Sunday, May 31, 2009


It's unfortunate I wasn't able to write anything about Shavuot here before it occurred, but I think for someone who is or once was a yeshiva student the most important thing to remember is that Shavuot is like a "Rosh Hashana" for Torah. On it is judged how our 'learning' will be throughout the year (and our 'learning' of course is the basis of our spirituality, and therefore our lives).

I dislike the fact that from all the thoughts I have in my solitary quiet of Shabbat and Yom Tov I remember nothing after they're through (I'm like Harrison Bergeron's father, just without the noise).

One thought I found amusing would be to write a story about two lovers in the era of the destruction of the Second Temple in which they would be separated; the girl perhaps being taken captive to Rome and the guy then going with his father to start a new life in Babylon. And the second half (or flashbacks perhaps) would be the woman's Ashkenazi descendant and the man's Sefaradi descendant falling in love in the homeland of their ancestors. (The idea obviously came to me due to the fact that I was born in Israel to an Ashkenazi mother and a Sefaradi father. And it is likely that my mothers family emigrated from Germany before they came to Poland, and from Italy/Rome before they came to Germany, and of course from Israel to Rome. On the other hand my fathers family came from Spain before they settled to Morocco, and were probably in Morocco originally before they came to Spain. Before that they probably lived in Babylon and had come to there from Israel. Therefore it is in fact possible that my ancestors became separated when they left Israel centuries ago, and were recently reunited., etc.).

Another thing I pondered about a lot is how easily children are influenced by everything they see or hear. I came to think of that by reading many autobiographical notes of Orson Scott Card, which brings me to recall just how impressionable I was as a child. ..and it will inevitably be us who will be the ones to decide the earliest memories of our own children. It's quite mind boggling to me when I think of it. Every time I consider it I come to the conclusion that most people (including myself) aren't quite worthy of deciding what should form the basis of a child's memories and thought processes... ..oh well..

Speaking of Scott Card, I read "Ender's Game" over the holiday (not quite appropriate, I know). ..interesting..

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Blogger Engagment

Well, I was thankfully able to make it to the engagement (or was it a "l'chaim?) of "LE7" (Elisheva) and "TRS" (Chanan) last night, who actually met through their blogs. I mentioned to him that I found it ironic that he was the one to criticize me for representing an over-interest in members of the opposite sex on blogs (something I didn't agree with at the time) when he himself found his future wife on a blog. He responded jokingly that he was actually attempting to do away with any possible competition.

There was actually another Chabad "blogging couple" there, but they did not meet on a blog. There was also someone who was close to having met a girl through a blog, but it never materialized. I myself made an attempt to acquaint myself with a female through her blog, but she didn't quite fancy me as much as I did her (not to mention she was already taken!).

There were also a surprisingly large amount of people with their own written electronic journals; from what I counted there were at least ten bloggers present there. Ten, whereas before I had seen none! I first met "TRS" of course, then "Frum Satire" (Heshy), "Nemo" (with whom I had had extensive discussions in the past), "Real and Write", "J" (both of whom I was not very aware of previously) and "e" whom I had known already from school, but wasn't aware he wrote a blog till recently. On the girls side was of course Elisheva, and from what I understand "Cheerio" and "Sarabonne" were there as well ("C" and Chaviva and Tuvia not having been able to attend). There might have been some others among the men that I wasn't aware of ("Dovid" perhaps).

In the beginning it seemed like the only bloggers I was going to see were Heshy and Chanan, but the others arrived while Chanan had started reading a "maamar" of "the Rebbe" (which took a surprisingly long time). I was able to have some interesting discussions with most of the male bloggers I mentioned. Towards the end I stepped outside and an old man was accosting "e" for having trimmed his beard (something considered uncouth in the Chabad community)...which was amusing. ...I was there a little more than three hours..

Though there was one aspect of the gathering which I considered a bit ..of a bummer; the strict segregation of the sexes. Not that I was there to 'meet girls', but I admit it would have been somewhat satisfying to my curiosity to have been able to see some of the female bloggers who are known to me only through words.

I mean, I am aware that no matter how "hip" or "American" these people might be, they are adherents of a "Chasidut" and complete separation of the sexes is an integral part of that lifestyle. There is a general question, though, as to whether it is correct to enact such restrictions on young people who would be facilitated in finding a spouse had mingling been possible. I saw Harry Maryles discuss this recently. He has what I consider to be reasonable ideas on the subject.

