Thursday, May 31, 2007

Harry Potter THEME PARK!

Before you start leaving your really happy comments, note:

I am not a Harry Potter fan.

I believe that J.K. Rowling stole and used quite a lot of material from other works of fiction and fantasy without proper attribution. (It's not provable in court, but the woman is, on the ideological level, a plagiarist. Yes, there are many of them, and yes, it's next-to-impossible, but not impossible to come up with an original idea. More importantly, she stole specifics rather than ideas. If I use a princess in a story and you use a princess in a story, that's fine. If I make my princess super-specific and you steal her and she's not really obviously recognizable, in which case it's an allusion rather than stealing, and if she's not credited, as in you don't thank other authors and say you've based your work off of them, then you're a thief. Yes. We can get into this debate later, though, before I'm attacked. Maybe I'll post on it.)

So yes, I have read all the books and I can analyze them and offer theories and interpretations with the best of them, and yes, I do think they're a good thing because they're what started my brothers on reading (though now they have graduated to the better authors, huzzah for them) and yes, I am annoyed that J.K. Rowling receives so much publicity when comparable authors with far more complex fantasy/ fiction works fall by the wayside.


There's going to be a Harry Potter theme park.

Imagine that.

Knockturn Alley, Beuxbatons, Durmstrang, Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Hagrid's Hut, the Lake, Thestrals, Flobberworms...everything you can possibly imagine from the books.

For real.

And brought to life.


(Now, truth is that I'd prefer a Lord of the Rings theme park. I mean, imagine, climb to Mordor, hang out at Rivendell, check out Lothlorien, defend Gondor, etc. BUT Harry Potter is going to rock as a theme park and I am so there.)

Everybody, are you paying attention?

This is my birthday present!

Okay, now I'm done.

Online/ Night School at Yeshiva University or Stern

Several people have asked whether Yeshiva University or Stern have any type of night school or online school. As of now, to the best of my knowledge, they do not. But I was thinking about that and wondered whether they would consider the idea. Of course, to consider it, the venture would have to be profitable. From my point of view, having online school would allow:
    1. People in closed communities to learn more about the ideas or philosophies that they have perhaps been misinformed about (in the privacy of their own home. Of course, if they don't have access to the Internet, that's another problem.)

    2. People in other countries (who cannot come to America for financial reasons or who simply do not wish to do so) to study

    3. People who have graduated but wish to continue to study (working people, perhaps) to continue to have the option to take classes
Now, YU does have YU, but this is a lecture site rather than an interactive teaching program. One downloads the lecture and listens to it but one does not have a mentor or professor to guide you or otherwise answer your questions or ideas.

If one attended an online class, however, people could do several things- they could all have to buy webcams and hook up to an actual class, able to watch the professor lecture in real time, if they so wished. They could hook up to ask questions of the professor in private chat rooms (that forbid entry to others.) They could email the professor and expect answers. This would be a way to teach and guide those who otherwise not have a way in which to learn this material due to community, geographical location or life circumstances.

Now, there are several cons to this idea. First off, I don't think people would much like the fact that they could get a major from Stern or YU by blood, sweat and tears at the actual school and others (paying much less, because you could forget the cafeteria costs, dorming costs and so on), paying much less, could get an equivalent major. So if one were truly able to major in classes online, it would have to be somehow different, an alternative major. Secondly, while this would be nice of the school, it wouldn't necessarily be profitable. How many people would be interested in night school or online school?

(Of course, even if one were attending online school, there would have to be an application process. I'm not quite sure how online school, works; how do they determine that you are doing the work rather than anyone else doing the work for you? Then again, I'm not quite sure how correspondence classes work either. Perhaps someone could clarify.)

So what do you think? Is there a need for online/ night school of some kind? Any more pros or cons to add? Do you think people would participate in this? Would you participate in this?

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Sotah Waters

Who is the Sotah?

The Sotah is a woman who finds herself in a very specific, very peculiar set of circumstances.

    1. She was warned by her husband, in front of two witnesses, not to be alone with a particular man (he warns her due to his jealousy and/or because he suspects her of improper behavior with this man)

    2. She was alone with that particular man and was seen (by either one or two witnesses; there's a difference of opinion in the Gemara)
At this point she is no longer allowed to live with her husband unless she does one of two things:

    1. Refuses to take the test of the sotah waters, in which case she gets a divorce and loses her marriage settlement (To make this very clear: Nobody forces the Sotah to drink the bitter waters. She can say no. She should say no if she is guilty of adultery. The court does not wish her to die in a terrible and frightful manner if this can be avoided.)

    2. Drink the sotah waters (She has the option to back out of this; indeed, the priest and the judges beg her to confess and refuse the waters if she is truly guilty. It is only after the scroll has been blotted out and/or the woman has taken the oath that she is forced to drink.)
If she is guilty, she dies a horrible death. If she is not guilty, she blossoms, looks youthful and bears children if she was formerly barren, or now has an easier time in childbirth (if it was formerly painful.) She is blessed.

The most fascinating thing I ever learned in connection to Sotah was taught to me at Templars (this is one of the few times where I can truly say, "Thank you Templars!")

It has to do with this verse:

לא וְנִקָּה הָאִישׁ, מֵעָו‍ֹן; וְהָאִשָּׁה הַהִוא, תִּשָּׂא אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָהּ. {פ}
31 And the man shall be clear from iniquity, and that woman shall bear her iniquity.

There are many interpretations of this verse. The most fascinating interpretation is offered by the Sifri to Numbers 5:31:

(Thanks so much to Moshe Y. Gluck of ESefer for scanning this for me. When people you don't even know take the trouble to scan sources for you, it demonstrates that something very beautiful exists in the world, namely, kindness. Thank you.)

This Sifri is incredible.

Here's what it says, in effect:

The water will only punish the woman if her husband is clean of that sin. If, however, her husband committed adultery, regardless of whether or not she herself sinned, she goes unpunished and does not die. In order to accuse your wife, you have to hold the moral high ground. If you the husband committed adultery, then you have no right to accuse your wife of being an adulteress.

Tit for tat. Fair and square. Because it is very fair. Even if you are not an adulterer now, if at one point in time you were an adulterer, this was your sin. How dare you accuse your wife when this was the sin you yourself committed! Verse 5:31 is cause and effect, "And the man shall be clear from iniquity," that is, he himself never committed adultery, "and that woman shall bear her iniquity," and in that case the woman shall be punished.

In other words, people who live in glass houses shouldn't cast stones.

Isn't that excellent? I think it's one of my favorite takes on the Torah.

Women and Talmud Torah

Have you ever wondered about the relationship between women and the Oral/ Written Torah? Are women permitted to learn Torah? Are they permitted to learn Gemara? What are the sources in this debate? Which Rabbi espouses which opinion? And what are the legitimate opinions?

I took a fantastic course with Rabbi Kenneth Auman on the subject of Women in Halakha. I scanned his sources/ my notes from the class on the subject of Women and Talmud Torah. You may see the series here (it is a very in-depth account and it may be easier for you if you print off the notes/ sources rather than attempting to read them all online.) Rabbi Auman's approach is to offer every legitimate viewpoint in order to give us a clear understanding of the matter. His sources build upon one another, so you must read them in order (An example- if there is a quote used by a Rabbi to support a point as to why women can/ cannot learn Gemara, Rabbi Auman will first teach us the context of that quote) The series begins by questioning whether women can learn Torah at all, even the Written Torah, and works up to discussing whether women can learn Gemara, or the Oral Torah:

Women and Talmud Torah 1
Women and Talmud Torah 2
Women and Talmud Torah 3
Women and Talmud Torah 4
Women and Talmud Torah 5
Women and Talmud Torah 6
Women and Talmud Torah 7
Women and Talmud Torah 8
Women and Talmud Torah 9
Women and Talmud Torah 10
Women and Talmud Torah 11
Women and Talmud Torah 12
Women and Talmud Torah 13
Women and Talmud Torah 14
Women and Talmud Torah 15
Women and Talmud Torah 16
Women and Talmud Torah 17
Women and Talmud Torah 18
Women and Talmud Torah 19

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Chana's Guide to Stern College for Women

Several people have asked me to write this. In the interests of putting together a somewhat comprehensive guide to the school from a student's point of view, I will. I shall only focus on the teachers' strengths; if for some reason you need more information, you may email me.

I would love to make this more complete and would appreciate input from Stern or YU students on their experiences in the comments section. If there are any other questions you feel it would be helpful for me to answer, I'll be happy to do that, too.

Here is the link to this post so that you can easily email it to others.


Dear Student,

My name is Chana. I am currently a sophomore at Stern College for Women, a member of its Honors Program, an English major and hopefully a Judaic studies major.

What is Stern like? I shall attempt to answer that in as honest a way as possible.

CAMPUS: Stern does not have a campus as other colleges do. It cannot boast the beautiful spacious green rolling plains or quads of other colleges; it is not contained, its own community; instead it is an urban campus, two buildings amidst the many in Manhattan. There is "the Stern building," namely 245 Lexington Avenue and "the new building," 215 Lexington Avenue. Both buildings are relatively small. Do not expect brand-new equipment or dazzling interior design; you will not not find it. The buildings are functional, nothing more. At the moment, "the Stern building" has been renovated so it features an absolutely beautiful new outside facade and interior (with lovely couches and white chairs plus a new lobby.)

The "Stern building" has the following amenities: A cafeteria in the Basement, a library, small (Judaic and secular) on the 2nd floor in addition to a copy machine and a media room (small but functional), the Koch Auditorium on the 2nd floor (this is where you eat Shabbos meals when you stay in), a computer lab on the 3rd floor, gateway to the science labs on the 5th floor, a Beis Midrash on the 6th floor, and construction on the 7th floor in an attempt to create another Beis Midrash.

The "new building" has the following amenities: A cafeteria called "Le Bistro" in the Basement, escalators that break down frequently, rooms with about five computers on the second and third floors.

Both buildings have elevators; unfortunately the flow of traffic means that security personnel are needed to man these elevators during peak periods. You can only get off at floors 3, 5, 7 and 10. At times, this can be frustrating. In terms of security, you are issued an ID card upon your first day; you are supposed to keep this card for the following 4 years. This card is your cafeteria card and library card as well. Every day you show your ID card to security in order to enter the building (yes, sometimes they are lax and you can get past them, but it's not the best of ideas.) You will have to set up your account with the library; each semester someone will put a little star-sticker on your card to indicate that you are registered and can take out books for that semester.

There is a shuttle system between the Beren campus and the Wilf Campus (uptown, where the guys are) and it is free for Stern/ YU students. Shuttles usually (but not exclusively) depart from Brookdale, one of the dorms. (This is excellent as you avoid having to take the subway to Washington Heights, you can get to many of the events quite easily, and you can use their library, which has every book you won't find in the Stern library.)

