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.