Monday, October 31, 2005

October 2005

Monday, October 31, 2005

Men and Women in Orthodoxy

Hirhurim writes that women must be really, really bored on Simchat Torah, and accepts that this is the one area where Judaism is discriminatory against Women. Leaving aside the fact that JOFA would laugh their berets off at this remark, I would like to focus on his proposed solution: To let the women dance too.

But Hirhurim has it exactly backwards. Judaism is discriminatory AGAINST men, not against women. Simchat Torah dancing is really, really boring for the men. I mean how many times can you shuffle around a circle singing the same old song? BORING BORING BORING.

Simchas Torah is probably the most boring davening of the entire year (except for Chosson Torah & Breishis - that part is great). We should certainly strive to make men and women equal, but not by foisting our nonsense on the women! We should abolish dancing for the men!

I'm all for equality, but please: let's equalize the right way.

New Madonna Song!

Here is a sneak preview of Madonna's latest song about Judaism:

Some Gedolim ban me, some Gedolim hate me
I think thats O.K.
If they don't give me proper haskamas
I just walk away

They can beg and they can plead
But they can't see the light, that's right
'Cause the Kannoi with the cold hard cash
Is always causing a fight, 'cause we are

Living in a kannoisdick world
And I am a kefiradick girl
You know that we are living in a kannoisdick world
And I am a kefiradick girl

Some Gedolim try and some Gedolim lie but
I don't let them play
Only Gedolim who don’t sign bans
Make my rainy day, 'cause they are

Living in a kannoisdick world
And I am a kefiradick girl
You know that we are living in a kannoisdick world
And I am a kefiradick girl

Living in a kannoisdick world (kannoisdick)
Living in a kannoisdick world
Living in a kannoisdick world (kannoisdick)
Living in a kannoisdick world

Gedolim may come and Gedolim may go
And that's all right you see
Kabalah has made me rich
And now they're after me, 'cause everybody's

Living in a kannoisdick world
And I am a kefiradick girl
You know that we are living in a kannoisdick world
And I am a kefiradick girl

Yeridas HaGedolim

Y Aharon (not his real name), who is actually quite a choshuv guy in my opinion (even if he is one of those wacky OrthoScientists), said the following:

I wonder if there are any "gedolim" in this generation. I always understood that someone who is to be so considered must have character as well as scholarship; to be fluent in many areas of torah - not just in some areas; and to have a wide-ranging knowledge of things and people in order to function as a posek. Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach had that knowledge and those middot according to everything that I have heard about him. He had truly integrated his learning into his personality. There were some others of that generation who were similarly endowed. What do we have today; book banners; people intolerant of alternative views and ignorant of the real world? Where is the belief in "Her ways (the Torah or wisdom) are the ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peaceful"? I am not impressed.

Yesterday, I posted about the Gedolim that I liked, and I included The Chief Rabbi Sacks. Anonymous pointed out that he isn’t a Gadol BaTorah, though he may be a great Tzadik. So, assuming that a Godol has to be a Gadol BaTorah, as well as a Tzaddik, and also well rounded, a man of the people etc etc, are there actually any Gedolim at all alive today? I think even the yeshivah crowd know that their ‘Gedolim’ aren’t really such Gedolim.

I have questioned the concept of Yeridas Hadoros in the past. Is the lack of current day Gedolim a proof of Yeridas Hadoros?

I think I would have to say the following: The greatness of individuals has definitely declined. From the Avos, to the Neviim, to Chazal, to the Rishonim, to the Acharonim, to todays ‘Gedolim’, it’s been downhill all the way. I think we the same parallel in the secular world too. On the other hand, the average man on the street has progressed from being an ignorant sheep farmer to being an educated, Torah trained blogger.

So in sum, I guess I believe in Aliyos HaDoros, but Yeridas HaGedolim.

Pushed Off the Derech

Many Goyim hate Jews. This might be for understandable reasons, since Jews can be pushy, annoying, overly-emotional and often play slightly unfair in business and wind up with all the money. From a frum perspective, the reason they hate us is because they are all evil anti-semites, and we haven’t done anything, except introduce the concept of ethical monotheism and having a guilty conscience to the world, (which may very well be exactly why they hate us). Alternatively they hate us because G-d instructs them to, to keep us on our toes and to stop assimilating.

Many Jews hate Chareidim. In fact it would be technically accurate to say that the majority of Klal Yisrael hate Chareidim, or at least dislike them. From a secular perspective, this is because Chareidim are annoying, pushy (when it comes to religion), and often have a smug, triumphalist ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. From a Chareidi perspective, the reason they hate us is because we make them feel guilty, and they are all anti-Torah reshaim anyway.

I was in Israel recently, and saw quite a depth of anti-Chareidi feeling. Bet Shemesh is one particular flash point. I heard stories of clashes regarding Yom Haatzmaut, and also the local pizza place not being allowed to have tables, and the local residents turning up for a demonstration with their own personal tables. Almost to a man, the Daati Leumi crowd have a very dim view of the Chareidim, for a whole host of reasons, including kfiyah datit issues, avoidance of army service, chareidi budget extortion, etc.

This is all obvious and well known. The question is, what, if anything should we do about it? Is the hatred justified or not? With regards to anti-semitism, whenever anyone Jewish claims we bought it all upon ourselves, he is instantly labeled as a self-hating Jew. And there are no shortage of those.

However, where are all the self-hating Chareidim? Few and far between. It seems that in the Chareidi world everyone is pretty much entirely convinced that the fact nobody likes them is not their fault. In fact, its proof positive that the Secular Jews are just a bunch of Reshaim. Occasionally, one might see a slightly self-critical piece, maybe from the likes of a Rabbi Emmanuel Feldman or similar. But not very often. Only when there is a clear sign from G-d, e.g. a bomb attack on a Chareidi bus, will people stop to self-reflect.

It’s fairly axiomatic in the frum world that the Holocaust was caused by the rampant assimilation in those times. As Toby Katz once famously said: ‘It’s no co-incidence that the Holocaust started in Berlin’. But you have to ask, if the shtetel was so great, and Orthodox European Judaism so fulfilling, why on earth did 80% of all frum Jews run away from it at their first opportunity? Is it possible that the blame for this flight from religion lies not with those fleeing, but with those who represent religion? Is it therefore possible that the blame for the Holocaust (for those who like to dabble in Theodicy) therefore lies with the Frum, and not with the Frie?

I picked up an interesting new book while in Israel, ‘Off the Derech’ by Faranak Margolese. No, it’s not DovBear’s life story. It’s about why people go off the derech and what can we do about it. Her main thesis is that people go off the derech because they feel rejected by Rabbis and other Orthodox role models, or alternatively are exposed to very unimpressive religious role models in general. Much of the blame therefore lies with the Rabbis and the role models, rather than with the poor confused kid.

Is it possible that the pre-war generation of assimilated Jews was one big ‘Off the Derech’? Is it possible that the blame for this lies with the Rabbanim and their co-religionists, who were unable to articulate any kind of inspiring religious worldview in the post-enlightenment world?

Is it possible that we are seeing the same thing played out again today, when some of our religious leaders retreat further and further into their caves of ignorance and disavowal of all other viewpoints and sections of Orthodoxy, sub-consciously (or even consciously) pushing everyone else to go off the derech, out of disgust and disappointment?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks had an interesting comment in one of his books. He said the level of our righteousness should be in how many people we love and accept, not in how many people we hate and reject.

Here are two nice Artscroll type stories regarding Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who was universally liked and respected by all types of Jews:

RSZA was once on a bus and a chiloni women sat next to him. She was dressed very untzinously, but he remained seated next to her until the next stop, where he got off and waited for the next bus. A talmid who was traveling with him asked why didn't he just move to an empty seat on the same bus, rather than go through all the trouble of waiting for another one. RSZA replied that if he would have done so, she would realize he moved because of her and she might have been embarrassed! He couldn't do that to her so he waited and got off at the next stop.

When RSZA published his first sefer when he was in his 20's (Meorei Aish) on electricity in Halachah he got haskomos from many people including R' Chaim Ozer, and others. He got a haskama from R' Kook as well. When his book was reprinted, the kannaim wanted him to take out R' Kook's haskama. He said "if you take out R' Kook's haskama then either you take out all haskamas or you can't reprint it! So there are no haskamas in the 2nd edition. He felt it was a b'zayon to R' Kook to leave only his haskama out.

Where is today’s RSZA? Doesn’t seem to exist. Instead we get this: "Most of the world is evil," said (HaRav) Steinman, "especially the gentiles, most of whom are robbers, murderers, thieves and all the bad things. They have no justice or integrity."

I hate to say we Jews are the cause of anti-semitism, but I have to wonder about the true cause of anti-chareidism. The gemara says that a talmid chacham who walks around with a stain on his coat is chayav misah for not showing enough kavod to himself i.e. to Torah, and thereby causing people to lose respect for it. Note that the Talmud Chacham with the dirty coat is chayav miysah, not the onlookers in the market place who thereby lose respect.

The rejection, intolerance and almost hatred of others emanating from some kannoisdick parts of the frum world is a huge stain on the coat of Orthodoxy, which certainly causes many people (including myself) to lose respect for Torah and Talmidei Chachamim. The kannaim have caused the worst bizzayon of Torah in recent memory. Of course it’s a shame that the onlookers in the marketplace lost respect for Torah. But who is the cause of this disgrace?

