.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Parshas Shekalim

Master! Lift up the light of Your face to us,
And I will lift up my shekel in the proper and exalted house,
And in justice, consider the worth of "Ki Tisa" ...

(Free translation excerpted from Musaf piyutim of Shekalim)


Is there anything more beautiful than our piyutim? I don't think so. As an editor and dialectical analyst (my 12th-grade rebbe called me that), I find so much meaning and joy and depth in these oft-ignored poems of praise and longing. In my humble opinion, we must re-introduce them to our davening. And we should teach them in schools, too.

Every single word is laden with meaning! Come on, people! It's gorgeous!!! Everything revolves around the root S-A, which is to lift or count. But of course, it's BOTH!

Rabbi Zev Shandalov, shlita, of Cong. Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel in Chicago, once remarked that we need to start getting ourselves into the 'geula' mentality -- the mindset that things are going to be different when Moshiach comes. We have to give proper respect to Kohanim, because that's what we're going to be doing when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, BBA. We have to think about the way it was, and the way it's going to be. We're all going to march into the holy courtyard with our half-shekels in hand. I can't wait.

That's the emotion conveyed in these poems. RIBONO SHEL OLAM! I'm ready to bring You my shekel! Count me in! Lift me up!

If you read it, and you understand it, it will elevate you to tears. So what are you waiting for?

Monday, February 20, 2006


The problem with blogs

Okay, so now that I'm a full-fledged blogger, complete with some comments, I'm finding a problem with the blogosphere. Legitimate conversations, arguments, flame wars, and other sundry bits of communal communication are going on in the 'comments' sections of many, many blogs. But those comments sections are ancillary, tangential, and situation in a less-accessible form on each blog page that I've visited. They appear in smaller print, or in a pop-up window, and are treated as a minor footnote to the main blog entry.

Problem is, the comments are often where the action is. Any blogger can say whatever he or she wants, but if really smart people have some rejoinder, they're relegated to the bottom, in the fine print.

This is most apparent in the 50+ comment sections that often follow a posting of RenReb's, or DovBear's, or R' Harry Maryles'. And on the Canonist blog, Steven Weiss is doing nothing other than opening a comments section for hot-button issues like the Tendler affair. At last count, there were some 350 posts there, and they keep piling up as strident correspondents from both sides of the issue rant and rave.

These conversations used to be called "DISCUSSION GROUPS" before blogs became so trendy. Yahoo! Groups still has plenty of threads going on, and Google's joined that fray as well. Even the way old-school listservs haven't disappeared yet. But when a juicy discussion is going on in the comments section of a blog, it's harder to get to. It's harder to enjoy. And to be perfectly honest, it feels less prestigious than when you comment on something you *know* all the participants will read.

The alternative, of course, is to post my responses here, on my blog. But then you'd have to jump back and forth to get the context of what I'm talking about. That doesn't seem fair, either. I could also open up a Yahoo! Group, instead of a blog, and invite the world to discuss things there. But blogs are where it's at.

So what's the answer?

Friday, February 17, 2006


Raising Amaratzim?

Here's another priceless exchange from a session I had recently with a young student.

Student: My friend Joe is practicing for his Bar Mitzvah, and his 'trop' is completely different from the tunes you taught me.

Me: Is he a yekke? Do you know what a yekke is?

Student: I don't know... someone from Yemen?

Me: No. Someone from Yemen is a Yemenite. What's Yemen in Hebrew? (I was thinking he may have heard of Shimon Hateimani from Pirkei Avos. Silly me.)

Student: I don't know... somewhere in Europe?

After pausing to acknowledge the hilarity and tragedy of this exchange, I explained that yekkes are Jews of German descent. I explained that different communities and traditions have different styles of leining. I said, "Your friend may be a yekke, or a Sephardi."

Student: I think he's a Sephardi. His uncle is chasidish.

The boy confused Sephardi with Nusach Sephard. After pausing to smack my head with the heel of my hand, I explained the difference between Nusach Sephard (see DovBear's blog for an extended discussion thereof) and the Sephardic communities of Spain, the Middle East, and North Africa.

Then, unable to suppress my displeasure, I said something like, "Were you always this ignorant?" My wife chastised me for browbeating the boy, but I felt justified. These kids need to learn basic yedios klaliyos or 'general knowledge.' And whatever the yeshivos or households are doing isn't working.

Later, I was scrabbling around, looking for my notepad. "I can't find my notepad!" I complained. "Maybe you shouldn't be so ignorant," the boy muttered. He didn't think I could hear him. But I called him on that, too. Obviously, he's bright and clever. He came up with a decent zinger on the spot. A 'real' rebbe would have punished him for his chutzpah, but I don't see it that way. I see it as a glimpse of intelligence and wit. So why not be well-informed, too?

My extra-credit assignment for the boy is to find out what the arba parshios are. He'd never heard of them, naturally.

I wonder how widespread this cultural disconnect is. And what's the problem? Is it that schools don't have time to cover this stuff? Shuls are boring, so kids don't pay any attention? TV and sports and movies and the Internet are clouding their minds? What is it?

I'd love to do a survey of yeshiva kids across a wide spectrum of 'factions.'

Rabbi Leibel Dulitz, shlit''a, a veteran mechanech, once challenged a 10th grade yeshiva student to explain "zatu, bu, dad, ubyu." The kid had no idea what Rabbi Dulitz was talking about. He derided the boy for being an am haaretz - ignoramus - and then explained it.