LOCATION: The location is prime. You are in Midtown Manhattan, the heart of New York City. This is the city that never sleeps, the city that boasts fireworks and sparkles and magic and fun at all times. No matter what you want, it's here. There are plenty of kosher restaurants (Eden Wok, Eee's, Circa, Milk n'Honey, Vegetable Garden, Cafe K, to name a few; here's a list of addresses) in the nearby vicinity. You are walking distance from the New York Public Library and the Mid-Manhattan Lending Library (5th and 40th-41st). The New York Public Library is an excellent place to study; you are permitted to bring your laptop computers. You will need to get a library card for the lending library and an ACCESS card for the New York Public, both of which are very easy to obtain. You are also walking distance from Broadway, which boasts, you guessed it, Broadway shows! Everything that is exciting, scintillating and interesting happens on Broadway. Comedy clubs, karaoke bars, shows and shops are close by. There's a Borders on 2nd and 32nd. The Barnes and Noble where you can buy textbooks is on 5th and 18th street (it may be cheaper to order them from Amazon.) There's another Barnes and Noble on 5th and 45th (or around there). Subway stations are very close by; there's an excellent site called that can provide you with directions anywhere and everywhere in New York. You'll need a MetroCard to ride the subway; that is easily purchased.

DORMS: Stern has different housing options. They are:

  • Brookdale
  • Schottenstein (29th Street)
  • 35th Street
  • 36th Street
  • Windsor (Independant Housing)

Most freshmen and sophomores dorm in Brookdale. Brookdale has rooms of 4 or suites of 5. A suite has two little "rooms" within the larger room. You have your own bathroom and have to provide your own toilet paper and other toiletries. In the regular room, everyone wants the "alcove." Rooms are shaped in an L, you want the bed that is in the shorter part of the L. It gives you the most privacy. There are 4 desks in the room, one of which is located in the kitchen, you may not like that one. Brookdale has 20 floors. The Shabbos elevator is quite annoying because it stops on every floor on the way up and on every floor on the way down. There are stairwells; that's a better option. Brookdale has a CafStore called Milners which sells items such as Chinese food from Eden Wok, assorted parve candies, muffins (occasionally), toilet paper, laundry detergent and other cleaning supplies. You use your ID Card (henceforth called CafCard) to purchase these items. There are two lobbies; the back lobby, where boys are supposedly not allowed, is where the TV is. There's a little outside area attached to that back lobby, also several vending machines. There's a Bais Medrish on the 2nd floor; it is not so well-stocked.

Schottenstein has single rooms. It is a quieter dorm and reserved for upper juniors or seniors. It boasts a CafStore which has much more candy and a greater variety than the Brookdale one. It has a Beis Midrash. There's an East Wing and a West Wing with a crossover bridge, also an elevator and a large laundry room, comparatively speaking. Only 6 floors, I believe. It's on 29th street, close to the shul where some choose to daven on Shabbatot. The lobbies are beautiful; they feature very pretty armchairs, tables and lamps. Apparently you can walk or sunbathe on the rooftop.

35th Street is a gorgeous new building with amazing apartments and a penthouse. It features marble bathrooms, an oven, what seems to be a built-in fridge and otherwise utterly beautiful living arrangments. This is generally reserved for Juniors and Seniors. It's the closest to the "Stern building" on 34th Street, so even though it does not have a CafStore or a Beis Midrash, you are close to the Stern building (which is open till one in the morning and has a Beis Midrash.) Its advantage is its location and the fact that you can cook there/ live in gorgeous surroundings.

36th Street is the new building. It also features single and double rooms. The bathrooms are collective; there are large rooms with bathroom stalls and showers. It has a very large interior lobby and a little garden. It's the second closest to the "Stern building" on 34th Street, so even though it does not have a CafStore or a Beis Midrash, you are close to the Stern building (which is open till one in the morning and has a Beis Midrash.) Its advantage is its location.

Windsor features independant housing or apartments on 31st. I don't know much about it except that it's reserved for seniors and it must be fun to room in your own apartment.

For all the dorms except 35th and perhaps Windsor- you're supposedly not allowed a gas-range or other kinds of electrical appliances for fear that you'll burn the dorm down. Ha. I know many whose rooms contained the legal refrigerator and microwave but who also had an electric kettle, a gas range, toaster oven, sandwich maker- you name it, we had it. Just be careful. Don't burn the building down.

Oh, and there are firedrills at midnight, which leads to a mass exodus of girls in robes or pajamas shivering in front of the dorms.

SOCIAL LIFE: This very much depends on you. Stern is large enough for every person to find their niche and their group of friends. There are all kinds of people, people who are religious and observant and completely committed to Judaism, people who are unobservant and irreligious and who are shomer Shabbat, French people, Moroccan people, Russian people, a couple Israelis and of course Americans. You have the people who are here or in Sy Syms because they simply want to get a job; you have the people who are here because they're interested in what they are learning. Every spectrum of Judaism is represented to a greater or lesser extent. There are very good people here, very kind people; they exist and you can find them. There are people here who go out and Saturday nights and enjoy clubbing; there are people who are part of TAC (Torah Activities Council) and sponsor/ attend Tuesday night learning sessions. You'll find your people.

YU HONORS PROGRAM: See here for a longer discussion. So far the classes I have taken in the program have been rewarding. See here for some examples of Honors Program lectures.

FTOC: First Time On Campus students are treated royally- they get to go to a Broadway show for free, have a fun dining experience, go ice-skating and do other fun things- all for free. If you're an FTOC, you'll be contacted/ there will be signs posted everywhere.

METROPOLITAN EXPERIENCE: A raffle all the girls can participate in for fun opportunities here (New York Philharmonic, Museums, etc). If you win, you get to attend these events for free.

CJF: The CJF is the Center for the Jewish Future. This is President Richard Joel's brainchild. I know them in connection to the programs they sponsor, amongst which are QUEST, Counterpoint and spring break/winter break programs. They aim to spread the spirit of Judaism to others by creating future leaders. The QUEST program is a leadership training program for guys and girls; it teaches you how to facilitate discussions that don't descend into pointless flame wars or shout-outs, how to interact with teenagers and actually run programs at high schools (they fly you out to do this once you are ready.) Spring break and winter break programs take you to Guatemala to help build houses for orphans or to Israel to help rebuild after the war in Lebanon. Counterpoint is a program that takes you through the UK over the summer; you go where you are needed and give shiurim/ run programs as necessary. Torah Tours occur over holidays, guys and girls go to different places to liven up the atmosphere/ give shiurim. Overall, it sounds quite fantastic.

TAC/ SOY: TAC is the Torah Activities Council and it exists and operates on behalf of Stern (and Sy Syms, I believe.) SOY is the Student Organization of Yeshiva and operates for Yeshiva University. The two of them often join together to fund or sponsor events. On the Stern campus, TAC has weekly learning opportunities on Tuesday nights via T3 (T Cubed). They have different lecturers or people to give shiurim each time and often accompany the lecture with food (from Dougies.) TAC and SOY both sponsor events for the schools on a whole (this also may take the form of speakers or lecturers.) SOY is known for the SOY Sefarim Sale.

SHABBAT: Shabbat at the dorms can be quite the interesting experience. You sign up at either of the cafeterias and pay a sum of $10 for all three meals. After Wednesday, you have to pay $15. The Orientation Shabbat is huge; everyone stays in, it's very crowded, we daven at Congregation Adereth-El on 29th Street. Meals are in the Koch Auditorium in the Stern building on the 2nd floor. Shabbos night you have disturbingly oily soup with knaidels or matzah balls, some kind of salad, grilled chicken with a strange orange sauce, broccoli or potato kugel and then cupcakes for dessert (with sprinkles!) All the drinks are diet. Depending on the amount of people, there are either small circular tables where you can hang out with friends or large rectangular tables where there is no room and you have to squeeze your way and pray to God to find a seat. Each Shabbos has a theme or is sponsored by a different club (after Orientation Shabbat, you'll have TAC/ SOY shabbat, Yachad Shabbat, Chemistry Club Shabbat, etc). After lunch, you can walk to the lake or go back to the dorms, where there are snacks of various kinds (popcorn, cookies, sour bears, jellybeans) and hang out with friends or play games (Apples to Apples is a favorite.)

On most of the Shabbatot in the year, YU pays for guys to come down (they stay at the Bedford Hotel on 42nd) and make a minyan. This minyan either happens in the cafeteria (if there's a small amount of people) or in the Schottenstein Cultural Center. These guys are notoriously termed "sketchy;" it's assumed that if they come down here for Shabbos they are looking for girls. I was warned away from them all on my first Shabbos. They're not all that bad, though; it really depends on the Shabbos. Sometimes they're here for perfectly legitimate reasons. Plus our food is supposedly better than theirs. Some Shabbatot are officially understood to be the ones where the guys and girls check out the scene, and when you say scene in YU/ Stern, that can only mean one thing (the dating scene). These Shabbatot are the TAC/ SOY affairs and the YU Israel Club Shabbat. If you don't want to be part of this, don't stay in that Shabbat.

As long as you're with friends, Shabbat at Stern can be fine, even fun. Since I'm one of those insanely proud people who doesn't ask people to have her over for Shabbat, I spent most of first semester there; that's not too fun. You can, incidentally, waitress on Shabbat and earn money doing that (something like $70, half on your CafCard and 30ish in a check, unless you're on a Work-Study program, in which case you get it all in cash.) You email in order to apply for a job (do it early, at the beginning of the week.)

There are nice people in New York and they'll have you over; so will your in-town friends once you acquire some. It's all good.

JUDAIC STUDIES: These are brilliant. However, I can only speak for my level of ability. I happen to be taking the Advanced Classes, and have enjoyed them very much. I attended an event for the Basic level and was incredibly disappointed. The arguments being presented there were infantile and very flawed. In terms of the Advanced Classes, however, here are the teachers I have taken and how I would describe them.

Rebbetzin Sarah Greer: (2 credit class) The woman is brilliant. She is extremely learned, studied one on one with Nachama Leibowitz (and does not flaunt this), is very humble, and enjoys the midrashic/ aggadic side of Judaism. The sources she incorporates into class are highly enjoyable for anyone who enjoys magic or imagination as the majority of them are midrashic approaches. I learned more in her 2-credit class than I did in comparable 3 or 4 credit classes. She lives in Connecticut and takes the train in once a week. She expects excellence. Assigns one paper per class, but it is a research paper and you have to WORK. You have to look up all the sources even if you don't plan to use them all, and you need to prove that you have done this. Does not appreciate fluff. You have homework assignments for the first four or five weeks of class, and this is not regurgitation homework, but rather interpreting a new source (attached). The questions are hard.

Rabbi Kenneth Auman: (3 credit class) Also brilliant. He teaches halakha- the class I took with him was Women in Halakha. He does not approach matters from a feel-good hashkafic approach, but a strict halakhic approach. He gives you many, many sources/ texts, most derived from the Gemara. You learn these in class, and it's wonderful because you then learn where every idea derives from. He is well-spoken, thoughtful and prefers to say he doesn't know something rather than giving over idiotic answers. A distinguished gentleman, and the pulpit rabbi of a Young Israel somewhere in Brooklyn. Also on the RCA. Multiple-choice tests (murderous) and an essay-esque final. He gives back points on the multiple-choice tests if you can effectively argue your case.

Dr. Grunhaus: (3 credit class) She prefers a categorizing approach to Navi or Chumash. I took her Jeremiah class. We received a sourcebook and often had to prepare sources for classes in addition to looking through various perakim. The class was arranged by theme/ topic. She likes to categorize midrashim, explaining why one midrash and another fall into different "types," enjoys dissecting and analysis of material.

