Monday, March 28, 2011

Today's Challenge: The Psych Ward

You and I wake up in a psychiatric ward together. Using four words, what would you say to me?

(The funnier or wittier your entry is, the happier I am.)

Hat-Tip: Ely Winkler

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Doesn't Bode Well...Or It's The Dawn of a New Era

President Joel unleashed a bit of news that has the YU community buzzing. In his words:
    For two years now, we have been advancing the agenda of how best to provide undergraduate education for all of our students. We call that re-imagining. We have accelerated this process with the appointment of Professor Lawrence Schiffman as Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, just a few weeks ago. We are now prepared to begin implementing what will be a multi-year course of action. The first step will be to take maximum advantage of all of our strengths by organizing the Stern College, Sy Syms School and Yeshiva College faculties into one Yeshiva University undergraduate faculty that will allow us to provide the highest quality education for our students with greater strength, flexibility, creativity and inter-disciplinary collaboration.
Yeshiva University is now going to have one core faculty that will service all three schools. Why would this be happening? Offhand, it seems like there are a couple of reasons.

1. It may indeed be useful to have one excellent core faculty that services all three schools so that there is a certain continuity in being a YU student, no matter the campus

2. Budget cuts and layoffs mean that extraneous faculty need to be let go

The problem with this potential initiative is that there are teachers who have specifically told us, during the course of their teaching at YU, that while they had taught for some time at the uptown campus, their responsibilities are such that they can no longer manage to do that, teach at Stern and also fulfill their other obligations. I hope this announcement does not mean that these excellent teachers will now be mandated to teach at both places, or else they will be let go.

Other students have been reading this announcement as signaling the dawn of a new era where the Sy Syms School of Business will be disbanded and business degrees will instead be offered through Stern College or Yeshiva College.

It's your turn to join the guessing game...what do you think these words portend?

Hat-Tip: Titian-Haired Goddess

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little bit harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making me a fighter
Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter

-"Fighter" by Christina Aguilera


For most of my life, I've perceived myself as a victim. I have been acted upon, not the one who is acting. My choices have largely been responses to situations which I was forced into. I have long identified with victims in films and in works of literature. This is largely the reason that I empathize with, root for and value the underdog, outcast, ugly, cast away or beast. My fascination has been with others who have been acted upon- battered women, abused children, rape victims, those who have been bullied or otherwise harmed by the authority figures in their lives.

It's also the reason that I love Lisbeth Salander. Though a victim, Salander stands up for herself. She defies all conventional norms and places herself in a position where she will win against the odds. She's a true-blooded fighter.

Though I admired Salander, I didn't feel like I had much in common with her. For one thing, I am very aware of my fears and weaknesses. I know that physical altercations scare me more than they thrill me. Physical pain is my nightmare. Conflict frustrates me unless I have written proof that demonstrates I am correct, in which case I can resolve the situation. I am frightened of people who yell at me and mostly just want them to stop.

That's why it surprised me when someone close to me mentioned that they thought of me as a fighter. To me, bravery and courage are words reserved for people who run into burning buildings to rescue children. The mental and emotional kinds don't really register on my radar. Oddly, they register when I reflect on anybody else's struggles; I am the only exception to my own rule. Perhaps that's what this person meant. It's harder to stand up for what's right when you're trembling than it is when you have a congenital defect that makes you immune to pain.

Long live the trembling fighters.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Megillah Observations

In Heshy's honor, because he asked me to post about this before Purim was out.


In Esther 6:13 we read יג וַיְסַפֵּר הָמָן לְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ, וּלְכָל-אֹהֲבָיו, אֵת, כָּל-אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ; וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ חֲכָמָיו וְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ, אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר הַחִלּוֹתָ לִנְפֹּל לְפָנָיו לֹא-תוּכַל לוֹ--כִּי-נָפוֹל תִּפּוֹל, לְפָנָיו.

13 And Haman recounted unto Zeresh his wife and all his friends every thing that had befallen him. Then said his wise men and Zeresh his wife unto him: 'If Mordecai, before whom thou hast begun to fall, be of the seed of the Jews, thou shalt not prevail against him, but shalt surely fall before him.

Note how Haman's downfall actually occurs. In Esther 7:8 we read

ח וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶל-בֵּית מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן, וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַל-הַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ, וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ, הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶת-הַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת; הַדָּבָר, יָצָא מִפִּי הַמֶּלֶךְ, וּפְנֵי הָמָן, חָפוּ. 8

Then the king returned out of the palace garden into the place of the banquet of wine; and Haman was fallen upon the couch whereon Esther was. Then said the king: 'Will he even force the queen before me in the house?' As the word went out of the king's mouth, they covered Haman's face.

When Haman falls upon the couch to beg for his life, the king misinterprets this as an attempt to conquer/ rape/ seduce the queen. Therefore, he angrily determines Haman must be punished, sealing Haman's fate of falling before Mordechai.

As a second observation, every time Haman talks to Zeresh he also talks to all his "loved ones." Only at the last does the verse say he speaks to Zeresh and his "wise ones." This would suggest either there are two different groups of people or somehow the loved ones transformed into wise ones. Anyone familiar with commentaries on this?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: The Queen You Thought You Knew

Disclaimer: I work for the Orthodox Union and this book was published by OU Press. I received a review copy which I did not have to pay for. While I do not think this affects my judgment, you should keep it in mind when you read this post.

Rabbi David Fohrman's book The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther's Hidden Story is an easy-to-read, engaging, compelling and thoughtful work. However, I think some of his points are not shored up as much as they could be or require a stretch of the imagination to accept. My favorite part of the book (it was divided into three sections) was 'Deja Vu All Over Again' which focused on the connections between Esther, Judah and Benjamin. Honestly, the book is worth buying for that last section alone.

So which parts did I think needed work? Well, here's one.
    The queen, as object of beauty, is almost like a statue- a statue of the new Persia. We have a statue like that in modern times, too, right here in the United States, a female statue that embodies the aspirations, values, nobility and beauty of our people; a statue that boldly and elegantly invites poor, huddled masses to find shelter beneath her outstretched arm. That statue strikes a resonant chord for most Americans. It means something to them. Americans do not think it strange to harbor a visceral, emotional attachment to Lady Liberty (37).


