Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Brilliance of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Daniel pointed me to the works of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

The man is brilliant. This is literary Torah.

These are definitely the most original ideas I've read in a long time; his thoughts are elegantly presented and he utilizes many sources, including those that are secular in nature. Well-read, obviously cultured and extremely polished, it is a pleasure to read what he writes.

The best way to prove it to you is to give you an example.

The majority of us have always been taught that Jacob was correct in deceiving his father in order to receive the blessings. This has never sat well with me, as I prefer honesty to trickery. Comes Rabbi Sacks and explains:

    One thing stands out about the first phase in Jacob’s life. He longs to be Esau – more specifically, he desires to occupy Esau’s place. He struggles with him in the womb. He is born holding on to Esau’s heel (this is what gives him the name Jacob , “heel-grasper”). He buys Esau’s birthright. He dresses in Esau’s clothes. He takes Esau’s blessing. When the blind Isaac asks him who he is, he replies, “I am Esau, your firstborn.”

    Why? The answer seems clear. Esau is everything Jacob is not. He is the firstborn. He emerges from the womb red and covered in hair (Esau means “fully made”). He is strong, full of energy, a skilled hunter, “a man of the fields.” More importantly, he has his father’s love. Esau is homo naturalis , a man of nature. He knows that homo homini lupus est , “man is wolf to man.” He has the strength and skill to fight and win in the Darwinian struggle to survive and the Hobbesian war of “all against all.” These are his natural battle-grounds and he relishes the contest.

    Esau is the archetypal hero of a hundred myths and legends of the ancient world (and of action movies today). He is not without dignity, nor does he lack human feelings. His love for his father Isaac is genuine and touching. The midrash, for sound educational reasons, turned Esau into a bad man. The Torah itself is altogether more subtle and profound. Esau is not a bad man; he is a natural man, celebrating the Homeric virtues and the Nietzschean will to power.

    It is not surprising that Jacob’s first desire was to be like him. That is the face he first saw in the mirror of his imagination, the face he presented to the blind Isaac when he came to take the blessing. But the face was not the face of Jacob , any more than were the hands.

    Nor was the blessing he took the one that was destined for him. The true blessing was the one he received later when Isaac knew he was blessing Jacob , not thinking him to be Esau.

    Jacob’s blessing had nothing to do with wealth or power. It had to do with children and a land – children he would instruct in the ways of the covenant and a land in which his descendants would strive to construct a covenantal society based on justice and compassion, law and love. To receive that blessing Jacob did not have to dress in Esau’s clothes. Instead he had to be himself, not a man of nature but a person whose ears were attuned to a voice beyond nature, the call of the Author of all to be true to that which cannot be bought by wealth or controlled by power, namely, the human spirit as the breath of G-d and human dignity as the image of G-d. [emph mine]
In a dazzling display of literary brilliance, Rabbi Sacks zeroes in on the words Jacob uses when he meets Esau for the second time:
    יא קַח-נָא אֶת-בִּרְכָתִי אֲשֶׁר הֻבָאת לָךְ, כִּי-חַנַּנִי אֱלֹהִים וְכִי יֶשׁ-לִי-כֹל; וַיִּפְצַר-בּוֹ, וַיִּקָּח.

    11 Take, I pray thee, my blessing that is brought to thee; because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough.' And he urged him, and he took it. (Genesis 33:11)
What does Jacob mean, take my blessing?

Answers Rabbi Sacks:
    It should now be clear exactly what Jacob was doing when he met Esau twenty-two years later. He was giving back the blessing he had taken all those years before . The herds and flocks he sent to Esau represented wealth (“the dew of heaven and the richness of the earth”). The sevenfold bowing and calling himself “your servant” and Esau “my lord” represented power (“Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you”). Jacob no longer wanted or needed these things (“I have everything” – meaning, “I no longer need either wealth or power to be complete”). He is explicit. He says, “Please take (not just “my gift” but also) “my blessing.” He now knows the blessing he took from Esau was never meant for him, and he is returning it.
Sheer and utter literary genius.

In one beautiful moment, everything falls into place. Jacob is someone who has to struggle to determine his identity; if he dons the mask of Esau, does that make him Esau? No, it does not. He has to accept the fact that he is who he is and that he is not his brother and then he must make amends, give back what he has stolen.

This is brilliance.

To read the full dvar Torah, please click here for the PDF file or access Rabbi Sacks' website, go to years 2003-2004 and click Vayishlach.

She's Back!

Dustfinger's home!

She loved LAGITT.

In fact, she's probably going to be making aliyah when she grows up... (yeah, I'm serious, and yeah, we're all very different kids in this family.)

And she bought us all presents! Sweetness, isn't she?


Experiential Memory

My mind works in a rather interesting way. When I remember things, I don't merely remember them from a detached perspective, able to puzzle over situations and ideas. In fact, I really don't remember at all. I relive.

When I "recall a memory," I relive the situation as it happened. I feel like it's all happening over again; I feel the exact same emotions. I can tell how everything tasted and how everything looked at that exact moment in time, everything I noticed, that is, when the event actually occurred. This is what I have termed "experiential memory," because this is not a recollection but an experience.

This means that if I write about my experiences, I am writing as I relive that experience. I am always drained and exhausted after writing in such a manner. When I do this, I don't even look at what I am writing; I just close my eyes, fall back into the memory and type. Or sometimes I look at the screen, but I'm not in my head; my fingers fly far faster than my mind processes. This is because I am experiencing the event all over again. If the event was a negative one, such as Templars was, I am feeling exactly as I felt then; I am there again, within that room; it is only my physical self that isn't there.

This is one of the reasons I don't forget things. I can't forget them because memory isn't a detached experience for me; it is a reliving.

The really beautiful thing about experiential memory is its ability to give pleasure. I can choose to remember pleasant or happy experiences and all my emotions will be in tune with this reliving of the event. But I need to trigger the memory. I generally do this using songs on my iPod. This is going to sound strange to you, so allow me to explain.

I like quite a lot of music. But often, at least initially, when I purchase music it is not for the music itself but for the event the music links to in my mind. Some examples:

1. "This Love" reminds me of my friends CG & A during Summer at YU when we were all at Madame Toussauds and were upstairs by the "American Idol" contest. They were singing "This Love" and we were all so happy. Every time I listen to "This Love" by Maroon 5, it triggers that memory and those same emotions of happiness and enjoying the fun.

2. "Under the Bridge" by Red Hot Chili Peppers reminds me of art class at North Shore, as does "Jammin" by Bob Marley and a whole lot of other songs. That's because we listened to these on mixes during art class. Any time I'm going for feelings of peace and calm or memories of my classmates, I can listen to these songs; that will trigger those thoughts.

3. "Unwell" by Matchbox 20 reminds me of my friend Kate, because she told me it was one of her very favorite songs. I also listened to it with her many times while we were in Art together, and so whenever I hear it I think of her, and when I think of her, I think of all my wonderful experiences with her and I am happy.

Then there are more obvious connections. If a particular friend recommends a particular song to me or buys me a particular CD, I will forever associate that piece of music with him. One of my friends bought me HIM's "Dark Light" CD; whenever I listen to it I think of him. Another of my friends recommended that I listen to S&M Metallica and particularly recommended "Call of the Ktulu" and "Master of Puppets," whenever I listen to this, I think of him. It's not that my friend has anything to do with the piece of music in question, necessarily; it is simply my mental association. So if I walk into a store and hear "Call of the Ktulu" playing, my mind is immediately going to jump to the friend who recommended I listen to that, at which point I'll start wondering about how he's doing and make a mental note to inform him of this or that.

Music is always associated with something in my mind. Sometimes it really is simply the lyrics that make an impression upon me, but more often than not there's a story behind them (one of the reasons I love soundtracks to movies and musicals. There is meaning to that music, see?)

Sometimes I hear a song and immediately feel a certain way- something that has nothing to do with the lyrics themselves- wary or uncertain or angry and then I have to figure out why. Ten to one, I realize that the first time I heard this song, even if it was simply background noise at the time; for example, say I was in a department store and heard it, I felt unhappy. This means the next time I hear it I am also going to feel those same emotions. Of course, once having recognized that, I can actually pay attention to the lyrics and the music and see whether I like the song. But I find it very interesting, how powerful the link between the music and the experience is for me.

It doesn't have to be music. There are all sorts of triggers for me to relive experiences. I can hear a quote from someone or watch a movie and anything can trigger a "memory" of mine. This is usually a good thing; the only time it isn't good is when I'm in a public place, say in shul or something, and I'm suddenly struck by a pasuk and I remember an entire scenario that took place regarding, for example, a fight I had with a teacher over that pasuk. This means I've suddenly gone back in time and am reliving this experience and afterwards I'm left feeling very unhappy and miserable even though there's no cause, because this happened a long time ago. So then I spend the rest of shul concentrating on this memory rather than the here and now, which can be problematic.

Of course, should I exert the effort, I can control my thoughts and pull myself back to the present, but I rarely do that. It depends on the need and whether it is necessary.

It's rather nice to be able to carry all one's friends in one's pocket; it's one of the great joys of having an iPod. Depending on what I want to remember or who I want to think about, all I have to do is play a particular song, the song I've dedicated to them in my mind, and everything comes back to me. This is very good because it means I can calm myself down or change my mood at will (not always, but often.)

