The rambling thoughts of a Modern Orthodox Chassid (whatever that means). Contact me at emansouth @

Friday, July 30, 2004

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I attended a wedding last night that presented the most incongruous scene I've ever witnessed at a wedding. The ba'alei simcha were Chofetz Chaim Yeshivish with a mix of Chassidim thrown in for good measure. In other words, a "Black Hat" affair. I missed the chupah (my story is that I worked late. It could be that I was riding my bike an extra 45 minutes. Who knows?) and walked into the ballroom only to see that the band was Pey Dalid.

Pay Dalid is a band that would fit right in at Kikar Tzion, anywhere in Tsfat, at Moshav Meor Modi'in or at a Post-Carlebach, Hippie, BT chasunah. But at a Yeshivish wedding? Gevalt!

When they played this very mystical sounding, 'out-there' composition while we were waiting for the first dance set to start, I was thinking, "Do they realize who their audience is?"

When the chasan and kallah came in, the band went right into the Carlebach mode. I don't think they played one song that wasn't from Reb Shlomo. Interestingly, it didn't seem to bother the black hatters one iota. The dancing was very leibidik and a good time was had by all.

What I'm wondering is who made the 'shiduch' between Pey dalid and the Ba'alei Simcha?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

YU Man Meets my Rebbe

Menachem, the quintessential YU Man meets my Rebbe (and me) and lives to tell about it.
The Way Jews Spin

Not only is this CD, The Way Jews Rock, a great album, stam, it is also the way this Jew spins.
Smarter than the Average Blog

I got an email from "Ben Chorin", a Jew who lives in his Little Town in Eretz Yisrael. He had figured out who Mo Chassid is and was inspired to start his own blog. I checked it out a little this morning and figured out who he is in about ten seconds.

Ben C is one of the smartest people I know. He's also a gifted and funny writer. For a taste of his blogging style, check out these posts. They are well worth the visit.
Wired by A Frummer Yid

The New York Times has a positive feature on Elli (Louis) Libin of Woodmere who is 'enforcing' all the radio frequencies used at the Democratic convention. Elli has done this for many of the past conventions and Olympics. The article doesn't mention that he's a very holy MO Yid, but he is.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

V'Yatzmach Purkanei

In his essay "Yiddishkeit Without Ideology: A Letter to My Son", Moshe Koppel writes:

Yiddishkeit is not meant to consist of instant solutions to personal problems, canned shallow theology, shlock asthetics or narrow-minded provincialism. It is meant to encourage the depth and tension that - forgive me for this odd example but I know you'll know what I mean - distinguishes Carlebach from Boro Park Rock.
Last week there was a very strange thread going down on the Yahoo Shiny Shoe Music Group that brought professor Koppel's words to mind.

One of the groupees, a fellow who apparently works for Eli Gerstner (the man who has single-handedly brought Jewish Music to its lowest level ever) wondered why it was ok for Rabbi Shmuel Brazil (Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshiva Sh'or Yoshuv and composer of the songs that are recorded as "Regesh") to produce the niggun "V'yatzmach Purkanei", while The Chevra got tremendous grief for recording (one of the all-time most horrific 'Jewish' songs in the history of Yiddishkeit) "Yehei".

The Chevra and Gerstner were assailed for recording a 'song' that was put to the words of Kaddish. Why, asks this groupee, didn't Rabbi Brazil get grief for putting his niggun to words of Kaddish?

It is hard to believe that a person with ears to hear can actually ask such a question. But, since he asked, let me try to answer. 'Yehei' is a vulgar knockoff of N'Sync and other boy bands that was put through the synthisizer, digitally distorted and produced for the sole purpose of making money. V'yatzmach is a niggun of hissorurus that came to this talmid Chacham during a kumzitz. Rabbi Brazil undoubtedly felt that the words "V'yatzmach Puranei V'karev Mishichei" (the only words) fit the haunting niggun and expressed what was in his heart.

While Moshe Koppel's son could understand what distinguishes Carlebach (or, in this case, Rabbi Brazil's niggunim) from Shiny Shoe music, this poor soul cannot. Hashem Y'rachem.
Monday or Wednesday?

Having taken yesterday off for Tisha B'Av, it feels like Monday at work. But it's Wednesday. How great is that?
Music for Nachamu

The Three Weeks of mourning have ended and, with that, the prohibition against listening to music ends this afternoon. Typically, this motsai Shabbos is a night of a number of J music gigs. This year is no exception.

Two gigs of note. One works if you're in the Metro NY area. One works if your in the Catskills.

Ben Zion Solomon will be playing with a number of his sons (including Yehuda and Meir) at Aish Kodesh in Woodmere. The gig is at 10:30 on motsai Shabbos. Aish is located at 894 Woodmere Place in Woodmere (corner of Woodmere Boulevard). Admission at the door is $15, $10 for students.

Ben Zion is in with his family to celebrate the aufruf and wedding of Meir (the aufruf is Shabbos morning) so the night promises to be something very special.

In the Catskills, Avraham Rosenblum and Diapora will be playing (with an opening by Nochie Krohn, a very talented young composer/performer) at 10:45 p.m. at the Rivoli Theatre, Rt. 42 Main Street, South Fallsburg. Tickets are $25 and are available at: Hakol B'Sefer Judaica, Woodbourne, NY, or at the door.
For ticket information or group rates please call 800.358.0671, e-mail or visit here.
New J Blog

Looks promising.

Who are the baynonim?

Jews who are neither completely righteous nor completely wicked.
Men in the middle.
Mediocrities. (modern Hebrew: baynonit)
My neighborhood is the inspiration for this blog. It's full of Jews, who, generally fall into one of two camps, which is convenient because we only have two shuls. To my right are the RNs, the religious neighbors. They pray at the shteeble, boast fine yeshiva educations, and in some parody of the non-Jewish bride, are careful to always wear something black, be it socks or a velvet kippa.

