Monday, December 20, 2010

Why I Read Other People's Blogs

From a young age I've loved history, and loved even more the prospect of becoming part of the historical process, especially in terms of the history of our people, and the rabbinic literary tradition. I've always tried to collect scholarly works of people I either knew or was acquainted with. My English teacher in high school actually wrote a small commentary on the Parsha in Hebrew, so I acquired that. My high school was also next door to the home of the Romanian "Tenker" Rebbe, so I read his works as well. When I went on to yeshiva in Israel, the rabbis I studied by wrote more serious works: one rabbi wrote a popular commentary to "Nach", another on Sugyot. Though the most influential authors Ive met was during my time in the yeshiva of Moshe Pinto in Petach Tikvah (himself a student of Avraham afuta). He wrote a very important commentary on Gemara, and he even introduced me to Yitzchak Yosef during his visit to the yeshiva. He is the author of the extremely popular "Yalkut Yosef" series on halacha, which I've been studying since my childhood (not to mention brief meetings I've had with other Sefaradi Gedolei Hador, Ovadia Yosef, Yitzchak Kaduri, Meir Mazuz and Shalom Messas). Since then, every time I see any of their sefarim on a bookshelf, I feel like I'm an active part of the Torah tradition, and that, in a way, I know the authors of all the other sefarim on the shelves. Which is similar to the feeling you get when you write truly innovative Divrei Torah on a Sugya; you real feel like you're part of a chain that did not begin with you, and will not end with you.

The same is true for more secular literature as well, of course. Sometimes you read a book, a novel, and it seems so magical. It's almost hard to believe it's some "made up story" that some guy dreamed up on a Tuesday afternoon. But the more you meet actual authors, of novels, non-fiction and even popular text books on things like science and economics, you begin to feel that this is a continuing, living tradition. None of this is over your or anyone else's heads. The people who wrote these works are actually very human and very fallible. They've just studied a lot more than you. Or are more innovative than you. So, on a smaller level, reading the writings of your peers, whether on blogs or on Facebook or what have you, is a continuation of that phenomenon. People your age and who you know can be authors as well. Perhaps one day it won't be their blog you're reading, but their book, or their best-selling novel, or their science text book or their sefer. And perhaps under their influence, you will do the same.

Though reading blogs also lets you in to some peoples deepest thoughts and lives. Some things they wouldn't even say in person. Sometimes we just don't understand people; "what's going on in their heads?". Well, this is a way to find out. And determine that your innermost thoughts are not all that different from your comrade or your neighbor. We all struggle with the very same things, so why not come to conclusions together...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

אַדְמַת קֹדֶשׁ טְבָרְיָה

I was just thinking about Tiberius (again!) recently (as a result of me absetmindedly singing "אוחיל יום" to myself, which is a piyut praising the holiness of that city).

I posted not long ago on Facebook how it's funny that not only did a huge amount of Jews live in places like Tiberius and Sepphoris (Teveria and Tzipori), and not only did a lot of Rabbis live there, but the Mishna and the Palestinian Talmud were both written there. Why is it funny? Because these cities were built by the Romans and were centers of commerce and commercialism. Jesus himself speaks of how he always found those distant Roman cities to be daunting in their corruption. My message on Facebook was that Jews really are, as the Nazis said, incorrigible Capitalists and mercantile and bourgeois etc.

But then again, we call Teveria "holy land" and a "holy city", even while the Romans were still there. It seems to give credence to something I once heard from Avigdor Miller: he was kind of anti-Zionist and didn't even believe in Aliyah. He said that, in a sense, every Jewish community was "holy land". Even my native Borough Park or Flatbush. I didn't like that view of things when I heard it, but how is different than Teveria? OK, Teveria is in the Holy Land, as has the Kedushah of Eretz Yisrael like any other part of Eretz Yisrael, but so are places like Tel Aviv. OK, Tel Aviv has Yeshivot and Batei Kneset, but who among us would venture to say that Teveria is a holy city? But we see, again, that because of the presence of people like Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, these cities were in fact seen as holy places...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Du Bist Ein Gott, Und Nie Hörte Ich Göttlicheres

I've been exposed recently, here and there, to something I know of through Nietzsche (GS 341) and popular culture, known as the phenomenon of Eternal Return, in which ones reality repeats itself an infinite number of times.

My first recent exposure to the concept has been when I watched (the entire television series of) Battlestar Galactica; a line that is constantly repeated by both Cylons and Humans is, quite similar to the line from Peter Pan, "All of this has happened before, and all of this shall happen again". And, more recently, I saw the 1993 Harold Ramis film, Groundhog Day, in which Mr. William Murray is forced to relive Feburay 2nd in an eternal loop (I had seen the film as a child, but recalled very little from it). Aside from being a feel-good Hollywood romantic comedy, it also brings up some core Nietzschean existential issues: for Bill Murray can only escape the loop when he has completed his mission of living the perfect day--of course, there are moralistic problems with the premise, for example that he improves himself only in order to impress the woman he desires--but otherwise it's thoroughly moralistic.

The only question is, what place does Eternal Return have in religion, and for that matter, Judaism? It is clear that it's origins are in what is known as the "Eastern Religions". Pre-Monotheistic peoples from the ancient Egyptians to the Hindus to the Greeks and even their philosophers believed in certain forms of Eternal Return and of course, reincarnation. And we also know that essentially, Judaism frowns upon reincarnation, or "גלגול" (as an aside, I came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that "גלגול\גלגל", cycle, wheel, is obviously a construct of the word "גל", wave, twice. In other words, a wave that would turn into itself would be a natural cylinder). According to the Torah we only live once, and it's our job to perfect ourselves in order to live out a possible eternal existence in perfection. Not that we'll just return again to this world, to live life over again. Luria and others have devised a form of reincarnation that fits in with the Talmudic conceptualization of Reward and Punishment, but it's not "essential Judaism".

I myself though, ever since I was fourteen years old, envisioned a helpful meditation based on a Groundhog Day-like treatment of Eternal Return (I wonder if that's where I got it from?) that is helpful in a Devotional way. It's also based partly on Luzzatto, who says (in MY) that one should only do something, or indulge in some halakhic leniency, if one is certain that he is doing it because it's permissible, not because his Evil Incantation is prompting him. My idea was that if you wish to do something that you know isn't right, but want to at least indulge in a little, you should think "How intrinsically correct and right is this act? Is this something I'd be ok with doing for a couple of years? Ten years? A hundred years? A thousand? Ad infinitum? If not, then that proves that it's not something you should be doing even for a short time.

May God have mercy on us and return us quickly to His Torah, Amen.

עבד, ס"ט

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen and the Justice System in Western States

["States" as in "Nations", obviously.]

[Written quickly, before falling asleep...]

Well, strangely enough, I actually just saw the 2009 thriller "Law Abiding Citizen", a thoughtful screenplay written by Mr. Kurt Wimmer. This is an example of one of those fine worksof art that question the core values of our society, but which you rarely hear anyone speaking about.

Assuming you too have seen it: I'm not entirely sure what Wimmer is trying to prove; Butler is depicted as the villain, but he wasn't a villain to me. He wanted to change the corrupt system at it's core. A Sodom and Gomorrah type of operation. Sure G-d said he wouldn't destroy the city if there were ten righteous people within the city, but it also says that once punishment comes to the world it kills the righteous along with the wicked.

And anyway, Fox himself becomes his enemy by taking the law into his own hands. That's my favorite part. Although I feel he ends the film as he started; a pompous prosecutor who's totally dependant on the corrupt system.

I, at the very least, challenge anyone who doesn't believe in the death penalty; not to mix Left and Right into the subject, but judge everything on its own, does it make sense to let murderers free? What does that say about society? I personally believe that if it can be proven that someone murdered without any provocation, if he was tortured/maimed for life it would actually prevent future crimes of the same nature, since, if evidence of the previous judgement is evident, who in their right mind would risk it happening to them? And if they did it anyway, surely they deserve the same fate. I mean honestly, does it make sense to give the same punishment for a kosher meat plant owner who hired illegal immigrants and for someone who killed a family in cold blood for no reason other than a malicious spirit?

Another of my favorite scenes from the movie is Fox being sworn in as Phili's new DA; while he swears on the bible to uphold "the law", the camera closes in on the bible, as if to suggest "Does this bible support this law?" Does it really support a criminal justice system as it has developed from Enlightenment notions? I think it's quite clear that it wouldn't. As the Torah and Talmud most certainly do support punishments that really do "fit the crime".... 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Checking Out Girls and Free Will: the Daf and the Parsha

I have an acquaintance who I (supposedly) know from the Mir (I don't quite remember him), who, like me, is one of those "lost souls of Borough Park", and, like me, does thinks like go to Arbit at one o'clock at night for no particular reason. Anyway, he spotted me picking up some lemons at the 24 hour fruit store and inquired about the state of my religiosity (he sees me as being a bit "modern"). As it happens he then met a mentally unstable friend of his (another lost soul) and we spoke with him for a while. After he parted from us though, my friend suggested that if I'm not doing much Torah-learning on a daily basis, perhaps it would be best for me to look into at least reading the Torah portion correspondent to the day of the week and/or the Daf Yomi.

On Friday night I had felt back that I didn't give much thought to taking up his offer, so I, surprisingly enough, learned the Parsha and the Daf Yomi. Both actually turned out to be very interesting, and even connected in a way. I will proceed to discuss how they are connected and what gleanings I derived from them:

The Connection: The twentieth page of Avodah Zarah discusses the issur of "לא תחנם". While Nitzavim/Vayelech don't mention it specifically, it does state in verse five of the thirty first chapter "וַעֲשִׂיתֶם לָהֶם כְּכָל הַמִּצְוָה אֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִי אֶתְכֶם", i.e. those stated in seventh chapter, "לא תחנם" being one of them.