I often wonder whether anyone else experiences memory in that way, as a reliving instead of recalling. Like all things, there's a good side and a bad side to this; the good side allows for me to re-experience joy as frequently as I like or to write very emotionally charged pieces and the bad side allows me to dwell on negatives overmuch and to feel completely drained and exhausted after "remembering" certain events.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Kol Hamevaser

Well, look what I discovered today. It's Kol Hamevaser and apparently undergraduate students can write for it.

I'm thinking maybe I should give it a go. Especially considering what they want for Issue 2. I have already mentioned some of what I think about this in my Power of Television post and God knows there's a lot I could do with connecting popular culture and the Torah.

Yeah, I'm thinking this is going to be a lot of fun.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Baal Shem Tov's Philosophy Explained

I read this incredibly gorgeous explanation of the Baal Shem Tov's philosophy on Shabbat; now I want to share it with all of you! It's told over in the form of a story. I know it is a long story but it is well worth reading if you want to understand the basics behind Chassidut and why the Besht acted the way he does. If you can't read all of it, at least read the part I have highlighted in blue (my favorite part.)

From pages 42-51 in Tales of the Baal Shem Tov by Yisroel Ya'akov Klapholtz, Volume 5:

"Blessed be He Who has created us for His glory and has separated us from those who err," Rav N. would often intone, raising his eyes and palms heavenward, thankful that he was not among the erring followers of chassidism. A sworn dissenter of the Baal Shem Tov, Rav N. was a learned and pious man, a leading Torah personality of the other camp. Rav N. had a secret ambition. He longed to visit the Baal Shem Tov and expound to him all of his errors, to argue so convincingly as to make the Baal Shem Tov reject his own teaching. One day, he finally took his courage in hand and went to visit the Baal Shem Tov.

As he sat on the coach he kept on repeating a prayer of his own making, "May God protect me from this new cult. May I not be led astray to apostasy, God forbid."

The Besht was not surprised by the visit, having already heard of this rabbi, of his virulent opposition to chassidus and of his intended visit. He greeted his guest warmly, bade him sit down and empty his heart of all his complaints and arguments against chassidus. "Take your time," he said patiently. "I am interested in hearing all you have to say on the subject. I have heard that you find fault with my ways and my school of thought. Tell me fully what it is that displeases you. Ask what you will of me and I will answer. I will try to resolve all your doubts. Is it not our purpose to serve our Creator as best we can? What does it matter who is the victor in this search as long as we finally reach the truth? What does the honor of victory signify in the light of the honor of the Almighty King to whom we must all ultimately bow?"

The rabbi collected his thoughts and then began: "I must first preface my words with the plea that if, in the course of this dialogue I accuse you falsely, you must not judge me harshly since I am ignorant in your ways. The Torah way is not to flatter or falsely accredit, all the more so when it involves a question of belief.

"My questions are the following: First of all, you are always boasting that you have innovated a new practice, a new mode of worship until now hidden from the Sages of all preceding generations. Only select souls are able to grasp this esoteric secret. My charge to you is that if your worship is an innovation, then it is forbidden by the Torah as are all supplements. It borders on apostasy.

"Secondly: you are quoted to have said that all your Torah thoughts and lectures emanate from heaven. Furthermore, anyone who propounds Torah thoughts that do not originate from heavenly sources is merely palavering so much nonsense. I find such arrogance intolerable! How can you dare to claim the monopoly on Divine inspiration and prophecy alone?

"Thirdly, most of the Torah presentations and hidden allusions repeated in your name seem to me unfounded in halacha. Most of them denigrate noted Torah scholars who spend the major part of their days and nights in study of the revealed Torah which you also belittle.

"And fourthly, who were your teachers in this new way of yours? From whom did you receive such a tradition, such example of behavior and practice?"

"It is interesting how often the view of the accused coincides quite closely with that of the accuser," the Baal Shem Tov answered pleasantly, with a perceptible smile of victory on his lips. "In this case as well, the very questions which you pose can be turned around to form justifiable answers. In fact, I must thank you for formulating your questions so well as to aim directly at the crux of the matter and to assist me in presenting my rebuttal.

"Let me begin with some facts about my childhood, as you requested. My father, may he rest in peace, was a man complete in his righteousness, exemplary in his personal characteristics. I was orphaned when I was but a child yet I still recall his last words to me. As he lay on his deathbed, he summoned me and whispered in my ear, "Remember always, my son, that Hashem is with you. Never forget this thought. Concentrate upon it with all your might wherever you are, at all times, but do not let other people be aware of your thoughts. Behave normally and don't let them divine your thoughts.

"These words remained carved upon my memory. After his death I used to seclude myself in forest and field to strengthen myself in this noble thought that God, Who fills the entire world with His grandeur, is actually by my side. I accepted a position of melamed to enable me to better serve Him in the open as well as in the confines of my heart. I used to raise my voice to teach the young children kriyas shema, to bensh with them or teach them to answer Omain after each blessing. I found this an excellent device to help me concentrate meanwhile upon the special thoughts I had been urged to think.

"Later on I became a shamosh in a shul. I was now able to continue my practice and extend it through the night. When I became of age, I married the sister of Reb Gershon of Kitov and went to live in a little cottage between two mountains, earning my meager bread by digging clay and selling it in the village. I subsequently rented a house near the forest where I would retreat in solitude. I returned periodically to tend to household matters and welcome the few visitors that came to see me.

"In the course of time I acquired some knowledge of the revealed and the mystic aspects of the Torah. This did not play a prime part with me as did purity of thought and concentrated effort to bear in mind what my father had told me. My Torah study, prayer and good deeds were then only means to achieve a higher purpose. In the way a man desires to go, so is he led. I found myself constantly being aided in my project and merited to hear and see most wondrous and fearful things.

"I was soon able to perceive God manifest everywhere, with every step I took. I felt that every word that was spoken, every occurrence that took place, was Divinely directed on an overall plan and brought to bear upon each individual. I was so thoroughly immersed in Godly thoughts that even my everyday words were full of sanctity and meaning as if they had been prayers.

"Let me set you straight on one matter. My way of worship is not at all innovative or supplementary to Judaism. Whoever claims that about me is completely mistaken. The renaissance that I create in people's hearts to draw nearer to Hashem is neither new or additional to knowledge common to all past believers for it is a tradition handed down from our fathers and teachers. I have only come to reinforce people's faith from the lethargy into which it has sunk in the course of time.

"There is no doubt that the belief in God's omnipresence is the very fundamental of the entire Torah. Whoever claims that there is no purpose, design or value to life, rather the world is a product of happenstance, is an utter fool. Even if we consider those who profess their belief in the existence of God, who ascribe to the idea that everything in this world has a purpose and was created with infinite intricacy and wisdom, we see that people can miss the point altogether, which is God's specific intent for every single happening.

"There is a class of people higher than those able to perceive God inherent in everything; there are people who believe further that He brings his spirit to rest upon this nether world through the letters of the Torah which are heaven-sent luminaries. They are aware that botei medrosh and botei knesses are filled with His holy presence, further, that dreams that tzadikim dream are sometimes prophetic visions; that a true tzadik uses the heavenly echo- the bas kol- and merits that Divine Presence rest upon him.

"Let me bring an example of God's absolute guidance of worldly events to the minutest detail. A bedbug once bit a man in the middle of the night, causing him to awake with a start. He jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen to get a drink. In his haste, he bumped against the water barrel, causing it to spill its contents upon a bed of burning coals that would have otherwise ignited a roaring fire in the house. He returned to his bed to find that an overhead beam which had lain precariously, had finally fallen upon his bed. Were this man an unbeliever, he might attribute this chain of events to happenstance. One who firmly acknowledges God's omniscience can see Divine Presence in these events face to face, as it were.

"One who witnesses such occurrences two or three times in his life, becomes strengthened in his faith and begins to recognize the hand of Providence in other seemingly unapparent circumstances. He eventually concludes that He is the Prime Mover of every single thing, without exception.

"Thoughts that cross a person's mind in constant stream, making way for other insignificant thoughts, thoughts that flame up briefly only to fade away, have no lasting value or significance. Their coming and passing need not be questioned or dwelt upon. But thoughts which linger on beyond the usual fleeting ones are manifestations of Torah and emuna and come to serve as reinforcers or reminders from above. They are valuable to their hosts and should be considered by the people they visit as subtle hints from heaven attuned to a person's individual soul.

"People with finely developed vision see each angel, that is, each manifestation of Godly power, with every tap on every blade of grass; they hear each heavenly decree and echo as it goes forth into the wide world. These people know that every place has sanctity, not only the heavenly realms. Not only is every vision and prophecy heaven-sent but also every utterance is a messenger from above. The discerning person will realize its purpose after sufficient contemplation.

"And that is why certain people can weave a cloth of halachos and lessons from seemingly mundane matters. Such people who have captured the essence of all holiness need not differentiate between a shul and a forest as a place for their prayers. Similarly, the study of mishna and gemorra does not depart from apparent idle talk uttered by the lowliest of the low even though the speaker has no ulterior intent in his words. The true believer is aware that He who gave man the power of speech also put the particular words in his mouth, embodying within those words the most esoteric of messages.

"Just as Ruth's parents had no motive behind the name they gave their daughter, never realizing that she would mother the most righteous Jewish kind, neither did the parents of the meraglim endow their children with names prophetic of the future. A believer of the highest degree does not differentiate between study of a holy volume or the study of a child's prattle or even of a gentile's talk for if he considers it well he can extract from everything a lesson in Torah. If such a person is possessed by an idea, as insane as it may appear, he studies it, knowing that it is a message from on high which has particular relevance to his individual soul for all his ideas are the raw material of ultimate Torah.

