Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sleep No More: My 23rd Birthday Masquerade

Married for a year and having thrown my own gala party (albeit a Chanukah celebration for my beloved students), it's now my pleasure to invite you all to my yearly birthday masquerade. The song this time is "Masquerade" by Ashley Tisdale (lyrics here). Enjoy.

This year I turn...23.

Here's my formal invitation
You and me go masquerading
Lose ourselves in this charade and
Is this love we're imitating?
Do we want what we've got?
If not I say so what
Here's my formal invitation
Let's go, let's go masquerading

Last year's entertainment can be found here.

The rules, as always, require you to devise an anonymous handle for yourself (comment under an assumed name, not your real one and not that of your blog), create a costume and offer me a gift. The gift does not have to be tangible. Your costumes and gifts should be creative and expressive of various aspects of your personality. You are welcomed, of course, to my party. In the style of "Sleep No More," scenes are being acted out all around you - whether of a guilt-wracked Macbeth, a mad Lady Macbeth or a ghostly Banquo is up to you. As you wander through my many rooms, your faces concealed, what madness or pleasure do you find? As always, the choice is yours.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Sinat Chinam

אבל מקדש שני שהיו עוסקין בתורה ובמצות וגמילות חסדים מפני מה חרב מפני שהיתה בו שנאת חנם ללמדך ששקולה שנאת חנם כנגד שלש עבירות ע"ז גלוי עריות ושפיכות דמים רשעים היו אלא שתלו בטחונם בהקב"ה אתאן למקדש ראשון דכתיב (מיכה ג) ראשיה בשוחד ישפוטו וכהניה במחיר יורו ונביאיה בכסף יקסומו ועל ה' ישענו לאמר הלא ה' בקרבנו לא תבוא עלינו רעה לפיכך הביא עליהן הקב"ה ג' גזרות כנגד ג' עבירות שבידם שנאמר (מיכה ג) לכן בגללכם ציון שדה תחרש וירושלים עיין תהיה והר הבית לבמות יער ובמקדש ראשון לא הוה ביה שנאת חנם

Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because of three evils in it: idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed . . . But why was the Second Temple destroyed, seeing that during the time it stood people occupied themselves with Torah, with observance of precepts, and with the practice of charity? Because during the time it stood, hatred without rightful cause prevailed. This is to teach you that hatred without rightful cause is deemed as grave as all the three sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and bloodshed together.

~Yoma 9b


I watched this clip of what is going on in Beit Shemesh. It made me cry.

I thought: Is it not obvious that this is Sinat Chinam in action? And then I thought: Of course not. Everyone thinks they have a reason for why they can and should hate others. They think their reason is the Torah. Imagine! According to them, the Torah says they should spit on seven-year-old girls, and that this is not Sinat Chinam. In fact, according to one person in the video, they are the victims- they are the ones who others hate baselessly.

Sinat Chinam destroyed our second Temple.

Who is to say whether it will destroy our State? If you truly believe the State of Israel is Reishit Tzmichat Geulateinu, then you know that it is God-given. What God gives, He can take away. He enabled the Babylonians to destroy our Beit HaMikdash and he can enable others to do away with the State.

And so it makes me sad when someone in that video calls out that no rules apply to them, only Torah and mitzvot. It's when people forget that Torah calls upon them to fulfill the Mitzvot Ben Adam L'Chaveiro that Sinat Chinam is able to insidiously enter our lives.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Differing Declarations On The Orthodox Response to Homosexuality

Last year in July, many rabbis (the majority of them Modern Orthodox) banded together to publish the Statement of Principles regarding homosexuality within the Orthodox community. You can read that statement here.

An alternative statement referred to as The Torah Declaration (otherwise known as the Declaration on the Torah Approach to Homosexuality) has been created. This declaration is signed by those who are more to the right in the Orthodox world (it does include prominent YU rabbis such as R' Herschel Schacter and R' Moshe Tendler).

There are several differences between the two statements. The major difference is that in The Torah Declaration, the rabbanim declare that same-sex attractions can be modified and healed through reparative therapy. In contrast, the Statement of Principles signed by those who are Modern Orthodox asserts:

    Whatever the origin or cause of homosexual orientation, many individuals believe that for most people this orientation cannot be changed. Others believe that for most people it is a matter of free will. Similarly, while some mental health professionals and rabbis in the community strongly believe in the efficacy of “change therapies”, most of the mental health community, many rabbis, and most people with a homosexual orientation feel that some of these therapies are either ineffective or potentially damaging psychologically for many patients.

    We affirm the religious right of those with a homosexual orientation to reject
    therapeutic approaches they reasonably see as useless or dangerous.

I am not sure which statement I am most in accord with. The empathic, humanistic side of me thinks the Statement of Principles is more correct. On the other hand, I think that those who put their names to The Torah Declaration are willing to flaunt society and stand up for what they believe is true and right, including their belief that God would not create someone who has no chance for marital happiness in this world. I applaud the people who wrote and signed The Torah Declaration and yet don't feel that I (not that I am in their league) could sign on to it.

I guess the question is whether God could create someone who has gay feelings but is mandated by the law not to act on those feelings or whether he would simply not have created someone who is only attracted to/ has feelings for the same sex in the first place. The Torah Declaration says God would not create someone who could never act upon his feelings. My philosophy of Judaism is one that includes pain, suffering and striving as valid paths for finding God, so I'm not sure that I see that as so definitive. I can imagine a God who creates someone who is attracted to the same sex but is charged not to act on those feelings. Why is that not a challenge like any other challenge?

The Drill Burrowing Into My Ceiling

It is impossible to sleep or live in my apartment. The drilling here is INSANE.

It's my vacation, people! Have mercy.

Off to go do other stuff....since sleep is clearly not an option.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

YU Beacon= Trash

It shouldn't bother me that the YU Beacon publishes trash, but it does.

It bothers me that this editor claims she isn't publishing controversy for the sake of controversy, when there's clearly no other reason to publish this piece of crap.

Crap where some idiot says that rabbis permit condoms but not birth control pills and also posits that birth control pills can abort babies. (This woman has no grip on reality- or science for that matter.)

If you want to talk about this issue, note that it already has been talked about. (Again, the Beacon does absolutely no research.) Read "The Halakhic Parameters of Delaying Procreation" by Rabbi Moshe Kahn. Then, if you have something to add, or a play to write- do so.

Birth Control

Saturday, December 10, 2011

My Feelings Take Precedence Over Your Jewish Values

"And actually I think that is the important role that atheists play in the contemporary world. They refuse to let religious organizations or leaders get away with sloppy thinking or acceptance of something as the Will of God when clearly God wants us to change that thing and transform the world. They challenge religion whenever it is a source of intolerance or hate and in that respect, I like atheists and I feel enlarged by them. But as for the angry atheists- the figures that we all know of- I call them our contemporary intellectual equivalent of 'road rage'- those guys I think are not the kind of atheists that I respect because what they write about is a caricature of religion, not the real thing."


It's just an article, so why does it bother me so much?

I think it bothers me because it is representative of a trend in Modern Orthodoxy on a whole. It is a trend I find disquieting and upsetting, one that troubles me in the extreme. That trend is that whatever I feel or find to be difficult must be spoken about publicly, dealt with publicly and anyone who dares to not accept me or to differ from me must be whipped into line. And I think that this idea is representative of sloppy thinking in our student body, thinking that originates in the heart rather than one's brain.

