Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cantorial Music: An A-choired Taste?

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here!]

I grew up with a visceral distaste for chazanim and choirs.

Part of that was just an immature impatience with all things slow.
Part of it was a dislike for music that didn’t fit the ‘80s pop mold.
And part of it was the cynical feeling – again, visceral rather than intellectual - that people were singing to impress rather than davening to express/build kavvanah.

That distaste continued into my yeshiva days. One Rosh HaShanah I asked the posek in Kerem b’Yavneh whether I should ask mechilah from the Yamim Noraim chazan, for the comments I had made about his cantorial style.

Fast-forward to today, and my taste in music is still decidedly un-chazanish, and my impatience with artifice [in all but myself, of course] is undimmed. So this morning, when I knew a choir would accompany the Shabbat Shirah davening, I was apprehensive. I brought along a sefer, but even with that – would I survive?

I was, to say the least, pleasantly surprised. It was beautiful. More: My sons sitting with me enjoyed it, too. It even helped my davening.

What’s changed in me over the years? Is the choir an acquired taste?

Part of it is the patience that comes with growing older, yes; adults have enough data and concerns in their heads to pass the time.

Some of it is the realization that people who ordinarily chattered or spaced-out during davening were actually paying attention to the words.

A piece of it is just that the choir was really good [and not too slow, either].

And part of it is the fact that growing up, and meeting/working with a diverse sample of humanity has uncynicised my view of people. I find it easier to discount my first-impression suspicion and perceive what’s really there. So when my gut reaction to singing is, “Those are performers,” my next reaction is to ask myself whether I have any basis for that assumption.

Certainly, there is a performance aspect to singing - but the sincere כוונה [focus] of the singers this morning was so blatant as to be undeniable. These were not actors, manipulators of voice seeking approval from their audience. Rather, they were בשר ודם [flesh and blood] turning to HaShem with the gifts at their disposal, and helping others to turn to HaShem likewise.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Please reward bad behavior!

I created something of a stir over at a blog dedicated to “Education for the Driving Masses,” with my suggestion that we should address a spike in driving accidents by making the driving experience smoother [synchronizing lights to ease congestion, for example]. The experts argued, among other points, that this would be a case of rewarding unsafe driving rather than enforcing safe driving.

There is something to be said for their approach, within Torah sources; after all, the sages mention many times the concern for נמצא חוטא נשכר, that we don’t create legislation to reward sinful behavior. Community policing requires that we punish the criminal. [So, for example, a thief should be required to re-pay all of the untithed grain he stole, and he may not subtract the amount that the original owner should have paid in tithes. – Kiddushin 58b]

The same issue comes up consistently in conversations regarding our response to terrorism. Peace Now and similar groups insist that Israel should open border crossings and release prisoners as a show of goodwill and to ease the plight of Palestinians, with the ultimate goal of easing Palestinian life easier and reducing their reasons for aggression – to which I, and many others, point out that this only rewards terrorism and expedites attacks. The track record supports this; when crossings are opened, terror attacks follow.

So why do I think that bad behavior on the road should be ‘rewarded’?

Because there are two kinds of bad behavior: Intended and Unintended.

Intentionally bad behavior is a demonstration of ill will. A terrorist who attacks kindergartens or stones moving vehicles is exhibiting intent to harm others. Her planned actions may well be fueled in part by frustration, but in the absence of any remorse, it is clear that (1) easing her life and (2) making attack execution easier will only encourage her to repeat her offenses.

On the other hand, poor driving is generally not intentional; the people behind the wheel have simply lost control. I believe that the vast majority of drivers do not wish to harm pedestrians; the fact that they run Yellow lights, take turns at high speed and change lines without looking is not a plan, but a reaction to frustration. The more frustrated they become, the less controlled their actions. Remove the frustration, restore the control.

The same is true in parenting; parents who frustrate their children must expect them to act out. No, drivers are not children - but when they lose enough sleep, and when they face enough pressure, then they lose their adult control.

נמצא חוטא נשכר refers to situations in which sin is intentional; we don’t reward intentional crime. But if someone is sinning due to external pressures, it’s time to ask what we can do to relieve the situation.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A solution to Toronto traffic accidents: Get the cars up to speed

[This week's Toronto Torah is here!]