"One can thus understand a verse in the Torah in a new light, by way of metaphor; "If a man seduces a virgin," - if a man develops a new thought "who was not engaged" - which was not yet formulated into words- "and sleeps with her"- he finds this idea staying with him- "he shall pay her dowry"- he should realize that this idea was ordered specifically for him and that it is his duty to find the hidden meaning in it.

"I am aware of the mockery of many rabbis and scholars. It does not faze me in the least. I have repeated my rationale in so many different ways because the majority of scholars have forgotten this basic concept. Rather they put the emphasis upon inventing a well-constructed pilpul which has no relevance to the problems of their particular generation. My followers and I try to remind them that polemics are only worthwhile if they concern Torah and piety, morals and character traits. Polemics for the mere sake of polemics is worthless. Happy is the generation whose elders listen to the juniors, for the greatest of men will always find something to learn and benefit from another."

Just as he was finishing these words
a gentile tapped on his window. A band of metal hoops rested upon his shoulders. "Do you have any pails, barrels or vessels that need repair?" he chanted.

"Go in peace," the Baal Shem Tov waved the tinker away with a smile. "In my house everything is in order."

"Give a good look," the man persisted, "maybe you will find things that need repair."

The Baal Shem Tov turned to his illustrious guest and said, "See! Is this man not a direct messenger from heaven? Can you not see the sanctity in his words? This is just what I have been telling you all this time. If one searches well, anyone- even one who considers himself perfect- will find cracks or splits in his heart and soul, in his mind and traits, that need improvement.

"I believe with all my heart that there is no idle coincidence in this world. I find constant support to this notion from above. I am grateful to heaven for having sent this tinker to me to tell me things which are directly relevant to this matter.

"I know that there is much opposition to my thoughts but I feel it my duty to stand apart from the rest in maintaining a staunch position. If you persist in your opposition, there is nothing that I can do. If you wish to give these concepts some consideration, then stay here and I will spend more time exploring them with you until they penetrate your very being and illuminate your very thinking."

The guest bowed his head, carefully considering all that the Baal Shem Tov had said until now. He arose and began pacing the floor, to and fro, thinking what to reply.

"I concede that most of your thoughts make sense. I must differ, however, with your insistence that idle chatter is also Torah, that this goy is a messenger of God and his words prophecy. This strikes me as veritable apostasy. Furthermore, according to your theory, even apostasy is endowed with holiness- in evil, sinful thoughts there is sanctity or sparks of heavenly revelations. My mind cannot tolerate such irrationality. I must beg to differ with you."

"The matter does not rest with your ability to accept it but your desire to do so. I insist that the words of a gentile in the market emanate from heaven and border on prophecy and revelation. You can subscribe to this idea but you do not want to." With these parting words, the Baal Shem Tov closed the discussion and dismissed his guest.

The rabbi left the Besht's home and started going on his way. Suddenly he came across a gentile whose wagon of stones had overturned. The unfortunate man was trying to get people to help him set the wagon aright.

"Jew!" he called out at the sight of the rabbi, "come here and give me a hand with this load. Do me a favor and giver me a boost."

"I am weak," the rabbi replied. "I can't."

"You can," the goy replied, "but you don't want to. If you wanted to you would be able."

The goy's answer stunned the rabbi. He did not know what to do. Should he make a superhuman effort to help this man or should he return to the Baal Shem Tov and tell him this story? Finally he decided, "The first thing is to get up and act."

When the wagon had been set aright he returned to the Besht. His conscience kept on hammering: Should he believe or not?

As soon as he stood in the doorway of the rebbe's room, the latter asked: "Is it already clear to you that you can but you don't want to?"

When he heard these words, the rabbi decided to remain several more days. And in the end he became one of the close, staunch followers of the Baal Shem Tov.

(Shalom Al Yisroel)


There is nothing in this world that does not connect back to God. There are those who can and have read kefirah, the most secular works, delved into philosophy and who are connected to a physical and material world. But you see, all these things lead back to God, not away from him...they strengthen us; they do not defeat us. There is something to learn from everything, from every book, every movie, every conversation, every person, and this is not reserved for holy people but for all of us. I know that I have had some of my best insights after hearing a particular song or watching a particular movie, even after having a conversation with my non-Jewish friend about matters that ostensibly had nothing to do with Torah. I do not say that every person must follow this approach, only that all should be aware it exists...everything has the potential for sancity; everything can be uplifted, everything can be used for the good. All things, you see, are holy; it is simply a question of finding what is holy within them.

Girls in White Dresses

Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eye lashes
Silver white winters that melt into spring
These are a few of my favorite things!

~My Favorite Things

Guess what tonight is? Well, it's ostensibly the night where we all get to go outside and twirl around in flowing white dresses (borrowed dresses, so as not to hurt those who are poor) and inform young men that they ought not to consider beauty but merit. Yup. Now, how many of us will be doing that?

I went dancing, but that was at a wedding, so it hardly counts! Ah well...

I love Tu b'Av!

I Do Not Want the Messiah

I don't want the Messiah.

I know that I should want him. I see other people who glow whenever they mention the Mashiach. They dance and sing and their every action is genuine. I envy them.

I have never wanted the Messiah.

When I was younger and questioned as to what I would wish for could I have anything, I asked for my grandmother's health. Many others in my class dutifully answered, "We want Mashiach!" Since the Mashiach was not a real concept to me, whereas my grandmother was, that answer would never have occurred to me.

But that is not all. As a child, I read about two sages who prayed to God so that they would not have to live through the Messianic era (Sanhedrin 98b.) They did this because the sufferings would be so great, the pain so terrible, that they did not wish to have to live through it. As someone who was very imaginative and could envision a great deal of pain and destruction, and as someone who is afraid of that pain, this thought took hold of me and would not let me go. To want the Messiah is to live through unbearable pain; I determined that I could not do this.

Happily, I realized in eleventh grade that the Messiah need not be brought through pain. I read the following passage from The World of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik:

    In the midst of their discussion, one of the Jews exclaimed: "If only we could be certain that these were the pangs of redemption that precede the coming of the Messiah." Before he was able to complete the sentence, Reb Chaim interrupted him and exclaimed: "I do not agree with you!"

    Taken aback, the Jew responded to Reb Chaim: "What did I say, Rebbe, that you did not agree with. I barely said anything."

    Reb Chaim replied: "You said too much! You implied that all the sufferings and sacrifices would be worth it if only we could be certain that these were the pangs of the redemption. I do not agree with this approach because it is totally against halakhah. The law is that saving lives [pikuach nefesh] cancels the entire Torah. Accordingly, it also cancels the coming of the Messiah. Who says that the Messiah will come only through the murder of innocent Jews? God has many ways to bring the Messiah, and certainly He does not have to bring him through the shedding of innocent Jewish blood."

    This is the tradition I received from Reb Chaim of Brisk. (131)

Thank God, I breathed. The Messiah can come without pain; this means I can want him now, and want him totally, and I will fulfill the law and be at peace with myself.

But this is not the case.

Had I been born during a different time period, it would be easy for me to want the Messiah. Had I lived through the Holocaust, had I truly suffered anti-Semitism, had I been physically hurt or separated or made to feel different, I would of course desire a Savior, a Redeemer. My every thought and prayer would be for him.

And I have read the stories of the sages who listen so attentively to hear whether the King Messiah approaches, who even packed suitcases so that they could follow him as soon as he arrived, who are crestfallen because they mistakenly think he has come only to realize he has not come.

But none of this changes the fact that the reason I do not want the Messiah is because I think our world is very beautiful.

Our world, with all its flaws, with all its angry and divisive people, its penchant for so many opinions and ideas and arguments, still, to me, is beautiful.

And I have pity on the world and I don't want the Messiah to come.

What do I mean? I'll try to explain.

We learn that when the Messiah comes "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

And it seems to me that if that is so, so much that I love and hold dear would have to die. For example, there is so much art that I find beautiful and inspiring. But in a world where we all have knowledge of God, would the Sistine Chapel be permitted to remain? Despite the fact that the ceiling is exquisitely painted by Michelangelo, could we permit such a church, that last ironic picture of The Last Judgement, to remain? Or forget the Sistine Chapel. Any religious art, art dedicated to Jesus, perhaps of his Crucifixion; could any of that remain? Beautiful temples, pagodas, places of worship, would all that have to be destroyed?

In my mind's eye, the coming of the Messiah equals the destruction of everything that is suddenly learned to be false, no matter how beautiful it is. There would be no more Sistine Chapel, none of these gorgeous pieces of art; all this would be smashed down with axes and burned, as is the case with any form of idol worship. After all, our God is a jealous one, and would he permit all these monuments to other gods to remain in this world? No! Unless perhaps the fact that the world is filled with knowledge of God would mean that we would be able to appreciate these works of art for what they are, art, and not see them as reflecting a God in any way. But I do not think that is the case. After all, idols can be very beautiful, can't they, lovingly carved and made of silver and gold? And yet they must nonetheless be destroyed.

It is not that I don't believe the Messiah will come. I believe he will come. I believe it so much that whenever I look at something, I look at it with a queer breathless feeling that it will not be there tomorrow. I try to memorize anything that holds meaning for me; I watch movies like The Passion of the Christ and think, "If the Messiah comes tomorrow, that won't exist anymore..." even though it teaches me and I am able to learn from it. I look at Michelangelo's Pieta and feel a strange sense of worry for that, too, that that, too, will be destroyed. And it is not only art. This extends to books, magazines, so many forms of information that I look to and learn from, but if God is evident, none of this will exist any more.

