Sunday, February 27, 2011

Witnessing a proba

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

Wow, was that weird.

This past Shabbos was the first time I ever witnessed a proba (Shabbos tryout) for a pulpit rabbi from the shul side as an adult and as a rabbi, and it was more than passing strange.

I’ve blogged the Rabbinic Search before, but from the point of view of the rabbi/candidate. (I’ve since pulled some posts regarding the proba shabbos, lest I offend. I may censor them and re-publish them in the future.) Seeing it from the other side, as a congregant, was very different.

It was automatically weird because the candidate was a good friend, with whom I have a long relationship, but among the more professional weirdness:

• Hearing another rabbi give a proba derashah – I never really thought about the different styles one could use as a candidate; I tended to give a derashah about some theme which I thought would resonate with people, but it was really driven by the parshah. Only this Shabbos did I start to think about the other options – Should the derashah be an overt part of the sales pitch, “Hire me and I’ll do X?” Should it speak to the major issues on the shul’s agenda?

• Figuring out my priorities – As a candidate, I naturally looked at the proba from the perspective of demonstrating that I was a good match for the shul’s needs. Certainly, much of the proba was about connecting with people personally, but I took it as a given – subconsciously, really – that the question on people’s minds was, “Is this the best candidate for the shul’s needs?” But sitting in the pews, I felt much more like for me, it was a popularity contest. “Do I like him the most?”

Part of that may have been because it takes some hubris to think I know what the shul needs, and whether this candidate would be able to provide it. It’s much easier to answer the question of “Do I like him the most?”

• Uncomfortable flashes of mind-reading the candidate, as I zapped from contemplating what he must be thinking to what I was thinking and what the people around me were thinking.

• Listening to the answers to the Q&A grilling and wanting to modify the answers to what I would have said. This was sort of like watching a game show, actually. “No! It’s The Titanic! The Titanic!”

And, of course, it brought back all sorts of memories from my various probas.

I have more to say on this; maybe I’ll re-visit it later this week.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The rabbi who wouldn't do email

I know a rabbi who doesn't "do" email - he has a secretary who will print it for him, and he will dictate a reply, but that's it.

I assume this means he is:
1) less reachable for people, and therefore he receives fewer shailos (questions) on matters halachic and philosophical;

2) less computer-bound, because of his fewer communications, and therefore he has more time to spend on personal interactions and on preparing shiurim;

3) less likely to write something foolish which he will later regret, since he is dictating the email to another human being, who might act as a filter;

4) less in-tune with congregants who live by their Blackberries;

5) aware of fewer current jokes and memes, since he is unaware of chain emails;

6) forced to read longer and more thought-out print articles on current events, instead of the shallower get-it-out-quick pieces that circulate via email;

7) less up on Torah resources which are only available on-line.

I'm sure there's more to say here, but I need to go answer email. (heh)

What do you think? Would you want your rabbi to use email, or not?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The 39 I have become

[Post that made me smile today: Telling it like it is, from Jack]

[Warning: Navel-gazing ahead. With apologies to Three Days Grace, but the song fit.]

In the Torah, 39 is always “almost-forty.” Think of the 39 lashes given by a beit din (court), counted in the Torah as 40. Or the 39 prohibited melachot (tasks) of Shabbat, which are counted as "40 minus one." So it’s natural that I think of today as my almost-fortieth birthday.

Technically, I can get away with saying it’s not really my birthday; I was an Adar baby, and so I have a few weeks until my birthday comes up in Adar Sheni. But inside, I know I’m 39 today.

I am happy today. Thank Gd, I have everything I could need in my family and my health. (Dentist said to me last week, “Your teeth look pretty good for someone your age.” Thanks!) My job is crazy, but it provides satisfaction, some personal growth, and a solid income. My kids are in a good school, and while I will always want more for them and from them, they are doing well. So I have no right to complain.

And yet, I complain.

In particular, I’m feeling disappointed today that I didn’t end up having a serious, 40- or 50-year career in a single community.

Part of this disappointment is because I grew up in one community, and I’d like that for my kids. But part of it is professional.

I interned in Englewood, New Jersey. On Shavuos night at the end of my year there, I delivered a shiur as part of the shul’s Tikkun Leil Shavuot program. Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm was there, and afterward he asked me where I was headed after the internship. I told him, and he said something very close to, “That’s good. You’ll make your mistakes there, and then you’ll be ready to move to a bigger shul.”

I was very offended, and not only by the suggestion that I would make mistakes. I wanted to live in one place, for a very long time, have a career that was substantive and whole, see generations of families grow and flourish, and know everyone and be known by everyone and be a part of the community and make a mark that would be real and enduring. I wanted to celebrate birthdays and bar/bat mitzvahs and weddings with the same people, over the years.

Then I lived, and learned and experienced. I wanted to stay in Rhode Island, but that wasn’t realistic for the shul we had. Ditto for Allentown, due to the lack of a yeshiva high school. The moves were the right moves, I believe, but the result is that if I merit to turn 40 next year, it will be in a city of people who just met me yesterday, and not with the people who celebrated 30 and 35 with me.

The only thing to do now, I suppose - in the absence of aliyah for reasons too long for this post - is to make Toronto long-term. That would be good. It’s a late start, and too late to change what has been done… but, Gd-willing, there will be plenty of time to build from here.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decide not to know about

In my last post I mentioned agnatology (aka agnotology), which may be rendered as "the study of ignorance", geared toward answering the question of why we don’t know certain things. One of the lessons of this field is that ignorance is often intentional.

I was introduced to this field by a congregant of mine a few years ago, and it occurred to me that several areas of halachah depend on agnatology:
We are agnatological when a court opts not to hear testimony which might throw off the calendar, or not to accept testimony which might cost a defendant his life.
We use agnatology when a woman is told not to investigate a stain which could well be dam niddah.
Agnatology holds sway in kashrut, when utensils of unknown usage may be assumed to be lav bnei yoman, or when dealing with safek arlah outside of Israel, and in similar cases. Ignorance is halachic bliss (or, in Yiddish, shailah macht treif).

In a sense, theology incorporates agnatology as well. Many of us claim to be non-dogmatic, and to be interested in the rational analysis of our deepest beliefs, but we always reach points at which our reasoning must stop. “If Gd knows the future, do we have free choice?” “If Gd wants the best for us, how could He allow the brutal massacre of six million?” And so on – the statement of, “Only Gd knows” is fundamentally an acceptance of ignorance and a decision to investigate no further.

