Monday, January 31, 2011


I love Richard Armitage and I love his portrayal of Mr. Thornton in the BBC's rendition of "North and South."

Watch at your own risk, as this scene includes a major spoiler. But for those who are not worried about spoilers, I love the passion with which he says these words.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Second Rabbinic Bible

Did you ever want to know about the printing of the Bible? When did it start? Which books were printed first? Were the copies accurate or not? Well, all that information and more can be found in C.D. Ginsburg's Introduction to the Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible, specifically pages 779-976. These are the pages you have to read for Dr. Leiman's class specifically.

In any case, today I am going to be excerpting from these pages regarding The Second Rabbinic Bible, mostly because I need to know it for my comps and somewhat because I think that everyone ought to know this. So enjoy.


Second edition of the Rabbinic Bible or the editio princeps of Jacob b. Chayim with the Massorah, Venice 1524-25

Though Bomberg's second edition of the Rabbinic Bible, this is the famous editio princeps of the Rabbinic Bible with the Massorah edited by Jacob b. Chayim Ibn Adonijah. This renowned Massorite became connected with the spirited and enterprising Venice printer about 1516-17, the very time when the edition of Felix Pratensis was published, and there can hardly be any doubt that Jacob the ultra orthodox Rabbinic Jew must often have pointed out to Bomberg the disadvantage of appealing to Jewish communities to purchase a Rabbinic Bible edited by a neophyte Augustinian monk and dedicated to the Pope. However that may be, the enthusiastic Massorite persuaded Bomberg in the course of a few years to undertake the publication of the justly celebrated Bible with the Massorah which finally settled the Massoretic text as it is now exhibited in the present recension of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Jacob b. Chayim's own account of this great enterprise in his elaborate Introduction to the Bible is as follows:
    When I explained to Bomberg the advantage of the Massorah, he did all in his power to send into all the countries in order to search out what may be found of the Massorah, and praised be the Lord we obtained as many of the Massoretic books as could possibly be got. He was not backward, and his hand was not closed, nor did he draw back his right hand from producing gold out of his purse to defray the expenses of the books and the messengers who were engaged to make search for them in the most remote corners and in every place where they might possibly be found.
Having obtained these materials, Jacob b. Chayim at once earnestly set to work to reduce them to order and to distribute the Massoretic corpus on the different pages of the Bible in a manner that it might easily be comprehended by the Biblical student. The enormous labour connected with this task is, modestly described by the learned editor in the following words:
    Behold I have exerted all my might and strength to collate and arrange the Massorah, with all the possible improvements in order that it may remain pure and bright and shew its splendour to the nations and princes; for indeed it is beautiful to look at. This was a labour of love, for the benefit of our brethren, the children of Israel, and for the glory of our holy and perfect Law, as well as to fulfil, as far as possible, the desire of M. Daniel Bomberg, whose expenses in this matter far exceeded my labours. And as regards the Commentaries, I have exerted my powers to the utmost degree to correct in them all the mistakes as far as possible and whatsoever my humble endeavors could accomplish was done for the glory of the Lord, and for the benefit of our people. I would not be deterred by the enormous labour, for which cause I did not suffer my eyelids to be closed long, either in the winter or summer, and did not mind rising in the cold of the night, as my aim and desire were to see this holy work finished. Now praised be the Creator who granted me this privilege to begin and to finish this work.
The results of this unparallelled labour and vast erudition are exhibited in the Massoretico-Rabbinic Bible which was published in four folio volumes by Bomberg, Venice 1524-25. It will be seen that the publication of this Bible almost synchronises with the expiration of the ten years special Licence commencing in 1515 which was granted by Leo X to Felix Pratensis and in which the Supreme Pontiff forbade under pains and penalties the printing of a Rabbinic Bible with the Targums. The following are teh contents of the four volumes.

Volume I. The Pentateuch.- This Volume, which contains the Pentateuch with the Targum of Onkelos, the Commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra and both the Massorahs, Magna and Parva, is without pagination and without catchwords in the Hebrew and Chaldee, but has the catchwords in the Commentaries. It consists of 234 folios and 30 quires with signatures. The first quire has 6 folios and the last has 4 folios, whilst the other 28 quires have respectively 8 folios. The quires are numbered both in Hebrew and Arabic numerals, whilst the sheets composing the quires are marked with Hebrew and Roman numerals.

Every folio has as a rule four columns, the two middle columns give the Hebrew text and the Chaldee of Onkelos both being furnished with the vowel-points and the accents; in the upper and lower margins of these central columns the Massorah Magna is given which generally consists of three lines in the upper margin and which has no definite number of lines in the lower margin: the space between the two central columns is occupied by the Massorah Parva. The two outer columns contain respectively the Commentaries of Rashi and Ibn Ezra. Not unfrequently there is also a narrow column outside these four columns which contains those portions of the Massorah Parva which were too long for the space between the Hebrew and Chaldee columns.

Each book begins with the first wood in large letters which is enclosed in a decorative wood-cut border and this again is contained in a square composed of lines varying in number which comprise Massoretic Rubrics. At the end of each book is the Massoretic Summary which registers the number of verses, the middle verse &c in the book.

The fifty-four annual Pericopes into which the Pentateuch is divided are indicated in a four-fold manner. (a) Each Parasha is separated from the other by a textless space of about four lines (b) With the exception of four instances there is at the end of each Pericope a register of the number of verses in the Pericope with the mnemonic sign (c) This is followed by the word פרשה in large letters which occupies the centre of the column when the Pericope coincides with an Open Section which is normally the case. In the abnormal instances where the Pericope coincides with a Closed Section, three Samechs (ססס) take the place of Parasha, and (d) each Parasha begins with the first word in larger letters. The names of the Pericopes are given in running head-lines throughout the Pentateuch where, however, מקץ is a mistake for ויגש on fol 56a.

In the sectional division of the text, Jacob b. Chayim has not followed the ancient rule which prescribes the form of the Sections, and which is followed in the best Sephardic MSS. He exhibits alike Open and Closed Sections by unfinished lines, indented lines and breaks in the middle of the lines. To indicate, however, the nature of the respective Sections, he inserted into the sectional spaces the letters Pe (פ) and Samech (ס) throughout the Pentateuch. IN this respect, therefore, he has only partially followed the excellent second edition of the entire Hebrew Bible, Naples 1491-93.

The preliminary matter to this Volume consists of (1) a rhythymical eulogy of this stupendous work written by Joseph b. Samuel Zarphati; (2) Jacob b. Chayim's celebrated Introduction to the Bible which I have published with an English translation &c; (3) complete Lists giving the number of the Christian chapters in each book of the Bible with the words wherewith each chapter begins; (4) Lists of the Sedarim throughout the Bible with their respective initial words, and (5) Ibn Ezra's Introduction to the Pentateuch. This preliminary matter occupies a separate quire of 6 folios with a duplicate signature, since this sheet like the following one has the same signature, א=1. It was printed after the whole Bible had left the press.

Volume II. The Former Prophets.- This Volume contains the Former Prophets, i.e. Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. It consists of 26 quires of 8 folios each, with the exception of the last quire which has 9 folios, so that the Volume has altogether 209 folios. The signatures exhibit a continuation of those in the first Volume. Hence the 26 quires are numbered both in Hebrew and Arabic numerals from ל 30 to נה 55.

