Wednesday, December 16, 2009

First they came for the Conservative & Reform

Many ae familiar with Martin Niemöller's famous poem about the passivity of the German intellectuals in the face of the Nazi's rise:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

There seems to be tremendous outrage this week at Rabbi Malkiel Kotler's alleged statement comparing Modern Orthodox Jews to Esav. But there was previously very little concern about such hate being preached by Charedim against Conservative & Reform.

Harry Maryles writes:

How in Heaven's name does any Jew, let alone a respected Rosh Yeshiva of the largest Yeshivos justify preaching hate? That is exactly what he and others like him do when they say things like this. What is it that makes modern Orthodox Jews a bunch of Esavs - that have to be fought like Conservative and Reform Jews? How can anyone condemn God fearing Jews who observe Torah and Mitzvos and believe in Torah Min HaShamyim ? What does he gain with this?

How about writing:

What is it that makes Conservative and Reform Jews a bunch of Esavs - that have to be fought like Christians and Muslims?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Winter wonderland

What I woke up to this morning
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Is same-sex marriage a civil right?

Cross-posted on DovBear

On Tuesday, voters in Maine struck down a law that had been passed by the legislature allowing gay marriage. In an off-year election such as this, the ones coming out to vote were the conservative "values voters" whose opposition to gay marriage drove them to the polls in modest, but large enough, numbers to overturn the gay marriage law.

Voters have now voted to maintain the legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman in over 30 states now. But these are undoubtedly only temporary setbacks for gay marriage rights activists. The youth of this country overwhelmingly support the right to same-sex marriage. They essentially feel "what's the big deal?" As older voters disappear from the voting pool and younger voters enter it, gay marriage will eventually become protected in all 50 states, either by court action and insufficient opposition to change that legislatively, or in the legislature, or through ballot initiatives in the first place. But it may take a couple of decades before we get to that point.

As you can guess from the tone of this post so far, I support same-sex marriage rights. But some 16 months ago, I wrote a post supporting civil unions for everyone, and doing away with official government sanction of marriage entirely as a violation of the church-state divide.

I still believe that as an ideal. But in the real world, the institution of marriage as registered by the state isn't going to disappear anytime soon. American society isn't going to let go of state recognized marriage for a long, long time. So insisting only on the route of civil unions for everyone is a nonstarter and will deny rights to same-sex couples for years to come. For the meantime, however, there can certainly be a concept of civil marriage that is entirely divorced (if you'll pardon the term) from church sanctioned marriage. Civil, secular marriage has a long history in this country, going back to the Puritans. "For them, marriage was a civil union, a contract, not a sacred rite." (Mark A. Peterson: "Civil Unions in the City on a Hill")

As a practicing Jew, I don't demand that the government recognize the rules of my religion as state law, for example having shabbat on Saturday, so why should I, or any person of any faith, have a veto over who can get married?

That certainly doesn't preclude any private religious group from maintaining that a marriage is between a man and a woman and restricting membership in their own group to those who believe and practice the same. But they shouldn't be allowed to make that definition the civil definition of marriage as well and impose their will on a secular society.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Can you vote in a church?

I just did, yesterday. As far as I'm concerned, it's not an issue. I was going there to vote, not to worship. Plus, I don't think a contemporary Lutheran church is idolatrous.
Not that I have any problem going into any sort of church for any reason other than my own worshiping. I went into Notre Dame in Paris. I went into a Catholic church for a friend's funeral.
But what of those frummer souls who feel it's forbidden to enter a church? Do they feel they have to ask a Rav? What if this is their only valid opportunity to vote?
Have any readers come across this problem? How did you resolve it? What did your posek say?

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Frum Jews and RV's

RV's don't usually conjure up images of frum Jews, but an enterprising business has found a way to make them a perfect fit!

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Why don't the women dance?


I just spent Simchat Torah in one of the frummer neighborhoods of New York City. You know the type, every block a shtibel, an Agudah, and even the Young Israels are no longer modern. Black hats abound. There are plenty of centrist Orthodox, but they kind of blend in with the Yeshivish crowd. And in no shul do the women actually dance during hakafot on Simchat Torah. Instead, they watch the men.

I actually grew up with that model. When hakafot came around, the mechitza would be opened up so the women could watch the men dance. When I was little, I used to dance & happily wave to my mother. But even in my late teens I started doing my own thing for Simchat Torah and went to more modern neighbrhoods and more modern shuls where the women always danced. This was the first time I'd been back to my old neighborhood for ST in something like 20 years.

I didn't go to my parents' shul for hakafot - instead I went to a more modern minyan that always used to have women dancing. But that minyan isn't what it used to be. Except for one part of one hakafa when the women made a half-hearted circle on the other side of the mechitza, there was no dancing at all. I felt very uncomfortable, as if we were performing for an audience of the women.

Why don't the women dance? Is it just habit, carried over from Eastern Europe? And if so, why didn't the women dance there? I understand the dispute over whether women should carry a sefer torah while dancing - while I think there's nothing wrong with it (a sefer torah isn't mekabel tumah), there are some weak arguments against that. But dancing at all? Women dance up a storm at the frummest weddings, as long as there's a mechitza. There's certainly a mechitza in shul. And this isn't just celebrating a bride & groom, it's celebrating the Torah itself!

Is there any halachic basis in keeping the women from dancing? Is it just a strange carryover minhag? Or are the frum communities afraid that it would smack of feminism? And why don't they dance in the Young Israels and other centrist shuls that were Modern Orthodox in the 1970's and in many case still think of themselves as Modern Orthodox?

Why don't the women dance?

Cross-posted on DovBear - please leave your comments there

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

God does not exist

I have emunah in God. And yet, he doesn’t exist. Let me clarify.

What’s the common definition of existence? Something that has a tangible reality as defined by empiricism. God doesn't meet that criteria, at least not the contemporary idea of an incorporeal god. Through much of the early middle ages, Jews believed that God had a body.

But now, we believe Him to be intangible and incorporeal. So he doesn't exist.

That's why I think "belief" is such a poor translation of "emunah". I have emunah in Hashem. I feel that outside of the reality of our world there is a spiritual realm and it is in that spiritual realm that God is. I use "feel" because that's what it is. It's about an emotional connection, not an empirical one.

That's why I feel that those who try to "prove" God are on the wrong track. You can never prove God's existence, because by all standards of measurement that we use in our physical plane, God doesn't exist.

