28 February 2007

Mini - Milestone

My sitemeter (at the bottom of my Blog) shows I'm going to hit 15,000 Visitors today.

Thank you.

I was thinking of inviting the 15,000th visitor to my house for Purim Seuda.

But what if Jacob Stein wins and he wants to be Mekaim - "Kum Zeira Shuchtai Lrav" ?

(I think those were the two involved).

So, never mind. I'll celebrate with my family.

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    25 February 2007

    Now it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh

    Orthoprax discusses missing books and records of the Jewish past.

    Similarly, the following bothered me since I was young.

    אסתר פרק י
    ב וְכָל-מַעֲשֵׂה תָקְפּוֹ, וּגְבוּרָתוֹ, וּפָרָשַׁת גְּדֻלַּת
    מָרְדֳּכַי, אֲשֶׁר גִּדְּלוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ--הֲלוֹא-הֵם כְּתוּבִים, עַל-סֵפֶר
    דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים, לְמַלְכֵי, מָדַי וּפָרָס.

    Esther 10: 2 And all the acts of his power and of his might, and the full
    account of the greatness of Mordecai, how the king advanced him, are they not
    written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?

    Well? Are they or aren't they? Are "all the acts of Mordechai's power" recorded in the chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? The relative recent history (compared to Yetsias Mitrayim) of Media & Persia has no account of Mordechai. At least not a clear cut account of a Jewish Mordechai and Esther.

    No need to debate it here, check Wikipedia for the debate about it's historicity.

    So, is this too a case of the Persians cooking the books against the Jews? Or is it the case of historical personalities turned into Jewish ones for a children's tale? It reminds me of a Pirchei story as a young child where the storyteller (Shmuel Kunda?) turned Yankee stadium into Yankel stadium.

    It seems to me as if Possuk was a wink to the adults, cluing them in that this account is not to be taken literally.

    Another oddity about Megilas Esther is that it's the only Sefer in Tanach that has not been found in the Dead Sea scrolls. What the significance of this is, I have no idea. If anyone has any idea, I'd love to hear it.

    Purim, I love it! (Well, I love a lot of it, not all of it).

    Maybe, this would be an opportunity for me to dress up as Jacob Stein and pay him a visit. Or perhaps I'll visit him dressed as a Chossid collecting money. We know how much Jacob Stein respects Chassidim.

    Anyhow, have your Purim drinks (but don't drive) and when you get to the point of Lo Yodah, think of us skeptics.

    Have a freilichen Purim.

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    20 February 2007


    Jewish Philosopher asks me:

    If Judaism is such crap and being a goy is so wonderful, what is everyone afraid of? So leave the Jewish community and start a new life in the wonderful American society.

    On one hand it's a good question, but on the other hand it displays in the questioner a short-sighted selfishness.

    I'll address this from three perspectives. (I'm sure other Frum Hidden Skeptics have good reasons besides the ones stated below.)

    A)"Judaism is crap" - Who said that? "Being a goy is wonderful". Who said that? (Though I wouldn't mind spending 99 cents on a burger instead of 5 bucks.)

    On the contrary Judaism has great utility. It gives the community a strong sense of purpose and promotes a decent society. Of course, it only evolved that way. It could have been very different. It could have gone the way of violent fanaticism. See Shimon Ben Shotach and the witches. (And look at the violence between rival factions of Chassidim) But right now, Frum society is pretty good. Being a Jew is not so bad. I find no compelling reason to chuck it all.

    So why should I leave?

    Am I a parasite? No, on many counts. Yes, I do benefit from my friends and family. But it's a two way street. I actively participate in several ways, one of which must be unnamed. I donate to communal organizations and I'm a vibrant, active, even enthusiastic, participating member of my Shul.

    B)Even if some people do feel that "Judaism is Crap", people don't want to leave for fear of hurting their loved ones.

    Is that really so crazy?

    You can't seem to fathom that there are individuals who don't want to hurt the people around them and are willing to undergo living in a constricted environment.

    So why should I leave?

    Am I a coward?

    Maybe. But, there's more to life than following your own impulses. In this regard, I know I may be different that others before me that have left the path. Everyone has their own threshold. In a moment of weakness, I revealed my secret to my wife. But I only did that because I knew we'd survive. Yet things could have been different. Had I been younger and my frum lifestyle not been so ingrained, I very well may have made a differnt choice. So I won't judge other people. But for me, chucking it all would devastate the people that matter the most to me.

    C) My own self interest. I like my friends, social life and am somewhat comfortable in the OJ cocoon. I have been acclimated to like a good Dvar Torah. I have been acclimated to like a shiur. I have been acclimated to like going to shul (I just don't like the davening). I like my family, wife & kids, etc.

    So why should I leave?

    Am I a hypocrite?