    Here's a theory: Maybe it was Esther's refusal to talk about where she came from that helped endear her to the king. In the wake of the Vashti debacle, the king sought a girl who would succeed where his last wife failed, a girl who would be everything Vashti was unable or unwilling to be. The king was looking for a woman who would effortlessly and unreservedly slip into the role of Mother Persia, who would happily and convincingly become the feminine symbol of his new empire. As such, Esther's recalcitrance might well have been alluring. Every time Esther changed the subject when the king asked here where she was from, she would have played into the king's dream-like vision of the perfect queen: an utterly stateless girl, a woman who completely transcended whatever local or provincial identity that fate had bequeathed her. Every time she smiled and said: "Why do you ask me so much about my past? Let's talk about the future" - she would have seemed more and more like precisely the woman he was looking for. Esther could be from anywhere- or everywhere. Esther brimmed with possibility. She could be anything he wanted her to be (39).
Rabbi Fohrman then goes on to suggest that because Esther had carefully shrouded her identity in order to fit into this Mother Persia identity, she was taking a great risk in connecting herself with the Jews.

The problems with this approach are multi-faceted. Here are a few:

1. After dismissing Vashti from the post of Queen, the King sent out certain letters declaring that "every man should bear rule in his own house, and speak according to the language of his people." If Achashveirosh really has plans of having all the nations come together under a Mother Persia motif, it makes no sense for him to order that all his subjects ought to speak the language of their particular people. Rather, they all ought to speak the language Achashveirosh speaks, whatever that might be. Clearly, the provinces and locales having their own individual identities is not something that Achashveirosh sees as a threat.

2. Esther tells the King in Mordechai's name about the plot to murder him. Hence the King is aware that Esther has some sort of association with Mordechai, who is a clear Jew. True, it could be simply that of a Queen and a subject. But Esther's servants realize that is not so. This is obvious from Esther 4:4. Though Esther may not have explicitly told anyone that she is a Jew, her maidens and chamberlains see Mordechai the Jew in sackcloth and immediately come to tell her. Thus it is clear that they may have had some inkling that she cares for the Jews. You see she is not hiding it when she sends Hathach, a chamberlain the king appointed and thus someone who might report to the king, to speak with Mordechai.

3. The Lady Liberty analogy is not apt and in fact hurts R' Fohrman's point. The idea of a melting pot of cultures which all come together and share with one another under one 'American' label is a uniquely modern one. To try to apply a concept from the future to the past seems to speak to an innacurate understanding of history. While it's certain that people were subsumed into their host cultures in the past, this very much varied depending on who the conqueror was and how strong their presence was throughout the empire. It seems clear from the Megillah Achashveirosh is not this sort of king; he doesn't favor his provinces all becoming alike or emulating his culture alone. He doesn't see diversity as a threat so long as his subjects are all still loyal to him as King, something which is not necessarily connected with viewing the queen as 'Mother Persia.'

It falls to R' Fohrman to address these questions to the reader's satisfaction in order to support his hypothesis. He does not do so; thus I remain unconvinced. The subsequent portion of the book that tried to persuade me that Esther was in grave danger when she seemed to be giving up her Mother Persia identity did not speak to me because of this.

The second point R' Fohrman makes addresses the language Mordechai uses when speaking to Esther and where we have seen it before. He connects statements and concepts like "na'arah," a married woman, guidance concerning relationship with a spouse, the "na'arah" being in her father's house, silence and a short window of time to a passage in Tanakh. I will not tell you which one because that would ruin a fun 'Eureka!' moment for you. His drush on the passage is interesting but weak because it requires removing a very important mapik hei in order for it to work. This removal changes the entire word to mean something different. As any Dr. Steiner Biblical Hebrew survivor will tell you, removing mapik heis to make up Torah is nice, but midrashic and doesn't seem to be the most solid way to give over a point.

So where does R' Fohrman outdo himself? In the last portion of the book. Here is where R' Fohrman comes into his own, connecting the story of Purim to a long-forgotten tale that took place in Egypt. In this tale, Benjamin was allowed to venture into the lion's den by his father, Jacob, who stated, "And if he is lost, he is lost." Curiously parallel words to those of Esther, who also states, "And if I am lost, I am lost." However, Judah comes to the rescue, defending Benjamin and offering to become a slave in his place. Ever wonder about the constant emphasis on Mordechai Ha-Yehudi in The Megillah? R' Fohrman explains that Yehudi in this context actually refers to the exiles of the Southern Kingdom, the Kingdom of Judah. This is a story of redemption and rectification. Esther, who hails from the tribe of Benjamin, is going to save her brethren, the Yehudim, in thanks to Judah who saved Benjamin all those many years ago. This last, poignant, breathtaking point, presented with many word and sentence parallels and offering a resounding and meaningful new way of looking at the text is what made the book powerful.

So read this book. Learn something new as you sit at your Seudah, sharing Divrei Torah. Take a look at The Megillah with fresh eyes. And enjoy the journey.

To Die Well

יד לֹא-אוּכַל אָנֹכִי לְבַדִּי, לָשֵׂאת אֶת-כָּל-הָעָם הַזֶּה: כִּי כָבֵד, מִמֶּנִּי. 14
I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me.


Purim should be a happy occasion. But in the wake of the murders of the Fogel Family and remembering what happened at Merkaz HaRav years ago, it's hard to focus on that. The children dressed up in their costumes, filled with merriment and gaiety, are just as innocent as the ones who are lying on the floor, their blood spattering the walls.

Sometimes the music in our minds rises to such a fever pitch that it is hard to hear anything but that. I see shadows on children's faces, the superimposed images of others who are dead. Brian Jacques in his series Redwall was the first one to introduce me to the concept of what the dead would have wished for us. Surely the dead would wish us to be happy and glad on this holiday of salvation. And yet they were not saved. How to reconcile the two concepts? How then shall I be glad for the salvation of old when the salvation of new has yet to arrive?

We are so small in the scheme of things. They say the spies were wrong to compare us to grasshoppers, that because they were like grasshoppers in their own eyes, they could not demonstrate the true strength and courage they possessed. But it is difficult to look at us as citizens of a galaxy so vast with anything other than eyes noting our smallness, how little there is of us. We live so quickly. We die so quickly. Of what worth was it? What difference have I made? For what have I lived?

