Isaac Kaplan

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

Friday, July 30, 2004

Cheesy Kiddush Levana Lines

I go outside last night for the monthly santification of the moon, and some comedian points out, "ah, a real McCoy!" I was ready to throw up. Do I need to put up with his beyond-corny line?

And no, it's not the first time I've heard such cringe-worthy lines, or "oohs" and "aahs" people say when they find a levana. The worst is when it's a cloudy night and the moon is visible for a minute then disappears, you always have some moron doing the play-by-play: "now you see it; now you don't! There' it is! No wait, it's hiding again!"

I don't get the psychology behind their actions. Don't these people realize they're not funny? And if they're this desperate for attention, maybe they should see someone-- I'm telling you, major issues going on there.

As an aside, what's up with the people who say shalom aleichem to you and then say aleichem shalom, too. I thought I was the only one who's supposed to say that part. I don't know. The Artscroll says only the responder the say it; so maybe it's just a chassidishe minhag or something. Whatever it is, it just gets me very nervous.

Another aside: one of my rabbeim once told me that the dance afterwards is the only dancing mentioned in the shulchan aruch. You should be dancing, yeaaaaaaaaaahhh.

Defining Gadlus

Before I get started, I just want to clarify how this article differs from the one I wrote a few days ago. After all, I know many of you are thinking, "why is Kaplan rehashing an issue he just dealt with a few days ago?" To clarify, Tuesday's piece focused upon who's included under the umbrella of gadlus, Torah scholars only or others too.

In today's piece, I will try to go a step deeper and attempt to define the term "gadol," or at least how various groups seem to use it.

In Tuesday's piece, I mentioned how someone who uses all of their potential is a greater person than someone who lives up to just 80%. Yet this is not used as a barometer for gadlus by anyone.

For example, take your classic "tehillim-zugger." A guy who's clearly not the sharpest tool in the shed, but who uses whatever capabilities he has to serve God. Definitely a good Jew, no question about it. But a gadol? I don't think anyone would say that.

Besides, none of us can really judge how much potential one is using in their service to God. Can we look at a Torah scholar and truly say "he can do better" or "he's giving it all he's got"? We can't judge. Therefore, you simply can't determine gadlus on this basis.

Now, many people would say that any great Torah scholar is considered a Gadol. This is probably true. But I think there's more to it.

A gadol has certain leadership qualities and generally has a large sphere of influence. That's why many gedolim have positions as roshei yeshiva or rebbes. And even those who don't, such as R' Chaim Kanievski SHLITA and the like, are leaders inthe sense that their psak is taken very seriously, to the point that their opinions are asked when any major shailah comes up.

Basically, it seems like some level of involvement with the public is a prerequisite for gadlus.

I guess along the lines of the age-old question, "if a tree falls in the forest and no one's around, does it make a sound?" a similar question is, "if there is a great Torah scholar and nobody knows about him, is he a gadol?"

And on to R' Tzvi Hersh Weinreb's definition: I would say his definition is that anyone who's a shomer torah u'mitzvos and makes a great contribution (and not necessarily a scholarly one) to the Jewish world is a gadol.

One "nafka minah" between his definiton and the first definition is the psychologist he talked about. Others that come to mind include R' Moshe Sherer and Sarah Schneirer ZT"L. They clearly were great people and contributed tremendously to society, but they weren't the preeminent Torah scholars of their day. But according to Rabbi Weinreb, their contributions to society alone would earn them the title of "gadol" (and "gedolah").

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Shulnomics pt. 1 --Selling the Aliyos

I overheard an argument recently between two members of a fledgling shul. The question: to sell the aliyos or just have the gabbai distribute them?

The argument is basically capitalism vs. socialism. On one hand, we can go for the capitalist model. Such a policy would bring a lot of money into the shul. And if someone wants an aliyah, they've gotta spend for it! Let's them show their chavivus for Torah by how they spend! Why should just anyone get an aliyah for free?

But then again, what about those who can't afford an aliyah? Should they have to suffer without one? If they can't compete with the "Yankees" and other big pockets of their shuls, why should they be shut out? Doesn't every Jew deserve the right to an aliyah? That's aside from the fact that selling the aliyos can take a long, long time. As for the shul making money, there are other ways to raise funds. There are dinners, appeals, membership charges, etc.

I have to agree with the socialist side here. I believe that it's totally unfair that some people should get shut out of aliyos because they don't have enough money. Is it their fault that G-d decided they shouldn't be as rich as others?

I don't see the capitalist model being appropriate for a shul. A shul isn't a business, and certainly shouldn't be run like one. It's a non-profit organization, and as such its main role isn't to sustain itself but to be of service to the community.

But for Yom Tov and Yamim Noraim, I think the selling is okay. After all, the average Joe can still get an aliyah on Shabbos. Also, shuls make big bucks for maftir Yonah and other kibudim. If not for these honors, who knows if the rich men would be as quick to part with their dough? It definitely serves as an incentive for them to give cash.

So if a shul's main role is to serve the community, should they only give the amud and aliyos to people who are members? Or in the true communal spirit, perhaps anyone who enters the doors deserves a shot at a kibud? That's a discussion for another time- wait till part 2.

Reverse Image-itis?

Recently, I received a newsletter from a serious Yeshiva that I had attended a while ago.

This place constantly preached staying in learning and not going to college. To their credit, I must say that they've been quite successful. Many of my friends came in thinking they would go for a year or two, then attend college. And now, they're "lifers"--- they're learning, and not going anywhere for a while.

Furthermore, this crowd has given the yeshiva a name as being quite a serious place. And for a while, they've used that to their advantage in developing an image as a place full of future long-term learners. 

Imagine my surprise when, in the "talmidim in focus" section, they talked about a kid's ambitions to go to school and become a radiologist! Most yeshivas today like to talk only about the learners they've produced; you know what I mean: the guy who's been one of the top in the Mir for the last 10 years. When the Israel yeshivas came to my high school, these were their "poster boys." But now, one place has decided to focus on a "future baal habos." What is going on?

When I was in this yeshiva a few years back, I overheard an interesting conversation. Someone was talking about a guy who wanted to go to this place, but his parents were very reluctant. After all, the place was developing a reputation for making guys stay in learning, and parents who want their kids to have a career were getting turned off. So instead of guys fighting with their parents to stay in the yeshiva (as opposed to going to college), you were having guys fighting to even attend the place to begin with.

Seems like the tables have turned. Some places are trying not to look too shtark or too serious. Sometimes, even in our society, people can "protest" and change things to go their way. Looks like that's what's happening here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Who Is a Gadol?

I went to an inspring Tisha Bav Kinos program this morning. As part of the program, the rabbi in charge discussed those who passed on during the year. One of the people he talked about was a psychologist from Israel, a man who helped many troubled teenagers deal with their problems. Any man doing that kind of work is truly a great person. But this rabbi went the extra mile, and referred to that man as a "gadol."

I was kind of surprised at his being labeled a "gadol." When I was in Yeshiva, I only heard the word used regarding people who were great Torah scholars and Roshei Yeshiva. And yes, I wouldn't be surprised if this doctor knew how to learn. But I can't see any of my rabbeim calling him a gadol.

This rabbi also had words of praise about the woman who wrote the song "Yerushalayim shel Zahav." Another person I probably would have never heard about in yeshiva.

Seems to me that in yeshiva, the only road to gadlus is in Torah. Yet, what about those that have other abilities? What about those that don't have what it takes to become a gaon, but use the abilities to the utmost, such as this psychologist? Are they gedolim any less?