Toronto has seen more than a dozen pedestrian deaths in traffic over a period of two weeks, and so, naturally, Toronto police and city council are adding new traffic restrictions. They’re talking about increased ticketing for speeding, lowering the speed limit, cracking down on reckless driving, along with increased ticketing for jaywalking pedestrians and better design of intersections and extending the time for pedestrians to cross.

Some of these ideas have merit – as does the mathematical argument that the spike is just a random fluke – but I think they’re missing a major point.

The point: Frustrated drivers are poor drivers. To increase traffic safety, don’t slow things down –Speed things up!

Alternatively, you could try to calm down the drivers – but I wish you lots of luck.

Think about the guy who is stuck behind a 30-mile-per-driver in the left-hand lane of a highway for a mile, before he finds a way to get around the turtle. Out he zooms, barely looking to make sure he’s not cutting anyone off. Around a corner he flies, anxious about making his appointment and minimally glancing at the foot traffic nearby.

Think about the woman who misses four consecutive lights on Bathurst Street. On the next light she comes to a Yellow, of course she’s going to zoom through. Ditto for the driver sitting in the left-hand turning lane; do you really think he won’t go through as the yellow turns red?

I'm not condoning frustrated driving; the drivers are morally as well as logically wrong. But this is what human emotions do.

It’s one of the reasons that the a Jewish court is not empowered to issue decrees which are beyond the tolerance of the community – גזירה שאין הציבור יכול לעמוד בה. Such decrees frustrate people and weaken loyalty to the system, overall.

Back in October, Toronto officials admitted that their traffic lights are staggered in such a way that traffic is slowed, and people miss lights at consecutive intersections.

A couple of months ago, Toronto officials [correctly] banned the use of hand-held phones, and of the practic of texting, while driving.

We’re now in the heart of winter, and traffic becomes much worse and visibility becomes much worse due to snow and rain and slush.

Back on January 7th, the Globe and Mail reported that Toronto commuting times have spiked in the last two years. "In some cases, average 2008 speeds were less than half of what they were two years earlier. Drivers taking Highway 410 from Bovaird Drive to Highway 403 were crawling at an average of 38 kilometres an hour, down from 71 in 2006; the average speed on the 401 collector from Mississauga Road to Dixie Road was 50 kilometres an hour, down from 95 two years ago."

Not to mention, aggressive city buses are licensed to cut off cars entering and exiting bus stops, thereby frightening drivers and forcing them to swerve, as well as slowing down traffic lanes.

The end result: Frustrated drivers can’t get where they want to go, can’t take care of work in the car [again, correctly!], and can’t see pedestrians or maneuver around them easily. And so the number of accidents skyrockets.

Slowing down cars and cracking down on traffic laws is guaranteed to increase the number of frustrated drivers. I'd advise working to get things up to speed, engineering the lights and patterns to help drivers get where they need to go, so that they’ll feel more capable of waiting out a light, taking a corner slowly, and generally being more accomodating on the road.

[PS Yes, of course, I know that even speeding things up won't solve frustrations entirely; people will simply come to have higher expectations for getting where they want to go. But let's see if we can't improve this, nonetheless.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The First Law of Synagogue Politics

To paraphrase Sir Isaac Newton’s description of interacting bodies: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

That may have been the Third Law of Motion, but I believe it is the First Law of Synagogue Politics: For every action of the rabbi there will be an equal and opposite reaction from the congregation, and for every action of the congregation there will be an equal and opposite reaction from the rabbi.

Yes, that’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek; rabbis and congregations often – usually? – work hand-in-hand, their hearts in the same place and their eyes on the same goals. Everyone wants the minyan on time and the food kosher and the seats full of focussed daveners and the needy people pastorally counseled and the bills paid. Nonetheless, rabbis and their congregations often work unilaterally and even at odds with each other, whether directly opposite or at angles, and it may be helpful for each side to remember this law: Everything they do will induce an equal and opposite reaction on the other side.

This means that if the rabbi decides to radically change the shul’s rituals – say, by altering the Friday night schedule so that the shul davens minchah before Plag during the summer, just an example I picked out of a hat… - then he must expect that people within the shul will act to stake their proprietary claim over the shul’s rituals. Even if they won’t fight this point, the need to mark territory will emerge in some other way.

