31 October 2008

Free Lunch

An interesting article in today's New York Times discusses those who can afford their mortgage, yet because of declining home values and the ensuing negative equity, would be better off mailing the keys to the bank and walking away.

An airline pilot who lives outside Norwich, Conn., Mr. Lawrence has a traditional 30-year mortgage that he has no trouble paying every month. But, thanks to the plunging real estate market, he owes more on his house than it is worth, like millions of other people.
If the banks, which frequently lent irresponsibly, and many homeowners, who often borrowed irresponsibly, are getting government assistance, Mr. Lawrence says he believes sober souls like himself are also due a break.
“Why am I being punished for having bought a house I could afford?” he asked. “I am beginning to think I would have rocks in my head if I keep paying my mortgage


That's quite a dilemma, why take the high ground when you can enjoy a free lunch?

I wonder what Halacha says about this.

Yet I know that many in the Frum world would jump at the opportunity.

How do I know? Because that's exactly what happens in Lakewood on a daily basis. There are hundreds (thousands?) of Kolel Younge Leit taking advantage of government (read tax-payers) largess. They do this by legally receiving welfare, food stamps and a host of other programs intended to help the needy. They do this even though there is an able bodied adult capable of going out and earning a livelihood. They do this by making themselves needy.

Now, the pilot in the above story has a bigger nisayon than the Lakewood situation. After all, indeed if free lunch is being served to irresponsible people, why be denied lunch just because you were responsible?

But the Kolel attitude is worse.

Government programs are intended for people who are in bad financial straights due to circumstances beyond their control. To purposely adopt those circumstances is disgraceful.

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    29 October 2008

    A higher standard?


    You are 17 years old and you stumble onto a website that says "Warning: You must be 18 or older to continue". What do you do?
    Well, continue of course!

    Someone (hat tip upon request) emailed me a link containing a recording of James Kugel discussing Bible criticism and his book - How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now.


    (There was not much new in the recording but the book was a great read.)


    Of note in the recording, Kugel explicitly warns people that his Bible Class "isn't for everyone".


    Similarly, in his book, excerpted in the New York Times, Kugel states "...But there is one group of readers who must be cautioned about its contents. Precisely because this book deals with modern biblical scholarship, many of the things it discusses contradict the accepted teachings of Judaism and Christianity and may thus be disturbing to people of traditional faith. I should say that I count myself in this group, and some of the things I will relate have indeed been disturbing to me over the years. I hesitated for a long time before deciding to pursue modern biblical scholarship as my field of study, and I hesitated even longer before deciding to commit my thoughts on it to writing. If I nonetheless went ahead, it was because I felt that it was dishonest, and ultimately would prove impossible, to hide from the central question addressed by this book. Others, of course, may feel differently. It is up to them to decide whether or not to continue."



    Two issues arise.


    Is he for real about that warning? Is he really trying to dissuade some from reading his book and attending his class? Or is he really trying to entice them into his class? Or perhaps he's just posting a disclaimer in case irate parents come yelling at him that he corrupted their sheifaleh?


    I don't know. But let's assume he is sincere in his warning.


    But then, the opposite question arises. If he believes that modern Bible scholarship is true, or at least has some true things, isn't it his job as an educator to pass that on to students? Should biology teachers warn off creationist students from taking their classes? Should geologists warn off flat-Earthers? No, of course not. The Earth is round and anyone who thinks otherwise is the most in need of education. It bothers me that Kugel is so willing to compromise his teaching to baby the feelings of misled students.


    On the other hand. I too am an educator. Or at least I was until my children grew up. I, like Kugel, am also interested in truth. Yet, I did not expose my family to this kind of material. I understand the analogy is far from perfect, but in the real world people have concerns that override truth. I know I do.


    So, with regard to the truth, is it fair to hold Kugel up to a higher standard than I hold for myself?


    What do you think?


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    27 October 2008

    Don't I warn you when you're getting fat!

    Pre-Post-Interlude.

    Am I the only one or does anyone else out there see a parallel to downtrodden Jews throughout much of history?

    Listen carefully.