The source, of course, for this separation is the passage at the end of Sukkah (52a) which infers that "if the Israelites were separate at times of mourning how much more so should they be separated in times of joy (when sin is prevalent)?". Those opposed to the segregation feel that while this passage is generally true it is not applicable to young Jews who need a venue in which to meet members of the opposite sex for the sake of marriage. Yet this is an old and well discussed topic, so I would rather not burden the person who might be reading this..

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Year in Israel

[I changed the picture because the previous one contained inividuals who did not display the highest standards of modesty in dress!]
As usual, and especially this time of year, I've been considering my having begun University-level studies much later than most (obviously due to my having been in institutions of Jewish learning for so long). I usually consider my situation, unfortunately, in contrast with those many years my junior who are commencing or have commenced their studies, sometimes in the very same field I am pursuing (not to mention the 150 hour rule!). I consider my situation, friends, at times in contrast to people who not only did not attend institutions of higher Judaic education for many years such as myself, but with those who haven't attended at all; with those that took their lives and careers more seriously than myself from an early age.

But then again friends, is it correct to me to envy those individuals? I've considered this and have concluded that there is no reason for me to respect these people so. For the young man who or young woman who forfeit attending yeshiva or seminary for at least a year in our current framework perhaps takes their careers seriously, but it is obvious that they do not take their religion very seriously.

"Attending these institutions is of doubtful necessity" one may say, "and are not necessarily conductive to greater piety" one may add. I have considered this matter as well, many years ago, and in my historic/tradition-oriented approach to judging the propriety or lack thereof of practices in vogue in the Jewish community, I have concluded that the Jews seem to have always, if not surpassed the level of schooling of their neighbors with religious schooling, at least reached the same level. For example for most of recent history, primary school was the height of education for most, therefore Jewish schools ended at the age of thirteen as well. When high schools started to pop up, the Jews in Europe started to have religious schooling till the same age. And the same goes for college. Yet the question became "what ratio should there be of general studies to religious studies?". This question, mind you, applies to the University just as much as it does to the grade school.

The answers were varied. To make a long story short; it has been decided by some that one is to at least engage in a significant amount (year) of all-religious studies at the college level, just as our fore bearers spent their grade school years in religious studies (although the majority of our ancestors did not have the opportunity to study in yeshivas. In those times it was reserved to only the most scholarly).

This, therefore, is a once in many generation opportunity for us; for us, the common man, to be able to enter into the Beit Midrash and study the Torah in the very same way only the greatest scholars of the past have. (I came to think of this more in 2006, during my time at "Bircas Hatorah", which is situated next door to the Ohr Hachaim synagogue, which is the very place where "the Ohr Hachaim" held his classes in Jerusalem, and where studied in their youth such memorable personalities such as "the Chida". Yet in the eighteenth century they were only a handful of Jews who were able to study and not work (the Chida himself was actually later forced by the community to collect alms for them around the world). Yet today many of us find ourselves in such privileged spots, in an experiment to see what religious life was like for those great men).
Yet many Jews pass up this opportunity, as they pass up many other opportunities open to only this generation. So yes, these individuals may be serious about their careers, but they are not serious about their religion, and their place in the destiny of their people.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A Survey of the Modern Israeli Music Scene

This is, again, one of those things that would have been a bit more apropos to have mentioned last week, but that I did not end up doing so due to lethargy alone. I can't say I have nothing to do, but I can say that the spirit of industriousness can be found nowhere within me.

Anyway, as I was saying, I wanted to mention that in a post last week, the popular Chaviva Edwards made a request for Hebrew music suggestions, since she's trying to learn Hebrew (something which helped me learn Hebrew in High School). I gave a few quick recommendations, but I also listened to some of the famous Israeli artists that others recommended, and explored around YouTube myself for other popular artists. I ended up finding a lot of good artists I hadn't heard of before.

I think this is important because I feel that any improvement that's made in the country of G-d is, in way, giving honor to G-d. I've always felt that way. It's our responsibility to encourage Israeli art, Israeli music and all forms of Israeli industry, because the development of G-ds people in G-d's land is somewhat representative of G-d Himself.