Rabbi Mordechai Cohen: (3 credits or 5 credits, depending on the class) I took his Job class. Thus far, He favors the analysis/ dissection approach. Good class for analytical people. We're learning different philosophical and psychological-ethical approaches to Job, incorporating various sources. He expects 2 papers, one of them 20 pages long. A lot of preparation/ effort is expected in class. Gives quizzes to test your knowledge of the material. A soft-spoken, nice man. His syllabus/ quizzes are in Hebrew. His Parshanut class is often spoken of in tones of great awe. A very open-minded man, someone who enjoys those who think outside the box.

Rabbi Shmalo: (2 credit class) He apparently teaches at Michlala. This semester I took 'The Kuzari' with him. He completely immerses himself in the mindset of the author of whatever text he is teaching and attempts to teach the text from that point of view. So we're not comparing 'The Kuzari' with Rambam, but rather learning what R' Yehuda Halevi's viewpoint was. A bit of a method actor; he says that the highest compliment he was given was by a girl who thought he completely subscribed to the philosophy of the moment (the one he was teaching at the time.)

SECULAR STUDIES: This depends on your major. There are many Bio Majors, for instance, and I would assume this means the Biology department is up to par/ fantastic. I'm an English major. The English classes are not comparable to those given at other colleges. This in a large part is because there are no classes FOR English majors WITH English majors, which limits the demands the teacher can make on the class, as not everyone will have the same background. The teachers are kind and sweet and often very smart, but I don't think they can necessarily teach to capacity simply because of the varied backgrounds of the students. Also- for some reason they have a policy not to teach texts in translation, which upsets me. We won't read Russian literature (as an actual class) because it's in translation.

Professor Nachumi: (3 credits) I took Professor Nachumi's class for Freshman Honors Seminar (a mandatory class for all Honors Program students; you cannot take other English classes concurrently.) She reminds me a bit of the lady at the center of Mona Lisa Smile; she believes in the empowerment of women. She is a smart, interesting woman with a desire to study the female viewpoint in literature. She sees Stern as an ideal place to accomplish this, as obviously this is an all-girls school. For example, we read Her Eyes are Watching God and Mansfield Park (in addition to other works) and did considerable work focusing in on the heroines of such work. She knows her students and knows what they can give; she pushed me to work harder than I would have otherwise. She sometimes focuses on controversial material. Not for the closed-minded.

Rabbi Dr. Richard Weiss: (4 credits w/lab) He teaches Biology for Non-Majors in addition to more advanced Biology courses. Bio for Non-Majors was a great lecture class. Rabbi Weiss consistently makes reference to TV shows he grew up with and somewhat corny jokes (some are good), but he's a really lovable, kind man. He's very detailed, going over information extensively, writing key points on the board, utilizing slides and slideshows and obviously speaking aloud. He prepares you for his tests (which are multiple-choice) and is very fair. If you can convincingly argue your points in terms of why you selected particular answers on his tests, he is willing to give back credit. The only time he misses class is when he has to preside at funerals, as he is also a pulpit rabbi. There's a Bio Lab component in addition to his lecture; I took that class with Professor Luers, but she will not be there next year.

Professor Manfred Weidhorn: (3 credits) Professor Weidhorn is an excellent English teacher, probably the best one I've yet had. I took his Milton and the 17th Century class and loved it. He lectures and has a very firm opinion as to which answers are right or wrong, often this has to do with a way of wording the answer, so even if you are right, he will tell you that you are off target. This really doesn't matter because he's very knowledgeable and that's key. He begins his class by firmly asserting that you cannot impose Western morality upon texts and cultures that were conceived long before such morality rose to the fore; more importantly, you cannot impose the Orthodox Jewish morality or mentality upon these texts. For that, I will be forever grateful to him. I was cackling. Very impressive command of material, texts and random quotes by important political figures. Uses acronyms and mneumonics to help students, has an extensive typewritten list of literary terms that I found useful. The kind of teacher 99% of people would hate and I adore.

Professor Carol Silver: (3 credits) Professor Silver is also an English teacher; I took 'Survey of English II' and 'The Romantic Period' with her. She has lovely silvery-white hair and is a very interesting woman. A lecture class which includes quite a lot of historical background, mostly for our own edification rather than for testing purposes. Very knowledgeable; her speciality is the Victorian Period. She encourages discussion and likes students to add their input. Very kind woman, very entertaining; her tests are very straightfoward and she assigns one paper per class (a research paper). She brings cookies or candy to tests.

Dr. David Shatz: (3 credits) I took his 'Ancient and Medieval Philosophy' class. A lecture class, some will not like it because his style is not the most animated, but I learned quite a lot from him. His tests are difficult (or they were for me); they feature three parts, one of which is pure memorization of philosophers and their philosophies, then short essay questions and then a longer essay. He's a very kind, funny, entertaining and smart man. He's very interested in your understanding the material. Also, he's one of the most respected in his field; he's edited and coauthored lots of books and he teaches at Columbia University.

EXTRACURRICULARS: These are quite good. There are a lot of clubs, and that is nice. I was involved in

Fencing: This was quite enjoyable. There are three weapons- sabre, epee, and foil. I am a foilist, and it was quite fun to learn how to fence and attend competitions. There is a time commmitment Mondays and Wednesday nights from 7:30 to 9:30. Also, a lot of Sunday competitions. You have to be up quite early, get your whites and kit together, come meet in the gym, go on the bus to wherever your destination might be, fence and come back home.

Newspaper: There are two, 'The Observer' and 'The Commentator.' I prefer The Commentator but next year the most competent girl I have ever met is going to be in charge of The Observer, so it all might work out well. The Commentator's system and hierarchy is very well-entrenched; The Observer's is not. Hopefully that can be changed. Girls can write for the commie; this is somewhat infrequent, however.

YU Medical Ethics: The YU Medical Ethics Committee is a student-run organization that features interesting lecturers (on the YU staff or from without) who focus on the Jewish viewpoint on Medical Ethics (whether this be organ donations, surrogacy, DNR and euthanasia, anything and everything controversial happens here.) This is one of the only places you are going to hear the Jewish viewpoint on Medical Ethics. I love it. Apparently the brainchild of Yonah Bardos, huzzah for him.

Debate: On Sundays, therefore only with a few schools. I'm not really involved because it clashed with fencing, but it was quite fun the one time I went.

Drama: Stern has 'Showcase' which is a talent show (by girls for girls) during first semester. You can do whatever you like- act, sing, dance, play an instrument; it doesn't matter. During second semester, they have (or had) a play. Reuven Russell was the director. The play was...interesting. It was an original piece by a YU student; it's pretty cool that we get to perform original material. I met some really nice people while participating in it, as well, and on that account, it was all good.

There are quite a lot of other clubs that I cannot speak about from personal experience: QUEST, YU Israel Club, Chabad Club, French Club, Russian Club to name a few.

Would I recommend Stern? If you enjoy Judaic Studies, yes. If you want the Judaic studies, yes. If you can supplement your secular studies and will take advantage of the location, yes.

What don't I enjoy at Stern/ what can be fixed?

  • The Uptown Effect- I miss out on some really excellent teachers because they only teach uptown. It's sad; I've been told I would love their classes.
  • The Seminary Issue- This was more frustrating during first semester, by second semester I didn't care anymore. During first semester, everyone was inquring as to which seminary you went to the year before this one; if you hadn't gone to one, you had to deal with looks. I didn't enjoy the looks.
  • The Dating/ Marriage Issue- Yes, it's an issue. No, it doesn't have to rule or ruin your life. But gods. There are times where I want to tear out my hair.
  • The English Issue- I want classes that are specifically geared and tailored for English majors. I'd also like a literary journal. I can dream...
Overall, however, I love this school. Why do I love it? Because it's excellent for me. I enjoy English; I enjoy Judaic Studies- this school offers me the Judaic Studies on a level I can appreciate and has a decent, if not brilliant, English program. I have teachers I can respect and who I desire to emulate, I've met interested, thoughtful students who are fun and engaging and have been able to participate in a nice amount of activities. I've had a party and am looking forward to next year.

That being said, I would not recommend Stern to everyone. You have to be a certain type of person to enjoy being here- and there are many types of people here, so there's no question that you can find your niche, if you are so interested. However, if your talent lies in a specific subject, you're not that interested in Judaic studies and don't want to be obligated to participate in a dual curriculum/ core, don't come here. Go to your Ivy League school or your state school or wherever you want to be; don't come here and feel sorry for yourself because it's not what you expected. Know what you're getting into, commit and have a ball, and everything will be wonderful.

All right, enjoy!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Things I Learned Yesterday

I think we should discuss drug tests. Seeing as I took one yesterday and believe the entire experience could make for a good story. I mean, imagine the poor nurse. The nurse has to sit there and deal with the nervous people who are embarrassedly sneaking glances at her while maniacally downing glass after glass of water. She has to politely ask them whether they feel they can "go" now. I mean, this is all a very delicate situation. Who wants to tell the nurse that they don't yet feel able to urinate into a cup for her? I bet it's even more disconcerting for males. Because then there's the whole idea of performance upon command, to boot. I mean, are you masculine if you can't provide the nurse with the required ccs when she requests them? God, the strike to the ego! The pain! The horror! That you, a male, must uncomfortably squirm in this chair while drinking down water and waiting your required 15 minutes as it makes its way through your body. Oh, this could all potentially be quite entertaining.

Also, I am the bustop picnicker. By which I mean, if I am required to stand next to a pole for a period of 20 minutes, I'm not going to do it. No, instead I sit and decorate the grass or the pavement around me. I place my dollar seventy-five upon a sheet of paper, the coins winking in the sunlight. I take out my book, The Bourne Identity, and read, raising my eyes every few minutes to see if my bus is coming. I eat Cheez-Its. I roll up my sleeves. I play with the green grass and bask in the sun. And then my bus rolls along and I spring up, throw my backpack over my shoulder, take my fare and pleasantly get on the bus.

Then get off the bus and find another bus and frustrate my father but questioning which side of the street I am supposed to stand on. He says I have to take the bus Eastward. I have no idea where that is. I don't work with directions; I need landmarks. At this point I ask "If the bus is going to Evanston, am I okay?" and I can hear the relief in his voice and imagine him nodding fiercely on the other side of the phone, yes, yes. At this point I hibernate again, pull out the book, place my backpack behind myself and the pole (it serves as a cushion) and continue.

Finally, footwear. This is my quest for white sandals and black sandals. I am very particular when it comes to shoes. First, I like sandals. And I especially like strappy sandals, by which I mean that the straps curve up and around the front of the foot. There has to be a slim heel. I have to be able to walk in the shoe, so it can't be too high. In fact, as a rule, I never buy shoes I can't run in. (This means I can run in reasonably high heels, a remarkable feat.) Why don't I buy shoes I can't run in? If I want to be morbid, I can say it is because I can get away no matter what the circumstance. If I do not want to be morbid, I can simply say it is because I am so much in demand by my dear, darling parents and I must rush to do their bidding.

Anyway, the shoes. I have looked at every single pair of shoes in existence. I visited Nordstroms, Lord and Taylor, Macy's, DSW Shoe Outlet, Steve Madden, Aldo and Nine West. And probably more. I think I tried on over 100 pairs of sandals yesterday. And yes, some of them were very pretty, but none of them were me. Plus I dislike this new style of having the strap go around one part of the foot but leaving the other part of the foot open, strapless. I think it looks very ugly. It's also impractical.