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    22 October 2008

    Baruch Mechaye Meisim.

    http://modernorthoprax.blogspot.com/

    Or perhaps that should be Baruch Mechaye Meisis ?

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    Simchas Toirah in my shul.


    Did you properly honor the Seforim in your shul?















    Thanks to Mark for the artwork.

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    11 October 2008

    Just insane.

    Gil has a post in he which he attempts to put a pleasant spin on aging in an attempt to explain some of the theological concerns people might have with aging. An admirable goal.

    Toby Katz comments and goes a bit further in which she stops short of finding good in it by rhetorically asking "Was it worth that old lady having Alzheimer's.....?"


    I remember that a woman in the old age home with my late mother in law was bed-ridden and unconscious, probably advanced Alzheimer's,...... but her husband came to visit her every single day and every single day he sat there by her bed for hours, just holding her hand.... Was it worth that old lady having Alzheimer's so that her husband could demonstrate love and devotion? Well, I
    wouldn't say it was "worth it" but I would say that even in her unconscious
    state, her life had value
    .


    After being attacked by an anonymous:

    "Leave it to Toby to posit that it might have been worth it for an old woman to deteriorate with Alzheimer's because her six year old got a chance to shake hands with a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim."

    and yours truly:

    >Was it worth that old lady having Alzheimer's so that her husband could demonstrate love and devotion?

    Not if you'd ask the old lady.


    Toby responds:
    "Just to set the record straight, this is what I actually wrote:--begin quote--Was it worth that old lady having Alzheimer's so that her husband could demonstrate love and devotion? Well, I wouldn't say it was "worth it" but I would say that even in her unconscious state, her life had value. --end quote--"


    The problem is that reasoning Toby's alludes to has great precedence in Jewish thought.

    Rabbi Munk in The word of Prayer relates that David Hamelech complained to God about the purpose and what good can come out of insanity. Later on in 1 Shmuel 21:14, King David resorts to feigning insanity to escape from Achish the king of Gath. (In honor of this David writes Tehilim Kappitel 34.) Says Rabbi Munk "It was then that David recognized the perfect wisdom of the creator and the truth of the words in "God observed all that He had created and saw that it was very good (Bereishis 1:31).

    So Toby, this concept of yours is far from original. Come to think of it, it way surpasses your thinking. You admirably attempt to find the silver lining in each cloud of sickness, whereas according to Chazal, David Hamelech found redemption in God's creation of insanity only through his own personal benefit.


    Perhaps Toby, you should have stood your ground.


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    09 October 2008

    Random Yom Tov thoughts

    Spending three days in shul while everyone else is davening, provides lot's of time for observation. Here's a few




    • Reading material. Al Knight mentioned bringing the God delusion in shul. Members of my shul had it's own version of that - Praying with Fire, actually three copies in my field of vision! And one copy of a sefer on Yom Kippur. Pretty lame. I was considering being really bold and bringing some Schiffman to shul. But of course, I chicken out.

    • There's the Avreich of three years really shuckling away like crazy. Sherlock Holmes (that's me!) suspects babies, or lack of them, are on his mind. Sure enough his father bids way more than a man of his means should for the appropriate Segula. I wish them much Hatzlocha.

    • I realize there's a huge gap in the Artscroll Machzor. We discussed this already.

    • In the perpetually undercooled shul, a brand new Kolel yungerman is visibly uncomfortable sweating away under a heavy Tallis with a braided Attarah. He's probably cursing his Kalleh's chassidish ancestry. But hey, we all work for our living. So what if it's a little hot. I imagine it's factored into the Kest.

    • Unexpectedly I get a Kibbud out of line with the usual. OMG, what is Hashem telling me. Is it that "Yes, there's still hope for you mein kind?". I quickly come to my senses. I now think "Uh Oh. Hashem is rewarding me with Kavod in this world to be Meabed me in Olam Habah." Or something like that. As I walk up, I supress a smirk but I think "What a pity, this could really have been the highlight of some believers day. For me it's just fodder for my blog". At the end, the real truth dawns on me, maybe I'm the only one in shul up to date with his dues. Or maybe it's just the luck of the draw.