Monday, September 14, 2009

JBlogger convention

Wasn't that supposed to be yesterday? I totally forgot. Seems to be a lot less discussion of it on the blogs I frequent than there was last year. Did anyone attend? (Either live or online) How was it?
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CNN: Let's represent Maine voters with lobsters

Talk about gimmicks! Couldn't they just use apples? Or how about being really radical and just using numbers?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The yeshivish life treadmill

On Her Own writes about a young woman she knows who seems unhappily trapped in the yeshivish lifestyle:

"(she) cried to me for half an hour about how she hated wearing her sheitel (she said it pulled her hair out), how she felt like she'd thrown away her life, etc., etc...

...stood before me in her snood, shlumpy clothing covering a slouching and unhealthy looking figure, telling me in a monotone voice about her kids and the yeshiva in which her husband is learning"

Here's my comment to her post:

I feel for that girl, and unfortunately know so many people just like her, both men & women.

I think that the treadmill of seminary-marriage-kollel is a bit of a game. The people on this treadmill don't really think about the permanent ramifications of the treadmill until it's too late, until they're stuck in that life. The turning point is children and that usually happens pretty fast. Once kids are involved, there's rarely any turning back.

Perhaps that's why the yeshivish world urges this path - they know that marriage & kids are the quickest way of locking (very) young adults into the "torah true" lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Where I am now

Ahhh, it's nice to be taking a nice lunchtime hike :-)
The woods clear my brain.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I'm driving by the security barrier

The left hates it - they see it as a land grab.
The right hates it - they don't want any future border defined.
I wholeheartedly approve of it. I regret that it makes Palestinians' daily lives more difficult, but not having daily attacks on Israelis makes their daily lives easier, and that's my primary concern.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Speed bumps in Israel

Sitting in the Nesher sherut to Jerusalem, I have come to the following conclusion about the purpose of speedbumps in Israel vs. In the US.
US:
Drive slower.
Israel:
Between each set of speedbumps, even if they're only separated by 10 feet, test the car's ability to accelerate to 80mph and test the brakes' ability to come to a screeching halt.

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Live blogging Israel - sort of

Just arrived in Israel for a family wedding.
I'm not usually prone to "only in Israel" stories, but I have to relate a couple of small things.
1) The young female ElAl employee at JFK who asked me the usual "who packed your bags?", "did anyone give you a package?" questions also, after examining my Israeli passport, demanded to know why, if I had made aliyah, was I living in America. She then proceeded to strongly urge me to uproot my family immediately and return to Israel to live.
2) I caught a nasty cold on the plane. Hundreds of people in an enclosed space for 9 hours...
At Ben Gurion Airport, I approached the passport control desk. The woman at the desk, seeing me sniffling, immediately pulled out a roll of toilet paper (I guess she had no tissues) and sympathetically placed it in front of me.
It's nice to be home.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ted Kennedy

H was a steadfast friend of Israel, and champion for Soviet Jewry. I hope that the more conservative domestic politics of much of the American Orthodox Jewish community won't get in the way of remembering that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The great bee massacre of August 2009


I just mowed the lawn. And probably massacred a whole bunch of bees.

There were little yellow weed flowers all over the grass. And the bees were happily doing their pollen thing on quite a few of them. But I had to mow the lawn. You'd think that the bees would fly away when a loud lawn mower engine is less than a foot from them, but no. I hope I scared away as many as possible. I don't think bees have ears, but you'd think they could feel the vibrations! I hate to kill bees, especially after the bee die off of the last few years.

My wife & have talked about how we'd love to plant native flora instead of a lawn. Or perhaps use moss instead of grass. Unfortunately, we're renters, and our lease requires us to maintain the grass lawn and mow it. But maybe in the future. Maybe I'll become a beekeeper as well.

And then maybe bee society won't remember me as the perpetrator of the great bee massacre of August 2009.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Glad to be on the bride's side

Ok, this is going to sound shallow, but I'm writing this with tongue slightly in cheek.

Whenever I go to frum weddings, I like to spend as much time at the smogasboard as possible. But at weddings when I'm good friends with the groom, I feel like I have to hang out at the chatan's tish. With the food that's been transported from a 1970's kiddush. Stale sponge cake and shnapps.

So I don't have food before the chuppah. And at the meal, I, a strict vegetarian, watch unhappily as my wife and friends chow down on dead animals. Even when there's a veggie option, it's a pretty bad imitation of meat instead of good vegetarian food.

Which is why, for the wedding I'm going to tomorrow, I'm happy to be an old friend of the bride. I only met the groom once, at the engagement party. Seems like a great guy and they seem like a great couple. Still, since I don't know him very well, I only have to make a short appearance at the tish. The rest of the hour before the chuppah I can hang out at the smorg. Which, judging by the food at the engagement party, should be pretty good and have some decent vegetarian options...

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Sunday, August 2, 2009

Papers from the sky on 9/11

I don't know why, but I was thinking about this today:

On the afternoon of 9/11/2001, I remember walking in Brooklyn on the way to a cafe with a few friends. We were getting together to try to make sense of what happened, and keep each other company in our shock. While we were walking, a great cloud of paper came over the neighborhood, fluttering down to the street. I think it was from 7 WTC, which collapsed in the afternoon. I picked up a few pages and saw that it was financial balance sheets from some company. Some of the pages were slightly singed. I kept them, and thought that I would return them to the company whose name was printed on the bottom. In the end I never got around to it and I'm not sure where they went - probably in the garbage. I'm sure that it wouldn't have made a big difference to the company after losing their entire office, but I've always regretted it nontheless. It would have been symbolic, perhaps, but symbolism counts.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tisha B'Av

Meaningful and comfortable fast to all. May we mourn whatever aspect of galut we find meaningful to mourn, but do it together. That's the most important thing.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Doctors vs Moneylenders

This morning, while looking for the weather channel, I came across a segment about the Israeli medical system. It turned out to be a segment of The 700 Club, with Pat Robertson. They were praising how good a system of medical care Israel has.

Then Pat mentioned how wonderful it is that when you look at the US medical system, the top ranks are heavily populated with Jews. Wait a second, isn't that major stereotyping?

Well, if so, I'm happier with that stereotype than the old one, where we're all greedy moneylenders.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Yehudi Hilchati

I used to blog under the name "Yehudi Hilchati" on a blog of the same name. Around a year ago, I wrote there:
.
Should I blog under my own name?
.
I've always been a little uncomfortable with anonymous blogging. But I do it anyway, for the reasons outlined below.