The thinking is as follows: I am experiencing an issue; therefore others around me must also be experiencing that issue. If we are experiencing that issue together, the best way for us to deal with it is by stating our opinions loudly and publicly. Anyone who doesn't agree with our opinions must be shamed for failing to be sufficiently liberal, modern, tolerant or open-minded. Even those who might agree that the discussion ought to be held but disagree with the format must be accused of being close-minded.

I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like much of a discussion to me.

When the YU Beacon was first founded, I expressed tentative support for it. My concern was that they seemed to be pushing the envelope without actually stating that this was their agenda. In fact, the comment thread included comments from the editors that said that is exactly what they were not doing. One editor stated "We are not trying to create controversy or push the limits with every article (hence the tame Maccabeats one, and many others which are neutral). We would like the paper simply to be a regular student paper which won't cover up anything but will also include more "mundane" articles."

Whether the editors intended it or not, the YU Beacon seems to be read mainly as a scandal sheet, a kind of tabloid rag. A quick look at their Weekly Hits shows you that their most-read articles are the one posted up about premarital sex, an opinions piece about how sex shouldn't be openly discussed which includes the disclaimer that the author is not so close-minded as to tell others how to live their lives or not to discuss it (ironic), a piece about feminism in religion, a piece about how shomer negiah is no longer possible and therefore the lack thereof in committed relationships needs to be discussed lest people feel guilty (the horror, the horror) and a rant against the Hasidic community (among others).

So let me see. The go-to topics for the readers of this paper are: sex, more sex, feminism, shomer negiah (which is just disguised almost-sex) and community-bashing.

I think that a commitment to thoughtfully discussing issues of concern to students of Yeshiva University is really important. That's the reason that I had entire features spreads devoted to sexuality, mental health and sexual abuse. These articles featured student responses but they also included interviews with professionals and rabbis. I wanted a well-rounded perspective on everything that I published. I also wanted to make sure I was clear that I was discussing issues of concern to affiliates of Modern Orthodoxy as a whole rather than the segment comprised by the university.

A discussion about premarital sex is important. There are so many issues to explore: should the mikvah be open to women who are not married? What causes women or men to have premarital sex? What percentage of the student body is engaging in this? Do most people feel guilty about it or are they totally okay with it? But especially when you are a representative of a community, as each member of YU is, you have to think about what the best format to engage in this discussion is.

If the YU Beacon wanted to open up a discussion about premarital sex, then yes, they could have and should have included personal viewpoints. But they should also have included other material focusing on the plethora of issues that are part of this subject. I think it would have been interesting to read an account of a student who had premarital sex and felt guilty alongside an account of one who had sex and didn't. I think it would have been intriguing to see what percentage of the student body admitted to engaging in premarital sex and what percentage didn't. I would have been interested in seeing how prominent scholars or religious figures addressed the issue, assuming that they were willing to discuss it with the paper. Responsible reporting argues for a complete picture, not a skewed one.

By choosing to publish one piece on a Stern girl's one-night stand, the YU Beacon also chose to open up a Pandora's box. And sometimes that would be okay, but this time it was irresponsible. If you are going to make the editorial decision to inflame most of the student body- who choose to attend this university because of the fact that it's Yeshiva University and there are theoretically certain standards that accompany that name- then you better make sure it's worth it. Was this really worth it? Was this one essay about a girl sleeping with a guy and then feeling bad about it so important? Did it really help anyone who was in this position? And if so, what exactly did it help them with? What was the message behind this story?

Was the message that other people sin too, so I'm not alone in sinning?
Was the message that premarital sex leads to guilt?
Was the message that Stern girls are just like other girls on secular campuses, and that they too have sex?
Was the message that because of their guilt-complexes, Stern girls can only sin after they've quashed their conscious by deciding to get drunk?

In short, what was the point of the article? Why was it so incredibly important to publish it? What was it that we as a student body were supposed to learn from it, take away from it or otherwise gain from it?

This wasn't a discussion that actually helped someone deal with an issue. If I was a girl who had sex before marriage and I read this article, the only thing I would have learned is that someone else out there had done the same thing as me. I assume this is something I would have known before reading this article as well.

To me, therefore, this suggests that the only point behind this article was to say, hey, we at YU aren't so different from people at other college campuses. We're also a university; we also have rights. We have freedom of the press and we want to show it. So let's publish an article about a girl's one-night stand and let's claim we're doing it in the name of our ideals, in the name of talking about important issues because people need to talk about the things they are doing behind closed doors. Surely if they don't, they'll explode. And a public forum such as a newspaper is certainly the best place to do it, rather than a blog or a Facebook.

A friend of mine said that he had read an article which stated that "colleges are where students have their own mini-state." Thus, they think they are citizens exercising their right to free speech, consequences be damned. And if you look at the majority of comments on the article, people were outraged and upset that there might even be a request to pull the piece. They immediately deemed this censorship and got on their high horses.

What we think, what we say and what we write is a reflection of who we are and what our values are. It doesn't surprise me that many at YU were uninterested in being represented by one girl's one-night stand. The word 'Stern' was even tagged in the article.

If the point of the article was to say hey, we at YU aren't so different from people at other college campuses, boy, do I have some news for you. We are different. We are religious Jews. As a nation, we have been chosen by God to represent Him and to act as His ambassadors on this earth. Our view of sexuality is one that consists of giving, of true intimacy, of devotion, of sharing. As the Rav writes in Family Redeemed, it is a view that focuses upon the I-Thou relationship, not the I-It.

So when a student writes about how she acted exactly like a typical college student, having a one-night stand in a hotel after getting drunk, feeling love for her boyfriend who doesn't seem to be emotionally reciprocating in any way...yeah, that shocks us. It should shock us. Because there's a student who has allowed herself to be objectified, to believe the myth that putting out is what keeps her together with her boyfriend, and who is in a position which truthfully comes across as extremely sad.

And once shocked, a lot of students responded by saying, in effect: This is not what we choose to represent us. This is not what we want people to think when they hear the words Yeshiva University. This is not what we want people to think when they hear the words observant Jew. This is not what or who defines us and we don't want it up there for people to think this is what defines us.

But the editors of the paper said: Your opinions be damned and your reactions be damned. We don't care what should represent religious Jews; we only care about what some religious Jews actually are doing. We have free speech and we're not afraid to use it. And we don't care if this becomes a huge Chilul Hashem and a scandal dragged across the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and so on; we don't care if we make Yeshiva University out to be some sort of evil overarching censorship committee. We only care about ourselves and the fact that we should have the right so say what we want.

And you have to wonder: Is that a Machloket L'Sheim Shamayim or a Machloket She'Lo L'Sheim Shamayim? Are these students selflessly defending the tenets of Judaism or are they selfishly determining that once they've made a decision, their decisions ought not be questioned?

I agree that premarital sex is an important issue to address within the Modox community.

What I question is the forum, the format, the lack of responsibility and the focus on one's rights rather than one's obligations that took place here. In a world where editors say we are accountable to no one, not even God, what Judaism is being defended, exactly?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says he doesn't respect 'road rage' atheists, the ones who write about caricatures of religion rather than the real deal. I feel like the same applies to editors of a paper who chose to grant interviews to major media outlets and drag YU through the mud rather than admit to the possibility that maybe their decision was wrong. Not the decision to talk about premarital sex in the first place! But the way they chose to introduce it as a subject- not as a question but as definitive, not under analysis but as narrative.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

The YU Beacon Piece on Sexuality

This article has come out stating:Link"YU Student Paper in Danger After Acknowledging Existence of Sex."