I wanted to start with Rona Keinan. Her music is in the style I like most I guess; a soft and contemporary sound. Yet her musical style has something very particular about it, it has the feel of older "Establishment of the State" type songs. In fact she also sings the poetry of some of the early Israeli poets.

Another surprising figure that is rejuvenating the early sound of Israeli music is, surprisingly, a Christian Arab girl; Miryam Tukan. She became famous last year on Israel's "Idol" show (כוכב נולד), and mixes in an interesting Arab sound to songs that otherwise have a very...Russian feel to them..

A few other interesting and contemporary sounding female singers are Keren Peles and Efrat Gosh. I even revisited a few female singers that I usually considered too "pop", like Shiri Maimon and Maya Buskila (the truth is Maya Buskila is still a little too pop for me!). ..I already knew about some others, like Aya Korem from Israeli radio..

Among the male bands that were suggested were "Hadag Nachash", who's style I like for it's political irony and religious leanings. The same goes for Shotei Hanevuah for example, who's music is a little too reggae for me, but has that aspect of religion/political commentary.

There are some bands that were suggested though, that to me are trying too hard to copy the musical style of Israel in the 70's. I mean for G-d's sake, the world has had enough Shlomo Artzi! I'm speaking of bands like Hadorbanim and Beit Habubot. Not that I'm bashing them. I enjoy listening to Ehud Banai for example, even though he has a notoriously 70's-like style. But he particularly is known to have a special affinity for new sound, the Hebrew language and religious topics..

The people who I suggested there were Dana Adini, Daniel Solomon, Din-Din Aviv, Aviv Geffen, Sheigetz, Subliminal and Amir Benayun. I like Benayun because his style is very "Moroccan" in a way, some of his songs are kind of deep, and he's a ba'al tshuva!

I know that Mosh ben Ari and Ivri Leider were some of 'Rachel's favorites, but Mosh ben Ari seems kind of gay to me, ..and Ivri Leider is it's lot looking so good for the either of them..

The truth is my own cousin in Israel has been trying to break into the musical scene recently. It looks like it hasn't been easy for him. I haven't heard his tunes, but it seems like he's running some sort of rock duet with some chick named Liat Sagi. Let's hope for the best.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

בני ישראל ביישנים

ענין שתמיד קצת הפריע לי ב"תורת השידוכים" זה שהרי מחד גיסא כתוב מפורש שאחד המידות שבני ישראל משובחים בהם היא מידת הביישנות (דבר שמשמח אותי בגלל היותי ביישן בטבעי), ומאידך גיסא רצונן של רוב הבנות הידועות לי היא למצוא לעצמן גבר שמכיל מעצמו את מלוא-הפירוש של המילה "גבר". אם כן מושם אני בפרדוקס קטן, כי לא רק שאין לי את הביטחון הכי מופרז , אלא שגם מבחינה תורנית אני רואה מעלה רוחנית במיעוט הגאווה...י

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Call of the Body

Something I would have liked to have been said here, friends, but didn't get around to writing until now, is a thought I had which is pretty similar to a lot of the stuff I've been writing recently. ..which makes me think that if there is no other purpose to having a blog but getting to know yourself better, it is enough:

We are, in my opinion, undoubtedly the greatest enemies of our own bodies and our own selves. Our bodies send messages to us in the form of different urges, for the sake of preserving our lives, yet we misunderstand them. For example, when our bodies are in need of nutrients they send us the message that we are hungry, and within us is garnered the sudden and strange urge for food consumption.
"You are hungry" the body whispers to us, "so very hungry!".
"Oh, hungry you say?!" we reply, and then start to binge on all the unG-dly, man-made products which are difficult to call "food" that America has placed before us.
Yet this is far from what our bodies had in mind; it obviously meant for us to eat foods which would be beneficial for self preservation. In essence then, as a result of their calling to us for help, we eat things that are actually quite detrimental to our bodies.

The same with rest: our bodies give us the impression that we are tired because they cannot continue to function properly without rest.
"Tired", it whispers, "you are so very tired!"
"Oh, tired you say?!" is our response, and we go on to sleep to sleep too long, and become lazy.
And so again our bodies intend for us to receive a rejuvenating rest to continue functioning properly, and instead we take their call for sleep overboard, and become lethargic and pursuers of physical comfort, so much so that the body regrets ever sending us that message.

