Isaac Kaplan

"Is it any wonder I've got too much time on my hands?"

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Crazy Shidduch Questions and "Image-itis"

I've heard so many of these over the years that I don't even know which to believe and what not. "Does the family use dishes or plastic for Shabbos lunch?" "Does the father wear a white shirt on Sundays?" "Does the mom wear a dress or robe for bentching licht?" Why do so many otherwise intelligent people ask such silly questions? Does their mind suddenly go blank when they're on the phone with the shadchan?

As you probably figured out from the title, I believe that the source for many of the more inane shidduch questions is all about the oft-discussed, ever-rampant mental disease called "image-itis." Image-itis is when people are overly obsessed with image and how they'll appear in the public eye that they forget the more important issues at hand. Like when people are worried about whether their potential mechutan wears a white shirt on Sunday, they obviously are concerned with the image that will be presented if their kids gets married. What shirt the father wears has no bearing upon the potential chasan/kallah. But some people would rather have a son-in-law who's a jerk and whose dad wears white shirts, over a guy who's a tzaddik, but his dad does the heinous sin of wearing a striped shirt on Sunday.

In my community, I've often found that many times it's not the boy and girl getting married; it's the families. To certain people, marriage is about how compatible the mechutanim are, and they don't give a damn whether the boy and girl are good for each other. People talk about how there are shalom-bayis problems are more prevalent nowadays; Jewish Observer had a whole report about it a few years ago. And this ridiculous over-focus on the machatonim certainly hasn't helped the cause.

Some of the commentors were discussing whether the kids should be asked questions or the parents. I believe that the parents playing a huge role in the shidduch process also goes back to the image factor. After all, many of the questions center around the parents anyway, so you may as well ask them instead of the kids and hear it all straight from the dog's mouth. I'll admit that there's some value to asking about the parents; since the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, we can learn something about the kids by learning about the parents. But logically, most of the questions should be about the kid, because he's the one getting married! Oftentimes however, this is not the case.

The shidduch situation is unique in that it forces people to openly discuss what's important to them. And it's done in a pretty discreet way. If you went over to one of these people and asked them, "what are the most important things in your life?" they would probably say Torah, mitzvos, etc. But when they start asking questions about their prospective mechutanim, that's when the truth comes out! Ironically, these questions tell us a lot more about the asker than the one being asked about. So the symptoms of image-itis are all too apparent in many of the questions that are asked.

The solution for crazy shidduch questions? Defeat image-itis, and the silly questions will just disappear.

A Satmar Stiroh

This thought came to mind when I was in the Monticello Wal-Mart this past Friday. Although the goyim rule the Catskills for 10 months of the year, we clearly outnumbered them in Wal-Mart on Friday. And the few goyim I saw were muttering to themselves about how the Jews were coming again. In fact, every year for the past few years, the local newspaper has had articles discussing how the locals don't like the Hasidim because they're unfriendly, messy, they double-park, etc. Like other desecrations of G-d's name, it bothers me greatly.

In fact, there was a story going around last year that this particular Wal-Mart has an extraordinarily higher number of returns than the other branches of the chain. Turns out, many Jews would buy items like air conditioners in the beginning of July, use them for two months, and then box them up and return them when the summer was over. Another horrible chillul Hashem.

And in the NYC newspapers, there have been reports of Satmar Hasidim in Williamsburg protesting the planned apartments in their neighborhood and the consequent skyrocketing in the real estate in that area. Williamsburg is becoming the next Village-esque trendy neighborhood, and the Hasidim want no part of these "invaders."

What I'm trying to figure out is, what do the Hasidim hold? If they believe in a libertarian shittoh that people can move to and live in area they want to and behave in any way they want to, in which case the goyim of the Catskills have no right to complain, then the Hasidim should keep their mouths shut! The changing of their enclave is just a part of capitalism, and the same way they can invade the Catskills and to hell with the consequences, the same holds true in Williamsburg.

But if you'll hold that people shouldn't move into a neighborhood and destroy and ruin the status quo (be it economically or whatever), so the Hasidim oughta clean up their act in the Catskills before they bother the people who want to build and live in their neighborhoods. The Hasidim can't eat their cake and have it too. So I say, let them clean up the mess in their backyard before they give others a hard time.

Confronting the Media, conclusion

I'd like to finish off by dealing with aspects of chinuch and implementation of the hashkafos we discussed regarding confronting the media.

Steve Cohen makes a great point in mentioning that parents often make the mistake of relying on the schools to teach kids about the media while they totally ignore the issues. Parents have to be actively involved. After all, they're the ones in the home who are setting the examples for the kids! And if a kid hears how awful TV is and comes home to see his parents watching, the kid will be throughly confused. Parents have to explain their approach to the children. Steve also mentions that parents should be discussing the beauty of Torah, something I plan on dealing with in a future column (about positive thinking).

Another point I'd like to add is that parents should send kids to schools that share the same hashkafos regarding media. If parents have a more liberal shittoh regarding media and the school is very strict, it'll create a very sticky situation. What will the parents tell the kids, not to listen to the rabbeim? That's not good- if the kids don't have an authority in the classroom, they're just gonna lose interest. If parents say the rabbeim can't be trusted, that can destroy a kid.

And finally, the parents have to lead by example! It's hard for some people to control their taavos, but if parents don't want theit kids to watch movies, they've gotta quit! If parents don't practice what they preach, they're just begging for trouble.

Confronting the Media, pt. 3

The next issue I'd like to deal with is that of goyish music. At first glance, music would appear to be similar to TV and movies in that it's not a necessity and there's a lot of garbage out there. But two factors make music a much different case:

a) There are plenty of clean alternates within goyish music. Firstly, there's classical music and the Kenny G/Joe Satriani instrumental stuff. No words, no problem. And for all the Eminems and 50-Cents out there, many classic rock songs are clean. Take Billy Joel's "Ballad of Billy the Kid" for example, or Simon & Garfunkel's haunting "Sound of Silence."

b) The argument for allowing music can be weakened by pointing out that there are hundreds of Jewish music CD's out there. So even if someone loves music, they have plenty of Jewish options to choose from, in which case, banning goyish music is no big deal.

I believe that the argument against b) can be explained by making a loose comparison to the cholov yisrael situation. Yes, we can have Klein's instead of Haagen Dazs, but the taste and quality of the ice cream is incomparable. And we can have New Square milk instead of Tuscan, but Tuscan actually stays fresh for more than a day. My point is, true, there's Jewish music out there, but most of it simply doesn't compare to the non-Jewish stuff. In a previous column, I discussed my attempt at quitting goysihe music, and the lack of solid Jewish music was part of the reason my attempt at quitting failed. And anyone who really wants to get into good music will inevitably want to listen to the goyish stuff. So I find it hard to invoke a blanket ban on all goyish music. When I was in Israel, I went to cousins of mine whose kids were big Simon & Garfunkel fans. Nothing wrong with that. (As an aside, one thing that made me an S&G fan was hearing the versions of their songs on Variations!)

Now we get to books, newspapers, and magazines. These are much different from the previous media discussed in that almost all of us are going to deal with them at some point or another on our lives. Whether it's a book report on "Tom Sawyer" or a research paper that requires us to read old New York Times articles, our experiences in school make it impossible to escape these media. So if a kid decides that he enjoys literature and wants to read more classics, what do you tell him? That really he shouldn't and for school it's only ok because the government requires it? Well, good luck trying to get the kid to sit still through secular studies after telling him that! Besides, I believe that there is a certainly what to be gained from studying secular classics. After reading R' Aharon Lichtenstein's "Leaves of Faith," it's quite apparent to me how his secular knowledge greatly enhanced the quality of his essays. And it's easy to draw the line between today's trash like Stephen King and wholesome 19th-Century books. So perhaps reading books should be encouraged and not discouraged.

As per newspapers and magazines, they're similar to music in that you can get the basic news from Yated and Hamodia. But there's a certain quality of writing you can only get from a Wall Street Journal or New York Times. I believe this is part of the reason the rabbis in part 2 read the Times. And for further analysis and opinion, you've gotta see the secular media. And from current events classes to research papers for college, newspapers come up quite often in our lives. So I find it impractical to ban these completely. If we stick with National Review and the Wall Street Journal and stay away from the likes of People and Vanity Fair, I don't see what the big deal is.

And finally, the internet provides the most difficult dilemma of all. On one hand, it provides instant access to more shmutz than any of the previous media mentioned. But in terms of necessity, one can make the case that internet is more necessary than any of the other media mentioned. The average person will be hard-pressed to find a decent job that doesn't require use of the internet. So perhaps the best approach would be to train children to use internet with a filter, in order to train them with these basic, vital skills. If someone shows up to work with no idea how to use Internet Explorer, they'll be in big trouble. The rabbis, however, have banned children from using the Internet. I'm assuming that they believe that when the time comes, these children will learn "on-the-fly" to use the Internet. Also, they believe that the great possibities of a child's brain being ruined by the trash on the net overrides the usefulness of knowing how to surf the web. I can hear those arguments.

The only thing bothering me is, if a kid sees his parents using the Internet for non-business purposes, what are they to think? That their parents are terrible?? That the rabbis are crazy Taliban-esque people?? So the possibilites for confusion are quite strong here. And when the kid grows up and has to use the internet for work, how will he feel? Will he feel horribly guilty for using the net?? Will he just say, "ah, screw it," and possibly come to abuse the internet??

What comes out is, perhaps moreso than any other medium, the lines for issur and heter must be very clearly delineated when it comes to net. Otherwise, the possibility for confusion is very strong.

I'll conclude next time with a brief discussion of implementing these hashkafos of confronting the media.

Monday, June 28, 2004

BLOG NATION: Hocking About the 99%

I was doing my usual blog-browsing, when I noticed that House of Hock's Nicht made an observation about a subject I planned on dealing with at length. As a sort of introduction, I quote his piece:

Thursday, June 24, 2004

The Other 99%
An observation I recently heard:
In the Yeshivish/Chareidi world 99% of the masses are messed over in this world to create the 1% elite.
In the Modern Orthodox world 99% of the masses are messed over spiritually to allow for the creation of the 1% elite.

Explanation: In the Yeshiva world many people are encouraged to stay in learning so to allow the creation of the few elite Talmidei Chachamim who will become Roshei Yeshiva. Everyone else suffers and foregoes potentially lucrative education to create this elite.
The Modern Orthodox elite espouse an philosophy of studying Torah with studying philosophy and classics. Only 1% actually has the ability to do this. The other 99% watch TV and immerse themselves in popular culture & other shmootze arguing that they are "part of the world". The upshot is that they support the 1% studying advanced Torah and Madda. The downside is the spiritual corrosion among the souls of the 99%.

