Wednesday, June 29, 2011

In-laws: The outlaws of the Torah?

[Please note that the following does not apply, in the least, to my own family. I love and adore my in-laws.]

As part of my "Parenting from the Torah" series, I'm giving a shiur this Shabbos on "In-Laws". Until I started preparing this shiur, I never realized just how dysfunctional the Tanach's in-law relationships are; they're like step-parents in Disney. Take a look at this list:

• Besuel wants to kill Eliezer and leave Yitzchak unable to wed;

• Rivkah doesn’t even meet her mother-in-law Sarah, but she is expected to fill Sarah's shoes to comfort her husband Yitzchak;

• Potifera tried to seduce Yosef, then imprisoned him (Granted, this was before they became in-laws; perhaps Potifera was all sweetness and light to him afterward… And yes, I'm following Rashi Bereishit 41:45 here, but see Rashbam);

• Lavan abuses Yaakov, then claims all of his property, as well as his wives and children, for himself;

• Yehudah withholds Shelah from Tamar;

• Manoach tells Shimshon not to marry the Plishti woman (Shoftim 14:3, apparently despite her conversion, as noted in Ralbag Shoftim 14:2);

• Shaul wants to keep his daughter from Dovid, and he tries to kill Dovid;

Lest you cite Yisro and Moshe, recall that Yisro makes Moshe promise not to go to Egypt (Nedarim 65a), and to raise his son without bris milah and with an Avodah Zarah education (Mechilta dR' Yishmael Yisro Masechta d'Amalek 1);

And lest you cite Naami and Ruth, note that Naami instantly claims Ruth's baby as her own. Forget parents in-law who tell their children how to raise the grandkids – here Naami decides to raise the child herself!

The animosity continues talmudically, as we are told (Mishnah Yevamos 15:4) that a woman cannot testify that her son has died, to permit her daughter-in-law to remarry – lest she testify falsely just to cause trouble for her daughter-in-law.

And then there's Eruvin 86a, that strife coming from daughters-in-law makes it unlikely that parents will stay with their married sons for Shabbos. Ouch!

Or how about Kalba Savua disowning his daughter for marrying R' Akiva (Ketuvot 62b-63a; note the somewhat variant story in Nedarim 50a)?

Why are the Torah's in-law relationships so sour?

For the full shiur you'll have to be at the shiur, but I'll offer one note here: The Torah's in-law relationships involve a crossing of cultures. Jews marry into Nachorite, Canaanite, Philistine, Egyptian and Moavite families, and cultures are expected to join within one family. Even in the case of R' Akiva and Kalba Savua, it's a class clash of wealthy and indigent. I suspect this carries an important message about what can go wrong in in-law relationships, as well as about what we can do to avoid these problems and build healthy in-law relationships.

And we do want to build healthy relationships. After all, it's important for Shalom, it's important as a display of honour for one's spouse (cf Moed Katan 20b), and it's important because we are obligated to honour our in-laws (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:24).

The lesson isn't necessarily to marry within one's own community, but it definitely includes this: Keep in mind that in all marriages, one community is joining with another, and that requires consideration, flexibility and patience.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

We Love

I received the email below a few days ago:

from: Christie [omitted]
date: Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 9:46 PM
subject: We Love


My name is Christie from Article Writing Services. We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to sponsor a blog post that you have recently written. We know that blogs can be expensive to run and our client would like the opportunity to support you in that endeavor.

In return our client is asking for one link that they specify placed into the body of the blog post (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.

If you would have any questions or would like to start the process, please email me at so we can begin.

Christie [omitted]
Outreach Manager - Article Writing Services

I'm not sure which expensive blogs Outreach Manager Christie knows, but mine isn't terribly expensive. Blogger is free. My writing is free. I don't even erode pencil points writing drafts. One day my laptop's battery will run out, but I can't think that blogging is what will do that.

And who is this mysterious client, who wants to support me through Christie Outreach Manager? Would he be interested in supporting my learning, perhaps sponsoring a seder or two? A little Yissachar-Zevulun instead of Twain-Zevulun?