And vice versa – If the board sets policy unilaterally in a given area, they must expect that the rabbi will act unilaterally, in that area or in another, to make his mark and let it be known that he possesses a claim of his own.

If the shul pushes the rabbi on davening times, the rabbi might strike back by adding time to Shabbat.
If the rabbi pushes the shul on Adult Education spending, the shul might strike back by re-negotiating his health insurance premiums.
If the shul pushes the rabbi on being in the office during hours, the rabbi might strike back by using office hours to prepare classes rather than take calls.
If the rabbi pushes the shul on attending minyan, the shul might strike back by not attending classes.

I believe that all of this is healthy, normal, and, so long as both sides keep it in mind, quite manageable. Shul and board and rabbi can exist in a symbiotic balance, homeostasis if you will, and keep unilateral flare-ups and reactions to a minimum. The danger is when one side thinks the other’s reaction disproportionate. In reality, there is no such thing as a ‘disproportionate’ political reaction, because all offenses are gauged not by the offender and not by third-parties but by the victim. So when the board says, “What we did wasn’t so severe as to warrant that response,” the rabbi’s answer is likely to be, “But that’s the level of severity I felt when you did it.” And vice versa.

So where is all of this going? What dramatic current going-on is The Rebbetzin’s Husband about to share, more than 400 words into his exposition?

Sorry, no on-going cases to cite, now that I’m out of synagogue life. But I find this First Law a good one to keep in mind well beyond shul existence, so I thought I would share it.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why Jews eat communal meals

I'm having a lot of fun with my Tzibburology class, in which we link halachah and social science. Gd-willing, Wednesday night's Tzibburology class will look at the way we share food in Judaism, and the communal motivations behind it.

We'll compare the motivations for food-sharing within Jewish society with the motivations for food-sharing in primate and general human cultures (risk reduction reciprocity, cooperative acquisition, costly signaling and more).

Then we'll look at an additional component within Judaism: food-sharing with the goal of creating ideological community, as well as excluding those who don't fit the ideological community from the food-sharing process.

Last, we'll talk about how Jews handle the imperative to build community by food-sharing, versus the need to exclude people who don't fit the ideological community.

I know that description sounds pretty dry, but I do expect this to be fun. (How could it not be fun, when the first source is about Vampire Bats and blood-sharing?)

Here are the sources:

Food-Sharing, from an anthropological perspective

1. Perry, Reciprocal Altruism in Vampire Bats

Vampire bats will starve after 60 bloodless hours, losing as much as 25% of their bodyweight, making them unable to maintain a critical body temperature. They need to eat 50-100% of their body weight in blood every night. Blood is preferentially donated to bats in critical need (those that would reach minimum weight within 24 hours) within a given roost; if a bat has more than 24 hours until starvation it will usually not be fed. Males in critical need, however, will still not be fed.

2. Kaplan and Gurven, The Natural History of Human Food Sharing and Cooperation: A Review and a New Multi-Individual Approach to the Negotiation of Norms (2001)

Humans share food unlike any other organism. Many other animals, including eusocial insects (bees, ants, termites), social carnivores (lions, wolves, wild dogs), some species of birds (e.g. ravens) and bats (vampire), actively share food; however, the patterning and complexity of food sharing among humans is truly unique. Unlike other mammals, for which food sharing between mothers and offspring is limited largely to lactation during infancy, human parents provision their children until adulthood. Moreover, the sharing of food between human parents and their children continues bi-directionally until death in most traditional non-market societies. Additionally, marriage is universal among human societies, and husbands and wives regularly share food with one another throughout their marriage…In addition to within-family food transfers, food sharing sometimes extends beyond the nuclear family in many societies; indeed, sharing is rather pervasive in numerous foraging societies.

3. Wilkinson, Reciprocal food sharing in the vampire bat, Nature (March, 1984)

Initial increase in frequency depends, however, on reciprocal altruists interacting predominantly with other reciprocal altruists either by associating with kin groups or by having sufficient memory to recognize and not aid nonreciprocators.

