Thursday, December 31, 2009

Who Is a Jew

The following is an artilce that appeared in JC. It continues the conversation about Tropper, EJF and conversions. But the funniest line is below in bold italic print. When I read it I couldn't stop laughing!

In applying stringent policies, the United Synagogue finds itself with some dubious bedfellows.

By Miriam Shaviv, December 30, 2009

Three children rejected from JFS, their parents’ conversions in doubt and their own Jewish identities in tatters. A legal ruling by a British court establishing “Who is a Jew” in a way at odds with the traditional Jewish definition. A community at risk of schism.

How did we get into this mess?

A scandal currently unfolding in New York, at first glance completely unrelated, may shed some light on the current farce.

Two weeks ago, devastating recordings began circulating on the internet of salacious phone conversations between a man and a woman. The man talks about the woman having sex with him and with other men. He also fantasises about rape scenes and discusses cash payments.
Although the tapes remain unauthenticated, it has been widely reported that the man is a certain Rabbi Leib Tropper, who just days earlier had resigned from the conversion agency he founded, Eternal Jewish Family, “to pursue other interests”. There has been no denial. The woman was Shannon Orand, one of his own conversion candidates. Last week Ms Orand claimed she had been told by Rabbi Tropper: “If you fulfil my needs, I’ll fulfil yours — and you need a conversion”.

What really compounded the scandal is that EJF, the organisation Rabbi Tropper fronted, was an enormously influential international pressure group calling for the strictest of standards in conversion, such that only converts adopting a Charedi lifestyle would be acceptable.

Not long ago, Rabbi Tropper nullified a conversion he himself had carried out because the female convert was seen wearing trousers (an irony, perhaps, in that he was allegedly willing to offer Ms Orand a conversion for removing hers).

Another EJF leader declared in 2007 that any rabbi who believes the world is older than 5,768 years is ineligible to sit on a conversion court.

Their biggest success came in 2006, when the Israeli rabbinate declared it would not recognise Orthodox conversions carried out in America, except by a tiny group of mostly Charedi rabbis. This was seen as a deliberate (and successful) attempt, spurred on by EJF, to disenfranchise Modern Orthodox rabbis.

EJF’s actions were highly controversial, exclusionary, extreme and schismatic — even before the current scandal. And therein lies the Anglo-Jewish connection.

A prominent member of Rabbi Tropper’s organisation is Dayan Chanoch Ehrentreu, former head of the London Beth Din. He has spoken at EJF conventions — most recently in November — and is chairman of its halachic committee in Europe. Moreover, he has been quoted on Charedi websites encouraging EJF to expand its activities into Europe — although the Conference of European Rabbis (whose beth din he also heads) recently passed a resolution strongly objecting to this potential interference.

Dayan Ehrentreu took up his position with EJF only after he retired from the LBD in 2006. Nevertheless, it is legitimate to ask why he was — and, judging by a letter he signed last week praising the group, still is — willing to associate himself with EJF, whose values are openly antagonistic to those of the supposedly centrist United Synagogue.

What does this say about his attitudes while still in office? Dayan Ehrentreu was, for years, a dominant force behind the policy on conversions for the London Beth Din. It was his ultra-strict approach to giyur that resulted in the annulment of the Orthodox conversions of Helen Sagal and Kate Lightman — ultimately paving the way for the father of Boy “M” to sue when his child, son of a Progressive convert, was rejected from JFS.

To what extent were these policies determined in New York and Bnei Brak? Dayan Ehrentreu would doubtless be shocked by Rabbi Tropper’s alleged immoral behaviour and nobody would accuse Dayan Ehrentreu of anything underhand. But his attitudes do not exist in a vacuum. The policies EJF has pursued stem from an expressed desire to impose Charedi standards for conversion across the world, obliterating any local discretion which might take into account the character and nature of local community cultures. In North America, this agenda was pushed hard by one zealot, whose religious pretensions — if the allegations are true — are a corrupt, hypocritical and scandalous charade. In Israel, it is pushed by a Charedi-dominated rabbinate with a highly political agenda.

Is this really a “gold standard” that United Synagogue members are comfortable with? Perhaps the real problem is not the Supreme Court imposing on us a Christian idea of Who is a Jew but the London Beth Din imposing on us a Charedi idea of Who is a Jew.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What's the Matter with These People?

From Friday's Jerusalem Post:

Police officers on Thursday morning were attacked by a haredi mob after being dispatched to the ultra-Orthodox Beit Yisrael neighborhood in Jerusalem to tend to a woman who was assaulted by the "modesty patrol."

When the law enforcement officials arrived at Rehov Admon, haredim began to congregate and throw stones at the officers.

The police car was slightly damaged, but no officers were hurt.
Reinforcements were dispatched to the scene.

The modesty patrol, an all-male vigilante group which has been active in the city's haredi neighborhoods, has been linked to numerous acts of violence over the years in their attempts to ensure the city's haredi residents conduct themselves in accordance with the conventions of their ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.

On Wednesday, a group of haredi men attacked a police car that was alerted to Jerusalem's Avodat Yisrael Street in the Mea She'arim neighborhood.

The group called the policemen "Nazis" and kicked the car, causing light damage.
No one was hurt in the incident and the suspects fled the scene.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You've Got a Friend

Saw this on Chaptzem:

What exactly happened to Motty Borger during the last few seconds of his life I will never know.

One thing I do know is that Motty loved people. He loved everyone around him and was a good friend who you could always count on for a quick sharp one-liner or a good hearty laugh.

I spent a lot of time with Motty throughout the years, he was
there for me in my time of need, fully and completely without hesitation and without the expectation of reciprocation.

Motty was a true friend and I now miss him dearly.

There are many things that I do not know, but I know one thing for sure. I want to remember Motty exactly the way he was on his wedding day, happy, joyful and full of hope, looking eagerly into the future to his whole life ahead of him.

To this I say, "AMEN!"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yael Trump

This video is amazng! Ivanka Trump is now an Orthodox Jew... Who'd a thunk it? Note the invitation in this video. It looks like a typical Frum invitation. And she changed her name to Yael. Doesn't Donald Trump care that his daughter converted to Judiasm? I guess not. He seems to be OK with it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

5770 - Does anyone really know what time it is?

As I was walking down the street one day
A man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, yeah
And I said

Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I cant imagine why
Weve all got time enough to cry

And I was walking down the street one day
A pretty lady looked at me and said her diamond watch had stopped cold dead
And I said

Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I cant imagine why
Weve all got time enough to cry

And I was walking down the street one day
Being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, oh, no I just dont know
I dont know
And I said, yes I said

People runnin everywhere
Dont know where to go
Dont know where I am
Cant see past the next step
Dont have time to think past the last mile
Have no time to look around
Just run around, run around and think why

Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I cant imagine why
Weve all got time enough to die

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

In Tribute to a Local Hero

The following was posted in a comment on UOJ.

I am not in the habit of quoting from his blog. Not because I don't I approve of his goals. I do. But because I do not approve of his methods.

This comment deserves to be singled out. It is a tribute to someone I know who quietly and without pay does the work that few people are willing to do even for pay. I salute him!

"Until someone swims against the tide of denial, stops the flow, builds a dam, and changes the minhag child sexual abuse doesn't go away on its own."

Our Rabbi in Chicago, Rabbi Finkel told us the same thing. IT'S UP TO EACH OF US to stop the cycle of abuse. It's either your FOR it or AGAINST it. Once a victim acts on the sickness, he is NO LONGER A VICTIM, HE's A PERPETRATOR.

We took Rabbi Finkel up on his challenge to find meaning in our life. Many of us are on our way back or have already arrived. We were treated like GARBAGE by the community and the so called "Rabbis" because we were challenging the way things were done in Chicago for ages. We have our own Rabbi who went through the same treatment for turning the tide.