Besides, if being a Jew is about using one's potential to the utmost, perhaps a baal habos can be a better Jew (so to speak) than a gadol. If a gadol lives up to 85% of his potential and a baal habos who learns whenever he can lives up to 95% of what he can do, why should 85% be better?

With the Rabbi's words in mind, I find it hard to undertand the yeshiva's cookie-cutter approach to chinuch. Why have one standard for excellence, when we see that they are many roads to excellence, and that one man's road may differ greatly from his colleague's?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Appreciating the Fellow Jew

With Tisha B'Av coming up, time for a timely and slightly more pareve piece.

I guess I've been raised in a bit of a ghetto. All-Jewish elementary school, high school, and Touro College to boot. So maybe for people like me, it's a much bigger problem than it is for people in the working world. But I feel that, aside from out-of-towners, most people don't appreciate the fellow Jew. Many of us don't feel any different when we pass a Jew in the street than when we pass a non-Jew.

Maybe it's because in the big communities, there are just so many of us, Thank G-d. So we take each other for granted. Sometimes, perhaps we feel like there are too many of us. More Jews means more double-parkers. More Jews means more dirty looks for us because some people think we're rude. And more Jews means you'll see everyone you know in Great Adventures come chol hamoed.

But ultimately, a Jew is a Jew. And even a guy who doesn't give a darn; a guy who does mitzvos just to fit into the community; a guy who may not even be the best servant of G-d is still a Jew.

And I believe that this is a big part of the reason that people don't say Gut Shabbos to one another. They just don't appreciate the presence of a fellow Jew. That brotherhood, that kinship-- it's just not there.

And one thing that ticks me off to no end, that I believe is a big cause of this, is the divisive diatribe that is so often heard about other parts of the community. When you have people ripping YU, ripping Conservative, even ripping Reform, you're basically killing any potential kinship. 

Now, I'm not saying to live in fantasyland. But I believe that if criticize out of love for our bretheren rather than out of mockery and anger, we'd be doing a lot better.  But judging from a lot of the things I've seen and read (even some articles in the Yated), there's way too much of the latter and not nearly enough of the former.

I'd like to finish with an inspiring anecdote involving a tzaddik named Yehuda, a man from Jerusalem. Yehuda's buddy was discussing people who serve G-d from the heart, and not necessarily through deeds and actions. His buddy said, "'s like the Reform Jews; everything's about how you feel, but these guys don't do any mitzvos!" To which Yehuda responded: "are you saying bad things about my non-religious brothers and sisters?"

The story speaks for itself. Have an easy fast.


Sunday, July 25, 2004

LINES OF THE WEEK: Who to Believe?

"I'm close to leading the American League in hit batsmen and not one of them has been obviously looking like I (intentionally) hit the guy...I've got to get it in. I don't have good enough stuff to stay on the outer half all day, especially with a team like this.''

- Bronson Arroyo

"I get hit a lot, but I smelled something funny."

- Alex Rodriguez

Why didn't you just yuk it up with Jeter this time, like in '99?

And one more genius line:

"I wish I hadn't gone out there and got in the middle of it"

-Tanyon Sturtze

Go join the Don Zimmer fan club. And don't get too choked up while you're at it.

Friday, July 23, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Who Can Beat the Yankees?, pt. 2

Well, we go on.

PROS: Mulder's having a fabulous year. And although Hudson' s on the DL, he's still a teriffic pitcher. And Rich Harden looks like he's improving. As for the hitting, Jermaine Dye hasn't looked this good since the 2001 ALDS. Eric Chavez (.269, 14 HR even with significant DL time) and Bobby Crosby have performed well (.268, 14), and Beane pet projects Scott Hatteberg (.370 OBP) and Erubiel Durazo (.385 OBP) keep getting on base. The Dotel pickup gives the A's a legitamite closer.
CONS:The lineup is balanced, but again, nobody here really scares you. And Barry Zito has struggled mightily this year, turning the A's 1-2-3 punch into a 1-2 punch. And while Mulder and Hudson might be enough for the A's to eke out an ALDS win, considering they haven't been able to do it even with the big three, the Zito factor may loom large. And before Dotel came along, the pen was atrocious. Bradford, Mecir, and Rhodes have been awful. If the starters can't go 7 or 8, the A's are in trouble.
VERDICT: The Yankees were able to beat the A's in 2001, with the big three in top form and Giambi and Tejada to boot. Of course, if Jeremy Giambi would've slid, things might be different. This year, unless the A's pitchers are in top form, the Yankees should take this one easily.

PROS: Vlad Guerrero gives this lineup a force that the '02 champs lacked. Jose Guillen also adds pop, and Chone Figgins provides lots of speed. And of course, Garret Anderson and Daren Erstad are still around, as well as scrappy infielders Eckstein and Kennedy. This is not an easy lineup to face. And, two years later, K-Rod is still getting everybody out.
CONS: The Colon deal was a collosal bust. Washburn, Sele, and Lackey haven't fared much better. And Kelvim Escobar is mediocre at best. So the starting pitching is the big concern here. Also, Troy Percival's not as dominant as he was in '02. The Glaus injury takes away some of the Angels' depth.
VERDICT: The Angels' lineup can take on the Yankees anyday. If their pitching can keep the Yankees from blowing a game wide open, they'll have a shot.

And if the Yanks make it to the Fall Classic again, who can beat 'em?

BRAVES: If they stay hot for the rest of the summer, we'll see 'em again. I think they have no chance in the postseason. But if they hit the Series, it'll be a joke. 1999 was a mismatch, even with a much better Braves team. This team is Atlanta's weakest. It's not even close.
PHILLIES: Another team with the bats to match the Yankees. Burrell, Thome, and Abreu provide lots of pop, and David Bell and Jimmy Rollins have been pretty solid. None of the starting pitchers really scare you. Wagner, Worrell, and Cormier make for a pretty good bullpen. If they make the series, they can give the Yankees some trouble.
MARLINS: No more magic this year. With Benitez as closer, you think they have a shot? Their hitters have slumped. Last year's postseason hero, Ivan Rodriguez, is in Detroit. Josh Beckett's health has been an issue, and the other starters have been good but unspectacular. If we get a rematch, the Yanks won't have a hard time getting revenge.
METS: All you Met fans out there, dream on. I know, the Mets swept a Subway series. Big deal. Glavine's starting to struggle, and the rest of the rotation is not too great. The team is all right offensively, but Matsui and Piazza really hurt the defense. You can't afford those errors in a big game. And Art Howe couldn't manage his A's to a single series win. He doesn't seem like he's cut out for the playoffs.

PROS: The NL's best team has great offense. Rolen, Pujols, Edmonds; these guys can hit. And Rolen, Edmonds, and Renteria are among the game's best gloves. And Tony LaRussa's bullpen is looking real good. Former retreads Ray King and Julian Tavarez have been sharp, as have Steve Kline and Jason Isringhausen.
CONS: The starting pitching has overacheived so far. And Woody Williams and Matt Morris haven't been as good as in the past. Can Carpenter, Marquis, and Suppan pitch in the World Series?
VERDICT: These guys are looking real good. Considering they've got the best record in the game, I guess it's fair to say they have the best shot at beating the Yankees. In 1964, Bob Gibson and the Cards beat the Yanks and ended their victorious run. Forty years later, I wouldn't mind a repeat.

CUBS: Too many health issues here. If all the starters are healthy, they've got the best staff in the game, probably the only one that can totally quiet down the Yankees' offensive juggernaut. And the offense doesn't match up too well, either. If the pitchers aren't sharp, the Yankees will have an easy victory.