Confronting the Media, pt. 2

There are two major areas of concern regarding Orthodox Jewry viewing the media: one is halakhic, and one hashkafic.

From a halachic standpoint, to me there seems to be a difference between the Hasidic and Haredi and camps and everyone else. The Hasidic/Haredi camps seem to hold that any media is chazer-traif. After all, these groups are very stringent when it comes to mingling, having mechitzos even at small gatherings. So when it comes to the possibility of seeing women, they say we have to stay far away. In fact, I was in a Hasidic shteebl recently and I saw a kol korei banning cellphones with color screens, camera phones, and Palm Pilots, due to the possibility of inappropriate pictures being displayed. The Rabbis who signed were of the Haredi ilk.
The rest of the Orthodox spectrum, however, seems to be somewhat more lenient regarding these matters. Two prominent rabbis that I know of receive the New York Times every day (one of them even helps his family out with the crossword). And the New York Times has its share of inappropriate ads. So they don't seem to treat the stuff as chazer-treif. And I've yet to hear any Rav in my black-hat neighborhood mention the ban on camera phones and Palms. None of these rabbonim signed the kol korei. And I heard of one prominent rabbi in Lakewood who reads Newsweek. And, as Barry pointed out, there's a Young Israel rabbi with a TV in his house. Accordingly, they hold that media isn't quite assur gamur.
One thing worth pointing out, however: I've seen a kol korei from mainstream rabbis banning children from using the Internet. For adults, however, I've yet to see such a thing. Apparently, on some level the adults are trusted to refrain from inappropriate sites, while it's too much of a nisayon for children and is therefore prohibited.

So the only major issue seems to be a Hashkafic one. And this brings back the issue we dealt with before: do we say "lo plug" and abstain from all media or do we deal with the media but set stringent guidelines?

One important factor is how "necessary" is the particular brand of media in question. Another is, what percentage of the material seen/heard through the medium is "kosher"? If there's almost nothing, then perhaps the risks outweigh the value of exposing kids to that medium.

Clearly, many of us can live without TV. So perhaps we can totally ban TV. The problem is, however, that TV isn't going to disappear from our community any time soon. And children will see friends who have TV's, will hear children discussing TV shows, and will feel compelled to watch. Therefore, perhaps we shouldn't ban TV, but limit our kids' viewing to clean, wholesome shows. The problem is, however, that there are almost no wholesome shows on TV today. After a kid outgrows Sesame Street, what's next? The only thing I can think of is sports programming. But even then, there are plenty of filthy ads. So the case for TV is a very difficult one.

For the most part, movies fall into the same category as TV-- they're also unnecessary. The only difference is the lack of variety. If a kid watches TV, he has a whole bunch of channels to choose from, some good and some bad. But if a parent takes out a G-rated movie for a child or only takes him to clean movies, then there's no variety. The kid can only see the films that the parent sends him to! (I know that many Hasidim have taken their families to IMAX theatres with totally clean content.) But there could be previews for other movies that are inappropriate. And a kid might come to think that all movies are okay. However, the rating system does a good job in drawing the line between good and bad. In my opinion, the "lack of choice" factor makes movies less taboo than TV. But even today, some of the G-rated movies aren't perfect. And the stuff from PG and on is trash.

Music? Newspapers? Books? Internet? We'll talk about 'em in Part 3.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Confronting the Media, pt. 1

Last August, I was looking at a mailing we received from my little brother's school. I it, they mentioned how they strongly discouraged all sorts of non-Jewish media. Movies to books and everything in between.

It's certainly easy to say hands-off to everything. There is no shortage of filth out there, stuff that can do irreparable harm to the impressionable mind of an elementary-school kid. As the old cliche goes, better safe then sorry. So there is reason to make the across-the-board ban and discouragement of all media.

But is this the way to go? I'd like to mention a few problems with this approach.

1) When something becomes assur, there's a great increase in the temptation of the kids. The maxim of "stolen waters are sweet" is certainly true when it comes to other temptations. After my brother's school banned the Internet, one of his friends started using it in the library. Oftentimes it's cool to do what's not allowed. In that case, a ban on media can have quite the adverse effect of what was intended.

2) At some point in life, we're going to have to face the media anyway. Kids in school face it all the time; literature class can lead to kids going to the library and reading stuff they shouldn't be reading. And nowadays, anyone who plans on getting a job outside of chinuch is going to be confronted with the Internet. Certainly anyone who goes to college will have to deal with media. So if we close our eyes, the media won't disappear. We have to deal with it. And perhaps this is exactly what we should be teaching our kids: you're gonna have deal with the media inevitably: it's not totally taboo or assur, but you've gotta be very careful with it. To totally ban it will either confuse the kids or cause them to rebel when they see how impractical a ban like that can be.

3) Many children are from families that have media all over their house. And we're not about to have 40-year old parents throw out their TVs, radios, and newspapers after years of living with them. So inevitably there will be mixed messages occurring. One day, a sixth-grader came to his house and threatened to throw out all of the newspapers and magazines. Yet this same kid was a huge Nickelodeon fan, with no plans of quitting! So the kid was quite the mixed-up bird. And the potential for a kid (especially an irrational youngster) disrupting shalom bayis and causing fights is rather prevalent. Maybe we should leave room for compromise.

I'll elaborate and delve deeper into both sides in Part 2.

Pink Shirts and the Metrosexualization of Orthodox Jewry

Pink. It's everywhere now. I was listening to Paul Harvey recently, and he was talking about how pink shoes have become a hot item for many men! What's next, skirts? Eh, what do you expect, but the further slouching towards Gomorrah of the Western world.

But when I walked into shul recently and saw a guy with a pink shirt, that was just too much for me. It just grossed me out. I've seen pink ties, and I've seen the looks on these guys' faces like "I'm cool because I'm wearing a flashy tie" or "Compliment me! Please! Make my day!" The pink ties are tolerable; they're not too bad. But the shirts! I don't care if it's in style; the stuff is just too damn feminine. If you wanna dress nicely, there's definitely something to be said for that. The gemara ripping the talmid chacham with the stain on his shirt immediately comes to mind. But I don't think Chazal would be too crazy about pink shirts.

Well, what exactly is a metrosexual, anyway? I checked it up, and here's the definition:

metrosexual (met.roh.SEK.shoo.ul) n. An urban male with a strong aesthetic sense who spends a great deal of time and money on his appearance and lifestyle.

These guys certainly fit the bill. And there are just way too many of them out there. Maybe the yeshivish have a point with the "white-shirts only" shittoh.

Another thing that ticks me off are guys that are into their physique. We always had guys like that in high school. They'd be working on their six-pack or they'd have you feel their rock-hard bicep. Get a life, all of you! What do they think they're doing, trying to get a modeling job with Abercrombie and Fitch. Yeah, I'm sure that'll help their shidduch cause. Then there was this guy who would walk around the dorm shirtless to show off. Pathetic.

And anyone who has a "don't touch my hair rule," (or a hairstyle that screams that) I'm sorry, but he's just plain fruity. Stay away.

And don't get me started on my pleats g'mach. I know way too many people who could certainly use it. Scary.

Further definition (thanks to

"A metrosexual, in case you didn't catch any of several newspaper articles about this developing phenomenon (or the recent "South Park" episode on Comedy Central), is a straight man who styles his hair using three different products (and actually calls them "products"), loves clothes and the very act of shopping for them, and describes himself as sensitive and romantic. In other words, he is a man who seems stereotypically gay except when it comes to sexual orientation."

I guess it's hard for the hip/cool/Flatbushy frum crowd to overcome the new fads and trends of the goyishe velt. Many of us wanna be like them. But sometimes, you just have to draw the line. And pink shirts and other gay paraphenelia are certainly past the line. Straighten out, cool guys!

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Managers- 5 best and 5 most overrated

Rating a manager is a very difficult thing to do. Oftentimes the manager with great players will fare much better than the manager with awful players. So you can't judge a manager on the basis of win-loss records alone. Sometimes, the best way to judge a manager is to see how he acheived with the same players his predecessor dealt with. Or, see how a team's players aren't as good, yet the team still wins as much as in the past. Or, you'll see a manager whose players don't have the greatest numbers, but still find ways to win. These are generally the signs of a great manager.

The five best managers managing today are:

5) Eric Wedge- if the Indians had a semblance of a bullpen, they'd be contenders. To take a team of no-names (sorrry, CC Sabathia) and do this well is quite impressive. Also, I like the way he handled the Milton Bradley situation.

4) Tony LaRussa- his team's almost always in the mix. This year, even with an awful pitching staff, his team is doing really well. And in 2002, he did quite a job pulling the team together after Darryl Kile's death.

3) Ozzie Guillen- has turned the White Sox into a really good-looking team. They have a serious shot at running away with that division, after faltering last season.

2) Dusty Baker- If not for Steve Bartman, would've made the World Series two years in a row. Did a solid job with the Giants, although you've gotta give GM Brian Sabean a lot of credit. Helped the Cubs go from awful in '02 to serious contenders. Has kept them in the hunt this year despite injuries to Prior and Wood.

1) Jack McKeon- the Marlins under Torborg- major underacheivers. The Marlins under McKeon- world champs. The fact that he laughs at the Beane method (what's an OPS?) is a plus. Starting Beckett on 3 days rest was one genius decision. Nobody expected them to hold up this year after losing I-Rod, Urbina, etc. but they've done quite well.

The most overrated managers:

5) Tony Pena- everyone made a big deal last year when the Royals surprised everyone, but nobody's talking now that they've fallen back down to earth.

4) Ken Macha- just another Beane drone. Nothing to him. Goes as far as Hudson, Mulder, and Zito go.

3) Art Howe- the guy can't manage a bullpen. Did well on the A's because of their starters. The Schmets should've stuck with Valentine.

2) Bobby Cox- another guy whose pitchers (and pitching coach) carried them for many years. Only won one World Series. It's hard to overlook all those postseason failures. This season, it's all catching up to him.

1) Joe Torre- I'm so tired of hearing about this guy. Give me a $190 million dollar payroll, and I'll do just as well. I'll give him credit for doing a solid job in '96, but once the Yankees' payroll started skyrocketing, I don't see why he's so special. Some say it's amazing that Steinbrenner has kept him there so long. Unlike past Yankee managers, Torre knows how to kiss up. Also, Steinbrenner has learned a thing or two from his mishaps of the '80's.