The names of the respective books are given in running head-lines throughout the Volume where we have for the first time the division of Samuel and Kings into two books each, indicated by 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings. This is a further development on Felix Pratensis who simply marked the division in the text itself or in the margin, but not in the head-lines. Jacob b. Chayim, however, has omitted the remarks of Pratensis in which this division is ascribed to Christians.

The arrangement and contents of the columns are similar to those in the first Volume with the following exceptions. (1) The Chaldee Paraphrase is that of the so-called Jonathan b. Uzziel and though it has the vowel points it is without the accents. (2) The Commentary of David Kimchi takes the place of Ibn Ezra and (3) the Commentary of Ralbag (= R Levi B. Gershom) is added, generally in the lower part of the column occupied by Rashi.

As is the case in the first Volume, each book in this Volume begins with the first word in large letters which is enclosed in a decorative wood-cut border. Outside this border is a large square made up of lines varying in number which contain sundry Massoretic Rubrics. At the end of each book is the Massoretic Summary which registers the number of verses, the middle verse and the Sedarim in the book. But thought Samuel and Kings are severally divided into two books, they are Massoretically treated as constituting one book each, and hence 2 Samuel and 2 Kings do not begin with the first word in larger letters and the Massoretic Summary at the end applies to the undivided Samuel and Kings.

Volume III. The Latter Prophets- The third Volume contains the Latter Prophets in the following order: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets, which is the sequence exhibited in Column IV of the Table on page 6. It consists of 27 quires of 8 folios each with the exception of the last quire which has only 3 folios. The Volume has, therefore, altogether 211 folios. In this Volume too, the quires exhibit a continuous numeration from the former Volume and the numbers of the 27 quires are in the Hebrew and Arabic from 56 to 82.

The arrangement of the columns with the Hebrew and the Chaldee in the centre, the two commentaries in the two outer columns, the massorah Magna in the upper and lower margins witih the Massorah Parva occupying the space between the two central columns, is exactly the same as in the former Volumes. It is in the two outer columns which exhibit the Commentaries where alternate changes take place. In Isaiah the Commentary of Ibn Ezra takes the place of Kimchi, and in Jeremiah and Ezekiel Kimchi takes the place of Ibn Ezra, whilst in the Minor Prophets Ibn Ezra takes again the place of Kimchi. The Commentary alone uniformly occupies one of the columns throughout the Volume.

Volume IV. The Hagiographa- The fourth Volume contains the Hagiographa in the order exhibited in Column VIII of the Table on page 7. It consists of 37 quires of 8 folios each, with the exception of the last quire which has 10 folios. Accordingly this Volume has 298 folios. Here too the numeration of the quires runs on from the previous Volume and the 37 quires are numbered from 83 to 119.

The changes both in the arrangement and contents of the columns in this Volume are considerable. Up to Daniel the arrangement of the columns is the same and it is only in the contents of the columns which exhibit the two Commentaries where the alternate changes occur. In the Psalms the two columns contain Rashi and Ibn Ezra, in Proverbs and Job, Ralbag takes the place of Rashi, whilst in the Five Megilloth Rashi resumes his place. The Commentary on Proverbs, however, which is described in the heading as Ibn Ezra's, belongs to Moses Kimchi.

From Daniel to the end of Chronicles which is the last book of the Hebrew text, there is a change in the arrangement of the columns. As the last three books, viz .Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles are without the Targum, each page is henceforth divided horizontally into two sections, with two columns in each. The two columns in the upper section contain the text with the Massorah Parva in the intervening space, the Massorah Magna is given in the upper margin and below the text which horizontally divides the two sections, whilst the two columns in the lower section exhibit the two Commentaries.

In Daniel the two columns are respectively occupied by the Commentaries of Saadia and Rashi, in Ezra-Nehemiah Ibn Ezra's is the companion Commentary to Rashi, whilst in Chronicles Rashi is the sole occupant of both columns. Here again the Commentary on Ezra-Nehemiah which is ascribed in the heading to Ibn Ezra, belong to Moses Kimchi as is now established beyond the shadow of a doubt.

At the end of Chronicles or as an Appendix to Volume IV, Jacob b. Chayim gives in 65 folios of four columns each, that part of the Massorah Magna which was too long for the upper and lower margins of the text. As I have reprinted the whole of his recension I need not describe it here. Suffice it to say, that his conscientious and laborious application of the different Rubrics to the sundry pssages of the Bible faithfully exhibits the Hebrew text with all the phenomenal letters, words &c according to the Massorah and that this is the only authorised Massoretic recension. No textual redactor of modern days who professes to edit the Hebrew text according to the Massorah can deviate from it without giving conclusive justification for so doing.

A few of the characteristic features which distinguish this edition from its predecessors will suffice to show its merits.

(I) It is the first edition in which the consonants of the official readings are given in the margin with the express remark ק or Keri. Hitherto the editors have simply affixed the vowel points of the keri to the consonants of the Kethiv without any indication in the margin of the real consonants to which these graphic signs belong. Felix Pratensis, who alone gives the official readings, has mixed them up with the various readings from other Codices, and as he omits to mark the official variant with ק - Keri, it is difficult to distinguish between the two classes of variants.

(2) Jacob b. Chayim is also the first who has given in his edition of the Bible a large number of the important variants which are known by the name Sevirin

(3) He has, moreover, carefully collated a number of Codices and frequently gives their variants in the margin of his edition. The following instances from Genesis will show the nature and extent of the variations which he records (see page 964- I'm not typing it up)

These important glosses are no part of the Massorah, but record the result of Jacob b. Chayim's own collation. They disclose the fact that some of the model Codices and the Massoretic Annotators not unfrequently differed in their readings, and that Jacob b. Chayim had to exercise his own judgment as to which was the better reading. In this respect a modern editor is not bound to abide by Jacob b. Chayim's decision. A striking illustration of this fact we have in the two verses of Joshua XXI viz 36, 37. We have seen that some of the best MSS and all the early editions without exception have these two verses. Jacob b. Chayim, however, decided to omit them in accordance with a certain School of Massorites, but we are perfectly justified in restoring them on the authority which we have adduced.

Moreover Jacob b. Chayim with all his exertions had only been able to obtain a comparatively small portion of the Massorah, and many important Rubrics were entirely unknown to him as may be seen from a comparison of his edition of this Corpus with the Massorah which I published. The distribution and application of the contents of these new Lists among the various passages of the text, which constitute the Rubrics in question, not unfrequently yield new readings. But even here a modern editor has to give explicit data for departing from the Massoretic text as edited by Jacob b. Chayim.