4. Kaplan and Gurven, The Natural History of Human Food Sharing and Cooperation: A Review and a New Multi-Individual Approach to the Negotiation of Norms (2001)

The acquisition of difficult-to-acquire foods, especially wild game, often requires the coordinated efforts of several individuals. However, usually only a single individual is identified as the owner of the acquired resource, determined by cultural-specific norms of ownership (e.g. hunter who makes first lethal shot, finder, killer – Dowling 1968). In many groups, sharing among task group members occurs as an initial wave of sharing (e.g. Pygmies – Bailey 1991; Harako 1976). Owners may reward non-owners for their current cooperation by giving them shares of the resource, but this sharing may also act as a means of insuring future cooperation in similar food production activities. Thus, sharing is a form of trade-based reciprocal altruism, where labor is rewarded with food. An alternative interpretation of the same phenomenon is that engaging in group production when there is sharing provides participants with higher per capita returns than if they produced food by themselves. Thus, group production may represent a form of byproduct mutualism (Clements and Stephens 1997; Dugatkin 1997; Alvard and Nolin in press).

5. Smith, Bird, Bird, The benefits of costly signaling: Meriam turtle hunters, Behavioral Ecology 14:116-126 (Jan 2003)

Signalers (hunters) gain social and reproductive benefits. Specifically, we find that successful hunters gain social recognition, have an earlier onset of reproduction, achieve higher age-specific reproductive success, and gain higher quality mates, who also achieve above-average reproductive success. Meriam hunters also average more mates (women who bear their offspring) and more co-resident sexual partners than other men, and these partners (but not mates) are significantly younger. Several lines of evidence thus support the idea that hunting is a form of costliy signaling in this population.

6. Stevens & Stephens, Food Sharing: A Model of Manipulation by Harassment, Behavioral Ecology 13:3 (2002)

We propose a game theoretical model of a general sharing situation in which food owners share because it is in their own self-interest – they avoid high costs associated with beggar harassment. When beggars harass, owners may benefit from sharing part of the food if their consumption rate is low relative to the rate of cost accrual. Our model predicts that harassment can be a profitable strategy for beggars if they reap some direct benefits from harassing other than shared food…

7. Goldstein, Melting pots and Rainbows, Gastronomica (May 2008)

Nearly fifteen years after independence, the specter of apartheid is still painfully apparent in South Africa. Yet, an exciting new inclusivity is visible in the cultural sphere, particularly in the kitchens of some talented chefs, where the various traditions comprising South Africa’s multilayered cuisine come together. “Rainbow cuisine” has proved to be more than just a catchy phrase. It has actually impelled change, at least in the culinary arts. The larger question is whether this metaphor can have a wider impact and help shape social behavior.

8. McKenzie, Social and Economic Implications of Minority Food Habits, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (1967)

Minority food habits may present us with many problems. If some of these are of a nutritional nature we must accept that certainly in the short run, perhaps even in the long run, their solution will not be achieved by advocating major changes in food habits. Nutritionists must look in other directions to deal with any resultant deficiency… [T]he significance of minority food habits goes far beyond nutritional considerations. Food habits are a vital yet almost totally neglected aspect of community integration. Choice of food not only influences our physical health, it also determines our social ‘well-being’.

Food-Sharing in Judaism: Examples

Donations to others: Bikkurim; Terumah/Maaser; Matnot Aniyyim; Tamchui

Sharing Food: Britot in Tanach; Hachnasat Orchim; Seudat Yom Tov

Sharing the eating experience: Mezuman; Maaser Sheni

Food-Sharing in Judaism: Motivations

9. Talmud, Moed Katan 28b

דיספד – יספדוניה, דיקבר – יקברוניה, דיטען – יטענוניה, דידל – ידלוניה

One who eulogizes others – others will eulogize him. One who buries others – others will bury him. One who carries others – others will carry him. One who elevates his voice [in eulogy] – others wll elevate their voices for him.

10. Talmud, Rosh haShanah 31b

כרם רבעי היה עולה לירושלים מהלך יום לכל צד, וזו היא תחומה: אילת מן הדרום, ועקרבת מן הצפון, לוד מן המערב, וירדן מן המזרח. ואמר עולא ואיתימא רבה בר עולא אמר רבי יוחנן: מה טעם – כדי לעטר שוקי ירושלים בפירות.

The fourth year of a grapevine would ascend to Yerushalayim for a radius of one day’s travel in each direction. This is the boundary: Elat form the south, Akrevat from the north, Lod from the west, Yarden from the eats. Ulla, and some say Rabbah bar Ulla, cited Rabbi Yochanan as saying, “Why is this so? In order to ornament the markets of Yerushalayim with produce.”