As it happens I did write a critique of a post by "e" regarding "לא תחנם" almost exactly a year ago (כה יתן ה' וכה יוסיף)...

The Daf: Even without the talk of "לא תחנם", I'd definitely put this daf on a list of "most interesting dapim in the Gemara". It talks about giving away land in Eretz Yisrael, it talks about looking at girls and how the Tanaim dealt with it, and it contains the quote which is the foundation of my main spiritual guide, the Messilat Yesharim. Yes, certainly not a daf you want to miss. For me by the far the most absurd part about it is something I had thought of when I was young, if only whimsically: saying the brachah of "שככה לו בעולמו" (which is recited upon seeing beautiful creations) on on attractive girls! (You'll have to read the sugya to find out what happens with that!).

The Parsha: There are two major theological questions that I noticed in this parsha, and they both occur when G-d calls Moshe and Yeshoshua' to the tent to tell them what will happen in the End of Days. First of all, the fact that G-d knows they'll sin brings to question the principle of "הכל צפוי והרשות נתונה". Secondly, it's well known that the Halocaust is alluded to here (via the Torah Codes).

G-d knows that we'll sin: I actually heard a shiur on this by רב אורי שרקי  recently, as to how this relates to tshuvah (there's another connection to current events!). After Maimonides, many other sages, such as the Gersonides, Hasdai Crescas and Isaac Abarvanel all dealt with this issue, as well as many philosophers such as Malebranche and Kant. In the end, they only complicate the theological paradox by suggesting solutions. The truth is though, I really never understood the difficulty; even though G-d knows every scene in the film as if it was unrolled, if you walk into the movie in the middle, all you see is one tiny part of the film. And you, therefore, still don't know what's going to happen...

Holocaust: Some Eli Wiesel type "Post-Shoah" scholars feel that, as a result of what was displayed during the Holocaust, that once G-d imbued Man with the power of Free Will, even He cannot control what they do. I always thought it's silly to change your theological views in the long run due only to the Holocaust. If Khmelnytsky had gas chambers he definitely would have used them. Every generation kills its Jews based on the technology they have available. That's simple. Just because the Germans had better technology to kill Jews doesn't mean it was more "theologically significant". Rashi clearly states about The Flood that, "אנדרלמוסיה באה לעולם, והורגת טובים ורעים". Capitulating to the ideas of those "ריקנים" is a symptom (no offence) of the theological weakness and ignorance of young people the likes of Chana (The Curious Jew), who are more swayed by the words of contemporaries than by the words of our Sages...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The truth About Moreinu's cursing the Palestinian People!

I hate how they make it seem like everything Chacham Ovadia says is some political statement. He's talking to a group of, usually poor and not very well educated, residents of the most destitute neighborhood in Jerusalem, Schunat HaBucharim, who are in for a weekly two hour speech in cold dry halacha (I was often in attendance). He was giving a bracha before the speech for the new year (as he would be able to give the speeches before Rosh HaShana). He quoted the prayer recited on the eve of Rosh HaShana that says "May our enemies be cut off", as, as our "enemies", obviously included the leaders and constituents of the Palestinian terror groups that have been plaguing and murdering our people for decades. And it's of course that two second sound byte that the secular media chooses to quote, and not any of the two hour drasha of innovative approaches to halacha, or the beautiful mussar and ethics that he discussed that evening. Even though you'd be hard pressed to hear something that's not Torah from the mouth of חכם עובדיה, still, his Torah you'll never hear from them (while all they do in the Mosques on Friday is curse Israel and talk about military aspirations)...

Also, he wished the prayer upon "Yishmael". This is another topic: the Israeli media always tries to single things out as if they're very recent historical phenomenon. As if there were never Haredim before 1948, as if there were never Zionists before 1948. According to them, there were barely even Jews before 1948. Everything in the world started in the here and now. Obviously that's absurd. The relationship between Jews and Arabs for example; way older than 1948. Unlike European Jews, we have always been praying for the destruction of "Yishmael" in our prayers and our songs. Even a thousand years ago, one of the songs written for Simchat Torah, called "יום שמחה לישראל", goes through the entire alphabet withing joy upon Israel and destruction upon Yishmael (and it's extremely descriptive). Our greatest poets, even from the Golden Age in Spain, called Yishmael our greatest enemy and have prayers to G-d for their downfall all throughout their poetry.

So, again, חכם עובדיה is not, nor has he ever been a politician. He spearheaded the founding of a political party, but only, in his own words, to have more funds stipend to Sephardic religious institutions. He is no more than a rabbi and a "halachist", and  uses the same terminology that was always used, especially today when the Arabs are at our necks to such an extent.

Zionist Satmers

I think the Neturei Karta and other Satmar Chasidim are being more than a little misleading about their own ideologies to the secular media solely in order to deride the Zionist ideology in the eyes of the Nations. They urge people to differentiate between "Jews" and "Zionists", explaining that only Zionists believe in Occupying Palestinian land and killing innocent civilians, while they portray themselves, representatives of real Judaism, as political doves.

I feel they are being openly misleading since the Satmar must believe in Mashiach. Because if they didn't, they would be outside the pale of Orthodox Jewry by all standards. They believe in a Mashiach who will be accepted to Satmar standards, but if there one day is a may who conforms to all their Messianic requirements, they will be compelled to follow him. And in every version of the Jewish story, whether you're Satmer or Abayudaya, Mashiach leads the Jews back to Israel. Here's the tricky part; there are already Palestinians in Israel. But they too will of course accept the authority of a Satmer Mashiach, because he is, after all, not Zionist. ...won't he? Well, we have a tradition about the Messianic Era that states "עולם כמנהגו נוהג", nothing will happen on a supernatural level. Besides for the return of the Jewish state under Mashiach, things will be the same. In that case: no. The Palestinians will not leave their houses because a Satmer Mashiach tells them to or because a Lubavitch Mashiach tells them to! In that case, there can be no way around some level of bloodshed. Even the Satmer agree to that. Just because their Mashiach hasn't come YET, doesn't mean they don't believe that he will or that they gave up on their Messianic dream to occupy Palestine.

I think it's silly to imagine a Judaism exclusive of Eretz Yisrael, and what living there entails. I'll give you an example; I think it's stupid how the כיבוש הארץ is always attributed to Yehoshua and Yehoshua alone. It says clearly in the summer parashyot which no one ever bothers to read that Moshe Rabenu was also involved in many of the initial campaigns East of the Jordan. That's right, the man who received the Torah twice with his very hands has the same person to draw his sword and fill it with the blood of the armies of the Bashan and the Emori, to make way for Jewish Settlers. And let us not forget the author of the beautiful Tehillim which fills our mouths every day of the week; David Hamelech, another great pillar of normative Judaism, waged wars with neighboring nations only for the sake of acquiring land! Even according to Satmer, Judaism and "Zionism" cannot exist without each other (for them they do now, but they have not and will not always be apart).

The Christians are also very misrepresentative of themselves; they say that, notwithstanding events like the Crusades and Inquisition, "essential" Christianity is peaceful whereas essential Islam is warlike. That's pure rubbish my friends; there is an oft-quoted verse, among many others of it's kind, from the mouth of the Prince of Peace himself: "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword". The only possible PC explanation that could be given for such a statement is that in the Gaelic Bible, the word for sword is actually exchanged for the word for peace. Yes, but the Bible was not written in Gaelic...

All three of us, Jews Christians and Muslims, have to stop being squeamish about what our scriptures actually say.....

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The State of the Written Word in Crown Heights

Nothing much of great import to report, friends, besides for the fact that on Tuesday night, after a direct wall-to-wall facebook invite, I decided to attend one of the writing meetings (most likely a spin-off of the poetry meetings) orchestrated by the honourable Mr. Baruch Tauber. I had been feeling my creativity wane anyway so I felt it would be good for me. And it was. Tauber had an image prepared for us which we were to see, and subsequently formulate a story from. In this case it was a girl and a man on a highway fixing a car. Based on that I started writing a short story, since I wasn't sure what protocol called for (it turned out vignettes were more appropriate), and based as well on the fact that, as I've mentioned here before, I'm trying to work on my narrative writing. It was about a girl with divorced parents who was having a frictional relationship with her father who had custody of her on Sundays only. Long story short, my idea was to have them reconcile as a result of a   non-injurious car accident (perhaps I'll post it here later). Though I admitted that was quite a dull scenario, and quite honestly not one I'm interested in myself, but time was of the essence.

Also in attendance from the world of Chabad blogs was Feivel ben Mishael, and I got a chance to chat with him a little afterwards. One thing that stands out in my mind from my conversation with him was the strange reason he admired the no comments policy of Yossi's blog. He said that he's concerned that other bloggers will argue with him and espouse ideas that are seditious to Chabad on his blog. I was flabbergasted to hear of such a withholding of the First Amendment from a compatriot. Though of course his ideas were sound based on Chabad ideology, but I shiver to think how they interact with those of other faiths if they cannot even have a dialog with those of their own faith...

Feivel also mentioned how he's blogging less these days, much like me. And much like me, not because he's lacking ideas, but because the transferral of those ideas from electrons in the brain to pixels on a screen often seems daunting. Perhaps I am just projecting my own issues upon others, but I think there's less blogging going on in general at the moment, and in the Chabad community in particular. It can't just be me, since Sara Bonne seems to be struggling with quite the same issue.

