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

Wednesday, March 31, 2004


Does anyone really eat Macaroons? We seem to buy a tin every year but I don't recall anyone in my house ever actually eating one. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing anyone eat a macaroon. For sure no one eats them after Pesach. People engage in cognitive dissonance by keeping them around for about three months after Pesach and then throwing them out rather than just throwing them out the day after Pesach.

A couple of years ago I figured out a solution. In my shul we have a ne'ilas hachag (a gathering marking the end of the holiday) on the last afternoon of Pesach and everyone is asked to bring in unopened Pesach foods. I just bring my tin of Macaroons. Then the shalosh seudos committee of the shul is stuck with them for three months until they throw them out.

Why do we buy them in the first place? What kind of silly question is that? It's Pesach. You have to buy macaroons.

The Holiest Week of the Year

My Rebbe is always very excited during the week before Pesach. He often says that it is the holiest week of the year because observing Jews are moser nefesh cleaning, cooking and preparing for Pesach in many other ways. Even those Jews who (nebech) go away for Pesach need to clean this week. In a society where things have become so easy for us, it is good for our children to see us break a sweat serving the Ribbono shel Olam. (My lower back is still recovering from Sunday's garage cleanup. My holy wife is a pack rat, the daughter of pack rats. There was a lot to throw out).

But the mesiras nefesh (self sacrifice) is greatest among the people who stay home for Pesach and not only have to clean, but have to figure out how to convert their kitchens and cook for Pesach while at the same time ensuring that their families don't starve in the days leading up to Pesach.

This problem is exacerbated this year by the fact that Pesach starts Monday night. How do you convert your kitchen on Wednesday or Thursday, cook for Pesach and still make Shabbos? It ain't easy.

Part of this mesiras nefesh is in the eating of leftovers, and, if you're lucky, takeout food. When my daughter picked me from the train station last night (in my car), I asked her what was for dinner. She said dinner was very ecclectic.

And, of course, we all try to find a few minutes here and there to prepare a few things to say at the seder table. My Rebbe always reminds us to keep it simple. Kids have no use for pilpulim.

The seder night is without question my favorite night of the year. I mamash can't wait.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Final Thoughts on JM Predator

These are my final thoughts on the situation involving a prominent Chassidic musician who was arrested in Jerusalem for allegedly seducing 16 year old Chareidi girls into a drug and sex session and photographing them. The situation was first brought to blogging light by BloginDm and I have followed up here, here and here.

The reason I took up this story was because I saw an ad for a concert in Manchester, England in which this performer was featured along with two other prominent singers and I was repulsed by the thought that someone like that would be getting up in front of people and singing songs of Torah and tefilah.

Before my first post, someone very close to me exchanged emails with the promoter of the gig, asking him why he thought it was appropriate that this singer should perform in such a setting in light of what happened.

The initial response from this promoter was dismissive and flippant. Basically: I know he's done some stuff wrong, he's done teshuva and, anyway, who could resist when so many girls throw themselves at you. It was only after receiving this email and consulting with my Rav that I posted.

After my initial post, I received two types of emails. One admonished me for going public and "judging" this performer and the other, mostly from insiders of the JM music scene, confirming that this performer was an abuser of drugs and alcohol.

Subsequent to the first posting another reader with whom I am close exchanged another series of emails with the promoter, first informing him that this situation was getting bad press on the internet, then repeating the question and asking whether the promoter had consulted with the gedolim in Manchester regarding including this performer in the Manchester concert.

This time, the promoter addressed the situation more seriously. In a nutshell, this is his position:

He admits in a very general way that the performer has had issues with drugs and alcohol (although he has never personally seen it).

He says that the performer has done teshuva, has completely changed his ways and has consulted with "choshuver rabbonim" on the matter.

Finally, he says that the allegations of the sexual incident in Israel are completely false. He claims that the performer was set up by the Israeli Mafia acting at the behest of a rival music distributor who has a vendetta against the performer's father (who ditched this distributor). He says that despite repeated efforts, the district attorney could not find a shred of evidence and dropped the charges.

These are my final thoughts:

This performer has an apparently well deserved reputation for doing drugs and alcohol. That alone should preclude him from singing the types of songs he sings in the settings in which he sings them.

The fact that he is doing teshuva is admirable. Nevertheless, why would you thrust him right back into the exact situation that led him to his deviant lifestyle?