To my left, in their knitted kippot are the OMJs, the Orthodox Modern Jews. Their shul is quiet and dignified, their rabbi professional and articulate. Many OMJs give their time and money to Zionism and Israel, but they can't learn like the RNs.

The truth is I like them all, but I don't like any of them. Know what I mean? I attend both shuls, but after a few consecutive weeks at either one, I go running to the other. We're all baynonim, including me, Mr. Mediocre himself, fanning the smoldering embers of his literary ambitions with this stupid blog.
Hat Tip: ChayyeiSarah

Monday, July 26, 2004

A Question of Ethics in Competition

Yesterday, Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France (TDF) in a row, as expected. As expected, he established himself as the greatest rider of his generation.

That's not what this post is about.

My question is, "does anything go in competition?"

I raise this question in the wake of a remarkable incident that took place in the Tour de France on Friday during the 18th stage of the race. Lance Armstrong who, by that time, had all but locked up the overall title, went out of his way (and took a completely illogical risk) to prevent someone else, in this case a marginal rider with whom he has an ongoing dispute, from winning that day's stage.

The TDF is a three week endurance test that consists of 20 separate daily races (called stages) over 23 days. The rider with the least amount of aggregate time at the end of the 20 stages wins the TDF. While the ultimate prize is the so-called "Yellow Jersey" symbolizing the winner of the tour, it is also very prestigious to win any of the daily stages. The race starts with 20 teams, each representing a country and sponsored by a corporation, of 9 riders each. In reality, no more than 4 or 5 have a realistic chance to win the Yellow Jersey. The other teams vie instead for daily stage wins and a chance to get some publicity for themselves and their sponsors.

By Friday, Lance Armstrong had amassed a virtually insurmountable lead for the Yellow Jersey. For reasons that are not important here, Friday's stage was the kind where his closest competitors would not have been able to make up ground on Lance. Consequently, Lance and his team would normally have riden a defensive race, with the rest of the pack, taken precautions to avoid injury and been content to let riders who had no chance of winning the overall competition break away from the pack and compete for the stage win.

However, one of the riders attempting to break away was Filippo Simeoni. Lance hates Filippo Simeoni. Simeoni accussed Lance of blood doping, Lance called Simeoni a liar, and Simeoni is suing Lance for libel.

When Lance saw Simeoni try to break away, Lance easily caught up to him and the six other riders in the breakout group. He told two of the other breakout riders that if they didn't drop Simeoni, he (Lance) would stay with the breakout group. This would have caused the main pack of riders (that included Lance's main competitors), to catch up to the breakaway group (because they would not have permitted Lance to gain even more time on them). This, in turn, would have ended the breakout and ruined the chances of the six breakout riders to enjoy their day in the spotlight. So, the six breakout riders persuaded Simeoni to give up his quest for a stage win. Reluctantly, Simeoni dropped back, Lance followed, and the breakout group was able to maintain their breakout for the remainder of the stage.

After the stage, Simeoni called Lance's tactic "a sin".

I was surprised by what Armstrong did to me, but he showed the whole world what kind of person he is. I was the victim of a big injustice today. It wasn't possible for Armstrong to let a little rider like me have a chance for a little glory in the Tour de France
I've been thinking about this for the past couple of days. What Lance did was completely within the rules. What Lance did was completely outside the norm. That he was willing to risk his 6th TDF Yellow Jersey in order to settle a score is hard to imagine.

Was Lance right? Was it appropriate for him to settle a personal score so long as it was within the rules? Or, was he just being mean-spirited and petty?

Friday, July 23, 2004

Sunday Forecast...


UPDATE: The weather was perfect. The weathermen are lying liars.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

"But She Told Me 8 O'Clock!"

I got off the train tonight and headed straight for shul. I was a few minutes early for mincha. As I approached, I saw an elderly couple waiting outside. They were not frum. I could tell by the pointy Yarmulke the man was wearing.

The woman asked me, "Are you here for the 'Schwartz' bris?"

"The Schwartz bris?", I replied. "That was this morning."

"This morning?? But she told me 8 O'clock!"

I said, "Yes. It was 8 O'clock this morning."

Talk about a failure to communicate. The "Schwartzes" are both ba'alei teshuva. Where their families come from early morning brisis are unheard of.

Boat Ride to Ground Zero

Last Friday, I went with the rest of my law department on a boat ride around Manhattan. This is an annual event that I have come to hate more and more each year. (It is well known that I hate the boat ride but my boss thinks it is great for morale so attendance is mandatory. One year, I was on a conference call and missed the boat; he actually sent the boat back to the dock to pick me up).

The reason I hate the boat ride is that all that happens is that your colleagues drink alcoholic beverages for two hours while the boat circles Manhattan. Number one, I have no interest in hanging out with my colleagues. Despite the fact that I am known as a social misfit, I have been able to retain my position at the firm which is not unimportant. Everyone at the firm knows that I don't do business dinners and avoid most business lunches as well. I basically do my thing and go home. Second, I have a policy of never drinking with business associates. I have seen too many people say unbelievably stupid things under the influence and I have resolved that this will never happen to me. Third, when colleagues drink, the men and women start saying inappropriate things to one another and invariably start touching each other in inappropriate ways (Since, halachically, any touching is verboten, this can become a major problem).

So, my method for getting through this annual two hour ordeal is to pick a spot in a corner, drink a couple of Cokes, and be friendly to whoever makes it over my way.

The second part of this annual event occurs when we come ashore. Everyone (except me, that is) goes to a place called Southwest, located in the World Financial Center. There, having built a strong alcoholic base, they spend the next five hours drinking tequila and margaritas.