Another Chabad-blogger-related-issue that's crossed my mind is that the poetry slam itself seems not to be happening much recently. I think it may have to do with the fact that it's biggest protagonists were the Kings and the [TRSers], who are now living more sedentary lives, and have less of a need for poetry slams. Oh well, lets hope them well and hope the occasional slam returns in the autumn.

Monday, July 19, 2010

ט באב תש"ע: Freye Yidden

לִהְיוֹת עַם חָפְשִׁי בְּאַרְצֵנוּ
אֶרֶץ צִיּוֹן וִירוּשָׁלַיִם

"To be a free people in our own land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem." These are the words that end the Hatikvah anthem. For generations, many of the more traditional factions in Judaism opposed the idea of "Political Zionism", and their opposition could easily be manifest in this last verse of Hatikvah; the Secular Jews who revived Zionism and established the Jewish State in Zion wanted a society "free" from G-d's laws and free from religious responsibilities. Quite simply, they wanted to be freye yidden, or "free Jews", a derogatory term used by the Ultra Orthodox in Europe connoting Secular Jews.

What I always wondered how they overlooked though, is that Hatikvah is obviously not the first Jewish text yearning for national "freedom". Every day we say in our prayers תְּקַע בְּשׁוֹפָר גָּדוֹל לְחֵרוּתֵנוּ, "Blow the great ram's horn to liberate us". Also the famous prayer in the Hagadah לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל בְּנֵי חוֹרִין, "Next year in the Land of Israel, free men". We see that Jewish liturgy has always been replete with prayers for freedom. Not freedom from religion, as traditionalists naively suppose about Hatikvah, but freedom to serve G-d as we're meant to.

This topic of national liberation finds an appropriate place in our current spot on the Hebrew calender. Tonight we mourn the destruction of our beloved Temple in Jerusalem, and the subsequent fleeing of G-d's Direct Presence from the earth. Our sages say the main reason for this destruction was because our ancestors harbored too much baseless animosity for one another (Yoma 9b). But that is a more spiritualistic reason responding to why G-d allowed it to occur, but there were naturalistic political reasons the Talmud discusses as well (Gittin 56a), and what arises from the entire narrative is that the reason for the Destruction was the stubbornness of the Nationalist Party, who were always looking to oust the Romans from the Holy Land. Since, had the Peace Party been the only ones in power, there would have not been any reason for war, and Israel would have prospered, yet, under the boot of the Roman, prosperity is quite relative, and for many war is preferable to peace (if it seems silly to you to make such an ado out of the Roman presence in Israel, just see how fired-up the Arabs are today in contemporary Palestine about "foreign occupation").

Were they sinners then? Those who brought about the destruction of G-d's Sanctuary on Earth? I think it would be silly to say such a thing, because, unlike what the Haredim propose, freedom has always had a prominent place in our liturgy and our national conscience. Even in the face of adversity, it is a mitzvah to strive towards the further emancipation of our people. Not to give this post a political tone, but just to be clear: Even today, in what is called the "Israeli Occupied West Bank" and Judea, while we are in fact in power and it is the Arabs who are struggling for their emancipation, there is still much action taken to prevent our people from living freely on its land. So, today as well, it would be wrong to criticize their struggle.

May we all merit to work in unison, drive the Arab off the Temple mount, and rebuild the Third Temple brick by brick with our own two hands. Amen.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Nothing to Say

Are not shared intellectual levels and interests clear signs of compatibility for marriage? How can they not be?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


פרישות מיותרת מביאה לידי מותרות מיותרות...

Monday, June 7, 2010

But We're So Different...

I think it is a good idea to impose our expectations upon those we desire romantically, and just pretend they are more similar to ourselves than they are...

Although some people feel the need to really "connect" to someone on a deeper level, it is not always possible or feasible...

We will always be "alone" in ourselves anyway, no matter who we love, we leave this world as we entered it—alone.....

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Skirt Lengths

I haven't been writing much recently it seems; I keep seeing my name fall lower on the "recently updated" blogrolls of my friends who were kind enough to include me in their lists. It's mostly due to lethargy I guess, a trait I unfortunately have an unusually intimate relationship with. By the way, hope to see you by the Israel Day Parade today!

Anyway, one thing that's been plaguing my mind recently has been the issue of skirt lengths for females. My opinion about the subject has always been that longer is better, partially for reasons of tzni'ut and partially because I simply find that to be more attractive (and thus do what I can to promote such a manner of dress). Recently though, a learned friend of a friend asked me for a Talmudic source for this idea, and I couldn't think of anything offhand. Though with a lit bit of thought I came up with something very simple; the "kol Isha" Sugya. Which itself happens to be very contradictory....

Proving That Girls Must Wear Long Skirts:

It says in Brachot 24/a, discussing what one can be facing while reciting Kri'at Sh'ma, quotes Ribi Yitzchak who says "A tefach (of revealed flesh) in a woman is 'erva'", and then quotes Rav Hasda who says that "The 'leg' of a woman is 'erva', the hair in a woman is 'erva' and the voice of a woman is 'erva'".

I do not wish to discuss Kol Isha for the moment, so let's stick with the leg prohibition: The Hebrew word used is "שוק". The definition of שוק is not clear; many poskim understand it as meaning the thigh (upper portion of the leg) until the knee. Based on this understanding they not only allow men to recite K"S in the presence of women who's upper legs are covered, but in general allow skirts for women as long as they cover the thigh (and knee). What many don't know though is that other poskim understand שוק as the calf (the lower portion of the leg)! Which would mean that not only must that part of the leg be covered for men to recite K"S facing it, but that a woman must cover her entire leg in general (stockings are not considered a covering in halacha unless they are 100% opaque, so it's as if they're not there).

Proving the Exact Opposite:

In my struggle for a more Egalitarian Judaism, one thing I always feel bad about regarding the dress restrictions on women is dressing so properly that it's at times absurdly out of place. For example, my mind always told me that if an Orthodox woman is doing something like mountain climbing, a little more leniency should be provided than just being able to don trousers under a skirt, which is as far as most authorities are willing to allow. The funny thing is though that based on the reasoning of one explanation of this statement, woman's dress restrictions lessen greatly.

To begin, it would seem that this statement is extremely restricting; we just stated that a woman's lower leg cannot be revealed because it's mentioned in this statement. But isn't this part of the Gemara's statement only discussing K"S? If the leg being erva means that you can never reveal that part of the body in the presence of men, wouldn't that mean that a woman cannot speak or have her hair uncovered in front of men?

First of all, the Gemara later says that one can never gaze upon a woman's calf (if he is not married to her etc). But in regards to hair the commentators say that only a married woman's hair is considered erva, but in front of an unmarried woman's hair you can say K"S, and she does not have to cover her hair in general. And the reason they give is that only a married woman's hair is alluring. The hair of an unmarried woman is a usual sight.

We see, therefore, that much of tzni'ut (even against what in says in the Gemara) is based on what people today find alluring. So something such as wearing shorts, for example, for a girl, during mountain climbing, might have a היתר based on this mode of thought. I'm obviously not saying I find it to be ok, I'm only saying that these are not clear-cut proofs, and can be used in either direction.

On a similar vein, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein actually has a Tshuva speaking about how tzni'ut in general is dependent on what is acceptable in that place. He says, for example, that if a man lives in a place where everyone walks around with bare arms, even before kings, there is nothing wrong for him to have his arms exposed all day, even in prayer. On the other hand, he also says that if one lives in a place where ankles are always covered, it would even be prohibited for a man to have his ankles exposed. Or even if one generally has his arms or ankles covered outdoors, he may not have them bare at home.

Which is a problem for me at times: For example if I wish to go biking in shorts, I often go from a community where shorts are unacceptable for men (Ultra Orthodox Jewish communities) to a place where everyone is wearing shorts. My opinion is that in the Jewish community one must wear long pants until one reaches an area in which it is acceptable. ועוד חזון למועד.


Some good sources to use in researching this subject:
1)Yabia Omer 6/14.
2) Tzitz Eliezer 1/62 (though compared to Rav Ovadia it just seems like a lot of unsourced Haredi ranting).
3) Igrot Moshe Y"D2/62
4) Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Number IV/May Women Wear Pants?
5) And this shiur from Rav Willig of Yeshiva University, who seems to have come to similar conclusions about lower leg exposure (at 22:10).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

אל תרבה שיחה

You know friends, there's something about me that's been on my mind recently, having to do with my verbal interactions with my peers and acquaintances. It seems that I'm rarely if ever the one to end any conversation. It's like I don't "believe" in ending conversations. Which is strange because it's diametrically opposed to my verbal nature as a child. Growing up, I would never exchange a word with someone I wasn't familiar with, and wouldn't say much to friends either. I was quite the nonverbal character. Since my early adulthood though I've been shocked at times to reveal the loquacious version of my personality. Studying the phenomenon as a whole though, I'm coming to think they're not only related, but a direct cause and effect. It's actually because of my quietness that I'm so talkative! Both due to my childhood "תעניות דיבור" and to my extremely limited social interactions as an adult, it seems I've developed a great hunger for that which I've been deprived of so long: speech.

On the other hand though I also have certain ideals at stake when effecting and listening to vocal cord movements. Firstly, I am a great admirer of the art of speech, and feel that it's all but been lost since a century ago, mostly as a result of modern communicative technology. My ideal is people who can continue a single conversation for days, and not even be strayed by a tangent. To me it's representative of mental wealth. Secondly, in regards to listening to others, I refuse to "space out" or stop a conversation abruptly because I find the subject matter uninteresting, and I base my behaviour on my own negative experience: I've been in many environments where my voice was not heard, since those I was speaking to either did not share my interests, or were objectively extremely dull and uninteresting people. Therefore I always make a point to listen.