I once spoke thus to my friend and told her that I am sad for all the wonders that it seems to me will be destroyed once the Messiah comes, and alarmed her for she said, "Oh, but Chana, it will be so much more and so much better than we can comprehend!" And I believe what she said and it is true that there will be new wonders to replace the old, as described:
    R. Hiyya b. Joseph said: A time will come when the just will break through [the soil] and rise up in Jerusalem, for it is said in Scripture, And they will blossom out of the city like grass of the earth,29 and by 'city' only Jerusalem can be meant for it is said in Scripture, For I will defend this city.30

    R. Hiyya b. Joseph further stated: The just in the time to come will rise [apparelled] in their own clothes.31 [This is deduced] a minori ad majus from a grain of wheat. If a grain of wheat that is buried32 naked sprouts up with many coverings how much more so the just who are buried in their shrouds.

    R. Hiyya b. Joseph further stated: There will be a time when the Land of Israel will produce baked cakes of the purest quality33 and silk34 garments, for it is said in Scripture, There will be a rich35 cornfield36 in the land.37

    Our Rabbis taught: There will be a rich cornfield in the Land upon the top of the mountains.37 [From this] it was inferred that there will be a time when wheat will rise as high as a palm-tree and will grow on the top of the mountains. But in case you should think that there will be trouble in reaping it, it was specifically said in Scripture, its fruit shall rustle like Lebanon;37 the Holy One, blessed be He, will bring a wind from his treasure houses which He will cause to blow upon it. This will loosen its fine flour and a man will walk out into the field and take a mere handful38 and, out of it, will [have sufficient provision for] his own, and his household's maintenance.

    Ketuboth 111b

But these new wonders do not make up for the loss of the old. I cannot resign myself to the loss of so much that is precious to me...

And it is more than that. Suppose Mashiach ben Yosef comes and dies. Then Mashiach ben David comes and reigns. And then there is a time of justice and righteousness and peace on earth for a span of a thousand years or so. And then (or before then) tehiyat ha'meisim, the Resurrection of the Dead. Even then, as a sidepoint, my soul will not necessarily be resurrected within my body, but within the body that served God best. So fine. We have our peace on earth, our Resurrection of the Dead; God serves the tzaddikim the Leviathan and bathes them in celestial light.

And then what?

There is no purpose, no meaning anymore. The whole point of existence, to discover God and serve him and to eventually bring the Messiah; it would have been fulfilled. We live, but knowledge of God fills the earth. There is no struggle anymore. There is no choice. Or if there is, it is limited.

So what happens then? Does the world die? Does the sun go out, as the scientists predict, and we all are incinerated or otherwise killed? There is certainly no reason for the world to continue on...

It is not just the ending of my personal story; it is the ending of all our stories. We have no purpose, no meaning, no reason to live anymore. We have fulfilled our purpose.

And once our world is destroyed, what then? Does God then create a new world? A new world in which to place his servants, to begin a new story, to hand them a new Torah? A new world where there will be a Midrash that God "created and destroyed many worlds before this one?" Does the entire story begin again? Is it all one everlasting cycle? Will these people have a new Abraham, a new Moses, a new conflict and struggle, a new quest to bring the Messiah?

Will they go through the same realizations we have gone through, realize that their text does not fit historical and archeological evidence? Will they too have fights and questions about God's existence?

Imagine for everything to begin again, to happen again, but to different people, people who are making all these discoveries for the first time, just as we did. There is something grand in this but something tragic as well, something so completely futile and hopeless, something that terrifies me!

No. I do not want the Messiah to come.

For me, the Messiah suggests the beginning of the End. For when the Messiah comes, after our allotted time of service in comfort and joy, our reward, after techiyat ha'meisim, what then? There is no more purpose, no more reason to be, no point, no struggle. There is nothing.

And the earth shall descend into darkness and nothingness, and the spirit of God shall hover over the face of the waters, and God shall create, again...

I do not want all our stories to end. Perhaps this is my personal selfishness, but I feel like we have so much more to learn, so much more to discover, so much more to teach but once the Messiah comes all this will be halted; we will have our requisite reward and then we shall fade away. And then there will be a new beginning, and it will not include us, or if it does, it shall only include our souls, and that will be the great and tragic irony, that we shall not remember the destruction of the last world, and we shall see this all as new, and suffer and struggle in the same way again, just as we always have done.

Imagine, for a moment, those other destroyed worlds; perhaps they too had people? Perhaps they too had Messiahs? How many years have we been living this cycle? This is assuming there even is a cycle, but I cannot imagine there not being one, for otherwise you mean to tell me our world is so vastly important that once it dies God will never create another one? No, that I cannot believe.

Tell me, those of you who want the Messiah, who truly desire him, why do you want him? How can you want this ending, even if it brings a momentary good; does it not end all of our stories? Or do you perhaps not see it as an ending...and if you do not, how can you not?

I wish I could want the Messiah. I wish I saw a way to want him, honestly and truly.
But once again, what I feel is the desire to desire.

Friday, July 27, 2007


We do not hate people for being different from us. We hate people because we see too much of ourselves in them. [1]

After initially denying this, I have come to see it as a truth. There is only one person I truly hate, and I realize that we share the same character traits. I have the potential to be exactly who she is and to be exactly what she was to me. It is that potential in myself that scares me. There are times that I recognize that I am acting like her and I am horrified.

Or as Rashi would say, "Mum she'bcha..."

The flaw that is in your friend is truly in you.


[1] I realize this is a very broad statement. You can effectively argue that we hate people because we do not understand them ("Mob Song" in Beauty and the Beast, one of my favorites) or that hate is engineered as a social mechanism by a political power. I agree that this is all true. But on the most basic level of all, I think hatred stems from the realization that we are the same. We struggle to create difference where there is none. We cannot forgive the person for being so akin to us, so alike, because we are horrified by what we see them do, what we have the potential to do- what we perhaps have done.

The Desire to Destroy

There are times where I wake up in the morning and all I can think about is how I want to destroy myself.

I don't mean physically. I mean who I am, what I have cultivated, anything I have worked for. I desire to be the lowest of the low. I'd like to wound people simply for the pleasure of doing so; I often know exactly how to do this should I wish it. I want to be everything that I normally am not; I want to hurt someone else simply because I can, to do things that I know to be cruel, to act in a manner that completely ruins anyone's image of me.

Then I can gloat over what I have accomplished. Ha, I can think. They won't expect anything more of me now. This is the ruin of Chana, her decay, her ugliness exposed, a wound upon the wall. This is a pleasurable thought. There is great pleasure in destroying everything, in destroying who you are and anyone's idea of what may be expected of you.

So do I give in to this desire to be Mr. Hyde? No, I do not. But I fantasize about it. If everything has an equal and opposite reaction, it follows that one who desires to create also has a great and strong desire to destroy.

There is an ugliness that is appealing, a muck and mire that is soothing, and a kind of grime that is pleasurable rather than off-setting. There is a desire to ruin yourself simply because that provides you with a way out, a way not to have to use the talents and opportunities afforded you. There is a great and savage joy in destroying your own potential.

Imagine how everyone would react! All those people who thought they knew me, and now? Now, to cackle in their faces, to laugh at their shocked expressions, to have them cry over me; oh now I could urge them to feel, and how I should delight in returning their shocked expressions with ones of hellish glee! How confounded they would all be! But their confusion is not my true delight. My true delight would be in ruining myself.

You have no idea, any of you, how cruel I could be if I wished it, or the power I have at my disposal. Am I cruel sometimes? Perhaps, but it is certainly not intentional. But this would be a deliberate cruelty, taking pleasure in another's pain, and it is something I could do easily. I even know that I could rejoice in it, given the right circumstances. You see, if you know how to build people up it is easy to see how to tear them down. There is a great desire to coat oneself in filth and wallow in it. There is a great desire to destroy oneself.

There are times when I am very attracted to this, when I long to shatter everyone's preconceived notions of me with one well-placed comment, when all I desire is to destroy.

I do not act on it.

But it is a powerful desire.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

I Love Eris

Eris is my favorite villainess. (Not the scariest but the best, the one with the most character, bound by rules, clever, playful, seductive; you name it, she's got it.) If I were a villainess, I would be Eris. I love chaos. She outdoes any other villainess, even Maleficent, who I once played to perfection. (Interesting, they've both got blacks and purples. I love villainesses in blacks and purples, then.)

And a music video I found in her honor:

Oh Mermaid friend of mine, I also like destruction. :-)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Child Abuse: The Halakhic Source

I was standing by the bunk bed, heatedly arguing a point I knew to be correct. "No!" the sound ripped from my throat, "No!"

The camp counselor pulled out her copy of The Fifth Commandment. "Actually, Chana, yes," she said, and opened the book to page 113.