I've written stuff here that I probably wouldn't want my family or some members of my community to know of. Though I'm not a full-blown skeptic, I've expressed enough opinions on the documentary hypothesis and the origins of Judaism to earn the title of "apikores" by strictly traditional standards. I've also written some left-of-center opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian issue that while relatively moderate, would provoke massive arguments with my right wing (on that issue) family if they knew about it. So all in all, blogging anonymously allows me to express my opinions without fear of repercussions.

On the other hand, blogging anonymously keeps me from extending the discourse of this blog to real life. If I blogged under my own name, I'd be able to make the blog simply an extension of my ideas in real life, which I could discuss with people verbally and then simply refer them to my blog. Therefore, I've been thinking about dispensing with the "secret identity" and blogging as myself.

But if I did, I'd probably just start a new non-anonymous blog and just let this one go dormant, with no identifying link between them, for the reasons mentioned above. I just don't need arguments and tension with parents, siblings, and some friends. (My wife is aware of this blog.) The new blog would probably avoid some topics I've dealt with here.

Although I don't have a huge number of readers, over the past 1+ years, I've developed connections to a number of other blogs and have commented in many places, all under the name "Yehudi Hilchati".

So do I leave it behind and start a new blog under my own name and rebuild a readership with no base?

Should I just stay put and leave aside my need to express my opinions under my own name?

Or should I be really daring and go public on this blog and let the chips fall where they may?
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Obviously I went with the first option, above, and started a new blog, this one. So why am I revealing this now, when that's precisely what I said I wouldn't do?
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Because I've realized that this blog has become almost exactly what the old one was, with similar opinions and ideas. I even took the best of the old blog and reposted them here, with slight updates. And while there is a little less of the "apikorsut" and politics about Israel, I've commented on many other blogs under this name without censoring my opinions at all. And after a few weeks of having my real name listed in my "DYS" profile when I first started blogging under those initials (my real ones) I removed my last name, because I felt a little too exposed.
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So in almost every way, this blog's exactly like the old one. I guess that someone starts a blog because they have something to say. And that something is hard to constrain.
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In any case, now that I've gotten to know more bloggers, I realize that I'm far from radical compared with many others. And some friends who I spoke to about my hashkasfic doubts didn't seem surprised or disturbed, nor did they have issues with the kashrut of my food.
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So what's the point of this whole post? I'm not sure, except maybe to free myself of any remaining dual-identity constraints. So keep reading!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is meat slaughtered by women kosher?

Cross-posted on DovBear

Gil Student, over at
Hirhurim, recently posted “a loose translation of notes from lectures by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik” examining the issue of whether women can be slaughterers (shochatot). Gil, in his introduction, links it to the issue of women Rabbis and concludes that if shochatot are not allowed, neither are female Rabbis.

The Rav brings a number of sources that essentially prohibit women slaughterers based on the fact that a shochet is a communal position and women cannot hold communal positions. But the
Shulchan Aruch writes that women can be shochatot. The Rama, however, says that they may not serve in that capacity because the custom is that they haven't been doing so. That seems like an extremely poor and circular argument. We don't allow it because we haven't been allowing it. So all the arguments against women slaughterers seem to be based only on social considerations, not solid halacha. And many do allow women to slaughter for themselves, just forbidding it for the community. So Gil is right in a way, by tying female rabbis to female slaughterers. The argument against both are based only on social considerations and there seems to be plenty of halachic room to permit them now when social circumstances have changed.

(By the way, since the Shulchan Aruch permits women slaughterers, and Sephardim follow the Shulchan Aruch without the supplement of the Rama, do they allow shochatot today? If not, why not?)

So should shochatot be permitted? Basically, even according to those who forbid it, it seems to me that they would probably permit it b’dieved, after the fact. Meaning, if someone ate meat slaughtered by a woman skilled in all the halachot of shechita, there was no sin. The meat was kosher.

But despite my progressive stance on most issues relating to women and Judaism, I'm going to invoke social considerations to explain my opinion that except in limited situations, it probably would be unwise to institute it as a general custom at this time.

Let's first be clear about what we're asking and who would care about such an innovation.

There are several type of people who keep kosher. There's the "kosher by ingredients" crowd. There's the "any hechsher, as long as it's on the package" crowd. And then there's the Orthodox standard, meaning hechsherim generally accepted by the community.

Let’s break it down by denomination. The Reform movement doesn't have any official kashrut standards, though some individual members may keep some personal strictures.

The Conservative movement has official standards, but doesn't have a kashrut supervision infrastructure of their own. So they generally rely on Orthodox hechsherim, but will use ones that aren’t widely accepted in the Orthodox community. For example, while the Conservative movement
officially endorses Hebrew National as acceptable for consumption, they do so on the basis of HN's new Orthodox hechsher, Triangle-K. (While T-K isn't accepted in much of the Orthodox community, the Rabbis there are Orthodox. The issue of T-K certifying HN's non-glatt meat is another post.)

That leaves the Orthodox community, which will only consume meat certified by communally accepted agencies.

What if the Conservative movement had its own kashrut supervision agency? Then I see nothing wrong with their using women slaughterers. Orthodox people wouldn't be eating that meat anyway, no matter what gender slaughtered the animal.

But within the world of Orthodox hechsherim, it's a different story. What if Rabbi Avi Weiss decided to create a kashrut agency? (Please note that the following scenario is totally hypothetical and is just to illustrate my point and does not represent any known plans of Rabbi Weiss)

He has already created the new female equivalent of Rabbi, the Maharat, a development of which I wholeheartedly approve. And I presume that to receive smicha, a Maharat must study the same traditional curriculum as a male Rabbi, which would include Yoreh Deah, the volume of Shulchan Aruch that contains the laws of kashrut, including shechita.

So what if this hypothetical kashrut agency started using shochatot?

The institution of the Maharat is already controversial. But its effect is limited to the communities in which these women serve and doesn't spill over. But kashrut is a social intitution as much as a halachic one. People eat in one another's homes and celebratory affairs based on shared assumptions of kashrut reliability. Were Rabbi Weiss, or any figure in Left Wing Modern Orthodoxy to institute the practice of shochatot, there would immediately be a split in the social fabric of Orthodoxy. The implicit assumption of reliable kashrut upon entering the home of someone who was LWMO or observant Conservative would be gone. And the uproar would cause fissures and public discord on a huge scale. The unspoken social compact of kashrut would be broken. It is for that reason that I would be wary of such an innovation at this time.