It seems the kannaim are 'chayav misah'.*

* This is not a death threat or incitement to violence. If any Boruch Goldsstein or Yigal Amir types are reading this, I mean Chayav Misah Bidei Shamayim. Please don’t go getting any funny ideas.

Sunday, October 30, 2005


Lamedzayin said something interesting on Hirhurim:

If RW MO could more convincingly articulate what is wrong with LW MO, rather than rejecting it on slippery slope arguments - the same arguments the Chareidim use to reject RW MO - then perhaps LW MO would be responsive. But you can't dialogue when one side of the debate (RW MO) has decided in advance that Chadash Assur min Hatorah (hmm, where have I heard that before?)

Myself, I lean to RW MO, (and even have a few carefully hidden chareidi sympathies) but it's a serious problem that RW MO has in many ways conceded the debate to LW MO in the sense that they don't respond with arguments but with emotions. LW MO has its own problems (a lack of respect for tradition, surely) but the answer to LW MO is a vibrant RW MO response, not closing our eyes and wishing away women’s issues.

In my mind the attitude of RW MO to LW MO is EXACTLY IDENTICAL to the attitude of UO to RW MO, i.e. ‘You are not Frum enough for us’. The debate is not grounded on black and white Halachic issues, since as everyone knows the Halachah is flexible enough to accommodate everything LW MO does. (Heck, the Halachah is probably technically flexible enough to accommodate most some of what RW Conservative does.)

The bottom line is that it’s a debate between the more conservative (small c) elements and the more liberal / radical elements. The same debate that’s being played out on the US political scene, in Iran, in Iraq and most areas of the world in most political / social and religious arenas.

What’s the solution? We have to maintain a healthy balance between respect for tradition and the need for innovation. Of course everyone’s idea about ‘healthy balance’ is different. And there’s the rub.

Personally, I have great sympathy for the LW MO, because even though I identify more with RW MO, I find the treatment and attitude that RW MO shows towards LW MO is the same knee jerk, biased attitude that the RW MO's complain about they receive from the UO's.

And that's hypocritical.

I Love Gedolim!

It's true, I'm not joking, I really do love Gedolim. Great men and women who inspire me with their deeds and/or their thoughts. Great men and women whose actions are perfectly moral and ethical. Great men and women who are able to deal with the complexities of modern life and show how Judaism is still relevant and awe inspiring. Great men and women who inspire me to greater Torah, Avodah & Gemilus Chasadim.

After all, that's what it's all about!

(Conversely, people whose actions are not so ethical, or who are unable to deal with the realities of the world in which we live, or are unable to lead, are less inspiring. In fact, they can be downright uninspiring. )

One of the fundamentals of Judaism is that we respect our Gedolim immensely, and we value their learning, their wisdom, their behaviors and their leadership. We look to them for guidance and inspiration. I agree with this 100%.

So who are these Gedolim? Of course everyone has a different list, we are all individuals and we all have different Gedolim who inspire us. That's the way it should be. Here is my list of the great people of our generation and recent generations. I am somewhat intellectually inclined, so my list is biased to intellectuals and philosophers, I will admit. But each to his own.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, a truly inspiring man. His books are awesome. I wish there were more like him.

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein
Talmid Muvhak of RYBS, and a great thinker on all manner of subjects.

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovitz
I only discovered REB recently, but so far I have enjoyed all I have read.

Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik
To be honest I find RYBS's books somewhat difficult to understand. But his conduct and career and general worldview are certainly inspiring.

Rav Kook
Same as above.

R SR Hirsch
Rav Hirsch was very original. I don't agree with everything he ever wrote, but he's certainly a must read.

Okay, everyone loves the Rambam. But his willingnes to part with the accepted trends, and remain as rational as possible are obviously traits I admire. And all this while writing the Mishneh Torah and holding down an exhausting day job. Mamash amazing!

(I know there no women in this list. But thats a reflection on society, not on me. OrthoMom had a good series on Jewish Women, maybe she can suggest some).

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, just some major Gedolim I can think of off the top of my head. I intend to read up on as much of these people's works as possible, and promote their ideas and thoughts, to be mechazek myself and the olam.

May our true Gedolim continue to inspire us to lead lives of Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim.

200,000 !!!

Who hoo! 200,000 hits.

DovBear: Is that hits or page scans? Are they unique? Blah blah blah.

Me: I don't care, cos I got 200,000 of them!


This was in the Israel Museum's pre-history room. I saw one Chareidi couple come in, but they left quickly. I was chalishing to ask them what they made of it. I guess it must be a fake skull, or maybe the science of dating artifacts is all krum.

They also now have the Ketter Aram Ztovah (Allepo Codex) on display in the basement of the Shrine of the Book, but the guard wouldn't let me take pictures. I guess they are worried about flashes, but my hebrew wasn't good enough to explain that my super-duper digital camera can take low light shots at 800 ISO without flash.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

My Identity!

Gosh, I have been getting multiple emails from various people all claiming to know who I am, and many of them are claiming different identities for me! It has turned into an epidemic. Well, my opinion is that it doesn't make much difference who I am. The important thing is that my views are my own, and are based on my search for the truth. No one has ever coerced me into posting anything I don't personally believe to be true, and all my posts represent my own personal opinions on Life, the Universe and Everything, not anyone else's opinions. The idea for this blog was mine, and remains mine.

I have no agenda other than to vent my views and ideas onto an unsuspecting public. Actually thats not strictly true. I have no agenda other than to pass the time at work by doing something interesting.

And if you don't like my blog ...


Now can we please stop the identity guessing game and get on with the serious discussions?


Breishis - Artscroll Kefirah !

I finally found some bona-fide Kefirah in Artscroll (by today's definition of kefirah). On the posuk

וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים, אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ, וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ; וַיְהִי-כֵן.

Artscroll says the following (I'm paraphrasing as I don't have it in front of me):

'Since there is no solid dome encircling the Earth, many meforshim (Malbim, RSR Hirsch) explain Rokiah to mean Atmosphere'

Wow! Lets analyze exactly what's going on here.

'Since there is no solid dome' i.e. The poshut peshat in 'Rokiah' is a solid dome. And in fact that's how Chazal and the ancients traditionally understood Rokiah, even up to the time of the Rishonim. The Rambam thought the Universe was composed of transparent but solid spheres, on to which the stars and planets were somehow attached. However with the advent of Science, we now know that there is no solid dome, so apologetists such as RSR Hirsch re-interpert Rokiah - to mean 'atmosphere'.

But Rokiah doesn't mean Atmosphere! And not only that, the only reason we know there is no Solid Dome encircling the earth is because of Science! And not only that, maybe there was a Solid Dome at one point but it disappeared in the Mabul, or maybe Nishtaneh Hatevah. But Artscroll doesn't consider any of these kosher possibilities. No! Artscroll says straight out - Since we know (via Science) that there is NO Solid Dome, we must re-interpret the words!

Chas Vesholom! To re-interpret the words of Breishis because of Science! To quote RSR Hirsch who isn't even in the acceptable Mesorah! Kefirah!! And then to make things worse in the very next posuk they quote RYBS!

Artscroll, you're banned !

Seriously though, Artscroll is quite stupid. How about 'Since we know the world was created over billions of years'. How about 'Since we know the first people lived millions of years ago'. How about 'Since we know there was no global flood'. How about 'Since we know people don't live to be 930 years old' ?????????

What's the point of giving one apologetic peshat for one small thing and ignoring the rest? Pretty stupid if you ask me.

Beresheet (not a typo)

Beresheet is an annual new age festival held by the Kinneret, kind of like Glastonbury or Burning Man. Groovy! I tried to persuade the Rebbetzin to go but she wasn't into it. Oh well, maybe next year. I liked their version of Hakafot:

Big drumming circle –the ceremony of the festival in the heart rhythm. We gather all ( in white cloth ) the people of the festival together with a huge circle of djambe drummers on Wednesday 19/10 16:00 at the main fire of the festival for connecting and togetherness, happiness and freedom.

Why DB and CS don't know what they are talking about regarding Singles

DovBear says: Chayyei Sarah responds to the horrible, furious, anti-single tirade GH inexplicably posted on his serious hashkafa blog.

I'll ignore DovBear completely because he was clearly shidduched off at a young age, and has no clue about being single for an extended period of time. However Sarah does (or should) have a clue, so I will respond to her post.

Sarah says:

'In his compassion to, and deep understanding of, older singles

Well, I hate to reveal personal information, but I was an older single once, and am intimately familiar with the Upper West Side and Katamon type singles scenes. So in fact I absolutely do know what I am talking about.

She then coninues:

The most glaring flaw in Godol's theory, that the main problem is one of pickiness, is that he assumes that:

"All of these people have dated hundreds (if not thousands) of prefectly eligible people and have rejected them all, except for some really hot ones who of course rejected them first, because they were too picky."

Hundreds of dates?


Ha ha ha ha ha!