    Children must honor and revere parents even if the parents, for whatever reason, did not tend to their needs as they were growing up. Even if the children grew up in an orphanage, in foster care or were adopted, they must fulfill all their obligations towards their parents. Likewise, if one's parents divorced and he had limited or no connection to one of his parents, he is nonetheless fully obligated to honor that parent. Even parents who acted abusively towards children must be honored. [emph mine]
I looked down to read footnote 22, which explained:
    Honoring in-laws (see Chapter IX, Introduction to section D) is derived from the fact that King David called his father-in-law King Saul "my father." This was in spite of King Saul's terrible harassment of King David. Certainly parents must be honored despite the abusive fashion in which they treat their children. [1]

    In some instances abuse may place a parent in the category of rasha. A competent halachic authority should be consulted.
Images swam before my eyes. It was the summer of eighth grade and I had just read the horrifying memoir A Child Called It. I could not reconcile the words I was seeing on the page with the words I had read in that book, words that had seared themselves onto my mind, that gripped me and sickened me, words that were so terrible that there were times I had closed the book and dry retched because I was so nauseated by what the mother had done to her own child, by the absolute horror that is child abuse.
    "You've made my life a living hell!" she sneered. "Now it's time I showed you what hell is like!" Gripping my arm, Mother held it in the orange-blue flame. My skin seemed to explode from the heat. I could smell the scorched hairs from my burnt arm. As hard as I fought, I could not force Mother to let go of my arm. Finally I fell to the floor, on my hands and knees, and tried to blow cool air on my arm. "It's too bad your drunken father's not here to save you," she hissed. Mother then ordered me to climb up onto the stove and lie on the flames so she could watch me burn. I refused, crying and pleading. I felt so scared I stomped my feet in protest. But Mother continued to force me on top of the stove. (41)

    For nearly ten days I had gone without food. I had just finished the dinner dishes when Mother repeated her "you have two minutes to eat" game. There were only a few bits of food on the plate. I felt she would snatch the plate away again, so I moved with a purpose. I didn't give Mother a chance to snatch it away like she had the past three evenings. So I grabbed the plate and quickly swallowed the food without chewing it. Within seconds, I finished eating all that was on the plate and licked it clean. "You eat like a pig!" Mother snarled. I bowed my head, acting as though I cared. But inside I laughed at her, saying to myself, "Fuck you! Say what you want! I got the food!" (107)

    During the Easter vacation from school the spring before, Mother had sent me out to mow. She had set a quota on my earnings and ordered me to return the money to her. The quota was impossible for me to meet, so, in desperation, I once stole nine dollars from the piggy bank of a small girl who lived in our neighborhood. Within hours, the girl's father was knocking on the front door. Of course, Mother returned the money and blamed me. After the man left, she beat me black and blue. I only stole the money to try and meet her quota. (109)

    To my surprise there wasn't any bucket or bottles in the bathroom. "Am I off the hook?" I asked myself. This looked too easy. I timidly watched Mother as she turned the cold water tap in the bathtub fully open. I thought it was odd that she forgot to turn on the hot water as well. As the tub began to fill with cold water, Mother tore off my clothes and ordered me into the tub. I got into the tub and laid down. A cold fear raced throughout my body. "Lower!" Mother yelled. "Put your face in the water like this!" She then bent over, grabbed my neck with both hands and shoved my head under the water. Instinctively, I thrashed and kicked, trying desperately to force my head above the water so I could breathe. Her grip was too strong. Under the water I opened my eyes. I could see bubbles escape from my mouth and float to the surface as I tried to shout. I tried to thrust my head from side to side as I saw the bubbles becoming smaller and smaller. I began to feel weak. In a frantic effort I reached up and grabbed her shoulders. My fingers must have dug into her because Mother let go. She looked down on me, trying to get her breath. "Now keep your head below the water, or next time it will be longer!" ( 112)

    Suddenly her voice turned ice cold and she jabbed her finger at my face and hissed, "Get one thing straight, you little son of a bitch! There is nothing you can do to impress me! Do you understand me? You are a nobody! An It! You are nonexistent! You are a bastard child! I hate you and I wish you were dead! Dead! Do you hear me? Dead!" (140)

And The Fifth Commandment states that a child who has been abused by his parents is supposed to respect them? That he must honor them? Unless they could be proven to be a rasha?

And what is the halakhic categorization of a rasha? We are commonly taught it is one who lifts his hand to strike his fellow. And would it have been better if Dave's mother had never struck him, but had merely cursed him and verbally abused him, called him an "It" and had him stand in the corner repeating, "I hate myself! I hate myself!" over and over again? Because she would not, perhaps, have halakhically made it into the category of rasha, it would still be upon him to honor her?

No! Unthinkable! My camp counselor had to be wrong. There is no way that God created a world in which child abuse is permissible, in which the perpetrators of such abuse must be honored in accordance to the law. There is no way that God expects this from a child who is the victim of the greatest betrayal of trust that can ever be, an innocent child who is exposed to a world of horror and hatred, of complete and utter cruelty.

But I have looked and looked and I personally cannot find support for my view.

And I am deeply troubled by this. Because what is the Torah supposed to be? Is the Torah only valid for antiquity, in which case it is easy to excuse its emphasis and allowal of corporal punishment? Or is it supposed to be our moral guidebook even nowadays? And if it is, then how can it possibly be that the Torah does not provide for the rights of a child?!

It is true that we read in Baba Batra 21a "If you strike a child, strike them only with a shoelace." But this is only a suggestion. It is not the law.

We see in Exodus 21:
    טו וּמַכֵּה אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ, מוֹת יוּמָת.
    15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.
This entire section deals with the repercussions of people hitting or smiting one another. But there is nothing in this section dealing with someone hitting or striking a child. The closest we come to it is that someone hurts a woman with child, that is, someone who is pregnant, and the consequences of that. But nothing about children! Nothing protecting children, nothing ensuring that they cannot be beaten black and blue!

It is quite clear that teachers made use of corporal punishment. As I read yesterday in Eichah Rabbah:
    R. Abbahu was sitting and teaching in the Synagogue in a place in Caesarea. He noticed a man carrying a stick and about to strike his neighbor. He also saw a demon standing behind him with an iron rod; so he stood up and restrained him, crying, "Do you want to kill your neighbor?" The man said to him, "Can anyone kill with such a stick as this?" He answered, "Behold, there is a demon standing behind you with an iron rod; you will strike the man with this stick, but he will strike him with the other and the man will die! R. Johanan enjoined elementary and Mishnah teachers not to use a strap on the children during these days [between the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Ab, because the blow might prove fatal.] R. Samuel b. Nahmani enjoined the elementary and Mishnah teachers to dismiss the young children during those four hours [the teachers would be irascible and liable to chastise the pupils.] [emph mine]
Even when it comes to Molech, that most disgusting and cruel form of idol-worship, the parents are not told they should not offer up their children as sacrifices because it is cruel to their children and one cannot hurt one's child, rather he must be put to death because "he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile My sanctuary, and to profane My holy name" (Leviticus 20: 3).

So Molech is wrong because it profanes God's name. But isn't it also wrong because it is a cruel and terrible thing to do, to offer up one's child and force him to walk over burning coals and/or be consumed as a sacrifice? Why is that not mentioned?

It must be that there is something here I have not found, some source I am not aware of. But where in the Torah, the written Torah, do we see clear laws protecting children or ensuring that they cannot and must not be abused? Where do we see that child abuse, whether physical, verbal or sexual, is a sin?

And if it is not here, why is it not here? Is it because I am trying to impose my Western morals upon an ancient text? But tell me, is the Torah not supposed to outline morality and proper behavior? And if it is, why is child abuse a matter of modernity rather than a matter of morality?

I know that as Jews we certainly do not condone child abuse. I know that regardless of whether or not there is an explicit statement in the Torah outlining this, we certainly do not allow for children to be beaten within an inch of their life, to be verbally put down, starved, terrified or otherwise hurt. My question is not in our practice of this law; I know we practice it. My question is with regard to the source.

Where halakhically do we see that child abuse is a crime, a sin, otherwise forbidden?

I ask this because I must know. There is nothing in this world that I hate more than child abuse, nothing that sickens and disturbs me more. I do not want to believe that God completely neglected to mention this issue in his Torah. But perhaps that is the truth. And if that is the truth, I want to know why.


[1] "Honoring in-laws (see Chapter IX, Introduction to section D) is derived from the fact that King David called his father-in-law King Saul "my father." This was in spite of King Saul's terrible harassment of King David. Certainly parents must be honored despite the abusive fashion in which they treat their children. "

This is the most illogical reasoning I have ever heard. King Saul tried to kill King David. You are seriously telling me that because King David referred to him as "father," because he preferred to remember the side of Saul that was good rather than the side that was cruel and unkind, this sets the precedent that all abused children must honor their parents?! Are you kidding me?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lamentations, Song of Songs and Israel's Relationship to God

There is a distinctly beautiful correlation between Song of Songs and Lamentations. [1]

At the most basic level, the titles of the two works resemble one another. These are both songs, both forms of poetry presented by a voice; one, however is a love song, jubilant, merry and uplifted, whereas one is a song of despair, haunting, terrifying and depressing. They are both songs about the same topic, however, the love between God and His nation Israel.

I am aware that Song of Songs is literally meant to depict the love between Solomon and his shepherdess, and to forestall your comments, yes, most probably Artscroll ought to have translated the song literally. But they did not and their not having done so is my good fortune, for it is what led me to realize the stunning similarity between the two works.

It is in Lamentations that we are introduced to the solitary weeping maiden who has "none to comfort her among all her lovers; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies" (1:1). She is the one whose "visage is blacker than coal" (4:8), who forsook God and admits that "I called for my lovers, but they deceived me" (1:19).