Jacob b. Chayim himself has not unfrequently wrongly deviated from the Massorah which he printed. Hence his own text is occasionally in conflict with the Rubric which accompanies the textual phenomena. Thus on Gen IX 21 where we have one of the instances in which אהל, tent, with the suffix third person singular masculine, exhibits the archaic termination He (ה) instead of the normal Vav (ו), the Massorah Parva states that it is so written in four instances, and the Massorah Magna on this very passage not only mentions the same fact but enumerates the four passages, viz. Gen IX 21; XII 8; XIII 3; XXXV 21. And though the Massorah Parva remarks against each of the instances that it is one of the four exceptions, yet Jacob b. Chayim's text also reads אהלה with He in Gen XXVI 25 contrary to the unfirom Massorah Parva in the four passages. In the Massorah Finalis where he gives the heading of this Rubric he indeed states that there are five such instances, and refers to Gen IX 21 where he says the Massorah enumerates them in full. Bu thtis Massoretic Rubric, as we have seen, expressly states that there are only four and the enumeration coincides with the heading. This conflict between Jacob b. Chayim's textual reading and his Massorah is manifestly due to the fact that some Massoretic Schools had preserved more instances of this archaic form and that Gen XXVI 25 is one of them. Still his reading in Gen XXVI 25 contradicts his Massorah.

A still more striking instance of conflict between Jacob b. Chayim's text and his Massorah is to be seen in Gen XXVII 11 where the unique orthography of שער, hairy, occurs and where the Massorah Parva duly remarks that this defective form does not occur again. In verse 23 of this very chapter שערת hairy, the plural feminine of this adjective occurs which is also defective. Here the Massorah Parva remarks "there are three instances of defective orthography of this expression in the Bible". As usual the Massorah Parva simply gives the number, but does not give the passages. The Massorah Magna, however, on this very pssage not only states that there are four such instances, which contradicts the Massorah Parva, but minutely enumerates them, viz. Gen XXVII 11, 23; Levit XVI 18, 21. Accordingly the other two instances are in Levit XVI 18, 21. On referring, however, to these two passages, it will be seen that they are both plene in Jacob b. Chayim's text which is in conflict with his Massorah. The contradiction is due to the same cause. The plene orthography emanates from one School of textual redactors and the defective spelling was transmitted by another School. AS the majority fo the MSS which he collated exhibited the defective orthography he inserted it into his text, but having also found this Massorah he felt it his conscentious duty to record it. Still his textual readings contradict his Massorah.

In the face of such conscientious proceedings which made Jacob b. Chayim scrupulously to record Massorahs even when they were in direct conflict withthe readings he adopted in the text, it is astonishing to find that some eminent critics have accused him of being a party to a "pious fraud" and that he had falsified the text in the interest of Christianity to please his Christian employer. This accusation is based upon the Massorah Parva on Numb XXIV 9 and Psalm XXII 17, but more especially on his remarks in the Massorah Finalis with reference to teh quadriliteral expression כארי which occurs four times in the Bible, twice with Kametz under the Caph and twice with Pathach.

(1) On Numb XXIV 9, where it first occurs and where it has Pathach, the Masorah Parva simply states that it occurs four times, twice with Kametz and twice with Pathach. As this simply registers the number of times without giving the passages, nothing is to be deduced from t his matter of fact statement. The Massorah Magna, however, on this very passage which notices the two instances where it is with Pathach, gives this as the first and Ps. XXII 17 as the second passage with the important remark that the textual reading or the Kethiv in the latter place is כארו with Vav at the end, which most unquestionably makes it a verb third person plural, the Kethiv in Jacob b. Chayim's text is not only k'ari with Yod at the end, but that the Massorah on this passage makes no mention whatever of the existence of such a variant.

(3) It is the alphabetical Massorah Finalis at the end of the fourth volume where Jacob b. Chayim records and discusses the various readings in Ps. XXII 17. In letter Aleph he gives the Massoretic Rubric withthe four passages in full in which this quadriliteral occurs,a nd appends to the following important note in Rabbinic characters:
    In some correct Codices, I have found כארו as the Kethiv and k'ari as the Keri but I have searched in the List of words which are written with Vav at the end and are read with Yod and did not find it included therein. Neither did I find it noticed among the variations which exist in the Bible between the Easterns and the Westerns. Thus far.
The cause of offence which provoked Hupfeld's charge of falsification against Jacob b. Chayim is in the first place the Massorah Parva on Ps. XXII 17, which as we have seen states that kari with Kametz under the Caph occurs twice in two different senses. As it undoubtedly denotes like a lion in Isa XXXVIII 13, the remark is naturally designed to convey the idea that in Ps. XXII 17, which si the twin passage, it is a verb. For this reason Hupfeld concludes that it is not a genuine Massorah, but a fradulent addition by Jacob b. Chayim.

Nothing short of documentary evidence could justify so serious a charge. As there was no other printed Massorah in Hupfeld's time by which to test the accuracy of Jacob b. Chayim's Massorah he was in duty bound to investiage MS Lists. He would then have found that every important Condex with the Massorah gives the Alphabetical List of words which respectively occur twice in two different senses and that כארי in Isa XXXVIII 13 and PS XXII 17 is an essential constituent of this List. In confirmation of this statement I refer to the Ochlah Ve-Ochlah edited by Frensdorff and to my edition of the Massorah. But what makes this charge inexcusable is the fact that hte MS. of the important recension of the Ochlah ve-Ochlah is in the University Library at Halle where Hupfeld resided and where he was Hebrew Professor. If he had consulted this MS, which was his duty to do, he would have found this list with kaari in it as having two different senses in Isa XXXVIII 13 and Ps XXIII 17.

As to the important note in the Massorah Finalis, Hupfled boldly declares that "Jacob b. Chayim was very much pressed by the Christian printer in whose pay he was to insert the reading כארו into the text "for the glory of God" which he indeed did not do, but to please his employer he was induced to designate the MSS. In which he found this reading as careful or correct Codices contrary to the truth.

Having proved the genuineness of the Massorah Parva on Ps. XXII 17, which according to Hupfeld himself conveys the same sense as the Kethiv mentioned by Jacob b. Chayim in the Massorah Magna and in the note appended to the Rubric in the Massorah Finalis, I might here dismiss the charge with regard to this Kethiv. The existence, however, in ancient times of the reading which Jacob b. Chayim gives as the Kethiv which is beyond the shadow of a doubt, not only vindicates the character of the first editor of the Massorah, but is important to textual criticism.

Leaving out the reading in the Septugint which critics of the Hupfeld School ascribe to a Christian hand, this reading is attested by Aquila who renders it - they have made hateful- which was sufficient evidence even for Graetz that "at the time of the earlier Tanaites in the beginning of the second century the text of some Codices had כארו. The reading כארו as a verb preterite third person plural is, moreover, perserved in the Midrash on the Psalms where it is rendered by הוכרו, they made hateful, or according to others they made happy. There is, therefore, no doubt that the two rival readings were preserved in two different Schools of textual redactors and that by way of compromise one was put into the text and the other in the margin. Indeed from the Chaldee rendering of this passage it would appear that at one time both these readings were in the text which is not at all improbable since it not unfrequently happened that one of pairs which are alike, is dropped out of the text. Accordingly the text in some MSS was כארו כארי ידי ורגלי - like a lion they tore my hands and feet.

Such a paranomasia is of frequent occurence and is regarded as imparting force to Hebrew diction.

As had already been remarked, the text of Jacob b. Chayim's edition exhibits most scrupulously the Massoretic recension. It is therefore of supreme imporatnce to see how far the innovations which have been introduced into some modern editions called Massoretic are in harmony with this Massoretic editio princeps.