Oh, please. I wrote an entire series on sexuality in "The Observer."
The difference between my articles and the piece in the YU Beacon is that my articles had educational and journalistic merit, were carefully researched and actually dealt with the issues. I also discussed premarital sex. You can read "Jews and Sexuality in the Modern-Day World" to see that. In contrast, the YU Beacon's article was only intended to be controversial and tick people off. (Why else publish something so poorly written?) In both these goals, they've succeeded admirably.

But don't tell me that YU is pulling its funding from a student newspaper just because someone dared to mention the word 'sex.' They're pulling funding because the Beacon published a piece without any redeeming qualities that creates a certain negative perception about YU, and YU'll be damned if they pay money to have their own dependents working against them.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Lightman & The Tent-Peg Wielder

When I first came to Stern, I was really lonely. I was scared, nervous, a real freshman straight out of North Shore Country Day. I hardly knew anybody.

Aside from being lonely, I was proud. I wasn't going to ask to be invited over to people's houses. Instead, I figured I would just hang out in the Stern Caf over Shabbat. Luckily for me, I met an amazing trio my second Shabbat at Stern. The trio asked me whether I wanted to get pizza that Saturday night. I agreed. They were my first real friends in New York.

I've been helped, cared for and had fun with all of them. But the friend to whom I've remained closest of that original group is Lightman.

Lightman is a brilliant violinist. He plays with all his heart and soul. He is also a linguist, a health nut and a master of biblical Hebrew. Lightman taught me Hebrew throughout my time in Stern. I owe him for ensuring that I didn't fail out of Dr. Steiner's class. But to me, he's more than his accomplishments. His talents are amazing and he ought to be lauded for them, but when I think of him, it's his soul that moves me. I love Lightman because he has a depth of spirit that is almost unsurpassed. Beauty touches him. Whether it's the thin sound of an operatic wail or the clash of cymbals as an orchestra reaches its crescendo, Lightman understands. He is there with you in the pit of the valley, in the horrors and the torture chambers that few visit, let alone comprehend. When I needed a light in the darkness, I found him, and what is more, he found me.

Lightman was the one who made me a surprise birthday party. I had never had one before. Lightman is also the one who videoed a different party of mine, one where I was extremely touched and moved to see what everyone present had to say about me. (It was a little like the Living Funeral described in Tuesdays with Morrie and I still count it as one of the most heartmelting moments of my life). Lightman is the one who would cheer me up when I was at my darkest, raising me up from the depths. Lightman would make sure that I would attend Broadway shows and operas and that my artistic side was always validated. He offered me strength and compassion and there are many times I would have fallen but for him.

When Lightman first discovered the Tent-Peg Wielder, I didn't react at my best. I was a bit like a displaced sibling in a family structure, one who didn't understand that transition and how to make it. But over time, I grew to know her and to trust her. I grew to see her as one of the best, kindest and most loving people I have ever met. She is so spirited, spunky, idealistic and scholarly that it blows me away. She is inspired, inspiring and glorious. She has dealt with so much and has managed to come out on top despite it all. She has dealt with all scenarios, even those that were not ideal, with aplomb. She is a fearless editor and is extremely loyal. She is incredibly creative. She is brave. Her courage is of the masked kind, the sort that doesn't reveal itself openly. She doesn't plunge into people's houses to rescue their dying children; no, her courage is of the internal sort. She takes her stands and she makes them heroically.

Her thoughts on Jewish History opened my eyes to an entirely new way of seeing Judaism. For me, Judaism is an incredibly personal religion. How I relate to God, how Judaism offers me a sense of structure that helps me to be at my most healthy - this is what is most important when it comes to my connection to the religion. But TPW is less selfish. For her, Judaism is about Jewish History, the incredible marvels, scandals and horrors that our people have survived. History to her is part of our heritage, something to learn about and to wear as a badge of honor. Our history defines and enlightens us.

She is also an amazing teacher. As a Hebrew School instructor, she married her creative talent to her love for Jewish texts in order to create innovative and engaging lessons. Her children wrote her kind and colorful missives expressing their love for her. And her creativity doesn't stop there. I had the honor of spending one very memorable Rosh Hashana with her- one where those in attendance ate a real lamb's head rather than a fish's head. She was the one who had the patience, initiative and sheer mischievous desire to track down a sheep's head, season it, cook it and finally, serve it.

I am amazed by TPW's diligence and precision. When she decided she was interested in learning a new language, she put all her effort, talent and mental agility into mastering it. When she prepares for classes at her graduate program, she makes sure to do all the readings in advance. She really commits herself to whatever is important to her. Her acuity and analysis, while impressive, are not all she has to offer. She is also incredibly artistic. I own pieces of artwork that she has made (whether in the form of greeting cards or snowglobes) and they are exquisite. I hope she fulfills her dream of reproducing her artwork commercially and selling it online.

I am extremely happy to share with you that tonight marks the engagement of Lightman to the Tent-Peg Wielder. It's been a long journey and they've come a long way. I am looking forward to seeing them join with one another in a shared dance of art, music, Tanakh, Hebrew, Jewish History and beyond. I hope that they are blessed.

Mazel Tov!

Monday, November 14, 2011


The truth is, intimacy doesn’t have all that much to do with backseats of cars. Real intimacy is brushing your teeth together.

Sunday, November 06, 2011


I saw "Parade."

It's been on my mind. Especially the "Come Up to My Office" song. The factory girls' testimony is singing in my dreams, for some reason.

My favorite song is "You Don't Know This Man."

And it occurred to me that "It's Hard to Speak My Heart" reflects the way one feels when one stands before God on Yom Kippur.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

random thought

It would be cool if prophets were time-travelers. So they had actually traveled to the reality they predicted and then went back in time to try to warn people against committing the actions that would lead to that reality.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Song of the Day: Survivor by Destiny's Child

I'm a survivor (what),
I'm not gonna give up (what),
I'm not gon' stop (what),
I'm gonna work harder (what),

I'm a survivor (what),
I'm gonna make it (what),
I will survive (what),
Keep on survivin' (what),

I'm a survivor (what),
I'm not gonna give up (what),
I'm not gon' stop (what),
I'm gonna work harder (what),
I'm a survivor (what),
I'm gonna make it (what),
I will survive (what),
Keep on survivin' (what).

Monday, October 10, 2011


From childhood's hour I have not been
As others were---I have not seen
As others saw---I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I lov'd, I loved alone.
Then---in my childhood---in the dawn
Of a most stormy life---was drawn
From ev'ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that 'round me roll'd
In its autumn tint of gold---
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass'd me flying by---
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

~Edgar Allan Poe

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Anniversary Cards

This post is now gone. Hurray.

In Which Chana's Nose Becomes An Icicle

Here I sit in my freezing cold apartment, wearing warm Mickey Mouse socks (thanks Dana!) and pajamas, clutching a cup of hot cocoa to myself while hearing the following song play in my head:

O' woe is me, o' woe is me
This would kill the canary
It's so freezing in my bed
That it's a wonder I'm not dead

I ask aloud for those of you who can explain the immutable, baffling ways of landlords: why does the heat not go on until October 15th?