Oh - and why no gambling links? Are you saving the gambling links for the really good blogs, Christie Outreach Manager? The ones you really love?

Actually, Christie Outreach Manager reminds me of some of the clumsier Outreach Managers/kiruv professionals out there – the ones looking for quick-fix soul-saving, who will say "We Love You", "Torah Codes predicted the Knicks would pick Iman Shumpert", or "Gd is a penguin with green flippers" if that's what it takes to get to first base.

What do you know about me, Outreach Manager, that you could say you Love me already? How long have you been reading? And why are you saying the same thing to all of the other girls (just google "article writing services" for a decent selection) out there?

I'm tempted to write Christie Outreach Manager back, like some other bloggers have done, but there's really no time these days.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Corruption of the Rabbinate

[In truth, this post isn't only about the Rabbinate; it's about anyone who is in position to be flattered and honoured by others. Politicians, community leaders, and so on.]

This post is inspired by a passage studied in yesterday's Daf Yomi, Menachos 109b [see Rashi and Tosafot for more on an alternative edition]:

אמר ר' יהושע בן פרחיה בתחלה כל האומר עלה לה אני כופתו ונותנו לפני הארי עתה כל האומר לי לירד ממנה אני מטיל עליו קומקום של חמין
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Perachyah said: At first, had anyone told me, 'Ascend to authority,' I would have bound him up in front of a lion. Now [that I hold authority], if anyone would tell me to descend from authority, I would pour a pot of boiling water over him!

[There is much here, and quite a bit of it is subtle – note, for example, that to avoid holding authority the sage would have allowed someone to be harmed, but to avoid yielding authority he would have actively caused harm. ואכמ"ל.]

Why does the Rabbinate corrupt its holders?

1. Part of rabbinic corruption, certainly, is about wielding power, and power corrupting.

2. Part of it is that we come to believe the nice things people say about us. [Yes, people often do say nice things about rabbis...]

Last week I participated in a seminar at YU for incoming members of the Chicago and Toronto YU Torah miTzion kollelim. Rav Herschel Schachter addressed the avreichim regarding the responsibilities and pitfalls of Jewish communal service, and one of his topics was the issue of popular praise. Rav Schachter told a story in which Reb Shmelke of Nikolsburg praised himself in front of a mirror; his own praise would feel empty, and he would become numb to praise from others as well.

Rav Schachter also told the story of a community rabbi who had become so convinced of his greatness that he once declared, "In my community, I am Reb Moshe [meaning, the equal of Rabbi Moshe Feinstein]!"

3. But even for those of us who don't enjoy power and who don't make the mistake of believing our own press clippings, the rabbinate is corrupting because praise is addictive.

I know that my learning, teaching, etc is highly overrated – and no, that's not humility, false or authentic – but I still feel good when flattered.

This is normal; we are hard-wired to be satisfied when people say nice things about us. But it's dangerous, because addictions need to be fed, and one who grows accustomed to praise can end up looking for more and greater things to do in order to attract people's positive reviews.

This happens to rabbis quite easily, and the results can include:

• Pushing ourselves to greater feats and heroics, which may well serve the community but which will carry a high price for one's self or one's family;

• Helping people who are more likely to offer praise, at the expense of others;

• On the other hand, going to excess to help people who don't offer praise, because their rare compliments bring greater satisfaction;

• Burning out when praise is not forthcoming, or is not commensurate with our efforts;

• Putting down others who are seen as competitors for the affections of the public, in order to build up one's self.

I don't think the solution is for rabbis to scowl at people who praise us; that's rude. And, as Pirkei Avos predicted, running away from praise just brings more of it. So how should a rabbi, or any community figure, deal with this?

Obviously, having a wise Rebbetzin/spouse is key. But I think a rabbi should take personal responsibility and remind himself that the satisfaction he receives from praise is only one of many positives in life, and should be viewed in a proper hierarchy of 'goods'. Yes, community praise is good. But so is time with your family. And so is giving honour to others. And so are anonymous acts of kindness. And so is taking a break every once in a while. And so on.