Which brings me to the real point of this post.

After alighting at the World Financial Center, I ditched Southwest and walked to the train station by way of Ground Zero.

This was only my third trip to Ground Zero since 9/11. For four years I had worked at the World Financial Center which was across the street from the World Trade Center. I used to take the subway from Penn Station or Atlantic Avenue to the WTC station and walked through the WTC every single day. (On the morning of 9/11 itself I was in still in Woodmere when the planes struck (for reasons that are still hard to believe). Maybe one day I will discuss this).

The first time I came back to Ground Zero was in October, 2001. Our building had suffered serious damage and we had moved uptown. All my stuff was still in the building, including important files that I needed for work and personal effects that I wanted to retrieve. Finally, on a Sunday morning, I was allowed to go to the building and pack two boxes that would be delivered to my new office (one of which they promptly lost!).

I will never forget that experience. Even though it was already a month after 9/11 the scenes of destruction were indescribable. Walking from Broadway to my office (escorted by police) was very eerie. Walking into my office was even stranger. The office looked as if it had been hit by a neutron bomb. There were no signs of life but everything was exactly the way it had been on the morning of 9/11. I saw newspapers from 9/11 lying on desks. Radios were still playing. Files and books were spread out as if nothing had happened.

Then, looking out the window of my old office, I really felt the magnitude of what had happened. We had been on a high floor so I had a clear view of much of what was left of the WTC. That memory of what I saw will never escape me.

Now, almost three years later, the scene is completely different. Ground Zero has become a major tourist attraction. There had to have been hundreds of tourists in the area. Vendors were selling all kinds of paraphenalia. Ground Zero itself was also very strange. Where there had once been two huge towers and later piles of debris there was now a huge hole in the ground. Within that hole, all kinds of construction had been completed.

I have been thinking about this visit all week. The experience shook me up a lot. I haven't really crystallized my thoughts. I'm glad I went. I'm just not sure why.
Urgent Tehilim Request

Please daven on behalf of a critically ill ten-year-old girl in desperate need of a yeshua. Chasyah Nechamah Liba bas Sagit. May she have a refuah sh'leimah.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Prodly Needs Help!!!

Something about fish or Phish??
This Land Is My Land

I don't know if anyone in Jblog land blogged this yet, but it's a pretty funny political video.
Profound Question of The Day.

Is Lance Armstrong human?

UPDATE: MSNBC Answers MoChassid's question: "Lance Armstrong Is No Mere Mortal"

Hat Tip: Good Afternoon
Not Fair

I have to make a presentation at 11:00 a.m. that will probably last 45 minutes. Lance Armstrong begins his Mountain Time Trial at 10:58 a.m.(EST). By the time I am finished he will be finished. Bummer.


My presentation lasted only 30 minutes. I ran down to the trading floor where there are many televisions spread throughout the floor. To my utter shock and dismay, they were all tuned to business stations (keep in mind that these losers will put on the NCAA Basketball Tournament or even *gasp* the British Open GOLF tournament). I quickly went over to one of my clients and commandeered her computer and was able to follow the last five minutes of Lance's incredible ride. He didn't just win, he crushed his competition.
Say What???

I love the Hasidic Musician, but what the heck is he talking about??
Would it Kill You to Say Good Shabbos?

"How dare you say Gut Shabbos to Me?" Hasidic Rebbele tries to say "Gut Shabbos" to all those he passes on the street on Shabbos. He wears the Chassidic 'levush' and this sometimes results in his receiving dirty looks or simply being ignored. Last week someone turned back to him and actually said, "How dare you say Gut Shabbos to me" and then continued walking in the opposite direction.

Hasidic Rebbele laments this type of behavior that is, presumably, engendered solely because of the way he dresses.

I have an additional beef related to saying "Good Shabbos". Like Hasidic Rebbele I too make it my practice to say Good Shabbos to everyone I pass (although I do not wear the 'levush'). What bugs me is that so many people just ignore you. Whether it is because they are in a daze or deep in thought or simply rude, I don't know. And when kids don't respond, it really drives me nuts. What happened to good manners?

(As an aside, the worst is in Yerushalayim because I expect so much more. When I stay in Yerushalayim, I always walk to the Kotel. Although I mostly walk through the shuk, I sometimes go through the Jewish Quarter. When I do, I always say Good Shabbos to everyone I pass. The response rate is almost always less than 50%!!!)

Yiddin, would it kill you to answer "Good Shabbos?"

UPDATE: See Barry Katz's psychoanalytical screed on the topic of why "Black Hatters" don't say Good Shabbos.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Lance is Back...

in Yellow, where he belongs.
The Train Ride II
This morning I experienced another of the things that can ruin an otherwise comfortable and pleasant commute.

I was sitting in my usual interior seat, reading the New York Sun and minding my own business when two MO women sat down near me.  One sat on the outside seat of my bench and the other sat on the outside seat of the bench directly across the aisle.  One of the women was very 'modern' and was dressed not exactly in accordance with Shulchan Aruch.  As soon as she sat down she launched into a loud soliliquy about an amazing amount of narishkeit (the gist of which was that she would rather that her son, a senior at an MO high school, go to that bastion of Yiddishkeit, Binghampton, than spend a year in yeshiva in Israel and, Chas v'shalom, get frum).  Try as I did, it was very difficult to concentrate on what I was reading.  I tried to sleep but her voice was WAY TOO LOUD.
Can someone explain why it is necessary to speak in such a loud voice when the person to whom you are speaking is literally 18 inches away?  And why it wouldn't bother you that the entire train is hearing your silliness?  Unfortunately, there is no defence to this type of behavior other than earplugs, a CD player or an Ipod.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Profound Question of the Day

After driving nine hours in the rain yesterday to see my kids on visiting day, I have been pondering the following question:

Which is more useless: The weather part or the traffic part of WCBS 880 Radio's "Traffic and Weather on the 8's"???