We are so proud to have stood up, and still stand up against all garbage thrown at us. The MORE DIRT THE RABBIS AND COMMUNITY THROW AT US, THE CLEANER WE FEEL. We won't continue the chain of abuse. Thank God he came into our lives when we finally hit bottom and strengthened us and challenged us to make a life for ourself.

IF WE CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU!! We know how bad off we were yet OVERCAME, YOU CAN ALSO!! Don't give up, you can do it. It might take a REAL RABBI to help you along, we found ours, we hope you find yours. They exist in every city, please find that man and give it a try.


Rabbi Finkel thank you for throwing us a lifeline when we were about to drown. You should reap the benfits of your work and have Nachas from your kids and future generations. Working for no money shows the dedication and care you have for suffering souls. By us spreading your teachings, you have no idea how many people's lives you have touched.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Putting our Best Foot Forward

Well our people have once again made the New York Times. Doesn't this make Judaism appealing? Read it and weep!

Religious-Secular Divide, Tugging at Israel’s Heart


JERUSALEM — On Saturday, as on every Saturday in recent weeks, hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered before dusk on the terraces above the Carta parking lot just outside the Old City walls. In black silk Sabbath robes and fur hats, they lined up in rows, perched and waiting.

Suddenly their foot soldiers arrived on the street below, protesters who surged past the newly opened luxury
Mamilla Hotel. Police officers mounted on horses rushed to meet them as hotel guests looked on, bewildered, from windows on the upper floors.

This summer, radical elements of the ultra-Orthodox community have been demonstrating and rioting against city authorities, welfare officials and the police. For Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, a secular high-tech millionaire trying to attract more business, tourism and professional types to the city, the timing has been inopportune, to say the least.

The tensions in this contested city usually run along an east-west, Jewish-
Palestinian divide. But within the western, predominantly Jewish, section of the city, the cultural fault lines between religious and secular Jews run deep. Any change in the delicate status quo seems capable of setting off a riot, as Jerusalem’s most zealous Jews and liberals vie for the city’s character and soul.

“It is all part of the special human mosaic that makes up Jerusalem,” said Israel Kimhi, a director of the
Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, an independent research organization here. But the recent turmoil “does not do much for the image of the city,” he added, arguing that a small but strident section of the ultra-Orthodox population has grown increasingly extreme.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews, known as haredim, or those who fear God, went to battle in years past to ensure observation of the Jewish Sabbath, and tried to force the closing of movie theaters and roads. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, strictly observant Jews do not work, use electric devices, spend money or drive. There are no municipal services during the Sabbath in Jerusalem, and on the Jewish side most businesses are closed.

But after a 13-year lull in what local residents call the “Sabbath wars,” another round started one Saturday in June, when City Hall decided to open a parking lot. With the security situation in Jerusalem relatively calm, tourists and day trippers have been flocking back to the Old City on weekends, prompting a need for somewhere to park their cars.

At first, the mayor opened a municipal parking lot under City Hall. When that led to protests, he opened the private Carta lot under Arab management, and made it free of charge. The protests only intensified.

Yoelish Kraus, the operations chief for the Eda Haredit, the militantly Orthodox organization behind the protests, said the mayor’s mistake was announcing the opening of the parking lot at a news conference. As soon as there is a public sanction for violating the Sabbath, he said, “we
have to fight.”

The ultra-Orthodox make up about a third of Jerusalem’s Jewish population, and the adherents of the Eda Haredit are only a fraction of that. But with an average of 10 children per family, Mr. Kraus said, the community is growing fast.

The rabbinic sects of the Eda Haredit are the scions of Orthodox Jews who were in Palestine before the foundation of Israel in 1948. In the absence of the Messiah, they fervently reject Zionism and the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

The protesters called the police “Nazis” and spat at them. Special Force police officers dumped troublemakers into the fragrant rosemary and lavender bushes along the sidewalk. Protesters who tried to block the road were sprayed with pepper gas and carried off in a prison service van.
A small knot of secular counterprotesters sang songs at a bus stop while ultra-Orthodox demonstrators threw plastic bottles of water and pebbles at them. “The parking lot will stay open because we will not let it close,” said Nir Pereg, 29, a secular resident of the city, as his companions belted out a round of “Jerusalem will not fall.”

The Eda Haredit has also rallied around one of its members this summer, a mother who was arrested on suspicion of starving her 3-year-old son. Her supporters rioted in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and set fire to a local welfare office where she had met with social workers before being detained.

Fierce riots broke out on Sunday night after the police entered a central ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to remove the body of a murder victim from a hostel. The riot seemed to have more to do with a general hatred of the police than the killing itself, which did not even involve a member of the ultra-Orthodox community. For the first time, the police used tear gas and stun grenades and fired in the air to disperse the crowds.

The Eda Haredit called the police “murderers,” saying later in a poster that a young yeshiva student had been run over and badly wounded by a vehicle of the “Zionist Gestapo” force.

Violence then broke out again on Tuesday night, when a mob attacked a taxi driven by an Arab driver in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood. The driver escaped, though the car was battered.

In a modest counterstrike on a recent weekday morning, eight non-Orthodox Jewish activists — six women and two men — got on a No. 40 bus heading from the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot D into town. The women sat down in the front rows. The men went to the back.

Ramot D is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood where rigid religious rules are applied. The No. 40 is one of several public bus lines designated as “mehadrin,” or strictly kosher, where the men sit in the front and the women behind. The activists view this draconian interpretation of the modesty code practiced by Orthodox Jews as discriminatory, and the policy is being appealed in Israel’s Supreme Court.

Stern black-coated male passengers muttered their disapproval, but the
Rosa Parks-inspired act of civil disobedience took place peacefully, largely because the bus driver, an Arab, decided not to try to enforce the rules.

Some ultra-Orthodox women said they liked the separate seating arrangement. Others took advantage of the activists’ presence and moved to the front.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tonight You Belong to Me

I love this song

This is an excellent version of it.

Some Ideas for Funding Jewish Education

Original Draft of Emes Ve-Emunah Post

There is a lot of wisdom out there.

In a recent post I wrote about the overwhelming expense of Jewish education and the underwhelming resources available to pay for it. That post drew a lot of responses. 89 comments have passed moderation thus far. Many of them contained various suggestions - both good and bad - on how to improve things.

I thought it might be useful to review some of them and to include of my own ideas.

First I should define the type of school that I think is indispensible for a successful Jewish education. I am not necessarily suggesting an ideal school. Nor am I promoting a specific Hashkafa. I am only suggesting that it is at a minimum - what is needed.

First I am limiting this to elementary and high schools. Post high school is a stand-alone subject that deserves its own treatment.

Here is the model. A school should have both a good religious and secular studies program. It should have the religious studies in the morning and secular studies in the afternoon. Both religious and secular studies faculty should be well trained and paid in accordance with their talents, skills, and level of education. There ought to be one principal and two vice principals –one for religious studies and one for secular studies. The Religious curriculum should be geared toward advanced Yeshiva learning and the secular studies should be an academic one. In high school there should be a college preparatory type curriculum. The building facilities need not be lavish but do need to be in good repair, clean, and user friendly.

That is the basic outline that in my view would produce a well rounded, educated, and productive Jew.

Obviously a good faculty and administration will necessitate teachers being well paid. You will not get good people to work in a school for peanuts no matter how dedicated they are. Nobody wants to struggle just to pay for their food bills. Nor should they have to. Good teachers deserve to be paid well so they can live like the rest of us. There is also a competitive market out there requiring every school to compete for its teaching talent. Housing for the school is not free either.

How to pay for it.

A huge portion of course comes from tuition paying parents. But as I said - that can only pay for a part of it. Almost all parents are on at least a partial scholarship. And the current economy has caused increased scholarships.

Then there are the general Jewish community dollars that religious schools receive via Jewish federations. Some cities do better than others. But none get full funding for the budget gap. It has been suggested that federations should be scrutinized to explore ways to better prioritize their financial allocations.