And now I turn to you: What else can a Rabbi, or any community figure, do to break the praise addiction?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Parenting a Rebel

I'm teaching a class this Shabbos on "The Rebel", third in a six-part series on Parenting from the Torah.

My main philosophy on this is that Rebellion is not something to be addressed and solved head-on; once in swing, the only one who can stop it is the rebel himself. The parents' efforts should be toward avoiding rebellion in the first place. If that doesn't work, then it's time to make sure other approaches are more attractive for the child.

I've decided to go with a vignette format, presenting cases and asking how parents should approach them, presenting certain ideas from the Torah. Here the vignettes; I'd love feedback on them:

Vignette 1: Is it really rebellion?
Mrs. Schwartz, who teaches Jonathan in Grade 7, phones Jonathan's parents to let them know that their son has not handed in his last three homework assignments. When Jonathan's parents ask him why he hasn't been doing his homework, he replies, "I don't know." What should Jonathan's parents take into consideration before reacting?

Vignette 2: Providing options beyond rebellion
Lately, it seems that the parents of Sarah, Grade 10, can't do anything right. She refuses to help out around the house, she does schoolwork only under duress, and she has become demanding and insulting to her parents and siblings. The temperature in the house is always overheated. How can Sarah's parents calm things down?

Vignette 3: If it is rebellion, what can I do?
David, Grade 5, used to enjoy berachos and davening, but lately he cuts corners when he can get away with it, and he is sulky and resistant about issues like waiting between meat and milk. David's parents are nervous that this may be a harbinger of things to come. What can they do?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Daf Yomi: Introduction to Chullin

In case anyone who is starting Daf Yomi with Chullin would like a quick overview, here is the Introduction sheet I plan to distribute to my shiur. You can also download it as a pdf here, and this may help; it doesn't quite look right on here.

Key mitzvot / laws


Mishneh Torah

Shulchan Aruch


Devarim 12:13-21

Hilchot Shechitah 1-4

Yoreh Deah 1-13, 17-27


Shemot 22:30

Vayyikra 17:15, 22:8

Hilchot Shechitah 3, 5-11

Yoreh Deah 29-60

Kosher creatures

Vayyikra 11; Devarim 14

Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 1-3

Yoreh Deah 79-86

Oto v'et Bno

[an animal and its young]

Vayyikra 22:28

Hilchot Shechitah 12

Yoreh Deah 16

Kisui haDam

[covering the blood]

Vayyikra 17:13

Devarim 12:16, 12:24, 12:27, 15:23

Hilchot Shechitah 14

Yoreh Deah 28

Gid haNasheh

[sciatic neurovascular bundle]

Bereishit 32:33

Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 8

Yoreh Deah 65

Chelev [Forbidden Fat]

Vayyikra 3:17, 7:23-25

Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 7

Yoreh Deah 64

Meat and Milk

Shemot 23:19, 34:26

Devarim 14:21

Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9

Yoreh Deah 87-97

Eating Blood

Vayyikra 3:17, 7:26-27; 17:10-14, 19:26

Devarim 12:16, 12:23-25

Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 6-7

Yoreh Deah 66-78

Zroa, Lichayayim, Keivah

[chullin gifts for kohanim]

Devarim 18:3

Hilchot Bikurim 9

Yoreh Deah 61

Reishit haGez

[shearings for kohanim]

Devarim 18:4

Hilchot Bikurim 10

Yoreh Deah 333

Shiluach haKen

[sending away mother bird]

Devarim 22:6-7

Hilchot Shechitah 13

Yoreh Deah 292

The two vessels to be cut in shechitah (the simanim)

Kaneh = Trachea Veshet = Esophagus

The five principle disqualifications of the shechitah act

Hagramah (Veering); Ikur (Pulling); Chaladah (Burrowing); Derasah (Pressing); Shehiyah (Pausing)

The digestive tract of a bird (

Digestive Tract (in order)







The digestive tract of a ruminant (

Digestive Tract (in order)