And let's not forget the realm of daily debate and discussion; how many Peace Now-niks ignore the rights of Israelis, telling themselves that there is no other side to the story? And how many on the right do the same, in reverse?

So how do we decide what not to know, or what to have others not know? Is it about practicality, or philosophy, or something else? An interesting question.

When I first heard of agnatology, I was reminded of a great passage in Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Volume 5. It’s available here, but I’ve decided to reproduce it here anyway, in case that site ever goes down. The most explicitly agnatological part is toward the end, but I believe that the whole piece is intended to be on that theme. It’s long, but it’s a great read:

The last village Arthur visited consisted entirely of extremely high poles. They were so high that it wasn't possible to tell, from the ground, what was on top of them, and Arthur had to climb three before he found one that had anything on top of it at all other than a platform covered with bird droppings.

Not an easy task. You went up the poles by climbing on the short wooden pegs that had been hammered into them in slowly ascending spirals. Anybody who was a less diligent tourist than Arthur would have taken a couple of snapshots and sloped right off to the nearest bar & grill, where you also could buy a range of particularly sweet and gooey chocolate cakes to eat in front of the ascetics. But, largely as a result of this, most of the ascetics had gone now. In fact they had mostly gone and set up lucrative therapy centers on some of the more affluent worlds in the Northwest ripple of the Galaxy, where the living was easier by a factor of about 17 million, and the chocolate was just fabulous. Most of the ascetics, it turned out, had not known about chocolate before they took up asceticism. Most of the clients who came to their therapy centers know about it all too well.

At the top of the third pole Arthur stopped for a breather. He was very hot and out of breath, since each pole was about fifty or sixty feet high. The world seemed to swing vertiginously around him, but it didn't worry Arthur too much. He knew that, logically, he could not die until he had been to Stavromula Beta, and had therefore managed to cultivate a merry attitude toward extreme personal danger. He felt a little giddy perched fifty feet up in the air on top of a pole, but he dealt with it by eating a sandwich. He was just about to embark on reading the photocopied life history of the oracle, when he was rather startled to hear a slight cough behind him.

He turned so abruptly that he dropped his sandwich, which turned downward through the air and was rather small by the time it was stopped by the ground.

About thirty feet behind Arthur was another pole, and, alone among the sparse forest of about three dozen poles, the top of it was occupied. It was occupied by an old man who, in turn, seemed to be occupied by profound thoughts that were making him scowl.

"Excuse me," said Arthur. The man ignored him. Perhaps he couldn't hear him. The breeze was moving about a bit. It wasn't only by chance that Arthur had heard the slight cough.

"Hello?" called Arthur. "Hello!"

The man at last glanced around at him. He seemed surprised to see him. Arthur couldn't tell if he was surprised and pleased to see him or just surprised.

"Are you open?" called Arthur.

The man frowned in incomprehension. Arthur couldn't tell if he couldn't understand or couldn't hear.

"I'll pop over," called Arthur. "Don't go away."

He clambered off the small platform and climbed quickly down the spiraling pegs, arriving at the bottom quite dizzy.

He started to make his way over to the one which the old man was sitting, and then suddenly realized that he had disoriented himself on the way down and didn't know for certain which one it was.

He looked around for landmarks and worked out which was the right one.

He climbed it. It wasn't.

"Damn," he said. "Excuse me!" he called out to the old man again, who was now straight in front of him and forty feet away. "Got lost. Be with you in a minute." Down he went again, getting very hot and bothered.

When he arrived, panting and sweating, at the top of the pole that he knew for certain was the right one, he realized that the man was, somehow or other, mucking him about.

"What do you want?" shouted the old man crossly at him. He was now sitting on top of the pole that Arthur recognized was the one that he had been on himself when eating his sandwich.

"How did you get over there?" called Arthur in bewilderment.

"You think I'm going to tell you just like that what it took me forty springs, summers and autumns of sitting on top of a pole to work out?"

"What about winter? Don't you sit on the pole in the winter?"

"Just because I sit up a pole for most of my life," said the man, "doesn't mean I'm an idiot. I go south in the winter. Got a beach house. Sit on the chimney stack."

"Do you have any advice for a traveler?"

"Yes. Get a beach house."

"I see"

The man stared out over the hot, dry, scrubby landscape. From here Arthur could just see the old woman, a tiny speck in the distance, dancing up and down swatting flies.

"You see her?" called the old man, suddenly.

"Yes," said Arthur. "I consulted her in fact."

"Fat lot she knows. I got the beach house because she turned it down. What advice did she give you?"

"Do exactly the opposite of everything she's done."

"In other words, get a beach house."

"I suppose so," said Arthur. "Well, maybe I'll get one."


The horizon was swimming in a fetid heat haze.

"Any other advice?" asked Arthur. "Other than to do with real estate?"

"A beach house isn't just real estate. It's a state of mind," said the man. He turned and looked at Arthur.

Oddly, the man's face was now only a couple of feet away. He seemed in one way to be a perfectly normal shape, but his body was sitting cross-legged on a pole forty feet away while his face was only two feet from Arthur's. Without moving his head, and without seeming to do anything odd at all, he stood up and stepped onto the top of another pole. Either it was just the heat, thought Arthur, or space was a different shape for him.

"A beach house," he said, "doesn't even have to be on the beach. Though the best ones are. We all like to congregate," he went on, "at boundary conditions."

"Really?" said Arthur.

"Where land meets water. Where earth meets air. Where body meets mind. Where space meets time. We like to be on one side, and look at the other."

Arthur got terribly excited. This was exactly the sort of thing he'd been promised in the brochure. Here was a man who seemed to be moving through some kind of Escher space saying really profound things about all sorts of stuff.

It was unnerving, though. The man was now stepping from pole to ground, from ground to pole, from pole to pole, from pole to horizon and back: he was making complete nonsense of Arthur's spatial universe. "Please stop!" Arthur said, suddenly.

"Can't take it, huh?" said the man. Without the slightest movement he was now back, sitting cross-legged, on top of the pole forty feet in front of Arthur. "You come to me for advice, but you can't cope with anything you don't recognize. Hmmm. So we'll have to tell something you already know but make it sound like news, eh? Well, business as usual, I suppose." He sighed and squinted mournfully into the distance.

"Where you from, boy?" he then asked.

Arthur decided to be clever. He was fed up with being mistaken for a complete idiot by everyone he ever met. "Tell you what," he said. "You're a seer. Why don't you tell me?"