There is not only a hiatus in Gen IV 8, but the Massorah Parva on it distinctly remarks that it is one of the twenty-eight instances in which there is a break in the middle of the verse. בשגם in Gen VI 3 is with Kametz under the Gimel. With regard to the orhography of Chedor-laomer which occurs five times the editor is inconsistent, since it is in two words in three instances and in one word in two instances. Beth-el, however, is not only uniformly printed in two words in all the seventy passages in which it occurs in the Hebrew Bible, but is in two separate lines in no fewer than ten instances, Beth being at the end of one line and El at the beginning of the next line. AS has already been stated, this is the first printed edition of the Hebrew Bible in which the two verses are omitted in Josh XXI viz 36, 37 neither has it Neh VIII 68.

It cannot be too much emphasized that this Standard edition of teh Massooretic text is against the innovation of (1) inserting Dagesh into a consonant which follows a guttural with Sheva (2) into the first letter of a word when the preceding word with which it is combined happens to end with the same letter or (3) of changing Sheva into Chateph-Pathach when a consonant with simple Sheva is followed by the same consonant, as will be seen from the following examples (see list yourself on page 974).

As to the relation of this edition to that of Felix Pratensis, though Jacob b. Chayim never refers to it, there is no doubt that he was greatly indebted to it. We have seen that Felix Pratensis was the fist who not only printed the Keri in the margin but also variants from MSS. Jacob b. Chayim does the same, but more regularly and consistently. From the edition of Felix Pratensis, Jacob b. Chayim reprinted the TArgums on the Prophets and the Hagiographa which, however, he did not improve inasmuch as he omitted the Targum of Jonathan on the Pentateuch and the second Targum of Esther, which appeared for the first time in the edition of Felix Pratentis. Moreover, Jacob b. Chayim omitted the Dikduke Ha-Teamim which is also given for the first time by Felix Pratensis, though he promised to give it when mentioning it in the Massorah Finalis under letter Cheth. At the end of Volume IV, however, he etells us that he omitted it because he regarded it as superfluous.

Of this edition I collated two copies, one in the British museum, press mark 1900, 1. 3-6, and the second copy is in my own possession.


I now skip to: All subsequent editions are in so far Massoretic as they follow the Standard edition of Jacob b. Chayim. Every departure from it on the part of editors who call their texts Massoreetic has to be explained and justified on the authority of the Massorah and MSS which exhibit the Massoretic recension of the text.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Sometimes I just want to pinch off little pieces of my heart and scatter them like so much glittery confetti throughout the roads and vicissitudes of someone else's life.

The problem, of course, is that the more I give away, the harder it is for me to breathe.

So let's send long-distance love by email.
And buoy you up on imaginary balloons.
I'll blow you kisses in a snow-covered New York.
And send happy thoughts your way.

I'll imagine you covered in golden motes of light.
I'll see you healthy in my mind's eye.
And maybe that way I'll fix it so that I really believe what I am pretending is true.
I wish I could bear this burden for you.
But you've passed through the tollbooth of heaven and accepted the cross.
What can I do now? Except tell the Governor

that He'd better let me dance in your crazy.
Explore the shifting panic in your brain.
What's a costume for me is your forever life.
But together, we can make it all right.

I'd swim in your darkness forever and ever.
The rope's in my hand when you come up for air.
I'll lasso you to your other self.
Grieving is a process I am too familiar with.

Let us grieve. Then let us dance.
And proclaim the joy that is our crazy.
The psych ward is only one of our stages;
put on your wig and I'll do the makeup.

YU Beacon

It seems like my desire - and Eitan Kastner's- has finally been realized in the form of a coed Yeshiva University newspaper. It's not The Commentator and it isn't The Observer; it's the YU Beacon which you can check out at

I think Tali Adler and Simi Lampert (Editors-in-Chief) ought to tell us a bit about who they are, how they decided to found this online newspaper, and who their staff is comprised of. Do they have an agenda and what is it? Why were the other news outlets not good enough for them? "YU Beacon" has the potential to be interesting- but first I would need to have a better handle on who is running it and whether we as members of the Yeshiva University audience ought to trust them. The only thing I can tell thus far by perusing their articles is their left-wing Modox tilt (they've interviewed Eli Winkler about being gay in the Orthodox world, are talking about JQY and decided to review "Not in Heaven" - see my blogpost about that book here). I'm not someone who minds pushing the envelope- in fact I support it- but I'm also not someone who is a big fan of agendas, unless they're announced outright. (Like "The Forward's" socialist outlook.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Generation Gap

Chicago's Eliyahu Ungar-Sargon has put out an interesting new short entitled "Generation Gap", a film about the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of his family. It was blogged by Jewschool and I'm reblogging it from there. I haven't watched it yet but Eliyahu is someone who asks tough, thought-provoking questions and offers sincere, genuine answers. Sometimes his questions and opinions bring us into uncomfortable territory, but I think it's imperative for any thinking individual to consider those questions.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The OU Is Coming To Boro Park!

So first an OU Employee (moi) marries a Hasid.

Then the OU decides to actually go to Boro Park!

They're going to be leading a cool 'Ask OU' session focusing on kashrus. I really want to know what the connection between OU and heimish hechsherim is, so everyone in Boro Park, you should totally go and tell me what you learn by commenting to this blog! Thanks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Medley Of Things I Decided You Should Know About Me

1. I like the name 'Brandon'

2. I also like the name 'Jared'

3. My favorite name for a girl is 'Aurora'

4. I have no patience for just about anything except for when someone is crying, in which case I have all the patience in the world

5. My sense of humor is hard to pin down, but there are some things that I find unbelievably funny and want the whole world to enjoy; most of the time, this takes the form of Calvin-and-Hobbes-esque entertainment that happens in real life.

6. A nice black lady was my Mommy on the subway today and instructed me to tell the gentleman in front of me to move so that I could hold on to a pole and resist getting thrown against her.

7. I have dreams that involve putting my cousin's twins to sleep in two separate beds that have the same kind of guards that I used to have on my bed as a child and that the Boys used to have. So it's a mixture of this and pillows. I also dreamed that a green gummy-thingy with gummy black eyes that looked like a Flubber but wriggled on the ground like a snail was given to all of us in a huge auditorium and we needed to kill it as a Korban. But, as I wailed to Heshy first thing in the morning upon waking up, "I didn't kill my Korban, Heshy! It had sad black gummy eyes and I couldn't kill it. Because it talked to me in English and could fly kind of like a little horse and said 'Sit Down.'" At which point Heshy remarked that if the cow at the shechita we observed had spoken to me in English, I wouldn't have been able to kill that cow either. Which led to worries about King Solomon who could speak the animals' languages and how if I were King Solomon I wouldn't be able to eat anything anymore. And resolved itself in Heshy saying he had never watched Flubber and falling back asleep.

8. I love people who have red hair, copper-colored hair or any wig that has any variation thereof. There's just an innate attraction between me and red-haired folks.

9. I love my long subway commute because it means I get to read lots of books. Except I am running out of books that I own and am now re-reading books, which can be fun but is a bit sad.