PROS: The offense has clearly improved since last year's disaster. Dave Roberts provides lots of speed at the top, Adrian Beltre is finally living up to the hype, and even Cesar Izturis is hitting. Defensively, they're solid up the middle with Izturis and Alex Cora. And with Mota and Gagne in the pen, the Dodgers are in good shape.
CONS: A few holes in the lineup, like Shawn Green and Juan Encarnacion (.238 AVG). Their offense can be streaky. Starting pitching has fallen since last year. Perez and Ishii are good, but nothing special.  
VERDICT: Another interesting one to see. If the starters can get the ball to the pen, you've gotta like the Dodgers' chances.

GIANTS: Barry Bonds, Jason Schmidt. A few decent bats in Grissom, Alfonzo, and Feliz. Not much else. I don't see enough depth for a solid postseason run. They had better players in '02. But it's hard to count out Brian Sabean. If he adds the pieces they need to go all the way, things are gonna get interesting.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Who Can Beat the Yankees?, pt.1

As a Yankee-hater, it doesn't get much better than what we've seen the last few years: whether it was Luis Gonzalez's blooper dunking in, Josh Beckett's sheer dominance, or David Wells getting battered by the Angels, the Yankee-hater has had plenty to make up for all the Aaron Boone moments out there. Interestingly, those teams has different things going for each of them: the speed and defense of the Marlins, the balanced lineup and lights-out bullpen of the Angels, and Schilling and Johnson's dominance for the D-Backs. Who will it be in '04? Let's look at some of the possibilities:

PROS: They've got most of the same sluggers that brought last year's ALCS to seven games. Guys like Ortiz, Damon, and Ramirez are playing as good as ever. And newcomers like Bellhorn and Reese (till his recent injury) have contributed nicely. And Keith Foulke has been quite an addition to the pen, with Timlin and Williamson still getting the outs.
CONS: The defense has slacked off since last year, and as a result the unearned runs have been piling up. And although the addition of Curt Schilling was supposed to make the Red Sox' rotation the best in the AL, Lowe and Pedro haven't had it this year. And the Red Sox didn't look good against the Yankees back in June, although it'll be interesting to see how they do this weekend.
VERDICT: If they put it all together and everyone's healthy, they've got a solid shot to reverse the curse. But that's a big if.

PROS: Similar to the Marlins in that they've got the speed and defense that can rattle a team like the Yankees. They've got a pretty balanced lineup; a bunch of solid players, but nobody who really scares you. Johan Santana has been solid, while former throwaways Joe Nathan and Juan Rincon have made fans forget about Guardado and Hawkins.
CONS: No real threat in this lineup. Koskie and Mientkiewicz are batting .239 and .244, respectively. Jacque Jones leads the team with 15 HR's, but is hitting only .251. And after Santana, the rotation is filled with Yankee punching bags like Brad Radke, Kyle Lohse, and Carlos Silva.
VERDICT: To beat these Yankees, you've gotta have the power to outhit and outhomer them, and take advantage of their weak starting pitching. Or, you've gotta dominate them to the point where they can't score a run. I don't see the Twins doing either. 

PROS: Lots of power in this lineup, especially when Thomas and Ordonez are healthy. And they've got Carlos Lee, Paul Konerko, and now Carl Everett to boot. Juan Uribe's numbers have tailed off, but he's been pretty solid. As per the pitching, they've got Freddy Garcia, Esteban Loaiza, and Mark Buehrle as the big three. They're not quite Hudson, Mulder, and Zito, but they're definitely above average.
CONS: The Sox have always had shoddy defense, and this year's been no exception. Jose Valentin has 13 errors. And the bullpen has been solid, but Takatsu and Marte are unproven when it comes to the high-pressure postseason atmosphere. Also, doesn't seem like much of a running game with this team.
VERDICT: They've got the lineup to match up with the Yankees, and the pitching has a decent chance of shutting down the Bombers' lineup. I want to see this matchup.

PROS: Most analysts say these guys have the best infield in baseball. And Texiera, Soriano, Young, and Blalock have lived up to their billing and then some. The Rangers' .279 average is ujp there with the best in the game. Francisco Cordero has been rock-solid as a closer, and Kenny Rogers has had quite a resurgence.
CONS: After Rogers, the rotation is quite suspect. Ryan Drese? R. A. Dickey? Not good. And the bullpen after Cordero-- not pretty. There's ex-Yankee throwaway Carlos Almanzar, Ron Mahay, and "how the hell are you still in the majors" candidates John Wasdin and Doug Brocail. And after seeing him last year, can Soriano hit in the postseason (or at least make contact)? And, for that matter, can Kenny Rogers pitch in the postseason (ask both Yankee and Met fans about that one!)?
VERDICT: In terms of offense, these guys match up quite nicely with the Yanks. Maybe one or two easy outs in the lineup, that's it. The Yankees will feast on their pitchers, however. But if the Yanks' rotation isn't in top shape, then Texas can eke out a 10-9 win or something.

We'll get the A's, Angels, and the NL clubs (although the Yanks better be out of it before the Series)  in part 2.


A friend of mine has been dating for a while, and I've decided to tell over his shittoh on looks:

Of all the girls out there, I can divide them into three categories when it comes to looks: the 10%, the 80% and another 10%.

10% are butt-ugly. Whether they've got a Barbra Streisand nose, a Jill Hennessy mole, Kimmy Gibler's face, a figure like Monique, or (eek!) all of the above, I can't say yes. I'm sure they're nice people, they have good midos, maybe even some personality, but they're a lost cause. Some people have looks that can eventually grow on you. These 10%, I'm sorry to say, just don't have it.

80% have looks that are nothing special. But you look at them and say, hey, this can grow on me. The fact is, most people out there don't automatically wow me. At first glance, they're tolerable (which is more than you can say about the 10%), but they have potential. And after a few dates, the looks start to grow on you, and you say, "hey, not bad at all!" But within the 80%, there are many different levels. Some are just a cut above the 10% and may take a really long time to grow on you. There might even come a point where you just give up and realize that it's just not going to happen. Yet there are others within the 80% that are more than worth a shot. They may not have it the first minute that you see 'em, but after an hour or two of staring, they've sure as hell got it.

Which leaves the other 10%. These people have it. No questions about it. No need to even think about it. The only problem with them is, why are there only 10% of them!?

Now, I know that many of you out there may be thinking, why is Ike quoting his loser friend? Tell the guy to get a life and think about more important factors such as middos, personality, hashkafos, etc. How shallow is this moron?

To which I respond, stop living in fantasy-land. Most people, at last check, have taavos. Most people want, or need, someone that they're physically attracted too. And there's nothing wrong with that, unless you blow it out of proportion and marry a jerk just because she's beautiful. But it almost always is a contributing factor.

I'll finish with this anecdote that I heard recently. A mother complained to her son's principal, "I have a big problem, Rabbi. My son is really into girls. He calls them all the time and everything; what should I do?" To which the Rabbi responded, "hey, it's better than him being obsessed with boys!"