It is difficult to accept the explanation regarding the bust in Israel. Isn't it more likely that the Israeli prosecutors dropped the case because they couldn't get a sixteen year old chareidi girl to testify because doing so would ruin her life and make a shidduch impossible? What exactly does it mean that the Israeli Mafia set him up? Set him up in what? What would the distributer gain from seeing him ruined?

Interestingly, the promoter did not address whether they had asked gedolim in Manchester.

Finally, let me address the issue of "judging others". There is a big difference between judging others and making judgments. I am not judging this performer. That is for the Ribbono shel Olam only. I assume that this performer is a tortured soul and I feel for him.

We have all seen situations in the past where Jewish leaders did not make important judgments regarding educators who were abusing children. The results were disasterous. Many lives were ruined.

We are called upon to make a judgment whether it is appropriate for this performer, in light of all the circumstances, to be performing songs of Torah and tefilah and exposed to impressionable audiences.

I believe that this is something that independent people with Das Torah should be considering. Not concert promoters who were hoping the issue would just go away, are way too close to the performer and have a financial stake in seeing him perform.
Moshichist Report on Rally

For a detailed report on the Chabad Rally in Yad Eliyahu from the organizers, check here.

Thanks to Simcha at Hirhurim (one of my daily stops) for emailing me the article in Tradition on the "Artscroll Phenomenon" that I referred to yesterday.

Report on the Chabad Rally in Israel

I just spoke to an Israeli musician who played at the Chabad rally in Israel commemorating the last Rebbe's 102nd "birthday", the New York version of which was brought to our attention by Protocols.

He told me that there were about 10,000 people in Yad Eliyahu Stadium, many, but not all of whom, were Chabadniks. He said that the program consisted of a combination of very right wing political talk on one hand and Meshichist talk on the other, with a bunch of music from a number of performers, including MBD, thrown in throughout.

My musician friend, who was the only one not from the Boro-Park-Rock, Armani-suit, shiny-black-shoe school, was chosen because he had recorded a very popular tune a couple of years ago called Zman Hageulah (Time of Redemption). He told me the place went WILD when he played that tune. He also told me that they tried to get him and MBD to wave yellow "Yechi Adoni Melech Hamoshiach" flags but they both refused.

There is no doubt that this was just a paying gig for MBD. I leave for others to consider whether MBD should have done the gig in light of its Meshichist nature. On the other hand, my Israeli friend is a young, totally trusting, somewhat naive, b'simchadik guy. He clearly had no idea what he was getting into.

Monday, March 29, 2004

MBD for Moshiach??

Protocols is highlighting an ad for a "Mass Rally to Greet Moshiach" in Crown Heights this Wednesday to mark the "Rebbe Melech Hamoshiach"'s 102nd birthday.

Protocols notes that the ad promises a special appearance by Mordecai Ben David and continues:

"One reader who sent this [ad] declared, 'I think it is alarming that a mainstream, non-Lubavitcher Jewish singing star like him might participate, giving strength, credibility and encouragement to the messianic Lubavitchers.' Such a concern would seem to me yet another claim that the yeshivish/chasidic music stars are to be considered role models, or that there's much more to their motivation beyond the money; this has consistently proven to be a poor claim to make. Nonetheless, it's hard to imagine how any non-messianist Jew would take part in this event in any fashion, and I wonder if he'll go through with it."

I assume MBD wouldn't have allowed his picture to be plastered all over if he didn't expect to 'go through with it'. I have also been informed by a very good source in Israel that MBD was scheduled to appear tonight in a similar rally that was held in the soccer stadium, Yad Eliyahu, near Tel Aviv.

I also assume that, as Protocols (and many of the comments) suggests this has nothing to do with Moshiach and a lot to do with money.

Moshiach, Moshiach, Moshiach, ay yay yay yay yay yay yay yay!

UPDATE: Although no one has ever seen me and BloginDm together, I can assure you that we are not the same person, even though we put out scarily similar posts today at virtually the same time.
JM PR Watch Update

Blog in Dm has another great piece of JM PR. As he often says, you can't make this stuff up.
The Artscroll Phenomenon

Further to my recent post on the "Artscroll Phenomenon", a reader brought to my attention an article written by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman in the Spring, 1994 (Vol 28, No. 3) issue of Tradition, entitled "Talmud Happily Ever After", which apparently addresses the same issues that I raised (only 10 years earlier).