Well, I don't know what planet Sarah is living on, but it apparently is not Earth. Lets assume that the average single starts looking for a spouse at age 20. Lets define an older single as someone 30+. That means they have been dating for 10 years at a minimum. Many of the older singles are pushing 40, which means they have been dating for 20 years! Even at an extremely conservative estimate of only one date per month, that's at least 120 dates. And the vast majority of singles that I know had multiple dates per month.

Plus, if you include all the potential partners that one simply meets in Shul, at events, in the lobbies of doorman buildings, at Shabbat Lunch and so on, there is absolutely no question that your average 30+ single has come into contact with literally hundreds of potential partners, and rejected the majority of them.

You may claim this is just the guys. But hello! These guys need to be going out with someone, surely its not all the same small pool of girls.

Sarah ends so:

Of course, Godol may simply argue that I'm not, in fact, too picky, I'm just one of those people who "have emotional problems and need some serious therapy." Because that would explain why I'm still single, given that everyone who does manage to fall in love and develop a stable relationship and get married is, by definition, perfectly emotionally healthy and doesn't need therapy at all. They give you a marriage license only if you are completely free of hang-ups. It couldn't possibly be that I'm simply unlucky, or the victim of other people's pickiness, or that I have an unusual set of qualities that makes me hard to match up, or that there is some wider social problem going on that I would happily escape if I could.

I don't want to get personal, especially since my wife knows Sarah and says she's a nice girl. But her comment about having 'an usual set of qualities' is unfortunate. Newsflash to Sarah: Every picky older single is convinced that they have an unusual / unique set of qualities that makes it difficult for them to find a mate. And you know what? They do have a set of unusual qualities: Everyone does. You are all individuals (I'm not).

But you don't need to find a perfect match to get married. I have a friend who always says: "You should pick the three most important things and then compromise on two of them." I think he's right.

Of course married people have emotional issues too. And of course many people have no desire to get married. What bugs me is the people who maintain that they desperately want to get married, but just inexplicably can't find the right person. That's a bunch of bull, and I speak from experience.

Way too much experience.

My trip to the Occupied Terror-tories

So I spent part of Succot in the occupied Terror-tories, a.k.a Yehudah veShomron, in a typical middle of the road dati-leumi type Yishuv. The view was beautiful, and the people were friendly. They all seemed nice and normal, but on speaking to them, they were very brain washed about the overall situation. Of course they accused me of being brain washed by the liberal US media, so I didn't get very far in my arguments with them. But they believe passionately in our right to keep the territories, no matter what. When I asked them what are we going to do with 1 million hostile Palestinians, they responded that they don't have to live here and they can go someplace else. Where exactly? Dearborn? Lebanon? Ridiculous.

People were worried that they were going to lose their homes, and of course many had been affected by the violence, and there had been a few deaths too unfortunately. One song that was very popular at Hakafot was the final words of Shimshon (Shoftim 16:28), I had never heard it before:

זָכְרֵנִי נָא וְחַזְּקֵנִי נָא אַךְ הַפַּעַם הַזֶּה, הָאֱלֹהִים, וְאִנָּקְמָה נְקַם-אַחַת מִשְּׁתֵי עֵינַי, מִפְּלִשְׁתִּים

28 Then Samson prayed to the LORD, "O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes."

Kentucky Fried Kabalah

The KFC in downtown Jeruslaem has been gone for a while. But I was surprised to see that it has now been replaced by The Kabalah Store. They don't sell fried chicken, but they do sell red bendels and holy Kabalah water. I didn't spot any Madonna albums though.

I continue to find the fuss about Berg and the Kabalah Center quite amusing. He is spreading a spiritual message to the masses. What's the problem? Is drinking Kabalah water any less spiritually inspiring / effective than waving a palm frond about? It's healthy and you are less likely to get poked in the eye.

Why the Biblical Zoo isn't

Are Meercats and Penguins in Tenach? I don't think so.

Godol's guide on how to enjoy yourself on vacation with a bunch of whiny, jetlagged kids

Leave the kids at home with a babysitter. There's no other way.

The most awesome voice in Jewish Music

My favorite Jewish album of all time has to be Glimpse of Light (Gilu Ohr). Its barely available nowadays, you have to search the old cassette bins at Galpaz to maybe find a copy, and to my knowledge its has never been transferred to CD.

The album bears the name 'Diaspora Yeshiva', but it is not the work of the Diaspora Yeshivah Band, or Avraham Rosenblum. I listened to this album for many years wondering just who was this guy with the beautiful voice. To my surprise it turned out he is Rabbi Shimon Green, a Rosh Yeshivah of a small Yeshivah in the Old City, Bircas Hatorah. (If you take the standard route from Jaffa Gate to the Kotel avoiding the shuk you pass right by). Not only that, but he still has an absolutely awesome voice.

Even more amazing, he actually gave a concert on Chol Hamoed Succot at the Sheraton Plaza. I shlepped along the Rebbetzin promising her a fun night out, but she was none too happy since it was seperate seating and quite a frummy crowd, though as I reminded her, she certainly blended in with the glamorous sheitels.

The concert was quite bizzare. Rabbi Green is a very spiritual / Carlebachy type of guy, and between the songs he told these long spiritual stories. Being a spiritual type of guy myself I quite enjoyed it, but DovBear would have had a heart attack. Anyway, his voice and performance was amazing, he really knows how to rock. He makes the Simply Tzfat / Blue Fringe crowd look like a bunch of amateurs (I was at their concert in Bet Shemesh and wasn't too impressed). I was dissapointed that he only sung his new stuff, and not any songs from his original ground breaking album. Message to Rabbi Green - Do your old stuff next time!

Check out Universe and Old Man on his web site, but you really need to listen to Glimpse of Light end to end, with the lights out and a joint glass of wine to fully appreciate it.

I met an old man, it was the dead of night
He called to me, I jumped from fright
He said 'Usually later never comes
So don't live life an empty man
Cos usually later never comes'

And I wake in the dead of night
And I cry as the years go by
Cos I know he was right ....

The new terminal at Ben Gurion

If you haven't been to Israel in a while, the biggest change you will encounter on your next visit is the new terminal at Ben Gurion. It's really quite spectacular in fact. All the Gates now have Jetways, and they have improved the whole check-in process substantially. After check in you go through hand baggage security and then passport control, all on the same level. Plus there are more booths and shorter lines.

The new shul is larger and nicer, and the shopping is great. The food options aren't so great, as before there is just a coffee / cake / sandwich type of place (with a Teudah). There is a kosher Micky-D but thats before check in.

Overall, they did a beautiful job, and I would say that Ben Gurion is now a better airport than JFK, Newark, Heathrow, Gatwick, Schipfol or Charles De Gaulle.

Why you should never fly, period

I hate flying.

I especially hate landing. I also hate take-off, and manouvering and cruising too. It scares the heeby-jeebies out of me. We hit some turbulence over Newfoundland and I immediately started saying Tehillim. When you really think about the mechanics of the situation, it's quite scary. There you are, at an altitude of 35,000, hurtling along at 550 miles an hour with a tailwind of 15 miles an hour (I spent the entire flight watching the info display - the movies are all crap of course) and you realize that the only thing keeping you up is Science, which is of course all the work of Atheist Reshoim.

What if the engines fail? What if nishtaneh hatevah and the laws of aerodynamics suddenly change? You really feel that you are in the hands of G-d. Or at least the pilot and the maintenance crew.

On the other hand, even when our feet are on solid ground, how safe are we really? After all, the Earth is hurtling around the Sun at millions of miles an hour, and the entire Solar System is spinning around the Milky Way. Plus at any moment we could be hit by an asteroid, or all die of Bird Flu. And even if we manage to survive the killer meteors and chickens, the Sun is going to burn out in about 10 billion years anyway, so our days are numbered.

At times like these I take comfort from the wise words of Harav Menacham Nachash:

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you're chewing on life's gristle
Don't grumble, give a whistle
And this'll help things turn out for the best...

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

If life seems jolly rotten
There's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing.
When you're feeling in the dumps
Don't be silly chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle - that's the thing.

And...always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the light side of life...

For life is quite absurd
And death's the final word
You must always face the curtain with a bow.
Forget about your sin - give the audience a grin
Enjoy it - it's your last chance anyhow.

So always look on the bright side of death
Just before you draw your terminal breath

Life's a piece of ****
When you look at it
Life's a laugh and death's a joke, it's true.
You'll see it's all a show
Keep 'em laughing as you go
Just remember that the last laugh is on you.

And always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the right side of life...
(Come on guys, cheer up!)
Always look on the bright side of life...
Always look on the bright side of life...
(Worse things happen at sea, you know.)
Always look on the bright side of life...
(I mean - what have you got to lose?)
(You know, you come from nothing - you're going back to nothing.
What have you lost? Nothing!)
Always look on the right side of life...

Or, if you prefer, Sholom Hamelech said good too:

סוֹף דָּבָר, הַכֹּל נִשְׁמָע: אֶת-הָאֱלֹהִים יְרָא וְאֶת-מִצְו‍ֹתָיו שְׁמוֹר, כִּי-זֶה כָּל-הָאָדָם

Why you should never fly to Israel through London

Actually London is not too bad. Everyone speaks English, albeit with some funny accents, and Heathrow has some great shopping and even has showers. Also, transfers within Heathrow are accomplished via a special desk, you don't need to exit through customs.