10. I watch "Pretty Little Liars" for no other reason than because all the main characters are so devastatingly pretty. Particularly Aria. I just stare at Aria all day. I've tried to explain to Heshy that he must come over to the Aria-love by telling him all about how she is the prettiest person anyone has ever seen but he mostly yawns and tells me I need to look in the mirror. At which point I do and sigh unhappily. But anyway, Aria was totally meant to be an arresting medieval portrait that would have earned the painter patronage for the rest of his life.

11. We bought me Steve Madden leggings that have shimmery silver buttons and a zipper going down the sides and they are awesome-looking and cool and I like wearing them.

12. Whenever I reflect on my life and realize, in wonder, that I am in fact a human being, I'm reminded of the amazing Elephant Man scene where he asserts the same.

What random things would you like to share?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Amy Chua, You've Got Nothing On My Mom

The whole world is going gaga over this article.

But to me, this is old hat. Clearly Amy Chua has never met my mom.

Yeah, Chinese moms may be tough. But you want to know from tough? Welcome to the Uzbekistani mother, shipped straight from the Old Country, tough as nails, opinionated, realistic, someone who calls it like it is and takes no crap from anyone. This is a woman who taught herself English as a god-knows-what-number language (she already spoke Farsi, Russian, Uzbek, Italian and so forth), took the TOEFL, got into Princeton, turned it down to go to Stern, worked her heart out to go to nursing school and raised a daughter who got an 800 on her verbal SAT. I'm an immigrant's daughter who arguably should be speaking heavily accented English and stumbling over words. But that's not what my mother wanted and that's not what she allowed.

The only difference between me and Amy Chua's kids is that my mother expected more from me than Amy expects from her children. I had to get straight As in everything and I was permitted and expected to participate in extracurricular activities as long as this did not bring my grades down. Furthermore, if I was going to do something, I had to do it in the best way possible. If I was trying out for Drama, I had better land the lead role. This pressurized environment wasn't always easy, as I wrote:
    I remember angrily accusing my mother that she was too strict with me, that I never had friends because of her high standards (she believed in friends who would challenge you, not people who you were always benefiting), that she didn't give me enough candy, the way the other parents did, that her idea of a birthday party wasn't "cool" enough. I hated her rigid attitude and how she disliked me "enabling" others (a favorite word of hers, or so I thought), her demands that I finish what I start, that I take what I touch. I hated the way she cared so much about grades and was displeased if I brought home an A- or B+ instead of an A. Oh, I hated many things. Let no one ever accuse me of being grateful.
In my house there were also no sleepovers, playdates, TV or Internet, a grade less than A, the ability to quit my Tae Kwon Doe lessons. The first four were considered luxuries and only happened on weekends when I didn't have to study for a major test. The latter two were non-negotiable. On the other hand, my mother never called me "garbage" in public or otherwise and she showered me with gifts of books, beautiful jewelery and exquisite clothes at all times. I felt loved even when I was furious at her. She also never forbade me to go to the bathroom until I got something right, although I did have to do many, many hours worth of math during my summers and evenings when everyone else was outside playing. My father went through the entire geometry book with me- I did every problem in that book, and it was hundreds of pages long- when I was in 9th grade. My mother was strict, extremely so, and very disciplined. She didn't reward what she saw as bad behavior and the most common statement in my house when it came to discipline was the calm: "This is not a threat. This is a promise I intend to keep," which was filled with foreboding.

But with her strictness my mother raised a disciplined, intelligent girl who got straight As through elementary school, high school and most of college. That girl read the canon of great classics (Russian, English, French) by age 14 and the entire 'David Copperfield' by age 11. She had mastered Lord of the Rings by 9, when she was in fourth grade. She won awards for her writing and was consistently published in various forums. She attended a fancy prep school and caught up on a trimester's worth of work when she was 15. The girl managed to do this while participating in drama performances, taking Tae Kwon Doe, writing for the school newspaper or acting as its Editor, participating in Israel Club, Medical Ethics Club, NCSY, the Honors Society and an assortment of other clubs and conferences. She managed to keep her head above water even when faced with great adversity and injustice. And this is only one out of the four children, each of whom possesses outstanding qualities far and away removed from others of their age.

It's true my mother mellowed a little when it came to Dustfinger and the Boys, mostly because I pointed out that she was making our lives as social individuals very difficult by refusing to conform to certain norms. But the core 'Boss' is still there. And I don't know about you- but I prefer the way I was raised to the mollycoddling and neglect that passes for parenting in certain parts of the world today. My mother was strict, but I see her as the blacksmith who forged me on the anvil, pounding away until I could become who I was meant to be. I may not have appreciated it then, but boy, do I ever appreciate it now. Amy Chua goes a little overboard in her parenting, especially when it comes to being hurtful towards her kids and calling them names. But the essence of what she is trying to do is good. My mom grew up in a world where every student who had failed had their name called publicly at assembly during their elite KGB School homeroom. These kids were shamed into doing better. That shame culture isn't something I think is good or healthy for most children- but the expectation that the child can do better and what is more, owes it to her parents to do better than she knew was possible- is one that I welcome. The fact that any grade below A was not acceptable in my house made me hate my mother at times. But it also made me try harder. And the end result was that I was empowered when I realized I could do much more than I had formerly imagined.

Monday, January 17, 2011

There's An OU For You

What does the Orthodox Union do?

Before I started working here, I didn't know either.

Watch this video to find out.

How To Determine Whom To Marry

Heshy and I were discussing different ideas and philosophies last night and I mentioned that I felt very lucky that he found me. After all, he's the one who found me, who wrote to me and the one who courted me (at the beginning I couldn't get past the fact that he was a Hasid). It occurred to me that a problem that I found in my own personal life may be a problem that other young women have as well.

It's like so: I'm not naturally attracted to people who are good for me.

This directly stems from my personality. People with certain personalities are more prone to have certain good qualities and similarly, certain bad tendencies. As I've often mentioned, I'm an Enneagram Type 4. While this assures me certain special qualities that help me in many ways, such as my creativity, it also means that a major part of my life stems from how I feel. What this means is that I like to exist at very high or very low points because either of these means that I am at the height of my ability to feel and I feel most alive when I am emotionally invested. Obviously, I am attracted to feeling alive.

The problem is that invariably the people who make me feel the most alive are also those who switch from high points to low points quickly- people who are similar to me. There's lots of fireworks, excitement, passion and drama but little stability. Two people of my temperament in a marriage would doubtless lead to a rather explosive relationship with the good times being wonderful and the bad times reflecting nightmares. Yet even though I may have known this somewhere in the back of my mind, that doesn't mean I would have acted on the knowledge.

At some point during our friendship, Heshy lent me the book 'Awareness' by Miriam Adahan which focuses on the Enneagram through the prism of Orthodox Judaism. There was an interesting part there regarding my personality type:
    AVOID ROMANTIC RESCUE FANTASIES: All normal people want to love and be loved. But you have an especially intense hunger for love. You dream of the Grand Love- the person who can match the intensity of your passion and understand the depth of your poetic soul! However, if you look for excitement, you are likely to be drawn to someone who is volatile or abusive.

    It is better to seek an "average" marriage with someone who is stable and caring. Your challenge is not to chafe at your partner's lack of inspiration and profundity, not to see him or her as mediocre and boring, not to complain that, "She says the stupidest things"; "He can't possibly understand me"; "It's so unromantic to talk about mundane matters."