All too true in the age of the pink shirt. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

BLOG NATION: The Follies of Frum Vegans

Every now and then, the Jewish Press prints a letter or article about how frum people should be vegetarians. I have found most of the arguments there to be quite shallow, and apparently so has Simcha of Hirhurim. Many of his points came to my mind as well. Therefore, I offer a link to his article. Hopefully all the crazy animal-rights Jews will read it, and not be holding up picket signs outside of the Third Bais HaMikdosh.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Fantasy-land and Chilul Hashem (revised)

So far,  the main argument I can think of for the fantasy-land approach is that telling the truth may result in a chillul Hashem. It certainly is a poor reflection of the Jews when the public sees our faults and problems. Therefore, in order not to tarnish the reputation of the frum community, it's best to stick to only publishing things that give a positive perspective on Judaism.
Say, for example, I would write a book called "Treif! Exposing Corrupt Practices of Kashrus Organizations." If I had a good reputation and didn't slander anyone, such a book would be of great benefit to the frum community. The corrupt organizations would go bust, restaurant and take-out store owners previously deprived of income due to the organizations' corrupt practices would be doing much better, and perhaps the average consumer would pocket some savings, too. Yet the main problem in publishing such a book would be the possible chillul Hashem. And even if it were sold only in Jewish bookstores, word could get out to the likes of the Jewish Weak and the New York Times. And it would be quite ugly, to say the least.
Okay, a more pareve example. Let's say I write a book called "A Frum Woman's Guide for Coping With Divorce." A guide obviously meant to help people, but also can be a poor reflection of our society. Divorce being a big enough problem in our community, to the point where there's a book about it? Doesn't look too good.
Yet, we find Jewish Observer has had issues about Kids-at-Risk and shalom bayis problems! And if a goy sees these problems that the frum community has, what is he to think? So apparently, the JO is either doing something horribly wrong or there's no real Chilul Hashem issue.
I agree with the latter view for a few reasons:
a) Firstly, these days such problems are almost inevitable. And we have a choice: a) just sweep them under the rug and hope no one finds out, or b) bring them out to the open and deal with the issues. And I believe that the fact that have the guts to choose b) is a Kiddush Hashem. Others try to hide such problems until they get exposed. And to say, "hey, I'm doing something wrong," is quite impressive. Waiting until the problem gets so bad that it gets publicized through other means is a bigger chilul Hashem- it shows how naive we were pretending that such problems didn't exist!
b) If one holds of the Chilul Hashem argument, then where does he draw the line? Perhaps a mussar sefer or mussar schmooze is a Chilul Hashem. Imagine a goy hearing a Rav Gifter shmuz. He'd come out thinking, these yeshiva boys are lazy? They're having bull sessions? What kind of fakers are these guys!? So apparently, the chilul Hashem argument should ban all mussar shmuzin and any sefer that makes us look bad. But what are we supposed to do, not have mussar except on a one-on-one basis? That's not practical.
c) And perhaps the fact that such talks have a very small chance of leaking out to the average goy take away the Chilul Hashem factor. If one would tell a reporter about the lazy guys, that would be a massive Chilul Hashem. But if chances are that such things would stay in Yeshiva, then it really isn't a big deal. And if R' Dovid Goldwasser's book about frum anorexics isn't about to hit the New York Times bestseller lists, then that's okay too.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

LINE OF THE WEEK: Guns and Messengers

"I know that I shouldn't shoot the messenger, but why is the messenger sending me such a stupid message?"
-David S. Chandler

More on Tefilos for Israel and the Army

Another argument I once heard against the prayers was that it's not so pashut to compose new tefilos, and that in fact the person who composed the tefillah was far from an adam chashuv.
First of all, where do we draw the line? There have been other mi sheBairachs composed recently. The Tosfos Yom Tov composed one a few  hundred years ago. Many books of prayers for women have prayers that are relatively recent. And Rav Schwab and the Bobover Rebbe ZT"L both composed kinnos that are read on Tisha B'Av. So where do we draw the line? Who can compose and who can't? And if an adam chashuv has to compose it, why not get one to compose it? (more on that below)
And if someone will say that we already daven for them by saying "V'Liyerushalayim Ircha," then I'd say that there should be no more Mi SheBairachs for the cholim or for the people that ger aliyos. The sick people already have "Rifaeinu" going for them; so why should we say any more? As for the people getting aliyos, let's scrap their Mi SheBairachs, because, after all, we bless the entire congregation in Yekum Purkan! I like this shittoh-- it would make davening a whole lot shorter! But the answer apparently is that, for various reasons, some things deserve to be singled out and focused upon in our tefillos. That's why we mention the names of all the cholim instead of saying "all the cholim of Klal Yisrael." So by the same token, why doesn't the Intafada deserve special attention?
I've heard of one gadol compose a prayer for Eretz Yisrael (as opposed to Medinas Yisrael). I thought this was a great thing. Although I feel we have what to be grateful for regarding the State, but if people feel it's inappropriate to daven for the State, then the least they can do is daven for Eretz Yisrael. I'm very surprised that this has not become more commonplace. I just don't see anything wrong with it. The same goes for the Tzahal Mi SheBairach. These soldiers are in quite a dangerous situation. The same way we pray for cholim, why not pray for them, especially considering that the army protects so many of our bretheren? Because some of them aren't frum? Is that it? Or because we don't agree with everything they do? And therefore to hell with them, even though they're sacrificing their lives for us? I just don't get it. 
And perhaps some of our communities could use some more pride and focus on Eretz Yisrael. In these places, there aren't many people who make aliyah or even take an active interest in the happenings of Israel. Perhaps a prayer for Israel would be first step in calling attention to the importance of supporting Eretz Israel.

Worse Than Pink Shirts

Yes, folks, it gets worse than pink shirts. Not necessarily more gay, just frighteningly nerdy and awful-looking. And I saw it again today when I was in shul. There was a guy wearing a white shirt (for shidduch purposes or not, I don't know) and beige khakis as well. I haven't seen such a bad combination since one of my Russian friends put mayo in his chicken soup. My goodness, it looks so nasty!
The thing that really gets to me about it is the fact that it's one thing if you want to dress Yeshivish. You wanna wear a white shirt and dress pants every single day, I can handle it. At least it looks decent. But the people who wear the white shirts AND the beige pants are trying to have it both ways. They're saying, look, I'm dressy, I'm so frum, yet they wanna be cool and casual too. Simply put, you can't eat your cake and have it too. You wanna dress yeshivish, fine. You wanna be trendy, that's okay too. But to try to have it both ways is just an ugly joke. It's like trying to be stupid pareve. And while we're at it, anyone who tries doing the opposite and wears a black polo shirt with black dress pants and Shabbos shoes to boot is just plain strange-looking. Goodbye, I'm not talking to you.
Oddly enough, some of these white-khaki combo people happen to be married. Where the heck are the wives? Don't they see their husbands are looking nothing short of goofy? Most women have some sense of style- where's the constructive criticism when it's most desperately needed? Maybe the wives are afraid to say anything in order not to disrupt Shalom Bayis. Or perhaps this is the husbands' way of showing that they wear the pants in the house, and that they won't let their wives push them around and tell them what to wear. But there's gotta be a better way of doing that, without looking like a fool. 
Perhaps I'm exaggerating. To be honest, I'm not  100% sure that this look is worse than the pseudo-gay trend-followers in my community. But they're both horrible. Anything else, and I'm going to freakin' Monroe. I'm not totally crazy with Satmar chassdim, but at least over there, they all wear black pants.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Being Pareve

I know some people who have complained about others who are pareve. There are many people out there with very strong opinions, your everyday "baal shittoh." They're loud, they're clear, they're stubborn. And then there are others that, when you ask them their opinion, they'll either say "I don't know," "I'll have to think about it," or give a long-winded answer to the effect of, "well, it depends on this, and assuming that's true and if Rabbi X is right, then maybe you possibly can say that...." Which way is better?

On one hand, you have some people who just don't think about anything. So a spaco will just say "I don't know" because they don't think about anything. But at least I respect those people for being honest. On the other hand, you'll have some insecure egomaniacs that attempt to prove they have a position on a matter, when in fact they're totally clueless. And you can't argue with some of these people. They're just too dumb to understand what you're saying! I can't stand 'em.