I suppose from an Orthodox perspective - that’s right. But it is not a realistic option. Most federation members are not orthodox and do not have that perspective. Trying to convince them otherwise would be an exercise in futility and would be counterproductive. Factoring in the fact that federations are not orthodox - they are very generous to religious education. At least here in Chicago. I would not want to jeopardize that.

That leaves fundraising events to fill the gap. But that too is not enough as the increasing budget deficits of day schools and Yeshivos show. Due to the state of the economy philanthropy dollars are decreasing too. In that regard it is usually worthwhile hiring a good executive director who can raise more than his salary. He would also add tremendously to all fundraising events by organizing them to run smoothly.

There is one idea that is being tried here in Chicago that adds annual revenue to al the religious schools. It’s called The Chicago Kahilla Jewish Education Fund. Jews are asked to pledge a monthly amount that is distributed annually to all the schools. Donations can vary anywhere from 10 dollars per month - and up. All donor amounts are automatically deducted from checking accounts. Most people will not feel a ten dollar monthly deduction. Those who are more affluent they will not feel their higher monthly deductions. There are currently over a thousand members distributing about $600,000 per year to the schools here. And the list keeps growing.

Another thing would be to reduce costs. But how does one do that without reducing the quality of education?

I have long proposed that religious studies teachers be trained to teach secular studies. That would not only reduce costs but it would increase the quality of the education. Doing this one thing would have multiple benefits not the least of which is financial.

Schools could reduce the overall expense of teachers’ salary packages. Instead of having two teachers with two expensive benefits/health care packages we would have one teacher with one health care package. Addionally it is always cheaper to have one salary than two.

What I am saying is that a religious teacher who teaches secular subjects in the afternoon would not necessarily need to be paid the additional full salary of an afternoon secular teacher. He or she would get a sizable increase but less than a separate teacher would.

This is fair because it does not involve a separate commitment from someone outside the school, nor is transportation an issue. They are already there. Religious school teachers are already making relatively decent salaries and health packages. And if they have children in the schools that usually includes hefty tuition discounts for their children.

In my view afternoon secular teaching duties should not require the salary demands a teacher from the outside would make. That’s where dedication to the ideal comes in. The resulting salary increases and tuition reductions would provide a very decent middle class lifestyle and it would significantly lower costs for the school.

Not only would you decrease the size of the budget – but you would have religious teachers there for the entire school day. They would not only be role models in the mornings, they would be role models in the afternoon. What better role model could there be than a Rebbe or Morah who teaches Gemarah or Navi in the morning and math, science, or English in the afternoon.

Another good idea in my view is increasing the class sizes. I’m not sure what they typically are now but I’m sure they can be increased slightly without sacrificing the quality of the education. If even one teacher’s salary package can be eliminated that would help.

What would not work in my view is using the public school system. The idea would be to have an afternoon school system for religious studies. While saving money it is a very risky move. I realize it’s possible but it has not worked well in the past. Even if we were to try eliminating the deficiencies of the past or improving the quality of education in religious afternoon schools, I don’t think the odds are very good for a successful Jewish education. No child is happy to see their public school classmates go home and have fun while they are forced to go to another school in the afternoon. I think most kids will end up building resentment toward religion.

Nor is home schooling such a hot idea in my view. True that it has been successful in a few cases but it requires a lot of time and dedication on the part of parents who are generally ill-equipped to do it. And the very important –in my view – social component is missing. Interacting with peers during a school day is an important part of a child’s education in my view.

Going back to the era of the 1950s is not a good idea either. The idea that teachers do not go into education for the money but for the ideal sound goods, but starvation wages will chase even the most dedicated teachers away.

These are but a few ideas that I have either thought about or have gleaned for the collective wisdom of the readership here. There is more but I do not want to make this post too long and cumbersome to read. I do however want to thank all of those who made positive contributions to this very difficult issue.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Exemplars of the Jewish Faith

Post from Emes Ve-Emunah

It’s nice to know that the Edah HaCharedis has an e-mail address. One can send them comments about their activities. Of course that doesn’t mean they will pay any attention to them or even read them. But at least they give you the address.

Here it is:

How do I know this? It was sent to me by several people - accompanied by some photos presumably published and distributed by the Edah.

The most fascinating photo is the one where you see a caricature of the section process at Auschwitz. Hitler is standing at the gate while he selects who goes right meaning death by gassing. There are signs posted that obviate the selection process though. Once points to the right and says Charedim. The other points left and says Chilonim.

Chilonim get to live. Charedim get to die.

Aiding Hitler is a hospital worker - presumably from Hadassah Hospital. Next in line standing before them is a Yiddshe mama with her two children clinging to her shivering and sweating in fear. Hitler seems to be listening to his ‘advisor’ as he points his long finger to the right.

This - my friends - is what your Edah is doing for you. I strongly urge that you show your support for this lovely organization and send them your dollars right away.

Hat tip: Marty Bluke

Monday, August 24, 2009

Paying for Jewish Education

Original draft of today's Emes Ve-Emunah post

It’s that time of year again. In a few days the new school year will begin. Tuition and scholarship committees are in full gear right now dealing with a record number of applications.

That there is a financial crisis in American Jewish education is not news. This has almost always been the case. I recall many a strike by Rebbeim at my elementray Jewish day school because they hadn’t been paid in months. And that was in the late 50s when tuitions were actually more or less affordable (and teachers salaries embarrassingly low)!

Fast forward to 2009. The current financial crisis is greater than ever. Tuitions are at record levels and teachers still do not make enough – although their situation has vastly improved since the fifties - even since the seventies. Although tuitions are at record levels so too are the deficits of nearly all the religious educational institutions.

The financial situation of most religious schools is as follows.

Tuitions generally represent the cost of education per child. Simply stated - the entire budget of the school is divided by the number of students enrolled and that should more or less equal tuition – plus a slight excess to cover scholarship children.

Most parents of the parents I know cannot possibly afford full tuitions arrived at by this formula. If a tuition is $12,000 per child (a low figure for most Yeshivos and day schools if I understand correctly) then a family of four children pays $48,000 per year; a family of five children - $60,000. So it is quite understandable that the typical parent rarely pays full tuition. Deficits run up pretty quickly if the student body is large enough.

In the past fund raisers like banquets and concerts helped make up the difference. Some cities like Chicago have generous allocations from their Jewish federations as well. And there are always the ‘sugar daddies’ – those generous Jewish philanthropists who are always turned to in order to save an institution form going under. But all that is not enough. Religious schools are not solvent. Most of them are in debt and getting deeper into it.

And the current economic situation is accelerating that. Some parents have lost their jobs. Some cases two income families have become one income families. Some philanthropists’ finances have actually crashed and burned and others have had their incomes cut severly and their donations reflect that. School budgets have increased - but so have scholarships.

Looking at these factors it is not all that difficult to understand the crisis that we are in.

As a result the unthinkable – at least for a religious Jew -has happened. Religious parents are starting to seriously consider public schools as an option. It is unthinkable because the history of publicly educated children in the past is not a good one. The vast majority of students who attended public school in the past are today not religious at all. Many of their children are intermarrying. While there are ogther factors that contributed to this – the lack of a good Jewish education is not the least of them.

The influences in today’s public schools are far worse than ever. Being religious is no longer the only concern. The deeper you go - the worse it gets. Just look at moral standards of any college campus. Not to mention the rather casual attitude on these campuses about illegal drug use.

But I digress. The point here is losing Jewish children from Judaism. That - for the first time in decades – is a real concern.

This concern was a while back. I recall a story published about a religious parent deciding to pull his kids form a day school and send them to public school. It was an anomaly then - but it seems to be taking hold somehat now - as the Jewish Star recently reported. Parents struggling severely with their finances to the point of dire need are pulling their kids.