    After marriage, it is important not to blame your spouse when you are depressed. Your bad mood conveys the message to your spouse, "You've failed to make me happy! You've let me down." This attitude isolates you. Unless your spouse is truly abusive, withdraw until this mood passes. Afterwards, show constant appreciation to him/ her for the good traits which s/he does have.
I wouldn't say that Heshy is average, but he certainly is stable and caring. He's very different from me in many ways that are good and healthy for me. He's far more practical than I am, much more focused on goals and results. While I generally do things when the mood strikes me, he urges me to do them by certain deadlines instead. While I would push off making appointments for the doctor or dentist, my strategy being that everything will just resolve itself magically, Heshy takes these things seriously.

I was thinking that the yeshivish dating system lends itself to creating a trap for young women like me. If they must determine within two or three dates whether to proceed onward and they're not naturally attracted to the man because their personality craves fireworks, excitement and volatile explosions, they'll dismiss him. And that cycle could potentially continue for a long while. It's difficult to realize that what one naturally craves and the person who actually can be your helpmate and lover may be two different things.

I don't think that people should make wholly intellectual decisions regarding whom to marry, just "bite the bullet" as it were without there being any love or affection between them. I do think the key to determining whom to marry lies in self-knowledge. Knowing oneself, one's flaws, weaknesses, strengths, talents and that which you are naturally drawn to, may allow you to question certain assumptions you may have. If you know you have a predilection or preference for certain people who may not actually be ideal for you, it's something you can keep in mind when you date lest you dismiss the person too hastily. Maybe in your case friendship before marriage is an absolute necessity.

Let me also add a caveat. I don't think that people who are single at certain ages are single because they are too particular, picky or are otherwise flawed. I think that approach is largely condescending and unhelpful. Rather, embarking on a journey to know and find out who you are and your natural inclinations may make you aware of issues that you need to focus on carefully, both in your own life and during the dating process, which can only be to the good.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Happy 2-Month Anniversary to Us!

Yay! Mr. Curious and Mrs. Hasid today celebrate our 2-month anniversary. That's exciting. It doesn't preclude me from sometimes waking up and thinking, "There's a man in my room," with a bit of confusion. But hey. That's all to the good.

As an aside, I'm super excited to see "The Fiddler on the Roof" today! Dov (my IDF cousin's brother) is going to be in it and I'm looking forward to seeing him perform.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jewish Literature Party

Today's assignment:

Compare and contrast Malamud's The Fixer and Kafka's The Trial.

Once you're done with that, compare Proctor of Arthur Miller's The Crucible to Yakov Bok.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mikvah Attendants

Finding a good mikvah attendant is like finding a good therapist.

I'm not joking in the least. Not everyone clicks with the first therapist suggested to them. Suddenly, they happen across that one therapist with a golden tongue, the ones whose words are gems of wisdom, and hope suddenly appears on the horizon.

Here's one of those tidbits of useful information they don't teach you in kallah classes- you will simply not mesh with every mikvah attendant that you meet. Their personalities, ages, stringencies and qualifications will vary and thus you will feel more or less comfortable with each of them. The problem is that if you're not aware of this, you may end up feeling that you hate the mitzvah of Mikvah and all the attendant Niddah laws when in fact, it's not the mitzvah you hate but simply the experience you are having.

The aesthetics of the mikvah may be important to you as well. I know they are to me. I hate cramped rooms where I feel that I can barely breathe or move. I love spacious rooms. And I love rooms that are visually pleasing, with baths made of marble and floors of beautiful opal-colored tile. But then there's the flip side. Some mikvaot will provide you with anything you could possibly need in copious quantities- toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, bars of soap, rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, nail clippers, razors, eye-makeup remove and suchlike. Others only offer them in little disposable packets. I have to decide what is more important to me- would I rather have a spacious room with little packets or a less spacious room where I don't worry about exhausting the shampoo supply?

Another question is whether your mikvah will be physically accessible to you. It may be that the mikvaot I have been to have a special section for those who are elderly or physically handicapped. If not, however, there are places I would specifically tell such people never to go because the simple process of stepping into the bathtub would be impossible for them. Rather than having steps leading down to a bathtub or a low bathtub, the baths are so high that one must agilely swing one leg over while carefully balancing on the other and holding on to the silver door handle with an iron grip.

Back to the attendants. I cannot stress how important it is that you feel comfortable with your mivkah attendant. It might even be worthwhile to travel to a mikvah that geographically is farther away if it means that you are happier with the person who escorts you and/or the amenities there. One important factor is age. Some people feel more comfortable with older, experienced mikvah ladies who are already grandmothers. These people figure these women have seen it all and are nurturing, maternal figures who help them along. In contrast, there are those of us who specifically want younger mikvah ladies. We can relate to them more easily, feel more at home with them. Their youth, sweetness and friendliness may be comforting.

Sometimes mikvah attendants don't mean to make you feel uncomfortable and yet they manage to do so anyway. One woman told me that the number of times I dipped was the most she had ever heard of, which made me feel very uncomfortable, as though I were taking up her time. A different woman made sure to put me at my ease and laughed blithely, telling me that she has had women come to the mikvah to dip 52 or 330 times as a segulah. Needless to say, that made me feel a lot better about taking up her time, since compared to that, my tevilah was nothing.

Some mikvah ladies are also very strict and manage to make you feel bad about your preparation if you accidentally forgot to do something. They mean to be helpful when they suggest that you should bring your checklist to the mikvah, for example (most mivkaot have checklists in the rooms anyway, for that matter), but in truth they just make you feel incompetent. Then there are other ladies who make it seem like a fun game: oh, there's just this little speck of dirt, let's see if we can get at it. You're involved in the process rather than being the incompetent person who is causing problems by not having noticed that little particle.

In short, definitely try out different mikvaot and different mikvah attendants- like all people, you probably have a particular style, age bracket and personality with which you mesh best. Take the time to try to find that person- it can really enhance your experience when you do. And if you have any questions about mikvah or if you would like advice regarding where you can find one if you're interested in starting to keep this mitzvah, as always, feel free to ask me.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Firstly, I love the song "Stand My Ground" by Within Temptation. It's my new theme song.

Late at night
things I thought I'd put behind me
haunt my mind

I just know there's no escape now
once its set its eyes on you
but I won't run, have to stare it in the eye

Stand my ground, I won't give in
No more denying, I gotta face it
Won't close my eyes and hide the truth inside
If I don't make it, someone else will
Stand My Ground

In other news, clearly my masqueraders want to unmask...I'm especially curious about who 'Colors' is because she left an actual peacock feather wrapped and pinned to my front door the other day. Now that's creative. So, a little late but that's all right- Unmasking time.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Being Single & Finding Meaning

My friend wrote a deeply important, very beautiful post that I highly recommend you read. I think it will especially resonate if you are single, but it will also speak to you if you are simply a member of the Orthodox Jewish community.

Saturday, January 08, 2011


A short story, rated R. Read at your own risk.