But the fact is, I respect most people who are of the outspoken baal-shitoh type. The fact is, most of them are well thought-out. And the ones that can argue their cases well and bring solid evidence to their views really impress me. So, in many cases, the baalei-shittoh are more thought-out and intellegent than the pareve types.

You can make the case, however, that some pareve people are more thought out than baalei-shittoh. Especially the type that go through every outcome and possibility. The fact is, most things in life aren't black-and-white. And the people that can coherently express the many shades of gray score a bunch of points in my book. And I believe that the ability to discuss many possibilities and factors and their consequences separates the spaced pareve people from the highly intelligent ones.

One example that comes to mind is ESPN baseball genius Peter Gammons. When you ask Peter a question like, "How do you think the Red Sox will do in the second half?" he doesn't just say, "they'll do good enough to get the wild card." Rather, he'll say something to the effect of, "well, if Derek Lowe can start pitching well, and if the defense improves, and if Francona can get the players focused, then the Red Sox have a decent shot at making it. And if they manage to get Randy Johnson, and if Pedro reverts to old form, and if Bellhorn and Reese do well enough to make up for Nomar, then they have a very solid chance of going all the way." Now that's my kind of guy!

Frum and Liberal? pt. 2 -- Kerry's Flip-Flops on Israel

Well, once again I leave it to the pros to tell us the facts about the liberal position on Israel. Now, I'll cut you liberals some slack. I'll assume that the positions of the likes of Noam Chomsky, the UN, and Michael Moore aren't reflective of your presidential candidate, Mr. Kerry. So what is his position, then? I saw a great editorial in today's New York Post from Eric Fettmann, where he brings down various quotes from Kerry regarding his position. And then you can decide for yourself what his position is ---- and good luck doing that!

Click here for Fettmann's editorial.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Israel & its Army: To Pray or Not to Pray? pt. 1

One thing I've been thinking about for the longest time is black-hat/yeshivish not saying the prayers for the medina or the army. I have a hard time understanding the reasons not to say it. I'd like to give my argument for saying these prayers, and within the context of those arguments attempt to deal with the arguments against.

The argument for them seems pretty straightforward: as we still live in the Intafada era, Israel's security situation is quite scary. And perhaps now more than ever, they can certainly use our prayers.

So why daven for the secular state of Israel? Simple. Whether you agree with the hashkafos of the state, you can't argue with the fact that the state and its army are keeping the 5 million Jews of Israel safe. If, G-d Forbid, the state would cease to exist, these lives would be in great danger. I like to compare it to the Iraq war. I believe that one can debate whether invading Iraq was appropriate. But after we've invaded, for people to say that we should pull the troops is totally moronic. If anything, pulling the troops out would cause bedlam in Iraq and would therefore create an ideal haven for terrorists. In which case, the invasion of Iraq would end up causing more terrorism rather than defeating it. The point I'm trying to bring out is, what's done is done. Oftentimes in life, we can't live based upon our utopian view of the world and how we'd like things to be. We have to deal with the here-and-now, and in the case of Israel, we have to recognize that regardless of whether the state should've been set up the way it was or not, the state is providing great protection for its people. So it's certainly a cause worth praying for.

And the state's views have no impact on the argument about praying for the Tzahal. I have no idea why we don't pray for them. We're not recognizing the state by saying this prayer, so why not? The least we could do in recognizing their great service is to pray for them. Where's the hakaras hatov?

Some people find the "tzmichas geuolosaynu" line to be offensive. After all, who's to say that this secular government is the sprouting of our geulah? Firstly, some shuls say "that it should be (SheTihay) a sprouting of our redemption." I don't see what the problem is with that. That nusach doesn't recognize that Israel is necessarily a sprouting of the redemption, rather we're praying that ultimately it should turn out to be one! And even according to the first version, it's very possible that the formation of the State was a step closer to the Messiah. Many gedolim have said that we're in the "Ikvisa D'Meshicha," that we're on the heels of the geulah. Many others also say that the miraculous '67 war and getting back all of Jerusalem may have been a step closer. And the '48 war was also quite miraculous. Should we just brush it off as "coincidence"? But then again, who's to say that the war was necessarily a sprouting of the redemption? How are we to know? Which is why I like the other nusach better.

I have more to say on this matter. To be continued.

Monday, July 12, 2004

The Rebbi Who Ripped Lawyers

I was at a shiur earlier this year, and as in many yeshivos, the age-old topic of working for a living came up. Considering that the yeshiva I was in happened to have been a college yeshiva, the rebbi actually said that working was okay, believe it or not. He mentioned the Rambam, who says one should work a few hours a day and learn for the rest of the time. With that in mind, he suggested professorships and dentistry as ideal jobs for the ben-Torah. And he also singled out law as being detrimental for one's Torah learning, considering the long hours that many lawyers work.

My take? Here goes:

a) Suggesting that people should be professors, I believe, is impractical. Many people have no teaching skills, and some just wouldn't enjoy the experience of being a professor. Besides, unless one is smart enough to get a prestigious position, what are the chances that the job will be enough to help make ends meet?

And as for dentistry, it's gotta be one of the most boring jobs out there. Staring at people's mouths? Boring. And definitely not for most people. And they spend a few years in dental school etc. working pretty hard.

b) And for the most part, in our generation of expensive houses, high tuitions, and countless other costs that come with having a large family, how many professions out there guarantee a decent living? Accounting? Another exciting one. Plus you have tax season for a good part of the year. And there's no guarantee that you'll make it big there, either. A friend of mined tried accounting and wasn't going anywhere, so what did he end up doing? Law school.

And business is just too risky. Plus, it's not for most people. If you're not street-smart with a good business head, the chances aren't too great. And the opportunity to make a chilul Hashem is quite large for business-people.

c) Plus, I know many lawyers out there, that after a few years of hard work, have moved on either to their own firms or to another position with less strenuous hours. And they do a whole lot of learning, too. So what it comes down to is that a lawyer can actually have a life and sit and learn for a decent amount of time. Is every lawyer like that? Certainly not. But even people of other professions are also working night and day. And people in med school/ residency don't have it too easy themselves.

d) And if someone's crazy enough to want to become a lawyer, and feels that he's truly cut out for that kind of work, then why not? The seforim say that one should choose a profession that he feels he'll enjoy.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

LINE OF THE WEEK: Vice President or First "Lady"?

``We make a great couple, ladies and gentlemen,''

-John Kerry, on himself and John Edwards

A Trip to Fantasy-Land

After looking at a book entitled "Don't You Know It's a Perfect World?" I was inspired to write this satirical piece. And yes, I know I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I couldn't help it:

Welcome to Fantasy-land, where all is good and everyone is happy. All the boys and girls in fantasy-land are terrific students getting straight A's in all of their subjects, and they behave like angels. No discipline is necessary. "Kids at risk"? Never heard of 'em. It also helps that all the children have such loving, caring parents. The fathers make enough money to the point where the mothers can all stay home and care for their children. There's no such thing as divorce in fantasy-land, not even marriage counselors. In fact, everyone of marital age is happily married! Older singles simply don't exist in fantasy land. If you're a girl and over 19, you're hitched. Nobody feels the need to speak lashon hara in Fantasy-land; nobody ever insults anyone else, and everyone is friends with one another. In Fantasy-land, everyone is treated with respect, both rich and poor. Actually, there are no poor in Fantasy-land: just rich and richer. Even the kollel people are able to live quite nicely. The non-frum are coming to us in droves, and are drawn by the appeal of frumkeit. If you become frum, everything is easy, and you become a VIP member of Fantasy-land!