My thoughts on this matter:

1. It saves on embalming costs, because this way when people die of cold, at least their bodies stay at the same temperature one would find in a morgue

2. It (all together now) builds character! (Ahahahaha. Josh, my dear, that was for you.)

3. It ensures that you huddle under the warming light in your bathroom the entire day, and the only thing to do in a bathroom is to become clean, so the landlords get to operate under the assumption that you will be reasonably clean when they encounter you. This makes them happy.

4. They've made a secret pact with Milk St Cafe or Coffee Bean because they know that packaged hot chocolate doesn't taste like real hot chocolate and if you're cold enough, you'll go outside to buy real hot chocolate

5. It's an effort to enforce modesty, because this way the only place you can change clothes is in the bathroom under the aforementioned warming light, and thus this will keep you honest. (And chaste. And good. And modest.)

Anyone else have any good reasons?

Monday, October 03, 2011

True Aristocracy

So Manuela deserves our praise. Although she's been sacrificed at the altar of a world where the most thankless tasks have been allotted to some women while others merely hold their noses without raising a finger, she nevertheless strives relentlessly to maintain a degree of refinement that goes far beyond any gold leaf gilding, a fortiori of the sanitary variety.

"When you eat a walnut, you must use a tablecloth," says Manuela, removing from her old shopping bag a little hamper made of light wood in which some almond tuiles are nestled among curls of carmine tissue paper. I make coffee that we shall not drink, but its wafting odor delights us both, and in silence we sip a cup of green tea as we nibble on our tuiles.

Just as I am a permanent traitor to my archetype, so is Manuela: to the Portugese cleaning woman she is a felon oblivious of her condition. This girl from Faro, born under a fig tree after seven siblings and before six more, forced in childhood to work the fields and scarcely out of it to marry a mason and take the road of exile, mother of four children who are French by birthright but whom society looks upon as thoroughly Portugese- this girl from Faro, as I was saying, who wears the requisite black support stockings and a kerchief on her head, is an aristocrat. An authentic one, of the kind whose entitlement you cannot contest: it is etched onto her very heart, it mocks titles and people with handles to their names. What is an aristocrat? A woman who is never sullied by vulgarity although she may be surrounded by it.

On Sundays, the vulgarity of her in-laws, who with their loud laughter muffle the pain of being born weak and without prospects; the vulgarity of an environment as bleakly desolate as the neon lights of the factory where the men go each morning, like sinners returning to hell; then, the vulgarity of her employers who for all their money, cannot hide their own baseness and who speak to her the way they would a mangy dog covered with oozing bold patches. But you should have witnessed Manuela offering to me, as if I were a queen, the fruit of her prowess in haute patisserie to fully appreciate the grace that inhabits this woman. Yes, as if I were a queen. When Manuela arrives, my loge is transformed into a palace, and a picnic between two pariahs becomes the feast of two monarchs. Like a storyteller transforming life into a shimmering river where trouble and boredom vanish far below the water, Manuela metamorphoses our existence into a warm and joyful epic.

-The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, pages 31-31

(Thanks to Marc Fein for making me read this.)

Sunday, October 02, 2011

in its measure

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Now what does that mean, that Your rod and Your staff comfort me?

I think it means Your attributes of Justice. Justice shall be served. It shall be measured out with the rod, parceled out by the staff.

Monday, September 26, 2011

what my kids do in class

....before I gave 'em detention, anyway.

It's KIPPA FRISBEE! Like Ultimate Frisbee, but even cooler! So much more fun than learning about how the whole world got destroyed in the time of Noah.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Jai Ho Wedding Dance

I am not sure why it took me this long to discover, but there is an amazing tradition of dancing the Jai Ho Bollywood dance at various weddings.

And here's a fabulous bride doing it:

Clearly a bride after my own heart.

My plan: The next time someone I know gets married (and I attend the wedding), me and my girls are going to have to do a Jai Ho rendition at her wedding. Who wants to learn this dance with me? It's gonna rock.

Holiness in Words

The Bible is holiness in words. To the man of our age nothing is as familiar and trite as words. Of all things they are the cheapest, most abused and least esteemed. They are the objects of perpetual defilement. We all live in them, feel in them, think in them, but, failing to uphold their independent dignity, to respect their power and weight, they turn waif, elusive- a mouthful of dust. When placed before the Bible, the words of which are like dwellings made of rock, we do not know how to find the door.

Some people may wonder: why was the light of God given in the form of language? How is it conceivable that the divine should be contained in such brittle vessels as consonants and vowels? This question betrays the sin of our age: to treat lightly the ether which carries the light-waves of the spirit. What else in the world is as capable of bringing man and man together over the distances in space and in time? Of all things on earth, words alone never die. They have so little matter and so much meaning.

The Bible does not deal with divinity but with humanity. Addressing human beings about human affairs, whose language should be employed if not man's? And yet, it is as if God took these Hebrew words and breathed into them of His power, and the words became a live wire charged with His spirit. To this very day they are hyphens between heaven and earth.

What other medium could have been employed to convey the divine? Pictures enameled on the moon? Statues hewn out of the Rockies? What is wrong with the human ancestry of scriptural vocabulary?

If the Bible were a temple, equal in majesty and splendor to the simple grandeur of its present form, its divine language might have carried the sign of divine dignity with more undeniable force to most people. But man would have worshipped his work rather than His will...and that is exactly what the Bible has tried to prevent.

Just as it is impossible to conceive of God without the world, so it is impossible to conceive of His concern without the Bible.

If God is alive, then the Bible is His voice. No other work is as worthy of being considered a manifestation of His will. There is no other mirror in the world where His will and spiritual guidance is as unmistakably reflected. If the belief in the immanence of God in nature is plausible, then the belief in the immanence of God in the Bible is compelling.

~God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel, pages 244-245

God Is The Subject

The sense for the realness of God will not be found in insipid concepts; in opinions that are astute, arid, timid; in love that is scant, erratic. Sensitivity to God is given to a broken heart, to a mind that rises above its own wisdom. It is a sensitivity that bursts all abstractions. It is not a mere playing with a notion. There is no conviction without contrition; no affirmation without self-engagement. Consciousness of God is a response, and God is a challenge rather than a notion. We do not think Him, we are stirred by Him. We can never describe Him, we can only return to Him. We may address ourselves to Him; we cannot comprehend Him. We can sense His presence; we cannot grasp His essence.

His is the call, ours the paraphrase; His is the creation, ours a reflection. He is not an object to be comprehended, a thesis to be endorsed; neither the sum of all that is (facts) nor a digest of all that ought to be (ideals). He is the ultimate subject.

The trembling sense for the hereness of God is the assumption of our being accountable to Him. God-awareness is not an act of God being known to man; it is the awareness of man's being known by God. In thinking about Him we are thought by him.

~God in Search of Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel, pages 159-160


Today I read The Ineffable Name of God: Man by Abraham Joshua Heschel.

His poems are beautiful and breathtaking; best of all, they are exactly what I feel towards God and the world we live in. I find so much of myself captured in Heschel's words and thinking and that gladdens me.

His poems are written in Yiddish, but happily they've been translated so that I can understand them. He is, of course, brimming with passion.

This is the poem that opens the book:

I and You

Transmissions flow from your heart to Mine,
trading, twining My pain with yours,
Am I not- you? Are you not- I?

My nerves are clustered with Yours,
Your dreams have met with mine.
Are we not one in the bodies of millions?