The old man sighed again. "I was just," he said, passing his hand around behind his head, "making conversation." When he brought his hand around to the front again, he had a globe of the Earth spinning on his up-pointed forefinger. It was unmistakable. He put it away again. Arthur was stunned.

"How did you --"

"I can't tell you."

"Why not? I've come all this way."

"You cannot see what I see because you see what you see. You cannot know what I know because you know what you know. What I see and what I know cannot be added to what you see and what you know because they are not of the same kind. Neither can it replace what you see and what you know, because that would be to replace you yourself."

"Hang on, can I write this down?" said Arthur, excitedly fumbling in his pocket for a pencil.

"You can pick up a copy at the space port," said the old man. "They've got racks of the stuff."

"Oh," said Arthur, disappointed. "Well, isn't there anything that's perhaps a bit more specific to me?"

"Everything you see or hear or experience in any way at all is specific to you. You create a universe by perceiving it, so everything in the universe you perceive is specific to you."

Arthur looked at him doubtfully. "Can I get that at the space port, too?" he said.

"Check it out," said the old man.

"It says in the brochure," said Arthur, pulling it out of his pocket and looking at it again, "that I can have a special prayer, individually tailored to me and my special needs."

"Oh all right," said the old man. "Here's a prayer for you. Got a pencil?"

"Yes," said Arthur.

"It goes like this. Let's see now: `Protect me from knowing what I don't need to know. Protect me from even knowing that there are things to know that I don't know. Protect me from knowing that I decided not to know about the things that I decide not to know about. Amen.' That's it. It's what you pray silently inside yourself anyway, so you may as well have it out in the open."

"Hmmm," said Arthur. "Well thank you --"

"There's another prayer that goes with it that's very important," said the old man, "so you'd better jot this down, too."


"It goes, `Lord, lord, lord...' It's best to put that bit in just in case. You can never be too sure. `Lord, lord, lord. Protect me from the consequences of the above prayer. Amen.' And that's it. Most of the trouble people get into in life comes from leaving out that last part."

"Ever heard of a place called Stavromula Beta?" asked Arthur.


"Well, thank you for your help," said Arthur.

"Don't mention it," said the man on the pole, and vanished.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tznius and Modern Orthodoxy

[ This week's Haveil Havalim is here]

First: I dislike the term “tznius” as applied to clothing, because it more accurately refers – both linguistically and historically - to an overarching sense of privacy and humility, expressed in all levels of behavior. However, “tznius” is the term our generation uses to refer to Judaism’s traditional, conservative halachic and philosophical approach to dress. So I’ll use it here.

Second: I also dislike the term “Modern Orthodoxy”... but we’ve been through that before.

This past week I witnessed a discussion on the reasons why many in the Modern Orthodox community are lax regarding tznius.

Some participants laid the blame on popular ignorance, and I suppose that is a part of it - especially as our leaders and role models send mixed messages on the issue, even in their own dress. How many of our kids go to shabbatonim or youth programs where their advisors dress in a manner that is less-than-tzanua?

To this I'd add that many Jews don't recognize the difference between halachah, minhag and personal preference in these matters.

And I’d add an agnatological point: It’s a willful ignorance, as many don’t want to learn more, and therefore they don’t know more.

I also think part of it is that some modern rabbis mock those who dress in a more tzanua way, or in a more chassidish way (how many times have I heard people justify their own choice of garb by mocking those who dress "like a 16th century Polish nobleman"), and this adds fuel to the non-tzanua fire.

Both the ignorance and the scorn are eminently solvable, though, via commitment to greater education, and to respect for those whose practices are different.

I think another, more challenging point is the Universalist ideology that is second nature to Modern Orthodox Jews – an appreciation for the value of our world, and a desire to engage other citizens of that world as equals. This Universalism, perhaps better rendered as Humanism, makes tznius difficult.

Being tzanua in a non-tzanua world, and believing that being tzanua is a moral statement rather than a technical observance, carries the implication that those around us are immoral, or less moral than we are. This runs counter to the idea that the people around us are our moral equals.

And being tzanua in a non-tzanua world makes mixing in society difficult. Today’s multiculturalism encourages tolerance of the Other, but not engagement of the Other. The tzanua is definitely the Other, and has a hard time feeling socially accepted.

In a sense, the anti-tznius phenomenon manifests the flip side of the parochialism practiced by other groups of Jews. Parochialism, taken to its extreme, causes its practitioners to (a) look down on others, and (b) avoid activities which will help them blend in. And universalism/humanism does the opposite.

Perhaps one solution is a more nuanced universalism. A universalism which deems all equal in substance (Tzelem Elokim), but not in actions. A universalism which is balanced with the rest of our halachic/philosophical values. Allowing any one plank in our platform to become outsized is unhealthy.

Ultimately, dressing in a tzanua manner is an expression of a halachic and philosophical value of our Judaism. Whether this is dropped out of ignorance, or scorn, or a desire to blend in, the result is the loss of a major element of Judaism, and a significant lacking in each individual's experience of Torah.

[You might also see this old post from November '08.]

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Class: Medical Halachah - Prostate surgery, endometrial ablation and more

I'm out of time these days to write anything new and substantive; my apologies. Here, instead, for those who are interested, are the vignettes I have prepared for my "Medical Halachah with CME credit" class coming up this Sunday morning. Please comment.

1. Jason, 50, a Type II diabetic, has been experiencing painful difficulty in urination due to growth of his prostate. His urologist offers the option of surgery, which risks causing retrograde ejaculation, or tamulosin, which risks hyperglycemia as well as a less likely possibility of retrograde ejaculation. Which option is halachically better?

2. Tim, 30, is experiencing bouts of moderate-to-severe depression, and his physician wishes to prescribe antidepressants. Tim is concerned that the side effects include impotence. Need Tim be concerned about the halachic ramifications of medication-induced impotence?

3. Jane, 33, has already birthed three sons and three daughters, with difficult side effects during her pregancies, and her physician has warned that her health would be at risk in a further pregnancy. He recommends Ovabloc, a silicon plug to be inserted in her fallopian tubes. Would such a procedure be halachically permitted? Are there better options?

4. Tanya, 35, has already birthed three sons and three daughters, and she is now experiencing heavy, prolonged vaginal bleeding, causing pain as well as rendering her a niddah on an on-going basis. The bleeding is resistant to treatment. Her physician recommends endometrial ablation - which would destroy the endometrial lining, at least temporarily. Would such a procedure be permitted?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Can Torah and Rational Philosophy Co-Exist?