Let us look at the budget side. Why have they increased so drastically? There are many reasons - most of them good ones.

Teachers in the past were paid near poverty level wages. This meant that very few qualified people were getting into that field. Of the few who did get into Jewish education and were good at it - demand for their services was high. Competition for them between schools ended up raising their salaries.

Benefits packages have increased too. Health insurance premiums have gone up dramatically and that has increased the budgets without teachers even feeling any benefit. They still get the same coverage. Only it costs the school more.

Administrative salaries are much higher now than in the past. Good principals are hard to find and if you want good people in education running your child’s school your are going to have pay for them. Good pricipals will be recruited from outside education with tantalizingly higher salaries being dangled in front of them for their talents. Dedicated as they are they stay in education even though it usually means they still make less than they would in the business world. But they would not stay for peanuts!

The there are special educations programs offered dealing with LD children or gifted children. There are teacher’s aides, small class sizes, good secular teachers… on sight psychologists, physical education teachers, music teachers, theater productions ( e.g. Erev Shira), expansion costs …it all adds up to something the community cannot afford. But where do you cut?

There is an idea floating around about a no frills day school. If I recall correctly it was an initiative proposed by a Rabbinical Council of America committee who had worked on it. It would eliminate some of the expenses by increasing class size, doing away with enrichment programs and other cost cutting measures. But I doubt that a school budget of even a no frills day school will be reduced by all that much. The lion’s share of any budget is teachers’ salaries. Teachers and principals still need to make a decent living. The era of poverty wages for educators is over. Thank goodness.

That is the ‘Reader’s Digest’ version of why the budgets have increased. And why the deficits have too. And it is why in part the Jewish community is in biggest educational crisis since World War II.

As I said I have no real solutions. We can neither afford to lose students to public schools nor good teachers and administrators to the business world.

But if things keep going the way they are... we may lose significant numbers of both.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Extremist Mainstream American Charedi

Original draft of today's Emes Ve-Emunah's post

As many know from reading this blog, I am a fan of Jonathan Rosenblum even though our Hashkafos are different. He is a Charedi with strong ‘Torah Im Derech Eretz’ leanings. I am a Centrist who believes in Torah U’Mada. Even though we may occasionally disagree - that does not diminish my respect and admiration for him.

On the contrary. I find him to be honest and forthright proponent of his Hashkafos. He is both an intelligent and erudite writer with few peers in the Charedi world. In fact I find myself agreeing with him more often than not.

In a recent article published in Hamodia, Jonathan took issue with the current custom of automatically going to learn in Israel for a year or two which has created an explosion in numbers of American students now learning in Israel. Specifically - he lamented the fact that this has given rise to a significant increase in the risk of young people going ‘Off the Derech’ to one degree or another. He therefore admonished parents to be more aware of these risks and be more hands on in selecting a Yeshiva. Perhaps more importantly he urged parents to realistically evaluate their child’s commitment to the beliefs and values in which they have been raised.

This certainly seems like a quite reasonable concern to be vigilant about.

But Jonathan seems to have been victimized the same as I have been when criticizing the Charedi status quo. The minute one takes a critical view of things Charedi one becomes subject to attacks by Charedi Kannoim - usually anonymously. But there is a difference when I get it. My criticisms are usually met with comments like ‘Who are you to criticize? You are an outsider?’ That is followed with the typical ‘You’re nothing more than a Charedi basher!’

That of course is a false reading of my motives and a gross misrepresentation of my views. Nevertheless I can certainly understand that a given Charedi might make that assumption . The thinking goes: I have an agenda to promote my Hashkafos. And it serves my purpose to put down other Hashkafos which automatically builds up mine. Understandable but wrong.

But Jonathan can certainly not be criticized that way. He is ‘one of them’. But that didn’t stop it from coming:

Here is an excerpt from his recent article:

My op-ed " " in the July 23 Hamodia has occasioned more than the usual amount of comment, both in the form of an unusually large outpouring of published letters to the editor and in phone calls and private comments conveyed to me. Some of those comments have been favorable, even effusively so, and some no less critical – at least one anonymous caller took the time to call from the States to convey his opinion that I had lost my Olam Haba, chas ve'shalom.

He loses his Olam Haba. This is how some in that world see it. They will not accept any criticism at all. The slightest suggestion by anyone that something is wrong rewards them with this kind of retort – even when the benevolent intent is clear.

This response was not from some fringe fanatic. There are obviously some Charedim who believe that what Jonathan said was absolutely wrong in the extreme. Were this comment from some hot-headed fanatic Jonathan probably would have ignored it. The only difference is that he went so far as to ‘inform’ Jonathan that he actually lost his Chelek in Olam Haba – his portion in the world to come.

Based on my own experience there are indeed many Charedim who think this way: One may not criticize the status quo. One should leave any criticism in the hands of ‘the Gedolim’. If they haven’t said anything there must be nothing wrong. So any criticsm is - not only not warranted but – but it assures that one will lose his place in the world to come.

I have asked this question before. But I raise it again. Where do these poeple get these ideas from? How can anyone criticse another for expressing a heartfelt suggestion clearly made in the best interests of that very community? By one of their very own?

They want to criticize me? OK. I understand that they might see me as ‘the enemy’. But Jonathan Rosenblum?

The only answer that seems to explain it is that this is how they are indoctrinated: The world of Torah is holy. Don’t dare tamper with it – if ‘the Gedolim’ haven’t said anything is wrong then we are not permitted to entertain that notion… Not without risking our portion in the afterlife.

There are sincere constituents of the Charedi world that think this way. I used to get a lot of them commenting right here on my blog – in far less flattering ways than Jonathan did.

I can only surmise that there are competing versions of Charedi Chinuch. There are Mechnchim that advocate the approach of Jonathan’s critic. And there is another – far more realistic Charedi approach that is more self examining - willing to listen to criticism.

The question arises, which Yeshivos teach their students to think in this Kanoistic way? And why? And how many students as a percentage of all Charedim get indoctrinated this way?

My guess is that they are in the minority. I believe that moderate Charedim are indeed in the majority.

But that doesn’t elimnate the problem. There seems to be significant numbers of Yeshovos and Mechnchim that indoctrinate their student like this. Left unchecked their numbers will grow.

The battle lines are drawn. I really do feel that there is a war between the two Charedi approaches even if many Charedim would disagree. It is the moderate Charedi world against the extremist Charedi world. And by extremist I am not talking about the Meah Shearim types. They are a horse of an entierly different color. I am talking about mainstream, American Yeshivos that teach this rigid kanoistic version of Charedism.

It is imperative to fight this mindset. I will continue to do my part. But it is far more important for the moderate Charedi world to fight this with every ounce of strength they can muster. They cannot afford to sit on their hands and say. ‘Not to worry - the majority of us are not like that.’ There are enough Kannoim out there like Jonathan’s critic to intimidate the system into their world view. Moderate Charedim need to realize that the determined response of a zealous minority can be far more effective than the complacent attitude of the majority. And they need to fight it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

What Do Women Want?

Original Draft - Post for Emes Ve-Emunah:

What do Women Want? This is title of an article in Ynet - a question that is ostensibly answered by one Shimon Stern who is a spokesman for some sort of Rabbinic Committee for Transportation Affairs in Israel. One wonders exactly who comprises this committee. I doubt it would be anyone who I would see as my rabbinic authority.

Be that as it may, his answer to the question is that women want to sit separately from men on the back of a bus. I wonder how women that I know would respond to that question. I doubt that a single one would respond the way he says they would.

Mr. Stern ‘proves’ his contention from other countries that have gender segregated buses. This shows it to be a universal and not necessarily religious goal for women. Women who therefore want to eliminate sex segregated buses in Israel are dismissed as obsessive radicals! Here is the way he describes them in an article in Ynet:

(They are) reformers and other radicals (who) are suddenly coming up with ridiculous claims in order to tease and destroy something that only has to do with the ultra-Orthodox community. We are dealing with a handful of people who are obsessed with the haredim.

