Thursday, October 28, 2010

Solutions for small Jewish communities

[Post on my mind today: Blame it on the bus, from Modern Uberdox]

The transience of Jewish communities is an appropriate hallmark of life outside of Israel; Jews are not meant to remain outside of Israel. A big problem, though - at least in my mind - is the death of halachic community services (synagogue, school, kosher food, eruv, mikvah) while Jews yet remain in those communities.

Halachic services are expensive to maintain. Aside from the the obvious issue of financial cost, a great deal of infrastructure is needed just to keep committed professionals in the community.

A community with 4000 Jews in it will likely have no day school for kids, and no kosher food beyond whatever the supermarket happens to stock as part of its chain's offerings. There might be a chavura of some variety, but that's about it. And so the kids who grow up in that community will be missing what could have been a major influence in their lives, beyond what they randomly pick up in the media or on the internet.

Of course, these communities themselves rarely harbor families who would identify themselves as halachah-observant or even halachah-concerned. But for those of us who believe it's important for Jews to have a mikvah, religious education, lulav and etrog and matzah, and so on, what are our options?

Of course, there is Chabad. Chabad offers such communities professionals and services, funding them first before looking to raise the funds inside or outside the serviced community.

There is also NJOP, which doesn't provide people but does provide free programs and materials to those who would run them.

And there is another model, which I've seen operated by Federations. They hire an itinerant rabbi, generally someone older, who does not have children at home, and assign him a set of communities to which he travels and whom he serves.

The goal is not to run a shul. Rather, it is to have a rabbi who does active research (on-line, and through personal networking; we are past the age of looking up "Cohen" in the phone book) to identify Jews in those communities, and offers them his services. Who travels there perhaps monthly to run programs for youth and adults, and who keeps in touch with people between visits. No budget to run a building, not enough for a school - but perhaps enough to provide a spark which might lead a child, when he grows up and moves out, to look for something Jewish on campus, or in his new community.

What other options have you seen, or do you think might help with this problem? Or is it not a problem at all?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reason #723 for Aliyah

[A post that's on my mind today: "Haredim are worse then crime and prostitution"]

During our trip to Israel this past summer, we spent a lot of time with friends who have made aliyah. All of them, of course, asked us about our own chances, discussing various issues in their own klitah.

One of them gave us her most-compelling reason for aliyah, and it was a bit unusual: Keeping the next generation together.

In a nutshell, the idea is this: People who live in North America tend to have kids who spread out, so that those kids’ children rarely see their first cousins, let alone second cousins. (This is not quite true in Toronto, where the great majority seem to settle down in this city, but the general point is valid.) Better to make aliyah, so that if the kids remain in Israel, they will all be within a couple of hours of each other.

The idea is funny, when compared with other reasons like Ahavas Eretz Yisrael, mitzvos of Eretz Yisrael, bringing Mashiach, living in a Jewish land, escaping virulent anti-Semitism and so on. Nonetheless, the point resonates.

We were at a family simcha recently, and because we live in Canada and our siblings are scattered around the American Northeast, our kids rarely see aunts and uncles and cousins. I saw siblings I haven’t seen since last Pesach, and that gap of 8 months is normal. Another branch of the family is spread between Baltimore, New York and Chicago; same problem, I expect. Granted that when we lived in Pennsylvania, much closer to New York, we still didn’t visit much, but we had more opportunites then than we do now. And knowing what I know now about life and about travel, I would take the opportunities now – but the opportunities are no longer present.

Of course, aliyah would make it less likely that my children would get to know their own non-Israeli first cousins – but the next generation would have that hope.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thank Gd for Shabbos. And Pizza Day.

[This week's Haveil Havalim, and an important call for Tehillim, are here.]

[Background: Wednesdays are Pizza Day in my children’s school.]

I worry about my kids developing the same negative attitude many of us have regarding Shabbos – the feeling that it’s a day of restrictions, of “can’t-do-that,” of lots of time in shul or at the table instead of playing ball and computer games. I don’t want them to go through the day just waiting for it to end.

So over Shabbos I had a few minutes to hold my youngest (a kindergartener) on my lap, and I decided to talk to him about Shabbos. I told him I’m very grateful that HaShem created this day. I explained that it’s wonderful to have time to be with my children, as opposed to the rest of the week when my time with them is confined to evenings. I told him that without Shabbos I would likely never stop working, and I would be exhausted, and so on. So it’s great that HaShem created Shabbos.