However, what if Rabbi David Silber, of Drisha, (again, totally hypothetical) decided that a shochetet was halachically permissable, but rather than endorse the practice for the wider community, decided to have a special event at Drisha with meat slaughtered by a shochetet. If he was comfortable of the halachic permissibility, why not?

Social reasons should not hold back halachically permissible practices. However, extreme social disruption should be considered before moving too far, too fast.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tunisia - an Arab democracy?


Who says the Arab world has no democracies?


"Since 1987, Tunisia has gradually reformed its political system, it has abolished life presidency and opened up parliament to opposition parties."

And despite the fact that they hosted the PLO for so many years, it seems like they have a history of friendliness towards Israel:

"President Bourguiba was the first Arab leader to call for the recognition of Israel in a speech in Jericho in 1965."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tunisia#Present-day_politics

In the 90's they even had good ties towards Israel, but that's deteriorated since 2000. Maybe it'll improve again, as their democratic values would seem a natural way to provide motive for rapprochement.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Is the ketchup kosher?

A few weeks before Pesach, I moved to a new desk at work. The previous occupant had left a lot of junk in the desk. I didn't realize one of the drawers had food in it under the files and didn't get around to cleaning it till this week. I found a whole bunch of ketchup and mayo packets inside, the kind that you get from fast food places.

Not that I have a great need to consume these condiments, but it made me wonder - are they kosher or are they chametz she'avar alav achar hapesach (CSAAAHP)? They are Heinz, and have an O-U on them. But they were in my desk over Pesach and weren't sold with my other chametz. On the other hand, I wasn't aware of their existence till this week. Plus, the desk doesn't belong to me, it belongs to my employer. So were the packets halachically considered to be in my possession over Pesach?

So what's the halacha?

A second question: if they are CSAAAHP, do I need to throw them out (rather than leave them in the office kitchenette) to avoid the chance that someone else Jewish in my office might eat them inadvertantly? Or if it's a safek that it's CSAAAHP, and a safek that a Jew would eat them, is that a sfek sfeka and it's ok to leave them in the kitchenette? Or does sfek sfeka not apply to possible chametz?

Just some "food" for thought.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Moth in ATM

At the ATM this morning, there was a moth under the glass.

Very surreal...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I work for a giant rat!

At least according to the protesters outside my office. Apparently my employer, a huge financial services firm, is using a company for its moving and storage needs that is unfair to workers.

For argument's sake, let's say this is true. Obviously I'm not quitting my job over it. But it raises food for thought: what threshold would a company have to cross to cause you to quit? A division that produces porn? Toxic dumping? Sweat shops in Guatemala?

It's not an easy decision, especially when jobs are as scarce as they are now.

What do you think?

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

One more from the ferry

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The Staten Island Ferry

This is my first post from my cellphone. Hope this works!
I moved to eastern Pennsylvania a few months ago and have been commuting to NY on a semi-regular basis.
It's a brutal commute. If I didn't have to cross the Hudson, I could do it in half the time. But as it is, ot usually takes me at least 3 hours. It normally involves some combination of driving, NJ Transit trains, and PATH.
Today, I tried something new: the Staten Island Ferry. It didn't make the commute any shorter, but it was immensly more relaxing. The open water and air was far better than a cup of coffee ever could be! I'm looking forward to the evening commute, coming up soon!
I took a video from the ferry. As I said above, this is my first mobile post. Hope the video posts...

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My first post criticizing Obama (no kidding)


Disclaimer first:

As I maintained he would in a number of posts during the campaign, I still think Obama’s turning out to be a darn good president in general. And I still think he’ll be a great friend to Israel. But as I indicated in this post, he’s not above criticism. However, the below criticism is in the same vein as those right-wingers who thought GW Bush was Israel’s best friend but criticized him during his second term for publicly supporting a two-state solution. Obama’s still my man. Now on to the criticism.

Obama left today for a trip to the Middle East. He’s trying to repair ties with the Arab world, and the greater Muslim world, which Bush shredded during his two terms. He’s going to speak from Cairo, a symbolic move to indicate that the Arab & Muslim states do not need to have an antagonistic relationship with the US and the US is willing to listen to what they have to say.

Fine, I support that. Even seen from a Israel-centric standpoint, Bush’s “us” and “them” cowboy diplomacy didn’t exactly help Israel, it only made her more hated, if that were possible. And with the threat of Iran, Israel needs friends in the region, or at least what passes for friendship around there, grudging cordiality and willingness to cooperate on some things, even if only through US mediation. So basically, Israel needs the US to have good relations with Arab countries. That’s the only way anything has ever been solved around there, and it increases Israel’s security.

So Obama is bending over backwards to show the United States’ good intentions to the Arab countries. But in a bizarre move, he’s decided not to stop in Israel during this trip. Now, I’m not one of those Jews who craves a visit to Israel by the US president for some sort of validation. But to go to the Middle East & not stop in Israel, a close ally, is a slap in the face, given the precedent of almost all previous presidents. I get that he’s staying away from Israel to make a point to underscore his overture to the Arab world and avoid undercutting his message of evenhanded friendship. But then, I would understand Obama stopping only in Egypt, making his speech & going back to the US.

But that’s not what he’s doing. Instead, he stopped in Saudi Arabia for a day first. If his trip is so carefully orchestrated to avoid insulting the Arab world by avoiding Israel, you’d think he would also carefully orchestrate NOT stopping in Saudi Arabia and lavishing praise on the country’s dictators, as he did, to avoid insulting Israel. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he didn’t stop in Riyadh solely to insult Israel. The news media reports that the trip to SA was a last minute add-on. But he and his advisors should have realized how that would look. If he’s already tooling around the region, going to more than one country, it’s an insult to ignore Israel.

And why do I have the feeling that a stop in Israel more likely would have been on the agenda if Ehud Barak or Tzipi Livni had formed the government instead of Netanyahu? Or even if Netanyahu had formed a broad coalition with Kadima & Labor instead of with right-wing and religious fringe nuts? I’m no supporter of Netanyahu and his coalition, but it strikes me that if Obama can meet with and lavish praise on the Saudi royal family, who have, like most Arab “moderates”, made hateful and false statements about Israel, and at least indirectly supported terrorism, he could swallow meeting with Netanyahu, who is the Dalai Lama in comparison, in Jerusalem.