For a class I taught last night on great Jewish forgeries, I prepared material highlighting the contrast between the authentic writings of Rabbeinu Asher (the Rosh) and the Besamim Rosh, Shaul Berlin’s 18th century attempt to ascribe 392 of his own ‘responsa’ to the Rosh.

As part of the class materials, I translated an excerpt from one of the Rosh’s responsa (55:9):

כי חכמת הפילוסופיא וחכמת התורה והמשפטים אינן על דרך אחת. כי חכמת התורה היא קבלה למשה מסיני, והחכם ידרוש בה במדות שנתנה לידרש בהם, ומדמה מילתא למילתא; אע"פ שאין הדברים נמשכים אחר חכמת הטבע, אנו הולכין על פי הקבלה. אבל חכמת הפילוסופיא היא טבעית, וחכמים גדולים היו והעמידו כל דבר על טבעו, ומרוב חכמתם העמיקו שחתו והוצרכו לכפור בתורת משה, לפי שאין כל התורה טבעית, אלא קבלה. ועל זה נאמר: תמים תהיה עם ה' וגו'; כלומר: אפילו יצא לך הדבר חוץ מן הטבע, אל תהרהר על הקבלה, אלא בתמימות התהלך לפניו. לכן אין להביא ראיה מדבריהם, לעשות אות ומופת וגזרות ומשלים על משפטי ה' הישרים. ועל זה אמר החכם: כל באיה לא ישובון, רוצה לומר: כל הבא ונכנס מתחלה בחכמה זו, לא יוכל לצאת ממנה להכנס בלבו חכמת התורה, כי לא יוכל לשוב מחכמה טבעית שהורגל בה, כי לבו תמיד נמשך אחריה. ומחמת זה לא ישיג לעמוד על חכמת התורה, שהיא ארחות חיים, כי יהיה לבו תמיד על חכמת הטבע, ותעלה ברוחו להשוות שתי החכמות יחד, ולהביא ראיה מזו לזו, ומתוך זה יעות המשפט; כי שני הפכים הם, צרות זו לזו, ולא ישכנו במקום אחד.

The wisdom of philosophy and the wisdom of Torah and its laws do not follow the same path. The wisdom of Torah is a tradition received by Moshe from Sinai, and the scholar will analyze it via the methods assigned for its analysis, comparing one matter and another. Even where this approach does not follow intuitive (lit. “natural”) wisdom, we follow the tradition. Philosophical wisdom is intuitive, though, with great scholars who established intuitive arguments, and in their great wisdom they dug deeper and corrupted (Hosheia 9:9) and needed to deny the Torah of Moshe, for the Torah is entirely non-intuitive and revelatory.

Regarding this it is stated, ‘You shall be pure with HaShem your Gd,’ meaning that even if something is counter-intuitive, you should not doubt the received tradition, but walk before Him in purity. Therefore, you should not bring proof from the words of the philosophers, to make a sign or argument or parable against the just laws of Gd.

Regarding this the scholar said (Mishlei 2:19), ‘Those who enter it will not return,’ meaning that one who enters this area of wisdom will not be able to leave it and introduce his heart to the wisdom of Torah, for he will not be able to abandon the intuitive approach to which he has become accustomed. His heart will be continually drawn after it, and he will not be able to establish himself in the wisdom of Torah, which is the path of life, for his heart will be perpetually drawn after intuitive. He will try to equate the two wisdoms, and bring proof from one to the other, and so he will warp justice for these are two opposites and rivals which cannot dwell in the same space.

I also posted this as a Daily Torah Thought last week, and received emails wanting to take the discussion further.

So here are my two questions:

1. Agree or Disagree with the Rosh? Why?

2. If you agree – does that mean that a person who receives an education in the approach of reason-based argument and deduction will not be able to accept the revelatory approach of Torah?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Haveil Havalim #304 - The Blog Carnival Went Bust edition

Welcome to Haveil Havalim #304, the Blog Carnival Went Bust edition!

Yes, that’s right; I received none of the posts submitted via Blog Carnival this week. It's true - you faithfully filled out their form, chose categories, even added thoughtful notes in the Comments box, sent your data off into cyberspace and gullibly believed their automatic confirmation email... and I received bupkis.

On the down side, that meant a lot of work for me this week. On the other hand, it means I ranged far and wide - even farther and wider than I usually go for HH - to bring you the best of this week's Jewish and Israeli blogosphere, including many writers who have never submitted posts to HH. [And to all of you who didn't submit - please don't make me go looking for you next time! When Blog Carnival works, you can submit here.]

Then, late tonight, the incredible Jack evaded Blog Carnival security and rappeled into their digital vault to send me the top-secret file of submissions, so I received those as well. As usual, I included all submissions, regardless of point-of-view, although I did exclude posts that were published prior to this past week. You know who you are.

I hope you’ll enjoy!

First, the boilerplate:
Founded by Soccer Dad, Haveil Havalim is a carnival of Jewish blogs -- a weekly collection of Jewish and Israeli blog highlights, tidbits and points of interest collected from blogs all around the world. It's hosted by different bloggers each week and coordinated by the formidable Jack. And this week, Jack does what Jack does best in They Paid Me $500 For This Post.


Everyone Needs Therapy talks about treatment for abuse victims in Treating Bill Zeller. It won't put you in the mood for HH, but please read it anyway. And then read Bill Zeller’s last words.


Risa links to a Song Worth 1,000 words!, as did David Betbender here, on the dangers of Egypt’s revolution (Note: kol isha in the Youtube video), presenting an interesting counterpoint to Rachel Barenblat’s more optimistic On Egypt, protest, and liberation.

Treppenwitz notes that Tzippi Livni is optimistic, too, although her optimism is about her own opportunities. And then there's Rabbi Michael Lemming's universe.


Rutimizrachi rallies support for a project to start a homeless shelter in Yerushalayim, calling for votes in the Dell Social Innovation Competition - which ends February 14th – in While all the earth's foundations shake.

Davebender remembers the explosion of Space Shuttle Columbia in Elegy For Columbia (A Meditation).

Ben-Yehudah asks some hard-but-necessary questions about Jewish/Israeli partnerships with evangelicals in Mt. Carmel Blaze Breaks Firewall Between Faiths, while Rickismom highlights the need for building more partnerships for Jews with other Jews in “Y” and the Wedding / “They Won’t Lynch You….”.