After which he turned to me and asked, “Who created Pizza Day?”

Shows where his priorities are…

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rabbis friending children on Facebook?

The titular question arises now because of a CNN video clip in which an interviewer asks whether teachers should Friend students on Facebook.

The teacher interviewed gives a definite No – teachers should not be friends with their students, not off-line and not on-line. From the sound of her words, friending a student would be the equivalent of inviting him/her over for pizza, a decided no-no in today’s age of impropriety and abuse.

So what about a shul rabbi? Facebook frequently suggests teens and pre-teens from my former communities as potential Facebook Friends. Do I offer to friend them? Is it, perhaps, less appropriate now that I no longer live there?

I see arguments on both sides:

• It’s the digital equivalent of going over to say Hello at kiddush – nothing intrusive or over the line, just a way to be friendly. Communities gain when kids feel like they have an open line of communication with the rabbi. Like it or not, the rabbi represents Judaism, and even Gd, for many children, and his availability and willingness to answer questions can have a tremendous positive effect.

• Even if kids will never use this avenue to connect with the rabbi, Facebook use – or use of its eventual successors – demonstrates that the rabbi isn’t some stodgy, regressive, cave-dweller.

• It’s creepy to be friended by your rabbi, particularly for kids who use Facebook as a real form of friendship, a club for socializing, and not just a utility for hunting up email addresses, as I usually do. (My other main use is ignoring suggestions I “like” or “fan” various causes. Sorry.)

• Being friended by your rabbi may be even worse than being friended by your grandmother – truly a sign that Facebook is about to become the next Friendster. It doesn’t mean your rabbi is hip; it just means that Facebook is yesterday’s news.

• What if it just seems like a pathetic attempt to be 'hip'? It could come off as patronizing rather than friendly.

So what do you think? Should the Rabbi be friending the children in his congregation? Or better to find other ways to connect?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ageism in the rabbinic search process

[This week’s Haveil Havalim is here]

It’s been alleged that rabbinical bodies are guilty of impropriety for the way they control search processes. That's an interesting point, but I'd like to talk about a question of practice on the hiring side.

Off and on over the years, I’ve heard it claimed that congregations are “age-ist” in hiring rabbis, because they seek rabbis who are south of middle age. (And, of course, I wrote about my own aging process and concerns a couple of years ago, in Young and Dynamic and 124/78.)

My sense is that shuls are entitled to look for rabbis of a particular age or stage of life. This is not a case of age discrimination. Beyond prejudicial concerns for the appearance of vitality in the shul, and the question of how long the rabbinic candidate intends to stay or how much energy he intends to invest, I think there is a substantive issue of how well the older rabbi will relate to younger congregants.

Parents of young children tend to associate most with other parents of young children – people who are dealing with the same challenges, who meet at school events and birthday parties, whose children play together in homes and sports leagues. So it’s logical that a shul trying to attract those young families would seek a rabbi who would have those natural connections to that group.

Of course, that young rabbi may also have difficulty identifying with older congregants, and counseling people with mid-life crises, or people who are losing their ability to drive, their ability to hear, or their independence. But: Shuls are often more forgiving of youth than they are of seniority, possibly because the former tends to be cured by time, while the latter is rather difficult to reverse. And, I think shuls – rightly or wrongly – assume that older congregants are more likely to remain with the congregation despite having a junior rabbi, while younger congregants are more likely to jump ship in search of the young and dynaimic.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Science and Halachah

Today's battles of Science and Torah are often taken as occurring in a vacuum - as though someone woke up yesterday and realized that there may be some issues regarding the age of the universe, or some other cause celebre.

One result of this perspective is that authorities who take positions on either side of the issue - (1) Hold the line against the influence of modern research, or (2) Amend our understanding of the way the world works - are often accused of holding insidious or subversive agendas, trying to maintain their political power, etc.

In reality, though, the lines on this were staked out at least 700 years ago, in early debates about halachic rulings which seemed to depend on incorrect science. Of course, the question of accepting secular research goes back long before that, and is negotiated in the gemara itself, but the specific question of: "The sages believed X and based their halachic rulings on X, and now the world thinks/believes/proves that X is wrong - what do we do?" is first clearly hashed out in the responsa of the 12th to 14th centuries.