11. Mishnah, Bava Batra 9:4

האחין שעשו מקצתן שושבינות בחיי האב חזרה שושבינות חזרה לאמצע שהשושבינות נגבית בבית דין

If some of a family’s brothers made a shushvinut while their father was alive [from his property], then when the shushvinut is returned [after the father’s death] it goes to the group, since shushvinut is legally collectible in court.

12. Bereishit 31:54

(נד) ויזבח יעקב זבח בהר ויקרא לאחיו לאכל לחם ויאכלו לחם וילינו בהר:

And Yaakov brought an offering on the mountain and he called to his brothers to eat bread. They ate bread, and slept on the mountain.

13. Rashi to Bereishit 31:54 לאחיו

לאחיו – לאוהביו שעם לבן

“To his brothers” – To his friends with Lavan.

Food-sharing in Judaism: Building an Ideological Community

14. Fox, Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective

Because of its centrality in our lives, food becomes a perfect vehicle for ritual, and food rituals become central to most religions; food taboos mark off one sect or denomination from another…Modern anthropology tends to stress the usefulness of food as a marker of social boundaries. As the late Meyer Fortes said, it is not so much that food is "good to eat" as that it is "good to forbid." Catholics, for example, could find a bond between each other and a mark of difference from Protestants by substituting fish for meat on Fridays. It was probably a mistake for the Catholic Church to end the ban on meat; it had helped make Catholics feel special, and many continue to observe it voluntarily.

15. Talmud, Sotah 10a-b

ויקרא שם בשם ה' אל עולם - אמר ריש לקיש: אל תיקרי ויקרא אלא ויקריא, מלמד, שהקריא אברהם אבינו לשמו של הקב"ה בפה כל עובר ושב, כיצד? לאחר שאכלו ושתו עמדו לברכו, אמר להם: וכי משלי אכלתם? משל אלקי עולם אכלתם, הודו ושבחו וברכו למי שאמר והיה העולם.

‘And he called there in the name of Gd, Master of the Universe’ – Reish Lakish said: Do not read it as ‘And he called’ but as ‘And he made to call.’ This teaches that Avraham Avinu put the Name of Gd in the mouth of every traveller. How? After they ate and drank and stood to bless him, he said to them, ‘Did you eat my food? You ate the food of the Gd of the world! Thank, praise and bless the One who spoke and the world came into existence.’

16. Mishnah, Berachot 7:3-4

כיצד מזמנין בג' אומר נברך בג' והוא אומר ברכו בעשרה אומר נברך לאלקינו...שלשה שאכלו כאחד אינן רשאין ליחלק

How do they invite? With 3 he says, ‘Let us bless.’ With three plus the leader, he says, ‘Let us bless our Gd.’… If three eat together, they are not permitted to split.

17. Talmud, Avodah Zarah 31b

אתמר: מפני מה אסרו שכר של עובדי כוכבים? רמי בר חמא אמר רבי יצחק: משום חתנות,

We learned: Why did they prohibit the intoxicating drinks of idolaters? Rami bar Chama cited R’ Yitzchak: Because of marriage.

18. R’ Avraham Gombiner, Magen Avraham 199:2

ופשוט דמי שהוא רשע בפרהסיא ועובר עבירות וכ"ש מומר דאין מזמנין עליו דלא גרע מע"ה בזמן התלמוד:

It is straightforward that one who acts wickedly in public, and violates laws, and certainly a mumar, may not be part of a mezuman. His disqualification is no weaker than that of the am ha’aretz in talmudic times.

19. Talmud, Shabbat 13a

לא יאכל זב פרוש עם זב עם הארץ שמא ירגילנו אצלו. וכי מרגילו אצלו מאי הוי? - אלא אימא: שמא יאכילנו דברים טמאין. אטו זב פרוש לאו דברים טמאין אכיל? - אמר אביי: גזירה שמא יאכילנו דברים שאינן מתוקנין. ורבא אמר: רוב עמי הארץ מעשרין הן, אלא: שמא יהא רגיל אצלו, ויאכילנו דברים טמאין בימי טהרתו.