Rutimizrachi calls attention to the difficult state of a Bedouin who is protesting on behalf of Gilad Shalit in A breath of hope in a sea of anxiety.

Jameel salutes Lt. Aliza Landes, part of the IDF’s New Media unit. And speaking of new media and Israel, Seraphic Secret calls our attention to Iranium, The Movie.

Cosmic-X has the latest letters in the campaign to free Jonathan Pollard, here and here.

Matityahu Ben-Yosef lectures on the true meaning of Zionism in Taking back Zionism?

Ben-Yehudah writes about the government’s investigation of Rabbi Dov Lior in The State Continues Its Battle Against The Torah. For some serious scholarly material related to the topic, see Menachem Butler’s outstanding Robert Eisen, The Peace and Violence of Judaism, and Rabbis Aharon Shmuel Tameres, Shlomo Goren, and Shaul Yisraeli.

Ever hear of Marrickville? Me neither - but Snoopy the Goon did... and perhaps those kind Marrickvillians (Marrickvilloons? Marrickvillains?) should see this post at Or Am I? to find out about more things they should be boycotting.

Yisrael Medad appeared on Russian RT Television's CrossTalk, wrote on Schoenberg's Jabotinsky music, and was certain you wouldn't see tzitzit on a player at the Super Bowl. [Guess he didn't see this ubiquitously plugged video, huh?]

Joel Katz presents Religion and State in Israel - February 7, 2011 (Section 1) and Religion and State in Israel - February 7, 2011 (Section 2).

Nothing new here, but worth reading Wake Up Hollywood: Sitcoms Won’t End Jihad. (I especially enjoyed the first comment.)

As always, Harry keeps us posted on the lighter side of Israeli society, this time with Jesse James meets the Hebrew Anvil, Israeli Anti-Chef Super Bowl meal [which may address Benji Lovitt's question about a certain Israeli company's Super Bowl party] and Stay-home Israeli dads

…and while we’re on the lighter side, David Betbender covers the purported UFO sighting over Har haBayit.

Finally, Jacob Richman offers views of New Israeli Educational Stamps.


Who better to offer Random Thoughts? JackB takes on the bullies and their parents in When Mean Girls Grow Up.

I’m not weighing in on the Is Starbucks Kosher question – but Arbitribe does, and with some great cartoons. Maybe she should illustrate FrumSatire's Getting Stoned at a Bar Mitzvah next.

Frume Sarah has an interview with the author of Hush, silver-prize winner of the Sydney Taylor Book Award.

Have an idea for a shidduch for a woman from Baltimore? Great – Do it by Purim, and you’ll gain $2500 for your efforts! For more, see Shades of Grey’s post here.

Frum Female offers thoughts on the Chinese Rosh HaShanah Parade in New York, and I found Chana’s brief Policemen, Priests and Psych Wards worth mulling.

This is truly remarkable: Mississippi Fred MacDowell offers the story of the 18th century Swedish Graanboom family – who moved to Amsterdam to convert to Judaism.

Modern Uberdox reflects on life, Judaism and being alone on an airplane in Reflections of a chassunah.

Does living at home mean you’re immature, and does living independently mean you have evolved into an adult? Bad for Shidduchim isn’t so sure.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t get what was going on in this post at A Blob of Something Different, but I liked it anyway, so here it is.

I totally missed the first-ever Jewish Identity Day; glad I read about it at Thinking Jew Girl.

This isn’t a blog post, but take a look at the New York Times on the annual SOY Seforim Sale at Yeshiva University. And if it really needs a blog post in order to count, then see Tzvee’s sardonic take here.

Hirhurim hosts the thoughts of a giant talmid chacham, Rabbi Michael Broyde, on Brain Death and Organ Donation.

Are rabbis too strict about birth control and abortion? A Mother in Israel wants to know.

Kochava compares conversion and falling in love, at Crazy Jewish Convert, and Elle describes her own current state in Honesty, at On Becoming Devoted.

Susan Barnes answers the Judaism-related questions that bring people to her blog, at Your Questions Answered.

Hey, Susan, Chavi wants answers to some questions, too. (By the way, Chavi: Both are addressed in Shulchan Aruch, believe it or not…)

And speaking of rabbis, Parshablog looks at the alleged prediction by the Lubavitcher Rebbe z”l that Gulf War I would end on Purim. (Yes, I know not everyone agrees with the “z”l” I included – witness those cited in this post at An Aspiring Mekubal!)

On the Torah side of things, Parshablog asks, "How does Rav Yosef translate tachash?"

I had some thoughts on things that synagogues should be noticing, in Lesson from the Super Bowl: Hidden Yardage. Orthonomics, in the meantime, has some thoughts about a new way to teach which, perhaps, the Jewish community should be noticing.

Life in Israel offers an interesting discussion on having female teachers for male students here, and Harry Maryles adds his own thoughts here.

ProfK asks why some people believe life was better for Jews in der heim.

A Chabad House in Florida goes bankrupt, and Wolfish Musings offers commentary on the Chabad business model.

The incomparable Menachem Butler offers scholarship tied to the yahrtzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu (observed last week and next month), at his Michtavim blog. I posted my own thoughts on the yahrtzeit, too.

Israel News presents What is "Jewish" in the Diaspora?

Thinking about prayer? Allison Josephs emphasizes the communicative elements of prayer in I Just Called to Say I Love You: Why Orthodox Jews Pray Every Day, while Ben Slobodkin offers A Tallit Poem by Yehuda Amichai.

And Daniel ben Shmuel weighs in against segulot in The Amuqah Idolatry.

Our Shiputzim hosts the Kosher Cooking Carnival for Adar!

Yosefa Huber offers a remarkable post, Sending Food, on the ins-and-outs of Chesed Meals

Daniela debuts on HH with reviews of Osem's Flat Salt Pretzel and Ben & Jerry's Cubby Hubby Ice Cream

… and pretzels must be in the air this week, as Home Shuling presents some tasty-looking Pretzel Challah...

...And what are pretzels without beer? My brother reviews Blue Moon Spring Blonde Wheat Ale at the Kosher Beers blog. [Yes, that was January, but I love the name of that beer.]

But if it’s healthy food you seek, you might try Yosefa Huber’s Bulgur Bulgur Pilaf: The Instant Whole Grain instead. Or Mrs. S's advice on Eight Easy Steps for eating a Pomelo.

FOR KIDS (Jay3fer, you get your wish…)
I'm not sure there is a "good" way to introduce children to the Shoah; see Midianite Manna's note on the topic here.