However, if you fly into Gatwick and out through Heathrow, you have to transfer your baggage yourself, and the bus journey between the two airports (there is no train) takes over an hour and is quite expensive. Also English people seem to smoke a lot and the airport is quite smokey.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Why you should never fly to Israel through Paris

1. They don't let you take strollers to the gate.
2. French people smoke and smell (not neccessarily in that order).
3. The airport prices are ridiculous! I paid 2 Euros (about $4) for a can of 7 up. I heard another passenger claiming she paid $7 for an apple.
4. Everyone speaks foreign and the signs are mostly in French.
5. The duty free shopping sucks.
6. To make the connection you have to exit through customs and check back in again. There is no transfer desk like in London or Zurich.
7. Fench people are even more impatient than Israelis. Before the plane came to a stop everyone jumped up and was getting ready to depart, what a mess. The stewardesses didn't even try and make them sit down.
8. They seem unable to transfer your baggage from plane to plane even with 4 hours to do it in.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Godol is back!

I'm back, so it's goodbye to my guest poster. Well, my world tour certainly gave me lots of new material, and none of it is about Gedolim. In fact Gedolim were strangely missing from my trip. Here are some posts that I will put up as soon as I get the chance:
  • Why you should never fly to Israel through Paris.
  • Why you should never fly to Israel through London.
  • Why you should never fly, period.
  • The new terminal at Ben Gurion and racial profiling.
  • The most awesome voice in Jewish Music (hint: It's not Shwecky)
  • Godol's guide to Europe
  • Godol's guide on how to enjoy yourself on vacation with a bunch of whiny, jetlagged kids (very short post)
  • Why the Biblical Zoo isn't
  • Kentucky Fried Kabalah
  • My trip to the Occupied Terror-tories a.k.a. Yehudah veShomron
  • Why DB and CS don't know what they are talking about regarding Singles
  • New type of Instant Noodle Soup available in SuperSol
  • Bereisheet (not a typo)
  • Breishis (also not a typo)

Stealing from Goyim

I just noticed LamedZayin's interesting observation about putting in disclaimers for politically incorrect statements in classical seforim. There's another interesting one in a book about halachos of business (I forget what the title was, unfortunately). It has a prominent disclaimer at the beginning stating that all discussions in classical seforim about financial halachos relating to goyim are only referring to an "akum" - a pagan brutish heathen. These do not apply to law-abiding Gentiles of today. This is attributed to the Meiri. My question is, is this a position that is really "held of" or is it an obscure source that is presented as PC apologetics?

UPDATE: I remember which book it is: It's The Halachos Of Other People's Money.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

YU in EY

Must be very quick - the Rebbetzin won't let me blog on vacation!

I might attend the YU leyl limud at the Dan Panorama on Sunday night. Anyone else planning on attending?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's the generation of the Tower of Babel!

Image hosted by Photobucket.comI was feeling nostalgic for the good ole' days of The Slifkin Affair - which is actually still alive and kicking over at Hirhurim, thanks to some guy called the Freaking Kiruv Maniac or something like that. Anyway, I read Rav Moshe Sternbuch's letter again. Something caught my eye that I hadn't noticed before:
The obvious truth is that the order and nature of creation is concealed. For example, how did man come to inhabit all the continents and islands in the ocean — thousands of years ago? However we who have the Torah, know that G-d scattered man to all the lands of the earth after the Generation of Dispersion. In contrast, the scientists have no answer to this question.

Now, obviously scientists do indeed have an explanation as to how mankind reached all the continents - land bridges, boats, etc. It helps that they also accept that there were tens of thousands of years in which to accomplish this. But what I'm more interested in is how Rav Sternbuch understands the Torah's account that God dispersed mankind after the Babel episode. He's saying that there is no scientific explanation for this! So does he mean that people flew there? If so, then at what altitude? The minimum necessary to clear the trees, or at several thousand feet? Or did God teleport them? How does he visualize it?
I am also really curious to know how the average frum person understands this possuk. "So the Lord scattered them abroad from there upon the face of all the earth; and they left off the building of the city." (Bereishis 11:8)
Do they think that it means that people spread over the planet via natural means, or that they flew/ teleported?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Riddle of Yeridas HaDoros

A lot of the arguments about Chazal/ Science - in fact, about Chazal/ anything - revolve around the concept of Yeridas HaDoros. It seems to be a given in the frum community that the concept is true (although it seems that Rambam did not hold from it), and is of great importance. But what exactly does it mean?
Does it mean that (A) previous generations were more intelligent?
Or that (B) they had better memories?
Or that (C) they were more focused?
Or that (D) they were holier?
Or (E) all of the above?
Or (F) something entirely different altogether ("SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT" - chorus)
Any ideas? Anyone? Bueller?

Friday, October 14, 2005

Godol World Tour 2005

It seems that I have many dedicated chassidim in many parts of the world. In order to give my loyal followers a chance to meet me (and request Brachos etc), I have decided to go on a world tour. I shall be visiting New York, London, Paris and Jerusalem over the next few weeks and will be available for consultations (for a small fee). Drop me a line if you would like to participate!

Internet access from my learjet and GodolMobile is spotty, so my postings might be light until after I get back, in November.

Until then have a happy Succot!

Permission To Believe

I read Lawrence Kelemen's book, 'Permission to Believe', in Shul over Yom Kippur (during the boring bits). It was quite good, and Yom Kippur was certainly an appropriate place to be mechazek my emunah, after a year spent damaging it.

Kelemen correctly notes that there are no absolute proofs for G-d, and his aim is just to show that believing in G-d is a more reasonable approach than not, which after all is the best you can hope for with anything really. He presents 4 alterantive arguments: Moral, Cosmological, Teleological and Historical. I think he could make a better argument by showing how the arguments build on each other, rather than just being four alternatives.

Here is the way I would do it:

Stage 1: Cosmological
Science works by observing reality, and creating theories which can then be tested. Creation of matter ex-nihilo might be able to be ‘observed’ by Science (e.g. at the Quantum Level, or the Universe as a whole), however Science can never explain this. In contemplating the existence of our Universe, and how it could possibly exist, there are only a few basic approaches:

1. We cannot possibly know how the Universe got here, so no point in talking about it
2. There is some scientific explanation ‘S’, but it is currently beyond our comprehension to even think about what such an explanation might be.
3. Something outside the bounds of Science (as it is currently defined) caused the Universe. This cause, ‘C’, is currently incomprehensible to us, and the rational explanation ‘R’ of how cause ‘C’ created/caused/enabled the Universe is likewise currently incomprehensible to us.

Which of these three approaches is most reasonable? Well, clearly the Universe exists so there must be some explanation as to how it got here. We know enough about Science currently to know that a Scientific explanation is probably not possible. Of course we can hope and think that Science might one day answer the question, but that’s just faith, and we are talking about reason here. So I think answer 3 is the most reasonable. Of course at this stage we know absolutely nothing at all about ‘C’, except that ‘C’ somehow caused the Universe to exist using process process ‘R’.

Stage 2 Teleological
Can we infer anything about ‘C’s level of intelligence? There are a few options:

1. C is inanimate, dumb or similar. C had no ‘knowledge’ or ‘plan’ in causing the Universe. It just happened.
2. C designed the Universe with ‘intelligence’ and ‘purpose’.
3. We cannot know anything about C, so no point in trying.

I reject 3 because of the following reason. I think we can infer the answer by observing the Universe. Currently the most intelligent beings in the known Universe are humans (not all of them though). Of course there may be aliens, or it may turn out that the mice are even more intelligent, but neither seems particularly likely given our current level of knowledge. It would seem strange to suggest that ‘C’ was able to create a Universe more intelligent than ‘C’ itself is. Also, many aspects of the Universe are very finely tuned, slight changes here or there and we wouldn’t exist, so it seems far-fetched to say it was all one big co-incidence. You could claim that there are an infinite number of universes, so the odds were that it would happen eventually, but why should there be an infinite number of Universes?

So, it seems reasonable to assume that whatever ‘C’ is, it’s not just some inanimate physical object or similar, but something possessing the smarts to design such an incredible universe with us in it, and to enable to unfolding of the entire Universe from one tiny explosion of energy/mass/time/space.

Stage 3 Moral
So we have ‘C’ which possesses ‘intelligence’. Can we say anything more than that? I see three options:

1. C caused the Universe, and then went away. C’s ‘opinion’, ‘desires’ etc are no longer relevant.
2. C caused the Universe for what we call ‘evil’ purposes
3. C caused the Universe for what we call ‘good’ purposes
4. C caused the Universe for a mixture of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ purposes
5. We cannot know anything about C, so no point in trying

Which of these is the mostly likely hypothesis, given our current state of knowledge and understanding? I reject 5 for the following reasons. If we look at the most intelligent components in the universe (i.e. us) we see that pretty much everyone has a strong moral drive. Even Hitler yimach shemo couched his evil ideology in moral terms (we need to rid Europe of the Jewish menace and make the world a better place). It seems that everyone on the planet (apart from some sickos) would like the world to be a better place and would prefer to do good, if it made no difference to them.