I remember when I was little I used to read The Little Midrash Says and pray that I would die al kiddush Hashem. I thought that was the ultimate test, the ultimate challenge. To die al kiddush Hashem would mean to die having stood up for my principles, my ideals, for everything that mattered to me. It would be to die with dignity.

But when I read articles such as these, I realize that my fear would forbid me from dying this way. The flesh is weak. I'm afraid of pain. I would be scared of knives or guns. I don't know if I would be able to face them down. And so I find myself being oddly jealous of a baby.

What do I mean by that? Well, it's like so. Little Hadas was nearly a newborn, three short months old. She had had no opportunity to sin. And then she died in the holiest way possible, al kiddush Hashem. She has a direct route to God and to Heaven. There will be no purgatory for her, no distancing from God, no shame because of sins she committed. There will be no grief for potential left unfulfilled. She was sent here and then taken to be held in God's holy embrace.

It's not that I wish such a death on anyone. It's not that I am glad, God forbid, that she or her family died. But if one has to die, is that not one of the best ways? To die free of sin, totally pure, in sanctification of God's name? How many of us will be granted such deaths?

It's an aspiration of mine, should the challenge arise: to die well. My heroes and heroines do. Saul, having been told by Samuel that he will die in battle, nerves himself to go walking out into the darkness. He surrenders to God. He bows his head and accepts his fate. He does not flee. He is not Jonah running away from Nineveh.

So too Esther. She walks into the king's inner chambers having dressed herself in royalty. She does not shed a tear. Her walk is noble and she too has surrendered to God. What will be will be. He will determine her fate.

I'd like to die like them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


And she took her heart and a soldering iron
and she cauterized her soul.
It was a stump, a charcoal black.
It smelled scorched. She gagged, then retched.
She seared the crimson quiet.
And then it did something unexpected.
It bled...and bled...and bled...
and wept tears of blood.
She took the torch, turned it on;
tongues of blue flame licked the wound.
But still it bled.

"And the bush was burning and yet it was not consumed."

How You Can Remember the Fogel Family

If you are in NYC, A COMMUNITY MEMORIAL SERVICE FOR THE VICTIMS OF THE MASSACRE IN ITAMAR is taking place THURSDAY, March 17 at 12:00PM NOON at KJ -125 East 85th St (between Park and Lex). Please attend.

If you are not in the New York area or cannot attend, you can watch the live webcast stream at 12PM EST online at this link.

Alternatively, join in Women Unite by Lighting Shabbat Candles in Memory of the Fogel Family.

Alternatively, give Shalach Manot to residents of Itamar through Bnei Akiva. (The daughter who survived had been attending a Bnei Akiva activity, which is why she was not at home when her family was murdered.)

Tizku L'Mitzvot.

My Body is a Cage

Watching "House" is often a religious experience for me. Favorite songs from last night:

-This Night by Black Lab
-My Body is a Cage covered by Peter Gabriel (originally by Arcade Fire)

And here is a very well-written entry on the episode by Lisa Palmer.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fun Ambiguity in Shmuel

In I Samuel 15:35, the verse reads:

לה וְלֹא-יָסַף שְׁמוּאֵל לִרְאוֹת אֶת-שָׁאוּל, עַד-יוֹם מוֹתוֹ, כִּי-הִתְאַבֵּל שְׁמוּאֵל, אֶל-שָׁאוּל; וַיהוָה נִחָם, כִּי-הִמְלִיךְ אֶת-שָׁאוּל עַל-יִשְׂרָאֵל. {פ} 35

And Samuel never beheld Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel mourned for Saul; and the LORD repented that He had made Saul king over Israel. {P}

This verse is ambiguous. Either it could mean:

A) Samuel never beheld Saul again till the day of his death (meaning, Samuel died without seeing Saul again)

B) Samuel never beheld Saul again till Saul's day of death which is supported because of the Witch of En-Dor story where Saul sees Samuel again on the eve of battle. According to Jewish law, the night is the beginning of the day, and hence Samuel seeing Saul that night and telling him that tomorrow, Saul and his three sons would be with him was the equivalent of seeing Saul on the day of his death.

Pagan Religion

Continuing in The Religion of Israel, we focus upon pagan religion and what makes a religion uniquely pagan in scope.


Paganism in all its embodiments
    involve one idea which is the distinguishing mark of pagan thought: the idea that there exists a realm of being prior to the gods and above them, upon which the gods depend and whose decrees they must obey. Deity belongs to, and is derived from, a primordial realm. This realm is conceived of variously- as darkness, water, spirit, earth, sky and so forth- but always as the womb in which the seeds of all being are contained. Alternatively, this idea appears as a belief in a primordial realm beside the gods, as independent and primary as the gods themselves. Not being subject to the gods, it necessarily limits them. The first conception, however, is the fundamental one. This is to say that in the pagan view, the gods are not the source of all that is, nor do they transcend the universe. They are, rather, part of a realm precedent to and independent of them. They are rooted in this realm, are bound by its nature, are subservient to its laws. To be sure, paganism has personal gods who create and govern the world of men. But a divine will, sovereign and absolute, which governs all and is the cause of all being- such a conception is unknown. There are heads of pantheons, there are creators and maintainers of the cosmos, but transcending them is the primordial realm, with its pre-existent, autonomous forces. This is the radical dichotomy of paganism; from it spring both mythology and magic. (Kaufman 21-22)
What is myth?
    Myth is the tale of the life of the gods. In myth the gods appear not only as actors, but as acted upon. At the heart of myth is the tension between the gods and other forces that shape their destinies (Chana paraphrases: for example, fate). (Kaufman 22)
What is magic?
    It is that which the pagan employs in order to "activate the forces of the metadivine" (Kaufman 24) which he must do because the gods themselves derive from a primordial force (hence a "more generalized power") and indeed "call upon forces outside themselves."
Why is being religious/ obedient to the will of the gods not enough for the pagan?
    Because of the mythological nature of [paganism's] gods, because of their subjection to a primordial realm, paganism was necessarily and essentially magical as well. The sphere of the gods, the "religious" sphere, was always qualified by the sphere of powers beyond the gods. It is the mythological character of paganism's gods that provides the framework for its synthesis of magical and religious elements. (Kaufman 24)
What are examples of ways in which the gods are dependent upon that which lies outside them?
    Their need for food and drink (milk from the breasts of goddesses, Indian soma, Germanic mead, the Greek nectar and ambrosia, magical foods and drinks that endow them with special powers, that heal them of sickness, that protect them against evil magic, that rejuvenate them, that act as aphrodisiacs and so forth). There are also magical objects that the gods employ for their needs and that are considered the source of their power. Babylonian "Tables of Destiny," Aphrodite's aphrodisiacal girdle, Hermes' magic wand, magic seals, crystals in which the future can be divined, magic weapons to ward off evil etc. (Kaufman 32)
What rules the gods?
    Necessity: birth, procreation, growth, youth, age, death and the like. In Hindu thought, this is rita, the world order. In Persian, it's asha, with Greeks it's ananke (necessity) or moira (fate). The gods cannot control these things.
What does the wisdom of gods entail?
    Not knowledge of itself and its effect on a world dependant upon it, but rather knowledge of the world and its mysterious properties, in which it only plays a part. (Kaufman 34)