Too Smart for the System?

A few weeks ago, I saw an old friend of mine. He had attended high school with me and went to a black-hat yeshiva in Israel. So where'd he go following that? You'd assume a place like Zucker's or Shor Yoshuv, but no--- this guy chose Harvard.

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with going there, it's just highly unusual for anyone to follow in that particular path. Besides, I've yet to hear any rebbi or mashigiach recommend that a kid go to Harvard. And I've heard of rabbeim tell individuals to attend college, but usually only Touro, and that's only with attending yeshiva concurrently. Therefore, most guys who go to college after Israel will go only at night, following a day of learning. Where did this guy go wrong?

One thing always stuck out about this guy, and I'm not the only one of my buddies to notice this. The guy was quite a thinker; he was very opinionated. After all, it's kinda hard to get into Harvard if you're a moron!

But what separated this guy from the pack was that he thought philosophically. He had the challenging questions that many other Yeshiva guys don't ask. I've always found it remarkable how so many guys out there are smart enough to ask the same kashos on the gemara as R' Akiva Eiger, but when it comes to Hashkafa, they shrivel like a lemming and just nod their heads.

How do some Rebbeim react when a kid asks a hashkafa question? In 12th grade, one of my buddies asked such a question (the question was, how can we expect this generation to all sit and learn and then expect the generation afterwards to do the same? If their parents are all learning, how will the next generation be supported?). All I remember was my Rebbi using buzzwords like "k'firah" and "poison." Like the liberals described in Ann Coulter's "Slander," there was lots of name-calling, but little, if any, discussion of the issues.

So when you have the occasional kid who sees the rebbi call him names but not deal with the issues, the kids gets turned off! He'll start to think that the mehalech is a sham, and will go his own way.

And even if you'll say, "maybe there were other reasons why the guy went to Harvard," it still doesn't absolve these name-calling rebbeim from their acts. Having rebbeim act like George Orwell's "thought police" can be very harmful for the genuine thinkers. One of the worst things you can do to anyone is train them not to think, to just nod their heads at what everyone says. And if a rebbi can't think of arguments dealing with the issues to counter these guys, maybe he should go back to kollel.

(As an aside, R' Eli Teitelbaum has put out another winner in this month's Country Yossi, dealing with the importance of critical thinking and how nowadays many people lack this important skill.)

And what became of the guy who asked the question in 12th grade? He went to fervently black-hat yeshiva in Israel, then was the only one of that year to go to YU, where he ended up doing very well.

Is it just me, or do I see a pattern forming?

Monday, June 21, 2004

Europe: Overrated?

In my years of yeshiva, I have incessantly heard how great Judaism was in Europe, and how much greater they were when we are now. I'm sure many of us can recall our rabbeim saying, "oh, in Europe, the davening was incredible..... and the learning was amazing; to get into Yeshivas Ploni, you had to know 800 blatt ba'al peh!.... the mesirus nefesh...." You know what I mean.

Yet, upon further investigation, Jewish life in Europe wasn't all it's cracked up to be. Rav Avigdor Miller ZT"L, in Sing You Righteous pg. 201, discusses how some writers blame the Holocaust on our failure to "fight back." Within this discussion, Rav Miller gives a vastly different picture of Europe:

"That G-d planned the destruction in order to wipe out the sinful tendencies of European Jewry, in accordance with the prohecies of the Scriptures, did not occur to these misinterpreters. That the worst defection from the Torah since the beginning of our nation's history had taken place in Europe, and was therefore visited by the greatest retribution in history, was not mentioned by any of the writers, and thereby an immense opportunity to learn the intended lesson gets lost."

Whoa! My Rabbeim didn't tell me that part of the story. So who to believe?

Based upon something my Uncle Harvey said, I believe both views are true. He explained that in Europe, the yeshivos were interested only in producing gedolim. The focus was only on the exceptional students, while the masses were left by the wayside. (The exception probably being the likes of R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, whose "Torah Im Derech Eretz" mehalech was meant to keep the masses frum.) As a result, the yeshivas had incredible hasmada, and produces some truly great people. But many yeshivos weren't geared towards the mediocre bochur, and as a result the temptations of the Hasklah were too much to bear.

In fact, it's quite possible to conclude that this approach may have partially caused the drastic consequences that Rav Miller described. If the yeshivos didn't appeal to the mediocre bochurim, perhaps that approach was a factor in the mass assimilation, and ultimately, the destruction of Europe. The question is, however, can we truly blame the mass assimilation on this approach? Or was it merely a consequence of people falling for the Enlightenment and the general yetzer hora of that generation? And perhaps the fact that rabbeim today keep bringing up the greatness of European yeshivos is a proof that this mehalech is still the way to go, and that this mehalech is a solid mehalech. Perhaps we should have emunas chachamim that their mehalech is emes and wasn't at all a factor in the assimmilation that occurred.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Psak and Respect

I was studying with a friend of mine a few weeks ago, when the well-tread Flatbush Eiruv issue came up. My buddy mentioned to me that Rabbi X hold it's okay, but he doesn't publicize his psak out of respect for R' Moshe. Rabbi X is a prominent Rav who is normally associated with the black-hat community, so I was surprised by his psak.

The question bothering me is as follows: in this case, A) Can we actually go out with our strollers and tallis bags? After all, the Rav didn't publicize his psak, but if he holds it's okay, we can certainly rely on that? Or B) is the respect for Reb Moshe not just the non-publicizing of the psak, but our actual following of Reb Moshe's psak? Was the Rav implying that by using the Eruv, we are disrespecting Reb Moshe?

To me, the side of A makes more sense. This is because almost every time we act like one side of a machlokes, we are implicitly saying that we don't hold of the other tzad. According to B's logic, if we put on Rashi tefillin and not Rabbeinu Tam, aren't we implicitly disrespecting Rabbeinu Tam by not wearing his tefillin? And if you'll tell me that really it's not disrespectful because "eilu v'eilu divrei elokim chayim," then B's argument falls apart. After all, what disrespect is there--- it's all good!

A similar incident that comes to mind occurred in April 2002, right before the huge rally in Washington. We asked our rosh yeshiva if we should go. He said he didn't want to paskin unlike the moetzes/Agudah, who opposed the rally, but said that if he was our age, he would have gone. So the rosh yeshiva never said we should go. Nevertheless, the vast majority of the yeshiva went.

I don't mean to compare a relatively minor issue to potential chillul shabbos, but if going to the rally would've been deemed disrespectful to the gedolim that opposed it, I think the situation would've been handled differently. Perhaps the rosh yeshiva wouldn't have said anything, the mashgiach or someone else would've discouraged us from relying on the "hetter" as it would've been disrespectful to the other gedolim, etc.

Based upon this incident, I think it's safe to infer that side A takes the cake. But, considering my lack of knowledge of how psak works, I remain unsure.

MEDIA NATION: Dissecting Dr. Stern

One of my all-time favorite weekend activities has got to be checking out the Jewish Press letters section. Unlike other frum newspapers, where the "thought police" ensure that only the most pareve, syrupy letters get published ("this is a beautiful newspaper" "you're being mezakeh the rabbim", etc.), the Jewish Press lets the opinions fly. Dr. Yaakov Stern's letters are regularly published in the JP. I almost always disagree with the guy. Let's see what he had to say this week:

Disrespectful Attitude

It was a popular joke of my youth, albeit one rife with anti-Semitic overtones: "You know why Jews have such long noses? Because the air is free." Why do I fear that we are not long for an updated version along the lines of, "Do you know why air is so expensive? You can`t breathe it unless it`s under rabbinic supervision."

Hold on to your Borsalinos, everyone. I`m the last person to cast as-persions on our gedolim. No less an authority than Rabbi Akiva stated that fear and reverence of talmidei chachamim is tantamount to yiras shamayim.

Somehow this sentiment is lost on a generation that has no compunction about taking potshots at its rabbinic leaders. With the recent wig controversy and the question of bugs in New York City tap water, the scoffers have come out in droves, but it’s been open season on rabbis for some years now. Their reputations are impugned, their
decisions are mocked and in many cases deemed irrelevant. It`s not uncommon to find people with the barest knowledge of halacha chal-lenging the opinions of those who have toiled in earnest for decades, their lives devoted to the Living Torah.

The letter so far I have no problem with. However, I must note that in a generation full of wedding takanos that are a joke and a certain rabbi's chumra-filled publications (even other rabbis admit the guy is too much), this generation's emunas chachamim has been tested arguably more than ever.

Yaffa Rabinowitz`s letter to the editor (Jewish Press, June 4) is reflective of this attitude. Mrs. Rabinowitz has a son learning in Israel who related to her that his rosh yeshiva recently eschewed discussion of a series of terror attacks, choosing instead to focus on the aforementioned wig and bug controversies. She is concerned that her son
will leave the yeshiva a religious automaton, with no sense that there is a world outside the beis hamedrash.

Here's where Stern starts running the ol' spin machine. He calls Rabinowitz's concern "reflective of this attitude." Unlike the scoffers and cynics mentioned above, Rabinowitz is merely concerned, and not just because she doesn't care. In fact, it's her concern for her fellow Jews that has created this concern. So, Dr. Stern, how is this at all reflective of the dont-give-a-darn attitude mentioned above?

Besides, most of those rabbis Dr. Stern claims to revere actually are concerned with the world outside of the bais medrash. In fact, that's why they have said tehillim since the Intafada began. So her shittoh, if anything, seems to be quite consistent with the Rabbis'. I would view Mrs. Rabinowitz's question as a question of an apparent inconsistency, quite a valid point. When you were in yeshiva, Dr. Stern, did you just sit there like a lemming or actually (gasp!) think!?

Mrs. Rabinowitz`s letter leaves much room for criticism. For one, her protestations notwith-standing, I don`t believe she has the proper respect for Torah. While the secular media may poke fun at us regarding the wigs and water, these are in fact critical issues which demand our full attention. Talmud Torah kineged kulam is not simply a line we mumble in the morning — it is the bedrock of our faith.

Still, one might ask, shouldn`t there also be room for saying Tehillim and visiting wounded Israelis? Mrs. Rabinowitz is propagating a chillul Hashem by implying that yeshivas in Israel are monolithic. Baruch Hashem, there is a vast array among which to choose, ranging from haredi to Zionist. Rather than use The Jewish Press to besmirch and
malign, Mrs. Rabinowitz should tell her son to transfer elsewhere if she believes he is not being taught the proper values.