I found one pair of shoes I liked at Macy's, but when I asked the price I found out they were $195. Right, I think.

DSW also had some nice sandals. The Steve Madden patent leather black ones were almost what I was looking for. Almost. But they didn't strap around the foot; they had a very contrived front where the straps had been woven together. In fact, rather a lot of shoes suffered from that. Aldo had a pair of sandals that almost exactly matched what I had in mind but the heel was silver and far too long. There was another pair of Nine West sandals that I liked except for the huge, clunky heels. I am not a hooker. I will not buy hooker shoes.

Why is this so difficult? I know I am very particular. I am one of those people who will go shopping ostensibly all day and who will not come home with anything. As I did yesterday, except that I bought the soundtrack of A Beautiful Mind so at least I have that now. Also, I went to my favorite place in the world, and that is the Barnes and Noble at Old Orchard.

I have been to many bookstores in New York. My bookstore of choice is the Borders on 2nd and 32nd. But none of them can compare to the truly beautiful Barnes and Noble at Old Orchard. I don't know why it is, I simply know that that is the happiest place in the world for me to be. I have gone to the mall before simply to sit in one of their oversized squashy armchairs and read all day. Of course, I have paid for this privilege. This usually takes the form of my utilizing their Barnes and Noble cafe. And of course I buy books from them, whenever the need arises. But yes. The highlight of my day at the mall (don't tell anyone) is finally walking into that Barnes and Noble, finding an armchair, smiling at the other people who are reading, and falling into my book.

I shop because it is necessary, an obligation. Sure, I like shoes and clothes and jewelery- especially jewelery. But I really don't want to go to Old Orchard to buy shoes or to find clothes, even though I do it, even though I spend all day running around to every single store in existence in an attempt to find a pair of the perfect black sandals.

No. I go to Old Orchard because I want to hang out at Barnes and Noble, which is my happy place.

I bet you have a happy place, too. It's probably your secret. Maybe it's the beach or a particular friend's house or a niche beneath a bridge. I don't know. But this one's mine. And if you ever want to find me in Chicago, odds are that when I'm not working or sleeping or reading or writing or watching movies or hanging out with friends, I'm at Old Orchard at Barnes and Noble, curled up in an armchair, sneaking looks over the top of my book at the friendly old man who is checking out his gardening magazine or the woman who is enjoying her romance novel. And I feel close to them without knowing them, and to be surrounded by people who have so many possibilities to them, who could be anyone, and who are all reading, to be sitting in this nice armchair that is really big enough to be a bed (a small one, but I could definitely sleep there), to hear the music or tune it out as you choose, to sample a drink or Godiva chocolate from the cafe; yes, this is my mini-heaven. It is small, it is pleasant, it is simple- it is mine.

Happy places are good.

Then my dad picked me up and we went fruit-shopping and meat-shopping and it was all good.

That all having been said, have a wonderful Shavuot!

Monday, May 21, 2007

In the Mirror

A character sketch

He looks at himself and wonders whether what he has done is really necessary. It has brought so much strife, so much unnecessary grief into his life; his parents think that he hates them and that he has done it in order to do it to them, in order to hurt them. Why does it have to be about them all the time? This isn't about them; it's about him. It's about him realizing that his whole life has been a lie, that the notion of a personal god with which he has been raised was a lie, that a god like this could not look onward and watch the world fall into the darkness and chaos that it is. And at the same time, because he's been so indoctrinated, because he's been taught this since the time he was a little boy, he cannot get it out of his head, cannot free his mind. He is, therefore, rebelling against God. He is no true atheist for he does believe in God; there is a part of his soul that resonates with him and knows him to exist; he has simply determined that it is his duty and his task to turn away from him, to confront him, to reach out to him in anger and to declare that he sees his cruelty and will not watch it any more.

His parents do not understand this. His parents do not understand the hard task he has set for himself, the tragic role he feels he has to play. He knows that it is his task, he knows that in his turning his back on god he is most eloquently expressing his defense of humanity, of all those who have died or suffered by god's hands or by his indifference. At the same time, he laughs at himself and mocks himself, because who is he to assert that he can make a difference, that turning against god says anything or shows anything at all? He sees himself as a hero but he is bound by the pain and by the tragedy; now he has to move onward, to live his life and be happy, but he does not want to. Because that would suggest an ulterior motive, wouldn't it? That would suggest that the reason he turned away from his religion is not because this is his way of fighting against God; it would instead suggest that he is weak, like the others he has heard about, and that he has turned away simply because he wants the opportunities that have been denied him.

And he cannot face that. No, how can he? He alternates between different states of being; at one point in time he feels like he is on fire, so completely raw and vulnerable and at the same time cold, chilling, a commander, arrogant in all his many forms. It is at that moment that he is invincible, unstoppable; it is at that moment that the words flow from his pen. They are dark words but not melodramatically so; they are the words that express the world in which we live. He is Kafka born again and in those moments he knows it. But afterwards, when the sadness sets in, he doubts everything. He doubts himself, he doubts his motives, he doubts everything that he has written; he sees it all as some kind of mockery, a comedy, an exercise in a farcical act of vanity. That is when he tears everything up, shreds it to pieces, frustrated and angry and at times indolent, lazy, leaning into his couch and simply staring up at the ceiling. He concentrates upon one spot, one spot where the ceiling is sagging, and he looks at it viciously or perhaps detachedly because that is where he will focus all his anger, that calm anger that he does not display.

He is not wild. He is controlled, genial, calm, pleasant. Those whom he does not trust see him this way; they see him in his calm manner, when he is being polite but simultaneously resents the intrusion upon his privacy, when all he desires is for others to leave him alone. He will not say as much. This is not to spare their feelings but usually to spare those of his parents, whom he tries not to hurt more than he has to. He cannot help but feel guilty because of what they see him as having done to them. But at the same time he is angry and resents them, because they insist about making this all about them, and it isn't, it isn't, it has never been. This is about him, about how he is going to live, about his own life.

This is about the fact that he cannot surrender. How can you surrender your own will, your mind, all that is yours to some other creature, even something as lofty and frightening as a god? No, no, he cannot do this; he will not. There will be no surrender of his intellect, of everything that makes him who he is. God does not deserve this. A god who could murder and kill his people, a god who seems indifferent in the face of tragedy and pain, such a god does not deserve his surrender. He is arrogant, yes, but he deserves to take pride in something and he will take pride in this- he has turned his back on God. Yes, knowing that he exists, he has turned his back on him. And he is willing and ready to suffer the consequences. No matter what happens. He has thought about this; he knows all that awaits him in the next world. But none of it matters. Because such a god does not deserve his worship, does not deserve his kindness.

In truth, he is jealous of god. He admits this to himself in his darkest moments, when he is alone. He realizes that he wants to be god, not to have all that power, but simply so that he would not have to surrender to a creature higher than him. He wonders, then, whether all that he has done he has done simply in the name of jealousy, and it is at those moments that he is afraid so he calls someone, the girl of the moment, and he tells her to come over so that he can focus his mind on other things and on other matters. They are all distractions; he doesn't love any of them. Love is a weakness, love is a form of vulnerability, love is a way of exposing oneself. And he doesn't want to expose himself; he doesn't want anyone else to see him. He wants to exist alone, apart, a man for himself, the legendary island.

Except that he doesn't. He knows that there are times when he needs others so he does have those he trusts, those who are his equals and companions in philosophy, art, music, theater, in all things that matter and that interest him. He can respect them while mantaining his own self-respect; he judges them by his criteria and they have passed. So the love that he perhaps feels he channels into his discussion; it is not that there is an increased passion when he speaks about the works he loves but an increased level of detachment, a coolness that masks what he really feels and what he really thinks. He appears to be everything that he should be- debonair, calm, collected, working, sane- but at the same time he realizes that he is none of these things.

He has set himself apart but he feels that he has been set apart from the beginning. It was not his choice. His parents inflicted this upon him, his parents forced him to learn, to understand, to comprehend worlds and ideas that have been pressed upon him. He has to lead an examined life; there is no other choice left to him. He has to do what he feels to be right- and yes, why not admit it? Initially, at least, he was perhaps punishing them for what they had done to him. If he had led a more normal childhood, if he had not been granted brilliance, then perhaps it would all have worked out in a more common manner, and he cannot pretend that at times he does not yearn for that because he does. There are so many times when he thinks about the way it could have been, of all he could have had if only his cursed mind did not demand the truth of him.

But it is not cursed, not truly so, because it is his mind that grants him the freedom to choose, the freedom to realize that he has decided God is a tyrant and as such he will turn his back on him. It is also his mind that allows him to perpetrate the farce of existence where he politely passes by many and confides in the few. In time he will become the enigmatic, dark brooding artist with his cult-following of adolescent girls. Not that he wants their respect; no, he is working for the critics, but more importantly, for himself. He has the highest taste, he has read the most beautiful literary works and therefore his writing and his prose is distasteful to him unless it matches those grand creations. He is certain that he has the capacity, now he must simply force himself to find it.

He will find it. There are times when he is so certain that it will come. But there are other times, the dark times, when he feels that he is a failure, that it was all for nothing, that everything he did, all the sorrow and all the grief that he has caused, was pointless. He destroyed others due to his own vanity and arrogance and it kills him. But he would never admit it. He will flash that debonair smile as amusement twinkles in his eyes, projecting a picture of confidence and wholesomeness. It is not for others to pry into his life. It is not for others to know him at all.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

JIBS! (Hello Lurkers)

Thanks for voting for me at the JIBS!

Thanks to your votes, I won the Gold for Best Student-Life Blog.

No, I didn't win in the other categories where I was nominated, but that's okay. I'm actually just thrilled by how many people read the posts while deciding which ones to vote for (the JIBS cause readership to skyrocket; it's all quite fun.)

This is also my post to say hello to all the lurkers who appear to have voted for me.

Last I checked, I had 120 votes for Best Student. Let's subtract 40 of those (I'm assuming 40 were duplicates.) So then I have 80 votes. Now, I can account for about 20 of those votes (my family and various classmates/ friends of mine.) But who are these other 60 people?

Hello Lurkers! They must be you. :D Care to stop by and say hello?

My Stories

It occurs to me that it would be much easier for those who enjoy my stories to read them if they were all organized under one post. (It'd also be much easier for me to keep track of them.) I'll link this post in the sidebar.