Friday, July 16, 2004

Blog Squatting

"Me" has been 'squatting' on the comments section of Protocols. Me says that since it's largely been abandoned, he is within his rights to squat there. It might not be so annoying if 'me's' comments weren't so long (and almost all different versions of the same theme).

Velvel is apoplectic. He has been suggesting that 'Me' go ahead and get his own blog, pointing out that it's free.

Finally, taking matters into his own hands, Velvel created Me's Blog.

Will 'me' now use it?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Train Ride

I commute back and forth to work every day on the Long Island Railroad. People dis and make fun of the railroad but, in general, I feel tremendous hakoras hatov. It's true that there are ocassional delays and breakdowns (and that the new trains they ordered had to have been designed by people even shorter than I) but, by and large the service is reliable and comfortable.

In addition, the LIRR gives me an hour and a half of menucha every day where I am generally not bothered by phone calls, emails or conversation (blackberry and cell phone notwithstanding).

On my way in, I always choose the window seat on a three seat bench. All I ask from the morning train ride is to be left alone so that I can read my newspaper or sefer. This is also the time that I try in my feeble way to get a little daily dose of hisbonenus. (Which is also one of the reasons I like to ride my bicycle).

On the way home, depending the train I catch, I am lucky to even get a seat, at least until I switch trains at the halfway point. Still, even standing, I get to read and think.

My biggest fear each day is that someone will approach me and start shmoozing. I try to be polite but I also try to make it clear that this is my 'alone time'. (For many years, I actually shared a bench with a friend on the morning commute. We were on the same wavelength and other than greetings, in all those years I don't think we spoke more than ten minutes total!).

On the other hand, many of my acquaintances sit together in five seaters (a 3-seater and a 2-seater that face each other) and shmooze EVERY SINGLE DAY! I have to admit, I don't get it. Just from a mental health point of view (to say nothing of the unlimited potential for engaging in lashon hara) I would sooner jump off the moving train.
All Seriousness Aside

My mom (zzg) often told us how Steve Allen, when he was hosting the Tonight Show (before Johnny Carson) would pipe in during a particularly goofy segment, "All seriousnness aside". Of course, it was a play on the phrase "all kidding aside" but what he really meant was that the entire show was not to be taken seriously.

I think the JBlogosphere could take some advice from Steve Allen in this regard.

As Velvel pointed out the other day, there are many J-Blog fights going on (some of which have been settled):

He wrote:

Current J-Blog fights:

Velvel vs. Cara
Prodly vs. Schmavis
Steven I. Weiss vs. Chayyei Sarah
Luke Ford vs. Binyamin Cohen
Jew*School vs. Jmerica
Steven I. Weiss vs. Ari Goes Down

[I would add that Simcha and I are in a bit of a tussle with Shmarya and I am in a bit less of a tussle with the commentator, "Me"]

Just let it go, people. Sometimes we forget that there are people on the other side of the keyboard and monitor. It's easy to start a flame-war, but you'd be surprised to see how easy it is to end it. Let's take some responsibility for our words and for our unspoken professional commitments. Aside from representing the "real" Jewish community, we have a responsibility to do away with baseless hatred towards our fellow Jews. Stop acting like a******s. All of you. Take some initiative and be the bigger man. Extend an olive branch, tough guy.
Sage Advice.

As a chassid (albeit an MO chassid) allow me to address the penimius, the deeper meaning of these kerfuffles. I think that too many J Bloggers are taking themselves too seriously. One of my bosses used to tell me that it's ok to negotiate hard over compensation but once that's over it's important not to believe your own bull****. Likewise, I think that it's great that people in the J Blogosphere feel passionately about this issue or that but then to know when to let it go. So, although, for example, I feel passionately about the importance of Jewish Music, I can't take myself too seriously. When commentators make fun of me and tell me to go listen to a Carlebach CD (Guys, can't you come up with a better line than that; it was funny the first five times...get some new material), I have to laugh, tell myself to lighten up and admit that from a normal person's perspective it is very goofy for a grown man to feel so strongly about an issue like music.

That's one of the reasons I like the Chicago J Blogging chevra so much. While they can be very strong in their views, they all have great senses of humor and never take themselves too seriously. And, for all his periodic vulgarity and bizzareness (is that a word?), Luke is very refreshing, especially because he is very funny and views life itself as a joke.

So, all seriousness aside, let's stop taking ourselves so seriously.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Kosher Vegetarians Unite!

At a new Yahoo group. This one's for you Prodly.

Ich Kenesht!!!

I can't take it anymore. I have tried to be good and hold my tongue but I've been driven over the edge by a few recent posts.

To wit, the latest culprit (I won't even identify it in order to protect the guilty): "someone jacked content from my friends and I"

Ladies and gentlemen, it should be "my friends and me" (My friend and I went out for drinks. ok. Joe bought drinks for my friends and me. ok. Joe bought drinks for my friends and I. AHHH!!!!) (Likewise, it's "between you and me", not, "between you and I".)

Please, everyone, help me out here.

There is a growing and disturbing trend in the J Blogosphere that I will refer to as Blogsession; it is the obsession by certain bloggers (or commentators) with single issues.

(Ironically, when Debra Nussbaum Cohen dissed me in her Jewish Week article as as someone "whose main interest seems to be what music gets played at Jewish weddings", she seemed to be lumping me in that very category. In truth, while I do have a strong interest in Jewish Music, JMusic is far from the only topic I write or comment about.)