Right! He read their collective minds and knows their motivations. He goes on to claim that protests against gender segregated buses have been meager compared to thousands who rallied in favor of the segregated buses in Jerusalem…

His answer to those who say that segregated buses have led to violence is that violence occurs in non segregated buses too. And in any case when laws and regulations are established such violence will end. Tell that to Mrs. Miriam Shear who was beaten to a pulp for sitting in the men’s section of a mixed gender bus that was only unofficially used as a segregated bus. The rules and regulations were on her side!

Another assertion he makes is that it is a universal Halacha to segregate the sexes:

Every haredi, man or woman, follows Jewish Law – which according to all rabbis rules that segregation is mandatory.

He also claims that even some secular women have communicated their preference for sex segregated seating.

What he fails to understand is that sex segregated buses are not a Halachic requirement despite his claim to the contrary. If it were you would never see any Charedi Rabbanim on non sex segregated buses. Nor would you see Teshuvos by such eminent Poskim as Rav Moshe Feinstein who does not insist that segregation is mandatory.

What he additionally fails to understand is that the democratic concept of ‘the majority rules’ should not deny the rights of the minority. That the majority of his community wants this arrangement entitles them to have it - destroys the rights of the minority who do not. It is wrong to force your religious standards of the majority upon minority that does not want it.

Mr. Stern does come up with one intelligent statement:

Each person has the right to decide, for themselves, what constitutes humiliation or respect.

That is absolutely true. But he uses that to springboard to his unsustainable conclusion:

I therefore think that it is clear that a community espousing gender-segregated systems at schools, synagogues, and celebrations is also allowed to decide that sitting separately is not humiliating…

The conclusion should be exactly the opposite. Different people have different attitudes about what constitutes humiliation or respect. And the rights of all should be protected. One segment should not have their way if it sacrifices the rights of others. If there is a woman who feels humiliated by being forced to sit at the back of a bus her rights ought to be protected. Not that he cares.

One might ask what about those who feel humiliated by sitting in a mixed gender bus? They are certainly the majority in those neighborhoods.

There is only one answer to this problem. They should have their own busing system. And in this I sympathize with this community’s past efforts to have one. The powerful government owned bus monopoly thwarted all their past efforts in doing that. The government did not want to lose the business. I can’t imagine why though. They are so heavily subsidized - they would probably save money by allowing them their own buses.

If the Charedim want to have their own bus lines, I think the government ought to let them. Public on the other hand buses should be as they always have been in Israel since the beginning of the State (until about 15 years ago). Mixed gender. In the long run I think that would make everyone happier.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Dependency Class

Original draft of Emes Ve-Emunah Post

The world of Charedi Avreichim – married students who spend many years in Kollel - has evolved into a dependency class. They survive almost entirely on government handouts. This is true for both Israel and the United States. It was not always this way. Avreichim in Europe of less than even 100 years ago were an small but elite group of brilliant students that were supported by their communities. The vast majority of Charedim worked. But now there are huge numbers of Avreichim that cannot survive without some sort of government handout.

But government handouts are not enough to maintain an even modest middle class lifestyle. So other handouts are sought usually from parents and grandparents who have made money the hard way – by working for it.

In most cases parents supporting children with large families is a near impoverishing exercise. They have worked a lifetime to pay for the Jewish education of their children; to pay off a mortgage; to have a retirement nest egg. But supporting multiple large families in a Kollel empties out bank accounts; re-establishes mortgages; and even life insurance policies are cashed in - all so that their sons and sons-in-law along with their large families can be free of the burden of work and learn Torah full time for many years. All while putting many middle income parents into the poorhouse in their golden years.

This gross injustice to these hard working parents is unconscionable - even though they may be willing participants. But that is not the only problem. This cannot go on forever. The next generation of Avreichim will have even poorer parents to rely upon since they will have been in Kollel and end up with lower paying jobs not requiring higher education. Nor are government handouts a sure thing for the future. In this economy government handouts are not guaranteed. The government may legislate stricter guidelines for welfare which will be detrimental to Avreichim.

What makes this type of dependency class even worse is that many Yeshivos and Kollelim - not the least of which is Lakewood - actually encourage it. They pressure parents for support and examine every possible way to get money out of the government. They will utilize every loophole so that their married students can somehow survive without working.

Charedi Yeshivos like Lakewood see welfare payments as a sort of government based stipend for their ‘graduate students’ (Avreichim). This abuses a government program designed for the poor - not for middle class Avreichim.

This is not only a Chilul HaShem in my view but lends itself to tremendous abuse. It is not a big step from legally abusing the system to illegally abusing it. How many Avreichim who come from middle class backgrounds and live basically middle class lifestyles – and nonetheless use every possible loophole of every government welfare program to help finance their learning in Kollel? While they may be technically eligible – it is an ethical lapse of monumental proportion in my view.

They will rationalize and say things like: if a common neighborhood crack-head mother gets welfare checks - why shouldn’t I?

It is not hard to see how this kind of thinking leads the justifications of massive frauds like the recent cases of money laundering by ‘religious’ Jews. They think the government wastes so much money on useless projects and lowlifes anyway– why not divert some of that waste it to a better use in one of their holy institutions?

Dina D’Machusa Dina? Phtttt! What’s that?! - compared to the need to keep Yeshiva X open? Or to make sure that teachers are paid on time? Or to help a community of poor Avreichim can survive? -especially in these economic times

Chilul HaShem? ‘That’s ridiculous’ - they will tell themselves. ‘We will never get caught!’

Well guess what. There is no such thing as a free lunch. And the proverbial chickens will come home to roost. But don’t listen to me. Rabbi Berel Wein said it so much better than I can in last Friday’s Jerusalem Post.

There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. My constant harping on the need for Charedim to get a decent secular education seems to be shared by over half of them - even in Israel - according to another article in the Jerusalem Post:

The Shiluv Group, the Israeli representative of the Millward Brown research company, asked a sample of 500 haredim if they would be interested in earning an academic degree in preparation for professions such as medicine, nursing, economics and law.

53% said they would be interested. Among Chasidim the percentage rose to 59%! On the other hand among the non Chadsidic ‘Lithuanian’ Charedim the percentage is only 42%.

This is good news. My only question can these numbers be translated into reality? Can we turn desire into actual attendance? Can we get 53% of all Charedim in Israel and the US to go to college? I sure hope so. Because that would mean a major change in the way things work in the Charedi world – for the better. This may not be a win for Torah U’Mada - or even classic Torah Im Derech Eretz. But it is a major win for Torah U’Parnassa.

We need to make it happen. Because the dependency class is doomed to failure.

Monday, August 17, 2009


I have tried several times to get haloscan on board here. ...followed the instructions each time. Each time they told me I should see haloscan here. But got absolutely nowhere.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Perks of reaching 50 or being over 60 and heading towards 70!

Sent by my friend Steve Katz (Pictured with his lovely wife Ellie)
01. Kidnappers are not very interested in you.
02. In a hostage situation you are likely to be released first.
03. No one expects you to run-anywhere.
04. People call at 9 PM and ask,"did I wake you?"
05. People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.
06. There is nothing left to learn the hard way.
07. Things you buy now won't wear out.
08. You can eat supper at 4 PM.
09. You can live without sex but not your glasses.
10. You get into heated arguments about pension plans.
11. You no longer think of speed limits as a challenge.
12. You quit trying to hold your stomach in no matter who walks into the room.
13. You sing along with elevator music.
14. Your eyes won't get much worse.
15. Your investment in health insurance is finally beginning to pay off.
16. Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the national weather service.
17. Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can't remember them either.
18. Your supply of brain cells is finally down to manageable size.
19. You can't remember who sent you this list.
20. And you notice these are all in Big Print for your convenience.