Often I glimpse Myself in everyone's form,
hear My own speech- a distant, quiet voice- in people's weeping,
as if under millions of masks My face would lie hidden.

I live in Me and in you,
Through your lips goes a word from Me to Me,
from your eyes drips a tear- its source in Me.

When a need pains You, alarm me!
When You miss a human being
tear open my door!
You live in Yourself, You live in me

And here is another one that particularly speaks to me:

To a Lady in a Dream

Grant me a breath,
A finger's touch;
for a thousand hours of yearning
give me one word!

I dreamt of you through all my youth,
through all my youth, fenced off from you-
and my dream aches so much.
I owe to you my immense yearning-
and beg of you: Rescue my dream!

Your eyes are greetings from God,
Your body- an oasis in the world,
joy for my homeless glances.
Your legs are trees of desire
in the gardens of quietest delights.

I searched for you in dreams in the night.
You never came to my unforgettable desires.
Yet stubbornly the dreams swore: You are there!
Some day you shall belong to me!
But like a student at a test,
I now stand mute before you.

I've come with showcase-words boldly to your heart.
Astonished, looking through your eyes
as through the shattered windows of my dream-
I've forgotten my arrows, forgotten my bows...
forgive me, beloved, my chaotic silence!

Grant me a breath,
a finger's touch;
for a thousand hours of yearning,
give me one word!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11

I was in 8th grade when the Towers fell.

I didn't know what they were. What were the Twin Towers? And where were they? I thought they were some random buildings in the middle of nowhere.

But then Tzipporah in my class came to school announcing that the Twin Towers had fallen. She had seen it on Good Morning, America or some such show. At that time we still thought it was a mistake one of the pilots had made. We didn't know it was a terrorist attack. Later on, we were all called to an assembly in school where we were told of the news and we said Tehillim together.

Everyone was really worried. I don't remember for sure, but I think school was dismissed early. We thought that the Sears Tower might be hit next. Chicago's a big enough city to be on the list.

I remember my mother telling me that all the nurses just congregated around the televisions in the nurses' station and they watched, horrified. Tears streamed down their cheeks and they didn't even know they were crying.

I remember my father, grim. I remember all of us sitting donwnstairs in the basement watching television on a weekday (which never happened). We watched the planes hit the buildings again and again. We called all our relatives in New York. One of my aunts slept in her office building and the other one walked across one of the Bridges along with throngs of others.

We gave thanks that none of the people we loved had died, and we mourned with America about the loss of everyone who had. We hung a big American flag on our window and we watched the multitude of flags and bumper stickers. We saw our world come together, people sharing with each other like they never had before.

We saw love.

I remember the pain, the sadness and the horror. But I most of all remember how we came together, how the world united and people truly cared about one another. And I remember thinking it was sad that it took a tragedy to unite us. But that I was glad we were united, even so.

I remember we couldn't tour the White House on our 8th grade trip because they closed it due to fear of terrorists. And that lots of other places were also closed off. And that parents hadn't even been sure they wanted us to go on that trip, but acquiesced, in the end.

It was scary and huge and hard to comprehend. It was hard to grasp the enormity of it. But in 11th grade, when I was on Summer at YU, they took us to ground zero instead of to an amusement park. And we all grumbled because we would rather be having fun. But we got why it was important to be there. And I looked at that hole, that massive void in the earth, and I saw it gaping open and ugly and that was the first time it seemed real to me, where the earth had shook and moved and this ugliness was there for real. And I was shaken.

And then I thought: we must somehow fix this.

But how?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

My Last Married Mikveh

(This is not written by me. This is a post that was sent to me by a Jewish woman like you who was the victim of marital rape and physical abuse. She wants others to know that marital rape and physical abuse DO happen in the Jewish world, and that they need to be addressed.)

On the morning before Yom Kippur, I immersed myself for the last time as a married woman. Unlike all of the previous immersions where I was alone with G-d and the mikveh lady, this one was during the day, and in the company of G-d and all of my closest woman friends. Unlike all previous times at the local mikveh, this time it was at a beautiful lake. And most importantly, unlike the times when I rose from the mikveh thinking that now he had permission to hit and rape me, this last time I rose to feel freer and cleaner and happier than I ever had before. And this time I said so aloud, to myself, to my dear friends, and to G-d.

Throughout my marriage, I read books about family purity and even showed my husband the books that the rebbitzin loaned me. I wanted these laws to help our marriage, to bring us closer to each other during both phases of the month. But the nature of our marriage never allowed for that. Our marriage was based on control and fear, and even the most beautiful rituals of Judaism couldn’t change that to a focus of love and mutual respect.

The books I read all talked about how a couple gets closer when they live part of each month as man and wife and the other part of the month as brother and sister. Much as I tried, this never happened in our marriage. Instead, he just controlled me or abused me differently during the two phases of each month. When I was in niddah he constantly reminded me how difficult it was for him to go so long without sex. He woke me during the night to tell me he couldn’t sleep and couldn’t work because he was so horny. When I offered to sleep in a different room, he said that it wouldn’t help because it was about sex and not about me. (It tool me years to understand that statement.) During niddah he controlled my telephone access, my money, and friendships. But he never hurt me physically. At least not until the last few months of the marriage.

The other phase of the month was the physical phase, the time when I did not have permission to say no to sex, especially since it was my “fault” that we didn’t have relations during my niddah. It was a time of physical intimidation, and often of physical attack. It had only a bit of the physical closeness I had been hoping for. It’s hard to make love to someone you fear, hard to sort loving touch from painful touch when it’s the same hands providing both, sometimes at the same time.

When I separated from my husband with the intent to divorce, I asked my rabbi when I could stop attending mikveh, when I could stop counting days and keeping different sets of panties for different times of the month. He told me he would find out, and that I should continue my usual practice in the meantime. This lasted about a very long month, but as I neared my mikveh date in the second month of separation, I decided to plan my last immersion, and to use it as a time to mark for myself the end of my marriage long before the civil divorce or the get were even in sight. When I told the rabbi of my plans, he agreed that this could be my last mikveh.

And so, on the Sunday morning before Yom Kippur I brought a minyan of women with me to the banks of a nearby lake. The ten of us sat under trees and read poetry, and some of our own reflections on the mitzvoth of shalom bayit, family purity, and pikuach nefesh. A dear friend sang, “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair.” We cried and we laughed and then I removed my hat and dress and went into the water in a bathing suit. I removed the suit under water and immersed in the traditional manner, using the traditional blessing. Even though I was immersing for new reason --- I wanted the continuity, I wanted it to have some of the same elements of all my previous immersions.

When I came out of the water it was with the intention that no one would ever have permission to abuse my body again. I finished dressing, but did not put my hat back on my head. Then my friends joined me in saying shehechiyanu for the beginning of my new life without my husband. We ate chocolates, we hugged, and then went back to my old home and to the place where I’d been staying for five weeks, and we began to move my belongings into my new apartment. Kol Nidre was that evening and I have never before felt so prepared for the day of atonement. I was beginning to make teshuvah to myself and I felt that I was at one with the world and with my G-d. I began the process of making tshuvah with my own body and with the traditions of Jewish marriage.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Help? Thanks

I need someone to scan and email me (or upload for me) the pages on Ir Miklat from Bamidbar in 'The Little Midrash Says' series.