Now let's talk about magic, divination and cult.

Magic, divination and cult are the three forms that practical religion takes in antiquity. The magician usually acts in the name of gods and spirits; his techniques have often been revealed to him by the gods, and he is effective through their power. From this viewpoint, magic may be counted among the phenomena of religion, and the magician regarded as a priest who acts with the sanction and help of a potent god.


But magic may also appear in a "pure" form in rites that have no connection with the will of the gods, but are viewed as automatically effective, or even capable of coercing the gods to do the will of the practitioner. There can be a magical basis even to rites involving an appeal to the gods- when they themselves are conceived as skilled magicians who know the secrets of the universe and how to put them to use. It is this ever present assumption of a realm of forces apart from the gods that makes pagan religion, even in its highest manifestations, amenable to belief in magic.

The distinctive mark of all pagan rituals is that they are not directed toward the will of the gods alone. They call upon self-operating forces that are independent of the gods, and that the gods themselves need and utilize for their own benefit. The ultimate symbol of divine subjection to transcendent powers is the god as magician or as diviner. (Kaufman 40-41)


Divination is often defined as the discovery by various means of the will and decree of the gods. But this definition inadvertently imposes upon paganism a unified view of the universe that is foreign to its essence. It presupposes that both the disclosure (by means of a sign, or prophecy, etc) and the decree (the impending event) stem always from the will of the gods. But paganism was conscious of no such unity, for it did not attribute everything ot the will of the gods. Some events and conditions had nothing to do with the gods; others befell the gods themselves as decrees of overriding fate. Even where they reigned supreme, there was no necessary identity between the god who made decrees and the god who revealed them. Pagan divination does not assume, as a matter of course, that the disclosure to man comes from the same god who determines his destiny. Perhaps the most prevalent concept is that certain gods or spirits, who have a particular faculty for discovering what has been decreed, specialize as contacts with man. (Kaufman 43)


INDUCTIVE DIVINATION- Works by observation of external signs, various phenomena of the external world.

INTUITIVE DIVINATION- The working of an inner power, a special faculty of the soul to foreknow or to see hidden things.

ONEIROMANCY- Characteristically practiced by means of the dream-riddle- while the dream is often a sign sent by the gods, it may also be a causal sign or a spontaneous premonition of things to come.

PROPHECY-Prophecy is a divine attribute in which man can share either by the favor of the gods or by his own magical efforts. It is grounded in a special psychic property which enables its possessor to know hidden things immediately. It is not necessarily dependent upon divine revelation; it may equally well represent a human faculty of sensing hidden things irrespective of the gods.


The characteristic mark of the pagan cult is not its plurality of worshiped beings, but its view of ritual as automatically efficient and intrinsically significant. The cult is not ordained by the supreme, free will of the deity; its end is not merely to express and embody man's adoration. It is rather a system of rites capable in themselves of working good and evil, whose potency derives from the realm above the gods. It sets into motion magical forces inherent in certain substances (the flesh of sacrifices, blood, incense, oil, water, fire, etc) certain activities (gestures, dances, processions, songs, dramas, prayers etc) and certain forms (numbers, figures, series of actions, pictures and symbols.)

There is always a magical element in the pagan cult, even when it aims at propitiating the gods. For the cult is regarded as playing a vital role in the life of the gods. Its purpose is to benefit man, but it achieves this by serving th eneeds of the upper realm. The pagan cult not only invokes the blessings of the gods, it also supports them and strengthens them through its rites.

SACRIFICE AND FESTIVAL- There are two main types. A) Those intended to propitiate and do homage to the gods B) Those that aim at acting upon or influencing hte life of the gods or the cosmos. (Both intentions can sometimes be mingled together.)

THE BATTLE OF GOOD AND EVIL- Paganism regards impurity or demonic evil as an autonomous, baleful realm as primary as the holy and the good. Death, disease, darkness and the host of evil spirits who seek to destroy gods and men are the domain of the unclean. The eternal struggle between these two realms is vividly reflected in the cult.

GODS AS PRIESTS- The fundamental idea of paganism is most strikingly set forth in the notion that the gods use the cult for their own benefit. Nothing illustrates so clearly the intrinsic value of the cult and the gods' dependence upon it (Kaufman 57). Example: Marduk is not only the arch magician, but also the "priest of the gods."

Let's conclude by talking about the pagan way to salvation.

Subjection of both men and gods to a transcendent realm is symbolized by myth and concretized in the cult. This common lot is what gives meaning to the magical, irrational cult; men share in the life and destiny of the gods, imitate their actions and rites, and commemorate events in their lives. These are the mythological foundations upon which the cult is grounded. And yet, it is a prevalent idea that the rites have autonomous value and innate efficacy. The groundwork is thus laid for bypassing the gods to address the ultimate realm upon which they themselves are dependent. This tendency does not represent a "magical stage" of religion; the notion of the intrinsic efficacy of the ritual is sufficient to turn attention to the meta-divine realm, and to arouse efforts to attain salvation directly through it.