I intend to use the next session or two of my "Responsa that changed Jewish History" series to look at the positions outlined in those responsa, and the support brought for those positions. For a taste, here's a classic example of the responsa of that era: Rashba, Volume 1, Responsum 98. The translation, which is only partial, is my own.

Question: An animal was found to have an extra eiver [yeteret], from one of those eivarim which renders the animal a tereifah, in a place which should render it a tereifah. It was clarified that twelve months had passed. Would we say that since twelve months passed it is not a tereifah, and it is kosher, for Chullin 58 says that a tereifah cannot live twelve months? Although I have seen and heard that some permit this and are lenient, I wish to know your view.

Response: If you saw or heard one who is lenient and permits a yeteret, or any other situation the sages listed as a tereifah, do not listen to him, do not agree with him, there should not be such in Israel. It appears to me that one who permits this is slandering the words of the sages. I will speak with you about this at length, so that a fence will be built for you and for all who tremble at the word of Gd, and the words of the holy sages of Israel will not be made like a fence that has been pushed aside, such that a fox could ascend and break through.

In Chullin 42, the sages listed, “There are eighteen tereifot… This is the rule: If an animal that suffers such a wound cannot live, it is a tereifah.” And the gemara comments that the author of the mishnah believed that a tereifah cannot live, and that which he had learned he listed, and that which he had not learned he did not list. The list is brought with “Zeh haKlal,” and we depend on “Zeh haKlal” formulations in the gemara. Some sages added other tereifot, situations in which the animal could not live, according to their views, and they depended upon this rule… There is a view there in the gemara that when the mishnah says it “cannot live,” this does not refer to living twelve months alone, but rather that it will eventually die from that wound… In any case, all those listed there, and included by the sages, cannot ever be permitted.

Ulla included all of the tereifot in eight categories, saying (Chullin 43), “These eight categories were told to Moshe at Sinai: Pierced, split, removed, lacking, torn, trampled, fallen and broken.” We say that these were told to Moshe at Sinai, and yeteret is among those that were removed, according to Rav Huna, or those that are pierced or split… And Rav Huna’s position is definitive, and none have ever argued it… For all of these, they never said that living twelve months or giving birth would be a sign [of health], for there is no sign in the survival of known tereifot, and they are prohibited unconditionally. We don’t say that we leave them [to see if they survive], for according to the view that a tereifah cannot live, they cannot live. One who said that they survived two or three years was describing something that never happened, and who testifies to this is mistaken; such never happened.

It is as we say in the gemara: “R’ Yosi ben Nehorai asked R’ Yehoshua ben Levi: How big a hole in the windpipe?” And he replied, “It is as we learned…” R’ Yosi ben Nehorai replied: But we had a lamb like that in our area, and it lived! To which R’ Yehoshua ben Levi replied, “You depend on this? The law has spread in Israel that a bird with a fallen thigh is a tereifah, and R’ Shimon ben Chalafta had such a chicken and he prepared a tube for it, and it lived, and that was only within twelve months, and the same must be true for your case.” Therefore, even if many people go about saying they saw this, we contradict them. The words of the sages will stand, and we will not slander the words of the sages and uphold the words of these others.

In cases like these I say: Please do not slander the words of the sages regarding that which they considered a definite tereifah, and they did not leave as a doubt.

And if there is one whose heart disturbs him, saying that perhaps the sages only spoke of the majority of cases and most animals experiencing one of the listed tereifot will not survive, but some of them might survive due to their physical and constitutional strength, then you will have cancelled our mishnah’s rule of “None like this live.” All of those listed by those sages, within the view of the mishnah’s author, cannot live… And if this were true that we had seen it live, this would be testimony that the animal is not among the tereifot. Further, it would be testimony not only about itself, but it would be ‘purifying’ itself and its peers. You cannot escape one of two possibilities: Either a tereifah cannot live and the fact that this animal lived testifies that it is not a tereifah, or this case resolves the debates [regarding whether a tereifah can live] and testifies that the law is against the author of the mishnah, and like the author of the baraita who stated that a tereifah can live…