‘A zav who is careful about purity may not eat with a zav who is an am ha’aretz, lest he become accustomed to his company.’ What is wrong with becoming accustomed to his company? Rather, it means, ‘Lest the am ha’aretz feed him impure foods.’ But does a zav who is careful about purity not eat impure foods?! Rather, Abbaye explained, it is lest the am ha’aretz feed him untithed food. Rava explained: Most amei ha’aretz tithe, but the concern is lest he become accustomed to his company, and the am ha’aretz might feed him impure food when he is pure.

20. Talmud, Pesachim 99a

אמר רבי יהודה: אין שוחטין את הפסח על היחיד

Rabbi Yehudah said: One may not slaugher the korban pesach for an individual.

21. Talmud, Pesachim 98a

תנו רבנן: המפריש את פסחו ומת, אם בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום פסח. אין בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום שלמים לששה עשר... אמר רבה: לעולם דמית קודם חצות, ומאי יביאנו לשום פסח - לשום פסח שני. אביי אמר: לצדדין קתני; מת אחר חצות, בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום פסח, מת קודם חצות, אין בנו ממונה עמו - יביאנו לשום שלמים.

‘If one designates his korban pesach and dies, and his son is also appointed on the korban, then his son may bring it as a korban pesach. If his son is not appointed on the korban, he may bring it as a korban shelamim on the 16th of Nisan.’…

Rabbah said: This is where he died before midday, and ‘Bring it as a korban pesach’ means for Pesach Sheni.

Abbaye said: It is a split case: If he died after midday, and his son is appointed on the korban, then he may bring it for a korban pesach. If he died before midday, and his son is not appointed on the korban, then he may bring it as a shelamim.

22. Shemot 12:43-45

(מג) ויאמר יקוק אל משה ואהרן זאת חקת הפסח כל בן נכר לא יאכל בו: (מד) וכל עבד איש מקנת כסף ומלתה אתו אז יאכל בו: (מה) תושב ושכיר לא יאכל בו:

And HaShem said to Moshe and Aharon: This is the law of the Pesach: No stranger will eat from it. And any eved, purchased for silver – you shall circumcise him and then he shall eat it. A settler or merchant will not eat it.

23. Levi-Strauss, The Culinary Triangle

On two grounds, then, one can say that the roasted is on the side of nature, the boiled on the side of culture: literally, because boiling requires the use of a receptacle, a cultural object; symbolically, in as much as culture is a mediation of the relations between man and the world, and boiling demands a mediation (by water) of the relation between food and fire which is absent in roasting.

Balancing our imperative to share with our imperative to exclude, in creating an ideological community

24. Talmud, Chagigah 22a

אמר רבי יוסי: מפני מה הכל נאמנין על טהרת יין ושמן כל ימות השנה - כדי שלא יהא כל אחד ואחד הולך ובונה במה לעצמו, ושורף פרה אדומה לעצמו.

Rabbi Yosi said: Why are all credible for purity of wine and oil, all year round? So that each individual won’t build his own altar and burn his own red heifer.

25. Talmud, Niddah 34a

רגל היה וטומאת עם הארץ ברגל - כטהרה שוינהו רבנן, דכתיב +שופטים כ'+ ויאסף כל איש ישראל אל העיר כאיש אחד חברים הכתוב עשאן כולן חברים.

It was Yom Tov, and the sages rendered the assumed impurity of an am ha’aretz as purity on Yom Tov, as it is written, ‘And all of the Jewish men gathered to the city as one man, as chaverim’ – the verse rendered all of them chaverim.

26. Rambam, Moreh haNevuchim 3:34

הימים הטובים הם כלם לשמחה ולקבוצים שיש להם הנאה שבני אדם צריכים אליהם ברוב, ויש מהם תועלת ג"כ בענין האהבה שצריך שתהיה בין בני אדם בקבוצים המדיניים

Festivals are all for joy and for gatherings which provide the benefit that people need in their masses, and they also benefit by causing the love required between people in national gatherings.