So here we go:

Ophelia (01/08/11)
The Well of Her Heart (08/15/10)
The Red Heifer (01/10/10)
Ants in the Bisquick (09/30/09)
Apple Pie (09/29/09)
The Lion's Den (08/16/09)
The Firebrand (08/02/09)
Possession (The Art of Roses) (08/02/09)
The Lady of Shalott (2/03/09)
Burnt Roses (12/28/08)
My Moonlight (12/10/08)
The First Kill (11/19/08)
Aher (10/29/08)
The Song of Songs (10/16/08)
The Adulteress (10/05/08)
The Witch of Pythai (08/13/08)
absorbent beauty: an assimilation of darkness (06/07/08)
The Fairy Queen (5/07/08)
The Unmarried Sister (3/13/08)
Lyssa (1/ 20/ 08)
The Art Teacher (12/ 11/07)
ballerina girl (9/24/07)
The Salutatorian (8/19/07)
Alex and Lara (6/11/07)
The Prophet (6/07/07)
The Sacrifice (5/ 18/07)
The Siren (5/ 8/ 07)
The Angel (4/ 27/07)
At the Zoo (2/ 6/ 07)
The Sea Witch (12/ 24/06)
The Bloody Rose (12/ 14/06)
The Dragon Queen (10/24/06)

Moses as Leader: Defending our People

One of the places where Moses shows to greatest effect is after the Golden Calf. He comes down the mountain to see his people engaging in a bacchanalia in honor of this new god. He can no longer bear the weight of the tablets and throws them to the ground, where they break into shards. He confronts the sinners and destroys the object of their desires, restores order and otherwise regains control. But note his conversation with God, before all that. God wishes to destroy all the Jews. Moses responds:
    יב לָמָּה יֹאמְרוּ מִצְרַיִם לֵאמֹר, בְּרָעָה הוֹצִיאָם לַהֲרֹג אֹתָם בֶּהָרִים, וּלְכַלֹּתָם, מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; שׁוּב מֵחֲרוֹן אַפֶּךָ, וְהִנָּחֵם עַל-הָרָעָה לְעַמֶּךָ.

    12 Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people.

    ~Exodus 32: 12
This is a very strange verse. Why is Moses asking for God to consider the outlook of the Egyptians? Does God really care what these people think of Him, whether they receive the wrong impression of his talents and abilities? No, most would answer, not really. But Moses is grasping at straws. Moses is going to bring every argument at his disposal to help his people; he is going to defend them in every which way.

Note that Moses does not say that the people repented and therefore deserve to be forgiven. This is because they are still in the midst of their sin; this conversation Moses has with God is far removed from them; they do not even know what he says. But he defends them, he pleads for them, he prays for them- and why? Because of "what the Egyptians will think." Because of the merit of their fathers.

From here we learn to defend people, even sinners, with whatever reasons we can, no matter how foolish or silly they seem. Because people are precious and we try to preserve them at all costs. Of course, Moses then returns down the mount and puts an end to the sin, holds a court and trial and metes out justice. But at that moment, he wasn't sure of any of those things or of whether the people would repent at all. He was merely arguing, arguing, it would seem, for the sake of people.

The same kind of argument is advanced in one of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's speeches:
    The kinah elegy begins: "Behold, at the time when [Israel] fair as Tirzah, was in fullness of abundance, the angels cried without [and] when [Jeremiah], the son of Hilkiah, left the Temple, he met a woman whose beautiful face became repulsive" [Kinot, trans Abraham Rosenfeld London, 1965), p 136]. The theme of this kinah is that Jewish women are all beautiful. It is only the difficulties of poverty that cause them to appear homely. Our sages already expressed this idea: "The daughters of Israel are beautiful, but poverty disfigures them" [Nedarim 9:10]. Similarly, the Jewish people are beautiful, but the difficulties and the povery of the Diaspora distort them.


    Who speaks about luxuries? I remember I wanted a bicycle. It was as far from me as a Chinese warlord is distant from us at this moment. I wanted a ball. I could not afford to buy one. I made an artificial ball from paper and glue. Yet we were in the middle class. The so-called proletarians were simply hungry. They did not have enough bread to eat.

    Under such circumstances the Jew sacrificed, and sometimes he acted in an ugly fashion. He was cantankerous and constantly started fights. Nevertheless, the Jewish people were basically beautiful. Sometimes they were defiled because of trouble and indifferent, cruel circumstances which corrupted them. [emph mine]

    ~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, volume 1, 262-263
And there is a Hassidic tale that stresses the same idea.

Once a layman was greasing the axle wheels of his cart and simultaneously saying his morning prayers. One Rabbi saw this and was horrified, believing that what the man was doing was an insult to God and to the prayers. He upbraided the man. Another man, a Hassidic master, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed with love and joy, "Look how much your people love you, O God, even when they grease the axle wheels they pray to you!"

These men all have something in common: their love for the Jewish people. This love so colors their view that everything must be seen in ways that will help and defend the Jewish people, that will spare even those who sin and where they can justify or excuse them due to their poverty. This is not to say that these men were unaware of halakha or of the law. Moses was certainly aware that the Jews had committed a grave sin when they erected and served the Golden Calf. Nevertheless, he prayed on their behalf, and he did not pray for them to repent but rather for them to be spared, to be saved.

This is the love of the Jewish people that we most need to emulate nowadays. I may be aware that what you are doing is halakhically incorrect or wrong or I may see that you act in a fashion inappropriate to your status. Of course, if I have the ability to rectify this by simply pointing this out to you- if you're the kind of person who is willing to listen and I am the appropriate party to convey such information- I can and should. But that is not always the case. And what am I to do then, stew and be angry because people are not acting as they perhaps "should?" No, I don't think so. Then I must go craft excuses and justifications and pray for the welfare of our people Israel. Then I must explain to God- as Rabbi Soloveitchik does- what it is that it is impacting our people and leading them, perhaps, astray. Does he not know this? Of course he does. But it is upon me to bring it to his attention. It is upon me to craft the arguments and defenses and to tell God that "the Egyptians will speak," or that the people are only acting as they are because of their poverty or explain that everything they do is meant well, look, "even when they grease the axle wheels they pray to you!"

Why is it upon me? Two reasons.

1. So that I may understand and love my own people instead of hating them or hating any who are unlike me. I must engage in such diversions and arguments in order to build my own empathy and understanding and realization that we are all part of one nation.

2. "Every person has the ability to be as righteous as Moses our teacher or as wicked as Jeroboam." Moses prayed for the Jews at all costs, even at times when it would have been easier for him to abandom them or to give God leave to destroy them. He used any and all arguments at his disposal, including those that seem quite irrelevant, "the Egyptians will speak." Jeroboam, on the other hand, wanted to exercise his own power to the point where he caused his people to sin and created golden calves for them to worship and new holidays. Jeroboam cared so little about his people that he actually led them to sin under the guise of furthering their religiosity.

Obviously, we all want to be like Moses.

Which means that I have to understand my brethren and rather than condemning them, defend them. Which is the reason behind why I say that our people errs out of love rather than hate and that everyone means well. Because I think we do. And I also think it is our defense.

"God, look at your people," I can say. "We love you so much that we are all fighting because of you. What you see as baseless hatred are actually people who are striving so hard to fulfill your precepts and your laws that they have perhaps lost sight of the real goal. Everyone wants others to please you and to deserve the goods that you give us. And that is the reason that people will mistakenly hurt others, that they will act in a cruel fashion towards them or turn them away from you. They mean well, God; they simply don't know how to implement their good intentions in a good way. But they're trying. Surely you cannot be angry at such people? Surely you see how good they mean to be?

"God, we may be misguided but we are sincere. Everyone wants to come close to you and to help others do the same. Even those who attack you or believe you do not exist merely aim to help. The skeptics and the atheists simply feel sorrow for those who they feel are caught in an extremist religion that limits and hurts us. They are acting out of compassion and out of love as well, because they want us to realize that this is unnecessary. And so they, too, you should understand and act kindly towards. Because they are not against you purposely, because they hate you, but rather because they believe you are a figment created by others for the purposes of enslavement and they wish to free others from that.

"God, in the end, the great majority of us- of all of us- are good people. So please look at all of our mistakes, our fights and hatreds and the grudges we bear one another, and realize that this is all because we do not have any of the gifts you once gave us: we do not have prophecy, which could prove who is right once and for all, we do not have open miracles, we do not have men who commune with you. We only have our minds and our hearts and your laws and we struggle, God. But we mean well, in the end, the great majority of us mean well, even if we are hurting and attacking one another while we do it. But please forgive us, God, all of us, because you see, our defense is this: we are trying to fight for You; there are those of us who truly mean well but who hurt others instead, and if they knew what they did, I am sure they would not. I know that I would not, if I realized."

Yes, let us defend our people. That is the only way for us to grow.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Distortion for the Sake of Practice

I believe in honesty.

Perhaps more importantly, I believe in trust.

I think that one of the most important qualities to develop with children, parents and friends is that of trust. Trust is based in truth. Trust means that I will tell you the truth and you will tell me the truth, that you will not play me or lie to me, even if you think it is for my own good. Trust means that you will not betray me. Trust means that I can respect you because you are honest with me and I am honest with you. Trust means that I will not manipulate you and you will not manipulate me.

This is trust.

The hardest thing to forgive another is a breach of trust. How can you forgive that? You thought that person was someone you could respect and who respected you, someone who would keep his promises and his word, who would not betray you. And now he has. How can you return to where you were?

My father once mentioned that those people who grew up in a situation where they could not trust their parents- for whatever reason- it does not have to mean that their parents were cruel, but perhaps they played "jokes" at the children's expense, they made promises they never intended to keep- have a much harder time when it comes to connecting to God. It makes sense. A child believes what you tell him. A child believes you. You have an awesome amount of responsibility and power; if you lie to a child, he will remember, and he will learn not to trust you. I know this for myself and I especially know it because of my siblings.

My parents have never lied to us. They never make a promise that they do not keep; in fact, they try not to promise at all. We have some relatives who once came here and told my siblings that they were "going to take them to Disneyworld" and would "buy them a car when they grew up." My siblings took it very seriously and my parents were upset with the relatives. My parents don't like lies or promises that are not fulfilled.

In terms of the religious world, trust and honesty is extremely important. The person who is worthy is a person who is truthful, not a person who lies. And this brings us to the idea of distortion for the sake of practice.

I did not realize this before, but distortion for the sake of practice occurs on both sides of the religious spectrum. To wit, we have websites like:

1. Frumteens. The Frumteens Moderator is an extremely "Orthodox" Jew who perverts, misquotes and misuses Torah in an attempt to convert everyone over to his position and point of view. He is very sneaky and very misleading because oftentimes his proofs are correct but they are quotes taken out of context or they completely ignore the validity or existence of other opinions. He also censors the content on the website; if anyone tries to put up a post in which they describe the validity of other opinions, he does not allow it. This leaves teenagers with the impression that nobody has the ability to argue with the Frumteens Moderator and his opinion is the last word on the subject.

Frumteens distorts Torah for the sake of practice. He wants children to follow the Torah and more specifically to follow it in a certain way; it is for that reason that he distorts it and misleads others. He means it for the good. He means it in order to bring others closer to Judaism and to following the laws in the way which he sees as being halakhically right. It is for this reason that he deliberately makes no reference to many other valid opinions.

2. This is a new website put out by the OU and NCSY in order to promote abstinence among Jewish teenagers. The problem is that the site is an exercise in scare tactics. There are frightening stories about people who have had sex as teenagers and regretted the experience, the various ways in which having sex as teenagers can mess you up and spoil you and hurt you. This site features such gems as:
    And no form of birth control protects against the non-physical effects of sexual activity. Guilt, worry, regret, shame, depression and other emotional consequences remain the same, regardless of any contraceptives that may be used. (source)
So...having sex makes you miserable. I see.

Rabbi Josh Yuter has an excellent analysis of the site on a whole (and includes links to other posts and bloggers who have pointed out reasons as to why the site is problematic.) Read it.

People somehow feel justified in distorting the truth in order to get results, in our world, for the sake of having more people conform to the Orthodox ideology and movement.