UPDATE: I got it. Thanks, Cymbaline!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Why Teaching is Like a Wedding

1. You spend most of your time dancing

2. You think on your feet

3. Your goal is to make the most important person/ people in the room love you

4. You don't eat very much

5. The space you are in is decorated beautifully

6. The way you scan the room to determine whether there is anyone you haven't danced with yet and then you go dance with them is similar to the way you check if there's anyone you haven't heard from yet and then call on them

7. You'll cry at least once

8. People say brilliant things

9. You wish you were wearing flats

10. You're really happy

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Echoes of Eden, Weaver of Webs

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book for review.

This article was originally published in "The Beltway Buzz."

Rabbi Ari Kahn is a consummate teacher. A graduate of RIETS, a student of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, director of Foreign Student Programs and senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University, he has also delivered lectures at Matan, Aish HaTorah and at various venues in the community of Givat Ze’ev. He chose to commit his lectures and works to the printed word with the publication of his book on the weekly parsha, Explorations, and his work on Jewish holidays, Emanations. This summer he released a new offering, co-published by Gefen and OU Press. The work is entitled Echoes of Eden and is part of a projected five-part series with one book focusing on each of the Humashim.

The best way to describe Echoes of Eden is like a loom. Strung with colorful thread, the Lady of Shallot “weaves by night and day/ a magic web with colours gay.” And Rabbi Kahn does the same. Taking his sources from a variety of places, including but not limited to rabbinic, kabbalistic and Chasidic sources, Rabbi Kahn creates a shimmering, beautiful tapestry shot through with his incredible creativity. While he addresses conventional questions: Why did Noah send out the raven and then the dove? Why was Jacob given the name Israel but then the text continues to refer to him by both names? Why is it necessary to know that the sons bought shoes with the money they received for selling Joseph? – his answers are anything but ordinary.

Rabbi Kahn dissects the text, analyzing each word and noting parallels to various other verses. His is an exercise in parshanut, the study of interpretation. Echoes of Eden is filled with the fruits of literary techniques such as metaphor, parallel, symbolism and analogy. But what struck me the most in Rabbi Kahn’s rendering is his deep understanding of psychology when it comes to comprehending the characters in Genesis.

One such example occurs by the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Amos 2:6 mentions the selling of “the righteous one for silver, and the poor man for a pair of shoes.” Midrash Tanhuma to Vayeishev explains that the money from the sale of Joseph was used by the brothers to purchase shoes. Rabbi Kahn mentions that shoes are seen as significant in Judaism; when Moses approaches the burning bush he is told to take off his shoes, while when the Hebrews are told to prepare to leave Egypt, they must don their shoes. But there is one halakhic section of the Torah where shoes are particularly relevant, and this is when “a man refuses to marry his deceased brother’s childless wife” (Kahn 265). A central part of the ritual of halitzah, mentioned in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 involves the removal of a man’s shoe.

In a breathtaking connection, Rabbi Kahn refers to the episode of Judah, his sons and Tamar. Judah tells his son Onan to marry Tamar in order to “raise up seed to your brother” in Genesis 38:8. But Onan is not interested in doing this; instead he does not act properly with Tamar and does not create a child to continue his brother’s name. Rabbi Kahn sees this narrative as part and parcel of the former midrash. Tragically, Judah’s children “learned a lesson in fraternal relations and responsibilities from their father. They learned that their brother is not their concern; a pair of shoes is preferable to a brother” (Kahn 268). To Rabbi Kahn, it is not a coincidence that during the process of halitzah “the rejected widow is instructed to remove a shoe from the indifferent brother’s foot. When he fails to recognize his brother’s holiness and the sanctity of the family he is charged to preserve, his shoe is removed as a reminder of that holiness (as it was for Moshe) or as a symbol of his callousness (as when the brothers purchased shoes with ‘blood money’)” (Kahn 268).

The portion concerning Joseph and the wife of Potiphar has often been compared to that of Judah and Tamar. But this is the first time that I have ever seen anyone suggest that the outcome of a certain behavior (buying shoes with the money gained by selling Joseph) demonstrated an attitude that the children picked up on (that a pair of shoes is more important than a brother or continuing his legacy). This is a very clever and innovative understanding of the text, but more importantly, it is a psychological one. Although it seems clear that Judah did not mean to set a precedent with his actions regarding Joseph, his children learned from his behavior nonetheless.

Echoes of Eden is a fascinating, captivating work. It combines multiple threads of Torah tradition to create a multicolored royal cloth. Whether you purchase it to serve as a weekly Shabbat table companion or to read at once, it is sure to be a rewarding experience.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Value of Negative-Learning

Today I read Feel-Bad Education and Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling by Alfie Kohn. It's an excellent book and I largely agree with his philosophy of education. One excerpt I particularly enjoyed is reproduced below.


So how is it that some folks emerge with an understanding that traditional education is unhealthy for children and other living things, and with some insight about why that's true (and what might make more sense instead), and with a commitment to show the rest of us a better way? How did they get here from there?

I suspect the key is a phenomenon that might be called "negative learning," in which people regard an unfortunate situation as a change to figure out what not to do. They sit in awful classrooms and pay careful attention because they know they're being exposed to an enormously useful anti-model. They say to themselves, "Here is someone who has a lot to teach me about how not to treat children." Some people perfect this art of negative learning while they're still in those environments; others do it retrospectively, questioning what was done to them earlier even if they never thought- or were unable- to do so before. Some people do it on their own; others need someone to lend them the lens that will allow them to look at things that way.

Of course, a mind-numbing, spirit-killing school experience doesn't reliably launch people into self-actualization, intellectual curiosity, or a career in alternative education. If it did, we'd want everyone to live through that. Nontraditional educators had to beat the odds, and they've set themselves the task of improving those odds for other children, creating places where the learning doesn't have to be by negative example.

I want new teachers to see progressive education at its best. I want them to spend as much time as possible in a place where they can watch seasoned educators work with children rather than doing things to them, helping those children to make sense of ideas and create opportunities to discover answers to their own questions, striving to shield them from stultifying mandates handed down from on high. It's hard enough to walk into a classroom on wobbly legs and face a roomful of students for the first time; if at all possible, you want to have had a few caring role models who take intellectual inquiry- and kids- seriously.

But if apprentice teachers find themselves instead in a place where test scores drive the instruction and students are essentially bullied into doing whatever they're told, then it helps to be able to think, "What a memorable display of lousy pedagogy and disrespect for children! I need to take careful notes so, when it's my turn, I can do exactly the opposite." Again, they'll need plenty of help: People can't just will themselves into being proficient progressive teachers. Still, construing a bad classroom as an opportunity for negative learning may jump-start the process, and the same trick can help people who are forced to deal with autocratic administrators, arrogant advisors, or even abusive parents.

How do some among us manage to perform this heuristic alchemy, adopting a constructive mental set even though others who are similarly situated end up just feeling lousy about themselves and about education? My hunch is that it reflects a confluence of environment and personality. Maybe the environment has to be really dreadful, as opposed to merely dull- but at the same time must include a glimpse of something better so it's clear what's missing. People need to know from experience that schools or teachers or families don't have to be like this.