Another terrible point. Mrs. Rabinowitz never said that all Yeshivos are monolithic. In fact, I believe that she was discussing one yeshiva and ONE YESHIVA ONLY--- her son's yeshiva. She never makes any mention of another yeshiva.

Her point was, "I don't understand the mehalech of my son's yeshiva." That's it. I think she's allowed to complain about her son's yeshiva, especially considering she raises a valid point. Anyone who thinks she's implying anything about all yeshivas is being ridiculous.

I chose to comment on this letter because the writer implicitly gave voice to a notion that is heard with increasing frequency; namely, that there are two camps within Orthodoxy — a yeshiva division whose members focus on Torah to the exclusion of mentshlichkeit, and a modern element whose members may not be as exacting in adherence to halacha but make up for it by concerning themselves with the needs of others.

Though this dichotomy may indeed exist within Orthodoxy, it does not register for those who aspire to the higher calling of “Torah Jew.”

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Wait a second. Am I missing something? Did Dr. Stern actually argue against Mrs. Rabinowitz's point? He started saying something about things she implied, then something about a Torah Jew.... Did he ever say it was right to not say the tehillim and visit the soldiers? Does he agree or not? Hello.....

This woman had a kasha. She didn't understand the mehalech of her son's yeshiva. And her kasha has some backing in Chazal (Avoda Zara 17b):

One who concerns himself solely with Torah (and not Gemilut Chasadim) is as one who has no God.

Some "higher calling" that is, Dr. Stern!! In light of that Chazal, I find Mrs. Rabinowitz to have a valid point.

But Dr. Stern apparently cannot deal with the issues. Instead, he harps on about things she allegedly implied and starts accusing her of ridiculous things. I just finished reading Ann Coulter's "Slander" in which she discusses how liberals will call conservatives names (e.g. fascist, racist) rather than arguing the issues. Stern is the same way: using terms like modern, scoffer, and Torah Jew --- he doesn't even come within ten feet of the issues!

As per the implications, allow me to quote part of Rabinowitz's letter:

I sent my son to learn in Eretz Yisrael, to become a ben Torah. A true ben Torah is involved in Toras Yisrael and Am Yisrael - wherever they are. How can a yeshiva not pause for a moment to utter a prayer or to say some Tehillim when such terrible tsaros befall the Jewish people? What kind of a generation will we produce if they have no connection to the klal and are only involved in the "daled amos of kedusha" of the yeshiva world?
The connection I am referring to does not have to involve a disruption of Torah study. I am just suggesting that possibly during the tefillah a mishebeirach be said for some of the maimed and injured. Or that perhaps at the conclusion of the tefillah a few kapitelach of Tehillim be said in unison with the rabbonim, requesting Hashem to have rachamim on us. Or that those young men who have a little more time on their hands (maybe on a Friday afternoon now that Shabbos begins later) visit a hospital to comfort the wounded or make a shiva call to a family whose loved one made the ultimate sacrifice.

Where do you see any implication of a dichotomy? Where? Not an inkling of modern vs. yeshivish is there. Nothing! If Dr. Stern is reading between the lines, then I must have read the wrong lines. Either that, or Dr. Stern is extremely paranoid. Is he so insecure about his mehalech that he has to make an issue out of an non-issue to attempt to prove his point?

Besides, where I come from, "Torah Jews" have a tendency of being donn l'kaff zchus. Ever heard of that?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Why I Quit Kazaa

Up until this year, I must admit that I was, like many others around the world, a Kazaa fanatic. If I was listening to the radio and heard an artist I liked, I'd type his name into Kazaa's search engine and download all of his songs. If I saw an album coming out that I'd never think of buying but kinda wanted, I downloaded it. I recall feeling like such hot stuff when I downloaded a copy of Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" before it was released.

What made me change? It's sorta embarrassing, but I'll mention it anyway: Country Yossi magazine. It's embarrassing enough that I even read anything in there aside from the ads, but that it even had an impact on me... Anyway, I've always found Eli Teitelbaum's column to be very interesting. I often disagree with him, but I must admit he usually does a good job proving his point, always displaying plenty of evidence. He wrote an article about Kazaa, and compared it to the people of Sodom who would do gezailah in a covert fashion. He mentioned the fact that the artists worked really hard to produce the album, so why should we rip them off? I don't remember the rest of the piece too well, but it was a very lucid argument. And if Country Yossi ever updates the site, I'll try to put up a link.

One thing that I liked about the article was that R' Teitelbaum didn't give mussar like "you shouldn't be listening to the stuff anyhow, but..." When I've asked other rabbeim questions like, "can I tape my show on Friday night," it became a whole mussar shmooze. I can definitely hear why goyish music and TV should be avoided, but if you're writing about halacha, stick to he point! Which R' Teitelbaum clearly did. Nicely done.

Usually, I can hear the other side of the argument. But this time, in trying to defend my practices, I found myself stuck. I thought, "hey, the guy has a point." And that was it for Kazaa.

One of my friends quoted another friend who asked a shailah about Kazaa and was told that it's muttar. That's something I clearly don't understand. I've always been told that I can't borrow my friend's CD and burn myself a copy. So why is Kazaa any different? (And with many downloaders being sued for using Kazaa, perhaps there's a dina d'malchusa factor as well. I don't know enough about that so I won't elaborate.)

And even if Kazaa is different, put yourself in the shoes of these artists. You've worked tirelessly day and night to produce an album, and you're ready to sell it and make some well-deserved cash. But nobody's buying it, everyone's copying it, and all that work has turned out to be for naught! That's not a good feeling at all.

So you'll tell me they're greedy? That they're millionaires anyway? That they charge $20 an album in Sam Goody? Okay, but that doesn't make it right.

One guy told me, "the music is assur anyway, so you can make a copy too, because you're already doing an issur." Okay. And based upon that logic, you can eat treif, be mechalel shabbos, etc. because hey, you're not a perfect Jew. So you can do whatever the heck you damn well please! This is easily one of the worst arguments I've ever heard.

Many of us think of dinei mammonos as only pertinent to businessmen and the like. Not to teens and others. But the scary thing is, it applies to all of us. And a kid downloading music from Kazaa is developing some very bad habits.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Mi SheBairach Madness

At so many shuls in my neighborhood, the Shabbos morning davening drags on and on. As a result, I've yet to find anyone who truly enjoys your typical Agudah Shabbos morning davening. The notable exception to this being women. So many girls out there find davening to be "beautiful." But then again, if I was able to wake up at 10:30 and show up by Mussaf, I guess I'd feel the same way.

The Yisroel Williger wannabe davening schacharis for the ammud and the "fafrumt-medakdek" baal korei aside, I think a reason for the unmanagable length is the long Mi SheBairachs that are said for every guy who gets an aliyah, in which he thanks every member of his extended family and every guy sitting within 4 rows of him. In some shuls I've been to, the Mi SheBairachs take longer than the actual laining!

The problem with Mi Shaibarachs is that they're clearly a tircha d'tzibura. They're nice, but certainly not necessary. Why should an entire tzibbur wait for one guy to bless his entire family? In Yekum Purkan, we bless the entire congregation. Why isn't that good enough?

And I'm sure some will counter that by the cholim, we make sure to enunciate every name instead of simply wishing "the cholim" in general a quick recovery. But I think it's fair to say that the cholim need the Mi SheBairachs much more than the rich healthy guy who just got an aliyah! (Not to mention the soldiers whose lives are in grear danger who get NO recognition in many shuls, but that's for another time.)

In fact, many shuls have curtailed the Cholim's Mi SheBairach (by having everyone mention the names individually) because it takes too long. So why not curtail the other Mi SheBairachs too? I would think they're more expendable, if anything.

And granted, part of the reason the cholim's prayer is shortened is to avoid talking during this important prayer. But the other mi shebairachs also cause plenty of talking. Some people hold it's assur to talk between aliyos. In that case, I find it very difficult to justify these lengthy mi shebairachs, as they can cause many of the congrengants to sin. And even if it's muttar, is it kavod ha'torah to have so many conversations going on with the Torah out. And it's all too prevalent that people will get invloved in a heated discussion and continue shmoozing even as laining begins, something that's clearly assur.

So what's the point of these Mi SheBairachs? To encourage people to give money to the shul? I can think of many other ways to encourage people to give money to shul, all not at the expense of the tzibbur and kavod haTorah. And if people are demanding of these Mi SheBairachs, they should think (or at least be told), are they really more important than the tzibur? Or the kavod haTorah? This brings to mind Barry's article about the rich people getting treated like royalty.

And to expect people to sit quietly through lengthy Mi SheBairachs in our ADD-addled generation is simply unrealistic. As mentioned above, the ever-increasing tendency to talk has caused us to shorten the cholim mi shebairach. Nobody said "let everyone be quiet while all the names are mentioned." So why should these less urgent mi shebairachs be treated any different?

By curtailing these Mi Shebairachs and helping to restore much-needed dignity and respect to our shuls, hopefully many more of us will be able to stand and be counted as part of a most honorable Mi SheBairach--- the Tosfos Yom Tov's blessing for those who are quiet during davening!

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Thank You Joe Morgan

Last week, I wrote an article about how interleague play has got to go. And now, I;ve noticed that Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan, one of my favorite baseball analysts, feels the same way, citing many of the same arguments I mentioned.

Click here to see Morgan's take.

Ending the Madness: Kaplan's Take

On some level, I agree with the points that both Mike and Chananya raise. Mike is correct in pointing out that getting to the first date is generally not a big deal, as long as the hashkafos are somewhere within the same ballpark. If you're a YU guy trying to go out with a Lakewood girl, then you aren't getting anywhere close to first base, and understandably so. The shidduch has a very small chance, if any, of succeeding. But if the hashkafos are generally the same (TV, no TV, learning guy, working guy, etc.), I have found that it isn't difficult to get to the first date. Besides, oftentimes haskafos can be like personality: one of those things that cannot adequately be described on paper, and is only seen when the guy and girl are going out and discussing the issues with one another.

As it is, I have found that the question "What are your hashkafos?" is rather vague. What are you supposed to answer, anyway? "I believe in God"? We sure hope so. "I watch TV"? That's important, but it's not answering the question! "I wear a velvet yarmulka"? But you knew that already "I'm not your typical black-hatter"? Okayyyy..