And so with a build-up of energy in the body; this energy is to be used, at least partly, to invigorate and exercise the body, and to build healthy muscles. Instead many use their excess energy for violence, and to physically aggrandize themselves above others (as with the warrior class).

The same is obviously true for the urge for sexuality to an even greater degree; the body wants us to create progeny for ourselves, so our clans will not die with us. This is to be carried out through normal reproductive processes. Yet many use those calls to procreation in ways that harm themselves and the children they will produce (as is the case with abortion and fatherless children. ..not to mention sexually transmitted diseases).

And the same is true for every objective the body sets out for us; it seeks for us to sustain ourselves, and we in turn take it too far and end up harming ourselves more than helping.This is not only our own fault though, much of it has to do with what Ultra-Capitalist societies have made available to us, ..but this is the reality.

[I apologize for continuously inserting pictures in my posts by the way...I find it hard not to!]

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

שלושים ושלוש לעומר

Well, I attended the ל"ג בעומר bonfire at Shor Yoshuv, as I've done for the past few years since I stopped attending the yeshiva. I considered not attending at all this year, but if it has to be once a year or not at all, I prefer the former.

I found myself, as usual, getting somewhat passionate about the bonfire/singing/dancing mood, although I'm mostly critical of the bonfire ritual. I mean, I don't like when it becomes "a vague minhag on top of a vague minhag on top of a vague minhag", until no one can tell where it all originated from (the bonfire is obviously strictly Pagan, but I mean the whole ceremony in general as well). That's the stuff that turns Judaism into empty tradition, or even worse, superstition.

I was sort of inspired by the fire though (as I usually am by fire); not in connection with the whole Bar Yochai aspect, but from the simple chemical reactions involved. What fire does to an object (which itself is kind of a misnomer, since the fire itself is the effect) is turn most of it from a solid to vapor. Or in religious terms, from the obtuse (physical) to the abstract (spiritual). It is the heat of the flames which serves to purify the earthiness of the object, and only heat can disintegrate an object. The analogy is obvious (well, maybe not that obvious), the only thing that can separate us from our earthy nature is discomfort (spirituality) and the only thing that can free our souls from our bodies (so to speak) is the ultimate discomfort; death. ...well, that's what I got from it.. me morbid!

On a more social note though, it seems my blog has gained me a bit of recognition in the real world; a friend of mine told me by the bonfire that he had seen comments of mine on a blog called "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (G6) who seems to be some sort of relative of his. Neat.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book Review: עד הנה

Well, I spent most of Shabbat reading a translation of a Shai Agnon book into English (which is a bit useless because he specifically uses a very pure, biblical Hebrew, and endless Talmudic references that are lost on the average English reader). It's an interesting book though, sort of an autobiographical novella, the kind I enjoyed when reading Down and Out in Paris and London. . .
To be honest, this was my first introduction to Agnon, and I'm actually impressed. ..not by his writing, of course (I'm unfortunately not yet facilitated enough in Literary analysis to tell a good writer from a bad one) but from his level of religious adherence.

Agnon came from Ukraine, but moved to Palestine in his teens. After a few years he went to Germany. Basically, the book is Agnon talking about his time in Germany during the first World War, floating between apartments and meeting up with interesting people. At the end of it he returns to Palestine.

For someone like me reading a work like that, I see my own life and opinions reflected in his; a religious Eastern European Jew, who spent time in Palestine and yearns to go back, yet who is stuck in Western Europe in the meantime, among the German Jews who he does not fully understand. And not only is it true for me on the physical level, but on the metaphoric too; I'm also a Jew who struggles between his "traditionalist" Eastern European past and his more Western European present, who pities the narrow-mindedness of the Galician Jew, yet abhors the open-ness of the Westerners and suspects the German-ness of Western Jews. In my "analogy" the Ultra-Orthodox communities are synonymous with Poland, the General (American).society as the West, and American Jews as, of course, Western Jews.

It takes a while of getting into the book before these undercurrents become apparent though. But like I said, the first thing that struck me was his modest and unspoken observance of ritual Judaism even while interacting with some of his well-to-do German friends who had no idea he was Jewish. And his seeing all the events of his life from a Talmudic and a Hebrew-poetic perspective.