And if you will reply: What can we do – we have seen a yeteret of the foot survive twelve months, with our own eyes! This is what R’ Yehoshua ben Levi told R’ Yosi ben Nehorai, “You depend on this?” Meaning: This is not possible. It is as though you testify that you have seen the impossible. Or, there is another cause. So, too, here we ask the witness how he knows that this animal had, in fact, survived that period. Perhaps you forgot or erred, or perhaps you were confused regarding the time, or perhaps you confused this animal for another, for it is not possible to testify that this animal was in his sights for the entire twelve months. And if he will strengthen himself in his error and say, “No, for I love these strange words, this is what I saw and this is what I will follow,” then we will tell him that it is impossible to slander the words of the sages. The witness, and one thousand like him, should be cancelled, rather than cancel one point of the positions agreed upon by the holy Jewish sages, the prophets and students of prophets, and statements given to Moshe at Sinai…

Much more in the class itself, of course...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Eminem and Commercial Jewish Music

On my long Sunday evening drive, I listened to a 60 Minutes interview with Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem. It was interesting to hear him talk about how he thinks about words all day, playing with rhymes and rhythm. I was fascinated by his take on pairing words with "orange" – he denied the standard view that nothing rhymes with orange, and when challenged he proved the point, such as by dragging the first syllable so that the ‘n’ was almost inaudible (awwridge, practically), such that you could easily hear how it could rhyme with any number of words.

Most of all, I felt some measure of nachas (pride and satisfaction) in hearing the man talk about where he is now, his new strength, his role as a father. He’s clearly still angry, hurt, dealing with pain and mistrust, but he seems to have learned to use it as fuel, and this may be an early step toward getting past it. No surprise, I like his recent “I’m not afraid”, although I can’t link to it because the laws prohibiting ניבול פה still apply…

In any case: Listening to Eminem talk, I was reminded of why I’ve always been drawn to angry music – think Shinedown, Linkin Park, Three Days Grace. On some level their anger resonates with anger inside me, and that’s one associaton, but on a deeper level it’s the passion the songs express. It’s authentic, less entertaining and more personal, less of a performance and more the embodiment of a soul, and so it has a beauty I don’t find in songs sung for the sake of selling CDs.

This is my frustration with much of the Jewish music being marketed today: To me, the music lacks passion.

As a people and as individuals, Jews have plenty of reasons to feel anger, as well as love and fear and pain and joy. The words of our music often carry these themes beautifully. But the feeling seems to be that of a synthesizer rather than a human being.

Many of today’s artists do have catchy rhythms and artful voices and meaningful words and dance-friendly tunes, but I just don’t sense that the singers are emotionally “into” the songs. With the exception of Shlomo Carlebach, and perhaps the Piamentas in their live work, I can’t remember ever hearing a Jewish singer have what seemed to be an authentic passionate, religious experience while singing. Mordechai ben David’s אנחנו מאמינים בני מאמינים is a great song when people sing it live – but the commercially recorded versions seem canned to me.

Have I been listening to the wrong Jewish singers – have you heard some who are like that?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Talk amongst yourselves

This week's Haveil Havalim is available here, which is a good thing, because I am too mentally drained to blog at the moment.

I was fortunate to be able to attend a beautiful wedding in Allentown on Sunday - mazal tov! - but the trip was incredibly draining. 3+ hours to Farmington, NY after Shabbos, then another 4+ hours to Allentown on Sunday morning, then the wedding, then 5+ hours back to Buffalo last night, capped with 2 hours to Toronto this morning to catch the 7:30 Canadian Thanksgiving minyan.

(What's Canadian Thanksgiving, you ask? Me, too. I read this, and I still don't quite get it. But that's okay; today is Columbus Day in the States, and I can't figure that one out, either. How do you "discover" a country where millions of people live?)

I heard all sorts of blogworthy items on the radio as I drove - the Rangers' victory over the Sabres; 60 Minutes interviews with Nelson Mandela and Marshall Mathers (Eminem) as well as inane piece by Andy Rooney; a report on Canadian Thanksgiving with Weird Al's "Eat It" playing in the background (I kid you not); a show on John Lennon's post-Beatles career and message; and more. [I don't listen to shiurim while driving; generally, the result is either that I don't pay attention to the shiur or I don't pay attention to the road.]

And the wedding itself was blogworthy; it was wonderful to be back home, and hard to leave.