Yet, on some level, Chananya has a point. I have found that when going out, people often focus too much on hashkafos. On my list, hashkafos are far below more important issues like middos and personality. I'm not saying hashkafos don't mean anything; I'm not about to marry a Satmar girl just because she has great middos. But to dump somebody just because they never went to a co-ed camp and you did is silly.

Part of my rationale for giving midos priority is that if someone has good midos, is easygoing and is chilled out, they won't have a hard time compromising on the differences that may come up in their hashkafos. After all, it's nearly impossible to find someone who has exactly the same hashkafos. So no matter what, you're gonna have to compromise on some level. And even if you find someone with the exact same hashkafos, who's to say he/she'll have the personality, midos, looks, etc. that are necessary? And if you're dealing with someone who's stubborn and hung-up on their exact hashkafa, then they'll give a hard time to any guy who's not exactly hashkafically like she is, even if his hashkafos are very close to hers. Is that better than a flexible person whose hashkafos are somewhat further away?

Another point is that people's hashkafos change after they're married. The way you think when you're 22 years old can change a lot by the time you're 32, or 42, for that matter. In fact, I know someone in my neighborhood who was in his 30's and began getting frummer. He started attending more shiurim, got more into learning, etc. But his wife wanted none of it, and they had to get divorced. And there's another guy in my neighborhood who, in his 40's, decided to put on a beard and payos. And he's still married, at last check. I'm assuming his wife is of the more easygoing variety, and therefore was ready and willing to deal with the changes occurring to her husband.

So I believe that while hashkafos are certainly a factor in looking for the right one, they tend to get blown out of proportion. And Mike might be right that hashkafos generally won't stop you from a getting a first date, but Chananya is right in that there's certainly some "madness" in people's obsession with the finer hashkafos of their potential mate.

Ending the Madness: Chananya and Mike's Takes

Like the "frum and liberal" thought, it happened again. There was an article about a topic I had planned on addressing that made basically the same point as I had planned on making. Mike, of discusses whether we need to "end the madness" that goes on in the shidduch world today. I'll start off by quoting Mike (in italics), who in turn quotes Chananya (in bold italics), and then I'll throw in my two cents. Here goes:

Chananya Weismann, of endthemadness fame, wrote and article for jewish press detailing the difficulties he has getting a date:

. . .Of course, if Rava really wished to flummox his colleague, he could
have asked a much simpler question: What`s your hashkafa?

We can only speculate as to the witty retort this would have
engendered in Talmudic times. Nowadays, however, this question is asked
with the greatest of seriousness, and numerous judgments about a person, both major and minor, are determined based on the reply. Indeed, if a potential shidduch survives this question, the prospect of a first date jumps from inconceivable all the way up to highly unlikely. With so much hanging in the balance, it is no wonder that many of us dread the inevitable demand to label ourselves. To wear an unfashionable label is to ride next to trouble on a one-lane highway. In today`s world of sound bites, snap judgments, and instant gratification, it can be a mistake beyond repair.

Is it just me, or is the point of endthemadness not to help people find the right match, but rather to help people find first dates, regardless of compatibility? It appears that endthemadness is catering to a crowd where getting a first date is "inconceivable", or at best "highly unlikely." Chananya feels, after experiencing much failure in his attempts to procure first dates, that the shidduch crisis is caused by people who cant get dates. This completely ignores that fact that most singles who are considered part of the "shidduch crisis, usually have been out with over 50+ (sometimes even more) different people. Its highly unlikely that people refusing to go on dates is what is causing the shidduch crisis.
Chananya, did you ever stop and think for one second that when girls use "labels" and "hashkafas" as an excuse not to go out with you, it is just that, an excuse? Maybe, just maybe, there is some other reason that these girls arent going out with you and your friends. Judging from your articles and website, I cant think of any reasons, but maybe could think of some.

Frum and Liberal? pt. 1

I was in the doctor's office recently, and the receptionist, a frum girl, was listening to "The O'Franken Factor." So as first I was donn l'kaff zchus and assumed she had Joey Levin's shittoh. Joey used to listen to NPR, because, as he said, it makes you think when you try to argue on their crazy ideologies. Joey's willingness to donate money to NPR, however, I have a problem with. But regrading this particular woman, after she told me how Rush Limbaugh says the strangest things, I saw where her true colors are.

Which led to me to the big question: can a frum Jew today be a liberal?

This is arguably the most complex discussion I've dealt with, and I plan on dealing with it over an extended period of time, not just a few days.

To start, I'll let the pros speak. I offer a link to an excellent column written by syndicated columnist Ben Shapiro, another guy with a very similar question (can you be Jewish and liberal?). Check it out!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Jewish Music, Kosher Music, and why I'm for the Chevra, pt. 2

The counter-argument that I can hear is that food and music are incomparable. People eat food because they need to eat (and if a gadol was stuck on a desert island with a plate of sushi, he'd eat it), but the point of music is to inspire us to be closer to G-d. And if music is not inspiring, then it's worthless. This may be true, but the fact of the matter is that there's not that much inspiring Jewish music out there. It's become a business, many singers have no passion, and even some of the inspiring stuff just isn't that good. So to expect someone only to inspiring music is unrealistic. And if someone needs to listen to music anyway (let's say someone's exercising, or in the car), is it so bad if they listen to uninspiring music, as long as the words are clean?

Another issue that comes up are songs originally written by goyim. Can we use those with Hebrew words (like the zimra uncle Harvey sings to the tune of a Beach boys hit), or are the nigunim intrinsically tamei? But even if the nigunim are intrisically tamei, is that because they written by a goy, or is it because of the goyish sound? This is a separate discussion, so I'm not going to get involved yet. Then there's the whole Yanni (a guy who supposedly composes instrumental tunes while doing immoral acts) controversy, also an article in and of itself. Yet they sell his CD's in Eichler's (as well as Kenny G) and no one gives them a hard time. If Making of a Gadol couldn't be sold there but Yanni could, I guess his stuff can't be that bad.

And it's because the stuff is kosher that I'm for the Chevra (not a Chevra fan --- please!! -- I'm just for their existence. Personally, I hate that homo music). If the average teenage girl today would have a choice between Outkast and the Bobover nigunim CD, you know what she'd choose. Today, it's as hard as ever to escape the media and its ever-appealing products. Not to mention the all-too-prevalent peer pressure that teens face. No, the Bobover Nigunim aren't cool. Sorry, cousin Barry.

But if the choice is between Outkast and the Chevra, then the plot thickens. The girl sees the pictures on the CD sleeve, she sees that it's sorta cool, and then maybe the fact that the words are clean helps tip the scales in favor of the Chevra. It's unfortunate that in today's world it takes a frum boy band to get girls to listen to Jewish music, but that's just the way it is. To expect these girls to go for the Modzitz nigunnim is to live in a fantasy-land, where there's no yetzer hara and no evil. But in 2004, this is simply not the case.

So for every girl out there who's listening to Blue Fringe and the Chevra instead of the filth that passes for pop music today, that's a plus. And that's a little piece of good work being done by these artists.

Jewish Music, Kosher Music, and why I'm for the Chevra, pt. 1

I forgot which blog it was, but I saw someone recently complain about Blue Fringe's rocky style of music, and questioned "how Jewish" it is. Which brought to mind the old question: how do we define "Jewish" music?

I believe that music shares a similarity to one of my other favorite pastimes-- food.

When it comes to food, you have Jewish food and kosher food. Take matzoh balls, for example. They're the quintessential Jewish food, but they're not always kosher. It brings to mind an old incident one of my rabbeim told us about, how he was by some non-religious affair, and he found it amusing that they had "Jewish-style" food, but all the stuff was treif! (I don't find that amusing-- I don't like poking fun at my brothers.)

And on the other side of things, you have a food as non-traditional and goyish as sushi (check the archives for a piece I wrote about that). Yet, if it's got a hechsher, then it's kosher! In fact, you can eat that, but not the treif-matzoh balls.

Back to the music. When it comes to music, there certainly is a Jewish style. Whether it's sort-of like folk-rock, whatever, there's a distinctive Jewish sound out there. Yet if you have artists like Simon & Garfunkel who sing in a Jewish style (in fact, Uncle Harvey once said that "Scarborough Fair" was ripped off by Paul Simon from a Dror Yikra tune that he heard at shalosh seudos), but have lyrics about sex, love, and the like, it's just not kosher.

And on the other end of the spectrum are bands like Blue Fringe and the Chevra that have a very goyish sound, yet use kosher words. Does it bother me that the holy words of kaddish have been used in an NSYNC-style song? Absolutely. Yet the stuff's still kosher.

When it comes to food, too, there have been gedolim who wouldn't eat pizza because it's a goyishe food. There certainly is an inyan to stick to foods and music that lack the influence of the goyim. In fact, cousin Izzy quoted a rebbi of his referring to the Chevra as "Esav's chevra." But the stuff's still kosher.

Thoughts on Frum Politicians

Don't know why, but this all came to mind tonight.

a) I happen to love following politics. Politics is a game sorta, it's kinda like following baseball; except, if your team loses, it really affects you. It ain't "just a game." Part of me would love to get involved, run for office, make a difference, have an opportunity to voice my opinions, etc. But, like I said, politics is a game. Politics is about being pareve, trying to please everybody, and generally invloves lots of lying and flip-flopping. Honest politicians just don't make it. So, as a frum person trying to be as ethical and righteous as possible (in which case, why the hell am I going to law school?), politics just isn't my future.

b) Basically, I find it very difficult for any frum person to get involved in politics. Aside from all the lying, etc. there's a big opportunity for causing chilul Hashem, perhaps moreso than in any other job out there. Unfortunately, there are just too many incidents that come to mind. Whether it's Shelly Silver getting ripped by the Post for increasing spending and taxes, Dov Hikind fighting with my all-time favorite Rudy Giuliani, or Joe Lieberman flip-flopping (and in this year's primaries, just plain flopping) in the true liberal spirit, it just isn't pretty.

c) I used to like Noach Dear, but after the whole fiasco earlier this year where he tried running for city council again, something that sounded shady to begin with and, after going down in court, ended up making him look foolish, he lost a few points in my book. But the real kicker was when he took the 'c' out of his name and became "Noah Dear" in his campaign for State Senator. Now you know why those campaign signs on Avenue J don't have his first name. My beef with that is, talk about selling out! Firstly, I don't see that helping him all that much. Secondly, where's the frum pride!? I don't have a problem with "Joseph" Lieberman, because he never attempted to do the whole pride thing. If his shittoh is to use his English name, I can hear that. But what happened to Dear? He changed his shittoh? He flip-flopped? Spent too much time on Jewish Musings? Weird.