I can understand the desire to have people do the "right thing." I can understand that if you believe premarital sex to be a sin, you won't want teenagers to engage in it. I can understand that if you believe Modern Orthodoxy to be one of the prime contenders for the most evil faction in the universe, you'd stress all its negatives and forget to bring the positives to the form. I can understand all of that, and I see why people do what they do, why they distort and mislead and even lie- all of this is meant to ensure results.

All of this is meant to manipulate and con people into doing what you want them to do.

I don't believe in this misinformation. Firstly, I think it is morally wrong. Secondly, I think that the people who engage in it underestimate the intelligence of a teenager. We have the internet, the world at our fingertips. We can look up the sources, we can look up the alternatives; we probably know lots of people who engage in premarital sex and are quite pleased with their lives. So I would argue that this doesn't even help others.

But the core issue is that of trust.

If I know that you are lying to me in an attempt to manipulate me, that you are falsely presenting information or at the very least concentrating upon one side of the story to the utter exclusion of the other side of the story, why would I have any respect for you? Why would I respect your organization or the ideals you stand for? I wouldn't. Because I don't trust you anymore.

Distortion for the sake of practice is wrong. You will not gain people and have them join your cause if you lie to them. You mean well- that is clear. But lying gains you nothing.

How would I organize such a site? Obviously, I have much more respect for the mind of a teenager. I believe in giving people information. So I would work through the halakhot involved (objectively, not with an obvious slant) in a clear and logical manner. I would also quote all the statistics (not selectively chosen ones- I don't mean to intimate that theirs are, only that all of theirs focus on the negative effects). In effect, I would dedicate a website to information and then allow people to make their own choice.

That is because I believe it is the morally and intellectually honest way to go about it. You cannot lie to people. To quote, if you don't want kids to have sex before marriage "don’t lie and tell them that the reason they shouldn’t is because condoms are ineffective. You’re spreading dangerously false information that can actually increase the likelihood of Jewish kids contracting sexually transmitted diseases, which can pose a serious risk to their lives."

It comes down to halakha. The reason that we do not have sex before marriage is halakhic in nature. All these other reasons that are offered are feel-good reasons (don't have sex because it will mess with your brain, you're more likely to commit suicide, and so on and so forth). But that's not the reason. The reason is halakhic.

And that is what we ought to teach.

It's the same reason I despise the kiruv movement that advocates for Shabbos by describing its feel-good nature (Shabbos is a wonderful time to rest, to have fun with friends, to hold get-togethers, to relax, etc.) This feel-good reasoning would not have worked for my grandfather, who came to the United State and would have to had quit his job every week because he would not work on Saturday. The reason we rest on Shabbos is halakhic. It has nothing to do with how it makes you feel.

You may, if you wish, provide reasons in addition to halakha. You may say that Shabbos has a side-effect, as it were, of allowing peace and relaxation. But that is not the core reason and to suggest that it is (as many do) is distortion for the sake of practice. It is what I saw at my first highschool, at Templars, where all things were distorted so that we would practice them, where information was deliberately withheld or manipulated so that we would follow. Where the attitude was that "more than one opinion [on the matter] is confusing for a teenager." That's the justification, you see, that they're helping you by lying to you and manipulating you.

It is strange to realize that such distortion is not confined to the ultra-Orthodox world, as I had initially thought, but rises in the Modern Orthodox world as well. It is like the Rabbi who redefines the meaning of shomer negiah in order to ensure that his students will keep something. I was not there and don't know how he explained the matter. If he did claim that his suggestion that a girl "shouldn't put herself out there" and shouldn't "touch for the first couple months" constitutes halakha, I would be appalled.

People respect the truth; they don't respect lies. I believe that it is far better to explain the halakhic nature of prohibitions and allow people to understand the logic behind them than to incorporate lots of imaginary reasons into why we act as we do. Of course, the problem then arises- we need people to have a respect for halakha. After all, if they don't respect halakha to begin with, knowing what the laws are makes no difference.

How does one cultivate a respect for halakha? That is an important question. As far as I know, this can only be achieved through study and exposure to a true Judaism. What to do about people who are not raised with the opportunity or desire for such study? I don't know. I only know that trying to scare them into obedience is not the answer.

I believe this is demonstrated by the following quote from Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik:
    The problem with the American Jew is that he is not sensitive to Torah values. He must understand that human happiness does not depend upon comfort. The American Jew follows a philosophy which equates religion with making Jewish life more comfortable and convenient. It enables the Jew to have more pleasure in life. This deemphasizes Judaism's spiritual values. What the rabbi should do is to somehow expose the Jew to proper Torah Judaism. This cannot be accomplished by preaching and sermonizing. Many times, as I know from my own experience, they accomplish precisely the opposite. [emph mine]

    However, by exposing the American Jew to Torah Judaism you will touch his heart. Once he is sensitized, the American Jew is brave enough to respond to the moral challenge. The American Jew has heroic attributes and is much more courageous than the Lithuanian or Polish Jews were. The American Jew will have the courage to seek the proper alternative once he understands the demands of Torah and mitzvot. That is the meaning of the passage in the Amidah: "Restore us, our Father, to Thy Torah; draw us near, our King, to Thy service" [Daily Prayer Book, trans. Phillip Birnbuam, p. 86.]

    ~Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, volume 2, page 18

If we want to effect any change, it starts with honesty and with truth. It starts with understanding. It does not start with lying or manipulation or confusion or misleading others in an attempt to con them into keeping the mitzvos. It does not start with scaring people away from sex or alternatively scaring them away from boys or indeed, scaring them away from anything. People will realize, one day, that you lied to them. They will have friends who have sex and who are fine and who laugh at the horror stories you have fed them. The first time they sin, when the lightning strike does not come, they will realize that you were lying and dismiss anything else you have to say because of that.

No. It is much harder than this. It is all much harder. Truth is always harder.

You must cultivate trust, and trust means that you do not lie.

The Judaic leaders and teachers I respect do not lie to me or try to utilize feel-good arguments to get me to keep something (tznius, for instance- apparently tznius has the ability to make you feel amazing, did you know?) They do not distort the truth for the sake of practice. They rely on truth and believe that practice will follow once those listening have achieved a true understanding.

That is the approach that I respect and try to follow.

The Sacrifice

A story

She walks the rooftop, playing with her long golden braid, fingering the wisps that blow loose in the wind. The sun is setting and she is lit by it, golden against the rooftop, trapped in a realm of beautiful things.

She watches as the last vestiges of the sun sink beneath the horizon and the shadows grow closer. She turns, her silk robe softly hissing as it sweeps across the floor, as she pads down the steps and into her chambers.

There are all manner of curious and interesting objects here; her father has ensured that she will be knowledgeable, cultured and entertained. She lifts a silver goblet and admires the intricate workmanship, the setting of the gems within it, then walks toward the window. She raises the star-sprinkled curtain and looks out into the velvet night, turns to find Haggai standing guard. Haggai, her watchman, her confidante and sole friend, the only man she has ever seen, a eunuch appointed to guard her and save her from the fate her father has foreseen.

She raises a hand and walks lightly over to him, her satin golden slippers sink into the rich Oriental rug. The colors are vivid and true, deep greens and purples and golds at odds with the cherry of the room, the mahogany veneer of the furniture. She seats herself at the grand table in her room; it is covered in red velvet. Objects and knickknacks are strewn across it; gems, curios and other trinkets litter it. She sweeps aside a place and makes room for Haggai; he seats himself beside her and she smiles upon him.

She commands and the two spirits that attend her await her orders; she requests food and drink and the choicest victuals are spread out before her. She lifts her goblet and toasts to Haggai, then sips the deep red wine, her eyes shining a beautiful green. Haggai is stern and does not smile; he is always at attention, always involved in his duty. He allows her her privacy; she may sleep in her room and he stands guard outside the door.

She has everything she could possibly desire, an orchard with the sweetest fruits, of all kinds, oranges, plums, nectarines, peaches, mangos, bananas, every form of exotic variant that could exist. She has bowers full of flowers, gardens and gazebos, every beauty that is available to man. Her rooms are alternatively spare and functional, as the observatory seems, or richly decorated and beautiful, as her personal chambers are. They are lined with the most wonderful works of art; her favorite features a woman kneeling before a prince who has come to claim her; it is Brynhildr- the two of them are surrounded by a ring of fire. Siguror, wearing Gunnar’s form, has just passed through to claim Brynhildr; she is overcome by joy.

That one is her favorite because it speaks to her heart; it is what she most wishes, what she most desires. Brynhildr did not come to a happy end but she was rescued, taken out of her ring of fire and saved for a little while. Surely she deserves such a chance?

She looks at the platters, at the grapeleaves stuffed with meat, the pilaf with its tantalizing aroma, the various forms of rice, some dotted with golden raisins and fried potatoes and other delicious foods. She stands up and pushes the plate away, turns her face away, once again unhappy.

Haggai sees this and feels for her but he is here to do his duty; her father the king asked him to protect her and that is what he shall do. She has not been told of the fate her father foresaw for her; she has no idea that her father desires to save her from marriage with a mere pauper, a beggar, a man who does not deserve her. Her father merely desires to avert the danger and then to wed her to the most accomplished man he can find. He does not hate her; he loves her dearly.

She has met her father, spends many hours in his company or otherwise watches him in the magic mirror that hangs in her room. It is the repaired mirror of the Lady of Shallot; it features shadows walking through her father’s kingdom. She can watch where she will, look upon any who intrigue or interest her. But surely languishing in front of this mirror cannot be good for her, all it does is infect her with the desire to escape, to leave this place.

There are no doors, however. Haggai himself has been sealed into this tremendous castle; there are orchards and land but there are strong fortified walls with sharp spikes at the top. The only way her father is able to come is on a well-trained eagle; he has taught the eagle to glide over the spikes and land on the rooftop. It is very difficult to train birds to act in this manner so he is well-assured that his daughter will be safe.

Haggai looks at her, slender and soft and very delicate, her hand abstractedly caressing one wrist. She walks, paces; her multicolored robe swishes as she does so. She wears a diadem upon her head and large gold hoops hang from her ears; she acts in a manner that befits a princess but she lives a life that is completely solitary and it weighs upon her.

She does not complain. A murmur, a momentary sound and that is all. She walks the gardens at night, especially the rose arbors; their perfume brings a sense of comfort to her soul. Haggai guards her from a respectful distance; he is to shoot at the first sign of a man. The king’s daughter cannot be wed to a pauper.

He is worried that she does not eat. He looks at the untouched platter and takes a little bread, walks over to her- she stands next to her beautiful golden harp- and begs her to eat a little. “Please, Princess,” he requests and she looks at him, her eyes dull and sad, but she takes the food he offers and places it upon her tongue.

The silence destroys her. She is a prisoner, and though the prison may be beautiful, though she has much to interest her and capture her attention, it wears upon her to be unable to speak.

“Haggai,” she says suddenly, breaking the silence, “surely you know why I am here. My lord father cannot mean to be cruel; I cannot see why he must do this. Can you not tell me?”

Haggai strokes his pointed black goatee and growls in his throat. “I cannot tell you, Princess,” he answers firmly, “only know that it is for your own good that you are alone. Your father does not wish any hurt to befall you.”

“But surely-“ she starts and walks forward a step, as though to implore him. The ring on her finger catches the candlelight; it is an opal and sparkles for a moment, stone of tears. She notices it and looks down, sees how richly she is garbed and how beautiful her room is; notices the stained glass that makes up her windows, the spectacular designs painted on her wall. She has the most magnificent tapestries created by the most splendid artists, but none of this avails her, none of this pleases her.