Okay, back to earth. From reading much of the Jewish media, I find that it's not difficult for one to get this impression about Yiddishkeit. Many magazines (including the likes of Mishpacha magazine) are filled with "happily ever after" stories. So, you'll say, what's the big deal? Besides, shouldn't we stick with positive thinking? Isn't that much healthier than the doom-and-gloom approach?

My response is, I totally agree that there's something to be said for positive thinking. After all, we say "ivdu ess Hashem B'Simcha." But nevertheless, we have to face reality. And when it comes to reality, we have to deal with many problems. The Fantasy-land approach seems to say, "pretend your problems don't exist!" But how does that help anyone? How does that help parents dealing with kids-at-risk? How does it help people with parnossoh issues? Does it put bread on the table? I don't think so.

And after reading this month's Jewish Action, I believe that some aspects of the Fantasy-land approach have done more harm than good. A great article in the JA describes the struggles many BT's face after committing to a life of torah and mitzvos. The JA describes that one of the problems is that many BT's are drawn to the marketing of Judaism. While some BT's are intellectuals and can clearly understand why Orthodox Judaism makes the most sense, others are drawn by promises that don't always come true. I was reading a BT book recently describing the five levels of pleasure, and it came out that learning Torah was #1 (ya think?). But try telling that to a BT breaking his teeth over Arameic. Or a burnt-out Yeshiva guy struggling to stay in the system. And, true, eventually people may find that Torah is their greatest pleasure. But between the fact that today we are in the "instant-coffee" generation combined with some used car salesman-esque sales pitches for Judaism, there's a strong possibility of people being turned off by Judaism when things don't happen as promised right away.

Certainly in the case of the BTs, the Fantasy-land approach has got to go. And even for frum people struggling with problems, books with a Fantasy-land approach are simply impractical. Some may even give a quick fix, like a jolt of espresso, but a few hours later people come crashing back down to earth. And no, it isn't pretty.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Change in Policy

I used to require people to be users of "blogger" in order to comment. The baal shitoh in me said, "if they're afraid to attach their names to their statments, then I don't want to hear them." But, what can I say? The mighty Isaac Kaplan has sold out. So from now on, anonymous comments will be accepted.

Anti-Semites Who Rock, pt. 2

In case you missed part 1, click here.

As mentioned before, the discussion is spawned off the House of Hock. But hey, I like to give credit where credit's due: the guy's one of the more intelligent bloggers out there. Kudos to him.

Back to our discussion: something I saw in Ohr Somayach's "Ask the Rabbi" years back comes to mind. The shailah was something to the effect of: should a Jew buy German products? The answer was very clever: If you won't buy German products, don't buy Spanish products: after all, they caused the Inquisition! And you can find similar anti-Semitic incidents in the histories of many nations. Considering that the US didn't let the St. Louis, a boat full of Jews, into the country, maybe we should add GM to the list of Mercedes and BMWs.

We all know that "Eisav Sonai L'Yaakov." In which case, we probably can't give assume that the non-Jew who's profiting from our purchases is a Jew-lover. There may be many anti-Semites out there that we just don't know about! Only recent revelations have shown people like Harry Truman saying derogatory things about our people. And to buy everything from only Jews is highly impractical. So considering it's an emotional issue anyway and the fact that many of them don't like us anyway, I don't see a big deal in purchasing albums recorded by anti-Semites, and certainly no big in listening to their music.

Now, if the lyrics of the music are blatantly anti-Semitic, that's already a different story. Songs like that are clearly spreading anti-Semitism, aside from the fact that I don't understand how any Jew could tolerate listening to such things!

And to support terrorists is totally inexcusable. To not buy something because of the seller/ artist's ideologies or past sins is no big deal, as I've said above. But to support the attempted destruction of others? Doesn't get more inane than that.

BASEBALL NATION: Top Ten Reasons I Hate The Yankees, #5-#1

Well, we go on in discussing my top 10 reasons for hating the Yankees....

5) BRIAN CASHMAN, GM- The infamous WFAN caller Jerome from Manhattan once called this guy a "buffoon." Probably the wisest thing the guy ever said. And I don't care how many rings Cashman has. In my book, he deserves no credit for the Yanks' success. I'd rather look at the unlimited payroll this guy has (he certainly is a "cash man"), which would be the true reason for his team's success. Give Schuerholz or Sabean this kind of money to build a team, and I wonder if that team would ever lose a game.
Name me one good trade the guy has made. Javier Vazquez? A glorified salary dump. So was Kevin Brown. The Knoblauch trade was a bust. Justice was good for half a year, then stunk in '01. Cashman's true weak spot is pitching. Neagle, Weaver, Yarnall, Witasick, Benitez, Orosco, Wohlers, Karsay, Contreras, Hitchcock, Gabe White--- all busts. The Yankees' pen (aside from Rivera) has been shaky till this year, when Cashman outspent the other teams to give Flash Gordon closer money. How many setup men make that much?
And Cashman has let some darn good prospects get away. What do Mike Lowell, Eric Milton, Cristian Guzman, Ted Lilly, and Jake Westbrook have in common? They're all ex-Yankee farmhands.
The guy who deserves credit for the Yanks' run? Gene Michael. By holding on to prospects like Rivera and Pettitte and adding important players like Paul O'Neill and David Cone, Stick ought to go down with John Schuerholz and John Hart as the best GM's of the '90's.

4) MICHAEL KAY (YES announcer, 1050 talk-show host)- Wow, does it take a lot to be such a homer as to make Mike Franseca look like a Red Sox fan. And it takes even more to make John Sterling look classy and unbiased. But Michael Kay is that good (if you consider that a good thing, that is). And on top of that, he's about as annoying and whiney as it gets. That shrill "seeya!" manages to top Gary Cohen's cringe-causing "it's outta here!" in pure annoyance. And in case that's not enough to satisfy you, the guy is full of himself and arrogant. How much would you have to pay the guy to say something pareve about the Yankees, let alone a criticism? Then there was the time he dissed Yankee fans for booing Mariano Rivera when he was struggling. C'mon, just shut up! The guy thinks he's Jerry Seinfeld the way he tries yukking it up with his buddies on ESPN Radio. And despite two solid compadres on YES in Jim Kaat and Bobby Murcer, Kay still manages to make Yankee games unwatchable.

3) $$$ Shall we call them the Yankees, or perhaps the Marlins-Indians-Devil Rays-Brewers-Pirates, considering the Yanks' payroll is higher than all of those teams combined? And granted, most of those teams are playing competitive ball this year, but could you imagine how much better it would be if they were actually able to compete with the Yanks? The Indians would have a bullpen, TB would have better pitching, etc. So even though baseball's competitive balance situation is the best this year since the '80's, there's still a ways to go. The Yankees are still bad for baseball, and their ridiculous baseball is still ruining the competition of the game-- just look at the Expos. Their whole fiasco would never had happened if there were a salary cap and no Yankees free-spending. The team would've attracted fans to Olympic Stadium (when they were good, they drew! Montreal fans can be interested), they would've had buyers, and Termell Sledge would be in AA where he belongs.
I don't blame King George-- he's just playing by the rules. And I don't blame Selig-- it'll be almost impossible to run a salary cap by the greedy Players' Association. But the spending ticks me off. Simply put, that spending ruins the game of baseball. So when they get Carlos Beltran next winter, I'll ask the Yankee fans just how exactly this is good for baseball, that the rich get richer.

2) DEREK JETER, Shortstop- This guy redefines the word overrated. And overpaid, too, while we're at it. Compare his 2003 numbers to less-heralded Cardinals' SS Edgar Renteria:

JETER: .324, 10 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB, $15.6 Million salary
RENTERIA: .330, 13 HR, 100 RBI, 34 SB, gold glove, $6.5 Million salary

If you were starting a baseball team (and money counted), whom would you choose?