Never, under any circumstances, take a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night

Monday, July 27, 2009

Top Ten Signs Your Rabbi was Indicted Yesterday:

Several people sent me the following list. I only laugh when it hurts!

10 Suddenly takes on minhag to wear hat on face
9 Synagogue Charity Auction now includes "Kidney"
8 Unless you work in criminal defense, you ain't getting Shlishi
7 Rebbetzin is suddenly on Jdate
6 Afternoon Halacha Shiur now entitled: "Ankle Monitors on Shabbat"
5 Will be spending the rest of the summer "upstate"
4 Sermon comes in form of an Affadavit
3 Keeps tying everything to an obscure "Yosef in Jail" metaphor
2 Pretty sure he just referred to Bernie Madoff as "Shlita"
1 He's still wearing Black & White, only this time, it's all stripes

Monday, July 13, 2009

Classic Insults by Classic People

Got this in an e-mail. It is hilarious:

There was a time when words were used beautifully

These glorious insults are from an era when cleverness with words was still valued -- before a great portion of the English language was boiled down to four-letter words!

1. The exchange between Churchill and Lady Astor: She said, "If you were my husband, I'd give you poison," and he said, "If you were my wife, I'd take it."

2. Gladstone, a member of Parliament, to Benjamin Disraeli: "Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease." "That depends, sir," said Disraeli, "On whether I embrace your policies or your mistress."

3. "He had delusions of adequacy." – Walter Kerr

4. "She has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." - Winston Churchill

5. "A modest little person, with much to be modest about." – Winston Churchill

6. "I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure." -Clarence Darrow

7. "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." - William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

8. "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" - Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

9. "Thank you for sending me a copy of your book. I'll waste no time reading it." - Moses Hadas

10. "He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any man I know." - Abraham Lincoln

11. "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." - Mark Twain

12. "He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends." - Oscar Wilde

13 "I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play. Bring a friend.... if you have one." - George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

14. "Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second.... if there is one!" - Winston Churchill, in response.

15. "I feel so miserable without you. It's almost like having you here." - Stephen Bishop

16. He is a self-made man and worships his creator." - John Bright

17. "I've just learned about his illness. Let's hope it's nothing trivial." - Irvin S. Cobb

18. "He is not only dull himself, he is the cause of dullness in others." - Samuel Johnson

19. "There's nothing wrong with you that reincarnation won't cure." -Jack E. Leonard

20. "He has the attention span of a lightning bolt." - Robert Redford

21. "They never open their mouths without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge." - Thomas Brackett Reed

22. "In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily." - Charles, Count Talleyrand

23. "He loves nature in spite of what it did to him." - Forrest Tucker

24. "Why do you sit there looking like an envelope without any address on it?" - Mark Twain
25. "His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork." - Mae West

26. "Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."- Oscar Wilde

27. "He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts... for support, rather than illumination." - Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

28. "He has Van Gogh's ear for music." - Billy Wilder

29. "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." - Groucho Marx

Friday, June 19, 2009

Who wants to Marry a Boro Park Millionaire?

Guuest Post by Scoogie spin genius Martin Bodek

Good evening New York daters and welcome to 'Who Wants to Marry a Boro Park Millionaire?'
I'm your host, Martin Bodek.

We only have 5 contestants because the other 5 got stuck in Boro Park traffic
behind some hocker who triple-parked his Lexus on 13th avenue.

So let's introduce the remaining 5:

Noote Naftooleh Feinshmecker from Boro Park!
Chezkiyohee Leepeh Yom Tov Yoel Hausbucher from Williamsburg!
Avrohom Mendel Farshleptekrenk from Monsey!
Yechiel Alter Nuchem Wheelstolease from Sea Gate!
Patrick O'Brien from Boston, Massachusetts!

Now that you've met our contestants, it's time for the fastest finger question!:
Put these Jewish vacation spas & resorts in order of fancy-shmanciest to filthiest rat-infested dirtpile:

A) The Homowack
B) The Tamarack
C) The Concord
D) The Nevele

The answer in correct order is:

A) The Concord (.4 cockroaches per square foot).
B) The Nevele (1.3 ants per square inch).
C) The Homowack (2.7 termites per square centimeter).
D) The Tamarack (17.9 writhing maggots per square millimeter).

And the winner is - Noote Naftooleh Feinshmecker!

Come on down, you're the next contestant on The Price is...oops, wrong game show.

MB: So Nooteh Naftooleh, what do you do for a living?
NN: I enter game shows, play the lotto, and I'm Publisher's Clearing House most gullible customer.

MB: You think you're gonna support my daughter making a...oops, bad date-interview flashback, anyway, are you ready to marry a Boro Park Millionaire?

NN: Yes, I am, Martin!
MB: Okay then, for $100, here's the question:

1. What exactly are chasidim?

A) Disciples of the teachings and traditions of the heiligeh Baal Shem Tov, Zatzal.
B) Those guys from ZZ Top.
C) A recently discovered lost Indian tribe.
D) Litvaks.

NN: I would have to say A, Martin.

MB: Is that your final answer?
NN: Yes.
MB: Your absolute final answer?
NN: Yes.
MB: Your absolutely finally final finale answer?
NN: Want me I should smack you?MB: No, because you are CORRECT!
NN: Yay.
MB: And now, for $200, here it is:

2. What exactly are Litvaks?

A) Anyone caught within a 3 mile radius of Chaim Berlin.
B) Anyone caught within a 30 mile radius of Lakewood.
C) Anyone caught within a 300 mile radius of Lithuania.
D) Yeshivish people.

NN: I would say D.
MB: Is that your final answer?
NN: Yes.
MB: You're sure?
NN: Want me I should call the Shomrim on you?
MB: Not necessary, because you are CORRECT!
NN: Yay.

MB: Now for $300, here it is:

3. 'Takeh epes gradeh b'di-eved l'choirah gevaldig tzigedacht' is an example of what?

A) Severe head trauma,
B) A drunken stupor.
C) An incurable stutter.
D) Yeshivishe reid.

NN: That would be D.
MB: Is that your final answer?
MB: CORRECT! And bli ayin horah you still have all your lifelines intact!

So for $500, here we go:

4. What is the most popular underwear for chasidim?

A) Boxers.
B) Briefs.
C) Boxer-briefs.
D) Rabeinu Taam Gatches.

NN: That one's easy, D
MB: You're RIGHT! Was that your final answer?
NN: You're getting on my nerves.
MB: It's my job! Now then, here it comes for $1,000:

5. What is the typical way a Boro Parker starts a conversation?

A) Whazzzzzzzzzzzzzzup?
B) HaYOOdoin??
C) Como esta?
D) Nu, so tell me something.

NN: I would say the answer is D.
MB: Is that your fina-
NN: YES! And it's interesting, most of the answers are D.
MB: That's because I have to set up the punchline.

Now for $2,000, here it comes!:

6. How do you say the word 'cucumber' in Yiddish?

A) Kartofel
B) Tzibileh
C) Igerkeh
D) Gebeks

NN: A is Potato(e)s, B is onions, D is cake, so Igerkeh must mean 'Cucumber'
Final answer.

MB: Would that be your final answer?
NN: Didn't I just say that?
MB: Oh, you did. Sorry. And you're right!

Now for $4,000, here it is:

7. Which of the following is NOT a Yiddish word?

A) Ibergebliben.
B) Nechtigentoog.
C) Rishvoolkeh.
D) Hoisentrageh.

NN: That's a trick question! Nechtigentoog is TWO words! Aha! Gotcha! My answer is B.

MB: Good thinking, Naftooleh! You are absolutely diddly doodly final answerly correct!
NN: I'm gonna shoot you when this game is over.
MB: Is that a threat?
NN: Yes.
MB: You think you could take me?
NN: Yes.
MB: You want a piece of me?
MB: No wait! I'll behave!