“Haggai,” she questions, “would you let me walk in the rose gardens?” She, of course, can command him to do so but she prefers to act courteously, always sweet, always decorous and giving.

“Your wish is my command, Princess” he answers and follows her into the night.

The roses glow in the evening; they are lit by the moonlight. She walks through the twining vines, stopping and clinging to the door of the gate, violently shifting her head down so that she can intake their sweet smell. Her braid shifts and catches itself amongst the thorns; he is sure it is deliberate when she presses one thumb down upon a thorn. She bleeds and he immediately hands her a white cloth to staunch it but she waves him away.

She walks amidst the different colored roses, the golden, white and red ones; the pink ones and the ones that have been sprinkled with glitter and gold dust. She likes these the least; she prefers the natural ones. She lingers long over the red ones. And then, with a light and quick step, she steps behind and finds a rosebush different from the others, a rose that is not of any color she has ever seen before.

Curious, she draws near and sinks down to examine it; what manner of flower is this? Haggai does not come too close; he looks all about, at the shadows that the vines cast, the white trellis, the moonlight dancing over the path. She notices a particularly beautiful rose; it appears to glow as though it were afire. It emits a kind of light. She reaches for it but her arm is not long enough, she steps forward and snags one slipper upon a root; it falls off her foot. Abandoning it, she struggles for the rose and finally manages to pluck it; she sees now that it is pure white and emits a snowy light. She hugs it to herself and kisses it, feeling as though it were a sign, though she does not know of what.

She looks back at Haggai again; notices the two swords strapped across his back, the dagger at his belt. He looks dangerous and competent but she knows that he is kind, that he will not mind her taking this one rose back to her chambers. Why then does she feel compelled to hide it from him? But hide it she does, placing it inside one of the folds of her colored robe. She rises from the ground and walks onward as though nothing were different, wanders through the many gardens in search of something unidentifiable for which she still yearns.


His name is Joseph. His comrades have abandoned him, marooned him on this island; they resent his dreams and his predictions, the stories he tells of the beautiful maiden who awaits him. They threw him into a dark valley and he huddles there, hearing the hisses of snakes and scorpions.

In the morning the sun scorches him and he opens his eyes only to shut them at once. The valley floor is littered with diamonds, uncut blocks of rock and smaller shards that will cut his feet if he tries to walk. He hears a shout and a slab of meat falls inside the valley; he understands what this is at once. The merchants will throw slabs of meat into the valley, the diamonds stick to the meat and an eagle comes to claim the meat. The merchants then drive off the eagle who drops the piece of meat and it is in that way that the merchants collect diamonds.

But he is burnt and blind, for he cannot open his eyes due to the dazzling effect the shimmering diamonds have upon his sight; the sun hurts him and blinds him. He shouts until he is hoarse, hoping that the merchants could see or hear him, but the valley is large and deep and no one hears him.

He is about to give himself up to despair when he feels a great rush of air around him; there is a great flapping of wings and he can tell that this is no ordinary bird, no eagle. This is a roc, large and dangerous. Joseph undoes his turban and crouches underneath the roc as she feeds, gulping down the meat and the diamonds together; strangely the gems do not harm its maw. Joseph uses the long strip of linen to bind himself to the roc’s feet; he hopes that when she sets out to journey he will be able to follow.

He spends a long and desperate night beneath her, hoping that she will not scent him or resent his presence. In the morning he is lifted into the air with a sudden jolt; he swings perilously but the knots he tied are firm. He is at a great height, flying, joined with the roc. He has his knife in his teeth and hopes to cut himself loose as soon as the roc alights on land; he is terrified as he looks down and sees that he is being carried over an ocean. He is slightly sick and closes his eyes, feeling rather than thinking, hoping that his dreams will come true.


It is dusk again and she is in her chambers; Haggai guards her from the outside. She has access to the balcony but it is narrow and her tower is too high to allow for anyone to join her.

She looks about as though to make sure no one can see her, then pulls the white glowing rose from her bosom. She runs her hands alongside it and feels the strangest desire to pluck out one of its petals and throw it to the ground, almost as though that could make something happen, cause something to occur. Following the impulse, she does so, and that is when she notices the strange shadow in the air.

A great, a giant bird comes toward her, but she can see something entangled in its claws, strips of white linen wrapped around and wound about its talons. She sees a man, exhausted, hanging from the bird; he is burnt and hurt and she is overtaken by an immediate feeling of pity and compassion. The bird sights her and she is frightened, but then it gentles; its eyes are drawn to the white petal on the floor. It lands upon her balcony and the man utters a small moan; immediately she runs over to him and places her hands over his mouth; she must prevent Haggai from knowing that she is not alone. She reaches for his knife and cuts his bonds; the roc looks about with its beady eyes and then departs.

Where to hide him? she hurriedly thinks, knowing that Haggai and her father would not approve of his being here. She must not change her routine; she is already in her white wrapper edged with lace; she must allow Haggai to think that all is well. There! She sees a large chest and lies down so that she is whispering into the man’s ear, “You must walk- you must hide inside the chest. I shall help you as soon as I can. But make no sound, upon your life, make no sound.”

The man, who seems weary and delirious, opens his eyes blearily and focuses in on her. She catches a moment where he seems to be shocked and then a moment almost of recognition, but it couldn’t be. How could he recognize her, she who had seen no men but Haggai and her father? No. She helps him to stand and hides him inside the chest; she then opens the door to her chambers and sweetly bids Haggai a good night. She waits until he takes up his vigil outside her door; it is only then that she pads over to the man inside the box and allows him out.

“Who are you?” she asks, breathless, and then noticing the angry burns upon his body takes him to her bathroom, where she opens the cold water in preparation for his bath. “You came when I threw down the rose petal; you must be the legendary Finist.”

“I am not Finist,” he answers hoarsely, and she sees that he must drink; immediately cups her hands beneath the water and brings them to his mouth. He lowers his head and drinks water; she laves her hands again and bathes his face; he is burnt and exhausted and ill but he is hers, company for her, a man about whom her father and Haggai cannot know.

“If you are not Finist,” she teases, “then you are Cupid, though you have allowed me to see you so it cannot be so.” She eases his tunic off of him; he winces and she sees that it is caught because of a cut he has on his chest. It is clean, as though it were made with some kind of gem- a diamond, she thinks, only a diamond can cut so cleanly.

She blushes, then, for she realizes that she is alone with a stranger in her own private rooms. She leaves him to bathe, returning to help him dress. She helps shave him and feeds him, calling upon the two spirits who attend her to do all she desires. They provide her with a robe for him; he is fed and dressed and looks up at her at which point she feels like he recognizes her once again.

“I am Solomon’s daughter,” she confides, but she does not know if he understands her. He nods and looks into her green eyes and tells her that he is Joseph, a dreamer in the tradition of the first Joseph. He tells her that he has dreamt of her and that is what is so strange, tells her too of how he came here.

She is fascinated; her eyes alight, and the two of them sit within her chamber and converse in low whispers. She is like a child compelled by a toy, amazed by his adventures and seafaring expeditions, alternatively horrified or astounded by his exploits. She clasps her hands together and he smiles at her childish eagerness to please; he can see that she is an innocent and has no idea of her effect upon him. This pleases him because he knows that she is to be his bride; he has dreamt only of her so what else could she be to him?

“I don’t know why I am here,” she confides in him, and his gaze is drawn to her long plait of golden hair, for she is stroking it absent-mindedly. “My father placed me here when I was a child and all my life I have been guarded by Haggai, the eunuch. He is a good and kind man but I do not know why it is that I have been placed her; I cannot but feel that it is unfair.”

He immediately takes her side and supports her in her decision; it is only late at night that the two of them plot and plan in order to keep his being here a secret. Where shall he hide? Where shall he remain? “Haggai follows me at all times,” she answered sweetly, “I shall simply make sure to walk far from wherever you are and he will follow.”


They did this for a time, but Haggai could see a difference in the Princess’s demeanor and attitude, a difference in the way she walked and acted. There was a shine to her face, a gleam in her eye, a desire that he had not witnessed before. He was glad of it but puzzled, certain that there was something mysterious afoot.

One night she chanced to leave the door to her chambers open and he heard a voice, a male voice, and horrified he entered her chambers. He saw the two of them; she looked stricken and turned to him, guilt written all over her face. The other man looked strong enough; he was a handsome fellow with golden hair and tanned skin; his eyes too were strangely golden. “What is your name?” Haggai asked, his voice steely as he pointed his sword at the man.

“My name is Joseph,” the man replied, unafraid, and laughed. Haggai was astonished by his laughter; how could any man face death and laugh? But then the Princess dashed in front of him and threw herself on her knees, weeping and begging Haggai to spare Joseph’s life. She swore that he had not touched her; he had done nothing to her but provide her with conversation and companionship.

Haggai was deeply torn. On the one hand, he was sworn to Solomon and knew that such an event ought to be reported at once; indeed, the man ought to die for having dared to approach the princess. On the other hand, he had seen how listless and depressed the princess had been and this man appeared to restore joy to her.

He determined that he would watch the two of them together, accompany them everywhere and never allow them to be alone. In that way she would keep her secret from her father but he would not allow the prophecy to be fulfilled; she would not marry this poor beggar and all would be well.


But Haggai had not counted upon the ingenuity and creativity of the Princess. Despite his best efforts to forbid her to leave his sight, she managed to hide away with Joseph. Haggai was sure she cared deeply for the man and this frightened him, especially as King Solomon was soon to make his royal visit. He went to speak to both the Princess and Joseph.

“You must know,” he said in a severe tone, “that your lord father will arrive shortly and you must not be seen with this man.”

“I know” the Princess answered demurely, playing with the bangles on her wrist. “I shall hide him.”

“How shall you hide him?” Haggai asked suspiciously.

“I shall find a way,” she answered. “I shall place him in my closet, in my chest, perhaps bury him alive in the ground. But I shall find a way.”

Haggai knew it was worth his life to allow her to do this but he loved her as his own daughter and saw that he could not separate her from this man. So he allowed her her deception and hoped that she would not be found out.


King Solomon alighted from his eagle, handing the golden reins to an invisible servant. He was a distinguished man, a man with a silver beard who wore a thin golden circlet in his hair; his robes made of the finest materials, the kind of cloth that was expensive but light. He despised gems being sewn onto his garments; he wanted raiment that was light and serviceable at all times.

He went to greet his daughter and kissed her warmly on each cheek; they breakfasted in her chamber and it was then that he took her hands in his and said, “My daughter, I bring you good news.”

“Yes, father?” she asked hopefully, thinking only of Joseph, whom she had hidden in her closet.

“The wealthiest man in the continent has requested your hand in marriage,” he told her gravely, chafing her hands in his own. “He is a prince, a man descended from a good and noble lineage, a man who I believe will love and cherish you and adore you as you deserve.” He looked into his daughter’s green eyes and noted the sudden rush of tears. Stricken, he paused. “Of course, if he is not to your liking you need not have him,” he continued. “I have accepted on your behalf because I am certain he can do you no wrong.”

She still looked up at him with unhappy eyes and a terrible stillness about her soul so he paused and sharply demanded that she inform him of the matter. But she did not, only told him that she felt weary and must lie down. He allowed her that excuse but knew it to be false and headed to the gardens in order to clear his head and understand why she had looked so miserable and so unhappy.