Yesterday's post by Luke about the emerging situation involving Charles Kushner brought this issue home. Luke has been writing frequently about the sorry state of Jewish journalism. In that connection, he has been interviewing many writers, editors and publishers in the industry. His post about Kushner was meant to raise the issue of whether the mainstream J press would have the courage to pick up and investigate this story inasmuch as it related to a very prominent Orthodox Jewish philanthropist and political mover and shaker.

As of this writing, there were over 50 comments to Luke's post. But what happened in that comments section (and what so frequently happens) is that the thread got sidetracked by a commentator who has his own agenda. In this case "me", a commentator who is obsessed with the lack of response in the Jewish velt to institutional sexual abuse, took over and steered the conversation in that direction. It is important to note that the Kushner situation has absolutely nothing to do with alleged sexual abuse of the type that 'me' targets. But that didn't stop him. Then, predictably, although the Kushner situation has absolutely nothing to do with Chabad, Shmarya, a blogger who is obsessed with destroying Chabad, pipes up that "Just to add another twist, Kushner serves on the board of the Rabinicl College of America in Morristown. That is a Chabad Yeshiva." That may be nice to know but what does it have to do with Luke's post?

It is one thing to have your own blog and be focused on or even obsessed with one issue. Or even, like Josh or Prodly, to have your own blog that is ostensibly about one thing but always finds a way to address your real obsession (bashing Chassidim in Josh's case; bashing meat producers in Prodly's). No one has to go to those blogs if they don't want. But it's getting really annoying watching everyone else's thread's get sidetracked by obsessed commentators with too much time on their hands.

The Accidental Jewish Musician

Shlomo Katz is profiled in the JPost.

Shlomo is all that is good in Jewish music. He's in the business for the right reasons and it's reflected in the music he creates and the connection he has with his audiences.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Velvel's Update on the Breakaway Minyan.

In response to Cara, Velvel has more to say here. Schmavis commented to the original Velvel post here and Prodly here.

UPDATE: I don't know whether it's related to this issue but Prodly has just placed Schmavis in cherem. Can't we all just get along?
Satellite Minyanim

Barry Katz vents:

Okay, forget the zman issue, as that is for another day. What gets my goat is that many people make their own minyanim for maariv in their apartments or houses so that they can be lazy and not go to shul.

I don't understand the mentality. First of all, I've seen many sources that it's better to daven in a shul than in a non-shul. You have the sefer Torah, the shul atmosphere that is more conducive to davening, and most likely, a bigger crowd, which is better because berov am hadras melech.

But the other issue is about attitude. I see fathers take their sons to these house-minyanim and I think to myself, what the heck kind of chinuch is that? You're essentially saying, davening is one of those necessary evils, and luckily we have a way to do it, get it over with, and be done with it without going to shul.

Now if you want to tell me that it's good for an old man who otherwise couldn't walk to shul, fine. Then just get ten. But I've seen these types of minyanim with thirty participants. Who's buying the cheap excuse?

Now I go to shul every motzei Shabbos despite the guys seeing me leave the building, and looking at me like I'm crazy. But it's not the first time I've been mocked trying to do the right thing...

Furthermore, I see black-hatters - who wouldn't walk into a shul sans a black hat if you gave them a thousand bucks - stroll in not only without a hat, but without a jacket either! Does that tell you that they treat the motzei Shabbos maariv as a joke, or what?

So let's put an end to these ridiculous minyanim that do way more harm than good. And a little schar halicha is good for you once in a while.
For the past two Friday nights, with our Rav away on vacation, attendance at my shul's minyan has been very schvach. Usually, the minyan is packed and the davening very inspiring. For the past two weeks the energy of the davening reflected the half empty sanctuary.

While a number of people are away on summer vacations, I suspect that that accounts for only a small percentage of the absentees. I think that in the Rav's absence many mispallilim are choosing to attend so-called satellite minyanim of the kind that Mr. Katz deplores.

Satellite minyanim are minyanim that are held at people's homes, usually on Friday nights and Shabbos afternoons (but ocassionally on Shabbos mornings as well). These are different from breakaway minyanim in that the people who daven there are members in good standing of other local shuls but choose to daven at the satellites for the sake of convenience.

There are three basic types of satellites. The first is the roving minyan where the location of the minyan changes every three weeks or so to another home. The sefer Torah, Aron, siddurim and chairs all make their way from home to home. The second is the permanent satelite. In this case one family sets up their basement as a 'shul'. They own a sefer Torah and Aron and purchase the requisite number of siddurim and chairs. The third, the full-time pemanent satellite minayn is a variation of the second, only they meet on Shabbos morning as well. This type of minyan is more akin to a breakaway minyan than a satellite minyan.

How did satellite minyanim start? Growing up, it would never have even occurred to my father, zzg, to go to another, closer shul, let alone a minyan in a house. He was a one-shul person and there was nothing to talk about. The idea of saving a couple of minutes by going to a closer shul would have been as strange to him as the idea of going to the local church (l'havdil). Many of my friends' fathers had the same philosophy. On the other hand, a number of people I knew would go to their main shuls on Shabbos morning and a closer shul (often a shteibel) on Friday nights and Shabbos afternoons. In those days it was unheard of to go to a home to daven.

The first time I heard of a local satellite minyan was when we moved to the Five Towns around 18 years ago. I understood that it was not sanctioned or approved of by the Rav of the shul to which I (at the time) and virtually all the participants belonged but he was powerless to do anything about it (and, I suppose, felt it wasn't worth the battle). When we moved to a different part of town there was a satellite minyan waiting for us as well.

I never particularly liked these minyanim because they were crowded and noisy. The advantages were that they were close and fast. Also, as Mr. katz points out, you can get on with your motsai Shabbos activities (presumably not a melaveh malkah) at the very nanosecond that Shabbos is over. I stopped going about 8 years ago when I switched shuls and found the davening at my new shul worth the extra walk.