27. R’ Tzvi Hirsch Chajes, Niddah 34a

להיפוך, גדול הפירוד במה שאדם מונע עצמו לאכול אצל ישראל חבירו, ובפרט עת רעה שאינו נאמן אצלו על המעשרות ועל הטהרות. ולא לחנם אמר ר' עקיבא כשהיה עם הארץ מי יתן לי תלמיד חכם ואנשכנו כחמור והיה עיקר הסיבה לעליית רגל משום לחבר את לבות ישראל זה לזה אבל עדיין לא תושג המטרה אם לא יהיו נאמנים זה לזה לטהרות וראו חז"ל עצות מרחוק להשבית המונע שלא יבא השטן לרקד ביניהם הימים הקדושים הללו לגרום שנאה ופירוד הלבבות. ועשאו כל ישראל חברים בשעת הרגל. ואף עמי הארץ נאמנים אז על יינם ועל שמנם. ומפני זה הרשות לחבר ועם הארץ לאכול יחד לחם ולהיות יחד בסעודת מרעים, ועל זה תגדל האהבה ויתחברו הלבבות זה לזה.

Just the opposite, the division caused is great when a person abstains from eating with another Jew, and the moment is especially bad when he is not credible regarding tithes and purity. It was not for naught that R’ Akiva said, when he was an am ha’aretz, “Who would give me a Torah scholar, and I would bite him like a donkey!”

The essential reason for holiday pilgrimages was to join the hearts of Israel, but that goal would not be achieved if they would not be mutually credible regarding purity.

The sages saw distant counsel to eliminate the obstacle, lest the Satan come to dance among them on these sacred days, causing enmity and division of hearts. They made all Israel as chaverim in the time of the festival, and even amei ha’aretz are credible at that time for their wine and their oil.

Because of this, chaver and am ha’aretz could eat bread together and join together in a meal of friends, and so increase love and join hearts to each other.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Shidduchim, and Conan O’Brien on Cynicism

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

A bit too much going on for a real post today, but here are two items that caught my eye recently and that I believe are worth consideration:

1. Mother in Israel has been running a series on Dating in Israel today, as her children move toward the age of shidduchim and dating and all of the challenges that come with watching our families create the next generation. Click here for the sixth installment, on Internet Dating in the Religious Zionist community.

This Shidduchim issue is not on my immediate horizon, but I still find it an interesting read. Of course, like most people, I entered the dating world wanting to be independent and do it without parental intervention and the general involvement of my seniors, but as I move toward that age and that role I begin to understand why it is so stressful to watch your children go through this stage, and why keeping Hands Off! is far easier said than done. So I can start to begin to somewhat relate to Mother in Israel’s situation.

[I remember when robotics and nanotech first started to make inroads in the popular mindset, and one of the big novelties was the thought that we could create machines which would, in turn, create more machines, which would, in turn, create more machines. This would, we thought, mean a major step toward the humanization of machines. In truth, though, the human aspect is not in the reproduction, it's in the way we do it. That humanesque threshold will be crossed only when those machines start creating Personal Ads, setting each other up, going to hotel lobbies and agonizing over their options, not to mention hiring caterers and videographers, before creating their progeny.]

2. And the second item is a quote from Conan O’Brien’s last show, in which he holds forth on Cynicism and sounds somewhat like Rebbe Nachman:

“All I ask of you is one thing: please don't be cynical. I hate cynicism -- it's my least favorite quality and it doesn't lead anywhere," he concluded. "Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get. But if you work really hard and you're kind, amazing things will happen.”

Amen, Conan.

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Curriculum for Conversion to Judaism

I've been asked to post my curriculum for potential converts to Judaism. It's a curriculum I developed under the guidance of Rabbi Herschel Solnica, z"l, and I used versions of it in training several people who ended up converting to Judaism. [Note: This is formatted for Firefox, and does not show up well in Internet Explorer.]

I am posting a digest here, but please note that every teacher should tailor every curriculum for every student, and that is certainly true for conversion candidates. This is just a skeleton.

Also, please note that all potential gerim first read through Chumash and discussed it with me, and read several other books, before embarking on this curriculum.