Surely she could not have met the man who had been appointed for her, that miserable poor savage he had done so well to guard against? No man could climb over those sharp walls, no man could have seen her. Besides, Haggai was a loyal man and would inform him of the matter.

But there was Haggai, approaching him, and he looked grave.

“Kill me, my lord and master,” he said in greeting, “for I have failed you.”

“What?” King Solomon asked, his eyes ablaze. “What have you done?”

“The promised man appeared,” Haggai answered, “though I swear he has not touched your daughter. Even now they sit within her chamber and speak to one another. At the time I thought it best to let it alone for your daughter was so despondent I feared that she might waste away to death. And she became so set on his company…” he bowed his head. “Kill me, master.”

Solomon allowed him to kiss his ring. “I shall deal with you later,” he said, and his voice was cold. “Now I must control my daughter.”

Summoning a demon to aid him, Solomon burst into his daughter’s chambers. Horrified, he saw that she and Joseph were locked in an intimate kiss. It was not anger that ruled him but righteousness; his daughter froze while the pauper looked up into the angry eyes of a king. Solomon made a sign of power with his hand and Asmodei removed Joseph from the chamber. Solomon locked the door and his daughter wept inside, beating against the door.


“You have defiled the king’s daughter,” Solomon stated, looking coldly upon Joseph. “You have defiled her and therefore must die.”

He paused. “But I shall spare you that,” he said, twisting the ring upon his finger, “for my daughter’s sake. This I will tell you, however: she will marry the suitor I have chosen for her. If you marry her, I will kill you.”

He looked into Joseph’s defiant eyes and his voice softened. “Ah. So that is how it is,” he mused aloud. “In that case, if you marry her, I will kill her. And you will have to live knowing that you have caused her death.”

“Yes,” he said, “that is how to go about it. You may remain here, if you wish, in the guise of a servant. But if you touch her or marry her she shall die.” He gave a self-satisfied smile. “And you shall not be able to speak of this, for I would rather like to cause a rift between the two of you.”

He summoned Asmodei once again and the demon sealed the young man’s mouth so that he could not explain himself or his sudden change of heart.

“Indeed, I shall punish you,” Solomon ruled, his eyes gleaming with disfavor, “by having you near her, always, and having you repulse her.”


She fell on him as soon as he entered the room, never noticing the sadness that covered his eyes and marred his soul. “Joseph,” she wept, “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph; I worried that he would kill you.” She kissed him and he stiffened, then turned away. Anguished, she drew near him. “What has he done to you?” she asked, terrified. “Why don’t you turn to me?”

“He has done nothing to me,” he answered, and forced himself to inject disgust and revulsion in his tone. “Take your hands off me. I am your servant, nothing more. It is dishonorable for the princess to touch a servant.”

What?!” she cries, horrified. “How can you say that to me? How can you do this? You are not so cruel! He has made you do it, oh, I know he has! I hate him!”

She throws herself upon her bed sobbing, her tears soaking into her pillow. “I know you love me,” she says violently. “I know it, I know it! He has done this to you, caused this sudden change in feeling. He is at fault. He!”

She threw herself on her knees before him, kissing the hem of his robe. “Tell me what it is,” she begs. “Tell me what he has said he will do. I will brave anything, anything for you.”

He gives her a sardonic smile and laughs. “You think too highly of yourself, Princess,” he says, though his heart is breaking. “I never loved you; I merely pretended to do so. All I desired was to add another story to my list of adventures, to say that I had charmed a Princess and made her love me. I am a seafarer; this is my craft- to charm and to entertain upon returning safely home from my voyages. You were merely a form of amusement and indeed, I am weary of you. Your father has offered me a high position in this household; he desires me to be your personal guardsman. It is a well-paid position, and I? Well, I am somewhat of a mercenary.”

He gives a self-deprecating look and smiles at her. “Indeed, it is quite odd, isn’t it,” he muses aloud, “having tasted of those lips, that your father trusts me with you. But it is clear why he does. After all, the sum he is paying me is rather tidy.”

She looks horrified, hurt, broken; he feels as though he has smashed her in the face, struck her some cruel blow. She flies at him with her nails bared as though to rake his face; he merely laughs at her again, a cruel laugh so that she will learn to hate him, so that she will think that he is the truly despicable person he is pretending to be.

She chokes on a sob and runs from her chambers; he sees her run to her father, who comforts her, stroking her golden hair. Joseph feels sick, revolted by what he has done and who he has become but he knows that he must and that he will do it again, for he values her above all else, even above his own happiness.


King Solomon leaves in order to escort her new husband to this palace; he plans a grand and sumptuous wedding feast. The Princess is dull, passionless, unable to speak or in any way participate. She does not fully believe the lies Joseph has told her and still fawns upon him and plays upon his affections.

At night she wears her most seductive dress in order to disturb him; she comes to him and begs him to elope with her, to come with her, to fly away with her. She imagines impossible scenarios in which he and she are together. He responds politely to all these advances by telling her that she is mistaken about him, that he does not love her and never shall.

One evening, after enduring this several times, she slaps him hard across the face. She then begins to rain blows upon his head as though hitting him would help her, she stops then, horrified at herself. An ugly look appears on her face, she spits at him to get out of her room. He believes that she has learned to hate him and bows his head in sadness; she cannot know what he feels, how it tortures him to be near her, to see her slowly accepting the lies he feeds her. She feels used, betrayed; she sees him as a man who played with her love and who did not mean anything he said to her.


Eventually she dismisses him, does not look at him anymore, does not try to win back his affections. She hates him, it is clear. She assigns him menial tasks for absolutely no reason; she enjoys punishing him. But he does all she asks and more and considers it a labor of love, considers it his way of serving her and binding himself to her.

King Solomon arrives with his retinue and the promised Prince. The man is handsome as a god; he is strong and mighty, young and glowing with health. His hair is a deep, rich brown and his eyes are blue; he sees the Princess and views her as a prize; he courts and woos her in the acceptable fashion.

It is now that Joseph sees that she still cares for him; she does everything she can imagine to make him jealous. She struts about with her betrothed on her arm, she laughs in Joseph’s faces and forces him to serve them both candied nuts and drinks while engaging in the most intimate conversation. She allows him to overhear snippets and hopes to hurt him with her words; he does not show any interest even though in truth every word from her lips engraves itself in its heart.

Remember, he tells himself, if you touch her, she will die. It is for her sake that he must refrain, for her sake that he must not go near, that he must engage in this hateful sham, that he must force her to hate him. And she will never know.


It is the morning of the wedding and he is forced to watch and to partake of the festivities. Solomon watches him wisely; Joseph sees that he is pleased with the punishment he has meted out; it is fair and it is just. Joseph struggles with his feelings; he is angry and wants to tear the Prince to pieces; he cannot even look at the Princess because he feels so deeply about her and is not sure of his resolve.

He turns away and slinks out of the ceremony; she notices, their eyes catch for a moment, then she stubbornly turns away and says her vows.

He watches her rejoice, sees as she engages in the various festivities, the dancing and singing, the merrymaking, and he sees- or perhaps imagines- the edge of unhappiness, where she really desires to be with him but is too proud to admit it, admit it to someone who has so thoroughly rejected and degraded her.

Haggai stands behind him; he too was spared by the King, though Joseph does not know why. Haggai does not know why Joseph has suddenly become so cruel towards the Princess; he therefore despises him and takes every opportunity to hurt him and lash out at him.


“I can’t do this,” she says, and her eyes are wild and the Prince, tangled in the bedsheets, soothes her and strokes her golden hair. “Come back to bed,” he says and laughs, “you are nervous, it is your first time. I tell you it will be pleasurable.”

“It isn’t that, damn you,” she says, yanking the sheet away from him. “It is that I don’t love you and I never will; I love him even though he hates me, and even though I convinced myself that I do not. Let me go to him, let me go!”

The Prince wrestles with her and pins her to the bed; he does not let her out for the world has turned red before his eyes and he is overcome by anger and jealousy. But suddenly he sees what he is doing and he goes cold and pushes her away. “Go,” he says as his anger subsides, “go from here and see him, and when he spurns you I shall have you back. But go to him.”


She finds him on the hearth where he is sleeping; she pushes him away and he looks up to see her tangled matted hair and the sheet she clutches to her. This sickens him; she has come to him from the bed of another; he feels a pang of loss and sadness and rolls over onto the ground.

“I don’t love him,” she says, and her voice is so truthful and sincere that it hurts him, “I love you. So please,” and her eyes are pleading, “please, find a way to be with me or marry me; we shall elope or do as you will, only please help me, you must…”

She trails off and takes his hands in hers but he shrugs her off and she looks up at him in pain-filled eyes.

“Why not?” she asks and it is harsh, guttural, angry. “You loved me once, I know you did, you’re lying when you say you did not; what has he done to you that you will not have me, how has he threatened you, what has he said?”

He tries to answer but the words catch in his throat; Asmodei laid the charm, the spell and now he cannot speak.

She is wild and she is angry; she tries to persuade him and entice him and he finally answers, “All that you are doing is making a scene. Go back to your husband and live with him as man and wife; I am a hired soldier who enjoys his pay. I do not love you and never have; you repulse and disgust me. You are fickle and flighty, you stand before me, having run from your husband’s bed- how could you attract me? You are nothing. You are nothing to me.”

She loses her color, turns white and pale. “How can you say such venomous things to me?” she whispers and looks so bewildered, so hurt. “You truly hate me,” she says and her eyes open as though the truth has dawned on her at last and it kills him but he gives a large yawn and motions as though he is going back to sleep.

She stares down at him again and runs from him; she returns to her husband for she sees this as her only choice. She takes the white rose from her bureau and viciously rips its petals, throwing them onto the ground and stomping upon them. Her husband does not know what to make of it until she comes to him and comes in anger, trying to make it so that at least this one finds her desirable and beautiful, at least this man will love her.

He sees all this in his mind’s eye; it haunts him in his dreams. It sickens and disgusts him but he knows that it is necessary and he will live on the sidelines all his life; he will watch her grow to love and live alongside her husband and will love her all his life but he shall never touch her or approach her because of her father. And she will never know and will hate him; she will never know that every day that he lies to her he is saving her life, and every day he has to fight the battle anew.

Because there’s nobody in the world he loves more than her.

And therefore, there’s nobody in the world he must hurt more.

He prays for his death but will not kill himself; he wants to run away but know that the king desires him to remain here. This is his punishment for having dared to love outside his station; this the pain that is his to bear for the rest of his life.

He runs a finger over his lips and remembers the kiss she once freely gave him; he turns onto his side and settles in the hearth, amidst the ashes, and a tear trickles down his cheek. He extinguishes the candle burning beside him; he lies awake in the dark, replaying her words in his mind and wishing there were some other way…but there is none.


Credits: This is a retelling of the midrash on Solomon's daughter. I have incorporated sections and elements from Esther, Genesis and Exodus. I have also used the second voyage of Sinbad the Sailor, referenced Finist the Falcoln, the myth of Cupid and Psyche, the Norse myth of Brynhilydr and Gunnar. Part of this is also similar to Don Juan and Haidee/ Tristan and Isolde. The end has a touch of "Moulin Rouge" (hurt him to save him.)