Keres haPnimi

כרס הפנימי


Beit haKosot

בית הכוסות







Small intestine



Masechet Chullin, Chapter by Chapter

1: HaKol Shochtin

Shocheit; Knife; The act of shechitah; Thought during shechitah; Safek & Chazakah; Melikah; Tumat Kelim

2: HaShocheit

The site of shechitah; The act of shechitah; Shechitah of a dying animal; Thought during shechitah

3: Elu Treifot

Treifot; How psak works; Creation; Signs of kosher birds; Signs of kosher eggs; Signs of kosher locusts; Signs of kosher fish; Crawling creatures

4: Beheimah haMekashah

Defining birth; Defining a fetus; Ben Pekuah; Treifot; Shilya

5: Oto v'et Bno

Oto v'et Bno; Koy; Separate korbanot for separate sins

6: Kisui haDam

Kisui haDam; Mitzvot that override Shabbat and Yom Tov; Status of improper shechitah; Humility

7: Gid haNasheh

Gid haNasheh; Exaggeration; Yaakov and the angel; Yosef's dreams; The world's tzaddikim; Noachide laws; Chelev; Deception; Ever min haChai; Issur chal al issur; Basar shenitalem min ha'ayin; Nichush; Bitul; Kulya

8: Kol haBasar

Meat and poultry and milk; Hand-washing; Absorption of taste; Bitul; Udders; Blood; Heart; Liver; Salting; Pickling; Issurei hanaah; Stomach

9: Ha'Or vehaRotev

Meat and tumat ochlin; Types of tumah for animal parts

10: HaZroa vehaLechayyayim

Matnot kehunah from animals; Giving the matnot aniyyim

11: Reishit haGez

Reishit haGez; Partnership in mitzvah obligations; Matnot kehunah from tereifot

12: Shiluach haKen

Shiluach haKen; "Tzippor" in Torah; The reward for mitzvot

Helpful websites and sefarim (note: I am not endorsing the contents of any shiur/sefer)

Audio daf shiurim on Chullin (note: I have not actually listened to these shiurim)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Alcoholism: Do we avoid knowing about it?

We had a program Sunday night on Alcoholism in the Jewish Community [audio available here]. The speakers were credentialed, the flyer was attractive, but the turnout was not great (25-30 people).

Let me re-phrase: Those who turned out were great. But not many turned out.

There are many 'external' reasons we didn't have a strong showing, including:
* Father's Day
* Dinnertime
* Nice weather on a Sunday evening in June
* The program was not announced in many shuls [although it was Facebooked and tweeted, and there were flyers in many shuls]

In truth, I knew about the logistical challenges with our date and our publicity in advance, but the subject is important to me. I fear that Jewish communities enable addiction to alcohol. We provide wine and liquor at our tables and in our synagogues, we make people uncomfortable in refusing it, we often glorify it. We provide a convenient and comfortable place for people to drink, and we do all of that around our children. So I wanted this program, and I couldn't get any other date/time, so this was it.

But was it really just a case of bad timing, or weak PR? Given that JACS Toronto hosts programs serving hundreds of people each week, shouldn't we have been able to attract more attendees?

Might we be ducking the issue?

Might it be that:
* The topic is frightening?
* We think that by showing up at this sort of program, we might be broadcasting that we have a problem ourselves, or in our families?
* We want to think alcholism is someone else's problem, and so we dismiss anything with the word 'alcoholism' like we dismiss anything with the words 'Bosnia-Herzegovina'?

Do your communities get a better showing for this sort of program - and other than immediately after a specific, addiction-related catastrophe takes place?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Is Re-Routing causing the spread of Anxiety and Depression?

[Just saw this important read: Gafni Attacks Over Lack Of Construction Of Ashqelon Hospital]

Air Canada employees are on strike. Canada's postal workers went on strike, too, and are now locked out. To which people have said, "That's okay; we have other airlines, and we don't mail anything anyway." The local news station polled listeners the other day, asking, "Are strikes an effective form of labor action anymore?"

I think the answer is likely No – and this is part of a much bigger issue, which is affecting people all over the world in a very negative way.

The issue is Re-Routing, to use Internet parlance.