The most advanced manifestations of paganism show a tendency to regard man as able to save himself by his own devices. The cult rises above the commonplace concerns of rain, produce, fertility, and victory to the vision of salvation. At this level, man may be viewed as the ally of the gods in their struggle with evil- that is, at bottom, as co-savior with the gods (Zoroastrianism). Or the tendency may be toward the magical, with the cult regarded as a system of rites capable of exalting man to divine rank and thus saving him from evil. Salvation, however, is his own concern, not the gods'; at most, they but help him find the hidden way (Brahmanism). But paganism may attain the philosophic and metaphysical level. Here, salvation is no longer a matter of ritual, but of knowledge of the secrets of being and non-being, life and death. Man liberates himself through his mind and spirit from the prison of the body and dreary cycle of death and rebirth (Gnosticism and Buddhism). The sublimest height is reached in the Platonic doctrine, which teaches man how to redeem himself through attachment to the realm of ideas.

Paganism in all its manifestations thus recognizes a transcendent, metadivine realm. There it seeks the key to the destiny of the world and the salvation of man. (Kaufman 58-59)

Pagan Mythology & Idolatry in the Bible

The Religion of Israel by Yehezkel Kaufmann, translated and abridged by Moshe Greenberg, raises an interesting problem as its premise, namely, how is it that the Bible is filled with attacks on idolatry inasmuch as idolatry is a fetishism (creatures of stone, wood, gold and silver ought not to be worshipped) and yet does not include attacks on the mythology behind paganism? The problem is presented like so on page 20.


The Basic Problem

It seems incredible that Israel should have been totally unaware of the nature of pagan beliefs. For Israel was always in contact with its pagan neighbors, and moreover, had believing pagans in its midst. Certainly there were circles who knew about paganism more than is reflected in the Bible. What is shown by the fact that the Bible bases its whole polemic on the argument of fetishism is that the chief influence of foreign beliefs on Israelite religion did not involve mythological materials and that the age-long battle of the Bible with idolatry did not involve mythological polytheism. This compels us to examine anew the conventional views regarding foreign influences on Israelite religion during biblical times. Moreover, we shall have to re-examine fundamentally the nature of Israelite "idolatry" during this period.

It is clear now that the question as to the origin of Israelite monotheism has been erroneously formulated. We cannot ask whether it was during the preprophetic or prophetic age that the religion of YHWH came to deny the reality of the foreign gods. The Bible nowhere denies the existence of the gods; it ignores them. In contrast to the philosophic attack on Greek popular religion, and in contrast to the later Jewish and Christian polemics, biblical religion shows no trace of having undertaken deliberately to suppress and repudiate mythology. There is no evidence that the gods and their myths were ever a central issue in the religion of YHWH. And yet this religion is non-mythological. Fossil-remains of ancient myths cannot obscure the basic difference between Israelite religion and paganism. It is precisely this non-mythological aspect that makes it unique in world history; this was the source of its universal appeal.

The Bible's ignorance of the meaning of paganism is at once the basic problem and the most important clue to the understanding of biblical religion. It underscores as nothing else can the gulf that separates biblical religion from paganism. A recognition of this gulf is crucial to the understanding of the faith of the Bible. Not only does it underlie the peculiar biblical misrepresentation of paganism, it is the essential fact of the history of the Israelite religion.

This Purim, Remember the Fogel Family

Please join me in creating a memorial for the Fogel Family at your campus or in your community this Thursday, Taanit Esther, for as the heroine Esther said (Esther 8:6): "How can I bear to see the evil that shall come unto my people? Or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?"

Read the details here.

The Fogel Family Murders

כִּי אֵיכָכָה אוּכַל, וְרָאִיתִי, בָּרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר-יִמְצָא אֶת-עַמִּי; וְאֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי, בְּאָבְדַן מוֹלַדְתִּי -
for how can I endure to see the evil that shall come unto my people? or how can I endure to see the destruction of my kindred?

-Esther 8:6


I woke up this morning and cried.
Cried that we live in a world where people can be massacred by Palestinian terrorists.
Cried for the innocent lives that were lost.
Cried because of the horror that is people eating sweets in celebration of these murders.
Cried because the world media has currently all but ignored this story, whereas if it had been a Palestinian family massacred, this would have been all over the news. (See the Prime Minister's amazing speech here.)
Cried because of the evil that exists in our world.
Cried because of these pictures.


These children were no threat to Hamas or any adult. They were murdered because they were Jewish and Israeli and for no other reason than that.

That is what evil looks like.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ash Wednesday

This past Wednesday, as I was wandering around New York on my way to my job, I noticed that many people had ash marking their foreheads.

Of course, my first reaction to this was, "Squee! They're all Chasidim getting married!" It's a Chasidish custom to mark the groom's head with ashes.

Upon taking a closer look, however, I realized that a lot of these people had ashes in the shape of a cross marking their forehead. At which point I realized it was Ash Wednesday, not everybody's wedding day.

In other exciting news, hamentash-packaging for former NCSY and JSU participants is just peachy.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Holly's a B*tch

On "Sexy," the latest episode of Glee:

Rachel: My choice is to be celibate.
Holly: I respect your choice. I think you're naive and frigid, but I respect your choice.

So the sex-ed teacher calls any teenager who isn't having sex naive (because there's no possible way they could survive high school without having sex) and frigid (not a sensual creature), both of which are incredibly insulting. It's also ridiculous that the assumption is that every teenager must be a slave to their desires, especially their sexual ones, and has absolutely no control over their behavior.

Then there's Emma, who hasn't consummated her marriage yet. Holly tells her, "My lips are your legs."

Is this supposed to be funny? Are we meant to be entertained by watching people get smacked down on television? There's a difference between the Holly character and the Sue Sylvester character in that Holly is meant to be relatable and fun. Sue is not. So when Sue says incredibly awful things, it's okay because that's just Sue. Plus, she usually has a different type of awfulness, one which has glimpses of humanity like when she told Kurt that she didn't think bullying was okay or when she voted for the McKinley High Glee club at Regionals. Sue's awfulness comes from her agenda and her need to put herself, her career and Cheerios first, damn the consequences. Holly isn't like that and hence her comments are a lot worse.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Noi Due vs. My Most Favorite Food

Last night, my husband and I went on an outing. As we happened to be on the Upper West Side, I suggested we stop by Noi Due for drinks and cake to conclude our evening. When the maitre'd welcomed us, I told her that's all we were planning to order and she seated us. I was mulling over my cinammon-flecked apple cider while Heshy enjoyed an orange fruit juice when our whiskey cake arrived. It had all the makings of an enjoyable evening.