How sadly this echoes the laughing maiden who declares "I am black but comely" (1:5) in Song of Songs! This maiden who would never seek other lovers, for she is content, who explains "I am my Beloved's and He longs for my perfection!" (7:11)

Song of Songs demonstrates Israel's love and faithfulness toward God; she is steadfast in her desire and longing for Him. Lamentations depicts a faithless Israel, one who has deserted God and instead chosen the cold embrace of idols of silver and gold, her new "lovers" whom she now sees have deserted her. God, the terrible and vengeful husband, decides to make her pay, and it is this awful price that is the subject of the Book of Lamentations.

The relationship between Israel and God is the subject of an intriguing number of stories in the Midrash Rabbah to Eichah. These include the following: an angry God who places his "wife," Israel, in a legal bind, an obedient Israel who can find no succor with others because they reject her due to her following God's command, Israel reproaching God, and last but not least, God's returning from a prolonged absence to find a faithful Israel awaiting him. These stories are all particularly fascinating as they put Israel in the position of the wronged woman and portray God as being a temperamental man who in the end must admit his wife is right!

The Legal Bind

Another interpretation of HOW IS SHE BECOME AS A WIDOW!: R Hama b. Ukba and the Rabbis offer explanations. [...] The Rabbis said: It may be likened to a king who was angry with his consort and wrote out her get, but got up and snatched it from her. Whenever she wished to remarry, he said to her, 'Where is your get?' and whenever she demanded her alimony, he said to her, 'But have I not divorced you?' Similarly, whenever Israel wished to practise idolatry, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them 'Where is the bill of your mother's divorcement?' (Isa. L, I); and whenever they wished that He should perform miracles for them as formerly, the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, 'Have I not already divorced you?' That is what is written, I had put her away and given her a bill of divorcement (Jer. III, 8).

(Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations 1:3)

Israel Obedient

FOR THOU HAST DONE IT. It may be likened to a king who married a lady to whom he said, 'Have no intercourse with your [former] companions; borrow nothing from them and lend them nothing.' Subsequently the king became angry with her and drove her out of the palace. She went about to all her neighbors, but none would receive her. So she returned to the palace, and the king said to her, 'You have acted impudently [by coming back]!' She replied to the king, 'My lord, if I had lent them an article and borrowed one from them, and if some of my stuff was in their possession or their stuff in my possession, would they not have received me!' Similarly the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel, "You have acted impudently [in appealing to Me]." They spake before Him, "Lord of the Universe, didst Thou not write in Thy Torah, Neither shalt thou make marriage with them: thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son (Deut. VII, 3)? If we had had relations with them and intermarried with them, would they not have received us? Hence, FOR THOU HAST DONE IT.

(Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations 1:21, #56, page 145)

In effect, the queen was homeless because she obeyed her husband's command; Israel offers the same justification and states that obedience to God's command is the cause of her isolation.

Israel Reproaches God

R. Joshua of Sliknin said in the name of R. Levi: I AM THE MAN: [The Community of Israel said:] I am indeed experienced in sufferings; what pleaseth Thee is beneficial to me! It may be likened to a king who was enraged against his consort and drove her out of the palace. She went and pressed her face against the pillar. It happened that the king passed and saw her, and said to her, "You are acting impudently!" She replied, "My lord king, so it is seemly and right and proper for me to do, seeing that no other woman except me has accepted you." He retorted, "It was I who disqualified all other women [from marriage with me] for your sake." She said to him, "If that is so, why did you enter such-and-such a side street, such-and-such a court and place; was it not on account of a certain woman who rejected you?"

Similarly spake the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel: "You are acting impudently [by praying to Me after being driven into exile."] They replied: "Lord of the Universe, so is it seemly and right and proper for us to do, seeing that no other nation except us accepted Thy Torah." He retorted, "It was I who disqualified all other nations [from accepting it] for your sake." They said to Him, if that is so, why didst Thou carry Thy Torah round to the nations for them to reject it? For it has been taught: At first He revealed Himself to the sons of Esau; that is what is written, And He said: The Lord came from Sinai, and rose from Seir unto them (Deut XXXIII, 2), but they rejected it. Then He offered it to the sons of Ishmael who rejected it, as it is written, He shined forth from Mount Paran (ib.). Finally He offered it to Israel who accepted it, as it is written, And He came forth from the myriads holy, at His right hand was a fiery law unto them (ib.); and it is also written, All that the Lord hath spoken will we do, and obey (Ex. XXIV, 7).

(Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations 3:1, page 189)

Faithful Israel

THIS I RECALL TO MY MIND, THEREFORE HAVE I HOPE (III, 21). R. Abba b. Kahana said in the name of R. Johanan: To what may this be likened? To a king who married a lady and made a large settlement upon her, saying to her, "So many state-apartments am I preparing for you, so many fine purple garments am I giving you." The king left her, departed to a distant country and tarried there. Her neighbors visited her and vexed her by telling her, "The king has left you, gone away to a distant country and will never return to you." She wept and sighed; but whenever she entered her room, she opened [the chest where it was deposited], took out her settlement and read it. On seeing therein, "So many state-apartments am I preparing for you, so many fine purple garments am I giving you," she was at once comforted. Eventually the king returned and said to her, "My daughter, I wonder how you waited for me all these years." She answered, "My lord king, had it not been for the generous settlement which you wrote and gave me, my neighbors would long ago have caused me to perish."

In like manner, the heathens vex Israel by saying to them, "Your God has hidden His face from you and removed His Shechinah from your midst; He will return to you no more." They weep and sigh; but when they enter their Synagogues and House of Study, read in the Torah and find written therein, And I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful and multiply you...and I will set My tabernacle among you...and I will walk among you (Lev. XXVI, 9 ff.), they are comforted. In the time to come when the era of the redemption arrives, the Holy One, blessed be He, will say to Israel: "My sons, I wonder how you waited for Me all these years;" and they will speak before Him: "Lord of the universe, had it not been for Thy Torah which Thou has given us, the heathen peoples would long ago have recalled us to perish." Therefore it is stated, THIS I RECALL TO MY MIND and THIS indicates nothing else than the Torah, as it is said, And this is the Torah (Deut. IV, 44).

(Midrash Rabbah to Lamentations 3:21, #7, page 199)

So you see, these stories all seem quite subversive, as it's God who comes off in a bad light, not Israel! Nevertheless, this is what we find in the Midrash Rabbah. The last one is quite interesting, as it suggests it is natural to work for reward and that it is fine to do so, that indeed, God does not expect to be welcomed back by so faithful a people and wonders how they managed to remain loyal!

It is fascinating to explore the multi-layered and complex relationship between God and His people; at times He is right to be angry with us and at times, it seems, we have compelling arguments with which to defend ourselves. I particularly enjoy the idea that we were the only nation who would have Him as a husband, hence He ought not to complain!


[1] There is a literary technique where one creates "mirror" poems, poems that are alike in nature of the idea being discussed but which demonstrate the other side of the coin, the other side of the picture. Blake is best known for utilizing this technique; his Songs of Innocence as opposed to his Songs of Experience demonstrate it. (Compare "Nurse's Song" by each category in order to understand what I mean.) I believe that Song of Songs and Lamentations demonstrate this idea as well, though not as exactly as Blake did.

Midrash Rabbah to Eichah

Taking a leaf out of Matt's book, I decided to bring my recent SOY Seforim Sale acquisition, the Midrash Rabbah to Eichah, to shul with me and read it during the speeches. This was an excellent idea. It has also kept me very busy all day today.

I have finished reading the Midrash Rabbah and want to mention some very cool things I learned today.

Zechariah's Sin

I had been unaware that the prophet Zecharia had committed any kind of sin, and had always thought he had been a completely pure man who had been stoned by an angry people. Not so.

'But it bringeth iniquity to remembrance, that they may be taken' (ib): this is the sin of Zechariah, of whom it is stated, And the spirit of God clothed Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, and he stood above the people (II Chron. XIV, 20). Was he, then, over the heads of the people that you say 'above the people'? What it means is that he imagined himself high above all the people. He was son-n-law of the king, high priest, a prophet, and a judge, so he began to speak arrogantly; hence it is stated, And he said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord, He hath also forsaken you.

(page 32)

God's Sorrow

At that time the Holy One, blessed be He, wept and said, "Woe is Me! What have I done? I caused My Shechinah to dwell below on earth for the sake of Israel; but now that they have sinned, I have returned to My former habitation. Heaven forfend that I become a laughter to the nations and a byword to human beings!" At that time Metatron came, fell upon his face, and spake before the Holy One, blessed be He: "Sovereign of the Universe, let me weep, but do Thou not weep." He replied to him, "If thou lettest Me not weep now, I will repair to a place which thou hast not permission to enter, and will weep there," as it is said, But if ye will not hear it, My soul shall weep in secret for pride (Jer. XIII, 17).

(page 41)

The entire elaborate story of the Patriarchs, Matriarchs and Moses, including Moses' cursing the sun. I love how the sun replies when Moses tells him he ought to have become dark: "By thy life, O Moses, faithful shepherd, how could I become dark when they did not permit me and did not leave me alone? But they beat me with sixty whips of fire and said to me, "Go, pour forth thy light."

I also like how Abraham effectively forces the alphabet and the Torah not to testify against Israel (it quite mirrors the beginning midrash by Genesis.)

(page 48)

The Four Ascending Requests

Zabdi b. Levi opened his discourse with the text, The kings of the earth believed not, etc (Lam. IV, 12). There arose four kings each of whom made a different request, viz. David, Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah.

[Now I'm going to paraphrase.]