From a networking perspective: When a network is populated with enough nodes, and features a high enough degree of connectivity between those nodes, each individual node becomes insignificant. If one node or group of nodes goes down, traffic just re-routes around them and the system continues to thrive.

The same thing is happening in our highly populated and highly connected world: There are so many people, and they are so highly connected, that each individual person loses special status, becoming eminently replaceable.

* You're on strike? I can find other workers, or I can eliminate your job altogether.

* You want to raise the cost of your goods or your service? I'll outsource to India.

* Think your television network is crucial, or you are an irreplaceable performer? Think again, there are 500 more like you.

* Want to protest the government's politics? You are a tiny, irrelevant demographic.

* Trying to make your mark in publishing? Best of luck; everyone has a blog, a book, a column.

* Philanthropy is your thing? There are millions of others doing it, too, and even your small local charities are drawing on grants from afar.

We're past the age of people being rendered obsolete by technology - now, we are rendered obsolete by each other.

Of course, not everything can be easily replaced, yet. Certain government services cannot be replaced, and so people cannot yet avoid government. Protesters who manage to attract enough friends – using that same population growth and connectivity – can still get noticed, albeit rarely.

The general rule, though, is that because there are so many people, and because they are so connected, no one is irreplaceable. The recipients of everything we provide can Re-Route around us.

And one major problem is this: Many of us, perhaps most of us, find our personal meaning and value in our relationships with others, and our ability to make an impact upon the world. Rav Chaim of Volozhin insisted that we were created only to help others, and Charlie Brown (להבדיל, fine) followed his lead. We rate ourselves based on how others view us, whether others care about us, whether others will remember us afterward. How does it feel, then, to discover that others don't think about us at all? That others don't need us? That others will find replacements for us fairly easily?

I suspect this is one of the reasons for the global growth in Depression and Anxiety diagnosis. The phenomenon is beyond any particular society and its pace, work habits, diet or values. I think it's partially attributable to the fact that people everywhere recognize that the world can Re-Route around them, and this realization is devastating.

Answers? Perhaps one answer is to find our satisfaction elsewhere; certainly, Kohelet would prescribe that. Perhaps another answer is to make ourselves valuable in small circles, or to people who can't find easy replacements. I don't know.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Class: Medical Imaging on Shabbat

[Update - June 19: The audio for the shiur and the source sheets (with updated vignettes) are now available on-line here.]

I'm in preparations for our next Medical Halachah shiur, this Sunday morning. As those of you who have read previous posts on this series know, this is meant to be a practical, halachah-oriented series (as opposed to a series on abstract cases like separating conjoined twins), especially as it is given for CME credit.

The topic is "Medical Imaging on Shabbat". Here are the vignettes I plan to use; feedback would be helpful.

Vignette #1 – Alan, 11, is standing on the sidewalk on Shabbat when he is struck by a bicycle. He falls to the ground, and suffers what seems to be a fractured wrist. May he undergo an X-Ray on Shabbat? Does the answer change if he was struck by an automobile? Does the answer change if this is a digital X-Ray?

Vignette #2 – Susan, 56, presents in the emergency room in mid-winter, on Shabbat, with a bad cough, fever and chest pains. The symptoms look like pneumonia. May the physician order a chest X-ray in order to rule out lung cancer? What about a CT scan?

Vignette #3 – Janet, 35, is undergoing IVF. Her schedule requires ultrasounds on Day 4 and Day 6 of her second week of injections. Assuming Janet can arrive at the hospital without violating Shabbat, is she permitted to have the actual ultrasound?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wow, does that feel good. Thank you, Dirk Nowitzki!

I grew up as a New York Ranger fan just a few miles from Nassau Coliseum when the hated New York Islanders were winning four Stanley Cups in a row in the '80s. I think that's why I am so thrilled about the Dallas Mavericks beating the arrogant Miami Heat for the NBA Championship last night.