And his supporting ultra-liberal Mark Green (have you seen his new Bush-bashing book?) in '01 was simply inexcusable. I don't care if he went to shul in Long Island when he was a kid. Then again, if Ferrer would've won, he'd probably be mayor. Still, sometimes I just can't vote.

d) One guy whom I'd have love to have seen make it: Yehuda (Lew) Levin. (Just in case you're wondering, my buddy Joey Levin is NOT related). Levin shares many of my views, and is clearly a guy with principles, which is probably why he never made it. Even in the past year, he has done good work in attending a rally for Judge Roy Moore (the guy who wanted to keep the Ten Commandments monument in an Alabama courthouse) and speaking at an anti-abortion rally. He took some flak for supporting Pat Buchanan in '96 (which is understandable, considering Buchanan's anti-Israel bias), but at least Buchanan supports our country's language, borders, and culture, something many conservatives have been too pareve about. Levin deserved a better fate.

e) My favorite current Frum politician: Simcha Felder. Felder has done an excellent job in not making a chilul Hashem or tarnishing the frum image. He gave us suspended alternate side parking on Purim, and spoke out against gay marriage, one of the few politicians in New York to do so. He has steadfastly supported Mayor Bloomberg (whom I'm a big fan of, but that's for a different time), even accompanying him on his trip to Israel. Whoever put up those messages around Brooklyn-- "vote Felder for tax increases"-- is just a fool. Find me a candidate in New York who's against taxes. Would any other Democrat (the only ones who generally win around here) actually lower our taxes?

f) Whatever happened to Samuel Spirgel? The guy tanked faster than Howard Dean, and that was even without screaming like a maniac.

g) One more about frum people and politics: the Agudah honoring enviro-mentalist/ internet-inventor Al Gore at a dinner a few years back was awful. A guy like that, with his shittos? Come on. Who's it gonna be this year? Ralph Nader?

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Whatever Happened to the Wedding Takanos?

Wow, does it bother me how one of the greatest ideas of our generation simply bombed. I'm talking about the infamous wedding takanos.

When I first saw the takanos, I said, "right on!" It was about time that such a strong message was sent to our all-too materialistic community. I could just imagine the scene: One of those awfully overdone weddings, with a ritzy smorgasbord, a ten-piece band, and the works. Suddenly, comes the chuppa, they're about to announce the boy's rosh yeshiva as mesader, and they can't find him anywhere! Or, he walks up there, talks about the severity of violating the takanos, and storms the heck out of there!

Yet has this happened? Once?

If it has, I haven't heard it yet. And no, I'm no big macher, but I'm sure it would've been the talk of the town the first time a prominent rosh yeshiva would've done this.

I simply do not understand why the takanos have gone unenforced.

a) The first argument for the inaction is, "hey, there's a disclaimer there!" This is true; the takana states " - barring familial and extraordinary circumstances." Now what does that mean, extraordinary? If the wedding is extraordinary enough, they'll show up?? And if this disclaimer is used as an excuse each time the rabbis show up at a Hilton wedding, then isn't the whole takana pointless? Doesn't the use (or abuse) of that disclaimer defeat the whole purpose?

b) A similar argument is that the rabbonim simply cannot afford to walk out and lose the potential big bucks of the families making the chasuna. Well, if this is the case, what's the point of the takanos? Besides, doesn't the fact that the takanos were made and are not being enforced cause the rabbonim's words to lose credibility? There are many gemaros of how Beis Din would'nt switch a psak in order for it not to look like a joke. And granted, whether that exact principle should apply here is debatable. What's not debatable is the potential loss of credibility that can be caused by the takanos being a joke. I know my personal emunas chachamim has been greatly tested throughout this debacle, and I'm sure there are many others out there feeling the same way.
Also, if the takanos are for the middle-class people who are struggling to keep up with the Levis and are going into serious debt to make chasunas, won't they feel worse if the rabbonim would come to a bigwig's chasunah despite the takanos? After all, here is a takana that's supposed to be for them, and it's a joke!

c) One of my buddies wanted to say that the rabbonim didn't mean the takanos seriously, rather, their point was to tell everyone to cut down on the materialism. I think this argument is terrible. Are you accusing the rabbonim of lying!? The fact is, a takana is a takana. And as the Sages say, "the words don't leave the pashut p'shat." So the takanos should have credibility at least at face value. And besides, if they want to condemn excess materialism, then let's hear more mussar about that! Why can't we give the mussar directly!?

I am not one to judge rabbonim. I'm sure there's some truth to their motives. But, for the life of me, I simply do not understand this one.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Rabbeim: Shtick vs. Substance, pt. 3

When it comes to finding a "happy medium," ultimately elements of both shtick and substance are useful in attempting to appeal to an entire class or audience. With that in mind, I will go through qualities I've seen in my Rabbeim (of both mehalechs) that I found helpful, and others that I found to be nothing short of moronic.

a) The worst thing I've seen (shticky) rabbeim do: play favorites. In an attempt to be cool with the guys, the rebbi will kiss up to some of the cool/geshmak kids, and basically say "to hell with everyone else." I can't think of a bigger turnoff. I have been in two situations like this (and no, I was not the favored one), and boy, did it tick me off. I had rabbeim who had a few of the guys in the class at his house for shabbos, but wouldn't invite any of the quieter guys. Where's the consistency there? Now, some out there will say that I can't argue this one fairly, because I was once a victim of favoritism, but can anyone tell me what the argument FOR favoritism is? So a couple of kids might learn okay? I'll leave this one to the "cut off your nose to spite your face" crowd.

b) Another shticky no-no: schizophrenic rabbeim. What do I mean? You'll have some rebbeim who'll be acting shticky one minute, joking around and all, and suddenly the next second will be yelling, "okay, now we have to learn, enough!" Now, I'm not saying that any rebbi should either be all learning all the time or all joking all the time. A Rebbi has to be careful to draw a line, and let the talmidim know when they've crossed the line. But the main thing is, the Rebbi and the talmidim have to know where the line is! If a moody Rebbi comes in one day all relaxed and then gets really serious the next, then there's no point in the shtick. The kids will just be thoroughly confused, not to mention afraid to talk to the rebbi, because he might be having a bad day. A rebbi, more than almost anyone else out there, has to be consistent.
This is another reason that a rebbi has to be careful in getting too close to a buddy-buddy relationship. When I once saw a rebbi give a talmid a high-five, I thought that crossed the line to the point where I would find it hard for the talmid to take the rebbi seriously.

c) The delivery of the shtick has to be genuine, and not too over-the-top, in-your-face, or just plain artificial. The 10th anniversary of the OJ trial brought to mind a Rebbi I had at the time, and the great approach he used in discussing the event with us. He didn't try to come off as "look at me, I know who OJ is!" but rather was very down-to-earth about it, and discussed it as he would any mussar shmooze. Rabbi Paysach Krohn also does an excellent job interweaving his lines throughout his speeches. Funny or not, the jokes blend very well with the rest of his material.
Even a clueless grade school kid can see right through a rebbi that's as artificial as calorie-free chocolate syrup. In which case, the shtick simply backfires.
In a similar vein (with regard to substance), it is very important for a rebbi to feel passionate about learning. I can't forget the way my sixth-grade rebbi's eyes would light up when a kid asked a good kasha. And again, part of R' Paysach Krohn's success is the way he delivers his mussar with energy and sincerity. Real passion is contagious, but fake passion is simply pathetic.

d) Speaking of the Rebbi who discussed OJ, he proved the point that a rebbi can come off as being with-it without being shticky. This rebbi in particular knew how to walk the fine line of being with-it without shtick. These days, it can be quite important for a rebbi to show he's "with-it." Some kids find it remarkable that a rebbi can be so great and so with-it. (A friend of mine is an eight-grade rebbi in an immigrant school, and attributes part of his success (as opposed to some of the more beleaguered rabbeim there) to the fact that the kids think he's cool.) And it certainly helps in speaking with the kids and relating to them. And as that rebbi displayed so well, he can do this without lowering his stature or diginity.

In my early years of elementary school, I had a few old-school, European, long-white-beard rabbeim. They were decent rabbeim, but I could never imagine them dealing with older kids and all the issues they face. Try talking to them about your girlfriend.

e) Very often, a substance rebbi can be more engaging than a shtick rebbi. This has to do with pure teaching ability as well as presentation of the subject matter. A substance rebbi who can make kids think and make the material interesting will gather many more followers than a shtick rebbi with nothing to say. Also, a shtick rebbi can spoil the kids to the point where they're only interested in the shtick, not the learning. How a rebbi can be engaging in terms of his delivery and methods of teaching is a separate discussion.

One incident comes to mind: When I was in high school, one of my rabbeim decided to try a new shtick: ban all note-taking during gemara, in order to get us to think. In retrospect, I think the concept was an excellent idea (considering how nobody thinks anymore), but the way he presented it was awful. He took away notebooks from kids that were writing, and as a result kids just took notes from under their desks. And his shiur was simply not stimulating enough to make us think. So in essence, his grand plan ended up going nowhere and just ticked off a bunch of kids. This, I beleive, is an example of a great idea that was unsuccessful simply because it was very poorly implemented.

I believe that these are but a few principles (one can write a whole book about teaching) that separate the great rabbeim from the okay rabbeim. Like I said before, every kid will have a different rebbi that'll appeal to him. However, we clearly see that some rabbeim have been able to attract hundreds of talmidim, while others go back to business after a few failed years. So there are certainly some principles that have to be adhered to in order to be successful. And by putting together the positive elements of shtick and substance, any Rebbi will certainly be off to a solid start.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Rabbeim: Shtick vs. Substance, pt. 2

For the purpose of further discussion, I'd like to begin by making a quick summary of the pros and cons of each mehalech:


a) In today' ADD/instant gratification world, it's very difficult to keep listeners, especially kids, interested. And that's why shtick is so important. We must use every option possible to get kids to pay attention. Substance is nice, but generally won't get people to listen, and isn't as quick to get students into learning as much as shtick.

b) Kids like a Rebbi who's cool. The first step for many kids to get into Judaism and learning is by hooking up to a cool Rebbi.

c) People like Rabbi Dovid Orlofsky have proven that you can have shtick yet still have plenty of substance, all in the same shiur.


a) If you get too caught up in the shtick, you don't end up accomplishing much.

b) You want to keep the rebbi-talmid relationship as exactly that, as opposed to a buddy-buddy relationship.

c) While some of the weaker students may go for the shtick, the smarter and more intellectual students might be turned off by it and go elsewhere looking for something more stimulating.

d) Shtick grows old and corny after awhile. Good substance can't grow old-- there are always new chiddushim out there.