David said, Let me pursue my enemies and overtake them. Asa stood up and said, "I have not the strength to slay them, but I will pursue them and do Thou perform [the slaying.]" Jehoshaphat stood up and said, "I have the strength neither to slay nor to pursue, but I will utter a song and do Thou perform [the slaying and pursuing."] Hezekiah stood up and said, "I have the strength neither to slay nor to pursue nor to utter a song, but I will sleep upon my bed and do Thou perform [all these things.]"

God performs each of their requests and the required verses are brought to demonstrate how He does it. It's quite brilliant.


God Mourns

R. Nahman reported that Samuel said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: The Holy One, blessed be He, summoned the ministering angels and said to them: "If a human king had a son who died and mourns for him, what is it customary for him to do?" They replied, "He hangs sackcloth over his door." He said to them, "I will do likewise." That is what is written, I clothe the heavens with blackness, and I make sackcloth their covering (Isa. L, 3). [He again asked them,] "What does a human king do [when mourning]?" They replied, "He extinguishes the lamps." He said to them, "I will do likewise;" as it is said, The sun and the moon are become black, and the stars withdraw their shining (Joel IV, 15). "What does a human king do?" They replied. "He overturns his couch." He said to them, "I will do likewise;" as it is stated, Till thrones were cast down, and One that was ancient of days did sit (Dan. VII, 9) - if it is possible to say so, they were overturned. "What does a human king do?" They replied, "He walks barefoot." He said to them, "I will do likewise;" as it is stated, The Lord, in the whirlwind and in the storm in His way, and clouds are the dust of His feet (Nahum I, 3). "What does a human king do?" They replied, "He rends his purple robes. He said to them, "I will do likewise;" as it is written, The Lord hath done that which He devised (bizza emrato) He hath performed His word (Lam. 11. 17). (R. Jacob of Kefar-Henan explained: What means 'bizza emrato? He rent his purple.) "What does a human king do?" They replied, "He sits in silence." He said to them, "I will do likewise;" as it is stated, He sitteth alone and keepeth silence (ib. III, 28). "What does a human king do when mourning?" They replied, "He sits and weeps." He said to them, "I will do likewise," as it is written, And in that day did the Lord, the God of hosts, call to weeping, and to lamentation, and to baldness (Isa. XXII, 12).

(1:1, pages 67-68)

The Clever Jerusalemites

There are about fifty anecdotes about clever Jerusalemites beginning on page 76. They are great.

R' Johanan ben Zakai

Firstly, I love how he said "Woe!" but then stated that he had exclaimed "Wah!" in order to save his life. Secondly, I love how he ends up getting out of besieged Jerusalem; it reminds me of The Count of Monte Cristo.
    He added, "I have come to the conclusion that I must get out of here." He sent a message to Ben Battiah, "Get me out of here." He replied, "We have made an agreement among ourselves that nobody shall leave the city except the dead." He said, "Carry me out in the guise of a corpse." R. Eliezer carried him by the head, R. Joshua by the feet, and Ben Battiah walked in front. When they reached [the city gates, the guards] wanted to stab him. Ben Battiah said to them, "Do you wish people to say that when our teacher died his body was stabbed?" On his speaking to them in this manner, they allowed him to pass. After going through the gates, they carried him to a cemetery and left him there and returned to the city."

Genius. I love it.

(1:5, #31, page 102)

Miriam and her Seven Sons

Did you know there was a version of Hannah and her Seven Sons that predates the version most of us know? Well, there is.

"It is related of Miriam, the daughter of Tanhum, that she was taken captive with her seven sons. The emperor took and placed them in the innermost of seven rooms."

This includes the description of an exceedingly anthropomorphic God per the last and seventh child, incidentally.

The footnote to this explains: Not "Nahtum" as in the text. In Git. 57b the name of the woman is not given. A similar story is related of a woman named Hannah in connection with the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes.

So folks, when you hear me saying "Miriam and her Seven Sons," you'll know whom I am referring to...

(1:16, page 130)

How the Angels are Created

R. Helbo said: Every day the Holy One, blessed be He, creates a band of new angels who utter a new song before Him and then pass away. R. Berekiah said: I replied to R. Helbo by quoting, And he said: Let me go, for the day breaketh (Gen. XXXII, 27) (and my time has arrived to utter a song before Him!) But he answered me, "You strangler, do you think to strangle me [with such a specious argument]? The angels [concerned in the incident with Jacob] were Gabriel and Michael who were celestial princes, and while the others pass away [daily], they do not pass away!"

Hadrian the accursed asked R. Joshua B. Hananiah: "You declare that every day the Holy One, blessed be He, creates a band of new angels who utter a new song before Him and then pass away?" "Yes," he answered. "Where, then, do they go?" he inquired. "To where they were created." "And whence were they created?" "From the river of fire." "And what is the nature of the river of fire?" "It is like the Jordan which does not cease flowing night or day. " "But," he retorted, "the Jordan flows by day and stops by night!" He replied, "I kept watch at Beth Peor and observed how the Jordan flowed at night the same as by day." Hadrian asked, "Whence does the river of fire originate?" He answered, "From the sweat of the Hayyoth caused by their carrying the divine throne."

(3: 23-25, #8, page 201-202)

That last one is my favorite. Next time someone starts attacking my creative interpretation, I am going to call them "Strangler!" Plus I love the idea regarding the angels.

There's loads more cool stuff, but I figure this is what I liked best.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Tisha B'Av with YU

Strange that my parents got this email, not me.

It looks pretty interesting!


It occurs to me that the quality I most admire in others is the one I can't achieve myself: the ability to surrender.

This expresses itself on many levels, from the Rav's idea regarding "surrendering our minds to God" to the idea of surrendering to death. The most powerful scene in the animated movie Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas is when Sinbad kneels, his fists clenched, places his head on the executioner's block and you see his fists unclench, his hands open. His hands open and the moment is incredibly powerful; he has completely surrendered to his fate and expects to die. He is completely powerless, completely helpless and he accepts that...There's a very strange quality to that scene for me; I always wonder how he is able to do it.

The idea of surrendering one's intellect to a being who is supposedly higher than you, trusting another to give you the answers, is one that I find impossible. I cannot trust other people's answers; I have to figure everything out for myself. I can respect other people's answers, but to simply adopt them without question? No, I cannot do that. Is this a learned response due to my high school experience or an inborn character trait? I do not know.

This is probably related to my quest to be in control of my own life, to fight when attacked (whether that attack is real or merely perceived.) If you surrender, you surrender to something, to someone. You give someone else authority over you. I can't do that...that gives someone else far too much power.

Surrender, in my mind, is linked to submission. To submit is to have failed, to have lost. I do not like authority. I do not like surrendering anything, whether it be my mind, my will or my spirit to an alien authority. I do not want to be chained to anything, I do not want to be pinned down; the butterfly does not want to be caught.

There can be no surrender, not even to God. To meet God as a child, yes, but even then, it must be through defiance and at times through anger, because otherwise I would have to admit I do not understand and that is unthinkable. I am not like my friend; had I been stricken with cancer, I do not think I could have met God in love, have surrendered to Him. My instinct is to fight, to protest, to cry out...not to yield.

But I find that some of the most beautiful moments in the stories I so treasure are ones where people surrender to fate, death or God. And I admire that quality. I wonder if perhaps only the person who is not proud has the ability to surrender. The proud person would have difficulty with surrendering.

I don't know how to change it or if it is worth trying, but I can't surrender to any authority and I won't surrender to God. One wonders what I prove by my defiance- perhaps it is only that that defiance makes me feel like more of a person and less of a puppet. Or perhaps it is that I cannot stand to choose to be powerless, to be helpless.

But I think I need to learn, if only to do it once, how to surrender.

Sob Story

“Not everyone has a sob story, Charlie, and even if they do, it’s no excuse.”

~The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Orthodox Paradox: Noah Feldman on Modern Orthodoxy

Everyone I know is talking about this article in the New York Times Magazine.

I am not the person to write a rebuttal to this piece, but I would like to point out the author's subtle manipulation of his readers. I suggest you read the article first to understand what I am referring to:

I didn’t want to seem paranoid, especially in front of my girlfriend, to whom I was by that time engaged. So I called my oldest school friend, who appeared in the photo, and asked for her explanation. “You’re kidding, right?” she said. My fiancée was Korean-American. Her presence implied the prospect of something that from the standpoint of Orthodox Jewish law could not be recognized: marriage to someone who was not Jewish. That hint was reason enough to keep us out.

This paragraph is very unclear. Look how he's phrased it. This woman's presence "implied the prospect" of marriage to someone who was not Jewish. That hint was reason enough to keep us out.

Do you notice that he has not stated whether this was actually the case, i.e. that the woman actually is non-Jewish? He has instead insinuated that Orthodox Judaism is racist. Korean-American people cannot possibly be Jewish. Therefore whoever chose to edit this magazine and/or this photograph cropped her out of the picture.

As a result, I have not felt myself to have rejected my upbringing, even when some others imagine me to have done so by virtue of my marriage.

Here is the first place where he does in fact demonstrate that he did intermarry, "by virtue of my marriage." Secondly, note his defense. The school is supposed to accept him and include him in their publications due to the fact that he has "not felt himself" reject his upbringing. Why is this their job, to take into account his standard and feelings with relation to religion? The school has a standard; they advertise those students that fulfill that standard. Do I necessarily agree with this approach? Perhaps not. But since when can I decide that I do "not feel myself" to have rejected the religion, therefore it's not fair when I'm not included?