Except the waitress rushed us and thereby ruined my night.

I understand why she rushed us. We weren't ordering a full meal. We weren't incredibly rich. We weren't going to tip her so much simply because we weren't ordering appetizers, wine, entrees and then dessert. But we're still people, we're still customers, and we have the right so sit at our table for at least twenty minutes without being constantly disturbed by questions of, "Perhaps you want an appetizer?" when I clearly said I did not and the bill being presented after ten minutes with an annoying, chirpy "Whenever you're ready" which was repeated once more within the next three minutes. This was especially annoying because there were two empty tables ready and waiting for the next pair of interested customers. Thus, it's not as though we were taking up valuable space at a peak time.

In contrast to this, I have always had wonderful experiences at My Most Favorite Food, even when I only ordered one slice of cake. The waiters are solicitous and friendly. They never rush me, push me around or otherwise make me feel unwanted. Whether I've ordered an expensive full meal or the one slice of cake, they treat me well. The first time I met Heshy we stayed there for hours, talking over our cake.

There are many industries in which it pays to build up customer loyalty. Hairdressers, manicurists and spa estheticians know this. Even though a manicure may cost a mere $7-$10, if I enjoy my experience, I will come back again. Had I enjoyed my experience at Noi Due, I might have made my drinks-and-cake outing a weekly experience. Had I enjoyed the service rendered by that particular waitress, I would have asked to be served by her again. But she was only interested in us in context of this one meal. She didn't bother to consider the past or the future. If she had, she would have realized:

- Just because I happen not to be ordering a full meal today does not mean I have not done so in the past and would not do so in the future. In fact, I have spent a fortune of money at Noi Due and have recommended it to many friends. If I had had a positive experience, I would continue to do so.

-For all she knows, one day I may become incredibly wealthy and dine here all the time. A little bit of kindness and sweetness now would have earned her a potentially wealthy customer for later. (Cue scene from "Pretty Woman" when Richard Gere accompanies Julia Roberts to the shops that wouldn't allow her to purchase items before, deliberately doesn't buy clothing from them and lets them contemplate what they lost.)

I know that there are many wealthy Jews in New York, and thus the seemingly small loss of a student couple's business doesn't really faze restaurant owners. But I think it should. You lose nothing by being kind to someone, and in the long run, you might gain something. Disgruntled customers, even if they're just students, aren't good for your business. Especially when they decide that from now on, they'll be eating by your competition.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Spiritual Self-Destruction, Gay Pride & Identity

We were sitting outside of a coffee shop. My friend was angry with me. I was pleading with him. "Don't you understand the need for compassion?" I questioned, filled with righteous fervor. "These are people who are truly struggling and who need a voice, an outlet for expression. They need others to understand who they are. Too many people are homophobic, hating homosexuality and homosexuals rather than simply acknowledging that it is a Torah prohibition. There's a line between those two points of view. These are people in pain."

"They can be in pain," my friend replied, "and there are many Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbanim who will be happy to speak to them about their pain. I just don't understand why it has to be made public. What's wrong with the don't-ask-don't-tell policy? This is a private matter. Why not speak to someone who can help them handle their emotions privately?"

"For one thing," I replied, "that doesn't help the student body. The student body as a whole has to realize that this is a real issue which friends of theirs are struggling with. They need to be more careful about who they judge and how they judge them. They have to understand that a Torah prohibition is a Torah prohibition, but it doesn't mean that anyone with homosexual feelings should be viewed through a lens of disgust."

"It's breaking a barrier," he warned. "To make this issue public is to be poretz the geder. Soon, not only will the issue be about Jews with homosexual feelings needing compassion, but it will be about larger matters. Gay pride, for instance. It's not going to stay contained."

Back then, I couldn't see eye to eye with my friend. Unfortunately, today I think I can.

There's a difference between understanding and support. To understand the dilemma of a person who is Orthodox who finds himself attracted to members of the same gender when the Torah states clearly that a man may not lie with a man as he does with a woman is important. It is necessary in order to understand the difficulty and pain that lies on this person's path, to treat them gently and with respect.

That does not suddenly mean that their every choice is okay. That to understand them is to support their conception of gay identity or gay pride. That their mentioning which men they find attractive in casual conversation is ideal. That their attendance at He'bro events is acceptable.

The concept of sin is a complicated one. Sin, as explained in various commentaries, is that which draws us away from God and closer to spiritual darkness. It is a form of spiritual cancer, eating away at the soul. To long to commit sins is part of human nature; after all, the heart of a man longs for evil from his youth. But that's not something to be proud of.

Someone who is struggling with being gay while also being Orthodox is similar, at least from the religious perspective, to someone struggling with other self-destructive tendencies. Obviously, a man being sexually attracted to another man is not obviously self-destructive in the way that anorexia, cutting or alcohol addiction may be. Those are all destructive patterns that affect the physical body, and thus are easier to spot. Yet from a religious point of view, to act upon one's gay feelings and really, to commit any sin- is to act in a self-destructive manner as you distance yourself from God.

People who struggle with a difficulty like this need support groups, which is why AA exists, anorexics are treated with a full team of specialized doctors and cutters have groups like S.A.F.E Alternatives. So it makes sense to organize support groups, speakers and forums. But that's very different from pride. Gay pride makes as much sense as anorexic pride, alcoholic pride or self-injuring pride if you really believe that to act on one's gay feelings is a sin. Gay identity is also odd from this perspective. Firstly, it seems shallow- is that really all that can be said about you- that your sexual orientation is gay? But worse, at least from a religious perspective, you're defining yourself by a potential sin you want to commit. It would make as much sense as my declaring that my identity is as a person who has the desire to touch my husband even when that is forbidden due to my status as a niddah. Why define myself by the sins I may long to commit?

What this means is one of three things. Either those who have feelings for those of the same gender and choose to "celebrate their gay identity" and support gay pride

a) don't really believe that to act on one's gay feelings is a sin which distances them from God, a spiritually self-destructive behavior

b) think that a feeling is different from an action and they can take pride in their desire to commit a sin as long as they don't commit the actual sin

c) simply haven't thought the matter through.