Jay3fer offers a Free Printable Foldable Shabbat Micro-Book (with folding tutorial), Jewish Homeschooling Blog Carnival #5 and a Parshah Overview for kids for Parshat Tetzaveh [part of an on-going series].

And Jacob Richman adds more than 1000 questions to his free, online Bible Quiz – which is really for adults, too!

And in what may be my favorite part of doing HH, the prolific Batya presents
Over $100,000 to Defend a Pro-Arab Jew?


And Who Really Is That Jordanian King Abdullah? And Whose Land is This?


Romantic? Hah!


Ehud Barak vs The IDF


Outgoing COS Gabi Ashkenazi at Tel Shiloh


Does Mubarak want to die in the saddle?

And that’s it for this week; tune in next time at To Kiss a Mezuzah for Haveil Havalim #305! And in case Blog Carnival is back up and running, submit your posts here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Moshe Rabbeinu's Yahrtzeit

You can take any figure from the Torah you wish, any leader, any king or statesman, any prophet or judge. Avraham, Miriam, Shemuel, Devorah, Ezra, whomsoever you choose. No one in the entire Torah's canon of outsized heroes can hold the slightest, slimmest, most evanescent candle to Moshe.

I speak the obvious, of course, but Thursday night, the 7th of Adar, is Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrtzeit and birthday, and every year this date - in both Adars, when there are two - makes me brood. It’s more than a day when some minyanim skip tachanun, and the chevra kadisha holds a dinner; it’s a day to think about the legacy of a giant beyond giants, a leader and teacher whose life and accomplishments and tragedies are so off-the-scale that they should have just retired the word “leader” from the dictionary when he died.

Moshe’s life is a series of successes:
Meeting G-d
Bringing the Jews from Egypt
Crossing Yam Suf
Receiving the Torah at Sinai
Bringing bread from the heavens and water from stones
Overcoming rebellion
Bringing the Jews to the very border of Israel.

And Moshe’s life is about humility, this עניו מכל אדם, the most humble man ever known:
He bears the abuse of the Pharaoh and the Jews equally.
He goes to Dasan and Aviram to make peace when they join Korach’s rebellion; he does not demand that they come to him.
He throws in his lot before G-d with the Jews who have sinned, rather than stand apart on his own merits.
He is told by G-d that he cannot enter Israel, but instead he must die - and so he does, as loyal as ever.

And Moshe’s life is about hubris, the greatest hubris imaginable:
He is selected by G-d to lead the Jews out of Egypt, and he refuses the job.
He defies G-d’s desire to destroy the Jews for the Golden Calf, saying, “If that is what You will do, then wipe me out of Your book” - I want no part of this Torah.
Again, after the Spies, he defends the Jews before G-d.
G-d says He will pick a new leader, and Moshe tells G-d how to choose a leader. Imagine! Does G-d need Moshe’s advice on how to choose a leader?!
And, of course, Moshe turns to G-d and says, “Show me Your glory!” “Explain Yourself!”
The man has no fear, whatsoever.

And, yes, Moshe’s life is about anger, some level of righteous frustration at which we can barely guess:
Anger at the Egyptian beating the Jew, and then at the Jew who is about to strike another Jew.
Anger when the Jews build the Golden Calf.
Anger when the mirrors are brought for the Mishkan.
Anger at Korach’s mutiny.
Frustration at having to serve as a nursemaid for every last Jew.
Anger at the Jews who cry out for water and wish to return to Egypt.

And Moshe’s life is about tragic, heartrending futility:
He brings G-d’s word to the Jews, who first believe but then doubt him.
He goes to Pharaoh, who defies him as well.
He takes the Jews to Sinai, where they create the Golden Calf.
He wants to bring them to Israel, and a generation - his generation, product of his hard work, his virtual children - is condemned to die in the desert.
He marries Tzipporah - and feels obligated to separate from her.
He has two children of his own, neither of whom take leadership positions.
He performs miracles that generate faith for millions, and then he is condemned for failing to perform one of those miracles to its height.
He is brought to the edge of Israel and allowed to peek in - but he may not enter.

I read Moshe’s life over and again, and it touches something deep, deep inside me. Part of it is my own pretentious hubris; he’s a leader and I’m a leader, right? Sure, in the same way that I am tall and, say, Mount Everest is tall. No, it’s not that I think I can in any way empathize with Moshe; it’s just that the themes of his life are so compellingly dramatic, writ so large, that I am paralyzed if I think about them too long, and I cannot turn away.

I see Moshe and wonder if he was ever happy in any sense I can imagine, if the song at the Sea was his normal experience, per the prophet who requires joy in order to speak to G-d. But how could he have been happy, this prophet, root of all prophets, who was cut off from direct communication with G-d for 39 desert years?

I see Moshe and wonder at his incredible mercy:
Moshe endangered himself to save another’s life - and later demanded that G-d take his life, in defense of the nation.
Moshe fought hostile shepherds to save Yisro’s daughters.
Moshe battled G-d to bring Egyptians (ערב רב) out of Egypt along with the Jews.
Moshe pleaded with G-d for the lives of the Calf-builders, and the Spies, and the water-complainers.
Moshe sat as a judge from morning to evening.
Moshe gave up home and hearth to serve his nation.

Moshe gave us a leadership philosophy in two, contradictory/complementary parts:
First, he told G-d to pick a leader who would do all for the people, going to war before them and then leading them back to camp. Who would guide them in all things, who would be a caring shepherd.
Then, he told Joshua, “You will bring this nation into the land.” The gemara explains that he told Joshua, “If they don’t listen, take a staff and strike them on their heads! There can be only one leader for a generation, not two.”

We arrive at the end of the Torah and see a man who started out as a prince, became a shepherd, and then melded both into a personality that could lead a ragtag nation of millions from slavery to sovereignty, from despair to pride, from a religious vacuum to a Tabernacle. We see a man who spoke to G-d “face to face,” whatever that means, and who is identified as a “member of G-d’s household.” We see a man who despised power, but made it his own to such an extent that it’s impossible to imagine biblical leadership without Moshe.

And we see a man who is so close to perfection, who has done so much to bring a nation so far, who has dedicated himself to serving G-d, who is the quintessential עבד ה', servant of G-d… and upon whom G-d has no mercy, taking him up the mountain to see Israel and saying so painfully, “I have shown you this land with your eyes; there you shall not cross.”