But I'm just tapped out right now from the impact of the long drive. So feel free to comment here, or go read Haveil Havalim, or click on a blog in my sidebar, or search for old posts. I hope to be pack to posting in a day or two.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Rav Saadia Gaon tackles Chivi haBalchi

[This week's Toronto Torah is here; enjoy!]

I'm delivering a shiur next Wednesday night [first in a series on "Responsa that changed Jewish History"], on Rav Saadia Gaon's replies to Chivi haBalchi.

There's a lot more to the topic than I can include here, but I thought readers might be interested in an excerpt from Rav Saadia Gaon's replies, from which one can also the questions troubling this man, and many other Jews as well (per Ibn Daud's Sefer haKabbalah) a millenium ago.

The Hebrew is courtesy of Samuel Poznanski's תשובות רב סעדיה גאון על שאלות חיוי הבלכי, the translation is my own.

(The question: Why did Gd not protect Hevel, His favored one?)
שאת בניו מנחות רצה א-ל את הקטן כי ממיטב מיחיו הוביל למלך השלטון
נמבזה ונמס הביא הרב לקטן והודיעו כי הומאס ולא שב ויסטון
נגף אח ושאלו אלו-ה למען יודה ויתהולל בתשובתו כמסבב וצודה
על כן נקמו א-ל באף רודה כי דם עבדיו יקום ונפשו פודה
ענה אענך על שאלתך תשובה נצחת אשר אמרת למה לא שמרו ונינו לא נשחת
כן היה לך אמר אלו היה עולם אחד וישיבה אחת אבל בהיות עולם שני הכל בר לתוכחת:
שוש אל ישישו העושקים פה בעושקם כי לעת תמוט רגלם שם יאל לשלם נקם
ולא יתאבל כל עשוק ורצוץ ונעקם כי יש לא-ל להחליפו טוב ולא ישוב ריקם
יען כי לא ימנע עושק מנטות ידו ולא בכל עת יציל נחמס מאודו
כי יש יום לכל אחד בחוקו למדדו בין עובד א-ל לאשר לא עבדו
When Adam’s sons brought offerings, Gd accepted the younger, for from the best of his food he brought to the royal ruler. The degraded and rejected, the greater brought compared to the smaller. Gd informed him he was rejected, and he did not repent and he hated.
He struck his brother, and Gd inquired so that he might admit it. He played the fool in his reply, like a trickster and a hunter. Gd punished him, striking him with rage, for the blood of His servants He will avenge, and his life He will redeem.
I will answer your question with a mighty reply, as far as your question as to why Gd did not guard him, and his descendant was not destroyed. This would be right to say, were this the world of one person, with one dwelling, but because there are others in the world, all was created for education.
Rejoice not, those who cheat others here in their plots; their leg will stumble at the time when Gd chooses to punish them. Those who are cheated, crushed and bent need not mourn, for Gd is able to reward them, and they will not return emptyhanded.
Because corruption does not cease to extend its hand, and one who is attacked is not always saved from its brand, but there is a day for each one, his allotment for his measure, whether one who serves Gd or one who does not.

(The question: Why do people suffer?)
עוד שאלת על מיני היסורים הרעב והחלי והפחד והשוד והשברים
והחום והקור למה מן האדם לא נעדרים כל אלה שאלה אחת והרבית דברים:
דע וראה כי אלו-ה לטובת יצורים ייסרם למען ידעו כאב המוסרים ותמרורם
ויחדלו מעשות רע אשר לזה יסגירם ולא היו מכירים אלו העדירם
You also inquired about the types of suffering – the famine, illness, terror, theft and damage, the heat and the cold; why are these not lost from man? All of these are one question; you were overly verbose.
Know and see that Gd rebukes creatures for their benefit, that they may know the pain and bitterness of rebuke, and so that they will cease to practice evil. For this He will give them over. They would not learn this, were suffering lost.