It seems reasonable to assume that C, possessing the intelligence and ability to create a Universe, would not be encumbered with petty human failings such as insecurity etc, and would therefore desire to do the greatest good. Hence the most logical explanation is 3, C created the Universe for ‘good’ purposes.

Stage 4: Historical
So we have established a reasonable hypothesis that C caused the Universe, C posses ‘intelligence’ and C is ‘good’. Can we say anything about Judaism, the one religion most responsible for spreading the idea of ethical monotheism? The one religion with an incredible history which has baffled historians for hundreds, even thousands of years?

1. C created Man with the ability to intuit morality and spirituality. Religions are all man made however.
2. C additionally revealed a message to mankind, in the form of a religion (take your pick)
3. C revealed its message to the Jewish people.
4. We cannot know anything about C, so no point in trying

I reject 4 because of the following. I don’t have the patience to go into it here, you can read it in the book, but basically Kelemen shows how all the other ethical monotheistic religions base themselves on Judaism and can be proven incorrect. That leaves options 3 or 1. I think it makes sense to say that C would have wanted to somehow send a message to man, rather than leave everyone to guess their own way, so 3 is quite reasonable.

Obviously Kelemen has more detail, but I think this approach, of building up the concept of G-d in a number of stages, is better.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Hashem Hu HoElokim

Hashem Hu HoElokim
Hashem Hu HoElokim
Hashem Hu HoElokim
Hashem Hu HoElokim
Hashem Hu HoElokim
Hashem Hu HoElokim
Hashem Hu HoElokim

Please tell me that you felt at least a little bit spiritual while saying the above! (DB?)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Can this blog survive Yom Kippur?

Any Teshuvah I do on Yom Kippur will have to address the issue of blogging. Blogging can be an incredible waste of time where loshon horoh, rechilus, letzonus and pritzus are rampant. (But enough about DovBear, tee hee). Blogging can also be amazingly, fun, interesting and educational.

Having your own blog, especially a fairly popular one, is an incredible yetzer horah. The gaavah and kavod, even with a fake identity, can be quite intoxicating. I remember many years ago in Yeshivah our Mashgiach gave a mussar shmooz about gaavah, taavah, kavod and kinaah. He sat there and said ‘You guys are just too young to understand (we were about 18 years old at the time), but the taavah for kavod is huge, huge! When you get older you will understand.’ He kind of shook his head and sighed and I remember thinking that was a bit strange, but now I truly do understand what he was saying.

Even putting aside the issue of kavod, just the ability to put your view point out there and have it seen by hundreds or even thousands of people is quite amazing. Every time I think of quitting, a little voice says ‘Yes, quit already, please!’, but that’s just the Rebbetzin.

Seriously though, a little voice says ‘But what if there is another Science & Torah scandal, or something like that, wouldn’t you want to have an audience? Could you bear to sit on the sidelines and see other people pontificating about things they know nothing about, wouldn’t you want to be in the limelight, pontificating about things you know nothing about? (That’s why I started this blog in the first place actually).

But there is no getting around the fact that I spend a huge amount of time blogging. Time that could be spent working (if my boss ever gives me any), learning or (chas vesholom chas vesholom) doing laundry.

So will I vow on Yom Kippur to quit blogging? Am I going to promise to become Shomer Blogiah? It’s definitely a possibility. Stay tuned. In the meantime, I ask mechilah from anyone I have offended, it was all in a good cause. The people I think I have been especially insulting to (in no particular order) include:

  • DovBear
  • The 'Gedolim'
  • The Kannoim (but they probably deserved it)
  • David Orlofsky (ditto)
  • Jonathan Ostroff
  • Boruch Lokshenbrains
  • Kishke
  • (Angry) Dude
  • Chaim It's all A Ness
  • NotShomerNegiahAnyMoreGirl
  • (Inexplicable) Not-Picky-At-All Singles
  • RW Chareidim
  • The Ari
  • Moses DeLeon
  • Cross-Currents
  • Wacky Orthodox Scientists
  • The Shverre
  • The Rebbetzin

Yikes! That's a long list. I think I'm done for. Oy Vey. Anyone know of any good Tzedakah causes? Lots of money available. Please email me or comment with your recommendations. Thanks.

If your name has been missed from this list, please respond in the comments and I will ask you for mechilah too.

Gmar Vechasimah Tovah!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The End of Bishul Akum?

New draconian Takanah from Lakewood Yeshivah forbidding anyone in the Yeshivah to have Internet access (except in exceptional circumstances with a hetter from an assigned Rav).

Does this mean that Bishy, Marc and Kishke will no longer be commenting here?!

Madonna in Cherem !!!!!

Does this mean I now have to defend her?!

Hataras Nedarim is Unethical

I received an email recently from some guy (I don't know him) claiming to have uncovered my true identity. I never respond positively or negatively to such claims, since if I responded negatively to incorrect guesses one could perhaps guess my identity through a process of elimination.

Not suprisingly, there have been numerous (and often amusing) guesses as to my identity over the past few months. However a basic rule of the blogosphere is to protect people's anonimity. The views expressed here are my own, and reflect my honest, non-biased assesment of the truth. As I have said many times, if you don't believe me, or don't hold of what I say, that's fine. You don't have to read my blog! Or, even better, you can (respectfully) debate the issues here. But to expose people's identity is unethical.

But what really bothered me about this person's claim was that he claimed someone 'I swore to secrecy' was able to reveal my secret after hataras nedarim! While I don't believe the story (there is no one I swore to secrecy who would do such a thing), it really is disturbing that someone would use Hataras Nedarim as a phony excuse for such unethical behavior.

Is this our religion? We think we can break our promises because of hataras nedarim?

Oy vey.

True Dichotomy

I have come to a very simple conclusion on Torah & Science. It might sound overly simplistic, almost stupid, but I believe it to be correct. It is a very simple either-or proposition:

Either the the world really is 6000 years old, OR Chareidi Judaism is bull.

Why such a strong statement? Quite simple really. As we know, all the major 'Gedolim' signed onto a declaration that its kefirah to say the world is older than 6000 years. I can't conceive of a world where almost all the acknowledged greatest Torah Scholars of the generation could possibly declare it kefirah to believe in the truth, yet still be acknowledged as great Torah Scholars, and the greatest men of the generation.

Therefore, either they are correct and the world really is 6000 years old, or else they are all wrong. The implication of each are quite astounding:

If they are correct, then nothing is as it seems. We cannot trust the Scientists, or Science. If they are wrong, then Chareidi ideology is all bull - i.e. Stressing the primacy of Torah study, the fact that the greatest Torah Scholars are always the greatest men of the generation etc etc. It's all bull.

Clearly, I feel that the evidence for an ancient world is overwhelming. This forces me into a position that the Gedolim are basically just a bunch of old guys who learned a lot of Bible & Talmud. In turn, this destroys the notion of Gedolim, and the supremacy of Torah as an over-arching ideal.

This is a shame, because it would be nice to think that the most expert people in Torah are very wise and yashar etc etc. But it seems quite obvious that this is not true. I hate to say this on Erev Yom Kippur, but I can't conceive of any other 'spin' on the situation which preserves both Science and the truthfullness of Chareidi ideology. It seems to be a very defining issue.

Perhaps the king of 'false dichotomies' can show me why my thinking is fallacious here, but I don't think so. This is perhaps the most defining issue ever in this area, the one issue which finally and conclusively proves that Chareidi ideology is just a bunch of bull.

Of course this doesn't mean MO is true, that might very well be a bunch of baloney too. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Shomer Negiah? Not anymore

So ShomerNegiah finally kissed a guy. Whoop-de-doo. Clearly a major event in her life. But also a very personal one. Why does she feel the need to share it with her large readership? Why the need for details? Is she really as frum as she makes out to be? I mean, Erev Yom Kippur of all times?! Bizarre. Anyway, hopefully in tandem with dropping the shomer-negiah she will also drop the far more important shomer-pickyah.

Some people felt that my shomer-pickyah post was cruel and insensitive. I disagree. What the vast majority of older singles need is a good kick in the butt. I speak from experience. Will some of them have unhappy marriages? Maybe, but no more so than anybody else. There is no correlation that I have seen between the divorce rate, and the status of the couple at marriage. The divorce rate seems to be the same whether the couple met young and were starry-eyed in love, met when older and were 'pressured' to get married (whether peer pressure or otherwise), or met when older and fell in love.

Some people are blessed in that they feel they found their bashert. Whether they really did, or whether they just think they did, is an interesting question. Personally, I don't believe in the concept of bashert at all. I think it's another superstitious kabalistic bunch of baloney. (Yes I know its in the Gemarah - 40 days before the yetziras havlad etc etc). Everyone has free will, you are free to marry (or not) anyone you choose.

How could it be otherwise?

Godol Hador Causes Prayer Service At Kotel

[Hat tip: Jameel]

Arutz Sheva reports that a special prayer service for singles was held at the Kotel last night:

Finally, a special prayer service is scheduled for 6:30 PM this evening (Monday) at the Western Wall plaza on behalf of those who are not yet married. The organizers say that the prayer is being held "in light of the painful situation in which tens of thousands of people have not yet established a home and family... We call upon the wider public to take part and ask together for the removal of all obstacles in the way of the establishment of families, and for the granting of wisdom and counsel for the correct path to be blessed quickly with the joyous sound of groom and bride."