She has milky white skin and long black hair that wraps itself around her waist, moving with the water as it ripples gently. She leans back, one languid finger skimming the marble tile, the rest of her body immersed within the translucent water of the porcelain bathtub. She looks like an angel resting. But she is dead. And what is more, she has been violated, raped, and only afterwards was she carefully cleaned and placed within this tub, where she now lies. She has been arranged like a portrait, a painting.

This is not a story about rape. This is a story about the aftermath of rape. This is the story of how I, as a husband, am to understand my life now that she is not in it. Now that she is the subject of a painting which is epic, dazzling in its horror and its beauty. The policemen were astonished by her beauty. She looked as though she were still alive, if not for the bruises on her throat, which are currently purpling, turning a blackish-blue. The red marks on her wrists, where she was either tied or forcibly held down.

The bathwater is still warm. The window is open. The breeze moves the shade and it is that motion which I see as laughing, mocking. He is gone, gone through the window, and the water is still warm.

I sink to the floor and put my head in my hands. The world is spinning.

Who is this man who creates art out of dead bodies? How is it that she seems to have so much grace even in this death? I picture him as an artist, this man, an artist whose medium is death. And violence. But I am trying to block the violence from my mind. I do not want to remember her that way. I do not want to think of the suffering she underwent. I wonder if perhaps this makes me a coward. Perhaps it is disrespectful to her if I do not acknowledge the agony and the fact that I was not here when it happened.

There is so much noise around me. The policemen are busy talking. They are evaluating the crime scene. One asks me whether I feel unwell. I shake my head. The world is spinning, but I am perfectly fine. It is the window that I cannot stand. I put my head down so as to avoid the window. That bright curtain shifting in the wind. It is like a calling card. It calls for my attention.

It laughs at me.

I want to shut the window.

They probably want to dust for prints, though. I see that on television. That’s usually how it goes. But they don’t describe, on television, the way that the shifting curtain will mock me, the way it will call my name and laugh at me, demonic laughter that rings in my ears. I feel that she has accused me; I feel her voice crying out to me. She is a portrait now, my modern-day Ophelia. She has been transformed.

And I? I have been violated. I feel my manhood slipping off of me. There, it sits on the floor. None of the policemen have noticed. I am alienated from this piece of me. This organ is a weapon and I refuse to have anything to do with it. It is not of me and it will not be again. I see it there, on the floor. It lies limp. But the window curtain still waves.

I lean my head forward and vomit, ruining the prettiness of the picture. I hear the policemen clucking in disgust. I am messing up their crime scene. But I am also saving her. Saving her from becoming his, his portrait, his artistic meaning. She will not belong to him in that way. Yellow spew from my mouth assures her of that. I have assured her of her dignity.

My penis is swimming in the yellow vomit. I feel that this is a just punishment.

The policeman leans forward to examine my eyes. I find it odd that he is not examining my penis, lying there in a pool of vomit. I see it there clearly.

“Are you all right?” he asks me.

Certainly I am. Certainly. Now the picture is gone and she no longer belongs to him.

Only him is me. The other side of me. The side I am willfully struggling not to remember. The pain in my head, the flashes, though; it all means something.

I know it with a certainty that terrifies me. I raped my wife. I laid her carefully in the bath. She is my Ophelia. She is my high art.

But the window. The window is my hope. He left through the window. Perhaps it was not me.

“Can we shut the window?” I ask, my voice unusually high.

“But sir,” the policeman looks at me, entirely confused. He kneels, a show of compassion, and looks at me tenderly, compassionately. Surely I have been shaken by the shock. “The window is not open.”


With thanks to/ credited to: The Phantom of the Opera, Lucky by Alice Sebold, the photograph "Ophelia" by Gregory Crewdson which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago, "Black Swan" and "Private Practice"

Friday, January 07, 2011

Introduction to Hasidic Society, Part 1

Many of you have been raising excellent questions regarding Hasidim, marriages that take place after three b'shos and whether a lack of divorce means that the marriage is a happy one. Now, obviously my thoughts are only based upon anecdotal evidence regarding the sect of Hasidut that I see when I visit Boro Park, so with that disclaimer, you may take the following for what it is worth.

In Boro Park, girls are raised up to be mothers. Their role models are women who raise children and simultaneously lead lives of hesed. There are women who are in charge of Bikkur Cholim committees, women who head gemachs, women who are happy to watch other people's children so that the mother can get some rest, women who cook for new mothers, women who are shadchanim and so forth. As a girl born into this society, your focus is on modesty and growing up to become a Jewish mother. You know how to cook and clean because you've helped your mother to do so. You've taken care of children, including little babies, all your life. The accoutrements of marriage that may come as a surprise to American brides of 37 will be no surprise to you. You have been raised within a family unit and hope to perpetuate that family unit.

And there's a lot of beauty in that mentality, that innocence and the purity that comes along with it. Yes, compared to me, these women are sheltered. But in Boro Park they will argue that the children are protected rather than sheltered. I think that protection has to end at some point so that women can assert their independence and right to think. But there are many women who are not so very troubled by the supposed restrictions that are incumbent upon them. After all, this dependance is reflective of the whole society in that all of them, like sheep led by a loving shepherd, follow the guidance of the Rebbe.

A lot of research goes into a shidduch. Each side of the family checks the other one out, makes hundreds of phone calls and tries to determine whether the family suits one another. Then they take the names to the Rebbe, who will offer his thoughts regarding the match. Assuming that all meets with approval, the young man and young lady are introduced to one another at a b'sho, which is an hour to an hour and a half meeting in the house or an apartment. The parents sit in one room and the children speak in the other. What do they speak about, you may wonder?

This is another place where there's a sweetness and a sadness mixed together. In our world, when young men and women date, they will speak about their studies, their planned careers, their breakups and the emotional toll severing ties took on them. They will compare notes regarding their life experiences. To some extent, they can be very weary by the age of twenty. In Boro Park, the children speak about sweet things like their EMT experience or training, the work they do, their hobbies and interests. Important questions and intimate questions are not: How did breaking up with the man you thought you loved affect you? Rather, they take the form of: Would you be willing to eat out (at restaraunts)? Would you come with me on vacation if I happened to visit a different state? Do you want me to shave my head or not? Would you let me drive (most Hasidic women don't drive as it is considered immodest)? And the man may ask: Would you wear a band (a white embroidered handkerchief) on Shabbos? What about an apron? There is no need to ask how each one plans to raise their children; clearly they plan to raise them within the parameters of the Hasidus that they follow.

On the one hand, I am deeply troubled by the idea of a relationship that begins on such (to me) seemingly shallow grounds. Where is the emotional depth, the passion, the understanding of one another? How can a marriage be made based on the fact that a young maiden enjoys a man's company- after all, she has no other experience to compare that with? And yet, having tasted of the frenetic experience of bitterness and joy that encompasses trying to find one's husband in the Modern Orthodox world, I cannot discount the simplicity and honesty in which this match is sought. Is it better to have one's heart broken first, to drink the draught of experience, or to venture into a marriage undamaged (at least in that way) with a commitment to making everything work?

Each youth has the right to say no if they believe the other is not suited for them. Of course, there is a lot of pressure to say yes. But I know people who have turned others down while searching for their husband. They're uncommon but they exist.