The basic conclusion that comes out is that the shtick is more effective for the weaker and beginning students, while more advanced students will go for stimulating, more intellectual discussions. And in our ADD-plagued era, I believe that shtick will draw many more people than substance. People find shtick appealing and engaging.

However, argument d) in favor of substance is a very strong argument against the long-term strengths of shtick. Many people, after being stimulated by the shtick and getting into the learning, begin to get bored by the shtick and want to hear more substance, more content. So it seems as if shtick is but a means to an end, sort of like a "lo lishmo" to a "ba lishmo."

One comparison that comes to mind is my personal changing taste in baseball announcers.

When I started following baseball in the early '90's, my favorite broadcasters were the likes of John Sterling and Phil Rizzuto, guys who would tell lots of jokes and get really excited when a homerun was hit. And when sports TV/Radio critics Phil Mushnick and Bob Raissman would rip those guys, I just never understood it. In fact, when John Rooney and Jerry Coleman announced the world series on radio back then, I couldn't listen. It was too boring.
Ten years later, I must say that I can barely listen to John Sterling and his compadre Charley Steiner! The shtick has grown old and annoying, and I cringe each time Sterling tries to be funny (or says "Yankees win!" after another thrashing of the Rockies). For me, the ideal broadcaster is a guy like Jon Miller or Vin Scully, two professionals who do as good a job as anyone out there describing a game.
Yet, even in broadcasting, some people can excel at both. The Red Sox' Jerry Remy is a great example of a guy who can combine shtick with substance.
In his new book, Ralph Kiner quotes longtime Tigers' voice Ernie Harwell as saying that if he were applying for a broadcasting job today, he would not stand a chance. And in today's shtick-filled generation, his words are all too true. Most people today clearly will take shtick over substance.

Another point: the old "yochid vs. the rabbim" argument comes up as well. Should we appeal to the more intelligent kids, so that they can reach their full potential, or should we try to get everyone into it, even at the risk of the intelligent kids' underacheiving? Most people would agree with the latter (as I do), but I've heard differing views.

In Part 3, I'll elaborate on these points and discuss the possibilities and ways to create a happy medium.... if that's possible.

Rabbeim: Shtick vs. Substance, pt. 1

In my years as a student, I can say that for the most part, my rabbeim have fallen into one of two categories: the shticky type and the substance type. For the sake of clarity, I'll offer descriptions of my definition of each category:

Rabbi A walks into the door of the classroom, and gives a few kids a high-five as a greeting. Before beginning shiur, Rabbi A will discuss last night's Yankee game with the kids, and throws in a couple of jokes. And even when Rabbi gets down to business and starts dicsussing the gemara, there are plenty of jokes and pop-culture references thrown in for effect. The rebbi may even throw in little jokes and quips on handouts and tests. Many kids out there think Rabbi A is cool, and he is always willing to shmooze it up with them, whether it's a hashkafic shailah or Harry Potter. Others find the shtick to be superficial and annoying, and complain that the rebbi only likes the cool kids.

Rabbi B walks into the classroom, may throw in a joke or a quick anecdote before starting shiur, but then it's right down to business. However, like Rabbi A, Rabbi B also has a sense of humor. He'll throw in the occasional joke, but Rabbi B won't try to come off as being cool or with-it. Many of the smart kids will appreciate Rabbi B, as his intelligence and vast knowledge are clearly apparent. When the talmidim think of Rabbi B, substance is what comes to mind. Rabbi B is a warm guy and also enjoys shmoozing with the guys, but you get the sense that he's sort of aloof, in a way. There's a stronger feeling of authority when you talk to Rabbi B than when you talk to Rabbi A. And Rabbi B either never heard of Harry Potter or will act like he doesn't know. And, as you might expect, Rabbi B has a different group of followers than Rabbi A.

Even with regard to roshei yeshiva and shul rabbis, I've seen the two types, so the classroom situation that I presented is not unique.

The obvious question is, which mehalech is better?

To which there's an obvious answer: it depends on the kid! The pasuk says "chanoch l'naar al pi darko," which means that each kid has his own way of learning, his way that he'll find more appealing, and thus each kid has a different rebbi that'll turn him on.

What I would like to discuss then, is, is it possible to reach a happy medium? If so, how much shtick and how much substance? Also, will shtick or substance appeal to more people? And with the two mehalchim in mind, why do some rabbeim draw huge followings, while others have but a small group of loyalists?

This one's complicated. We'll start breaking it down in part 2.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Siyum HaShas Thoughts (and why I don't plan on showing up next year)

Back in '97, when I was a clueless high school kid, I got all excited about the siyum hashas. I guess I just fell for the hype; you know, it's a great kiddush hashem, 70,000 jews celebrating the end of another daf yomi cycle.

a) The hype was so big they even put out a music tape for the siyum hashas, now available in the 99-cent section of your local hebrew bookstore. What would be cool would be to put out caps, t-shirts, and mugs in honor of the next one. Hey, who's in charge of marketing for this thing, anyway?

b) So, I showed up, I sat next to my rebbi, had my headphones on hearing the translator frantically trying to explain the yiddish speeches instantaneously (he did a pretty good job, but I must admit that he was making me very nervous), and heard the cheeseball women clap when Rabbi Frand said we should thank the wives for letting their husbands learn. Afterwards, I met my friend Joey Levin and we went home together. At that time, I thought it was very cool that I was able to meet him there, despite the fact that there were 20,000 Jews all over the place! But, like I said, I was a clueless high school kid.

c) One of their claims about the siyum hashas is that it brings the entire frum world together. In '97, a sephardic rabbi spoke, a Hasidic rabbi spoke, etc. Seven years later, I've realized that this claim is BOGUS. If you want to include the entire frum world, you have to have the YU gedolim there too. Sure, you may not agree with everything they say, but then again, we don't always agree with the chasidim and sephardim. By excluding them from the siyum, they're basically implying that they're NOT FRUM. In which case, I find the siyum to be more divisive than inclusive. The way I see it, it's not such a kiddush Hashem. Granted, the goyim, who are obliviious to all the frum politics, will see it and say something nice about the Jews celebrating their Talmud. But as for me, a frum guy within the system, it bothers me. And that's why I don't plan on showing up (and neither does Joey) until the likes of R' Hershel Schachter, etc. are given the same accolades and honors as the gedolim that the Agudah agrees with.

d) I was looking at a brochure, and noticed that they expect 120,000 to attend/view the next siyum hashas! I must admit that I'm troubled by the math. They claimed 70,000 were involved in the last siyum; who are the extra 50,000 that are almost doubling the celebration? I haven't seen the study of the Daf quite spread like wildfire over the last few years. So how many does that account for, maybe 1,000 or 2? And are these people all BT's, who weren't frum the last time around? Almost every Agudah-shtark-baalebos-type I knew showed last time, as well as many of the right-wing schools. So who's coming? And, even last times they accounted for viewers from places like Toronto, LA, etc. SO how many more small towns will be involved? I don't quite think they'll get 20,000 from places like Osh-Kosh, Pennsylvania, etc.
Sounds quite strange to me, this whole numbers business. But hey, for PR.....

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Interleague play: chuck it!

Well, it's that time of year again. Interleague play is on, as the Yankees take on the Rockies and the Mets take on the Twins.

My take on interleague? It's kinda like the DH. It's one of those gimmicks that was nice in its time, but by now we could do without it. Following the '94 strike, interleague was a nice attempt at trying to draw fans back to the game. And hey, they got 50,000 people to show up to the mets-yankees games, so it was pretty successful. And the novelty of seeing the yankees playing teams like the phillies and expos for the first time was pretty cool.

Seven years after that first Rangers-Giants game (the ol' Will Clark matchup), I think interleague's a bore. The way I see it, there are so many great races going on that teams like the Reds and Angels will draw no matter who's playing. And fans of the Expos and Devil Rays will have no interest in going to a game just to see team from the other league beat their team. Perhaps in '98, where there were divisions like the AL East and Central that had basically one good team, it was more of an appeal (hey, let's see the Yankees kick the Marlins' butt for a change! How exciting!)I haven't checked the attendance numbers yet, but I think the general consensus is that the numbers have gone down over the last few years. But with competitive balance as good as it's been for the first time in years, interleague play isn't that necessary.

I've always kinda felt that interleague play took something away from the World Series, baseball's original and best interleague series. When the Yankees and Mets took the field together for the first time in '97, I felt like a kid eating stolen candy. Sure, it tasted good, but I had that feeling in me that "hey, something isn't right." The only redeeming factor was that the Subway Series in 2000 wasn't as big a deal for me to miss, as interleague play certainly watered down the excitement and thrill.

Speaking of the Subway Series, the excitement has plummetted over the last few years. And even with a better Mets team this year and
thus a more competitive series looming, I think it'll be lamer than last year. Because of the overkill, the novelty has worn off. True, the stadium is still packed at these games, but I have a feeling there will be smaller crowds as the years go by.

One more argument against interleague is that it messes up the wild card situation. If team A plays a tough division and team B plays an easier one: so let's say at the end of the year, team B wins the wild card by a game. Is that fair? Was team B truly the better team? (This also explains my displeasure with the chemically imbalanced schedule, but that's an article for a different time.)

So, my message to the MLB: get rid of interleague games (okay, maybe 1 subway series just to please Steinbrenner and Wilpon). Instead, throw in some more league games, because even within each league there are plenty of good teams to watch, and all without diluting the world series and the wild card.

JEWISH MUSIC: Carlebach and the Beatles

When I was in Israel, like all too many other 18-year olds, I tried quitting goyishe music. I figured the best way to go was not by quitting music altogether, but rather by trying to find some Jewish music that would satisfy me and my desires. Joey Levin's old Avraham Fried CD's were helpful for a while, but I still felt like I needed my fix. So I figured, hey maybe a Jewish artist with a more hip, cool, guitar-based style will be it. So to Carlebach, and, as I like to call it, the "crack-pot" section of Galpaz was where I headed.

Maybe I'm crazy, maybe I have no taste in music, maybe I'm just a bad Jew, but Carlebach didn't do it for me. I boght a few of his tapes and CD's, and while I enjoyed some of the stuff, it just didn't have that lasting power.