I support the struggle of those who are gay and who simultaneously wish to remain Orthodox Jews. I think it makes sense that they may wish to be acknowledged openly and allowed to speak at open forums, to meet others who are similarly struggling. I don't support the casual or cavalier attitude that may potentially follow, however. I don't think it's appropriate to consistently identify oneself as a potential sinner or cheer that process on. I wouldn't support that for any individual- I don't think it would be good or healthy for people to introduce themselves as 'Rena who wants to break the harchakos' or 'Talia who wants to eat treif' or 'Dina who wants to marry a non-Jew.' I don't think one's defining identity should appear within the context of potential sin. And I don't think it should be assumed that unless one supports this identity and pride in a feeling that leads to a spiritually self-destructive behavior, one is a sexist homophobic bigot.

Double Standards vs. Different Standards

A commenter posed a question regarding my standards. Their question was why I watch "Glee" when I find it to be objectionable, overly-sexualized and at times simply immoral. Per this commenter's point of view, I am employing double standards and am inconsistent.

To address the question, I first need to explain a belief of mine, namely that double standards differ from different standards. Is it a double standard for my parents to permit me to attend non-Jewish high school while not necessarily offering that choice to my little brothers? Is it a double standard for my parents to send Dustfinger to seminary when I didn't attend? Is it a double standard to expect me to engage with you about topics of English Literature or Bible while not expecting every other Jewish American in their twenties to do so?

I don't think so. Standards are different for different people. They depend on a person's strength of character, ability to think and analyze material, religious maturity, emotional maturity and so forth. I happen to be a person who analyzes every single TV show or movie I watch. I am very aware of what I am seeing and which parts I agree with, disagree with, chalk up to magical realism or a deliberate suspension of reality, consider to be trash or consider to be useful or moral. When I watch "Glee" it's not the same as when the majority of teens watch "Glee." This is a fact, not an attempt to suggest that I am superior- I am simply different. TV for me is a thinking exercise, not a vegetation opportunity. If your teenager is a thoughtful person who analyzes everything s/he sees and isn't the type to conform to societal or cultural moral standards (or lack thereof) without considering them carefully, nor are they the type to lie to themselves about their motives, then I think they can enjoy "Glee" as well.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Starbucks Isn't Really So Kosher

As a proud Chicagoan, I think everyone should be aware that the CRC (Chicago Rabbinical Council) has put out a document entitled "Chicago Rabbinical Council Guide to Starbucks Beverages." You can download it here.

As a veteran of many dates where folks would take me to Starbucks and pull out the list, and as someone who has inadvertantly previously drunk non-kosher or only-kosher-b'dieved beverages at Starbucks, I think it's important for people to read this and realize that while it is possible the drink you are drinking is kosher b'dieved, that's not ideal. Also, that just because a website exists (the aforementioned does not make it reliable or accurate. Nowhere on the website has Uri or his co-founder addressed the issues the CRC has found with Starbucks beverages even though the CRC (Rabbi Fishbane specifically) has been making presentations about this for over a year.

A kippa hechsher- i.e. everyone eats/ drinks there so it must be kosher- doesn't cut it.

The CRC will be publishing an article about the kashrus issues with Starbucks in the
Spring 2011 edition of the The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society.

In short, if you want to take your date out for coffee, consider Lazy Bean, Cafe K or Noi Due instead. Or go for Cokes. After all, do you really want someone to potentially be o'ver halakha just because she was dating you?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Christian Courtship

I came across a fascinating post on my friend's sister's blog the other day detailing what it means to engage in a courtship. Courtships are relationships entered into where the focus is creating a relationship that sanctifies the Lord and working towards the goal of marriage. Often they are entered into after the man asks permission of the woman's parents (especially the father) to court their daughter. He then asks her her permission as well, sometimes in a very sweet way where he brings her a bouquet of flowers and asks her whether he can court her.

Assuming she says yes, they enter into a courtship with one another in order to understand more about one another and their service and devotion to the Lord. They are looking to see whether they will be one another's helpmates in service to God and also assessing the character traits and qualities that will enable them to take part in a beautiful marriage.

Joshua Harris, the Christian world's Gila Manolson, has written two books on this concept. The first, entitled I Kissed Dating Goodbye explains why he left the world of recreational dating in favor of courtship. The second, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, details his courtship and marriage of his wife, Shannon.

I found this concept fascinating because it seems to echo aspects of our shidduch system, except in a sweeter way. Rather than exchanging references, sheets of paper, resumes and suchlike, a boy becomes interested in a girl (through meeting her at church, on a mission, or because the girl's father likes him and brings him to dinner) and asks permission of the parents and the girl herself to court her. It's very romantic.

I stumbled upon a site which contains lots of beautiful fairy tale stories of people who have engaged in Christian courtship and found their happily-ever-afters. You can read them here.

Two things seemed very striking to me as I paged through these stories of Christian courtship.

1) From reading their renditions of their stories on their blogs, it seems that the majority of these young women connect to God much more similarly to the way I do, where they talk to Him and pray to Him throughout the day and throughout their lives about anything and everything. It's like the Tevye-and-God relationship in "Fiddler on the Roof" which Dr. Haym Soloveitchik posits in "Rupture and Reconstruction" has mostly dissolved. It seems it has not dissolved amongst young devout Christians. So I felt a kinship towards this method of talking to God.

2) One of the things that seems far more positive about the Christian world than the Orthodox Jewish world is that they view single-hood as a special opportunity during which one can concentrate on one's calling, mission and service to the Lord. In fact, sometimes they even opt to stay single longer in order to continue working on their mission. There's a beautiful interview with the recently engaged Rebecca St. James where she speaks about this and says: "I think there’s a real delicate balance that God calls us to when we’re single. I don’t think he calls us to put our dreams on the shelf to the level that we’re just dead to it because then we’re not being true or honest. I think God calls us to come in our vulnerability as singles to God and say ‘Lord, I long for this, I really desire to be married, but I trust you with this dream."

I was trying to figure out what it would mean for us if we tried to take that idea of having a special calling or mission during singlehood and bring it to the Orthodox Jewish world. Many young Orthodox Jewish singles are already involved in organizations like ORA, Uri L'Tzedek, HASC or NCSY, so we have some of that service component. But the idea of taking singlehood in a positive way where God expects us to develop ourselves and serve him in a special way we would not be able to do once married (although we could then serve Him differently) charms me.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Summer Programs: Luxury or Not?