Do you get your values just from the Torah?

What is morality? And what are ethics? Or values?

In my discussions with Charedim, (and some Centrist Orthodox and even Modern Orthodox) both online & offline, we often come to an impasse when I realize that one of the basic assumptions they’ve made is that I, as a kipa wearing Jew, take all my cues for morality, ethics, and values from the Torah, and that there can be no other standard.

Even if one accepts that premise, there are far reaching disagreements on what the Torah has to say when it comes to value judgments. But leaving that aside, in any case I reject the basic premise. I see no reason that the Torah should be the only arbiter of my moral being. I may be a Jew, but that’s not the only thing I am. I’m also a human being.

When the Charedi I’m talking to realizes that I’m not on the same wavelength when it comes to this issue, he will often engage in circular arguments:

“How can you not see the Torah as the final word on every issue? The Torah says you’re supposed to see it that way, and therefore, as a Jew, that’s what you must do!”

Aha – that’s one of the very (supposed) “Torah values” that I reject, that the Torah is my only moral guide. So that argument holds no water with me.

I am a committed Jew. I keep kashrut & shabbat, daven, study Torah, wear a kipa, etc. But that’s not all I am. I’m also a human being who attended college, reads voraciously, has friends who have all sorts of beliefs and lifestyles, and is affected by contemporary western moral values.

An example: recently I was talking to a relative, and she referred to a cousin who “nebach”, married a non-Jew. As is her wont, she said this in a low voice as if mourning a tragedy. I used to think the same way. Anyone who intermarried was destroying the Jewish people, and voluntarily doing Hitler’s work.

But as an adult, I got to know people who were intermarried. And you know what? Most of them are happy, raising well adjusted kids, and leading a meaningful lifestyle in their own way. Many of them even raise their kids with a strong Jewish identity, with the non-Jewish spouse attending synagogue along with the rest of the family.

And so I realized, why is it my place to judge these people and say that they’ve taken the wrong path in life? Am I so arrogant that I know the one and only true path and that they’ve abandoned their only route to some heavenly salvation? Why not just be happy for them that they’ve found happiness, something that’s hard to find in this world for so many people?

So what do I do with the halachic opposition to intermarriage?

One possible solution is to dig down deep into the mists of early Judaism and argue that the Torah doesn’t really prohibit intermarriage and that it’s all a Rabbinic innovation. And there may be some truth to that. But I’m a firm believer in Judaism as an evolving religion. And as such, it would be disingenuous to claim that traditional Judaism hasn’t had a major problem with intermarriage for at least 1 ½ millennia. And in any case, if I use that sort of argument, I’m boxing myself in and making it a requirement to find some sort of historical-religious justification for any personal moral value I hold that on the surface disagrees with tradition.

Instead, I prefer to concede that, yes,Rabbinic Judaism prohibits marriage to a non-Jew who hasn’t sincerely converted. But that’s irrelevant. I’m not intermarried and so it’s not a personal issue. And the Torah’s opposition? It is what it is. But I, as a human being with values that are a result of my almost 40 years of life experience, see nothing wrong with it for other people who’ve chosen that path. I don’t uphold it as an ideal, but once they’ve chosen such a romantic partnership, let them be happy! So I’ve gone to weddings and danced for Jewish brides and non-Jewish grooms and vice versa, and celebrated their unions. The Torah may say it’s wrong, but so what? Not every one of my values has to be from the Torah.

I have a similar attitude towards homosexuality. Admittedly, I’m not gay, so I can’t really understand the struggle that a gay Jew who was raised Orthodox must go through. Still, I can’t deny that the Torah calls homosexuality “toevah”, often translated as “abomination.” But when it comes to my gay friends? As long as they’re happy, I’m happy for them.

A few years ago, a co-worker to who I was close died young. Her funeral was held in a catholic church. I felt no need to ask a Rav whether I was allowed to enter for the funeral, because the answer would have been irrelevant. It was far more important to attend her funeral and be there to say goodbye in the manner her family chose.

It seems to me that giving over all of one’s decisions to what the Torah says (or some Rav’s interpretation of what it says) makes one a poorer human being. Struggling with ethical dilemmas and thinking for oneself, based on the richness of one’s own experience is part of life. And I think even most Charedim absorb ethical ideals from contemporary notions even as they deny it. For example, the Torah talks about slavery (yes, yes, I know the apologetics, it’s indentured servitude, not much better), but do any Charedim believe in slavery? Wouldn’t most recoil at the idea? We all get our morals, values, and ethics from various sources, often unconsciously.

So where does your value system come from?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The incredible shrinking God


This week, they found the missing link.

The missing link has long been a major problem with the theory of evolution. Darwin himself acknowledged that fossil evidence of transitional forms between species had not been found, but assumed they would be, in time. However, while many have been found, many others have not. Biologists have proposed a number of solutions, one of the most promising being “punctuated equilibrium”, in which a species stays rather static for a long time and then undergoes rapid evolution in a relatively brief time in response to dramatic environmental changes.

Religious fundamentalists have long pointed to these gaps as evidence that evolution is untrue. But science & Torah reconciliators (or their corresponding thinkers in other religions) have been more than happy to see God in the missing places. This is sometimes referred to as the “God of the gaps” concept. Where science can’t explain something, that is evidence for God.

I’ve never been happy with inserting God as an explanation where science falls short. That’s not to say that I don’t see God’s hand behind all of creation and its infinite complexity. But I don’t feel the need to glean “proof” for God’s existence from those presently inexplicable scientific gaps. Emunah shouldn’t need science to back it up. Emunah shouldn’t be empirical – it’s belief on a spiritual, intangible plane. And when empiricism is mixed with spirituality, both suffer.

But it’s more than that. With the “God of the gaps” concept, God’s existence is made susceptible to the progress of science. What happens when science fills one of those gaps? God is immediately less remarkable, less all-powerful.

That’s precisely what happened this week, when scientists announced they had found the missing link that “bridges the evolutionary split between higher primates such as monkeys, apes, and humans and their more distant relatives such as lemurs” in a 47 million year old fossil nicknamed “Ida”. With that discovery, it’s yet another weakening of the argument that we could not have evolved naturally from apes.

So for all those science & Torah reconciliators who insist on seeing God in every nook & cranny of science, I ask, doesn’t this diminish God? Doesn’t this make Him smaller and less significant? What happens when science explains everything? Will you discard God as yesterday’s news?