Lieberman’s overt normalcy really is remarkable.

You can read the rest of that paragraph; the insinuation is that none of that (wearing tzitzis, tefillin and keeping kosher) is normal. In whose opinion? The author's, of course.

Morning prayers are accompanied by the daily donning of phylacteries, which, though painless, resemble in their leather-strappy way the cinched cilice worn by the initiates of Opus Dei and so lasciviously depicted in “The Da Vinci Code.”

Explain to me why the comparison between phylacteries and the cinched cilice is necessary. Although Feldman covers himself and writes that tefillin are "painless," he knows that the immediate image that will occur to everyone as soon as he mentions the words cilice and Da Vinci Code in conjunction is the mad albino monk, his thigh dripping with blood. Is this really the image he wants to associate with Modern Orthodoxy? Apparently yes! Feldman is deliberately weaving these evocative images into his piece; he wants us to identify Modern Orthodoxy with extremism in all its ugly forms.

The category of the unkosher comes unconsciously to apply not only to foods that fall outside the rules but also to the people who eat that food — which is to say, almost everyone in the world, whether Jewish or not. You cannot easily break bread with them, but that is not all. You cannot, in a deeper sense, participate with them in the common human activity of restoring the body through food.

"But also to the people who eat that food"- The category of unkosher comes to apply to non-Jews as well? Delightful insinuation. Well, my dear friend, what can I say. You're unkosher. I am unable to participate in the "common human activity" (note how he used the word "human" here for effect) of eating with you. By not eating with non-Jews at an unkosher restaurant, I am forgoing some aspect of common humanity. I am intolerant. How lovely!

Among other things, this meant that when I encountered the writings of the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I felt immediate kinship. They read those same exact texts again and again — often in Hebrew — searching for clues about their own errand into the American wilderness.

This is subtle, but he felt immediate kinship with the Puritans? The majority of us have learned that section in history. Hardly any of us feel immediate kinship with these oppressive people who forbade dancing, singing and other forms of entertainment, who imposed harsh punishments for the smallest crimes and who strictly believed in work and an authoritarian, tyrannical God. By suggesting that he feels kinship with these people, despite the fact that he ostensibly limits it to the fact that they "read the same exact texts again and again" he implies that our faith structures are similar.

Because honestly, if the only similarity is that they "read the same exact texts again and again," why not feel kinship to Christians? Protestants? Any other relatively normal accepted group? No, but Puritans was used here purposely...

Even among the rabbis there was a smattering of Ph.D.’s and near-doctorates to give us a taste of a critical-academic approach to knowledge, not just a religious one

Insinuation here is that the majority of rabbis don't have Ph.D's and near-doctorates (note the phrasing: even among the rabbis...a smattering) which suggests that they don't value higher education as much as they should/ they are uneducated. (Whether or not that is true is moot; I simply want to note the implication.)

And the teachers of the secular subjects were fantastic. One of the best taught me eighth-grade English when he was barely out of college himself, before he became a poet, a professor and an important queer theorist. Given Orthodoxy’s condemnation of homosexuality, he must have made it onto the faculty through the sheer cluelessness of the administration. Lord only knows what teachers like him, visitors from the real world, made of our quirky ways.

The implication is that they would not have hired this teacher had they known he was homosexual (I believe that is illegal, so he is stating that Jewish administrators would illegally discriminate based on sexual orientation, something which is patently false. In addition to being an extremely serious charge.) When he references"visitors from the real world," there is the obvious implication that the religious world and/or Orthodox Jewish world does not constitute the real world. Then we have the mention of our "quirky ways." He's now characterized us; we are all officially strange.

One time at Maimonides a local physician — a well-known figure in the community who later died tragically young — addressed a school assembly on the topic of the challenges that a modern Orthodox professional may face. The doctor addressed the Talmudic dictum that the saving of a life trumps the Sabbath. He explained that in its purest form, this principle applies only to the life of a Jew.

I am not the person to rebut this argument, because I don't know the halakha well enough. However, note that the man begins by stating "one time at Maimonides a local physician" came to speak to us and ends up asserting that this is the absolute law. On whose word? On the word of one person who once came to speak to you? And who says their understanding of the law is correct? Have you checked into this? Oughtn't you to do that before asserting that Jews are all horrible people who can't save other non-Jews without having certain reasons in mind?

The entire section about shomer negiah, sex and the rest of it is told over from a mocking viewpoint. The same exact story could have been told factually (without the snipes and slurs) and would not have the same effect. The facts tell one story; the words chosen tell another. Simply keep that in mind.

My Talmud teacher — the one who took the physician to task — handed me four tightly packed columns of closely reasoned rabbinic Hebrew, a responsum by the pre-eminent Orthodox decisor, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, “in the matter of a young man whose heart lures him to enter into bonds of affection with a young woman not for purposes of marriage.

Something like that seems utterly absurd when not presented properly; everyone will immediately wonder why a teenager is being given reams of "closely reasoned rabbinic Hebrew" to tell him not to have premarital sex. You can all appreciate how absurd it seems, due to its presentation. The relationship between Jews and texts within the school is not explained to begin with, so everything else becomes confused.

Perhaps I feel sympathy because I can recall the agonies suffered by my head of school when he stopped by our biology class to discuss the problem of creation

Agonies is extreme given what the principal actually said, namely, "despite what I have just told you, I still have a hard time believing that man could be descended from monkeys.” Assuming you don't like this, fine, so the principal prefers to believe in a fairy tale over scientific fact. But that is preference, not sign of an incapability to resolve the two if he so choose. More importantly, agonies? Where?

Gay Orthodox Jews find themselves marginalized not only because of their forbidden sexual orientation but also because within the tradition they cannot marry the partners whom they might otherwise choose.

Note the firm statement, not an opinion but a fact: Gay Orthodox Jews find themselves marginalized...so now Orthodox Judaism is not only racist, but also intolerant toward the LGBT community. Great.

In a few cases, modern Orthodoxy’s line-drawing has been implicated in some truly horrifying events.

Unforgivable sentence in terms of what he says next. He talks about Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein and insinuates that their thinking and reasoning was perfectly logical according to the tenets of Modern Orthodoxy. So we are all would-be murderers? Excellent. As should be obvious to any fool, the problem with Yigal Amir's and Baruch Goldstein's action has nothing to do with "modern-Orthodoxy's line drawing" but with the warped thinking of particular individuals operating alone.

Like a Puritan seeking the contemporary type of the biblical archetype, he applied Deuteronomy and Samuel to the world before him. Commanded to settle the land, he settled it.

And we've come back to Puritans. Feldman has a bit of a fascination with Puritans, doesn't he? Apparently he identified with them; now it seems that Baruch Goldstein must have identified with them, too. Projection, anyone?

It would be a mistake to blame messianic modern Orthodoxy for ultranationalist terror. But when the evil comes from within your own midst, the soul searching needs to be especially intense.

This is so lovely. After doing just that (blaming supposedly "messianic modern Orthodoxy" for ultranationalist terror) he covers himself by suggesting that's not what he's doing. He then uses value-laden terms to complete his sentences. When the evil comes from your own midst, then we have to engage in soul-searching. Ah ha. Because we are all responsible for the actions of a Baruch Goldstein; our religion apparently respects, honors and applauds his actions. That's how we train up our children, yessir. Go out and kill today; "messianic modern Orthodoxy" mandates that you do so!

Anyone involved in this religion reading this article (and reading it carefully, unlike I did the first time, when I merely skimmed it) should step back, blink, and think "What the?"

When you look back on this piece, you will note that it is only a collection of unsupported personal experiences at a particular high school which the author has taken to be universal and characteristic of an entire affiliation, Modern Orthodoxy. He subsequently engages in grand posturing and oscillates between trying to "defend" the poor, uneducated but well-meaning followers of this sect and trying to condemn them. Having awarded himself victim status, he is the sad onlooker trying to understand the cruelty behind these good people's actions. He uses language to accomplish his ends, trying to win the reader's sympathy by introducing words that connote extremes, words like "agonies" or "Puritan." Is this an honest article? Not at all. This is an extremely dishonest piece. If he limited his accusations to those in his own particular high school, that would be one thing. It is his assumption that everything he dislikes must of necessity be utterly absurd, false and untrue, and furthermore, representative of Modern Orthodoxy (a term he uses but does not mean, incidentally, as it is obvious the entire article refers to Orthodoxy on a whole, hence the title, "Orthodox Paradox," though the uninformed reader will almost certainly read it as Judaism on a whole) that is completely unforgivable.

If this seems incredibly hypocritical to you in light of my recent Templars post, I will remind you that I had far more to deal with than merely being cut out of a magazine photograph, and more importantly, I objected to the specific methods of emotional abuse utilized at my high school much more than the ideology on a whole (which I have subsequently learned I cannot blame.) I appreciate how difficult it must be for Noah Feldman to separate the actions of those at his particular school from Modern Orthodox ideology on a whole, but it is hardly fair to suggest that everyone would react in the same way and every school would choose to cut him out of the magazine. Other assertions he makes without support, and worse, the insinuations that the casual reader will not catch, are simply unprofessional. Within the one article, he has insinuated that Modern Orthodoxy is outdated, outmoded, racist, intolerant, unappreciative of science and greedy (quick to latch on to the achievements of others and claim them for their own, per his last section, "Lives of Contradiction.") It's amazing that the New York Times published this piece of uninformed crap. Since when is the NYT a venue for airing the grievances of those with personal agendas?