    • My eyes set on a kid. An At risk Kid. He has made an amazing turnaround. He looks almost, but not quite exactly like other bochrim. In his demeanor, there's still a touch of definance. But I see they're breaking him, turning into just another clone. Yet, I'm sure his parents are relieved. And so am I. This kid was going downhill real steep and real fast. I wouldn't have been surprized to hear that he O.D'd. or something. There is still plenty of good in Orthodoxy. (It was probably some frumkeit issues to begin with, but I'll chalk this up to an OJ success.)

    • Everyone in Shul is really going strong. It's Duchening time. I look around and see I've got the scenery all to myself. Everyone's immersed under their Tallis. Except of course the Yeshiva boys. I see something I've never seen before. Some of the boys have maneuvered their hats downward to completely cover their eyes. But then I see it. There's one Bochur who's looking around. Our eyes meet and he quickly averts his gaze and looks back at his Machzor. He doesn't look up again.
    • I try to calculate the odds of one of my readership being someone in my shul. Miniscule, I think. Maybe one in ten thousand? Even so, stranger things have happened, so I resolve to make sure my Random Yom thoughts are misleading enough.
    • I fantasize. I imagine that I come out of my self imposed Galus and tell people what's on my mind. How liberating. Of course it's totally out of the question. But then I realize a bitter truth. As liberating as it might be, even if I would not be ostracized, it would actually have a terrible side effect. Coming out, assuming I don't get kicked out of shul, while letting me get away coming to shul three hours late on Yom Kippur, will just serve to drive a bigger wedge between the community and I. It will serve to engage me in skepticsm on a full time basis. All my conversation would be mired in skepticism while what I really want is to be a full fledged member of my community. In my mind, I take a birds-eye view of the place. It's gorgeous. The serenity, the Ruach, the group, group, I can't even think of the word. It's as if the indviduals have become a single entity. A profound sadness envelops me as I realize, once again, how different I've become.

    • Gam Zeh Yaavor

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    07 October 2008

    Kol Nidrei

    Maybe sacrilegious to some, but I love it. Listen to the complete thing.

    The interesting part starts after the first iteration. Broadway aficionados will love it. And what a voice.


    Kol Nidrei

    Have a fast fast.

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    05 October 2008

    The reach.



    People aren't even aware they're doing it. It comes close to Borchu or Shmonah Esrai and there's an automatic reach above the shoulders, grabbing the tallis and then tugging it over the head.




    Artscroll Machzorim are wonderful but they completely miss this very important Inyan. The problem is that not everyone is aware of the proper time to initiate the Reach. For example, on Rosh Hashana before duchening, judging from my shul, it appears there's a Machlokes Haposkim. Many people in my shul start the reach with Avinu Malkeinu Zchor Rachamecha while others wait until Elokeinu V'elohai Avoseinu. This is very puzzling and is detrimental to the Achdus in my shul.




    Just like it says "The Ark is opened", Artscroll needs to spell out, "The Tallis is raised over the head".




    Additionally, we need a section in the Halachos containing the following information.




    "Covering the head with the Tallis"



    It is a time honored tradition to raise the Tallis over the head during various parts of the Teffilla. Not everyone raises it for every occasion but we have noted when exactly the Head is to be covered.




    • The Rav is required to keep his head covered during the entire Teffilah including Leining. When addressing the congregation, the Rav may be Meikil, except before Ne'ilah.


    • Similarly, Kolel Youngeleit, the non cool ones, are also expected to cover the head during the entire Teffilah. Covering the head during Leining is optional.


    • Balleh Battim. The Machzor indicates when the Tallis is to be raised and when it can be removed.


    • Newbie skeptics are advised to behave like Kolel Youngeleit to avoid any suspicion.


    • Experienced skeptics realize no one is watching and you can do as you please.


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    Beyond the sea

    Isn't this awesome? Why doesn't Jewish (frum) music sound like this? That's not to say that there isn't some very quality Jewish Music out there. As a matter of fact, the musicianship nowadays is quite high compared to thirty years ago. But I think there's just nothing out there that compares with this kind of music.

    Of course, since great music rises to the top and secular music has a much larger pool of talent, it's to be expected that overall, Jewish Music will not be as great as secular music. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise.

    Enjoy.


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