But that's four degrees more advanced than "What are the arba parshios?" Am I expecting too much?

Monday, February 13, 2006


Going around in circles

A number of years ago, I was at a Shaarei Torah weekend. During a panel discussion, one speaker (whose name escapes me) was talking about factionalism in Orthodoxy, and he closed his remarks with a profound poem by Edward Markham:

He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in.

Rabbi Wein, shlita, followed this speaker and said, "You stole my poem!"

Talk about backing into a story, right?

But I wanted to use that poem to address a growing trend I'm seeing at Orthodox weddings: Separate dancing.

Aha! Separate dancing! Of couse there's separate dancing! How can we allow mixed dancing?!

But of course, I'm not talking about co-ed dancing. I'm talking about the practice of each social group -- the choson and his friends, his father and their family friends, and the kallah's father and their family friends -- dancing in separate circles.

Why has this become so widespread?! What is going to happen if you end up dancing with -- or holding the hand of -- a stranger?! Do you think they have cooties?

If you want to tell me that the younger boys are more energetic and unruly, and their circles tend to be fast and high-impact, I grant that that is a legitimate observation. Which is why, very often, you'll see the wilder, faster circles in the center of the dance floor, and a slower, more mellow circle on the outer perimeter. But why separate into groups depending on which side you come from?

I think this factionalism represents another symptom of frum antisocial behavior, or FAB. It's the same disease that prevents otherwise normal people from greeting one another with gutt Shabbos when passing on the street, a problem that has already been well-documented.

To my mind, seeing three separate circles indicates that the machatonim don't get along. At the very least, it forces people to choose - I'm friends with the kallah, and with her father, but the choson is over there, and the real mitzva is to increase his joy, so where should I dance? It's just silly.

So, in my ideal wedding (which I've already had, BH), the machatonim dance together happily, and the circles are all concentric, with the higher-energy whirling dervishes in the center, and the slower-moving but equally happy folks on the outside. (I won't get into the discussion of violent and reckless behavior displayed by various young men at weddings, especially when alcohol is involved, for fear of going off on a tirade and losing this train of thought. But you know who you are.)

I realize that this is a fairly minor quibble in a world burning out of control with Muslim hordes, financial scandal, and tuition and shidduch crises. But still, a little achdus never hurt anybody.

Friday, February 03, 2006


Blatant Cowardice: U.S. Gets It Wrong

According to this story, the United States has issused a statement denouncing the mohammed-caricature cartoons. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Instead of calling for restraint and maturity and re-affirming its belief in a free press, the U.S. is declaring that these cartoons are offensive, and they incite hatred and ethnic tensions.

What a load.

What the U.S. is saying, unequivocally, is that it understands and sympathizes with the violent rampages and death threats being issued all over the muslim world. When an imam in Gaza calls for the newspaper editor's beheading, when a crowd of thousands chants, "Death to Denmark," the U.S. State Department is standing with them, lending its stamp of approval. That is unacceptable.

Write letters, make phone calls, express your outrage. And buy Danish products, or at least eat danishes, in solidarity with the country that stood up to terror and may yet come to regret it.

Don't buy French, though. They're still jerks, even though they did reprint the cartoons.

The world is very quickly turning upside-down, ladies and gentlemen. You heard it hear first. Start hoarding water and food and check the batteries in your flashlights.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Cartoon Carnage

Anybody wondering why cartoonists don't get death threats from Jews and Christians?

I know! I know!

It's because we don't feel threatened by CARTOONS.

Don't get me wrong. Political cartoons are a very accurate way of measuring the zeitgeist and popular opinion on a given person or subject. And Lord knows the role anti-Semitic cartoons have played and continue to play in the Arab world.

And yet, I haven't issued a single death threat against an Arabic cartoonist.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world, muslim hordes are rioting, protesting, rallying, and threatening Europeans - any and all Europeans - because of a series of cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper. In Gaza, "masked gunmen" are taking over buildings, issuing statements, and announcing that they're going to "harm" any Europeans they find in local hotels.

I mean, seriously. Why are these people allowed to have guns? Why are they allowed to wear masks? Why are they allowed to keep drawing breath?

And, more important, why are we - the 'civilized' world - continuing to legitimize their infantile and murderous behavior? Coddling them with statements like, "We need to figure out how to reconcile freedom of expression and respect of faith," a gem from the head of Reporters Without Borders.

Which is a stupid name to begin with.

My faith dictates that no graven image be worshipped, but I'm not killing sculptors. My faith dictates that there's no way to 'depict' an image of G-d. But I'm not killing anyone who tries. And there have been plenty of artists who have done unspeakable things with Christian icons (Robert Mapplethorpe comes to mind immediately), and although they've been criticized, and although, in some cases, government endowments have been pulled, they haven't been threatened by masked gunmen!!

It's so infuriating!!

It's time for muslims of every stripe to acknowledge that Denmark is a sovereign, secular country. Danes are entitled to do whatever the heck they want, within legal limits. But if the limits are determined by religion, it's not a secular state anymore. Muslims may not like it, but so what!? Let Al Jazeera start airing a new morality miniseries called "Rotten in the State of Denmark: A portrait of secular infidels." Let Arab newspapers lampoon and deride the Danes and the French in cartoon after cartoon. (It'll give them a break from lampooning and deriding Jews.) But for the sake of everything that's holy, in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and every other religious system, stop threatening and perpetrating violence against innocent people.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?