Halachic issues aside (including, schar halicha, is it proper to daven in a home; is it proper to daven in a room with a TV and video hookup or that is used for other things that may be viewed as inappropriate? As always, I defer to Simcha), the question is: "Are these minyanim good, bad or neutral?". On the one hand, one could argue that more people daven with a minyan because of the convenience of these minyanim. Those who would not be prepared to walk ten minutes to shul might be willing to to walk down the block. On the other, as Barry notes, it could be viewed as pretty bad chinuch for our children, delivering the message that tefilah is something to 'get over with'. And, as I pointed out above, it can certainly take away from the energy that would otherwise exist in a shul whose attendance is impacted by the satellites.
It's Not the Humidity, It's the Heat


Sunday, July 11, 2004

Visiting Day

I knew that visiting day was approaching when, on motsai Shabbos, MHW and I received our first (and probably last) communication of the summer, a phone call, from our younger, teenaged son. This is an annual event that occurs approximately one week before visiting day and consists of perfunctory greetings followed by the reading of the wish list.

Can't wait to drive 8 hours next Sunday to deliver the goods.
Breakaway Minyan - Follow Up

Cara is upset at Velvel's disparagement of her shul and community (as described in my immediately preceding post). She is also upset that I (as well as Protocols) picked up the thread.

Cara's main issue is that Velvel misrepresented the actual reaction of her shul to his breakaway minyan. She says that only a couple of people made a stink about it but Velvel made it seem that everyone in the shul was up in arms.

Velvel has promised to update his post (which hasn't happened yet) to address Cara's response. As I said in a comment to Cara, my main points were meant to be general, not specific, regarding breakaway minyanim, to wit, that breakaway minyanim are most often signs of a healthy community and that shuls should not get bent out of shape when it happens to them. Cara's point was that, contrary to the impression that Velvel gave (and that I seemed to endorse), her shul was not bent out of shape with the exception of a couple of people who are never in shape.

I apologize for having contributed to this misunderstanding.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Breakaway Minyanim

Velvel posts about his shul and community in Chicago. He and his holy wife Becky, who were once very content, are feeling increasingly unhappy in their current shul (the only Orthodox shul in his community). In particular, he is unhappy with the Shabbos morning davening (that drags on for 3.5 hours) and the general movement of the shul's hashkafa to the far left. He and others have suggested a parallel minyan in the bais medrash but this has been rejected by the board and Rabbi.

Last week a group had a minyan in a private house that attracted about 30 people. This "breakaway minyan" was not at all well received by the members of the shul. Those opposed to the minyan accused the breakers of dividing the community. Velvel counters that the community is already divided, that they would rather daven within the confines of the shul and that by not providing an outlet for another type of minyan, the shul is responsible for the division. He and Becky have decided to move to the main Orthodox community of Chicago where there are many shul choices.

There are halachic guidleines concerning this issue and I will, as always, leave it to Simcha to address them. If I am not mistaken, the general rule is that someone may start a minyan in order to accommodate those who want to daven in a certain way (whether nusach, place of origin, style of davening, even according to trades.).

I am with Velvel on this. While I think his shul is making a mistake in not accommodating a significant group within its membership, that is their prerogative. But, if that is their position, they have no right to then complain about a breakaway minyan.

Breakaway minyanim are usually signs of health in a Jewish community (although they can sometimes be the opposite). The vast majority of shuls in existence today were once breakaway minyanim. People should daven in the places that make them most comfortable serving Hashem.

Why should Velvel's shul stand in the way of a group that wants to daven in a style that is markedly different from its own?
Dissed by Debra

As a reward for having provided her the best lines in her Jewish Week article about J Blogging, to wit:

Lots of bloggers “do not let facts get in the way of their arguments,” wrote Modern Orthodox Chassid (,

“You have 19-year-olds who have never so much as opened a Chassidishe sefer [holy book] spending most of their time denigrating Chassidus; porn-meisters waxing on about everything Jewish; unmarried 20-year-olds pontificating about raising Jewish children; single cretins who probably haven’t had a date in five years giving dating advice; self-described wackos who scream and curse about the depravity of eating meat, and people like me, who don’t know the difference between a minor key and a major, going on ad nauseum about Jewish music.”

“Aggression is key; facts secondary,” posted MOChassid. “We may not win the debate but we’re having fun along the way.”
Debra Nussbaum Cohen dismisses this blog as someone "whose main interest seems to be what music gets played at Jewish weddings".

Clearly, Ms. Nussbaum Cohen has failed to do her research. Hasn't she read my deep and profound insights reagrding chicken soup, TastyKakes, meh, macaroons, and grammar?

What was she thinking?

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Lance Armstrong and MoC: A Comparison


Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Chicken Soup

I love chicken soup. I could eat chicken soup every single night and would never get tired of it. Call me crazy, what can I say?

What I can't do is get through a Friday night seudah without chicken soup. Whether it's a cold night in January or 90 degrees and humid in August. No gespatcho for this Jew on Friday night.
If I don't have chicken soup on Friday night, not only is my entire Shabbos thrown off but it takes me a few days into the week to recover.

BH, my holy wife humours me on this issue and keeps me in chicken soup all year round.

The reason I bring this up now is because MHW made chicken soup last night. When she makes chicken soup she makes enough to last a couple of months. She uses two of the most humongous pots and it ends up filling a large number of Tupperware containers. Our deal is that I strain the vegetables and chicken, pour the soup into the containers, put them in the freezer and clean the pots. (It's a good deal for me. Don't tell MHW).

I hear that some people don't have chicken soup during the summer but I'm not mekabel. It can't be.
I Think I Need a Bib

I am traveling to Chicago on business this afternoon and will be having dinner with the Chicago JBlogging Chevra. I am looking forward to meeting this motley crew. I would like to have made a nice impression but it certainly doesn't seem to be working out that way.