Rabbi Burg, International Director of NCSY, wrote a fascinating editorial on summer programs in this edition of "The Jewish Week." You can read it here.

Basically, the situation is that expensive high schools who let students attend on scholarship are upset that the same students are going to expensive summer programs. If their parents or grandparents can't afford to pay for their high school experience, why can they pay for their summer experience? It's not fair to the high schools, is the thought.

The Bergen County Yeshiva Tuition blog put up a post with a letter from Ma'ayanot explaining this concept. The letter states:
    In addition, while we understand and appreciate the value of summer programs (including Israel programs), we believe that for students in grades 10-12 summer programs (including Israel programs) are discretionary, and not basic expenses. When taking these discretionary expenses (such as camp)into account when evaluating requests for scholarships, the scholarship committee does not look at who is ultimately paying for them, as we would expect that any financial assistance provided by grandparents or other family members should first contribute to a family's basic living expenses- such as tuition- before paying any discretionary expenses. Accordingly, if your child in grades 10-12 attends such a summer program, you may be jeopardizing some or all of your scholarship for next year.
I feel torn about this issue. On the one hand, I have benefited from my experience on many summer programs such as Camp Agudah Midwest, Summer at YU, Northwestern University's Center for Talent Development and so forth. On the other hand, my sister chose to stay local in Chicago and work as a counselor at the JCC, where she made money over the summer. Both options are viable and ensure a fun and positive summer experience.

Having spent this past summer as a member of Tzevet at Camp Stone, it's clear to me that many Modern Orthodox teenagers' Judaism comes in the majority, if not exclusively, due to their summer camp experiences. Students who were sleeping through their high school Jewish courses suddenly woke up and came alive at Camp Stone, becoming invested in and really feeling like members of the Jewish people. The same occurs on many NCSY programs- just check out what these participants on TJJ have to say.

On the one hand, why should schools have to fund tuition for students who are able to attend expensive summer programs? On the other hand, clearly the schools are not always successful in doing their job of turning kids on to Judaism, while these summer programs are.

What do you think? Where do you weigh in on this discussion? Are summer programs a luxury or not?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Is Nothing Sacred Anymore?

I went on Facebook this morning to read that one friend is upset that the subway announcements in New York begin, "Ladies and gentlemen, the next train" because apparently that is sexist. Being a veteran of Sex & Gender Roles class and having read The Gendered Society, aside from having interviewed many transsexuals, I understand what he means by that. But I still think he's wrong. Dead wrong. And to try to express that, I have written the following mocking modification of Kurt Vonnegut's opening paragraph in "Harrison Bergeron."
    THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren't equal before God and the law because no one really cared much about God anymore. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. Nobody had a gender- all that outdated "male" and "female" streotyping was over. Being gay had replaced religion and the devotion and fervor people dedicated to this past-time (and to getting boob jobs) was equal only to their love affair with gossip and reality TV. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General. Also, the United States Genderless Association.
I think things have gone too far.

I think it's sick that "Glee", which is aimed at tweens and teens who enjoyed "High School Musical", features Santana and Brittany cuddling up and making out in bed, the glorification of getting drunk and wasted, a girl giving birth to a baby and then, rather than having to deal with any responsibility, just going back to her world where cheerleading is her biggest problem and so forth. To say nothing of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" which is full of inappropriate, highly sexualized material. It's sick that Kurt Hummel's outrageous statements to his father have become a model for kids everywhere. He's actually upset his dad is mad that a guy he wants to have sex with is sleeping in his bed with him?

Ryan Murphey, the creator of the show, is deliberately sexualizing the show. He said: "It’s tough to get that sexual point of view across on television. Hopefully I have made it possible for somebody on broadcast television to do a rear-entry scene in three years. Maybe that will be my legacy." Right. Because every teenager needs to see a rear-entry scene on television.

I think it's sick that when I go on Facebook I see a photograph of a student from Frisch holding two cone-shaped party hats over her breasts a la Katy Perry's music video and the first comment to this posting is "HOT." When did self-objectifying become the new normal?

I think it's sick that everywhere I walk sexuality is so prominent and in your face, that subtlety is really hard to find and that books with the depth of love and sweetness that something like Blankets has are so rare that when I find them, tears come to my eyes.

I think it's sick that lust and love have become interchangeable.

I think creating a world where marriage between a man and woman is not considered sacred, respect for parents isn't sacred, genders and sexuality can be changed or switched at the drop of a hat, crossdressing is normal, it's impossible to expect teenagers not to drink, lust, experimentation and love all equate to the same thing, in short, the world which is currently our teenagers' televised fare- is sickening.

Because how many of them have any handle on what they're watching? How many of them can differentiate between what they see on TV and what they believe, who they want to become, what they respect, what their morals are and what ought to be sacred to them?

Laughter is the most difficult weapon to combat. If someone laughs at you and mocks you, he knocks your position out from under you. You won't be taken seriously anymore. That's what most television and gossip magazine do today- laugh at outdated morals, old fashioned ideas of sanctity, the idea that one might want love rather than sexual satisfaction. And they laugh so hard that you're afraid to be the archaic anachronism who stands up for these things.

I respect the difficulty, challenge, pain and struggle of transsexuals who change their gender. The same applies to those working to understand their sexual orientation. The same applies to people who wish to build families as gay parents. But the promiscuity, lewdness and immorality, the lack of faith, trust and loyalty that characterizes our society and its models aka celebrities and television- disgusts me.

It's time we starting asking our friends, students, professors and teens whether they believe that anything is sacred anymore. Be tough on them. Don't let them give one-word answers like "Family." If family is sacred, then how do they treat family? What does it mean for something to be sacred? Kurt Hummel claims that family is sacred to him, but then he mouths off at his father half the time. Does that seem consistent to you? Start the discussion.

Because God knows, if you don't, nobody's going to.

The Queen You Thought You Knew

Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Rabbi David Fohrman's writing and am a one-man-cheerleading-squad for his excellent, fascinating book 'The Beast that Crouches at the Door.' His is an analytical, clear, literary eye and I really enjoy his insights. I've mentioned him on this blog before.

Thus it is my pleasure to announce that OU Press is putting out another of R' Fohrman's works. Please see the promotional video below:

And order the book right here. Just in time for Purim!