What on earth do they mean by 'the removal of all obstacles' ? I can only assume they mean the insistence of frum singles on being 'shomer-picky-ah'.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Hakirah on Slifkin

Will comment later....

OK, I skimmed through the article. It sounded like one of those 'If the Rambam was alive today he would be Modern Orthodox (or not)' type of things. Actually, you don't need to go back to the Rishonim, we are now up to the point of arguing about if 'RYBS was alive today he would be Modern Orthodox (or not)'.

I suppose 'leshitaschem' this article is useful, in showing that the Gedolim distort the Rishonim, but really, quoting 800 year old Rishonim on modern Science is completely pointless and irrelevant. Suppose if the Rambam and Ramban hadn't been rationalists, then what?

Shomer Picky-ah

This post is my primal scream. Evidence of my incredible frustration and pent up emotions. I can't take it anymore! I can't stand any more whiny, picky, older singles complaining endlessly about being single, or about being shomer negiah, or both. Get married already you dopes! It's not rocket science. Find some nice guy or girl and propose. You won't get everything you want. But newsflash: Nobody does. Especially when everything you want doesn't exist and never will. Jeez.

Esther Kustanowitz
Esther writes a fairly entertaining column on being single in the Jewish Week. Last week, she wrote: (in reference to her and all her old single friends) 'who have remained inexplicably single'.

Inexplicable?!! There's nothing inexplicable about it my dear. It's perfectly, aboslutely, entirely explicable.

You are too damn picky!

(No I was not rejected by Esther on a date one time). I had and still have a lot of single friends. They all have the same problem: They are all way too picky. They regard their ongoing lack of marriage as some great mystery, or some great tragedy, or proof that they are just too good for anyone.

But the answer is simple: They are too picky. All of these people have dated hundreds (if not thousands) of prefectly eligible people and have rejected them all, except for some really hot ones who of course rejected them first, because they were too picky.

I have butt ugly friends (of both genders) who have rejected perfectly nice partners for not being good looking enough. I have boring as heck friends who have rejected perfectly adequate partners for not being exciting enough. I have 'thick as two planks' friends who have rejected intelligent partners for not being smart enough. (Wow, I do have a lot of poor quality friends).

Any older single who tells you that they just can't seem to find their bashert is being too picky. I absolutely guarantee it. Either that or they have emotional problems and need some serious therapy. Or more probably both.

(I won't provide a link since I can't stand that site, and only looked at it recently because someone sent me a link).

For G-d's sake woman! (assuming you are a woman and not an 11 year old bochur from Lakewood). Stop obsessing about it and do it already. Or don't do it. Either way. It's really not the most important halachah in the world (gasp!) , nor is it the greatest joy in the world (gasp!). The amount of aveiros your blog has probably caused already vastly outweighs any damage that you will cause by kissing some dumb guy. But stop obsessing about it for G-d's sake! That's really not healthy. Jeez. Oh, and stop being so damn picky and get married already.

OK, I'm glad I got that off my chest. Carry on as before.

Lakewood Bans Digital Photography!

In an unprecedented aseifah last night at the Lakewood home of Reb Yankel Shticklepecker, the Lakewood Gedolim banned Digital Photography. R Urine Reich, Rosh Yeshivah of ‘Yeshivas Ayn Torah vAyn Chochmah’ had this to say:

‘The Gedolim have heard many horror stories about kids looking at untzniusdicke photos of women. And it’s not just our kids who are at risk. So much time is wasted by our adults taking digital photos which never get printed! The goyishe reshoim (so called ‘experts’) estimate that there are 16 trillion gazillion unprinted digital photos on PC hard drives in the US, and all of them are of untzniusdicke women!

The Gedolim have spoken to our local Lakewood expert on Digital Photography, Reb Yankel Shticklepecker, proprietor of ‘Reb Yankel’s Illegal Basement Stock Photography Business', who tells us that the only eitzah that will work is to ban all Digital Photography in completely!

Not only that, but our schools will immediately throw out any student who chas vesholom is nichshal in the aveirah of Hotzaas Digital Photo Levataloh. Taking Digital Photos is bittul zman, since they never get printed! Plus I'm sure you are over 42 asehs' and 1568 Lo Taasehs even by looking at a Canon Powershot. (Nikon Coolpixes have one less lav since you are not over on loh tachmod when looking at them). And you don’t need an 8 megapixel* super zoom to send a 22k JPEG by email to your Bubby in Florida, you can use your camera-phone for that (but we will ban those too very soon, don’t worry!).

Any parent who needs to use a Digital Camera for business (legal or illegal), must get a heter from Reb Yankel. In addition, all digital photos taken must be sent to Reb Yankel, on CD for review. (Compact Flash is also okay but not those stupid Sony Memory Sticks). All photos will be personally inspected by Reb Yankel for poor focus, lousy composition, or inadequate lighting. Most photos will be returned, but Reb Yankel reserves the right to keep the really good treif ones.

Video Cameras with Still Photo capabilities* are mutar however, since the still photo quality is crap.

Technical Glossary

* 8 Megapixel sensors in point and shoots tend to be very small, and consequently have high noise above ISO 100.

* Video Cameras do not take good stills. Don’t be misled by high Megapixel counts, they typically use interpolation or other tricks. A 3 Megapixel Digital Camera will outperform a video camera with 3 Megapixel still any day.

New from DarkScroll: Playing With Fire

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Our 10 minute program has been designed from years of experience talking to Baal Habatim, Batlanim and Orthoprax Kofrim, who typically let Ellul, Rosh Hashanah and the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah completely pass them by, and only wake up during the last 10 minutes of Neilah! Yet all these people have happy and healthy lives! Years of experience have proven that our system really works.

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Results guaranteed or your money back!


Heshy Grubenwasser, Kollel Shomrei HaTax Evasion: I have been using this technique all my life, and it clearly works, since each year I get inscribed in the book of life, and have not died even once yet! Not only that, but last year I left 3 of my kids in my 88' Caprice Classic Station Wagon in the Yeshivah parking lot all day, during one of the hottest days of the summer, and they all survived! Okay, so the Caprice has no windows but still, mamash a neis. Also, I backed over another 6 of my kids and 3 of the nieghbors kids in the driveway in my wife’s Suburban and they were all okay ! (The suburban was totaled though.)

Ester Bubemaaseh, Boro Park: The 10 minute teshuvah program works for me every year. Not only do I continue to live, but I get the most incredible hasgachah prattis! On 9/11, my husband was on his way to the twin towers, but I got locked outside the house without my sheital! I called him to come home quick and he was saved! Then, he was in New Orleans for business (don't ask) just before Katrina struck, and I got locked outside my neighbor’s house wearing nothing but my sheital! My neighbor called him to come home quick and he was saved again!

Lawrence Scholarman, Congregation Modern Orthoprax: I find this program to be very useful. In my busy life as head of medicine at Mount Sinai, head of Neurosurgery at Einstein, and head of Long Island Heresey Hebrew Academy, I have little time for long selichos. Or short selichos. Or shacharis, minchah & maariv. Or Rosh Hashanah davening, Yom Kippur davening, or in fact any davening (or learning) at all. If I’m lucky, I can make it to Neilah without being paged. 10 minutes is all I can spare!

(Note: There is some teif deep mussar in all this, but I couldn't tell you where).

Friday, October 07, 2005

Judaism & the Eastern ‘Religions’

Most of my knowledge about religions (other than Judaism) comes from the popular media and local culture. Primarily this has always consisted of exposure to Christianity, with a some more exposure to Islam in recent years for obvious reasons. This is in contrast to my knowledge of Judaism, which of course comes primarily from the blog world and books I have read recently. I had never previosuly learned about Judaism, since my parents expected my schools and yeshivot to teach me about Judaism, whereas my yeshivot and schools only ever taught me Baba Kammah. Over and over again. Oh, and once we did Baba Basrah.

Each time the subject of comparative religion has come up on this blog, or discussions of the ‘one true religion’, I have always maintained that Christianity and Islam are obvious fakes, and do not pose any emunah threat to me. Likewise, I have maintained that the eastern religions are not really religions in that sense of the word, since they by and large do not claim any kind of revelation, but are more like spiritual frameworks or psychological systems. However a few of my commenters seem quite interested in the eastern religions, especially satyaman and I think NCO? I also recently came across Zen Jew which is quite an interesting blog. Some of the things he was saying resonated with me.

In the past, I was always less enamored of Buddhism, TM and the like, since these frameworks seemed to suggest detaching from the world to find some inner peace, whereas the fundamental teaching of Judaism is that we should davkah toil in the world, even at the expense of being stressed and unhappy (though of course it is a mitzvah to be happy). RYBS in particular wrote a lot about suffering, and how man is born to suffer – see the Peli book on RYBS and Repentance, it is a recurring theme there.

Anyways, the question is this:

Is it possible that the eastern religions have intuited / discovered / stumbled upon some profound spiritual (or maybe psychological) truths, truths that are lacking in Judaism? Or is it a matter of principle (or faith) that any area where the eastern religions differ from Judaism, by default they must be wrong? And if the former, should I study some of the eastern religions, and can anyone recommend any good (inexpensive) books?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Galileo Galilei Ground-Giving: Milestone Moment or Momentary Mandate?