I put on a nice starched blue shirt this morning but when I left my house (very early; it was still dark) I walked directly into the line of a sprinkler and got my shirt soaked. It is now all creased. To make matters worse, I just spilled coffee on myself. They are going to think I'm a slob. While I'm far from the GQ Man, I'm usually not a slob. Really.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

"Not a Bava Maisa"; or "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished"

About 11 months ago, at the request of a friend, I agreed to learn a perek (chapter) of Gemarah to help complete a siyum Shas that he was hoping to do on July 4th to honor his father's fist yahrtzeit. My friend is very organized and sent letters at the 9 month, 6 month and 3 month points reminding all of the participants (there were many) of their commitments and asking that we notify him if we anticipated problems.

Surprisingly, I got most of my perek done very quickly. So, about three months ago, when another friend who had committed to complete three perakim found himself in big trouble, I agreed to take one of his perakim, the first perek in Bava Metziah. This was my first mistake.

Unlike with my original commitment, I never got going with the second. To make matters worse, the first perek of Bava Metziah has about 20 blatt (or 40 pages); much more than my original commitment that only contained seven blatt.

With two weeks to go I realized that there was zero chance that I would complete the perek on time. Thoughts of being the one person responsible for my friend not being able to complete the siyum went through my head.

Luckily, I was able to find yet another friend who was willing to split the perek with me. Nevertheless, with only a week to go, I still had almost ten blatt to go.

Last week, I woke up no later than 4:30 a.m. from Wednesday through Shabbos in order to get through the gemarah. I went to the hashkamah minyan on Shabbos and finished on Shabbos afternoon with a great sense of relief. My partner, too, had gotten his piece done. BH, we hadn't failed our friend.

Or so we thought.

Just before maariv on motsai Shabbos, a few of us were talking about the extremes to which we had gone to get our commitments completed on time for Sunday morning's siyum. In passing, one of the guys asked me what I had done. When I told him the first perek of Bava Metziah he said, But I did the first perek of Bava Metziah!".

After Shabbos we ascertained that the friend who asked me to help him was actually assigned the second perek of Bava Metziah. In desperation, four of us split the perek. I took the last three blatt. I learned from 10:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. at which point I found myself reading the same sentence 12 times. I went to sleep until 3:30 a.m. At 5 a.m. I had about 5 more lines to do but I was completely spent.

As scheduled, I drove to Central Park with my son at 5:30 a.m. and we rode our bikes for 20 miles. (It takes a lot more than no sleep for me to miss my weekly ride in the park). I got back in time for minyan at 8:45 a.m. and finished the perek during the repetition of the amidah. The siyum was held at 9:30 a.m. Plenty of time to spare.

I told my friend that in the zechus of his father's siyum I was planning on never leaning gemarah again. Well, at least not for a couple of days.

I'm not sure what the moral of the story is but my mother's frequent admonition, "No good deed goes unpunished" hits home.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Avodas Zarah

I know it's against halacha to worship basar v'dom, but let's face it, LANCE RULES!
But Does He Like Their Music?

The New York Sun reported today that Saddam appeared in court today:

"Wearing a gray pinstriped jacket, brown trousers, and shiny black shoes..."

Thursday, July 01, 2004

The RAMA's Doors

I received this comment from "An" in connection with my second post on Rav Dovid Lifshutz, ZT'L.

I am reminded of another question that you may want to address (somewhat similar to this thread in that they both relate to possible misrepresentation or people wrapping thesemselves in something that isn't appropriate for them).

Someone I know visited the seat of Piasczener/Woodmere Hassidism in NY a while ago and was upset to see that there is a reproduction of the exterior of the RAMA Shul from Cracow there. He was upset that this Hassidic congregation is wrapping itself in the mantle of the RAMA and the RAMA Shul, when the RAMA was an Ashkenazic Jew, in who's Shul nusach Ashkenaz was the nusach. The RAMA was not Hassidic ! Is it proper to do such a thing ? Would the RAMA be pleased? Hassidim do not follow the RAMA in various matters, unlike other Eastern European Ashkenazic Jews. If they have a reproduction there, it should be of some Hassidic house of worship - not the RAMA Shul.

I would be interested to hear your comments on the above.
Being Jewish, let me answer your questions with a few of my own.

1. Do you think the RAMA would be upset about being associated with a shul that davens with amazing kavanah and almost total quiet?

2. For that matter, do you think that Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, ZT'L, would be upset if he knew that the Chassidishe Rav of kehilas Aish Kodesh was giving a weekly shiur in his sefer Oros Hateshuva to 50 people?

3. Do you think the Rav (RYBS) ZT'L would be upset if he knew that his talmid, now a Chassidishe rav at Aish Kodesh often gave over his Torahs?

4. Do you think that Rav Hutner, ZT'L, would be upset that a Chassidishe Rav at Aish Kodesh gives a weekly shiur in Pachad Yitzchak?

5. Do you think the Alter Rebbe or the Piaczecna Rebbe would be upset if they knew that a musmach of YU who now wears the lavush was teaching their ma'amarim to a bunch of Modern Orthodox people in khakis and jeans?

6. Did your friend ask anyone what the meaning behind the "RAMA" doors? What about the painting in the front hallway of Aish Kodesh? What about the entire motif of the shul that takes you back to Polish (not Chassidic) Jewry of a couple of hundred years ago?

7. Wouldn't your friend have been better off coming out of Aish Kodesh thinking: "Gee, I can't remember such a quiet yet inspiring davening. I wish I could find a place like that." instead of getting lost in the smallness of the RAMAs doors.
More on Ba'alei Teshuva

I recently posted about the Ba'alei Teshuva movement, spurred by two articles that appear in the current issue of the OU's Jewish Action (not yet online).