As for me, my faith will remain strong, because I never saw Hashem in the questions of science. He just is.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A very Charedi Lag Ba-Omer


I am firmly left-wing Modern Orthodox, with Conservative tendencies. And since I left NY a few years ago, I haven't really been to any Charedi events at all. But tonight I found myself in NY on business, staying in Brooklyn. And there was a big Lag Ba-Omer celebration going on outside on the next block, cordoned off by the police. So I decided to go.

I think there's been enough time and distance that I didn't feel the need to mentally criticize the Charedi community for things I don't agree with at such a benign event. So I just decided to go in Anthropologist's mode and enjoy. And I did. I think I was the only kipa sruga in a sea of black.

It was a little startling to me to hear them announce, in the middle of the singing and dancing:

"We respectfully request that all women get onto the sidewalk so the men can continue dancing around the fire"

Yes, it's not my style, and I have objections in principle to the marginalization of women, but hey, nobody there seemed to mind, and everyone was having a good time. And it's not my community anymore. I don't really belong to the same denomination anymore ("Orthodox" encompasses way too wide a range.) So I decided for tonight to just see it as quaint and I put aside my issues and danced.

Chag Sameach.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek movie review


OK, this review is full of spoilers.

This was a great movie. Excitement, special effects, great dialogue, great characters, some good humor. Great, that is, if you’ve never heard of Star Trek before. But if you’re a long time fan, as I am, it’s hard to separate the Star Trek universe from the bright & shiny new movie.

ALERT: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

Since I’m assuming that the only people reading past the spoiler alert are people who have already seen the movie, I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the setup. This is just my reaction to the movie we’ve both seen already.

Casting: Supporting characters: excellent!

Each of them brought a newness to the role, and didn’t copy the original actors, but still channeled the essence of the characters we’ve come to love.

Special mention goes to Karl Urban as McCoy and Simon Pegg as Scotty. Both were pitch perfect in their roles from the moment of their first appearance onscreen. Anton Yelchin as Chekov was one note, played mostly for his humorous earnestness, but that one note was hit perfectly.

John Cho, as Sulu, didn’t really evoke George Takei much other than his enthusiasm, but he fit into the cast well and had some great action scenes. Zoe Saldana didn’t even try to be another Nichelle Nichols. And why should she? In the original Trek, Uhura was docile and was just a glorified telephone operator. But they wanted to update the role and bravo for trying. So why, after a good start, did they relegate her to the role of Spock’s arm candy?

I was a little disappointed in Zachary Quinto as Spock. He’s a decent actor and played the numerous scenes he was given fairly well, but couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Sylar, from Heroes, was hiding behind that calm expression.

And Chris Pine as Kirk? Well, no one could ever fill William Shatner’s hammy shoes, and no one should even try. But as a fan of original Trek, it was hard to see anyone else in the role. Plus he seemed too young.

The special effects and action sequences were amazing! If you’ve seen it, you know what I mean.

Now, what was up with the relationship between Spock & Uhura? I guess I could swallow it, but there was one big “huh???” moment when watching the movie. I just don’t see that it added anything. And, as I mentioned above, it sidelined Uhura into a man’s woman. And there were no other women, unless you count the sexy green girl Kirk was in bed with early in the film (nice touch!) But why couldn’t they have nurse Chapel? Or Yeoman Rand?

The story was pretty good, with one big problem that I’ll get to in a moment. But the scene changes between comedy and intense, emotionally fraught action, were a little abrupt. Considering the seriousness of what was going on, I couldn’t really enjoy Scotty materializing inside the water tubes as much as I would have otherwise. Speaking of those water tubes, it reminded me of the scene in Galaxy Quest, where Sigourney Weaver complains loudly about the smashing hammers they have to jump through, saying: “What is this thing!? I mean, it serves no useful purpose for there to be a bunch of chompy, crushy things in the middle of a hallway! No, I mean we shouldn't have to do this, it makes no logical sense, why is it here!?” and Tim Allen answers “Cause it's on the television show”

Nero was a pretty good villain, albeit one dimensional. But his desire for revenge on Spock seemed somewhat arbitrary. Yes, sometimes things happen that way, but given the lengthy exposition of the origins of Spock & Kirk, you’d think they could spend a few minutes making Nero’s lust for revenge a little more plausible.

There were some major illogical leaps, like old Spock standing on a planet and seeing Vulcan be destroyed. How close was that planet to Vulcan, so that Vulcan would be several times the size of our moon as seen from Earth? It seems like the science was very weak. The movie just assumes that an audience coming to see a sci-fi movie would expect there to be a time portal inside a black hole, so doesn’t bother to explain. And that something labeled “red matter” can collapse a planet. Again, no explanation of what “red matter” is. The science on original Trek was pretty flimsy too, but at least they made up some silly dialogue to explain it. On the other hand, the audiences today have seen enough sci-fi to fill in the blanks, so maybe this isn’t such a big deal. So I’ll go ahead to my biggest issue of the movie.

VULCAN IS DESTROYED! AND ISN’T RESTORED!

There’s a scene where Spock is explaining to the bridge officers that since Nero changed the past, what Nero experienced is no longer relevant and the future belongs to whatever they do. They are not beholden to what others may know about the future. That was directed straight at the audience. So we are told by JJ Abrams; “Hey, we can do what we want. We’re not beholden to what you fans think you know about the Star Trek universe.”

Still. Destroying Vulcan? Vulcan is so much a part of the world of the federation. As some other reviewer I saw online pointed out, it’s not like Aalderan in Star Wars, a planet with no real emotional resonance to the viewers. But Vulcan? Leaving the surviving Vulcans an endangered species? How can you have Star Trek without Vulcan in it?

This is more than just sentimental. It affected my viewing experience of the movie deeply. First of all, after such an emotionally wrenching and apocalyptic event, it was hard to enjoy the humorous scenes. But more than that, from that point on, I was assuming, or at least deeply hoping, that time would be reversed and Vulcan would be restored. So in those climactic scenes near the end, where the Enterprise is being pulled into the black hole, I was rooting against them! I was hoping that they would be destroyed, and all of the red matter’s destruction would set the timeline to back to the way it was supposed to be. Ditto for the scene just before that, with Spock’s taking the ship with the red matter on a collision course with the (bizarre looking) Romulan vessel. So when the Enterprise finally emerged from what I presume was supposed to be the event horizon of the black hole (never mind the scientific inaccuracy of that), my heart fell, obviously the opposite feeling than what the moviemakers intended.