The personality part, meanwhile, probably should include equal measures of assertiveness (including a contrarian spirit and a dash of up-yours rebelliousness) and empathy. The contribution of the former is obvious, but the latter is no less importantly. Some people suffer through the indignity or even brutality of being a newbie somewhere- a fraternity, a medical residency, whatever- and then, once they've attained a little seniority, turn around and abuse the new arrivals. They may derive a certain satisfaction from watching others suffer. They may even convince themselves that having been treated like dirt was somehow good for them. (Beware of anyone who rationalizes and reproduces emotional violence with phrases like "character building" or "tough love.")

But other people- the ones we're looking for- are those who say "I want to work to change this system so others will be spared what was done to me." They have the compassion and the courage to shake up the status quo and denounce cruel traditions. They've mastered the art of negative learning and developed a commitment to making the world, or at least whatever part of it they come to inhabit, a better place than it was before they got there.


Bingo. That's why I'm going to be an excellent teacher.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Other Side of Creativity

The Rav speaks of man's creative capacity, his unlimited ability to partner with God and also his ability to recreate himself and form a new 'I.'

The Rav does not speak about the other side of creativity. But Henri Nouwen does.
    Nuclear man is the man who realizes that his creative powers hold the potential for self-destruction. He sees that in this nuclear age vast new industrial complexes enable man to produce in one hour that which he labored over for years in the past, but he also realizes that these same industries have disturbed the ecological balance and, through air and noise pollution, have contaminated his own milieu. He drives in cars, listens to the radio and watches TV, but has lost his ability to understand the workings of the instruments he uses. He sees such an abundance of material commodities around him that scarcity no longer motivates his life, but at the same time he is groping for a direction and asking for meaning and purpose. In all this he suffers from the inevitable knowledge that his time is a time in which it has become possible for man to destroy not only life but also the possibility of rebirth, not only man but also mankind, not only periods of existence but also history itself. For nuclear man the future has become the only option.

    All those who create have the potential to destroy. The Rav addresses only the positive side of creativity, the Teshuva process. What about those who destroy Teshuva? Can one destroy the possibility of rebirth? Did Aher do that? Were his powers so immense that he in fact destroyed Teshuva as a concept when it came to him?

    If creativity holds the power- perhaps even the lure- of self-destruction, how is the creative being to act? What prevents him from remaining forever in a position of fear, scared witless?

    Perhaps it takes great courage to choose to do anything, fraught as that thing may be with the potential for evil. Perhaps the effort of choosing is the beginning of a fearful journey. Perhaps when our texts say that we all have free will, what it really means is that we can choose to create or to destroy, and our life is lived in that manner. Hence the statements that he who comes to purify himself is helped by God, while he who comes to sin is also helped by God. Also the statement that all is in God's power except the Fear of Heaven. What we value and revere is an expression of our secret self and it is that self who determines what to do with its creativity, the mark they leave on the world.


    I was watching "The Glee Project" and saw that Cameron Mitchell quit because the show wasn't jiving with his faith and convictions. Here's an article about it.

    He's quoted in this article as saying:

    “It’s very tough because I do have beliefs and I do have my faith, and in some ways that does make me very different from other people. There are lines that other people will cross, and that’s OK to them, but to me—I’m just different, I just believe in different things. There are certain things that I’m willing to do on video shoots, but when it comes to the kissing, that was really hard for me. That’s just how I was raised, you know?

    “My parents weren’t crazy-strict religious people. I won’t hit people on the head with a Bible, but I live by example and just try to be the best guy I can be. I have morals, and if it’s something that I feel like is crossing the line, then I’m not afraid to stand up. If you don’t stand up for something, then you’ll never stand up for anything. I just feel like that’s just what I had to do.”

    Just wanted to say how impressive that is. A 20-year-old kid walking away from the Western all-American dream. The contrast between this kid and Esther Petrack (just for choosing to be on ANTM, nothing else) is striking.

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    A Very Poor Reason to Marry

    Did I ever love Noam? It's a question I've considered continuously these past months. Did I ever love anything beyond his position in that special world, the only world that's ever mattered to me? Did I ever, even back then, focus on the person who occupied that position? I know I never considered the person behind the genius- if there was such a person. Noam's personal identity was, at least for me, entirely absorbed by his genius. All the properties he had were defined in relation to his genius. But that would be okay, wouldn't it? If one can love someone for the curve of her nose or thigh, the charm of his laugh or his manner of smoking, why can't one love someone for his genius?

    Yes, I understood when Noam spoke of the power of his work. I had always thought of intelligence as power, the supreme power. Understanding is not the means of mastery, but the end itself (see Spinoza). This belief, pushed through the dark channels of the libido, emerged as the determinant of my sexual preferences. I am only attracted to men who I believe to be more intelligent than I am. A detected mistake in logic considerably cools my desire. They can be shorter, they can be weaker, they can be poorer, they can be meaner, but they must be smarter. For the smart are the masters in my mattering region. And if you gain power over them, then through the transitivity of power you too are powerful.

    And how is it given to a woman to dominate but through sex? Through sex a woman gains control over a man's body that he himself lacks; she can move him in ways he cannot move himself. And she invades and takes over his consciousness, reducing it to a sense of its own embodiment (see Sartre). Sex is essentially the same game for men and for women, but for women, most of whom are otherwise powerless, it assumes a life-filling significance. La femme fatale, la belle dame sans merci, is an otherwise impotent person who has perfected her one strength to an unusual degree.

    I have always loved in terms of power. Does this mean I've never loved? Does one love only if one loves for the right reasons? Are there right reasons? I don't know. But if I ever loved Noam, I Loved him that evening, on a train riding into Vienna, as he talked of his power, and feeling his, I felt my own. Since I can do no good because a woman/ Reach constantly at something that is near it.

    ~The Mind-Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein, pages 95-96


    Consider: A woman's low self-esteem leads her to devise a "mattering map" in which she determines that her self-worth and the way in which she matters is only linked to the relationships she's in, the people she loves or is close to and those she has "power over" (in a sexual way). In order to matter, the woman enslaves a man to her sexually and gets him to marry her (and is especially excited because he's a genius). Despite her clear psychological problems, she never gets treatment. And (spoilers here) when her husband is discovered to have lost his genius, she mourns him but then stays with him out of pity and compassion (but not, it would appear, out of love). A rather disappointing and depressing book.

    Friday, August 12, 2011

    We Eat Lighter Fuel for Fun

    You may have guessed by now that Heshy and I are superhuman.

    What you may not have guessed is exactly why.

    You see, we decided for health reasons and various reasons that we would switch over to using olive oil in recipes. And my parents had bought us this huge jug of olive oil for Chanukah. So it stands to reason that not being wasteful, we should just start using that for cooking, no?

    But then it occurred to me one day that this olive oil was made especially to light Chanukah Menorahs.

    Which means it might have added ingredients to make stuff burn like for example...lighter fluid?

    But don't worry! I did not react with fear or woe! Only excitement!

    Tis Heshy & Chana- and WE CAN EAT LIGHTER FLUID AND NOT DIE.


    Wednesday, August 10, 2011

    Repugnant Nonsense

    A little nonsense is a dangerous thing.

    The problem with this whole new culture of texts is that people take these texts out of context, publish them and then turn them into gospel. This is especially true when these statements were made in a certain era (the 1970s, for instance) and yet people try to apply them to 2011.

    Case in point: I recently read some excerpts from Questions & Answers: Thursday Nights with Rabbi Avigdor Miller which were simply horrific. Horrific, I say. And to prove that to you, I produce them below.

    From pages 70-71:

    Q: Is college muttar for parnassah?