I. Evolution of Torah

A. Pre-Sinai

B. Sinai (and why Verbal and Written)

C. Through the second Temple

D. Writing down the Verbal Tradition

E. End of Ordination; new calendar

F. Mishnah/Gemara/Savoraim

G. Gaonic System

H. Crusades, Rishonim

I. Expulsion, Acharonim

II. Shabbat

A. Zachor - Remember

1. Kiddush

2. Havdalah

3. Kvod Shabbat

4. Oneg Shabbat

5. The Shabbat meal, Singing

B. Shamor - Protect

1. Definition of Melachah (task) (Mishkan) (method and goal)

2. DeOrayta – Biblical prohibitions - Avot (Central Categories) and Toldot (sub-categories)

3. DeRabbanan – Rabbinic prohibitions

4. Muktzeh – Items which are “set aside” from Shabbat use

5. Cooking on Shabbat

6. ‘MiMtzo Cheftzecha veDaber Davar’ – ‘Not to pursue your needs, or speak your speech’

7. Tirchah - Strain

8. Transport between areas on Shabbat

9. Techum

C. Shul (Musaf, Keriat haTorah)

III. Holidays

A. Sanctity of Time

1. Sanhedrin sanctifies time; 'Tikriu Atem'

2. Each day has a defined nature, annually; time is spiral, not linear

3. Re-experienced; 'L’harot et atzmo'

B. Calendar

1. The court-designated New Moon - Kiddush haChodesh Al Pi Beit Din

2. The old system of Signals

3. S’feika deYoma - The doubtful day

4. Birkat haChodesh - Blessing the new month

5. Kiddush Levanah - Celebrating the new month

6. Ibbur haShanah - Intercalating Adar 2

7. Hillel II and others cementing the calendar

C. Joyous celebrations

1. Rosh Chodesh

2. Rosh haShanah

3. Yom Kippur

4. Succot, Hoshanah Rabbah

5. Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah

6. Chanukah

7. Tu biShvat – Tax day – beginning of fiscal year

8. Purim, Purim Katan in a leap year

9. Pesach, Pesach Sheni

10. The Omer, and Lag baOmer

11. Shavuot

12. Tu b’Av

D. Fast days

1. Tzom Gedaliah (Fast of Gedaliah)

2. Yom Kippur

3. Asarah beTevet (10th of Tevet)

4. Taanit Ester (Fast of Esther)

5. Taanit Bechorim (Fast of the First-born)

6. Shivah Asar beTammuz (17th of Tammuz), the 3 Weeks

7. Tishah be’Av (9th of Av)

8. Yom Kippur Katan

9. The “BeHaB” Cycle

IV. Keeping Kosher – (Reading assignments here)

A. Kosher entities

B. Non-Kosher parts of kosher entitites

C. Methods of absorption of taste

D. Mixtures of meat and milk

E. Bugs, and Bliah from bugs

F. Notein Taam and Taam Lifgam, and kosher equipment

1. Halachic reality and Practical reality

2. Why not just have one pot and wait 24 hours?

G. Fish and meat

H. Kashering Utensils and Ovens

I. Areas of difficulty

1. Sink

2. Microwave

3. Dishwasher

4. Guests, Housekeepers

J. Waiting between dairy and meat

K. Tithing

L. Other produce issues

1. Insects

2. Arlah [First 3 years of a tree]

3. Kilayim [Mixed species]

4. Yashan/Chadash [Using the new year's grain]

5. Challah [Tithing dough]

6. Shemitah [The Sabbatical Year]

M. Gezeirot MiShum Shmad - rabbinic sumptuary laws

N. Tevillat Kelim - immersing kitchen equipment

O. What is a “reliable Hechsher?”

V. Kosher Speech

A. Slander

1. Motzi Shem Ra - Lies

2. Lashon haRa - Truth

3. LeToelet - Justifications

B. Sheker, and Shalom Bayit [Lying for peace] exceptions

C. Onaah - Oppression

1. Fraud

2. Causing pain

D. Lifnei Iver - Causing the blind to stumble

1. Meisit - Inducing sin

2. Misayeia - Aiding sin

3. Lifnei Iver - Triggering sin

VI. Blessings

A. After eating

B. Before eating

C. On forms of benefit other than eating

D. Other blessings

1. Asher Yatzar - After using the washroom

2. Oseh Maaseh Bereishit - Recognizing Divine Creation

VII. Laws of Family Purity

VIII. Jewish Philosophy

A. Who is Gd?

B. What is the Torah?

1. Development of Torah (Spoken, verbal)

2. The Mitzvah of Torah study

C. Roles of Jews and non-Jews

D. Reward and punishment in this world and the next

E. Individual and Community

F. Roles of men and women

G. Evolution and Creationism

H. Mashiach