Ugh, this is not being articulated as I thought it might. Oh well, the basic idea is here, and I can always return to edit..

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Swaying Revisited seems like someone visited my blog in Arviat (in the Nunavut Provence of Canada). ..I just thought that was cool...though in all likeliness it was just a mistake.. I ended up looking it up, and there are (obviously) almost all Inuit people there. ..but I came to the realization that it's not as remote as I thought when I saw that there are daily flights there (and therefore many visitors), and that many of the people are Internet savvy...oh well, still an accomplishment.. more relevant news, as I was watching programming about the growing Taliban influence in Pakistan on the New York Times website (which involved footage of swaying Pakistanis), I was reminded of a conclusion that came to me a long time ago; the act of swaying while praying or reading religious texts seems to have clear roots in the Middle East, I've seen footage of it done from Morocco to Pakistan, so it's definitely not exclusively Jewish. Now, that doesn't de-legitimize it to me, legitimizes it!

To be honest when I was young I used to sway a bit while praying, for the simple reason that it's difficult not to (though I've never been an ideological fan of it ..I've also (obviously) never been an ideological fan of using Yidishisms like "shuckling" by the way, but that's due only to my prejudices against Ashkenazim, and this is about principle..). Then I saw many Sefaradi and even Ashkenazi rabbis who didn't sway and seemed to disapprove of the idea, and I stopped completely...which of course makes me the only guy not moving during most-to-all prayer services I attend...which I then start to see as somewhat unique (I'm reminded of an old man I once saw walking through Borough Park with two people on either side of him, commenting about G-d-knows-what; "but I'm a unique Rebbe!").

The truth is though, the Ashkenazim are right. That doesn't sound good, let's reword that; there is a grain of truth in the practice of the Ashkenazim (there we go!); swaying during prayers or readings does have a relaxing and trans-inducing quality; it frees up the natural "fidgetyness" of the body so the mind has more of an ability to relax. It's similar to the well-known Rabbinic dictum that "ידיים עסקניות הן" ("Hands are busy"), in other words they're always looking for something to do weather you like it or not (it's evident to one who notices peoples hands. The truth is I think it's for this reason why both Muslims and Catholics have "prayer beads", but it seems like Jews were never that into it).

My conclusion about swaying though, is and has always been; if one wishes to do it during readings and recitations (i.e. "non-shmone Esre" parts of "davening") there's no harm in it, but, like the Muslims, one is not to sway when standing in prayer. I've discussed this in the past in a comment to our friend Rachel's lovely blog which seems to have been discontinued for the moment.

There are also some other obviously important aspects of the externality of Jewish prayer though, which are oft overlooked and that I've always prided myself in being one of the only people I've seen performing them, such as the folding of the hands on the chest and bowing slowly until ones entire back is bent (both of which are explicit directives in most halakhic codifications, such as Caro's Shulhan Arukh).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Redemption of Restriction

Well, like usual, I had 50,000 "good ideas" that never made it to the blog because I can't keep them in my mind long enough, but one thing that I was pondering while attempting to be overtaken by slumber (again) is part of the definition of "spirituality" in Judaism as compared with other religions. More than half of the commands given to us in the Torah are part of the "negative commandments" section, and basically the entire "legal" aspect of the Talmud has to do with Halachic restrictions. In that case it's evident that not being able to do something is, in essence, a huge part of the "spirituality" of Judaism.

What I have in mind when I say this is something I once saw in a book called "When They Were 22 (100 Famous People at the Turning Point in Their Lives)"; it quotes Muhammad Ali when he was in jail as saying that, unlike what he previously thought, the religious restrictions of his new-found Islam actually gave him an empowering feeling. To me there's no question that this type of feeling is what was (at least partially) intended in the Judaic restrictive laws as well.
Unlike the feelings created by modern thinkers in the past few centuries, restriction, or more appropriately "a greater amount of self-control" is perhaps the only real frontier one can explore in the realm of religious growth. Within the self-control inherent in the Mitzvot is the one of the only real opportunities Man has to question his current horizons and explore heretofore unthought-of possibilities of a different kind of existence.
Now, this is not a new idea to me, but I feel I was able to look at it with a bit of a new light..