Okay, for $8,000, here it is:

8. What imaginary creation do Boro Parkers believe in that the rest of humanity does not?

A) Santa Claus.
B) The tooth fairy.
C) Leprechauns.
D) The eiruv.

NN: I would have to say the answer is D.
MB: Your answer is D
NN: My answer is D.
MB: Not A, B, or C?
NN: Not A, B, or C.
MB: So it's D as in doughnut? As in disaster? As in.....
MB: Okay, okay, that's the last time I annoy you.

Now for $16,000, here it comes:

9. What is NOT the correct definition of the word Nissan?

A) The first month of the Jewish new year.
B) The manufacturer of the Maxima.
C) The Yiddish plural of the word 'nuts'.?
D) A Jewish first name.

NN: Hmmmm, this looks like another trick question. I'll say 'A' because the first month of the year is Nissan, but the first month of the NEW year is Tishrei. Almost got me there.
MB: You're absolutely right!
NN: Pshew!

MB: Now for $32,000, here you go:

10. What are the real names of Bob Dylan, George Burns, Kirk Douglas, & Mel Brooks?

A) Bob Dylanovitch, Joel Bernstein, Isidore Hoffman, & Melvin Brookman.
B) Robert Zimmerman, Nathan Birnbaum, Isser Demsky, & Melvin Kaminsky.
C) Bernie Dylman, Jacob Birnbaum, Kirk Levitch, & Martin Brookstein.
D) Robert Zimmer, Nathan Burns, Israel Kubelsky, & Milton Cohen.

NN: Oy vey iz mir. Okay, let me think about this for a minute. This is a tough one.
MB: Is that your final answer?
NN: I'm going to ignore that.
MB: You know you still haven't used any of your lifelines.
NN: When I'm done with you, YOU'LL be begging for a lifeline!

Now I think I heard somewhere that Dylan's real name is Zimmerman, so I'm guessing B

MB: It's a good guess! And you win $32,000! Now for $64,000, here it comes:

11. Why did the Lubavitcher cross the road?

A) To get to the other side.
B) To avoid the treif Brooklyn Museum of Art on his way to 770.
C) To be mikarev the chicken.
D) Why not?

NN: As we all know, any Jewish question can be answered with 'Why not'? D is my final answer.
MB: It's a good one! You win $64,000! Are you ready for the next question?
NN: Yes I am, Martin!
MB Then here we go for $125,000!:

12. Where does the term 'Yeki' come from?

A) Spanish Jews of old were Yak herders, hence, 'Yeki'
B) It is the Hungarian term for 'Jew.
C) German Jews were the first to wear short jackets, Yeki' means 'Jacketpeople'.?
D) 'Yeki' is an old version of a Jewish 'Krechtz,' much like 'Oy'.

NN: Would you believe this was discussed at a shiur I went to last week? I think the answer is C.
MB: Hey Nooteh.
NN: Yuh?
MB: You're right!
NN: Hooha! Yoy, I'm getting nervous now.
MB: You better be! Because here comes the $250,000 question!:

13. Approximately how many chasidim live in the entire New York City area?

A) 34,000.
B) 98,000.
C) 165,000.
D) 283,000.

NN: The answer is C, Martin.
MB: How do you know that?
NN: I did some quick math.. I know about half the Chasidim here, so I just doubled the number!
MB: Well, your math is good, you win $250,000!

And here is your $500,000 question!:

14. Why do Jews 'vinch' for people to live 120 years?

A) Because Moshe Rabeinu lived 120 years.
B) Because Rabbi Akiva lived 120 years.
C) Because Noah's Ark took 120 years to build.
D) Why not?

NN: You're not going to get me with the 'Why not' question. The actual answer, I believe, is C.
MB: Are you sure? What's your reasoning?
NN: The dor hamabel was given 120 years for teshuva. We vinch our friends that time to do the same.
MB: You know, this game show started out funny and is suddenly turning into an intellectual discourse. Not only that, you're absolutely right!

And finally, here we go, here it is, here it comes. For $1,000,000!:

15. What exactly ARE the 'Five Town'?

A) Bell Harbor, Lawrence, Atlantic Beach, Inwood, Woodmere.
B) Far Rockaway, Inwood, Lawrence, Hempstead, Hewlet.
C) Plainview, estbury.
D) Hewlet, Woodmere, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood.Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, W

NN: Oy vey! I have no idea! I think I'm going to use a lifeline. I'm going to poll the audience.
MB: Ok then, audience, using your clicker thingie, choose which answer you think is correct.
MB: Okay, and here are the results of the audience poll!:

A) 25%
B) 25%
C) 25%
D) 25%

NN: Oy gevalt. I need another lifeline. I'd like to phone my chaver, Yankel Shmeel Kollelmasmid.

MB: Okay, let's see if our friends from AT&T can find Yankel.

AT&T: Ring ring!

MB: Hello Yankel?

YS: Who is this?

MB: It's Martin Bodek, from 'Who Wants to Marry a Boro Park Millionaire'?

YS: Voos hertz zich?

MB: Ales gitz, your friend Nooteh Naftooleh is stuck on a million dollar question and needs your help.
YS: Tell him I'm in middle of a shvereh mishneh and I have no time.
MB: But he's depending on you!
YS: Too bad, Torah is the iker.
NN: I'm going to kill him, but before I do that, I'm going to take the 50/50.
MB: Okay computer, please take away 2 of the wrong answers, leaving two correct:

B) Far Rockaway, Inwood, Lawrence, Hempstead, Hewlet.
D) Hewlet, Woodmere, Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Inwood.

NN: I'm going to have to guess.'D.'
MB: D?
NN: D.?
MB: D - bist gerecht! You get to marry a Boro Park Millionaire!
NN: Woohoo!
MB: Shprintzy Krasi Roizy Genendel Teitelbaum, meet your new chosson!

NN: It's love at first sight!

MB: But she's hideous!

NN: Who says money can't buy love?

MB: Darva Conger and Rick Rockwell!

NN: But their marriage is getting annulled. Yiden can't do that.
MB: Oh, well good luck then! And there you have it folks.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Stimulus Explained

This is an important subject for the entirety Klal Yisroel. The economy affects everyone. My friend Bonnie Slotnick sent the following to my wife, Annie. It is a must read primer on the what it is and what to do with it. - HM

This year, taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format:

Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?
A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money?
A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
A. Only a smidgen.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment?
A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV Set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China?
A. Shut up.

Below is some helpful advice on how best to help the US economy by spending your stimulus check wisely:

If you spend that money at Wal-Mart, all the money will go to China. If you spend it on gasoline it will go to the Arabs. If you purchase a computer it will go to India. If you purchase fruit and vegetables it will go to Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala (unless you buy organic). If you buy a car it will go to Japan. If you purchase useless garbage it will go to Taiwan.

If you pay your credit cards off, it will go to bank management bonuses and they will hide if offshore. Same with stock investment.

Instead, you can keep the money in America by spending it at yard sales, going to a baseball game, or spending it on prostitutes, beer and wine (domestic ONLY), or tattoos, since those are the only American businesses still operating in the US.

Friday, March 20, 2009

With Friends Like These...

The blog, Circus Tent is run by the son of an old Chicago acquittance of mine. This fellow is a Lubavitcher although his parents are not. About a year ago when I was writing about some of the problems I saw with Lubavitch. He contacted me and we discussed the issues involved

In the course of those private discussions we became friends and he revealed his identity to me. But now I am beginning to wonder just what this friendship really means. In yesterday's guest post I was viciously attacked. And the comments that followed were even worse. Here is my comment back to him:

My, my my.

This is quite revealing. I didn't know there was so much 'love and understanding' by your friends about me. Except for one or two rather gallant defenders, almost every other comment was completely vile.