Friday, April 9, 2010

נאמן באיסורים

Alas, I've been delinquent from recording my thoughts here for some time. Thankfully though, it was mostly due to my being involved in more constructive pursuits, and not to sloth alone. For example, I was able to stay by my Cincinnati cousins for Pesach, whom I don't often get a chance to see. Though there is an element of sloth involved nonetheless, since I find it so very difficult to take my vague, abstract thoughts and articulate them on a keyboard. I must have been at least 22 when I first started typing, and since then I haven't gotten much better!

Anyway, I know it's a bit late to be discussing this topic, but there are some things I'd like to verbalize in relation to Pesach. Or, more importantly, the status of certain foods on Pesach: It's well known that European Jews uphold a ban on the consumption of certain legumes on Pesach, a ban that the Oriental Jews never accepted. It's also well known that it's preferable to eat only foods marked by trustworthy rabbinic authorities as kosher for Passover.

The following event is the crux of my halachic concerns in this matter: On Saturday night my aunt asked if she would be allowed to purchase self-pop popcorn from the supermarket, considering that Sefaradim eat kitniyot. Now, before proceeding to my halachic decision to her, I'd like to insert parenthetically that for myself and many Sefaradim, Kitniyot is a semi-emotional topic, since it's a Sefaradi practice, and Sefaradi customs and halachic understandings are generally crushed under the Ashkenazic homogeneousity of Judaism. Especially in Israel. In Israel, even a product that already has a Sefaradi hashgacha saying that it's kasher l'Pesach for those who eat kitniyot will have another Ashkenazi certification stating in plain terms that it's not at all kasher l'Pesach, completely overlooking that a large segment of the religious population would find it acceptable. There are even many Sefaradim (in Israel especially) who refuse to eat kitniyot, in order to fit in with the Ashkenazim and their rules. Which is why our Poskim, for example Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, are very upset by the matter and are adamant that Sefaradim continue to eat kitniyot, and even suggest that Ashkenazim should recant their ban on it.

With that said, my aunt asked me if she could buy kitniyot. Of course my answer was yes. After she got it though, the eldest daughter (who's more religious, and somewhat influenced by the Ashkenazim) was upset she had purchased it, especially considering it had no "kosher for Passover" certification whatsoever. Which takes us into another topic: Is rabbinic certification necessary, and how much does it represent about a food?

This is obviously a very critical question in regards to kashrut observance, especially as it relates to Pesach, and I've gone from one end of the spectrum to another, mostly because of a girl! Naturally, I used to be very wary of food products with no hashgacha on them. Then I dated this Sephardic girl who's parents were ardent followers of Rabbi Yitzchak Abadi, who's known to be the most lenient possible authority in kashrut matters, and after argumentation over the matter, the seedlings of Abadi-ism were planted in my brain. His main premise is that mashgichim don't generally enter the factories where the food is being produced. And then again, take for example countries like Mexico and even France, where the Orthodox establishment produces directories stating which foods are kosher, even though they have no rabinnic certification.

In my belief, the whole concept of hashgacha is very recent, and doesn't jive well with the Talmudic tradition. What I mean is that it can be suggested from the Torah and the Talmud that one should take somewhat of a more active role in dietary observance than just going to the kosher supermarket and placing whatever you find pleasing into your shopping cart. The halachot of kashrut are not only for mashgichim. Until recently Jewish women were knowledgeable in every area of hilchot kashrut and were reliable for such things as soaking and salting meat, ensuring that meat and dairy didn't mix, checking for insects, and every other food-related law that today is only the realm of mashgichim. The Torah itself seems to direct people as to which animals they can and cannot consume, and when produce cannot be used, thus placing a great responsibility of decisiveness upon the individual. The Talmud too expects it's words to be repeated among all Jews, so that all can abide by it's teachings.

Another unfortunate development is kashrut observance is the proliferation of stringencies for no reason besides ignorance (which, again, is a product of Ashkenazi Haredism). Again, in the Talmud we find scenarios which we would be hard-pressed to approve of, but which the Talmud does. As in the situation where there is a pile of ten pieces of meat and only one is kosher; if you know which one is kosher you're allowed to eat it, even though it was in direct contact with non-kosher pieces of meat.

To me though, the first reason is the most important; how can you question the legitimacy of "trusting the ingredients" if the Orthodox Union also just trusts the ingredients. Even for Pesach. I've heard people say "How do you know if there isn't someone eating a sandwich on top of the conveyor belt?" That's a legitimate concern, which is equally applicable to foods that ARE "kosher" or "kosher for Passover". A story I enjoy relating on the subject is that of a young Lakewood housewife who made a Pesach cake for her husband. The husband thought the cake tasted a little strange and wanted to see what his wife used to bake it. She told him she used "Paysach flour" she got in the Pesach store. It was regular flour.

But this leniency is true on a halachic level as well: the aforementioned champion of kitnioyot consumption, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, constructed a book of שו"ת based on responses he gave callers during a halacha radio program. The book is called "יחוה דעת". In Vol. 2, responsa 62, he deals with the subject of lemon juice, made in Israel, which had small traces of bread in it. Now, you must remember that this was juice with no "kasher l'Pesach" label on it (at least, not before this ruling). He allowed it, basically because, while it's true that chametz isn't "בטל בשישים" on Pesach, it's בטל if it mixed in before Pesach, and then that amount is not considered to be "חוזר וניעור" on Pesach again. So the same is obviously true for things like popcorn, which is extremely unlikely to have had any bread or wheat kernels mixed in to it in the factory. That even if it did have a minority of bread mixed in, it's בטל before Pesach.

I also wish to speak about when to and when not to ask a rabbi about halachic matters, but I think that'll have to wait for the next post....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Judaism

[Warning: written very haphazardly.]

As usual, I was listing to an instalment of the Speaking of Faith podcast recently. It's definitely one of the best things on air today. I'd recommend it to anyone, by the way. If you've never heard of it, it's basically this mindful Irishwoman (Krista Tippett) interviewing people from all corners of the religious world.

Anyway, in this particular program, she was interviewing Adele Diamond, a wise Jewess, who, apropos to a short discussion I had over at Chana's blog, is actually a student and admirer of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. She kind of created a new field of neuroscience called "Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience", which is the result of groundbreaking research which suggests that things like play, social interactions and even inhibition are key components of childhood learning and continued mental health.

One of the first things she said that got my interest was her theory that play is an essential part of the learning process, as it embodies a form of dramatization. And one important aspect of drama is the fact that all the participants must stick to their parts if it's meant to work out. That just served to feed into this linguistic issue surrounding the word for play in Hebrew; the word for the play of children and the word for actors in a dramatic production are one and the same in Hebrew "לשחק", "שחקן". Which is also the word for smiling (in a more antiquated usage). This is significant to me since I used to feel that play was just a necessary evil in the course of childhood, but had no intrinsic value. Now I've learned that it's equivalent to drama, and that it's very important for a child's health, happiness and even spiritual and moral well-being, since it's an early form of discipline (no matter what game you're playing, you still have to stick to your "part").

Another point is memorization: in the modern educational climate rote memorization is frowned upon, yet according to her, it has many redeeming qualities, among them the aforementioned discipline the mind gains from forcing itself to learn a specific set of information by heart. This has to do with Judaism since there is a time-honored tradition of Talmud-memorization among the Jews.

It also made me rethink the importance of studying anthropology in general. Diamond originally felt her research was only being done from a Western standpoint, so she traveled to the South Pacific to study learning among children in an environment that was not affected by Western society. It just got me thinking about how the study of backwards peoples can help us understand what is intrinsically "human" about all of us. It's important to know what qualities all humans share on the most basic level, which is why it can also be instructional to study the behavior of animals, to learn how much they have in common with us, since, in that case, there's nothing particularly "human" about those behaviors. All of this is important to know when trying to reach the level of self awareness necessary to serve G-d properly...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

משכן הנשמה

כשם שהמשכן היה המקום היחידי בו שהה השכינה בעולם הזה, כך ראוי לו לאדם לזכור שגופו הוא מקום משכן נשמתו, ושאין לנשמתו דיור בעוה"ז בלעדי הגוף. ושכל עוד הגוף קיים, נשמתו קיימת, ובאבוד בגוף, אבוד נשמתו. ואל תאמר לי שאסור לומר כן מפני שרוּחַ בְּנֵי הָאָדָם עֹלָה הִיא לְמָעְלָה, ושייגמל לְנשמת חָסִידים כְּמִפְעָלם, כי מצווים אנו על שמירת גופינו ומוזהרים על איבודו מפני שאחר היפרד נשמת האדם מגופו שוב אין ביכלתו לעשות מעשים טובים ולעמוד בנסיון ולקבל שכר, שהוא כל תכלית האדם בעוה"ז. אז במיתת הגוף, במידה מסויימת, כך מיתת הנפש. אם כן חובה קדושה מוטל עלינו לשמור על גופינו מכל וכל. ולא רק לשמור, אלא גם לתקנו בנצרך לו...כמו המשכן ממש! אם היה אחד מקרשי המשכן נוטים ליפול, היה עולה על דעתך לא לתקנו? כן בגוף; אם אחד מחלקיו עומדים להתמוטט, עלינו למנוע את נפילתו, כי בתיקון הגוף כך המשכיותו לאורך זמן. ומה מצווה יותר יש מאשר להאריך את ימינו עלי אדמות. מתפלל האדם לא"לוהיו לחיים טובים וארוכים, אבל הוא בעצמו אינו עושה הפעילויות הנצרכות כדי להאריך חייו. היש צבוע יותר מזה? ח