    A: I'm not going to pasken any sha'alah. I'll tell you this. I had to go to college recently. I went to Brooklyn College to help protest against making this shelter in our neighborhood. [The City was trying to establish a shelter in the neighborhood, which would have brought undesirable elements into the community-Ed]. It was a protest meeting. As I walked in, I smelled a terrible odor. The place poshut had a Reiach Ra. It stank! The whole college had a terrible odor. It smelled bad. You really need a gas mask when you go into college! There's no place in America that smells as bad as a college. If you go to a place of the Mafia, a Mafia den, the Mafia den is perfume compared to a college! I mean it. It's not an exaggeration. Therefore, if a person has to go to a college, let's say he's a plumber, and he's going to a college to fix the plumbing there, and he has to walk in, he should hold his nose. He can't help himself. It's his Parnasah. He has to go there. But to go there and allow yourself to be dunked in their toilet, that's a different story. You want to be dunked in their toilet for Parnasah, I'm not telling you what to do. Go to your rebbe. He knows you better. Let him pasken for you. I wouldn't pasken that. I should pasken if you should dunk your head in a full toilet for Parnasah? It's too much, that I should be able to tell you that! (#852)

    From Page 170:

    Q: The Rav said a person shouldn't look for a shidduch with a girl who has a career. What's the reason for that?

    A: A "career girl" is not the best shidduch, and let me explain. If a girl tries to learn some kind of an Omanut to make a living to support a ben Torah, yes. That's not a "career girl." She's looking for a zechus of having a husband who will devote himself to learning. I don't say how long he should learn. Whatever it is, it's a meritorious thing. But if a girl is interested in a career for herself, you should know, there's always a probability that she's going to be a very self assertive kind of a girl, a girl who thinks she's very important. And too much importance nobody should have, not even a man. Therefore, I know from experience that "career girls" are not the very best matches. If a girl tries to learn some kind of an Omanut for the purpose of supporting a ben Torah, that's not a "career girl." (E-209)

    From page 174:

    Q: Is it worthwhile to go to speeches by frum psychiatrists on Chinuch HaBanim?

    A: If you want advice on Chinuch HaBanim, go to Mechanchim, go to Talmidei Chachamim. Don't go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist. They get paid for it and they will welcome you, and you keep on coming and coming. One visit is followed by another visit. As long as you have insurance, they are willing to welcome you. Go to people that know the subject. The truth is, marriage counselors are of no use if they're not elderly Chachamim or elderly rebbetzins. Only they can help you. But regular marriage counselors only have a diploma and no experience. Many of them are divorced themselves, by the way. Many are divorced. Emily Post, who wrote for years and years in the newspapers about advice for marriage things, she was divorced and never got married again. So it's a waste of time and a waste of money. There are people who can advise you. Find out who they are, and ask people who are in chinuch: roshei yeshivos, people who were once Mechanchim. They will be able to tell you real practical advice (#E-206)


    If I wish to be charitable, I will say Rabbi Miller's points of view are limited by the time period in which he wrote them (the 1970s). But whether he intended it or not, I am sure there are people who are going to take them to heart today because plenty of people just follow whatever they read in some book with a picture of a man in a beard on it.

    So let me say the following:

    1) For the pure of heart, college need not be something to fear
    2) Career girls are often the best girls
    3) Therapists can do amazing things and really heal the soul that was damaged and irreparably hurt by mussar and by cruel religious people and Rabbis, and marriage counselors (including and sometimes especially secular ones) can transform marriages, sometimes specifically because they are young/ relatable

    And anyone who takes R' Miller's view in such situations is aligning himself with the side of repugnant nonsense. And also possibly of actual harm.

    Tuesday, August 09, 2011

    And Beyond

    Please note that I didn't hear this story directly from the Rosh Yeshiva but rather from someone who heard it from him. Therefore, the statements R' Shmulevitz made are paraphrased and any mistakes are mine.

    In one of the Kinnot we say, we mention that nobody could persuade God to have mercy upon the Jews until He came to our foremother Rachel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob- none of them could change God's mind. But when it came to Rachel, God threw out the scale of measurement and justice.

    Why? Because Rachel had an unshakable argument. "I took my tzarah into my own house by giving Yaakov the signs when it was Leah who was with him," she said. "I thought I lost my future then. It had been apportioned that Leah was to be Esau's and I was to be Jacob's. Now Esau would be my lot. But I did it anyway."

    R' Aaron Lopiansky explained that when one does this and is maavir al midosav, goes beyond that which is expected in such a way, there can be no judgement. God throws out the scale because Rachel herself threw out the scale in her actions.

    During the Six Day War, when R' Lopiansky was in The Mir, the yeshiva was situated on a street where it was right near the Jordan border. Therefore, it was shelled. The bochurim shook in their basement/bunker and hoped that they would survive.

    When the war was over and the Mir building and its yeshiva had remained intact, some of the students asked R' Chaim Shmulevitz (then the Rosh Yeshiva) in what merit they were saved. Was it because of the Torah learning? The fact that the students were kind to one another?

    "No, it was none of these things," answered R' Shmulevitz. "Next to the Mir there lives a woman, a woman who is very bitter and griefstricken. The husband of her youth, who claimed to love her and who married her, walked out on her, leaving her an agunah. She had no children and she had no way to remarry. All those who saw her knew that she was an agunah, and worse, that she was one whose husband had left her deliberately. All her days, she walked around with this cloud of grief, bitterness, resentment and humiliation over her head. She was very unhappy.

    "When the shelling started, she came to hide in the Mir bunker. She didn't have one of her own. And she said to God, 'God, I'm forgiving my husband now. And if I can forgive my husband, You can forgive us whatever each one of us has done so that we can live.' She's the one who saved the Mir Yeshiva."

    When you are maavir al midoseich, when you throw out the scale, God has no choice but to do the same.


    I have always been attracted to magic and fantasy books.

    I realized today the reason why.

    It is because I am a magician.

    I have the power to imbue objects with holiness and also to imbue them with impurity.

    My actions directly impact and affect my own fate and possibly even the fate of others.

    I can uplift sparks that have fallen to earth.

    And to accomplish these things, I must live a rigorously defined and delineated life, in which my diet, dress, habits, thoughts and desires are strictly controlled.

    I am one of the chosen, one of those born with the gift of magic. Is it Lily's fault that it was she and not Petunia who was allowed access to Hogwarts? Should Lily then apologize for being chosen? I think not.

    It is a gift, but like all gifts, its use is disciplined. Its cost is high. And its power is astonishing.

    When we teach our children and they recoil at being told they are Jews and chosen and therefore must obey the laws of the Torah, let us frame it a different way.

    Let us tell them they are wizards and witches and therefore must listen to Dumbledore. At least if they wish to have any hope of defeating Voldemort. And they must trust in him, no matter how maligned he may be.

    They will be challenged along the way. But that is how it should be.

    Only in overcoming oneself (for Harry, dying when he wishes to live) does one achieve greatness.

    Your path is the path of justice and also of salvation.

    When you are born into this world, the question is...will you rise to the occasion?

    Will you be a magician- or not?

    Too many throw away their gift, overcome by the long, hard years it takes to master it, the rigorous control and discipline, the difficult tests, the arduous work. They determine that the cultivation of their gift is not worth the effort. They have not yet met the Alannas of the world.

    Be an Alanna. Nurture your gift.