One standard with which I like to judge music is by how long I can listen to it and enjoy it without getting sick of it. If I buy a CD, listen to it for a few months, and only play it when I'm feeling like "maybe I should get my $15 worth," then I know it's a failure. However, the bands that I've liked since high school are the ones that impress me the most. For me, artists like the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, U2, and Bon Jovi have stuff that I can keep and have kept listening to.

In the case of Carlebach, I enjoyed the stuff for a little while, (even though my roomates gave me a hard time -- they called the stuff depressing) but I have barely listened to it since then. Which led me the question --- the one that many think borders on k'firah--- is Carlebach overrated?

The comparison in the title was to bring out a point my cousin made about the Beatles. She said, "the Beatles weren't that good. They're just famous because they revolutionized music." Although I disagree about the Beatles, I have a feeling this argument is true when it comes to Carlebach.

One question that comes to mind is, if another artist recorded this song, would it be as famous? If Emerson, Lake, and Palmer recorded "Come Together," would it have been anywhere as successful? And if Simcha Weber had done "Ki Va Moed," would only the die-hard Jewish music fans know about it?

That's all for now because this one is complicated and I've gotta study. Later.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Thoughts on Mesorah

One of the concepts of frum judaism that I've been trying to figure out for years but never got down pat was the issue of mesorah.

One of my first exposures to a discussion of mesorah was a shmuz given by my rosh yeshiva in Israel. He complained about a certain yeshiva that learned Maharal all day, saying that it's not part of our mesorah. He discussed a sofer who tried using a different type of ink for a sefer torah (unlike the mesorah), and the ink never had the lasting power of the old inks, as the new sifrei torah faded much faster. He wanted to use this a proof to mesorah. I've also heard bible codes get criticized for not being part of the mesorah (but I'm not sure if it's from him). And of course, YU and MO get ripped often for not being part of mesorah.

The thing I found most ironic about that mesorah shmuz was that a big Brisker was giving it. The leader of the Briskers, Reb Chaim Brisker, revolutionized the learning of gemara with his mehalech. Part of the motive of the mehalech was to make learning more "geshmak" and appealing, thus preventing Jews from assimilating and studying subjects which appeared more deep. When I read R' Berel Wein's book on the 20th century ("faith and fate"), he mentioned how other gedolim criticized reb chaim's mehalech for being newfangled, thus not "part of the mesorah." In fact, I can list many changes and movements that aren't or weren't part of the mesorah that should be criticized:

1) Wearing black fedoras (the common black hat); nobody in Europe did that, at least not until the 20th century.

2) The Mussar Movement of R' Yisrael Salanter

3) The Hasidic movement, founded by the Baal Shem

4) Girls going to Bais Yaakov

5) People learning in kollel for a stipend (check out the Rambam's take on that; it's harsh!)

6) The tzuras hadaf of the vilna shas (I once heard that one gadol declared this to be the mesorah, which i simply don't understand; to me, it sounds totally oxymoronic.) After all, there were many different printings for the first 1500 years the gemara existed!

So, the question is, what practices and mehlachim are included in the mesorah? How binding is the mesorah? Can a gadol simply change the mesorah when he feels it necessary?

I am simply confused and befuddled by it all. Comments, anyone?

Touro Over Brooklyn, Pt. 2

Now it's time to deal with the arguments AGAINST Touro:

Argument #1: The Touro degree is worthless and won't get you a job or into a decent grad school.

Firstly, if the question here was Touro vs. Harvard, it would be a slam dunk (that is, in Harvard's favor). Clearly, an Ivy League degree packs much more clout than a Touro degree. But as for Brooklyn-Queens College, their degrees are nice, but not much effect.
Secondly, Touro has much evidence backing its success. All those "he chose Touro, .... chose him" are true. I believe that if someone's an intelligent guy, he'll be able to go far in life even if he goes to Touro. And if someone is lazy or stupid, a Brooklyn college degree with a low GPA will not take him much further than a Touro degree would. And as for the people in the middle: as mentioned previously, Touro is an easier college than Brooklyn, both in terms of the fewer cores needed for a degree and also in terms of the classes themselves being more laid-back. So, let's say an average guy can get a 3.8 in Touro and a 3.3 in Brooklyn, for argument's sake. In terms of law school admissions, where undergrad college and GPA play a large role in one's acceptance, I can't see the Brooklyn guy having an edge over the Touro guy.
Thirdly, Touro's reputation is improving. After receiving an visit from the MIddlestates Accrediting Dept. (something like that), they received very positive feedback. So it looks like a bright future for Touro.

Argument #2: The classes in Touro are a joke; you don't learn anything there.

After completing my tenure at Touro, I must say there was 1, maybe 2 classes where I felt like we didn't learn anything. However, I've also heard of professors in Brooklyn who just schmooze the whole time and not teach. So this is not just a Touro problem.
One thing I'll admit: there may be more students in Touro than in Brooklyn who don't learn anything, and will either cram or get an old copy of a test in order to pass exams. But I do know of people in Brooklyn who have also gotten by easily and have treated class as a joke. And I also know of people in Touro who have taken class seriously and have come out gaining a great amount of knowledge.
What it comes down is that how much you'll learn in college is very often more about the student than the teacher.

Argument #3: Touro costs a fortune.

I beleive that is the best argument against Touro. But for many, Touro can be as cheap, if not cheaper, than Touro.

I know of a friend of mine who got a 1330 on his SAT's and got a $6500-a-year scholarship to Touro, making it about the same price as a CUNY college. When you also factor in the money saved from not taking a year of cores, Touro, in this case, comes out to be cheaper than Brooklyn. Even a 1200-ish score will significantly reduce your Touro bill.
Besides, many of Touro's clientelle can easily afford to pay the extra bucks. So if you have the mansion and the Lexus anyway, then money is probably no object for you. And argument #3 simply doesn't apply.

Argument #4: Touro denies one the opportunity to interact with goyim and diverse people.

This argument is a bad one. The ability to ineract with people, Jews or goyim, depends on street-smarts. And that's one thing you can only get from home. No college experience will teach you that. A street-smart Touro guy will have much more success communicating with goyim in the working world than a clueless Brooklyn guy. If anything, the clueless guys should go to Touro so as not to make a fool of thmeselves and cause a chillul Hashem. The people who make a big deal about talking to goyim remind of of when I was a kid and thought that all goyim were cool. If you're confident and street-smart, you can do fine.

In conclusion, the Touro-Brooklyn argument brings to mind an anecdote from my Hasidic uncle Jerry. Jerry is a successful businessman, with an office in the heart of Boro Park. Jerry can easily afford the prestige of an office in Manhattan, but refuses to get one. Why? Because "I want to avoid working in the center of Tumah. G-d will provide for me even if I've got an office in Boro Park."

I believe that there is a similar idea in the Touro-Brooklyn dilemma. If one does his hishtadlus and all the while tries to avoid Tumah, G-d will provide.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Finals week

This week is finals week for me. As a result, it will be a slow blogging week for me. However, I have edited and fixed up the archives and invite you to read and re-read them. Also, I leave you with a few links to keep you busy: WSJ editorial page

Jewish Musings

In My Humble Opinion

Jon Wilhelm's Page

Touro Over Brooklyn, pt. 1

I don't usually get personal on this blog, but I must say that I get a mazel tov. I graduated from Touro College on Sunday. With that in mind, I decided to revisit the dilemma that faces every Yeshiva guy coming back from Israel: Touro or Brooklyn (or Queens)? What's the choice for college? I went to Touro, and I must say I have absolutely no regrets. In fact, I would recommend it to almost all of the Yeshiva guys facing the ol' dilemma.

I would like to presenting the arguments for Touro, and then deal with the common arguments against it:

The major argument is obviously from a religious standpoint. Two of the main reasons why many rabbis oppose college are: pritzus and kefirah. Because Touro has separate classes, the pritzus issues are minimal. This is the main reason that the halls of Touro are filled with Hasidim, who would be unable to attend college if not for Touro. I had one woman professor there who wasn't Jewish, and she was kinda scary-looking anyway. The rest of the female professors are religious and dress appropriately. The only other major pritzus issue I encountered was when we watched "Death of a Salesman" in English Comp. II. It's not the cleanest of films, but in spite of that, I think it was no big deal, as not watching this and other videos doesn't affect your grade. In fact, during the showing of that video, there was a frummed-out guy in the class sitting with his head down and learning mishnayos in order to avoid pritzus. When another frummed-out guy complained about the advertisements being shown in Marketing, he was told he wouldn't be responsible for them on the midterm and final. I'd love to see someone try to pull that off with a professor in Queens or Brooklyn.
And of course, there's the social scene that Brooklyn has. That can keep a guy busy for a while! I remember seeing pictures in the Night Call of frum guys horsing around with girls, doing assur things. And for yeshiva guys, trying to learn with all your girlfriends in your head is far from simple.

The kfirah issue was a non-factor in Touro. I spent a summer in Brooklyn (before studying in Israel) and took a Core 10 philosophy course. And the kfirah there was pretty strong. "Is there a god?" "If there's evil in the world, how can there be a god?," etc. The worst I heard was a frum girl who spoke up one day and said "Professor, I believe that G-d is a woman." For a frum person to say that, even as a joke, is sickening. I would not be surprised if her sitting in that class had something to do with it. I don't think Touro offers any philosophy classes, but I'm sure if they did, they'd have a frum imstructor for it.

Speaking of cores, the other major advantage of Touro is the much lighter workload, particularly the fact that there are very few cores. English, Stats, and economics are it. No physics, music, art, etc. and other courses that are useless. You'll be done a lot faster in Touro than in the average CUNY college.

Any guy who's serious about learning will have a much easier time in Touro. I've seen some pre-med guys in Queens College try to pull off the Yeshiva-college combo, and it's not easy. Even if a guy like that manages to make it to seder all the time, you can't tell me the great burden of work isn't on his mind. Most Touro professors realize the crazy schedule many yeshiva guys have, and assign work and exams appropriately.
Also, Touro has very few extracuricullar events. Many colleges have tons of events and things going on that can be quite a distraction for any yeshiva guy.

With the arguments FOR Touro out of the way, it's time to deal with the most common arguments AGAINST Touro:

1) The degree you get is meaningless.

2) The place is a joke; you don't learn anything there.

3) It costs a fortune.

4) You don't get the "real-world" experience of interacting with goyim and all kinds of people.

Stay tuned for Part 2!