Each of the articles, one by Rabbi Yaakov Haber and one by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, refers to the "thousands" of ba'alei teshuva that have been brought back by the 'kiruv movement'.

I questioned in my post whether there actually were thousands of BTs and whether the Jewish community was allocation charitable resources properly. Specifically, I wondered whether we would not be better off spending our resources on Jewish education and other projects that are designed to keep within the tent those who already frum.

Most commentors believe that I am wrong and that there are indeed thousands of BTs. (For purposes of clarity, I am NOT talking about Chabad or Breslov BTs; I am talking about BTs coming out of the mainstream Kiruv infrastructure). I'm still not 100 per cent convinced but even if I concede this point, it doesn't change my view about relative resource allocation.

There were a couple of other statements in one of the Jewish Action articles that I found curious.

Rabbi Haber writes:

...[T]he ba'al teshuva movement quickly became a major factor in the growth of Orthodox Judaism.


The Orthodox community continued to respond to the flood of enthusiastic newcomers...Artscroll was born and introduced Chumashim and siddurim with modern English translations.
I think both these statements overreach. Major factor in the growth of Orthodox Judaism?? I don't think so. Artscroll? I think Artscroll was borne to address the needs of a couple of generations of dopes like me who went through the yeshiva day school and high school system barely knowing that Hebrew reads from right to left, to say nothing of how to read or understand a Rashi. I could be wrong but I would be surprised if it had anything to do with the needs of ba'alei teshuva. (Does anyone know?)

Why am I so hung up on this? I think these are examples of overstating the importance of the BT movement in the overall scheme of things.
More on Rav Dovid Lifshitz, ZT'L

On Monday I posted that it was the yahrtzeit of two tzadikim, the Klausenberger Rebbe, zt'l, and my Rebbe's Rebbe, Rav Dovid Lifshitz, zt'l. Simcha picked up on it and noted (with attribution, as always) that it was Rav Dovid's yahrtzeit.

I was reminded of a sweet story from 25 years ago that my Rebbe told about Rav Dovid and posted it to Simcha's comments. In brief, the story told of how Rav Dovid spontaneously burst into a niggun after hearing my Rebbe (his talmid at YU) give over a piece of Chassidus.

"An", a commentator, asked if Rav Lifshitz was a Litvak or a chassid. I answered that he was not a chassid but had an appreciation for a g'shmak piece of Torah wherever it came from.

This is where the fun began. Essentially, "An" accussed me of purposely misrepresenting who Rav Lifshitz was and overstating his connection and relationship to chassidus. He only calmed down when I quoted from an azkara delivered by Rav Lifshitz's grandson, Rav Ari Waxman, the mashgiach at Yeshivat Shaalvim.

In the middle of all this I emailed Rav Waxman to bring this kerfuffle to his attention.

This is the email I received last night:

For the record- I definitely agree with your assessment that my grandfather was a litvak who was able to appreciate chassidus due to his ayin tov.

Some interesting points:

At the end of my second year at Sha'alvim I became very interested in Sfas Emes (a sefer from the grand Rebbe of Gur-MoC) and I would try to learn some pieces before each parsha. When I returned to the United States I lived with my grandparents in Washington Heights while attending Y.U. During that time I kept a Sfas Emes in my room and when my grandfather saw me learning it he would give me hardy words of encouragement. Again, this does not mean that he was a closet Chassid. He wasn't. And, it didn't mean he would tell everyone to learn Chassidus. He didn't. (Indeed, late at night, after my grandfather finished preparing shiur, I would often pass by his study, which was opposite my bedroom, and see him leaning over a "Daas Chochmah U'Mussar" (A Mussar sefer-MoC), written by the Mirrer Mashgiach, Rav Yerucham Levovitz, who was my grandfather's shadchan. On one occasion my grandfather looked up from the "Daas Chochmah U'Mussar", clenched the sefer in his hand and said, "Zeh mamash mechayeh oti" (Loosely, "This really gives me life"-MoC)). Nevertheless, he definitely appreciated certain parts of Chassidus.

Another point (which may show that he wasn't mainstream litvish). I don't know if this is politically correct these days, however the fact is that after the Lubavitcher Rebba's wife passed away my grandfather went to the Rebba to be menachem avel, despite a call (according to what I heard) by Rav Shach for people not to go be menachem avel. Another interesting point in that incident was that my grandfather made the nichum aveilim visit together with Rav Aaron Soleveitchik. (I'm sure that Lubavitch has pictures.)

Actually, my grandfather would often refer to a very special and extremely uplifting shaloshudos (Seudah Shlisheet) that he experienced, hosted by Lubavitcher Chassidim in Russia at the time of his escape from Europe.

In any case, to anyone who knew my grandfather all of this is obvious. Besides being the tremendous Talmid Chocham that he was, he simply possessed the greatness of being a level headed Jew who knew that there are shivim panim leTorah and if anyone tells you that their way of avodas Hashem is the only way, zeh omer darshainee.

Kol Tuv,
Ari Waxman
My Rebbe revered Rav Lifshitz and talks about him frequently. My only point in telling the initial story was to give over a small taste of the greatness and sweetness of the man about whom I have heard so much.

As Simcha wrote, Yechi zichro baruch.

UPDATE: Rav Waxman revised his email (which now appears above) because he was concerned that the original version might have given the impression to those unfamiliar with the sefer that "Da'as Chochmah U'Mussar" is a sefer of Chassidus. It is, of course, a mussar sefer. Rav Waxman's point was that while Rav Lifshitz himself was more attracted to the mussar seforim he was open to hearing parts of Chassidus as well.

UPDATE II: In a comment on Simcha's blog, R. Joshua Hoffman relates how he drove Rav Aron and Rav Dovid to be menachem aveil to the Rebbe.