    Then so be it. It is not I that created this crazy society where people are afraid to voice their opinion even to their own parents and children. In this sense, Judaism and the community is getting it's payback. It faked me out for it's own survival and I'm just returning the favor.

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    18 February 2007

    One of my (many) Fears

    As a skeptic, I have this constant fear of being outed. Quite often, I've been asked my ID in Emails. Usually, the intentions of the requester are benign, but sometimes it's not.

    You really would think that there's no reason on Earth someone would be so vindictive as to want to "out" someone. But check out this post by Jewish Philospher in which he says:

    "Let’s hope that someday there will be a website established identifying these people, just as there are currently websites for sex offenders."

    So - skeptics beware.

    You may recall how I came up with the name "Baal Habos", but lately that moniker concerns me somewhat.

    I try to make sure that when people casually mention "Baal Habos" that I don't show any special sign of recognition.

    My fear? Well my fear is that one day I'll be in a large frum crowd at a "chasuneh" and someone will call out "Baal Habos" and I'm the only Bearded, Black-hatted, sushi-eating yutz that does NOT turn around!

    Oh boy, we skeptics can never win.

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    16 February 2007

    Something interesting (for some)

    aurora borealis

    "...it is only by asserting one's humanness every time, in all situations, that one becomes someone as opposed to something. That, after all, is the core of our struggle." -Andrea Dworkin

    V' Hameivin Yavin.

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    11 February 2007

    The Common Denominator

    Continued from here.

    Ever hear stories about the Tzaddik who befriends someone who went off the derech? And then, by helping him out with a simple favor or by being extra polite, the individual, after a process, becomes a Chozer B'Tsuhva?

    What exactly is going on?

    And how do we explain the following?

    • Kids At Risk?

    • As GH points out, the fact that most kids are so easily indoctrinated?

    • Skeptics because of science and history - Like The so-called Chochom in a prior post of mine?

    • Skeptics because of Emotion - The supposed Rosha?

    • Skeptics because of incredulity in miracles? - The so-called Tam?

    • Skeptics who are exposed to GH - The supposed Sheano Yodeah Lishol?

    • The fact that there appears to be a greater number of Chassidish Skeptics?

    • Baalei Tshuva who get turned on to Frumkeit because of some kindness (Potato Kugel)?

    Let's start with Chassidim. I think that when compared to the Yeshivish velt, there is a higher percentage of Chassidim who do not subscribe to the beliefs they were raised with. Now place yourself in a Chassid's shoes, (or beneath a Shpitzle for the women). You are taught that the only true way to serve the Ribono Shel Olam is by following the "Heimishe Derech" & the Mesorah of your parents. This might mean no or little secular education, dressing completely out of sync with modernity, spending hours at a Tish, total societal segregation of sexes, etc. Then you step out to Flatbush and see other very religious Jews, practicing the same religion, with the same zeal, studying the same Talmud, even mastering it. But those Yidden are not encumbered by the same rigid dress code and not stuck with a third grade education. They don't seem locked into the past like you are. There is no way, in my mind, that a Chassid does not at least begin to question his upbringing. After cursory research, they'll stumble onto the fact that the Chassidic way of life did not originate with Rava & Abaye. So how can that way of life be obligatory on him? Why can't he be Frum but not Chassidish? Once he begins to question, there's no telling what else is questioned.

    So the way I see it, Chassidim are prone to a loss of TRUST in their way of life.

    You're going to tell me that the same is true of Chareidim. They step out and see the Modern Orthodox world. That's true, but it's different. MO is on the defensive about their practice. It's often acknowledged that MO is a compromise. Additionally, the dress of American Chareidim is not that different than a typical businessman (except maybe the color of his suit). And their education does not deprive them of basic reading & writing. The Chareidim claim their way of life is the same as practiced in Biblical times. And there's no way to disprove that, especially since anything remotely secular is off-limits and is considered unreliable. A Chareidi believes he's on the unique path to God.

    Generally, Charedim are not threatened by an MO way of life. Unless Chareidim start to delve in places they don't belong, they have no reason to mistrust their beliefs. (But I think that a Rabbi Maroof does pose a threat to Chareidim. That was the subject of a different post. To me it seems like there are not that many Rabbi Maroof's around).
    Children who are taken care of by loving parents and have a decent school & life experience TRUST the system. They trust their parents, Rebbeim, teachers, sibling, etc. Their environment comes at them with a consistent message. Be good and you'll be taken care of. And for the most part, they are! So what's not to trust? Such children easily accept the religious indoctrination of parents.

    But when these same kids get abused or don't have a happy home life, that's where it gets tricky. They lose trust and can lose belief. I don't trust my Rebbi, so why should I trust his Torah?