אם כן, הנחנו שמצווה לשמור על הגוף, אבל המהדר במצווה משפר את מצב גופו כל מה שיוכל, כי בעיה בחלק אחד של הגוף יכול לגרום לבעיות כלליות יותר. ובדידי הוה עובדא שמתארת את הרעיון הזה בבירור: עבדתי לפני שנתיים בבית שחיטה במדינת וויסקונסין. יום אחד הייתי מקשקש באחד הקרסים המיועדים להוביל את ראשי הפרות, ונתקע הקרס בתוך פס היצור, וגרם לתקלה בכל המפעל. יותר מ200 עובדים הושבתו (חצי שעה) מעבודתם בגלל תקלה שנגרם מקרס אחד קטן שנתקע במקום הלא נכון. כמו כן בגוף האדם: בעיה אחת קטנה יכולה לגרום תקלה לכל המפעל כולה. אז על כל פרט קטן שבגוף צריך לשים עין פוקחת לנצרך לו לבריאותו. ח

ועל הקו שזכרנו, העדר "קום עשה" הרי הוא נחשב ללאו בענייני הגוף, כי בחוסר פרואקטיביות הגוף נחלש. מי שאינו מתעמל וודאי שהוא גורם רעה לעצמו, אבל, הייתי נוטה לומר, שאפילו אדם שלחדר כושר אנו מבקר, ואת שריריו אינו מתחזק, גם הוא גורם רעה לגופו בעתיד, בהיותו חלש מדי...ח

אבל כל הפעילות האלו נחשבים למצווה רק אם זוכר האדם לשם מה עושן; לחזק את משכן ה' ולהאריך את ימי שכינת נשמתו בגופו כדי שיוכל לעשות עוד יותר מצוות. אבל אם אין זכר מדברים האלו בלבו כשהוא מביט בהנאה על גופו המתחזק, שוב אין כל מצוה בקיום הפעילות האלו. וכמובן. ח

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Miracle of Language, the Cage of Words

I've been having recurring thoughts recently, friends, regarding the subject of proper verbalization of ideas. Our ability to express our ideas through words. Through spoken words. Through written words. There always seems to be this insurmountable gap between thoughts, ideas and emotions and the words chosen to express them. I personally find myself struggling with it more than others (if I was able to express myself I'd be knocking out a post a day, but now it's more like a week), but even when I hear the speech of others their ideas seem to be trapped in the cage of words. Yet the more eloquent ones take a smug satisfaction in their ability of expression, as if this absurdity called language can foster a true expression of ideas.

That's just one extreme of the spectrum though. The other extreme is that it's a miracle how much we are able to express with words. Animalistic ideas, mundane ideas, complex ideas and abstract ideas; they can all be expressed in the most precise and descriptive of words. The miracle of language. There is no concept, even the most unearthly, that cannot clearly be described through the employment of words.

It is due to the contrast of these two extremes that I take interest in the differences between the way we speak today and the way people have spoken in the past. From the way characters in Victorian novels speak to the way Shakespearean characters speak, to way the ancient Romans speak to the way the bible characters speak. But especially the last (it obviously being the most arcane). I always wondered how they got any ideas through in that terse language of theirs. Yet on the other hand I always felt their speech to be more to the point. I was reminded of this after seeing this blasphemously low budget and low quality dramatization of a conversation between Elijah and Ahab last night, and then reading it (the very end of Kings I). It's always struck me that their sparse use of words might have allowed them to express themselves better than we do in our early 21st century American English, which to us seems to be the height of true expression. They were brutally honest and straightforward. It was the purity of their tongue that, instead of restricting their ideas, allowed them to speak of reality as it was....

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Commentary on Esther- תש"ע

I hope you are all enjoying your Purim, friends. Usually I have ideas about the Megillah but forget them by the time I get around to writing them down, but this year I remembered a lot more, so I want to get this done before I forget. I did write a bit last year though, but not as much as I would have liked to. As it happens I was even able to read the Megillah tonight in a limited assembly, so I guess that might have jogged my memory a bit.

I've got a few things to say on almost every chapter:

Chapter 1: "הוּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד-כּוּשׁ"- I don't know why it didn't seem as obvious to me in the past, but now it's quite obvious to me (not to mention it's well known by now) that this is a response to a confusion by the part of the reader when hearing "אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ"; the natural question is "Which אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ are you speaking of?", since the book of Ezra also mentions an "אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ" (it seems Xerxes (חְשָׁיָארְשָׁ) and Artaxerxes (אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא) were called by the same name in ancient Hebrew, although in Aramaic it mentions the latter by his actual name). To that it responds "the one who was the great emperor over all these lands".

"בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ, לְמָלְכוֹ"- Since the destruction of the Judean kingdom, the Tanach counts years according to the Babylonian kings, and then according to the Persian kings. This change is evidenced clearly in the book of Daniel, which occurs before and after the twelve year Ahasuerus-reign of the book of Esther, but can also be seen in Ezra and "Tobit".

"וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת"
"כָּל-יֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין"
"כְּדָת, מַה-לַּעֲשׂוֹת"
"אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית" etc etc- It's well known that the book of Esther uses the word "דת" a disproportionately large amount of times. Many commentators say that in this context it's simply just another word for "law" or "royal law", but I'm starting to think it does have what to do with religion. With the rise of Persian prominence worldwide the Zoroastrian religion gained unprecedented renown and it's priests had much more political influence than they once did, considering that the emperor had to abide by their rulings. It seems to me that a lot of this "דת" in the megillah is speaking of religious decrees enacted by the Zoroastrian priests onto the monarchy. From the decision about what to do with a queen who doesn't show when summoned to the death penalty for someone who approaches the emperor without having been summoned. I use the word "emperor" by the way, and not "king", since he was, in fact, an emperor, it's just that there's no word for "emperor" in Hebrew, so it uses the same word for the ruler of a city state as for an emperor.

Chapter 2: "וַיֶּאֱהַב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת-אֶסְתֵּר מִכָּל-הַנָּשִׁים, וַתִּשָּׂא-חֵן וָחֶסֶד לְפָנָיו מִכָּל-הַבְּתוּלוֹת"- The "One Night with the King" movie (which, I feel, has been a very successful attempt of the Evangelical community to create top notch entertainment that doesn't sacrifice Christian values in the process) portrays a romantic love between the emperor and Esther. I think anyone would agree that it's unlikely that they had an emotional attachment. He did want her to be the queen, but it was extremely uncommon back then for there to be anything but a political connection between king and queen.

Chapter 3: "הָמָן בֶּן-הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי"- As if it would be possible to verify if he was some long-lost descendant of Agag. I think it might be saying that since he was so gung-ho about killing the entire nation of Mordecai, it must be he's from the seed of Amalek, i.e. a descendant of Agag (but it's hard to believe he went parading that fact in a nation who didn't know from such things).

"וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ--יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל-עָם, וְאֶת דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים, וְלַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין-שֹׁוֶה, לְהַנִּיחָם. אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב, יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם; וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר-כֶּסֶף, אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל-יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה, לְהָבִיא, אֶל-גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ."- I was thinking of making a post out of this and calling it "What Haman can teach us about Blogging"(!), but I'll just stick with this format. To me it seems that Haman has been reading his Dale Carnegie, and is being a very efficient public speaker. Now, notice that in the previous verse we're told that this is the twelfth year of Ahasuerus's reign, in other words four entire years since he was thinking about killing Mordecai and his people, and it was still on his mind. So he was probably looking for a way to carry it out for years, and he ends up accomplishing it in a couple of seconds by a very witty use of words. First, he takes advantage of the fact that the emperor is probably just as interested in hearing a twenty hour lesson on the history of the Jews, and about all their kings and how they ended up in Persia as Bush was interested in hearing the history of Iraq and what the deposition of Saddam Husein would do to it's infrastructure. He doesn't mention them by name and quickly demonizes them. Then he promises loads of cash if Ahasuerus lets him go through with it. So he's basically saying "There's some lawless group of anarchists throughout the empire that aren't willing to comply with us; you're better off without them. If it pleases the king, I'll rid you of them, aaaaand add ten thousand gold bars to the treasury". And viola, the signet ring is suddenly on his finger.

The connection to blogging is that people need quick sound bytes and can't be bothered to listen or think to much. If you want someone to be swayed by your words, they have to be biast, unclear, sweet and powerful!

Chapter 4: "כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר"-I think this is one of the most theologically significant points in the megillah; what would happen if Esther did nothing, would everything turn out the same for the Jews. Or, more importantly, what if Esther only fasted two days, or what if she said one less prayer? In other words: what exactly did any given spiritual activity affect in the world. Perhaps a Jewish community in some Persian occupied city on the North African coast heard about it; how much did the particularly fervent prayer of a young Jewish boy in that community affect the emperor's decision? What if he never did pray?....

Of less theological significance to me is the fact that Mordecai knew that salvation would come to the Jews no matter what, since there's some sort of biblical pact between G-d and Israel in the Tanach, that he would never destroy them.

"וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת"- To us readers it seems quite obvious that she became queen for this reason, and he very fact that Mordecai finds it necessary to say this is indicative of the fact that Esther wasn't Evangelically quick in attributing Providence to everything in her life. After all, for a second it seemed like she was going to turn her back on her people since "כָּל-אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יָבוֹא-אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל-הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִקָּרֵא אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית". Even Mordecai seems to be mention the prospect of Divine intervention in very theoretical terms ("Who knows")....

"וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ"- The funny thing is that after Mordecai's little speech, she seems to have gone 360 degrees and even be willing to show up by the king after having fasted for three days (which can't be the best thing from a cosmetic perspective), thus leaving the possibility of success entirely upon Divine Providence.

Chapter 5: "יָבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן, אֶל-הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לָהֶם"- Esther understood the importance of mystery and mystique. Which is something people are attracted to. Which is the same reason people are attracted to the anonymity of having an online personality.

Chapter 9: "וְהָרוֹג בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם, חֲמִשָּׁה וְשִׁבְעִים אָלֶף"- It seems the exiled Judeans were still war-ready if they could kill 75,000 armed soldiers at the tip of a hat. This was well before the "ultra-urbanization" of the Jew...

"לְקַיֵּם אֶת-יְמֵי הַפֻּרִים הָאֵלֶּה בִּזְמַנֵּיהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר קִיַּם עֲלֵיהֶם מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי וְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה, וְכַאֲשֶׁר קִיְּמוּ עַל-נַפְשָׁם, וְעַל-זַרְעָם: דִּבְרֵי הַצּוֹמוֹת, וְזַעֲקָתָם"- It seems that Ta'anit Esther is considered one of "the days of Purim".

Chapter 10: "וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו"- Again, in a more tribe-oriented reading of the text, it's possible that the Judaite Zealots were wary of a Benjaminite finding favor with the emperor, since he might have wanted to become a new monarch over Judea and have founded a new non-Judaite dynasty...

Another important point is the chronology, since the Megillah seems to span from the third year of Xerxes' reign to at least the twelfth, which is a pretty long timespan for a story to come together, especially considering that Xerxes' reign lasted only twenty years altogether...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Chaimle's Kavana


I have a thought about "the Halocaust" (in quotes since I find that an iffy term to use) that came to me this past Tish'a B'Av, and that I get reminded of every time I stroll around the Traditionalist Eastern European Jewish enclave in which I reside (the Borough Park section of Brooklyn). Believe it or not, life here is far more reminiscent of Polish Jewish life before World War II than any other part of America. Thus, every time I walk around here my mind is taken back in time to 1930's Warsaw. Anyway, the thought is as follows:

In general, the 20th Century was somewhat miraculous in all the groundbreaking events and breakthroughs that came to define it, but there was one event which was so logic-defying that it came to be seen in purely theological terms and become the stuff of legends. I'm speaking of course friends of the liquidation of Jews from Eastern and Western Europe halfway through the century. Although it proved to be an extremely sobering experience for those involved, I think we have developed the tendency to look back at them as something almost supernatural, and rightfully so. I mean, in the midst of a World War, while the empires of the world are in an epic war to end all wars, why should it make any difference to anyone if Chaim'l in some unheard of village in the Ukraine wants to daven Shachris b'kavana? It's a huge enigma, and to an extent we're forced to say it is, in fact, because the Germans knew just how important Chaim'l's kavana was to the world. Proof being that they would stop at no ends to prevent Chaim'l from davening his Shachris. And, more than anything, I think this is what the Hasidim got out of the Holocaust; what we do is of endless importance. So important, in fact, that they tried to kiss us because of it. The fact that they were killed proves their importance and even fills their hearts with a true pride and purposefulness in their Judaism. I think this concept can be found on every corner in Borough Park: they tried to kill us yet despite them we grow. "וְכַאֲשֶׁר יְעַנּוּ אֹתוֹ, כֵּן יִרְבֶּה וְכֵן יִפְרֹץ". Some individual Holocaust survivors have gone so fae as to have spawned fifty descendants in fifty years, only to prove that the Nazis did not succeed.

So, while the Germans thought they were showing how insignificant Jews were, they were actually fueling the Hasidic psyche far more than anyone else could, and, while people earlier this century predicted the demise of Orthodoxy and certainly of Hasidism by the end of the century, our enemies were responsible for a rejuvenation of Hasidism that is still taking place, and which doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon, but rather is taking the Hasidim into a new century of unfathomed growth, prosperity and influence.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mussar from the Opympics

Last night I was watching a few minutes of a male alpine skiing competition of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The first competitor was Bode Miller of America, and after him the Norwegian A. L. Svindal. They both finished at exactly a minute and thirty seconds, but Svindal was about a half a second faster than Miller. Commenting on the result, one of the announcers said "He beat him by only half a second, but half a second is an eternity in alpine skiing".

"Half a second is an eternity"...

It's a funny thing to think about when doing something like watching a two hour movie...

Sunday, February 21, 2010

'מלכים ג: Revisited

I mentioned a while ago that I was "interested" in reading a book called "מלכים ג" by Yochi Brandes; now I'm actually reading it. As I suspected, it's a very interesting story, and is written in a very interesting perspective that, so far, has made me think differently about such concepts as "שבטיות", "גירות" and the woman's place in love in the Tanach.

"שבטִיוּת": By that I mean the tribal divisions that had a major place in our nation even during the Unification Period of the First Commonwealth until it's end. The author understands every event in the Tanach in terms of the tribal differences. The protagonist of the story comes from the land of Ephraim (Samaria) and was raised in a very Ephraim-oriented viewpoint. They're upset the Temple was built in Jerusalem (in the portion of Judah) and that their Temple in Shiloh was destroyed (an event that's spoken of in the 78th psalm. Which, as I recently found out, is actually the source for such famous verses as "וְהוּא רַחוּם" that we say every night and "יְשַׁלַּח בָּם חֲרוֹן אַפּוֹ" that we say at the seder). They see the Judeans as conquerors who want all the tribes to subdue themselves to them. They also don't like Judah because, as sons of Joseph, they prefer the Rachel tribes (Joseph and Benjamin, or Ephraim, Menashe and Benjamin) over the sons of Leah (including Judah) and especially over the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. According to the author, the tribe of Ephraim feels that many of the episodes that we view as history were actually fabrications of the Judahites to engender spite towars the Rachel tribes. For example the famous story of the "Pilegesh B'Giv'ah" in the end of the book of Shoftim was not totally honest, but was made to make the Benjaminites out to look worse then they were, and to make their capital, Giv'ah, look worse than it was. Especially considering that right after the book of Shoftim, in the beginning of the book of Shmuel, we find Saul coming from Giv'ah and it becoming the capital of the first Israelite monarchy.

As far as the traditional viewpoint goes; it is correct to some extent (I mean, most of it is pretty spelled-out in that psalm I quoted) but some of it is a bit heretical, for example suggesting that some of the events related in Shoftim and Shmuel are either untrue or very one-sided.

"גירות": This word might be translated as "conversion", but I'm using the word in the biblical sense, and it's the biblical understanding of the word and it's meaning that I always find a bit elusive. Even from the beginning I did have a greater understanding of it's biblical context than just "conversion". I knew that it had more of a Talmudic "גר תושב" connotation, which means that it's not usually speaking of someone who accepts only the G-d of Israel and follows His Laws, but any foreigner who is residing in the land and accepts the basic premise of Israelite beliefs and respects the Israelite people (though there are of course full-fledged conversions in the Tanach, such as that of Ruth the Moabite). One, therefore, supposes that there is not much similarity between the ancient Ger and the modern Ger, since the first is geographical and cultural and the second is religious, but the story made me start thinking the stronger connection modern Gerim have with the biblical "stranger"; for besides for the religious changes, the modern Ger also has to become a stranger in a strange land, adopt new cultural customs, and hope to be accepted by her new neighbors.

"אהבה": Since the book was written by a woman, some of it discusses love from the perspective of the woman, as opposed to how it's related in the Tanach, as the woman being only the "חפץ" in a man's love. The funny thing is that the Tanach itself is actually replete with descriptions of love from the female perspective. Shir Hashirim is famous for taking an uncommonly feminist viewpoint on love, in that much of it is written from a woman's viewpoint. Ruth as well obviously. Even the very episode of Rachel and Leah's wedding switch has unmistakable Gossip Girl elements at play. So, looking at it in that light, it's really nothing new to the Tanach.

Anyway, if you read Hebrew, and you haven't read it, you should look into it. Bible-based stories is a novel genre for the Hebrew market, and hopefully with enough support the concept will take off.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Thoughts on a First Date!

A new male blogger who writes about "female friendly" topics, "Bored Jewish Guy" (inspiring name, right?) wrote a post relating his impressions on first dates he's been on which has inspired many other bloggers to do the same. The candid results of this experiment have proved to be surprising and informative.

Now, although the brevity of my dating history goes beyond laughable to downright sad, reading all those accounts has got me interested in expressing some of my own experiences with first dates. I don't have enough patience to go into too great detail, but I feel there is still information I can share that is no less helpful than the insights of those female bloggers who would be hard-pressed to remember whether or not they've been out with a certain individual in the past.

I'm girlishly vain yet perpetually unkempt. There is little I can do about my appearance, even on a date, though I do of course take the time to make the most essential preparations.

Pick up:
I'm generally mortally afraid of being late, since I usually am.

Other than that, I have a low opinion of myself, and therefore feel extremely awkward picking up a girl from her home, since I usually don't feel 'fit' be be taking their pride and joy, who they've raised for 20 years to some undisclosed location. It's too much in the spotlight for me. In fact it kind of feels like they turned the spotlight from the charismatic actors and turned it on the dude who just came in to use the bathroom. Aaaanyways...

The Meet:
My philosophy in all awkward meeting situations is to jump right into it and talk to them as if they're your best bud and see what type of response you get. I'm terrible at hellos and terrible at goodbyes, which is why I try to avoid both...