And can you tell me why Jeter makes so much more than Renteria?

My friend Tzali once showed me an article, "What's so great about Derek Jeter?" I'll admit the guy's above-average, but he's no superstar. The Yankees fans always point to the intangibles- he plays hard, he's a good leader, he's respected in the clubhouse. Hey, so's the Dodgers' Jose Lima. And he's not quite getting $15 million for the "intangibles." Is he paid to attract dumb teenage girls to the Stadium? Is it a PR move? Hey, why don't the Yanks' sign Ryan Seacrest? And for being "captain" of the Yankees, it all adds up to a #2 finish in my top 10 for DJ.

1) THE FANS- In light of everything I've written and then some, the Yankee fans take the cake in making me hate the team. They're arrogant and obnoxious. Funny thing is, a Yankee fan today has almost nothing to look forward to. The regular season is dumb; after April, they always beat the Red Sox. And the rest of the games are silly. So wait till October. Who are they playing, the Twins? Who have one-quarter of the Yanks' payroll? Whatta joke. So maybe the ALCS is exciting. But then comes the World Series. The Yankee fan is facing his dilemma. If the Yanks lose, the season is a total bust. A disaster. (How many teams consider the year a bust if their team loses the series? It's crazy.) But if they win, it proves the point that money wins World Championships. And we don't want everyone to think that! One of my friends, a Yankee fan, used the Marlins' victory last year as prrof that money doesn't win championships. And if the Yanks would've won, what would you say, wiseguy? That the Yankees are good for baseball? So wait, you were rooting for the Marlins? Okay, I'm confused.
And based upon what I said before that the Yankees ruin baseball, I believe that any Yankee fan is not a real baseball fan and not rooting for the game's best interests.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

BASEBALL NATION: Top Ten Reasons I Hate The Yankees, #10-#6

Before I get this list started, let me make a confession: once upon a time, I was a Yankee fan too. I liked Don Mattingly and Buck Showalter, even Joe Torre. And Paul O'Neill was my all-time favorite. But after '01, things got too crazy for me. The Yanks' already-bloated payroll shot up, the Yankees got Mondesi and Weaver, two guys I really didn't like, and I simply matured as a baseball fan, realizing it's a lot more fun to hate the Yankees than to root for them. So without further ado, here we go.

10) FRED HICKMAN, YES Network Pregame/Postgame. If you said this guy had the personality of a doorknob, it would probably be a compliment. This affirmative racism success story is a walking cliche-spewer. Every baseball cliche you've heard? This guy's got it: "Sheffield took one for the team with that beaning." "The Yankees did a nice job playing little-ball in the 5th, as they manufactured two runs." "Jeter made a nice play on that Baltimore chop." I'd rather watch paint dry than sit through a half-hour of this guy. And to top it off, he's the biggest Yankee fan this side of Mrs. Steinbrenner. Need I say more?

9) YANKEE STADIUM I'm tired of hearing about this "baseball cathedral" and how it's the greatest stadium. I know, I know, Ruth, Mantle, Gehrig, they all played there. But remember: they also played half their games on the road. Too bad they got rid of Sportsman's Park: what a shrine that was! And aesthetically, the place stinks. Recent polls of the ballparks generally place the Yankees among the bottom of the list. The place just isn't that nice! So it's better than Shea- c'mon, that's not saying a whole lot. After my recent trip to the Phillies' beautiful new digs, I have basically no interest to go back to Yankee Stadium. And Curt Schilling was right about the aura and mystique- they sound like the names of strippers or the like. Nothing else to it.

8) BERNIE WILLIAMS- After having centerfield be patrolled by exciting players through the years like DiMaggio, Mantle, and even Rivers and Henderson, the Yanks put in this dud. Bernie's just a bore to watch. I'll admit he had a couple of good years, but now the guy is clearly washed up. Has he had a big hit since '96? And his fielding has gone nowhere but south. And even in his prime, the people who wanted to compare him to Ken Griffey Jr. just had to be kidding. But hey, those comparisons gave him his huge contract, which is why he's currently as overpaid as he is. Bernie's about as streaky a Yankee as it gets, making him way too frustrating to watch. He'll bat .200 in June, then go .400 in July. And he always takes a month off every year, which ticks me off. There's always another injury; this guy's no Cal Ripken. At least if he would've kept wearing the bar glasses he wore in the early '90's, that would add to his personality.

8) JASON GIAMBI- What would a list about the Yankees be without two number 8's? When the Yanks signed this steroid-riddled guy, it was the beginning of the end for me. You look at the guy in '96 and you look at his pictures now, he's a different person! This guy may go down as one of the biggest disappointments in Yankee free-agent history. After posting Triple Crown-esque numbers in Oakland, his numbers cooled off in '02. And since then, Giambi's been awful. The .250 in '03 was pathetic. Any Yankee fan's gotta worry about that balky knee. And he's one of the worst fielding first basemen in the game. The only good thing you can say about him is that he's a better fielder than Mike Piazza, which isn't saying much at all. And he's had one big hit as a Yankee- in April '02 against the Twins in extra-innings; nothing ever since. So I guess if Winfield was Mr. May, that makes Giambi Mr. April. Wonderful.

7) JOHN STERLING/ CHARLEY STEINER - Yankee radio broadcasters. Talk about impossible to listen to! Sterling is about as full of himself as it gets. All he seems to care about are his jokes and his shtick. The "Theeeeeeee Yankees Win" thing makes me cringe just thinking about it. As I listen to the classy Vin Scully while writing this, I think it's fair to say Sterling is Scully's opposite. The guy's a real homer. I guess he has to sound half-dead when the opponent hits a homerun, to avoid the wrath of King George.
And what happened to Steiner? He was so good on ESPN-radio with Dave Campbell, and then went to the Yankees and sold out. Steiner has also become a real homer, and I'm tired of hearing talk about the mystique of Yankee Stadium. I'm still waiting for him to actually criticize a Yankee! I don't know how this guy will get a job after doing the Yankees-- he's really sold out. Then again, as long as he sucks up to King George, I don't think he'll have to worry about anything.

6) JOE TORRE, manager- this guy has gotta be one of the biggest crybabies I've ever seen. When any other player makes contact with the Yanks, whether it was Clemens hitting Jeter in '98 or Huckaby in '03 or Posada running into Alfredo Almanzega in '04, it's always intentional if the other team does it. And Torre is firs to cry bloody murder! But when Clemens beans Piazza on the head, it was totally unintentional. Yeah, it just slipped out.
Everyone says he's such a great manager because his team makes it to the series each year. Hey, when your owner outspends everyone, it's no big deal. Why should Torre take the credit? Just because he's not as dumb as Grady Little?
And the fact Torre hasn't been fired and gets along with all his players- the Yankees are a totally different team than in the '70's. I'd love to see what would've happened if Torre would've managed the "Bronx Zoo." Besides, George has wisened up in his old age, and has come to realize that the manager-a-year policy is not the wisest of ideologies. So gimme a break.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Nice Guys Finish Last

When I think of Leo Durocher's famous line, baseball comes to mind. In sports, of course, everything is a competition. So if you try to be nice to someone else, you're just going to get your rear end whipped. But when it comes to normal everyday life, you'd figure that nice guys should finish first! After all, everyone likes a nice guy. But one thing I've found, especially in my community, is that Durocher's line rings all too true, even in the Orthodox Jewish world.

