or yichus. Tell me -- do you want a spouse who appreciates you for who you are, or for who your ancestors were and how much money your parents have? Based on your letter, you sound like the former. That being the case, congratulations -- you managed to avoid a bunch of people looking for the latter. I know it may be a small comfort to you, but it is an important fact to consider.

3. You have to stop being reactive and begin being proactive. Stop waiting for the phone to ring -- take matters into your own hands. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone. It may mean actively networking with friends and their husbands/relatives. It may mean using an online dating site, as another poster here recommended. It may mean going to singles events. In short, you have to maximize your opportunity to meet people -- both men and people who can introduce you to them.

Good luck on your journey and may you soon find yourself building a bayis ne'eman b'yisroel.

The Wolf

Friday, April 09, 2010

MK Gafni on Poverty: Going To Work Solves Nothing; That's All Nonsense

A rather incredible article appeared on the Dei'ah veDibur site this week entitled Bank of Israel: Entering Workforce Does Not Ensure Escape from Poverty. The article tries to make the case that, for chareidim in Israel, leaving welfare is a bad thing and that families that do leave welfare do not end up better off financially.

The article quotes MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni (the Knesset Finance Committee Chairman) who states:

"The country is lying to its citizens. Once again it has been shown that leaving the ranks of welfare recipients and joining the job market does not change the situation and people who work very hard for their living are unable to make ends meet."

He also goes on to say (emphasis mine):

"Emerging from the cycle of poverty requires an ability to get accepted to one of the positions that brings in tens and hundreds of thousands of shekels per month. Going to work solves nothing; that's all nonsense. In the State of Israel, today someone who wants to get out of the cycle of poverty has to network with the elites and the power centers just to get a decent salary that will really enable him to make a respectable living."

In other words, according to Rabbi Gafni, working is worthless. We're all better off just increasing welfare payments to people so that they can sustain themselves. I don't know if his comment that you need "tens and hundreds of thousands of shekels" of shekels per month to get out of poverty is accurate (it sounds high to me), but let's say, for the moment, that he's correct (given chareidi family sizes). Assuming a shekel is worth about a quarter (it's actually a bit more right now), that's the equivalent of saying that you need "twenty five hundreds to twenty five thousands dollars per month" to escape poverty. Of course, jobs paying twenty five grand a month are scarce... I don't have one, nor do the vast majority of people in the U.S. But what Rabbi Gafni is missing (or, IMHO, purposely avoiding) is that people on welfare, when they enter the workforce, generally start by talking entry-level jobs that are meant for unskilled workers. As their skills and experience increase, workers will be able to begin commanding higher salaries. When I started working, I was earning very, very little. However, now that I've been working for quite a few years and have invested in some training and education, I now command a much higher salary. Had I said, twenty years ago, that it doesn't pay to work because I can't get my present salary, I would have been an idiot. Very few people get to start at the top... most of us have to work our way up through the ranks, just like everyone else. That means you "pay your dues" by working for a while at low wages and then, with hard work, experience and a bit of Siyata D'Shmaya (Divine Providence), you will begin to earn better wages.

Of course, all this is predicated on one assumption -- that the person is employable and has job skills that he can bring to the market. Rabbi Gafni makes the following observation concerning the ability to earn a salary (again, emphasis mine):

"The problem is especially acute in the chareidi public. The state does not recognize the years of yeshiva and seminary study as it recognizes the years of study of its secular citizens. As a result both husband and wife who work earn paltry salaries, and are unable to extract the family from the cycle of poverty. On the other hand there are people earning as much as an entire neighborhood."

And here, Rabbi Gafni has the solution to the problem staring him in the face and he willfully chooses to ignore it. The problem, very simply, is education. When people are not educated with any skills (other than being a rebbe/teacher), there is little chance that they will be able to command a "good salary" when they enter the workforce. In order to command a "good salary," a worker has to be able to show that s/he will add at least that much value to the enterprise and have skills that differentiate him/herself from the other people seeking employment. Almost anyone off the street can answer a phone or man a cash register -- and so those jobs pay very little. On the other hand, since not everyone can hold the job of a skilled worker (be it computer programmer, plumber, doctor, etc.), people in those professions earn more.

In the ultimate of ironies, Rabbi Gafni even brings an example of a high earner and, instead of recognizing why the person has a high salary, he engages in petty envy. He states (once more, emphasis mine):

"We considered the possibility of setting up a ministerial committee to discuss the inconceivable wage gaps that exist in this country. We need a far-reaching change and a totally new attitude. There are enormous class gaps in this country that will turn into an existential social problem. The salary the CEO of Bank Mizrachi receives is enough to sustain a whole street in Bnei Brak. These class disparities have led to very difficult situations throughout history in all places, and it is imperative that the government comes to its senses on time."