Maybe the next movie will be subtitled “The Search For Vulcan”. Hey, they brought back Spock from the dead. Maybe they can bring back his whole planet!


Old Haloscan comments

WARNING-MORE SPOILERS

Wow. You were way more generous in your review than I ever would have been! I thought that this movie was to Star Trek as porn is to sex. No plot, cheesy dialogue, and just gratuitous images of starships and phaser fire.

I agree with you that the movie was well-cast, though. I especially liked Zachary Quinto as Spock. I was really disappointed with Leonard Nimoy's performance- and that's a problem! In the movies and in Next Gen, Spock was played with real gravitas and wisdom. Here, he was played as flatly as a computer-game character, devoid of passion, and there only for the sake of showing the audience that the torch of Trek-making has been passed from the original cast to the new one. Nimoy's flat and sugary performance, of course, was in no way his own fault; we all know what a powerful actor he normally is. But he was simply given nothing to work with!

You feel that Kirk and Spock's origins were both given a great deal of exposition. I disagree. Spock was handled well enough, but Kirk? Okay, fine. It's completely believable that he would have been a young, impulsive, reckless, horny, insubordinate frat-boy as a cadet. He was even fun to watch, even if he was a stock character seen in almost every movie that has a young action hero or soldier protagonist.

But there was no explanation as to why he would have joined Starfleet. Captain Pike, whom he had never met, ave him one pep-talk and then he's off to San Francisco! What about feelings of abandonment by his dead father? Survivor's guilt? Hatred of Starfleet for having taken his dad away? Give him something to wrestle with and overcome to make him join the fleet! That's basic storytelling sense! No drama, no story! Without all that, what difference does it make to the story that he grew up fatherless?

And like you said, Uhura and Spock... what the hell?? It's bad enough to a Trek fan who knows how seriously out of character that is for Spock. But even in the context of this movie, for Spock, a full commander and instructor at the academy, and a stickler for rules and discipline, to have a relationship with one of his cadets.... Huh!?? Bad storytelling.

And as you said, Nero was a character with no development and no motive. So his planet was destroyed when a star (not the Romulan sun...?) went nova, Spock couldn't stop it in time (would Romulus do better to orbit a black hole and get sucked in than to get ripped apart by the explosion of its star?), so now Nero's blaming the Federation and Spock in particular? It doesn't make sense.

And if the fact that the whole plot had no motivation, what about the fact that Kirk, as an insubordinate cadet on probation, would be put in command of the Federation's flagship without going through the ranks and gaining some experience and maturity, and then have Spock who outranked him to hell and back be his first officer.... GIMME A BREAK!!!

That whole scene on Hoth the Ice Planet with the monster

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cheating revisited - what would you do?


A few months ago, I wrote about my disgust when another blogger of college age expressed the notion that there was nothing wrong with cheating in school. Her rationale was a whole host of mitigating circumstances.

Recently, I was speaking to some others of a similar age to the aforementioned blogger and they expressed similar sentiments. While I haven't changed my mind, one scenario that came up in the conversation provided food for thought:

What if a test was stolen before the final exam and the entire class got hold of it. Let's say you are offered the exam as well. Normally, you would refuse, but in this case the professor grades on a steep curve, and if you get less than an A in the course you will lose your hefty scholarship and that scholarship is the only way you can afford college. Let's say further that you cannot inform the administration anonymously of the theft. If you tell, your role will become public knowlege.

Do you:

A) Rat out everyone else, and live with the consequences, and gain many enemies?

B) Take the test honestly and hope that though unlikely, you'll still get an A and not have to drop out of college?

or

C) Cheat

Personally, I would do either A or B, never C, but I can understand that there can be a gray area. Things are rarely black & white.

What would you do?

Monday, April 6, 2009

So what if Birchat Hachama isn't "true"?


DovBear points out, here and here, that Birchat Hachama, the blessing over the sun, recited once every 28 years, and which falls on this Wednesday, isn't accurate in its claim that it happens when the sun is in the same place in the sky at the time of the creation of the world, 5,769 years ago.

But does that matter?

Even before reading his first post on the topic, and before looking into the background, I assumed that the stated reason for Birkat Hachama was not literally true. It can only be true if one believes in a literal sheshet yimei bereishit (6 days of creation).

But like many other practices in traditional Judaism whose origins may not be "true" in a literal sense, I will still say the bracha without any discomfort or loss of emotional significance. Judaism is an evolving religion - it always has been. Therefore, every evolving tradition is meaningful in the history of its very practice, not just in its origins.

And a tradition going back 2 millenia, where Jews gathered to say a bracha honoring the Borei HaOlam every 28 years, is significant enough. It is an event - an opportunity to gather with other Jews and acknowlege in a deep sense that Hashem created the world. So what if it's not literally accurate in its astronomical claims?

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Chabad online sale of chametz - question


I've just moved to Eastern Pennsylvania. More on that in another post. But I had a question that I was hoping some of my blog visitors had some insight into.

I left some chametz in a storage unit in Ohio. I did leave a key to the unit with someone local to it so it's theoretically accessible by the purchasing non-Jew during Pesach. I also have chametz in my new house, in PA.

Should I use one Rav to sell the chametz or two, one in each locale?

More importantly, can I use the Chabad website to sell my chametz online? How halachically valid is that? And even if it's fully halachically valid, what about with my situation? Can an online contract handle the complexity of my multistate chametz locations in a halachically valid manner?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

REALLY glad I voted for Obama!


On Monday, when signing the order to reverse Bush's policy and allow federal funding of stem cell research, Obama said:

This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear: promoting science isn't just about providing resources -- it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient -- especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda -- and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.
By doing this, we will ensure America's continued global leadership in scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs. That is essential not only for our economic prosperity, but for the progress of all humanity.
And that's why today, I am also signing a Presidential Memorandum directing the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to develop a strategy for restoring scientific integrity to government decision making. To ensure that in this new Administration, we base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology; and that we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions. That is how we will harness the power of science to achieve our goals -- to preserve our environment and protect our national security; to create the jobs of the future, and live longer, healthier lives.

Yet another example of America's return to sanity after the long national nightmare of Bush.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Blast from the (recent) past - reinvigorating my idealism

About 5 years ago, when my wife & I were first considering moving away from the NYC area to some "out of town" location, I started & moderated a Yahoo Group list (remember those?) called “Moving On Out” to search for and encourage more LWMO communities in "out of town" areas. Specifically, I was looking for "open orthodox" type shuls, but in places way out of the usual cities they'd be found in. This was in the days of fresh excitement about Edah, YCT, etc.