    Or take a yeshiva boy/girl who through no fault of his/her own, is not up to his peers scholastically. In an environment where learning is emphasized to the exclusion of everything else, a poor student is a recipe for trouble. Why should he trust the system? There you have an opportunity for a Kid at risk. This is beginning to be recognized and hence a renewed emphasis on remedial studies for failing students.

    I guess you see where I'm going now. The common denominator is TRUST.

    Treat someone with extraordinary kindness and they'll begin to trust you. Imagine growing up secular and then being invited to a total stranger's house for Shabbos. How can you not end up trusting that person? How can you not be affected by the whole message of Judaism that your host envelops you with? I bet kindness, sympathy & empathy are the tools of Kiruv organizations such as Aish Hatorah. And who are their clientele? Often they are the ones that have lost trust in their current way of life. It all boils down to TRUST.

    That brings us to the skeptics. They each lose trust, some in the history and some in the science. Some might lose faith in the Theology and some in God's benevolence. You might consider this to be tantamount to giving in to Taavah. But contrary to Jewish Philosopher, I bet skepticism that originates or is fueled by Taaveh is the exception, not the rule.

    You grow up believing in a 6,000 year old world. And then the scientists, the same professionals that send people to the moon, contradict that. It starts to put doubt in your head. The same group that brings you genetic splicing and Heart transplants tells you that there was no global flood. Slap after Slap and eventually you lose your trust in the old beliefs.

    Take someone who is born Gay and is told that's fine but must live a celibate life. And then they hear that it was OK for Yehuda to dally with Tamar because Yehuda had no choice. The trust is eroded. Or someone asking why King Solomon can have 1000 wives but his own wife is off limits half the time. Or a horny teenager can't understand why Yaakov Avinu is held up on a pedestal even though he kissed Rachel before their first date! It seems like a double standard to me.

    So despite what I originally thought, in the end, all skeptics, Chochom, Rosha, Tam & She'aino Yodeah Lishol are simply part of a larger group.
    A group that, for one reason or another, has lost trust in Judaism.

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    06 February 2007

    I'm going to live forever

    A short while ago, we had lengthy discussions about R' Elchonon Wasserman's "Maamar Al Emuna" (Essay on faith). Apparently, Ed and anonymous believed this was so powerful as to give skeptics pause as to their beliefs.

    Ed asked me to read it and post my thoughts. I started out with a lengthy exposition describing exactly what REW states, but after a while, it became really tedious. So I erased all that.

    In truth I have very little to add to what has already been said.

    R. Wasserman comes to the conclusion that the philosophers are crazy. This is without presenting any other side of the debate or evidence. In other words, they're crazy because he says so. Not once does he debate the issue nor mention that the same difficulty, of where the world came from, can be applied to God. He just takes God as a given. I hate to say this, but it reminds me of what Jacob Stein said just today "As far as truth goes, any imbecile can see that Judaism is the truth."

    I can understand him believing in God. But he presents his side of the argument and the premise of the essay, in great "Talmudic & Halachic detail". He includes Rov, Shochad, Noahide laws, Rambam, etc. But he does not present even a limited discussion of the non-believers' evidence & claims.

    The whole maamar is a 5 page restatement of what Chazal said "Lo Uvdo Avidah Zarah Ela Lhatir lahem Arayos". Loosely translated - "People deny God for the sole purpose of living an immoral life".

    Almost every statement that he does make is taken from the Torah & Talmud, which of course makes no sense to a non-believer.

    So let's discuss "Lo Uvdo".

    Lo Uvdo Avodah Zara? My own personal experience shows this is not a universal truth. I now feel free to dismiss this out of hand. I used this concept on myself for many years to keep myself in check. But it's false. I might be wrong about TMS. But my beliefs come from my intellect and experiences. It has nothing to do with desires.

    The problem is that "Lo Uvdo" is an easy claim to make. Way too easy. Like all religious claims, it's almost unfalsifiable. In reality, it's childish to claim the I really believe but I'm denying it for limited earthly pleasures. I know that I am not going to live forever. I always function with the future in mind. I started saving in an IRA when I was 25. Why would I do any less when faced with missing out on the prospect of Eternal Bliss in the company of the Shechina?

    REW compares the lure of this world to bribery and thus states it clouds one's judgement. Sure, it's possible. But the bottom line is that everyone has bias. It's inescapable. REW's bias is no less than mine. What's important is to know and acknowledge your bias. And then make your life's decision with that knowledge. And then make your decision with the understanding that you alone are responsible for your actions. But you also affect others with your actions.

    In conclusion, I must say that the Maamar is totally unconvincing. In defence of R' Wasserman, a man with great intellect (I don't know about his WW2 judgement)I must come to the conclusion that he intended this essay for believers. This was not intended as an argument to sway the non-believer like me. What shocks me is that believers hold this up an example of a good argument for belief.

    (Irene Cara - FAME) I'm gonna live forever. I'm gonna learn how to fly (High) ... I'm gonna live forever. Baby, remember my name (Remember, remember, remember, remember) ...