The Date:
From what I understand the Starbucks/Barnes and Noble setup is far more popular than I once imagined it to be. I've had a few problems with bookstores though, since differences in reading interests lead to discussing differences in philosophies and can create a rift between you early in the date.

In regards to conversation, I saw some of the females say that it usually leaves them bored and uninterested. As a result of a concern for that scenario, having conversation topics is very worrisome for me. In reality though I don't recall a date without interesting conversation. I pride myself in finding everything interesting, hopefully sucking them in with some of my enthusiasm. If that's not working though, both my teaching experiences and dating experiences have proven that one thing I absolutely hate is talking without being listened to. So I'm usually quickly asking or answering a question, or listening, since the prospect of boring the hell out of a girl is the worst case scenario as far as I'm concerned.

I also saw the girls mention that they turn off if they see no potential in the guy and/or the conversation is going nowhere. My own philosophy is that if i can see that we're certainly not meant to be, I start speaking to them more platonicly than romantically, and give them life advice based on what they tell me! Unfortunately, I'm waaay too fascinated by people, so as long as they're interested in talking, I'm always happy to oblige. I usually find what most people have to say to be relatively interesting.

"Erachet" suggests more activity oriented first dates to get around this problem. I think the setup is fine as it is; the first thing you want to do is engage someone verbally. It's obviously your opportunity to verify if you're on the same plain. If so then an activity-oriented second date is surely the way to go. The more involving the task the better.

The Drop Off:
As I said, I'm terrible at goodbyes, which can be a problem when it's time to say goodbye.

The Decision:
I've never been at all conflicted about whether or not I wanted to date someone a second time. Besides once; my very first date. I ended it early and didn't go on a second date. Looking back on it though, I think I should have married that girl...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentines Day, Nimrod, Purim, and a crap-load of nonsense

[Pic- Artists rendition of ancient Lupercalia.]

I wanted to write a bit of a follow-up post regarding what I wrote about Valentines Day two years ago. I know I'm a bit late, and not that it's a topic that fascinates me to no end, but I was reading today of an unlikely connection between Valentines Day and Nimrod. As it happens, I first came upon this information on Wikipedia, and when I returned to the page a few minutes later, lo and behold that information was gone (a phenomenon which, if having occurred in a paper encyclopedia, might be representative of an over-indulgence in psychedelic activities on the part of the reader and not molestation to the tome). I did happen to find similar bits of information on fundamentalist Christian sites though, which gave me the impression that it was them who were probably at fault for tampering with Wikipedia in the first place, and not the moderators for having removed it.

Nonetheless, I'd like to give a basic summary of what they were getting at, backwards (my mind works better backwards, as those who are already aquainted with me already know). Though I admit this information is quite fluffy, but I can't possibly research it all:

We have many traditions regarding Nimrod, but we fail to remember that most of them are Midrashic in origin and represent very little about the historical Nimrod. As it happens though, Nimrod is not much of a historical character to start with. In the bible he is called a "great hunter". He is also seen as being founder of Akkad (the early Babylonian Empire) and builder of the tower of Babylon. Whether or not he actually existed, he was accepted into the Near Eastern pantheon as Pan Baul, or Baal in Canaanite, Pan in Greek and Lupercus in Latin, all of whom are the god of flocks, mountain wilds and hunting. Thus the deified Nimrod is synonymous with Lupercus, for whom the entire Lupercalia (fertility festival) was celebrated. The name Valentine (synonymous with the English word Valiant) was also attributed to Lupercus (which basically means "wolf man"), since tradition has it that he was a great hunter of wolves, and that he took refuge in the very cave in the Apenine mountains upon which Rome was founded. Yet supposedly Nimrod was also associated with Saturn, which is a Latinized version of the name of the Babylonian G-d "Ishtar", which has to do with the word "seter", or "hidden", since he once fled his pursuers into a cave. Which cave you ask? Why, the very same cave we were just discussing, the Founding Cave (hence the ancient name of Rome being Saturnia). Thus Lupercus, Saturn, Baal and Nimrod are all the same man, and Lupercalia, if it wasn't Pagan enough already, is also a celebration of Nimrod, builder of the tower of Babel and defyer of the L-rd G-d.

The name of this very month, Adar, is a Babylonian G-d of strength; the same type of idea the Nimrod-based G-ds evoked. Yet the protagonist of the story of the book of Esther, ...Esther, was named after Ishtar. But her bearing that unholy name was a manifestation of her hiding, as the name also suggests, the presence of G-d in her affairs, so that she would be enabled to attain a position of influence, from which she could serve as a vehicle of G-d's Will to save His nation.

Valentines Day was celebrated on February 14th by the way, because Nimrod/Baal was supposedly born on the solstice, and according to the Law of Moses a woman is to be purified 40 days after the birth of a son, hence the 14-15th of February was the celebration. In fact this very month was named after the februum (purification) performed at the Lupercalia). And of course the early Christian emperors and Popes wanted to abolish the Lupercalia, but couldn't, so it was was Baptized as is, like all the other Christianized Paganisms.

So essentially, not only is Valentines Day a glorification of the archenemy of the founder of our religion, it's also glorifying the founding of the capital city of our greatest enemies (Rome), and is representative of an epic struggle between ethical monotheists and pagan heathens, which this month and this upcoming (Jewish) holiday are very indicative of. I said, most of what I'm saying here is extremely misleading, but it's still worth pondering...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Art of the Pen

I've been looking back at some of my past writing recently (mostly emails). was pretty bad. Even some stuff from less than two years ago is simply embarrassing. Fifteen years olds, and not even the most educated ones, would put that writing to shame (I even wonder if it would be intellectually dishonest for me to got back and correct some of my earlier posts here).

I started writing on this blog (and at all) in 2006, and it seems my writing hasn't become even reasonably acceptable in regards to grammar and syntax until a year and a half ago. ...though the truth is I only have 26 posts from '06, and most of them are just articles I found online. And I only wrote 10 short posts in '07. So it's not unbelievable that my writing has only started to improve recently. Pretty much coinciding with my attendance at Touro I guess.

It's kind of sad though; I had a lot of interesting ideas between the ages of 18 and 22 that it would have been nice to have written down. Now I barely remember how I felt about things then. Knowing how to properly record your thoughts is a great benefit. Which is partially why our ancestors in Spain attached religious importance to topics which seem so secular, such as grammar, syntax, poetry and oration. I say, if I the only thinע I would have gained from this blog is improving my writing, it would have been worth it.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

מכ"ת המו"ת

I've unfortunately been exposed, friends, to a few death-oriented experiences the past week or so, but, to my confusion, I find myself to be too numb to have proper emotional/theological reactions.

In the past, if a compartiot of mine died, I would reflect upon every aspect of my daily life as upon a miracle. Take even walking in the cold as an example: naturally you would think "this is pretty unpleasant", but when considering that others are experiencing a total absence of life itself, even being able to breathe in the cold fresh air of today, now, as a living, healthy (בע"ה) being seems to be a novelty worth appreciation. The fact that we had childhoods. The fact that we made it through birth!, I reflected upon. I once felt very appreciative, and took nothing for granted. Mundane matters seemed childish to me, considering they all concerned matters of the living, and if one is already alive, what could they complain about.

Yet now I find it more difficult for me to reflect on these matters. Although I'm aware of our good fortune for having been chosen by the Divine for a good life, it's still difficult to translate that into constant appreciation for life, which in turn mandates a pious lifestyle. It doesn't come naturally. Sometimes our minds to not let us come to the most logical conclusions.

Though essentially this has been the responsibility of authors of mussar works, such as Ibn Paquda (in his Al Hidayah ila Faraid al-Qulub, "Duties of the Hearts"), whom Rabbi Avigdor Miller was wont to quote, whom I was wont to hear. What's known as "Sha'ar Habechina" is his guide on how to arouse within our slumbered selves these feelings (that should be natural to us, but which the Satan blocks our hearts from feeling). Therefore if a deep appreciation for life is, in fact, not natural to us, what better place to turn that the חובות הלבבות...

Friday, February 5, 2010

American Infrastructure

The Americans keep creating unsustainable infrastructures: first they base their economy on the displacement and enslavement of millions of Africans in an era when slavery had become obsolete, then they design thousands of miles of roads which pre-suppose an inexhaustible supply of petrol for automobiles...

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lost: Jack and John

As some of you may know, friends, "Lost", the popular television production about plane-crash survivors stranded on a mysterious island, started it's anticipated sixth and final season last night. For die-hard Lost fanatics the premiere had a semi-Super Bowl Sunday status. I myself only see it online so I had to wait till tonight to see it. I started watching Lost not long ago as a sort of project, to spot out the theological overtones in the secular media. For the most part it's far from as educational as I thought it might have been, but when listening to the hour-long recap of the previous seasons, the narrator said something which rekindled my original perceptions a bit. And I quote:

"Most believe that what's done is done, you cannot change fate, no matter how hard you try. And those who challenge what is destined will always be met with disappointment, for fate has a way of charting it's own course.

But before one surrenders to the hands of destiny, one might consider the power of the human spirit, and the force that lies in ones own free will."

To me these two paragraphs represent two differing viewpoints, and it is precisely this ideological difference which splits the two main characters for most of the shows duration. The leader of the group, Jack, is a young agnostic surgeon, who judges things only by their physical realities. His rival is an older fate-driven cripple who recovered upon landing on the island. One big way their differences are manifested is that Jack's main concern is to get everyone off the island and back home, while John does all that's within his power to keep them all on the island (again, since he sees their arrival upon the island as their fate.