I don’t know enough languages; I cannot find the words to describe what I see in Moshe. Can such a man have been real? And yet the Torah puts him before us, as a role model for all who would lead. What a daunting prospect… what an empowering promise.

The words are inadequate, but יהי זכרו ברוך.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Lesson from the Super Bowl: Hidden Yardage

[This week’s Haveil Havalim, hosted by the incredible Jack, is here]

On the way to the beis medrash for night seder on Sunday, I caught a few minutes of the Super Bowl on the radio. [After the Jets were knocked out two weeks ago, I wasn't going to spend real time on the game...]

The announcers repeatedly emphasized “hidden yardage” – yards that one team lost, or the other team gained, indirectly. Penalties. Mistakes on plays. Dropped passes. These moments change a team’s field position, or turn the ball over to the other side, in ways that are not necessarily obvious. [Note: This is not the technical usage of "hidden yardage" expressed by Bill Parcells and others. For more on that term, see this page.]

Shuls have their hidden yardage, too, as they try to build their communities:
• The person who calls the shul office to find out about the area before moving in, and is given a cold reception

• The family who comes to the shul for the first time, and can’t find the restroom or the women’s entrance or the library because of poor signage

• The woman who wants to come to classes, but doesn’t receive clear or attractive publicity material

• The man who has been stopping in to say kaddish for years, but has never been greeted with a warm Hello by the people who are there

• The family who stopped paying dues because of economic hardship, and who were simply dropped from the rolls instead of being called by a concerned person who might have arranged for them to stay on, or even to receive a loan (for their needs, not for the dues) from the Rabbi’s Benevolent Fund.

Building a community requires looking for these opportunities, leaving nothing on the table.

One shul president of mine called these “low-hanging fruit,” a different analogy for the same phenomenon. There is so much we can do to build, if only we take advantage of these opportunities. It’s up to us - rabbis, shul presidents, boards, congregations - to do it.

[PS We certainly have hidden yardage in our lives, too – at work, in our families, in raising children, and so on. We miss opportunities to resolve disputes. We respond harshly when a soft tongue would have accomplished more. We squander chances to get together with family and friends. But that's a post for another time.]

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Aliyos for Cash?

[The Kosher Cooking Carnival for Adar I is here]

Sam was called to the Torah, and immediately after his aliyah he recited Birchas haGomel (the blessing usually recited upon being saved from harm). When Sam returned to his seat, his neighbor asked, “Were you in an accident? Did you have surgery?”

To which Sam replied: “No – but I was so surprised to get called up, I almost had a heart attack!”

The joke is original, but the story is familiar; Jews around the world frequently complain about the scarcity of their aliyos. However, that’s not really the topic of this post. Right now I want to talk about the question of charging money for aliyos.

I know gabbaim who decline to honor visitors, arguing that a synagogue will rarely see a significant donation from a drop-in. Alternatively, they make sure that visitors who are called to the Torah know that they are expected to make a significant contribution.

Some shuls have policies against honoring people who live locally and fail to join the shul. The argument is that people who refuse to support the community do not deserve to be recognized by the community.

The point is valid. Shuls depend on public support, and it’s hard for them to compete against tzedakah drives for schools and orphanages and the needy. Shuls even compete against the rabbi’s own Benevolent Fund. It’s not as though a shul can survive on membership dues alone; shuls generally offer people membership on whatever financial terms people can manage, even donations of a few dollars each month.

So how is a shul to survive, if people take it for granted? In distributing aliyos based on donations, these institutions are just trying to protect themselves with the only currency they control.

And yet, and yet… it still rankles. I know I am not the only rabbi to be uncomfortable with a “pay to play” policy. Torah is supposed to be for everyone, and the idea that we parcel out access to mitzvos based upon contributions does not sit well with me.

Also, this system encourages the publication and discussion of people’s contributions – “He got shlishi on Yom Kippur, he must be a big donor.”

And for rabbis, in particular, this arrangement can be uncomfortable. A shul rabbi makes himself available for everyone, regardless of bank account - but the practice of calling certain people to the Torah, to the exclusion of others, creates the perception that those who make larger contributions are entitled to special treatment from the shul, and therefore its rabbi.

I've written about this before; see these posts:

I guess membership should have its privileges

The high price of holy days

But I still don't have a resolution for the issue. So what should a shul do?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

I will become laid back. Really.

[I love this post at Life in Israel, even though we didn’t build them in the first place.]

Okay, so everyone who has known me during the past 20-plus years is laughing at the title to this post. But I’m actually serious.

Since mid-adolescence, I’ve unconsciously pressed myself into Type-A, schedule/rush behavior, along the way to certain goals. While in YU I wanted to complete certain sefarim, and I pushed to do that. Then I became a rabbi, and I pressed in a lot of different directions. Then I entered the world of the start-up kollel, and I’ve packed my schedule since Day 1. I had good reason for doing these things – I wanted the best and broadest success, and my role models were people who had led hard-driving, 24-7 lives. And that wasn’t bad, and, thank Gd, I’ve had some success and I’ve been healthy.

But the pressure makes me anxious, and when I'm under great pressure I become irritable, and for some time now I’ve begun to believe two ideas:
1 – It is possible to be hard-driving, 24-7, and still be laid back in going about it.
2 – Anxiety and tension are not what I want or need.

Psychologists like to say that people don’t change unless their current situation becomes unbearable. I don’t agree (unless you tautologically define the situations in which people attempt change as a priori unbearable). My life is quite bearable and satisfying, and I’m doing well, thank Gd. But I still want this change.

I want it because people who are laid back live longer. (Case in point: I daven mainly in two shuls when I’m in Israel, the Nasi on Ussishkin and the GRA shul in Shaarei Chesed. In both of those, during this past week’s trip, I learned that long-time stalwarts of the minyan, men who always struck me as strongly Type A and who were not that old, had died recently.) Enjoying my children, and Gd-willing grandchildren some day, is a priority of mine.

I want it because anxiety is habit-forming and contagious; it spreads, quickly, from necessary situations to silliness. Certainly, worrying about antagozing people, or about doing a poor job, makes sense. But once I begin to worry about major issues, that anxiety spreads to matters like missing a train (you can catch the next one, or just start out earlier), or sitting behind a slow-moving car in traffic.

I want it because this is the kind of life I want to model for my children. In the beginning of this week I described my belief that a primary job of parents is to teach their children how to cope; if my children would see me grow tense and upset over problems and prospective problems, they would naturally emulate this (at least until they would become mature enough to rebel, anyway).