Erich Fromm writes in his exquisite book, 'The Art of Loving'-
    Erotic love, if it is love, has one premise. That I love from the essence of my being—and experience the other person in the essence of his or her being. In essence, all human beings are identical. We are all part of One; we are One. This being so, it should not make any difference whom we love. Love should be essentially an act of will, of decision to commit my life completely to that of one other person. This is, indeed, the rationale behind the idea of the insolubility of marriage, as it is behind the many forms of traditional marriage in which the two partners never choose each other but are chosen for each other—and yet are expected to love each other. In contemporary Western culture this idea appears utterly false. Love is supposed to be the outcome of a spontaneous, emotional reaction, of suddenly being gripped by an irresistible feeling. In this view, one sees only the peculiarities of the two individuals involved—and not the fact that all men are part of Adam, and all women part of Eve. One neglects to see an important factor in erotic love, that of will. To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?

    Taking these views into account one may arrive at the position that love is exclusively an act of will and commitment, and that therefore fundamentally it does not matter who the two persons are. Whether the marriage was arranged by others, or the result of individual choice, once the marriage is concluded, the act of will should guarantee the continuation of love. This view seems to neglect the paradoxical character of human nature and of erotic love. We are all One- yet very one of us is a unique, unduplicable entity. In our relationships to others the same paradox is repeated. Inasmuch as we are all one, we can love everybody in the same way in the sense of brotherly love. But inasmuch as we are all also different, erotic love requires certain specific, highly individual elements which exist between some people but not between all.
Although they certainly haven't read Erich Fromm, I think the Hasidic community recognizes the supremacy of will. They do their best to make sure the families and children are compatible with one another, introduce the children to one another and offer them the opportunity to say no, and then allow them to embark upon this great journey together. The understanding is that this couple will do everything possible, no matter what that entails, to stay together. True, sometimes this is because of societal pressure and this leads to unhappiness. But there is much to be said for that promise, that commitment, that will and that understanding that all men are part of Adam and all women are part of Eve.

Are Hasidic couples happy? It depends on what you mean by happiness. They have very different expectations than we who are doused in Western culture do. They are not expecting happily ever afters. They don't expect perfect kisses, carriages, red roses, romance and expensive gifts (which is not to say, by the way, that husbands don't woo their wives anyway- but after they're married). They were not raised on fantasies of Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast. They want companionship with their husband; they want to help him succeed in his studies, believing that this is their path to fulfillment and to the World to Come. They want to enjoy his company. And so long as that is all right, often they will feel contented and happy. The great belief in God and in their Rebbe's guidance that they have also serves to make them feel happy. Not only the man they are marrying but the marriage itself is part of serving God. And they have been taught to feel glad and fulfilled when they serve God.

Also, Hasidic couples often spend time apart. There are so many functions (smachot, brisim, weddings etc) that they are attending with men separated and women separated that much fulfillment is found in the companionship of women (especially fellow newlyweds or young mothers) as in the company of their husbands. Of course this is not true of everyone, but the difference in thought in Boro Park vs. say Washington Heights is the focus on a community-oriented, family-oriented culture rather than an individualistic culture. Here in the Modern Orthodox community, we expect to find happiness as individuals. Two individuals who love one another could live in Antarctica away from all civilized society and still be deeply happy. But this is not the thought in Boro Park. In Boro Park, everyone is a member of my family and thus everyone's business is my business. The husband, the in-laws, the next-door-neighbor, my best friend from school- they're all part of my extended family, in a way. That culture lends itself to feeling included and cared for, even if that is never expressed in the way that it would be in the Western world.

To some extent, I admire the women of Boro Park. I almost envy their simplicity, their steadfastness, their deep faith in God and their Rebbe. I admire the way in which they are so competent in a household at such a tender age. I think the fact that their faith in God is such that they can marry after meeting someone only three times and then make that marriage work and grow in their love for one another is a beautiful thing. It is not something I could do and I would argue it is not something that any thinking rather than faithful person- someone who puts choice above devotion- could easily do. It is not something whose essence is to be an individual- as mine is- could do. But I believe their method has worked for them and I have seen very devoted, happy couples in Boro Park. I've seen the other kind as well. What's true here, as it's true everywhere else, is that we must not judge by shock value or appearances. B'shos seem strange to us, but we are no stranger to Miley Cyrus' provocative photos or GQ's "Glee" shoots where women suck lollipops with their legs spread to show their dainty underclothes. Sometimes I wish I were indeed a stranger to the sex-laden culture of Western society- and that I had the faith and devotion that would have allowed me to wed based on my trust in my parents and God.

Thursday, January 06, 2011


So last night Heshy and I mysteriously ended up in Brooklyn. That's because my sweet and beautiful 18-year-old sister-in-law got engaged last night! We went in for an informal family L'Chaim, except there ended up being a whole lot more people than I would have thought qualified for "informal" and "small". But that's okay.

In any case, I may have to change my mind about three-b'shos-and-that's-it because SIL and her future husband looked extremely happy and were beaming from ear to ear. (A b'sho, for those who don't know, is where the girl and guy meet for say an hour and a half while the parents sit in a different room in the same house or apartment).

And yes, in case you're wondering, it IS only seven weeks after our own wedding. But hey, this has always been my life- get married, have a birthday, have your SIL get engaged and party hearty.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


People have a penchant for thinking that love is an exciting, dangerous, threatening and otherwise stimulating adventure. The ups and downs, the game, flirtation, the ability to exist in a world of pulsating lights within the darkness of a club. This is love as depicted in romantic tragedies and films. It's comprised of passion. It also involves each party destroying the other, even if it's not intentional.

A friend of mine updated his Facebook status with the statement:

"Good relationships are like fireworks: loud, exciting, and liable to maim you if you hold on too long" - Q.C.(a web comic)

But as I read Lucky by Alice Sebold, it occurs to me that this is not my conception of love at all. Love is in the quiet, in the stillness, in the small tasks that are done for you to demonstrate care. Coming home to a house where the laundry has been folded, the dishes washed, and the floor mopped, and where all these chores have been accomplished in order to ease your burden- this is love. The hand that holds yours as you stand by the witness stand. Love is support; it is coming on board for the long haul. When I think of love, the strongest image that comes to mind is two hands nestled together- a mother with her baby's, a husband and a wife's. That grip to me symbolizes the union in which they each help the other stand no matter the blows or challenges that come their way.

I value strength in love. I value the people who will stand by you and who will not allow themselves to fall apart when they are needed. I value the ones who will hold your hand tightly in order to let you know that they are there. I value brave lovers who have the heart and the ears to listen to details that are grisly and gruesome and nevertheless true. Cowardice is not a trait I respect in love or otherwise.

There was a line that struck me in particular in Lucky.

"Mary Alice wasn't leaving until later in the day. She had done instinctively what few people do in the face of a crisis: She had signed on for the whole ride." -Lucky by Alice Sebold, page 28

Those people- the ones who sign on for the whole ride- they are the ones who know what the meaning of love really is.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Inception Isn't Over Yet

'Cause I'm broken when I'm open
And I don't feel like I am strong enough
'Cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome
And I don't feel right when you're gone away

'Cause I'm broken when I'm lonesome
And I don't feel right when you're gone away

~"Broken" by Seether