(The question: Why do people die?)
פלאות התמהת והקשית לשאול למה לא יחיה האדם לעד ולא ירד שאול
מי יתן ונוצר מתחלה בעולם הבא לגאול ואף כי תתאיו לעמדו פה במצור ובתאול:
בעשותו כל אלה יש רבים מורדים ובהפחידו אותם בצרותיהם יש בדתו בוגדים
קל וחומר אם לא היו פוחדים אז היו שכם אחד כולם לא היו עובדים:
צורתך המן החכמה לחיותה לעד או להצילה מצרה וצוקה ורעד
אי זו דעת תשפוט לחלצך ממעד כי סרה דברת על שוכן עד:
נכונו ללצים שפטים ומהלומות ערוך למו מאתמול תפתה בחמות
אשר חשך לעת צר ליום קרב ומלחמות גם אתה כאחד מהם בכעס א-ל נקמות:
You have expressed wonder, and asked stubbornly, why a man does not live eternally, without descending to Sheol. Would that Man had been created initially in Olam haBa, to be redeemed! And instead Gd desired to place him here, in pain and exhaustion.
[Even with] Gd having done all of this, there are still many who rebel. [Even though] Gd intimidates them, there are those who rebel against His law. How much more so if they were not afraid! Then, as one group, none of them would work.
Would it be wise for your form to be kept alive forever, or to save it from trouble and pain and trembling? What intelligence could judge to save you from stumbling – when you have fomented rebellion against the Eternal One?
Verdicts and suffering are prepared for scorners; angry tifteh was arranged from yesterday for them. It will be dark at the time of trouble, the day of battle and wars. You will be as one of them, in the rage of the punishing Gd.

(The question: How does a mikvah purify a person?)
קדוש איך לא יצרו – אמרת – מבית ומחוץ וכלי מלא צואה מה יועיל בהיותו רחוץ
ומשלתו בשרץ ובלבינה בטמאתו לרחוץ הנני אשיבך מלין ודברי נחוץ
ידע תדע כי אין טומאה בחדרי האדם כי כל מימיו לא יקראו טמאות עד היפרדם
על כן בהיפרדם כאשר צוה יוסדם קדושים המה מלפנים ולחיצון בכל מאדם
רק הטמאות טומאת הרשע בהם תבך אזלו מים מני ים ולא יטהר מאבך
ומה יועילו ללב כופר כל מיני נבך והוא אמר כבסי מרעה לבך:
How were they not formed holy, inside and out, you asked. And what good would it do for a vessel filled with excrement to be washed? You compared Man to a sheretz and a clay receptacle, in its impurity to wash. I will offer words of reply to you, and my message will be quick.
Know that there is no impurity in the innards of Man; his liquids are not deemed impure until they separate from him. Therefore when they [do not yet] separate as their Founder commanded, they are holy inside and [impure only when] outside.
Only the case of those who are impure with the impurity of wickedness will cause you confusion. The water can depart from the sea and your arrogance will not be purified. What will all manner of waves benefit the heart of a heretic? He has declared: Cleanse your heart of evil.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Of Bobby Cox and Synagogue Rabbis

I once wrote, in my more glib years:

It seems to me that rabbis are like sports coaches – they rarely leave at the right time, but instead go on and on until someone comes with a crowbar and forces them out of their chairs on the mizrach vant.

This isn’t true of all rabbis, of course. Some rabbis die in the pulpit. Some rabbis retire, due to burnout or age. Some rabbis break the communal heart by leaving on their own.

But a remarkably high percentage of rabbis, disproportionate when compared to other fields, leave by "mutual agreement" – not
mutual meaning agreeing with him, but rather that the board and the congregation mutually agree that it’s time to run him out of town.

The topic is no longer as humorous to me as it once was, thanks to the experience of actually retiring and of seeing friends change pulpits themselves. But the analogy to a sports coach is, I think, apt.

It’s hard for a coach to leave when he’s on top - when the quality of the team, the bond between the coach and the players, and the coach’s love for the game convince him that next season could be as wonderful as, or more wonderful than, the past season. And the same is true for a rabbi: When you’re on top, it’s hard to leave.

But if a coach or rabbi can retire while still in love with his team/community, then as painful as it is to separate – and I know this from experience - it’s far better than the alternative.

I thought of that comparison this past week, when Bobby Cox coached his last regular season games in Atlanta. I’m not much of a baseball fan – the game is as dull as watching grass grow – but having been in Atlanta over Yom Tov, I couldn’t miss the press coverage of the last week of the season. Coach of the Braves for the past 20 years (with an earlier four year stint), made the playoffs 15 times, Coach of the Year four times, popular and a Hall of Fame career (despite having only won the championship once), he has it all, apparently. And he’s going out on top, having just carried his team into the playoffs yet again.

Nicely done, Mr. Cox. כמוך ירבו בישראל.