I want it because I believe this is Jewishly correct. The concept of bitachon (trusting Gd to choose what is best for you) demands a degree of surrender, and emphasis on personal control encourages the illusion of כחי ועוצם ידי, that I am the source of my accomplishments.

And I want it because I like people who are laid back.

I believe that sheviras hamidos, breaking one’s traits, is possible. And I’m going to try.

I will still aim to accomplish everything, but I will be more careful about the cost/benefit in investing time in that goal. In the past I would willingly devote uncalled-for hours to pursue an additional tangent for a shiur, for example; I will need to remind myself daily to avoid that.

I will need to recognize the fungability of time – that time spent in one place truly can be made up elsewhere, on most occasions, and so I don’t need to be uptight about losing 15 minutes here or there. This realization can do wonders for road rage.

Finally, I will commit myself to Rush Happy. This means looking for humor in potentially-frustrating situations which really aren’t the end of the world, but which can feel like it (like when I boarded the plane for my return trip from Israel and realized I didn’t have a power outlet to charge my computer; or when I arrived in Newark from Israel to discover that my connection to Toronto had been cancelled). And it means that even when I need to rush, such as in leaving minyan early for carpool, I can keep in mind the positive aspects of the things I get to do – like driving carpool.

I don’t know that I’ll succeed, but I’m going to try. Advice and chizuk (encouragement) welcome.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Unconditional Love

[Post I’m reading – The Yahrtzeit of Rav Yisrael Salanter, at Modern Uberdox]

Many years ago, when the world was young, I dated a girl who was bothered by the idea that my feelings for her might be, to use the term from Pirkei Avot, תלויה בדבר, dependent upon something external that wasn’t really her. Like the world, I was rather young in those days, and I don’t know that I fully grasped what she was talking about… and it didn’t matter in the long run, as I ended up marrying the wonderful Rebbetzin instead.

The memory of those conversations about אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר (unconditional love) came to mind during the last few days, though, during my all-too-short stay here in Israel.

As always, being here has intensified my frustration at living in the Golah. In some part it’s due to the same litany of reasons I’ve discussed on the blog before; read the eight posts linked here to see those discussions. But it’s also something else, leading to this ninth post on the subject. At this point, it’s אהבה שאינה תלויה בדבר, a love which is not dependent upon anything in particular. It’s unconditional.

Maybe this is because aliyah has been a goal for me for so long (twenty years and counting) that the very goal-ness of it has overtaken any specific reason for moving here. My satisfaction is no longer tied to the reasons for moving to Israel, but to the move itself. If I were to move here and not have any of my reasons fulfilled, I would be happy just because I was here.

(It’s sort of like the shul rabbinate, come to think of it. People ask me what I miss about the pulpit, and I have a long list of answers, but at the end of the day it’s just that I enjoyed being Rabbi. But I digress.)

One other thought, while I’m writing: I enjoy visiting fruit markets in Israel, just to admire the produce grown in this wonderful land. I sometimes feel a little guilty about this, because the gemara (Sotah 14a) declares that Moshe did not want to enter Israel for the sake of its fruit – as the gemara asks, “וכי לאכול מפריה הוא צריך, או לשבוע מטובה הוא צריך? Did he need to eat from her fruit, or did he need to be sated from her goodness?”

But it occurred to me just yesterday that the sages included those very words in the berachah we recite after eating, thanking Gd for giving us this land “לאכול מפריה ולשבוע מטובה to eat from her fruit and to be sated from her goodness.” I guess if it’s good enough for the berachah, it’s good enough for me.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Defrocking a chassid

[Post I’m reading: Egypt’s new “democracy” wants to destroy Israel, at the Muqata]

So I’m standing on line at passport control with a couple hundred of my closest friends of the past eleven hours, all of us naturally wondering why Monday morning at Ben Gurion saw only 3 lanes open for foreign passports [“We had no idea there were planes coming in!” someone sitting in an office somewhere might explain…], when a youngish traveller brought forward an elderly man in a wheelchair and cut an entire line, dozens of people.

A woman toward the head of the line muttered loudly, and then repeated several times with successively greater amplication, that he should have asked, that he should be ashamed of himself, and that “derech eretz kidmah [sic] latorah” [half-quoting, and somewhat agrammatically altering, the midrash in Avot d’Rabbi Natan that points out that human beings were told to live as a decent society long before they were given the Torah, in order to prepare them for the Torah].

From an emotional standpoint, I agreed with her; perhaps the man in the wheelchair needed a bathroom or some sort of medical care, or couldn’t take being in the chair for the next hour, but who gave them the right to jump the queue without so much as an apology? She should have addressed the young man directly and not simply rabble-roused for the crowd around her, but the complaint itself made sense.

But there was an additional element here, which upset me. The wheelchair-bound man, and the person wheeling him, were chassidim; Skverer, I think. And if I had to make certain stereotype-based generalizations based on dress and tone, I’d guess the woman was right-wing Conservative or left-wing Modern Orthodox. And it seems to me that the complaint was more a product of religious animus than indignation at the chassid’s rudeness.

I’m not excusing people who cut lines; I was as upset as she was, and more so because it was obvious that this would generate chillul HaShem. But her tirade made offensive assumptions about Torah. She could have complained about his behavior without turning Torah into a weapon, without acting as though she had exclusive claim to interpretation of the Torah’s desires.

From my vantage point, the woman was not venting frustration with his behavior; she was delegitimizing him as a Torah-observant Jew.

I sometimes hear observant Jews complain about women who want to wear tallitot or tefillin, saying that the women involved don’t grasp the true nature of these mitzvot, that if they understood what tallit and tefillin were all about then they wouldn’t campaign for the opportunity to wear them. I understand their point – but I don’t necessarily have the right to delegitimize others’ views. And the same should have been true for this woman, standing in line, delegitimizing the view of the chassid who was wheeling the elderly man.

Perhaps he has a different view of Torah and its priorities. Perhaps he felt the people on line would remember מפני שיבה תקום and similar statements about respecting the elderly and their needs. Maybe, as he sees it, דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה means that people who are in line should be automatically understanding of the needs of the elderly, and should not demand apologies for addressing those needs. Or, perhaps, he assumed that people in line would see that he was helping an elderly person and would apply the principle of דן לכף זכות, of judging others favorably.

And she responded by revoking his status as a chassid, so to speak. Uncool, in my book.

So that’s my rant for the morning. Have a great day.