One of Poppa Kaplan's closest friends, Jeremy Scott, was president of my shul. Jeremy is as soft-spoken and sweet a guy as they come, and at least a borderline tzaddik. Jeremy would do things nobody else wanted to do, and would be the last guy to leave shul after putting all the prayer-books away. However, there were others in the shul who gave attitude to Jeremy. During meetings when shul policy was discussed, Jeremy would try discussing the issues with the members of the board, but the others had attitudes and gave Jeremy a very hard time. Needless to say, Jeremy's reign as president was short-lived. In addition, as the attitude people took power of the shul, it became a much colder place. And Jeremy simply had enough, and left the shul. I guess nice guys finish last.

When we were in Boro Park for Shabbos, we said Gut Shabbos to every Jew we saw. Many of them seemed quite surprised. One of the people whispered after we walked by, "They must be from out-of-town." Makes sense, no? Go make fun of the person who was nice enough to greet you. I guess nice guys finish last.

In general, it seems that in my community, if you want to be cool, you gotta have an attitude. Me and a friend of mine were once wondering, what separates the ordinary folks from the in crowd? Is it the clothes? I don't think so. I can put a gay pink shirt like one of these guys, and they still won't talk to me. I can overpay on a car and/or house and I'll still be ignored. What is it, then? It's the attitude. You gotta keep the clique a clique, and to hell with anyone who thinks otherwise. If someone's a nice guy but just doesn't rank, you've gotta ignore him. This problem is quite prevalent among women, but from my Yeshiva and camp experiences I must say the guys aren't much better, especially the feminine ones with the pink shirts. I guess nice guys finish last.

The only solace I can take is the famous Chazal: one Amora went to Heaven; another asked what he saw there: "I saw an upside-down world." In our case, I believe that means in Heaven, nice guys finish first. Maybe we should tell that to the local snobs. On second thought, why spoil his temporary fun?

Anti-Semites Who Rock, pt. 1

Once again, my favorite Hocker is at it again. I'd like to use his article as a prelude to something I'd like to discuss. I've never been into movies, but have always been a big music fan (and not quite the genre of the Ophie Nats of the world). I've always heard that rock legend Phil Collins was a big anti-Semite and once announced "all Jews and dogs get out!" I'm not sure if this ever happened. Funny thing is, one of my friends' parents once went to a Phil Collins concert. And they didn't hear anything of the sort. And then there's another of my favorites, a band called Live. They were huge when I was just starting high school. Other artists I've never been into but heard were anti-Semitic include 311 and Public Enemy. The question is, is it wrong for us to listen to their music? Or is it okay to listen, but maybe we shouldn't buy their albums and support them? Or perhaps, it just isn't a big deal? I'll quote the hocker in part 1 and give my take in Part 2.

Marlon Brando
It is interesting to note the Jewish response to Marlon Brando's passing last week. It was not, by & large, "this was a great actor, who made our lives my pleasurable with his talented performances".

But rather: "What does he think about the Jews?"

Can't these people enjoy an artist for his art for a minute without thinking about what he thinks about Jews? Can't they express their Jewishness by liking good or campy movies without talking about the actors and what they have done for or against the Jews?

And even if one wants to get all kike about it and say: What's the Jewish angle?, this person did help the Jews in 1946, as noted by Lammpost. And as per Brando's comments the Jews do control Hollywood.
And lastly, besides the Woody Allen/Ben Stiller neurotic Jew, how many Jewish roles are played to stereotype as manipulative, hook-nosed, amoral power brokers?

Another Sham Shiur

I was walking in my neighborhood recently, and I saw a sign for a shiur entitled "Let's End the Tragedies." Sounds like another cure-all kinda shiur to me!

My guess is that the rabbi will say that our aveiros cause tragedies (what else)? He'll probably say something to the effect of, "we should daven harder and stop doing aveiros."

a)First of all, if a small group goes to the shiur and is inspired, while there are other Jews out there who are still committing aveiros, how can we be guaranteed that there will be no tragedies? And even if the guy will say "kol yisrael areivim" and that we should rebuke the others, who said they'll listen? In which case, perhaps it's impossible for a small group of Jews to prevent tragedies.

b) Who's to say that every tragedy is a result of our sins? After all, there is a concept of "yissurim shel ahava"-- "pain of love." It's certainly a difficult concept to understand (I think it has something to do with G-d wanted to bring out the mesirus nefesh of the ones He loves), but I've heard it many times before. Apparently, a tragedy isn't necessarily a bad thing. And furthermore, not every tragedy is a consequence of an aveirah! I just don't get it.

c) Sometimes bad things can happen as a result of bechirah. G-d gave us bechirah, and as a result wrongs can occur to people who don't necessarily deserve it. Rabbi Benjamin Blech discusses this concept is his great book, "If God is Good, Why is the World So Bad?" He brings proof the story of Cain and Abel. Abel was a good guy who gave his best sheep as a korban to God. Why did he deserve to be murdered? Rav Blech wants to say that this was a result of Cain's bechirah. Cain had the option of killing Abel, and unfortunately he used that option. Once again, not every tragedy is the result of sins.

It's definitely true that we can prevent some, perhaps many of the tragedies amongst us. But to simply "end the tragedies"? I don't see it. And if a person goes to the shiur and subsequently something happens R"L, what are they supposed to think?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

What Is It?

I was walking in my neighborhood recently, and saw a sign from a prominent rebbe saying that the reason for many fatal accidents and the like is due to people's perusing the media and internet. To me, this whole thing is an emotional argument; it just doesn't seem logical.

1) I've seen some people blame the problems on lashon hara, and I've seen others blame it on people who are unethical in business. So who's wrong and who's right? And if you'll tell me that every avairah causes problems (which is true) then how can you single out particular sins? Not putting up a maakeh is also causing problems!

2) Besides, if people actually follow the advice of the rabbis and stop doing a particular sin, then isn't it possible they'll get complacent and not feel the need to do anything else. If they're not causing any problems, they can do what they want.

So I guess the idea behind these signs and articles is for shock effect; let's spook the people into doing tshuva. But I don't see any more purpose than that, and certainly don't see them as logical.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Thoughts on "The Country"

a) I've always been trying to figure out why the mountains are called the "country." I mean, I can see why it would be called the country, because it has a country-esque atrmosphere, but the whole thing confused the hell out of me when I was a youngster in grade school. I went to school, and they taught me the difference between a city (like New York City) and a country (like the USA). So the summer after I learned that, I ask my parents, "wait, we're leaving the city?" "Yes." "And we're going to the country?" "Yes." "But aren't we in the country already?" "Uh, no!" "What do you mean; we're still in the same country; do you mean we're going to a different country?" At which point, my parents would give me a look like I was nuts. And I was thoroughly confused. So do me a favor, just call 'em the Catskills or the Mountains. Keep it simple.

b) Why are all the pizza shops in the country so crappy? If sny of these places looked the way they did and operated the same way, they wouldn't last a day. And you can argue that they have a premium on their location, but why doesn't someone compete and drive the other guy out? Maybe because it's two months a year, they just don't give a darn. But if I have to step into one of those sweltering, smelly shops with twenty flies circling around my pizza, I think I'll pass.

c) The only reason to go to the country these days is the weather. At least that's the only reason I can understand. Whatever charm the Catskills had is long gone. And with the advent of summer homes instead of bungalows, that bungalow-colony atmosphere is long gone. All the japs have to park their cars right next to their summer home/unit (don't you dare call it a bungalow!), and you can barely have a catch lest you get run over by some luxury SUV. And everyone's either in the bungalow watching TV or shopping in Woodbury with their clique. The famous hotels? Dead as a doornail. An over-the-hill comedian or reject Jewish singer? Yawn. So the country is basically Brooklyn with nicer weather, a swimming pool, and lousy pizza shops. Lovely.