Catholic Church no longer swears by truth of the Bible

Mis-nagid writes:

The Catholic Church is finally allowing the masses a peak at what has long been common knowledge in scholarly circles. A new teaching document finally cops to the two competing creation myths and admits that stories that may contain "historical traces" and material cribbed from other Ancient Near Eastern texts.

This has the potential to be a very big deal, should it pan out. For 180 or so years now, the scholarly world has been pulling ahead of the church, leaving them uncomfortably holding positions incompatible with the latest evidence. This has happened many times in the past, most famously with regards to Galileo’s theory. These situations eventually come to a head, and the church folds; you can bluff a weak hand only so far. As Simon Singh put in his book Big Bang, "Theologians came to realize that they would look foolish if they continued to deny what men of learning regarded as reality."

This latest admission is tellingly half-hearted. Check out the article's list of "UNTRUE and TRUE." Untrue: woman made from man’s rib. True: virgin birth. Obviously, people will wonder what the distinction is, and why a virgin birth is "true" (besides for "it must be true or else we're all out of a job"). But what really greases the skids is the fact that biblical scholarship, the field they’re resignedly caving to, strongly shows the virgin birth claim as a late addition based on a translation "issue." By allowing the hamoyn am in on the field that contains such "secrets" they've sealed their own fate. At least they're gracious to their executioners: "In the document, the bishops acknowledge their debt to biblical scholars."

Better yet, they're picking up the pace on these concession speeches. Look how long it took for them to crack on heliocentricity (1632 book was banned until 1822; apology came in 1992) and evolution (1858 book formally acknowledged as correct in 1996). But, as the article says, "Only a century ago, Pope Pius X condemned Modernist Catholic scholars who adapted historical- critical methods of analyzing ancient literature to the Bible." Bible scholarship and biblical archaeology only became scientific fields relatively recently, so this quickening signals not a birth but a death: the death of religion's relevance.

These scholarly disputes are not mere theology, disconnected from the reality of religiosity. Religion's retreats have had concrete effects, losing people as it loses ground. People just aren't as religious as they used to be, and it's showing. It's gotten so good that a "Christian charity is sending a film about the Christmas story to every primary school in Britain after hearing of a young boy who asked his teacher why Mary and Joseph had named their baby after a swear word." Fantastic! "Steve Legg, head of the charity, said: 'There are over 12 million children in the UK and only 756,000 of them go to church regularly. That leaves a staggering number who are probably not receiving basic Christian teaching.'" Staggering to whom?

Religion used to be arbiter of what is true, but that day has long since passed. Its expositors once occupied the territory of natural explanation, and went to war to defend "their" turf. In their struggle against the rise of science, they ceded battlefield after battlefield in the hope of living to fight another day. Traditional religions have been giving ground for centuries, and we all know how well land for peace deals work.

GH responds:

This analysis is correct, but only up to a point. As Mis-nagid well knows, Secularism / Atheism / Naturalism / Scientism or whatever has no good replacement for the fundamentals of religion, including:

  • Objective morality
  • Ultimate meaning in this life
  • An eternal afterlife of bliss
Furthermore, I am pretty confident that Secularism and its variants never will provide a meaningful alternative to religion, it’s not logically possible. If we are all just the product of physical events, then life is ultimately meaningless, there is no objective morality, and you can forget about an afterlife, unless some amazing advances in cloning are made (that one is possible I guess, but there would be no guarantees it would be blissful). And until Secularism provides a satisfying alternative to Religion (which it can't), Religion will never die out.

Furthermore, Science has its problems too. According to Hume, Science is irrational, and according to ‘The Philosophy Gym’ (a book that has the haskamah of Mis-nagid), no one has ever really convincingly proven Hume wrong.

New Myth/Moshol Spin: Breishis is Philosophical Truth

Just when you thought there were no more spins on Myth/Moshol, along comes a new one, the philosophical spin.

I just started reading 'The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis' by Leon Kass. It is a highly impressive book, 700+ pages of philosophical analysis of Breishis. He's not Orthodox, but he is very sympathetic, and hints that he changed from being a skeptic to being a believer by virtue of studying Breishis. The book (so far at least) is so frum it could have been written by a Rabbi (MO not UO). I've only read the first few chapters so far but even the introduction was awesome. Not only that, but Amazon has it for $23, which at 700 pages is a really good cost/per word ratio. This has got to be the bargain of the year.

Lakewood Takanah Breaks new Ground!

Wow. I just read the full text of the Lakewood Takanah. This is a Takannah with many firsts!

First Takanah with a Technical Glossary
A technical glossary explains computers, the Internet, WiFi and Bluetooth!

First Takanah to publicly acknowledge illegal Basement Businesses
Parents may not have Internet in the home unless it is lezorech parnasah, and they have obtained a written ishur from one of the designated Rabbonim. This pertains to businesses in basements as well.

First Takanah to assur even seeing the Internet in use by someone else
6. Children may never see the Internet in use

First Takanah with a Gartner Group style technology forecast
Bluetooth will very soon replace traditional cables and infra-red connections

What next? The Gedolim on Service Oriented Architectures? The Gedolim's forecast for 3G penetration across North America? The Gedolim’s Guide to Digital Camera / DV Camcorder Convergence?

[I hope to provide a link to the document soon. It's fascinating reading.]

Monday, October 03, 2005

My Rosh Hashanah Appeal

In UO Yeshivah, and also in most serious UO communities, Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Noroim are just that: ‘Noroim’ – Awesome, a little scary, time for some serious introspection and teshuvah. However in Baal-Habatim land, and especially in MO land, Rosh Hashanah is just another Yom Tov, kinda like Shavuos, only with longer davening.

I remember my first year out of Yeshivah, when this dawned on me, I could barely comprehend it. People came out of shul happily wishing each other good yom tov, possibly complaining about the length of davening or saying how good the tekios were this year, and then went off home to spend the day like any other Yom Tov or Shabbos. Yom Kippur was a little intense, but even then it was basically Tisha Beav with Vidduy. No biggie.

There is no question that the kind of fundamentalism espoused by the Chareidim is far more effective at producing the proper atmosphere and environment for Shabbos, Yom Tov, Teshuvah, Torah etc. There is also no question that the kind of fundamentalism espoused by the Chareidim is based on sheker.

So what to do? And I’m not asking so much for myself, but more for my children. Should I bring them up in simple, fundamentalist world, where they can be convinced that all Scientists are reshoim and of course the world is 5765 years old, or should I bring them up with serious questions and issues, and hope (& pray) that they will find their way? (And that their way is not atheism).

My chavrusoh said something six months ago and it still continues to be one of the most powerful things anyone has said to me recently. (Even more powerful than ‘If you don’t turn off that darn computer right now I’m going to throw it down the stairs!). He said: All religions have failed to successfully deal with modernity’. On the other hand, modernity has failed to produce a satisfying life encompassing philosophy and morality.

At the end of the day, I am struck by two contradictory things: How many incredible advances we have made in Science and Morality in the past 1000, or even 5000 years. And yet at the same time, how completely and utterly clueless we all are about the basic fundamentals of our existence. We don’t know any of the real answers, and in fact it’s possible we never will. The best we can do is to determine the consequences of our beliefs and actions, and then believe and act accordingly.

That’s right my friends, it’s my Rosh Hashanah appeal, Appeal to Consequences that is. Of course, Appeal to Consequences doesn’t prove anything at any fundamental level, but then again nobody knows anything on any fundamental level anyway.

More Peeves from a Physicist

Peeved Physicist writes:

The fundamentalists who oppose science have two arguments; They say either the scientists are reshoim who know the Torah is literally true but nevertheless wish to destroy it, or that the scientists are incompetent and don't know what they are doing.

This is illustrated by a true story. Years ago my son came home from his Chareidi school and the following dialog ensued:

Son: Father, my Rebbe said that all scientists are reshoim!
Me: Did you say anything back to him?
Son: I said Rebbe my daddy is a scientist and he is not a roshoh.
Me: Did the Rebbe reply?
Son: Yes. He said that you were not a proper scientist!

(Boruch Hashem, that Rebbe never served on any of my promotion boards!)

Other crass statement recently made by people who should know better include ‘every man woman and child knows that the earth is 5765 years old’ and ‘6 million Yidden died in the Holocaust believing that every word of the gemorah was emes.’. However, one recent statement which was received with some scorn, namely that Torah thinking is different from secular thinking, is actually true.

Secular thinking is analytical and critical; in contrast Torah thinking, at least as we see it from many of our Gedolim, is casuistic and credulous.

One of the main criticisms leveled against Rabbi Slifkin is that it was not the content of his books that was the main problem, but the tone. As it is unlikely that the Gedolim have read any of the books I doubt if they are in a position to judge. I think it was more likely that Rabbi Slifkin used analytical and critical thinking, a style that our modern fundamentalists don't like at all.

Rav Moshe Shapiro said that Rabbi Slifkin was even worse than De Rossi. Actually this is not true; De Rossi was far less respectful to Chazal. Moreover De Rossi introduced many new ideas whereas Rabbi Slifkin was merely repeating what earlier sages have said. However what distinguishes Slifkin’s writing from that in the past 200 years (in the Yiddishe velt) is that he uses critical and analytical thinking, and furthermore is not afraid to use non-Jewish sources.