Personally, I don't think either of them are necessarily harbor heretical notions in the subject of Divine Providence. These are two theologically legitimate ways to view life. Obviously John's is the more orthodox approach, the "Boy does G-d have something in store for you!" approach, which supposes that belief in Providence suggests that G-d micro-manages every individual, to lead them to the future that's most suitable for them.

But Jack's approach is also religiously sound; it is the opinion of the religious philosophers, who say that our duty is only to fulfill G-d's will on this earth, and that we must do all that is within our power to do what's right, even when it seems to us that the Divine would have us do otherwise. For example Jack could have said, like John, that if G-d brought us all to this island it's a sign he wants us to be here, but instead he felt that his duty to G-d to save his fellow man from peril superseded any speculations as to G-d's hand in their fate. We see that this is a very legitimate approach in Talmudic Judaism, as in the passage about the תנור של עכנאי.

Even so, I've still found John's approach to be a lot more helpful. Just doing what's right doesn't cut it sometimes. Sometimes we need to feel that G-d put us where we are for a very specific reason, and that we have some sort of earth-shatteringly important mission to fulfill in our lifetimes. John himself is often plagued by doubt, frantically praying to G-d to show him a sign that he's going in the right direction. And many times there is none, or he misunderstood them. The irony of it is that John dies in the fifth season alone and confused. Is it true then? That G-d is leading us to our destinies? It's hard to say, but if thinking in those terms is helpful to us then I think we should.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Wein Blog

Favorable tidings friends: Rabbi Berel Wein has started a blog in his old age (which I discovered by becoming a fan of his Facebook page). The only blog to whom I can imagine this might prove even slightly threatening is the Jewish history blog of Joel Davidi.

Anyway, Rabbi Wein's inaugural post speaks of the importance of reflecting upon the past, and in particular the past of our people. He mentions that Heinrich Graetz was a wayward student of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, but doesn't speak much of their disagreements. As it happens Hirsch himself was sympathetic, at least, to Jews who had no interest in history. He once stated it's no surprise European Jews weren't avid history fans, for all the pages of their history is stained with the blood of their ancestors. Besides for a retelling of the slaughter of Jews, Jewish history didn't comprise of much back then.

Graetz, though, saw much more significance in the retelling of Jewish history. He saw it as having earth-shattering importance even, and after having left Hirsch, went on to create the greatest compendium of Jewish history penned till his day, nay, penned till this day. While it's true that Graetz's history is ludicrously biast, and that all our heroes he marks as villains, all our scholars he marks as ignoramuses, and the more a Rabbi is open to secularism the more he is praised, still, it must be agreed that there is honestly no work like his. I've always found it amusing that his history ends in the 1880's though. He thought that was where Jewish history ended. In the meantime the main bulk of modern Jewish history happened between his life and ours. Just goes to show you how fluid and dynamic our people and our history really are.

Come to think of it, I should like to write about the differences between Hirsch and Graetz actually (considering that they are the founders of Modern Orthodoxy and Conservatism respectively), but I shall leave that for a later date.

Also, he said of the written history found in works preceding Graetz as "ancillary to the main purpose of those works, which was to transmit the traditions of Torah. They were not history books in the modern sense of scholarship, but were recordings of oral traditions passed down through the ages". I think that statement might be a bit misleading. There were many works that had a journalistic nature to them, like the works of the Spanish exiles which described the times they lived in, the works describing the Chmielnicki massacres, the works of Benjamin of Tudela etc. These are not recounting some oral history, but are recording events as they happened, and they serve as great historical resources for those times.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Torture, Mountain Climbing and Shidduchim

okay, for the first time in writing, my "separation makes the heart grow fonder" idea!:

I've always been a fan of the saying that "separation makes the heart grow fonder". In other words in any relationship, being available too often, being ever-present, is not beneficial but is in fact detrimental to a relationship. For with anything comes boredom. Even the object of your romantic desire can quickly become "boring" to you. But if you're forced to be away from them for a while, upon their return comes a rejuvenated closeness and intimacy that was not possible before. Which is the rationalization given for the Purity Laws as they apply to menstruation.

This principle doesn't only apply to a relationships though. It's applicable to many other aspects of life. In all things: if someone experiences a continuous orgy of pleasure, after a while it is not within his ability to experience pleasure. Whether it be in food, sexuality, sleep, sport, honor; anything which Man finds pleasing. Simply put: whatever you 'have', you don't 'want' anymore. You want what you don't have. It's obvious really. The glutton does not enjoy a good meal as much as the pauper. A licentious man does not enjoy sexuality as much as the celibate man. The absence of a thing, in a sense, is the only way to really have it! Absence IS presence. Abstinence IS sexuality. Hunger IS food. Pain IS pleasure! They are points of contrast and comparison. This idea has a central role in thought-processes, and I apply it to many aspects of life.

I once happened upon a blog that criticized Rabbi Avigdor Miller's asceticism. For example, after his death it was revealed that Rav Miller slept on a board, not a bed, he would constantly stop eating while he ate, and many other such practices. This blog called Rav Miller's chamber a torture chamber. I objected. I saw he was an atheist so I told him that not only did causing yourself privation make sense in Judaic terms, but it made sense in general as well. I told him about a television program I once saw, which told the story of a group of German adventure seekers who climbed parts of the alps that are usually traversed by no one. At the end of it they were starving and half dead. When one of them was asked by reporters why he did it, he said that when he goes back to Berlin now and has a beer, it'll be the best beer he ever had! He understood that pleasure does not come without privation.

Another aspect of life I've been associating this principle with recently is the senses of entitlement v.s. appreciation. Here in the my hometown of Brooklyn, more than anywhere else I've seen, and especially in the realm of dating (as is no wonder), I've come across people who have always had far more than I, and yet grew up in an absent-minded sense of great entitlement. Especially the daughters of "our community", as they're provided for more than the boys. Especially the fairer ones. They date as if they're trying on clothes. And they'll only take what they feel entitled to, which is probably part of the "shidduch crisis". I think that had these picky girls known loneliness, in it's severer forms, they would be less picky. Again, it is privation that humbles the soul, and brings it from haughtiness to humility, and therefore, to happiness.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Tongue of G-d: I

I've been chatting with a few folks over at Chana's blog recently (at times it can be a great place for random discussions, since she's not very engaged in comment moderation). I made a quick comment about how I disapproved of Chana using the Ashkenazi pronunciation in writing (since she's part Sefaradi), and it spurred some reader interaction (actually kind of proud about that). I do still want to write a post glorifying speaking ("Modern") Hebrew as a language, but it might be wise to say a few words about proper Hebrew pronunciation first anyway. The historical aspect of this subject has actually recently had exhaustive coverage in the blog of my newfound online friend, Joel Davidi. The only problem is that his blog offers no opinion, only a record of the opinions of others.

It should be remembered, first of all, that it makes a great difference how Hebrew is pronounced, for we use Hebrew in our prayers to G-d, and certainly we wouldn't want to be speaking to him blasphemously in some non-language jargon, but rather in a clear precise Hebrew, as He intended. Also, in Israel today, the way one pronounces the language has strong socio-political connotations, and in some places the way you pronounce the consonants is definitive of who you are and what you stand for.

My opinion has always been pretty straightforward on this matter: while there are Ashkenazim who'll tell you that there is a certain antiquity to their pronunciation, and that there have always been different Hebrew pronunciations, especially with regards to the different schools of nikkud that flourished in Israel a millenia ago, I still feel their words are misleading. The "authenticity" in this pronunciation is the dried skeleton of authenticity. Hebrew, friends, is a Middle Eastern, Semitic language, and it cannot be separated from those roots. Most of what constitutes the Ashkenazi pronunciation is purely a European and even a Germanic influence on this Middle Eastern language (which, linguistically, can lend itself to absurdities). Forget the pronunciation; the very way children of the lands of the uncircumcised move their mouths and lips is alien to any Semitic tongue. The most beneficial thing for them would be to study the native usages of other Semitic languages so they themselves can see what a perversion their speech was.

Vowels: They'll also say that they differentiate between the kamatz and the patah', and long vowels and short vowels more than Sefaradim. The truth is that it's mostly Israeli and a small group of Sefaradim who did not make any distinction at all between these vowels, especially considering that Arabic does differentiate between them. From Morocco to Iran different forms of the kamatz were in use, that were present in words, but were very discreet about their presence, unlike the clumsy European kamatz.

Syllables: Then of course is the מלרע/מלעיל (mil'el/mil'ra) issue. For anyone who doesn't know; in words with more than one sylable, mil'el is stressing the first syllable and mil'ra is stressing the last. German Yiddish and English obviously are mil'el languages. Hebrew is a mil'ra language. Anglicizing Hebrew words to be mil'ra is obviously just laziness and a corruption of our language. Nothing else to say about that.

Consonants: In the aforementioned blog comment, I said I got the impression that Chana wasn't the biggest scholar of biblical Hebrew in the world because "when someone is "still" using "suf"s instead of "tav"s you get the impression it would be impossible for them to grasp the beauty in the tongue of G-d". The consonants have always been a point of contention among us, the "ת רפויה" especially. But I'm concerned only with what seems most correct, not bickering. I see the words of the outspoken Meir Mazuz (today's leading Sefaradi grammarian) on this subject as being correct: theoretically it should be similar to the Arabic ث ("th") sound (which, unlike popular belief, is not much like the English "th", but is more like an "airy" hard t sound), but if you have a hard time pronouncing that all the time, you're better off saying "t" instead of "s" since it's much closer to the "t" sound.

Other than that, it's obviously right and correct to differentiate the א's from ע's, ח's from כ's, ט's from ת's, ק's from כ's and ס's from צ's (as in the other Semitic languages).