Those Islander teams were entirely too good - Billy Smith, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Denis Potvin and so on - so the only thing we Ranger fans could do was accuse them of lack of class. [This charge coming from fans who chanted obscenities about Denis Potvin and domestic abuse... or who urged Flyers goalie Bryan Hextall to buy a Porsche because his predecessor, Pelle Lindbergh had been killed in a car accident in a Porsche... ah, the memories.] In some sense, we were the equivalent of Jews in the ghetto finding negative things to say about their powerful oppressors, regardless of how absurd or far-fetched, just to be able to say something at all.

It took me years of sports fanhood to overcome the memories of being a grade schooler and high schooler surrounded by fans of a team that won many more games, and many more titles, than we did. In the last several years, though, as I found very little time to pay attention to sports, the whole issue receded in my mind -

- Until there arose a team so arrogant, so classless and yet so talented, that it was the New York Islanders of the '80s all over again, and for real. Who cares if it was the wrong sport, and it revolved around a player [Lebron James] I had admired until then for his work ethic and humanity? Conspiring to join forces as though three powerful players could constitute a team, declaring themselves a dynasty before they had won a single game, celebrating and partying on an international stage - yes, I was good and ready to despise them.

Humility is good, Lebron, and it doesn't come from saying, "I'm humble," as you like to declare. It comes about when you suffer humbling experiences.

So now that Dallas has dispatched the Heat, I'm feeling pretty good. Is it beneath me? Probably. File it under indulging my inner child.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Faith vs. Intellect?

In a post back in March ("Anti-Academic Judaism") I discussed a trend, in some Jewish circles, against the intellectual, analytic approach of academia; there is a school of thought which views such a derech as a dangerous challenge to religious faith.

In a thought-provoking debate in the comments, as well as on another blog, various posters discussed multiple aspects of the issue.

Last week, in preparing a Shavuot shiur, I came across the following relevant passage in Rav Kook's Orot Yisrael (Chapter 1); I think one could take it in multiple directions, but I like it anyway:

The original Hebrew:
חולשת האדם גורמת, שבהיותו מוכשר למחקר שכלי יוחלש בו יסוד הנטיה האמונית, ובהיותו שלם באמונה הוא עלול למעט בהשכלה וחכמת לב. אבל תכלית דרך הישרה היא, שכל כח לא ימעט את חברו, ולא יתמעט על ידו, כ״א יתגלה בכל מלא עזו, כאילו היה הוא השולט לבדו. כת האמונה צריך שיהיה שלם כ"כ כאילו אין לו שום אפשריות של מחקר, ולעומת זה צריך שיהיה כח החכמה כ״כ מעולה ומזורז כמו לא היה כלל כח של אמונה בנפש. ״אדם ובהמה״ — ערומים בדעת ומשימים עצמם כבהמה.

My translation:
"Human frailty causes a person who is gifted in intellectual analysis to have a weaker inclination toward faith, and a person who is whole in faith to reduce his intellectual insight and wisdom of the heart. But the goal of the straight path is that each strength not reduce the other, and not be reduced by the other, but rather that both be revealed in their full strength, as though it alone was in control.

"Faith must be as complete as if there was no possibility of analysis, and complementing this must be a force of intellect which is elevated and energized, as though there were no force of faith in the soul. "Man and animal (Tehillim 36)" – clever in intellect, and making themselves as [unthinking] beasts."

What do you think?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Proper care and feeding of the Rabbi

I wrote this in a different forum quite a few years ago, and still get a smile out of reading it...

So you are the proud recipients of a new Rabbi; congratulations!

Doubtless your community is excited at the opportunity to enjoy hours of endless fun with your fresh-out-of-the-package, dynamic new rabbi, but please take a moment to read the following guidelines. Following these simple and inexpensive tips could add years of life to your rabbi, and help make your experience much more fun and fulfilling.

First, do not allow your rabbi’s batteries to run down entirely before permitting them time to recharge.
Communities have trouble knowing when, exactly, to recharge their rabbi’s batteries, particularly because most models do not come with built-in charge readouts. Further, communities are loathe to permit their rabbis too much time off.
Fortunately, there is a simple, creative solution: Create periodic Rabbinic Off-Shabbos Weekends, in which the rabbi remains in town and is in his usual on-call mode, but he is relieved of responsibility for speeches, classes and krias haTorah. Such weekends should be instituted by the board, to reduce any rabbinic guilt feelings associated with taking a break.