Oh, and one more reason I love Coach Cox: His penchant for being tossed out of games. He holds the league record, having been ejected 158 times.

A few years back, Bobby Cox and one of his players were thrown out of a game, and the player asked him what to do. Coach Cox’s reply: ‘Go have a couple cold beers and get in the cold tub or something and relax. And then you’ll probably have to write a $500 check. Or you can do what I do, write a $10,000 one and tell them when it runs out, let me know.'

Gotta love it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Peace Now: “The public has been brainwashed by the government”

Courtesy of The Jerusalem Post:
Fifty-four percent of respondents said the government should be building in Judea and Samaria and only 39% support a further moratorium. The poll also found that if an election were held today, Labor would fall to six Knesset seats from the current 13…
Peace Now reacted by lamenting that “the public has been brainwashed by the government and the settlers and has not internalized the price Israel is paying for the settlements.”
“They have bought the stories about the freeze harming average Israelis instead of helping Israel diplomatically,” Peace Now director-general Yariv Oppenheimer said.

Oppenheimer’s statement here is a case study in arrogant frustration.

Peace Now has been buying ad space and protesting and writing columns and editorials and working with their well-funded J-Street partners forever and a day – and yet, they can’t get more than 39% of Israelis to support a moratorium, and Labor is losing ground. How can this be?

Choice A: Israelis are stupid.
Choice B: Reasonable people can disagree.
Choice C: Israelis are being fooled by the opposition.

Well, can’t come out and say A, right?
And it can’t be Choice B, either - Peace Now is obviously in the right.
So the answer must be C – the public has been brainwashed by the government, etc. Because Netanyahu is really that smooth, of course… or maybe it’s Avigdor Lieberman, with his smooth talking ways…


I couldn't help wondering who was ghostwriting for Peace Now, so I Googled Mr. Oppenheimer's key turn of phrase, “the public has been brainwashed by the government.”

Lo and behold, I found the muse for this powerful observation: Pbdude420 (longboarder and “herb connoisseur”) said it first, addressing someone who is “sick to death of the red hot chili peppers,” on August 22, 2007, on the website of the Vans Warped Tour 2010.

Mr. Secretary General, you need a new speechwriter. At least, one who doesn’t spill your best lines before you get to use them.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Ex-Rabbi's Succos Vacation

[This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

Spent Succos with my wife’s family, and enjoyed it very much. A beautiful Yom Tov in a beautiful community. Time with the Rebbetzin, time with family, good food and good company, and - most relevant for this post - a good antidote for my most recent bout of “I should go back into the pulpit” misgivings.

What did I enjoy about not-rabbi-ing over Yom Tov, 14 months after leaving the pulpit?

A simple pleasure, but still. To daven, to dance, to sing, to lein, to listen to a shiur, without the fishbowl of being the Rabbi, community employee and community role model. To offer a thought to someone who gave a shiur, without it being the Rabbi’s comment. To step out of hakafos for a minute to talk with a friend, without having people note the Rabbi’s absence. You get the point.

Learning Torah lishmah
Another simple pleasure – To be able to learn during Yom Tov lishmah (for the sake of learning Torah), from any sefer I chose, instead of preparing the next derashah in the marathon of derashot required by the Tishrei schedule.

No stress
Succos was always filled with stress for me. Concern that I might have approved an esrog incorrectly. Concern that we might not have enough hoshanos to go around. Concern that we were starting davening too early on Hoshana Rabbah, or that we were davening too fast. Concern for what hakafos would be like. Concern about the last-minute shailah that came in right before Yom Tov and that I might have mishandled in the rush, and this right after I klopped al cheit on Yom Kippur for incorrect halachic rulings. Concern for the erev yom tov funeral. And so on – but not this year.

My kids
Davening with my kids. Learning with my kids. Dancing with my kids. Amazing.

The Rabbis
Getting a chance to shul-hop and so to hear divrei torah from other rabbis, and to schmooze with them as well. As opposed to the all-Torczyner-all-the-time monotony of being the sole speaker in a smaller setting.

This isn’t really a product of leaving the rabbinate; it’s a product of becoming a rosh kollel: Scouting the YU Torah Tours talent to see who might be coming down the pike as a potential avrech in a couple of years. The signs are encouraging.

Yes, I enjoyed this Yom Tov. And so, at least for a little longer, I can appreciate the positives of my career change.