I don't know who the CEO of Bank Mizrachi is, and I certainly don't know his salary or whether or not it can really sustain a street in Bnei Brak. But I do know this: he probably holds an MBA and/or an advanced degree in finance. He probably didn't walk in off the street on his first day of work and say "I want to be the CEO." He probably spent years working at less prestigious jobs, building up his experience. He probably put in a lot of hours over the years and earned the respect of his peers in the banking industry. He probably spent quite a bit of time networking professionally. In other words, the CEO of Bank Mizrachi earns a large salary because he has worked himself up to that point, not because it was magically given to him.

Rabbi Gafni looks at the CEO of Bank Mizrachi and purposely ignores the very reason for his success. Instead of crediting his education, skill and hard work, he says that you have to "network with the elites and the power centers" to get a decent job. As if anyone could get a CEO job (or any job that requires skills) just simply by knowing an "elite" or someone in a "power center." He purposely (IMHO) ignores the importance of education and job skills and says that it's better to simply sit back, give up on any chance for developing job skills and get a welfare check from the government.

I find it utterly ironic that Rabbi Gafni is complaining about poverty in the chareidi community when it's attitudes like his that are the chief reason for it. When school systems are purposely designed NOT to teach any job skills and the society is set up to actively discourage getting an education that will lead to such skills, there can be little doubt that the outcome will be continued poverty. In short, Rabbi Gafni is like someone who ensures that there are no firefighters and then complains when his house burns down and no one was there to put out the fire.

The Wolf

Friday, April 02, 2010

Photo: Sunset Over The Hudson

I took this shot last night as the sun was going down over New Jersey. I took it by Pier 42 (that's the crumbling pier in the picture) in Hudson River Park.

Canon XSi, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/5, 1/200 sec, circular polarizing filter.

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

The Wolf

To see all my photo posts, click here.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

How To End Some Torah/Science Disputes

During the meal at the second seder, the topic of discussion turned to astronomy. When the subject of the planets came up (specifically regarding the decision to "demote" Pluto), my fourteen year old niece, who tends toward the fundamentalist side, announced that the Torah says that there are only seven planets. When I mentioned to her that there were, in fact, more than seven planets, she simply repeated her assertion with a "that's-what-the-Torah-says-and-that's-that" tone.

I didn't press the point any further that evening, but as I thought about it the next day, I realized that my niece was both right and wrong. The problem, very simply, is that she and I were not using the same definition of the word "planet."

Allow me to give some historical background.

When the ancients studied the skies at night, they made some observations about the positions of the stars. They noticed that as the sky rotates overhead during the night (remember, they didn't know that it was the earth that was rotating), the stars in the sky moved, but kept their positions relative to each other. In addition, they kept their positions during the year as well -- a particular star could be counted on to disappear below the horizon at a certain time of the year and reappear at the same position (relative to the other stars) at a later point during the year.

However, there were seven heavenly bodies, they noted, that did not keep their positions. These planets "wandered" among the other stars -- sometimes moving forward against the other stars, sometimes regressing backwards (and sometimes displaying both behaviors at different times). These seven wanderers became the "planets," from the Greek word for wanderer. The seven bodies that displayed these properties were the Moon, Mercury, Venus, the Sun, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.

Of course, as time went on, we gained a better understanding of the heavens than the ancients had. Copernicus showed that most of the "planets" actually revolved around the sun, not around the Earth. The sun was eventually identified as a star, one of the billions of stars in our galaxy. The word "planet" now no longer referred to the wanderers of the heavens, but to heavenly bodies (of significant size) that orbit the sun. In addition, with better optics than the ancients had at their disposal, we even discovered that most of the planets in our solar system had moons of their own. Better telescopes and observations have allowed us to find Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Sedna and other minor ("dwarf") planets. And, of course, within the last fifteen years, we've gained the ability to detect planets orbiting other stars and have, to date, discovered 442 of them.

So, what is the true believer to do? If one believes that the Torah says that there are seven planets, and one wants to remain "Torah true," how does one reconcile the astronomy of the last few hundred years with the words of Chazal? Does one say that astronomy is a sham and that the data is faked? Does one say that the pictures NASA released from the Pioneer and Voyager missions are fakes? Does one say that the astronomers know the truth, but are simply faking it to suppress God's truth?

Well, you could take that approach -- although I think it's really very silly. The simple answer is also the best answer -- that when Chazal (or the Rishonim) talk about planets, they are referring to points of light that "wander" against the background sky. Using that definition, they are correct -- there are only seven* planets. But one has to recognize that the definition of the word "planet" has changed over the years and that when we discuss planets today, we are using a different definition of the term. As a result, it is also correct to say that there are well more than seven planets.

I often wonder how many Torah/science arguments could be avoided if we simply recognize that the meanings of words, including planet, species, bird, animal, star and even science among many others have had their definitions change over the years. Of course, not all Torah/science arguments would end -- but a fair number of them could be put to rest.

The Wolf

* Yes, I know Uranus is sometimes visible with the naked eye which would make eight planets -- but it's so infrequent and it's orbital period so long that it was probably just not noticed by the ancients. And, of course, this also excludes comets.