The list ended up focusing on any shul of this type, irrespective of location, and had some
lively discussions for about a year or so. After that, the blogosphere really came into its own and those Yahoo Groups saw much less traffic. The list still exists and is still officially active, but it gets a post only once every few weeks.

I just looked back through some of those old posts and there’s some good stuff.
What I wanted to post here today was what I wrote about what I considered the ideal shul. I still consider this to be the ideal place and re-reading it, I'm reinvigorated to find or found such a shul.
Here’s what I said in July, 2004:


Are we here to promote a particular brand of Orthodoxy or simply to serve as a resource where one was needed? The members of this list probably self-define their religious affiliations across a relatively wide range. This is a natural result of the constituency this list is attempting to address. Were this a list about standard Orthodoxy, as defined by say, Young Israel, or the OU, there would naturally be much narrower definitions. The key thing about the sort of communities that we are trying to promote is their willingness to embrace diversity of opinions and ideas, albeit within a halachic structure. "Halachic" in itself is an amorphous term, defined in different ways by different people.

That said, I think that we can mostly agree that the sort of communities we wish to encourage fall in this general pattern:

A place that strives towards egalitarianism within the elasticity of traditional Halacha.

A place that is concerned with Tikkun Olam, with social justice, the environment, etc.

A place that encourages participation in the greater Jewish community, dialogue and friendship and a sense of community with Jews of whatever religious affiliation.

A deep commitment to Israel without marginalizing those who disagree politically with the future direction the State of Israel may take, whether in the realm of security or socially. People may disagree with one another respectfully and have debate these issues based on merits, rather than with insults ("Anti Israel, Self- hating Jew" and the like.)

A lay led congregation. This is not to negate the role of a Rabbi, but to encourage as well the participation of individuals in running the shul or minyan. Most traditional congregations, of whatever stream, have a "top-down" style where congregants defer to the Rabbi and board in most ways. One common factor in the energy and vitality in most of the new minyanim and chaburot around the country has been the enthusiastic involvement of individual members that really foster a sense of community.

An intellectual center where classes and group discussion are encouraged. Being intellectually inquisitive about one’s Yahadut is what leads to greater involvement, not just waiting for the rav to give his latest drasha. Within that intellectual realm, there should be an openness to ideas from all sectors. It should be the kind of place where no question is looked at as being sacrilegious. The answers may fall within a certain context, but rarely, if ever, should a question be off limits. An intellectualism that acknowledges that outside of classical Judaism there can be valuable scholarship that can make our understanding of our Judaism ever richer.

And finally, a place where people come to truly daven. Where tefilla is not just a ritual obligation to get through. Something that has been noted in many of these new minyanim is the lack of noisy chatter that pervades so many Orthodox congregations. This is because everyone really wants to be there and really cares about the Tefilla. If the davening is beautiful, more people will participate and sing, which will cause it to grow even more beautiful.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The mouse? It'll never catch on!

Famed computer industry analyst and commenter John C Dvorak on the new Apple Macintosh computer, 25 years ago, in 1984:
The nature of the personal computer is simply not fully understood by companies like Apple (or anyone else for that matter). Apple makes the arrogant assumption of thinking that it knows what you want and need. It, unfortunately, leaves the “why” out of the equation — as in “why would I want this?” The Macintosh uses an experimental pointing device called a ‘mouse’. There is no evidence that people want to use these things. I dont want one of these new fangled devices.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Surreal hero worship

Has the press gone nuts?

In the wake of the Hudson River plane crash, in which no one was killed, the press is falling over itself to anoint the pilot of the plane, Chesley Sullenberger, for sainthood.

At one point, an interview with his wife, standing in the driveway of her home with her daughters by her side, was the featured video front & center as the main story on the MSNBC website. What was revealed in the interview? That he wife was shocked by the crash and is waiting her husband’s return home.

Sometime around midmorning, New York’s Mayor Bloomberg dubbed Sullenberger a “hero” (before even preliminary results of the crash investigation have been revealed) and the press jumped on board headfirst.

Getting stranger, Sullenberger’s grade school in Texas improperly released his school records to the public in the rush of interest today. In a staggering display of hypocrisy, Fox News reported on this story, reported some of the grades, displayed a picture of his transcript, and then chided, in a caption next to the image: “his school district gets an "F" for making his academic records public.”

I’m not denying that this pilot’s quick thinking may have saved lives. But this bizarre wholesale coronation of the ultimate hero, with no pause to find out anything of substance about what happened, is surreal to say the least. Is it any wonder most Americans don’t trust the press?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Sex trafficking in Israel

This morning, I was reading Nicholas D Kristof's article on sexual slavery of teenagers in Cambodia. To his credit, Krostof has made this issue, one that we'd all like to pretend doesn't exist, his personal crusade. It's hard to read the article. It's even harder to view the accompanying video, but it's important to be aware of such cruelty in the world.

The problem is, we often mentally and emotionally relegate such horrible things to far-off places like Cambodia & Thailand, where it seems strange and foreign to most Americans anyway. But the truth is, sexual slavery goes on the world over, even in western democracies.

And shockingly Israel is one of the worst among those democracies. I don't even need to provide a link. Just google "sexual slavery Israel" to see article after article outlining the disgusting and shameful truth, with women being brought into Israel under false pretenses, and are tortured and forced to "work" under terrible conditions. Most Israelis don't notice, or choose not to notice, this going on right under their noses. And for those who actually frequent these "businesses", a special place in hell is reserved for you. The best I can say is that perhaps these men are not aware that these are not voluntary prostitutes but rather slaves, with their entire lives in the hands of their pimps.

Thankfully, Israel has improved in this regard. According to this article:

Israel was among 23 nations placed on a US 'Watch List' regarding trafficking in human persons in 2005, the second lowest category on an annual State Department report. This year, in an assessment of the issue in 2006, Israel was one of 10 nations to succeed in rising to a higher category.

But the problem still remains huge.

Some will question my bringing this up now, when Israel is in danger and fighting a war against Hamas. But it is precisely at times like this that we cannot allow this repulsive underside of Israeli society to be forgotten and lost in the shuffle.

If Israel & the Jewish people are "Or LaGoyim" (A light unto the nations), this is hardly the way to show it.