Is this analysis correct? That Slifkin’s crime was not so much ‘Secular Thinking’ but more likely ‘Critical Thinking’ ? That I can understand, because there’s not a lot of Chareidishe Torah which can stand up to critical thinking. Then again, there’s not a lot of Modern Orthodoxishe Torah which can stand up to critical thinking either. Oy vey.

Here is the conclusion that I have come to: The Gedolim were correct in their assessment that Slifkin’s books were dangerous to their way of life, and therefore from their viewpoint probably correct to dislike the books (though I would still criticize their tactics). The Kiruv Clown answers to reconciling Torah & Science are weak at best. Even the great Myth/Moshol peshat has it’s issues. It’s all not good.

Rabbi Lamm says we can distinguish between cognitive faith and functional faith, that we can have serious doubts while still being happily frum. (He sounds somwhat like Magikthize: "We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!") But that’s clearly not true, doubt paralyzes the religious actions: How can you pray with kavanah if you are not sure there is anyone listening? While it is true that actions can still be performed, the actions are reduced to purely mechanical movements, lacking kavanah and passion. (I guess that’s not much different to most frum people really.)

So what to do? It would be nice to end off on erev Rosh Hashanah with some divrei chizuk, but I’m afraid I can’t think of any. There are some real questions without any good answers. It’s true that no-one ever died from a kashye (though you might get killed trying to answer), but then again kashyes don’t kill people, they kill emunah. Maybe Voltaire said it best:

‘Doubt is uncomfortable, but certainty is ridiculous’.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Lakewood Bans The Internet

There was a major meeting in Lakewood last week, at which the Gedolim outlined their ban on the Internet. Here are the specifics, as reported by Yeshivish News:
  1. Internet access in the home is only permissible if required for a person’s job.
  2. Internet access in the home is prohibited if it is only for the purpose of casual use (shopping, airline tickets etc.)
  3. Anyone who requires access to perform their jobs will be required to have a Rabbi certify the validity of this need. The Rabbi’s certification will be filed with the children’s schools.
  4. Computers without internet access will be required to have software installed which will prevent such access in order to prevent children from connecting them to the internet by the use of external modems, WIFI etc.
  5. Children of families that do not comply with the rules will be barred from school in order to protect the other children in the class.
Although this sounds somewhat draconian, I see it as perfectly consistent with the RW UO way of life. It's not for me, but I can see why they do it.

It seems that threatening expulsion from schools is an easy way to force compliance. There was also an incident a few weeks ago where the Gedolim ordered all Lakewood schools to close down because a number of problem girls were not allowed in to any school. The schools were closed for a couple of days until the girls found a home.

Any and all takanos of the Gedolim could be (and probably mostly are) enforced through the school system. I suppose it's the modern day substitute for the Bes Din or Kehillah communal control of old. Still, it's a little scary though, at least for people living in Lakewood or similar environs. Any takanah of the Gedolim can easily be forced upon you. Then again, if you do live in Lakewood, you probably don't see anything wrong with that.

But if you do live in Lakewood, do send your kids to those schools, and don't like it, then there must be something wrong with you. Wake up and smell the coffee.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Gedolim I Approve Of

(Okay, so maybe Richard Joel is not exactly a Godol, but then neither are many of the Gedolim.)

Faith And Doubt by Rabbi Lamm

[GH: An excellent but difficult to read essay. One day I would like to edit and summarize this essay to make it easier reading. In the meantime here are some good quotes]

Regarding the correctness of analyzing ikarei emunah, even when such analysis causes doubts...

This is, of course, a dangerous and risky kind of faith. But, as someone so rightly said, you cannot open your mind to truth without risking the entrance of falsehood; and you cannot close your mind to falsehood without risking the exclusion of truth. The only way to avoid cognitive doubt is to ignore it; worse yet, to abandon the enterprise of cognition, or daat ha-Shem. The path to the knowledge of God is strewn with the rocks and boulders of doubt; he who would despair of the journey because of the fear of doubt, must resign himself forever from attaining the greatest prize known to man. ….

The honest doubter must, therefore, not be looked upon as an enemy who is hostile to Torah. We must neither attack him nor avoid him. Nor must we be distraught when we are ourselves confronted by intellectual religious problems. Faith, in its cognitive sense, is the tension between itself and doubt, and inspires us to greater intellection, deeper study, more exhaustive inquiry, and ultimately growth in our emunah. I cannot imagine how halakhic progress could ever have been achieved without the dialectic of question and answer, problem and resolution. No one, as the wise Yiddish saying current in Yeshivot goes, ever died from a קושיא. The same might be said, mutatis mutandis, of faith and doubt within the area of cognition.

However, this grant of legitimacy to doubt must be limited to cognitive faith, and must not affect functional faith or halakhic practice. Once we violate a halakhic norm on the basis of a cognitive doubt, we have in effect ceased to function as believers and begun to act as deniers not even as doubters. One can suspend intellectual judgment; one cannot suspend action. This is precisely the point made by William James in his criticism of agnosticism when he formulated his idea of the "forced option." You can refuse to come to a conclusion, or insist that it is impossible to come to a conclusion, in the theoretical sphere, such as on the question of the existence or non-existence of God; but in practice you must act as if there is a God or as if there is no God. There is no middle ground; inaction is also a decision. Similarly, in terms of our own analysis, doubt can function in the noetic or cognitive sphere of emunah, but not in the functional realm, that of Halakhah. If, as we have been insisting, doubt can be acknowledged as part of cognitive faith and in spiritually valid tension with it, then the functional commitment must be absolute; otherwise it reflects the utter hypocrisy of the claim for the religious validity of cognitive safek.

This point, so characteristic of pragmatism, was made earlier and most convincingly by Joseph Butler…Religion, according to Butler, involves two aspects: discernment, or what we have called the cognitive; and commitment what Buber calls trust and which we have subdivided into the affective and functional. In the area of discernment, "probability is the very guide of life," in the sense of weighing the evidence and assessing the probabilities of the alternatives. This discernment "determines the question": my evaluation leads me to a decision. But this decision results in a commitment which is unconditional. "In matters of practice, [it] will lay us under an absolute and formal obligation." This total commitment is, thus, based upon but goes beyond rational considerations and probabilities. Furthermore, the question of probabilities in formulating my discernment is not an arid mathematical calculation.

Even if the probability is quite low it can, if the issue is momentous enough and means enough to me, lead to a commitment that is absolute and in which probability thereafter plays no role.

Thus, I see a child drowning, and I discern that there is a chance of saving him. Now I may estimate my swimming ability, the child's chance of survival until I reach him, and my chance of saving him, as very low, and the risk to myself as high. Yet, the fact that I believe there is some chance of saving him and that I consider it eminently worthwhile to do so, leads me to a commitment: I jump in and swim to the child. My discernment was plagued with serious doubts and grave misgivings. My commitment, however, is not one whit less total than if I had been a champion life-saver; I will spare no effort in achieving success. This is essentially what we have been saying: it is quite understandable and legitimate to entertain doubts in the area of cognitive faith, in emunah-emet, and yet insulate functional faith, the commitment of emunah ne'emanut or Halakhah, from any doubts whatsoever. This commitment demands of me that, by my practice, I slice through the polarity of faith and doubt and opt for one or the other. The act, then, does indeed issue from the matrix of polarities in tension, but it itself must be expressive of only one or the other; faith, if the act is a mitzvah; doubt, if it is an averah. The act does not, of course, resolve my dilemma, but it does deepen my faith by virtue of my commitment and participation in the performance of the faith-act.

Moreover, the relationship between the cognitive and the functional does not proceed only in one direction, from the cognitive to the functional, or from theory to practice. When a Christian theologian states that "It cannot be required of the man of today that he first accept theological truths…. Wherever the church in its message makes this a primary demand, it does not take seriously the situation of man today", he is discovering a truth that Judaism proclaimed a long time ago for men of all ages: naaseh comes before nishma, Halakhah precedes and remains unconditioned by theology. Judaism has always maintained that behavior influences belief, that the cognitive may be fashioned by the functional. Thus the bold statement of the Rabbis that God cries out, "Would that they had forsaken Me but kept My Torah!". "The heart," a medieval halakhic source states, "follows actions." Thus, too, the wise insight of Yehudah Halevi, so characteristic of his whole Weltanschauung: "A man cannot attain a relationship with God except by [the observance of] the word of God." It is the functional life of faith, exclusively, which leads to the state of mutuality, or what we would today call "dialogue," with God. The normative is more fundamental than the cognitive; hence cognitive doubt, legitimate as it may or may not be in its own restricted sphere, must not affect halakhic practice. On the contrary, genuine halakhic living (which includes the study of Torah) may, in a manner more existential than logical, still the cognitive unrest: "the light which [the Torah] contains will lead him back to the right path." It is to use a homely metaphor only an immature and impetuous youngster who, upon realizing for the first time the all too-human inadequacy of his parents and questioning their love for him, will precipitously act upon the basis of his doubts and run away from home. A more mature youngster will stay home even while mulling over his doubts and eventually the very continuation of the experience of his family's comradeship may help him to resolve his cognitively formulated doubts.