And you Mr. 'Tzig' (alias of the blog-owner) allowed this drivel?! You forget that I know who you are. And I could easily expose you. But don't worry, I won't do that.

I have never written one negative word about you nor would I even consider allowing others to do so. But you not only allowed it - you allowed unbelievably nasty comments to be made.

I have not written anything negative about Lubavitch in many months since there has been nothing to write about. But that doesn't stop Mr. Gurewicz from writing a most hateful essay.

I don't know where all his hate comes from. Maybe it's because I chided him a while back about sending his daughter to the Meshichist high school here in Chicago - I don't know. But I will be sure to mention this to him next time I see him in the Lubavitch Shul here - Bnei Reuven where I Daven twice a day as the Shaliach Tzibur.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

25 Phrases Of Wisdom

From my Friend Steve Katz:

1. If you're too open minded, your brains will fall out.

2. Age is a very high price to pay for maturity.

3. Going to church doesn't make someone a Christian any more than going to a garage makes them a mechanic.

4. Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.

5. If you must choose between two evils, pick the one you've never tried before.

6. My idea of housework is to sweep the room with a glance.

7. Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.

8. It is easier to get forgiveness than permission.

9. For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.

10. If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.

11. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.

12. A conscience is what hurts when all your other parts feel so good.

13. Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.

14. Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.

15. No husband has ever been shot while doing the dishes.

16. A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.

17. Middle age is when broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change places.

18. Opportunities always look bigger going than coming.

19.. Junk is something you've kept for years and throw away three weeks before you need it.

20. There is always one more imbecile than you counted on.

21. Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

22. By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.

23. Thou shalt not weigh more than thy refrigerator.

24. Someone who thinks logically provides a nice contrast to the real world.

25. Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they shall never cease to be amused.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Lion's Tail

The following is a post by Rabbi Shael Siegel. It appears currently on his blog, Rabbi Shael Speaks. I normally do not post verbatim essays from other blogs. But this one is right in my wheel house. It is a touchdown, a home run, a hole in one - to use some sports metaphors. Why do I use these sports terms? Read on. This post speaks for itself and needs no futher comment from me.

“No. You are a Jewish girl who got mixed up in the culture of the heathen-Greco-Roman-America of today. Look what they use you for: to sell their soft-porn smut through reaching out to the lowest aspect of humanity and to make airports a place where mothers have to cover children's eyes. How many lascivious thoughts has your image evoked? How many jealous thoughts? How much wasting of time? How much degradation of values?...…But you are not the only one to blame for this ignominious degradation.

All those Orthodox Jews who take pride in having kosher hotdogs and a Maariv Minyan in Madison Square Garden - they too are to blame. Oh, they would claim that their worship of professional sports has nothing to do with your public exhibitionism. But it does, because both come from the same root; that is, the Greek and Roman fascination with the body. Is it a coincidence that Sports Illustrated caters to both the pro sports and the soft-porn crowd? Of course not, because both pro sports and soft-porn are flip sides of the same coin. What can one expect from the secular Jews when Orthodox Jews act like Hellenists?…Orthodox Jews sitting in a stadium munching on kosher dogs while watching today's gladiators compete? This is not the stuff of a better world, nor the actions of a G-dly people…

…It is time for the Jewish people to end our addiction with animalism. It is time that we stop being the heads of foxes by helping the world plummet in its moral decline. Instead, it is time for us Jews to be the tails of lions, that is, to fulfill our role by being a "Light Unto The Nations" nation. The time has come to get up, shake off the dross of 2,000 years, and get to some real work. We have better images to put on the sides of airplanes and on magazine covers. We have a chance to make great things happen in this generation: to help breathe the breath of life back into a world that has chosen physicality over spirituality, and to remind mankind that we are all created in the image of G-d, and not vice-versa.”

This is an excerpt of an article by Yishai Fleisher which appeared on February 17, 2009 in Arutz Sheva. If you haven’t guessed, it was written in protest to Bar Rephaeli appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine as well as having her image graced on the side of a Southwest airlines Boeing 737.

The author while protesting the lack of tznius, revealed a warped and unhealthy resentment towards western culture to the point that it has corrupted his own understanding and appreciation of Jewish culture as it has evolved through the ages. Under normal circumstances I would have read the piece, chuckled and moved on. However, what I find most troubling is that Fleisher’s point of view is finding wider currency among a growing number of right wing orthodox Jews.

He may be right about the lack of tznius but his condemnation of western values is not the answer and is therefore of great concern.This growing community of people seems to equate sports with pornography, spirituality with a rejection of physical beauty. In rejecting the display of flesh in public they are throwing out the baby with the bath water. If there is anything sensual or erotic about an object d’ art it must be rejected.

There is a display not only of intolerance but fanaticism that defies any logic, common sense and is indicative of a total lack of contextual understanding of our history and culture. His rant flies in the face of our tradition which offers ample examples of the balance and value we place on aesthetics. Parshat Terumah is a good example of that.

My intention here is not to use parshat Terumah to rationalize the behavior of any model or the display of oneself in an immodest manner. My intention is to contextualize our history and tradition and demonstrate how timely and beautiful it can be while appreciating physical beauty for what it is.

Parshat Terumah begins with a description of gifts to be accepted in the building of the Tabernacle and its vessels. “And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold silver and copper; blue purple and crimson yarns fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skin, dolphin skins, and acacia wood.” (Exodus 25:3-5)

From this description one can assume that color, texture and materials were very important to the building of the Tabernacle. It teaches us too that physical beauty was something which ought to be appreciated. We give gifts of things that are precious to us. Obviously these gifts were highly prized and appreciated. The text underscores and encourages our appreciation of beautiful things.

Indeed the aesthetics involved in the design of the structure was as important as the message emanating from it. Otherwise, why the detailed description in our text of the materials, colors and fabrics involved in the construction of the Tabernacle. Over the centuries and perhaps because of the long exile the Jewish religious aesthetics lost its unique signature and adopted many of the art forms from other neighboring or host culture. During those periods and perhaps because of our experience in exile we shunned art forms that were pagan or Christian in nature, perhaps as a way of maintaining our unique culture and resisting assimilating into the neighboring culture.

Our sages and rabbis however were wise and they were able to draw a qualitative line between enjoying art for the sake of its beauty and appreciating it for its religious value.There is a Mishna in Talmud Avoda Zara that tells an interesting anecdote about Rabban Gamliel, president of the Sanhedrin who frequently bathed in the Aphrodite bathhouse in Acre. One of the pagans bathing there at the time that Rabban Gamliel was there asked him how it was that he was bathing in a place where there was a statue of Aphrodite.

Rabban Gamliel answered him that one has to make the distinction between that which is important and that which is irrelevant as well as the intent of the statue. Had the statue been placed there for religious worship it wouldn’t have been permissible to bath there, but as it is there only for aesthetics it is permissible to bath there and to enjoy the aesthetics.

This is a fascinating Mishnah because it demonstrates the balance in Rabban Gamliel’s approach to Jewish living, halacha and appreciating the Greco – Roman world of culture.Rabbi Yosef Karo, editor of the Shulkan Aruch made a similar distinction when he said that statues in a small village aren’t to be viewed whereas those in larger cities are permissible.

The reasoning being that those placed in a small village were done so for religious purposes and therefore a Jew isn’t allowed to get any pleasure from it. However those placed in larger cities were placed there for the purpose of art and aesthetics, not for religious purposes and therefore can be viewed for artistic appreciation.

It would appear that the ability of our sages and rabbis to make these fine distinctions in order to appreciate art and architecture of the ages has been lost on many of our 21st century rabbis and scholars. There is a trend as demonstrated by Fleisher and others towards a fanaticism that has no genuine grounding within our tradition. The ability to balance Jewish living and the world we live in was a talent that our rabbis and sages valued and honed. Unfortunately it is fast disappearing.