Second, eliminate causes of daily exhaustion for your rabbi’s batteries.
Tests show that the primary daily drain for many rabbinic batteries comes from making sure that the synagogue maintains a viable morning and evening minyan. Allowing this frequent insult to your rabbi’s power cells fairly guarantees their early demise.
Be smart; require that your board members take weekly shifts at the minyan. Your rabbi will thank you for it.

Third, avoid stress loads beyond the recommended maximums.
Our recommended maximums apply only to new models in their first six months; following this "honeymoon" period, acceptable levels drop precipitously. This is a particularly great hazard within 50 miles of Brooklyn. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the stress burden upon your rabbi's systems.
For example: Remember that your rabbi is designed to enforce halachah (Jewish law) within your synagogue and community. If you continually badger your rabbi for leniencies, you cause a great burden of stress for his internal circuitry. This could lead to system-wide disruptions and even short circuits.
A second example: In maximizing rabbinic sensitivity, engineers leave rabbinic empathy circuits in a state of heightened emotional vulnerability. Repeated exposure to complaints will shorten the life of your rabbi’s systems. Please make sure to protect your rabbi from repeated outbursts of whining.

Finally, remember that your rabbi’s batteries have the ability to recharge “on the fly” by exposure to repeated praise.
Do not fear overloading the charge capacity; this has yet to be accomplished in the entire history of our product line. If you are unsure whether the compliments are justified, appropriate or welcome, err on the side of offering praise; you will not regret it.

Thank you for purchasing our product. Remember, there are no refunds. However, we do specialize in product exchanges; call now to have a new rabbi in place by Rosh HaShanah!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Are you in Toronto for Shavuos?

If you are...

I always said that when I got out of the Shul Rabbinate I would stop staying up all night for Shavuos...

Monday, June 6, 2011

Why I don't recycle

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here; enjoy!]

Yes, of course I recycle plastic, cardboard, etc; I even compost; this is about recycling class material.

In my Modest Proposal for an Eco-Rabbinate post a few years back, I wrote, "Rabbis need to recycle more. I propose that rabbis should be permitted - nay, encouraged! - to recycle speeches and divrei torah after allowing them a two-year composting period."

That post was written tongue-in-cheek, but the issue of rabbinic recycling of material is actually one I think about quite a bit. I've taught enough shiurim and given enough derashos over the years - 363 on's on-line audio archive from the past two years, and a lot more was never recorded - that I certainly could make use of old material for a good, long time to come.

But I don't like to do it; I don't like to re-use an old shiur, or derashah. I do it on occasions when starting fresh isn't an option – 2 out of my 5 Shavuos night shiurim this year will be re-treads – or when people request a re-run, but even then it doesn't sit well with me.

* I don't like it because it feels lazy, and I don't like seeing myself as lazy.

* I don't like it because then I miss the chance to learn something new. Giving shiurim should be an expanding experience for the maggid shiur, too.

* I don't like it because I'm apt to pull out the shiur without really reviewing it, and therefore I won't deliver it well.

* I don't like it because I'm worried someone will know that I've given it before, and think less of me for it.

* I don't like it because going to the old-shiur tank for that shiur now means I can't do it again soon, and maybe I'll have a greater need for it down the line.

* I don't like it because the issues and questions that are on my mind today aren't the same as the ones that were on my mind two, five, ten and fifteen years ago. This is especially true for derashos.

But mostly, I don't like it because I have a potent insecurity, a confident voice inside my head that says, day after day, that my learning isn't solid enough yet. No matter how well I prepare a topic, I always feel I don't quite have it. Probably comes from being a middle child… As a result, I always look back at old derashos and shiurim and feel like they weren't good enough, like they were probably missing something, like I must have misunderstood or misapplied a source. So it's rare for me to back to the well; I much prefer to start from scratch with something new.

Makes life harder, of course.

C'est la vie.