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    04 February 2007

    What's good for the goose is good for the gander

    Rabbi Maryles, bemoans what happens to the MO youth when they send their children for a year of learning in Israel. He claims it's unfair to the parents of these children who sign up for one thing and get something else.

    Rabbi Maryles: And that’s not a good thing. It is in essence a high-jacking away from the parents of their child’s education. It is an indoctrination of Charedi values and ideals that most of these homes do not have and do not want their children to have. In some cases they can be weaned from that Hashkafa to some degree and can be convinced to return at least somewhat to their original Hashkafos. But in some cases they can’t and there have been some real big family disruptions. Many parents suffer great motional pain because of it. Parents who have invested many dollars in their children’s education, sacrificed many years of time and effort... truly having experienced Tzar Gidal Banim, now see a product they barely recognize.

    Most parents just throw in the towel after a while and just go with the flow. They do after all love their children. But they did not raise them, the way they turned out to be. And that is just plain unfair.

    Check out this brief interaction we had on the topic:

    Baal Habos: I can not say I dis-agree with you, but would you apply the same criticism to organizations such as Aish that target secular youth and steal them away from the values their parents have instilled in them?

    Rabbi Maryles: I don't like the idea of stealing anything. And I do not approve of such tactics. Also you are comparing Kiruv of secular kids to indoctrinating children already Frum into a Charedi Hashkaa... 2 different animals.

    Personally, I don't see a difference:

    Baal Habos: You show Bias here. You label one as Kiruv and the other as indoctrination.

    From a parents perspective it's the exact same thing.

    As a matter of fact, the change from non-frum to Frum is exponentially greater than that of MO to Chareidi.

    What's the difference? The difference is that with Secular kids turn Frum, you see them as coming closer to your sense of norm. With MO kids turning Chareidi (Ch"VSH) you see them leaving your sense of norm. You are not being consistent.

    Rabbi Maryles: No. I realize that in a sense both are indoctrination. And I admit to bias in this respect. I am biased to making Jews observant by use of various Kiruv methods as long as they are not underhanded. To me it is infinitely important for someone to go from being a non observant Jew to being an observant one... of any stripe.

    But once if you are observant, then it is unfair for others to sway you away at a young and malleable age, from the the Hashkafos of your parents.

    So there you have it. A distinction without a clear reason.

    At least in this Ed is consistent, with his usual biting sarcasm.

    ED:Tzaar Gidul Banim.

    Their children are getting more frum.

    Their children are getting closer to God.

    Oy. Oy. Oy.

    My eyes cry for these parents.

    *Tears of joy*

    He believes God wants us to be as Frum as possible.

    But Ed, I ask you, how would you feel if your children went to Eretz Yisrael for a year and came home "closer to God" as say R' Arelleh Chasidim? or Neturai Karta? And what if members of a different faith tried to hijack them away from your well thought out training. After all, there are those that believe Christianity is a step closer to God.

    So wouldn't it be better for all if there's no attempts at indoctrination at all?

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    02 February 2007

    Rabbi Kinsey is coming to town

    Er. Ahem,

    Well... Just read it for yourself.


    My name is Mark Guterman. I am a Clinical Psychology PhD student working with Orit Avishai of the University of California at Berkeley.

    We are doing an internet survey of Jews of all denominations. The survey is for both singles and married couples.

    The survey is online at: http://www.JewishSurveys.org

    The study looks at issues regarding Negiah (premarital touching) and Niddah / Taharat HaMishpachah (family purity). Niddah and Negiah play an important role in the every day lives of Jewish men and women. The collection of handbooks on this topic grows from year to year, yet we know very little about how Jewish couples, men, and women experience and observe Niddah and Negiah. Anecdotal evidence and our previous research have led us to conclude that many couples and individuals are experiencing difficulties with this aspect of the Halachah. We are inviting the Jewish community at large to participate in this important survey to shed light on these difficulties and explore some ways to address them. Given the intimate nature of these matters, this brief, online survey is totally anonymous, and no identifiable information is collected.

    I was wondering if you could allow post a link on your site for our research?

    I ask you, because your blog draws readers of a type that we may not be able to reach through any other means. Please help us out. We are not making any money on this; we are simply trying to learn more about our community. Your cooperation in this would be greatly appreciated, and you would be doing a service to the Jewish community at large.

    Thank you very much for considering this,
    ~Mark Guterman

    In response to a question of mine, Mark emailed me as follows:

    Regarding religious affiliations/denominations: This is a common complaint. We were forced to choose categories for the sake of this survey. In future research, we will surely expand these categories. However, perhaps this temporary solution will satisfy you: Many respondents have chosen to clarify their religious position in the comments field.

    So believers and skeptics alike, now is the time to make yourself heard.

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