I am trying to get my hands on it.
What Were They Thinking?

I just heard that two fundraising concerts that took place last week were unmitigated disasters (in terms of draw; I'm not speaking about the quality of the gigs themselves).

On motsai Shabbos (March 20th) Shloime Dachs and Mendy Wald did a gig at the Young Israel of Lawrence Cedarhurst that reportedly drew fewer than 100 people. Assuming that a large part of the audience was affiliated with the institution that sponsored the gig, it appears that, despite a lot of expensive print and email advertising, almost nobody showed up.

The next day, the Piamenta brothers and Soulfarm played at Brooklyn College to about 2100 empty seats and 400 humans. Again, this despite carpet advertising in print and email.

When I first saw the advertisements for each of these gigs, I thought to myself "what are these people thinking? They have so misjudged their respective markets." (And I'm not being a Monday morning quarterback...I emailed Blog in Dm with my thoughts at the time so you can ask him).

It was as obvious to me that Piamenta would not play in the bastion of Boro Park Rock as it was that Dachs/Wald would not play in a MO neighborhood like Lawrence. Who advised these charities to go forward? I hope they at least got their costs covered by sponsors.

The whole genre of benefit concerts is so overdone. Between the overexposure of the big names and the lack of interest in the second tier names (and, as we see here, the misjudgment of appropriate markets) people have incredibally unrealistic expectations and often put their charities at risk.

The promoter of the Piamenta gig described himself in the advertisements as the "Minister of Entertainment" at a certain Jewish hotel. Perhaps he should get another portfolio.

Friday, March 26, 2004

A Plea for Action

I assume Cookie's post today, A Plea for Sanity, is aimed here. (Either that or I'm paranoid).

Before anyone gets the idea that I'm on some kind of vendetta to ruin someone's life, let me make a few comments:

1. It appears that the performer at issue has already ruined a few people's lives.

2. I have seen an email from the promoter of the show that confirms that he knows what the performer has done. Your eyes would pop out if you read what this guy wrote.

3. I have spoken to a very great Rav who has cautiously allowed me to go forward. Another important Rav was consulted and has given similar advice. I have not undertaken this without a tremendous amount of soul searching.

4. This performer has a reputation among many JM insiders for drug and alcohol abuse going back a long time. I have received numerous unsolicited emails confirming this.

5. I am not revelling in this. On the contrary. I've got better things to do. It's not why I started blogging. But a conspiracy of silence in the face of these kinds of situations will lead to more incidents like the one reported by the Jerusalem Post.

6. If this isn't publicized how are people supposed to protect themselves?

7. This performer has no business singing the kind of stuff that he sings. It's disgraceful. He needs to find another line of work.
Where are the Rabbanim?

Regarding my previous posts (here and here) on the JM Predator:

Do the Orthodox Rabbanim of the Manchester, England, area know that a performer who was arrested in Jerusalem for having seduced 16 year old Chareidi girls into sex and drug sessions is scheduled to play a major Jewish music concert this June? And that the producer of this concert is aware of his conduct and doesn't seem to care?

If so, do they plan on doing anything about it?
Shloof Yomi

I heard a cute story from my Rebbe this morning. We were discussing the "Artscroll Phenomenon" and how Artscroll and other English sources have revolutionized the learning of Torah in America.

More on that in a minute, but first the story.

Many years ago my Rebbe gave a daf yomi shiur every morning. One guy came promptly every single day and, like clockwork, as soon as the Rebbe said one pasuk, plopped his head into the gemarah and fell into a deep sleep. There he stayed until the end of each shiur when the rest of the chaburah members were closing their gemarahs.

Whenever this guy's wife would see the Rebbe she would invariably thank him and say how much her husband enjoyed the shiur.

I'm sure he did.

Now, back to the topic. My Rebbe said that it is a tremendous bracha that tens of thousands of Jews are learning today who would not otherwise be able to. On the other hand, he said, in a way the Artscroll Phenomenon has made learning too easy. People don't have to struggle like they once did to understand a word or a sentence or a sugya because they can look things up in English rather than work them out.

I can really relate to that. I am a product of the MO yeshiva system of the 60's and 70's and came out knowing virtually nothing. When I started to learn a little when I turned 40, I would have been completely lost without Artscroll. So, I have tremendous hakoras hatov to them and all other perveyors of good English seforim.

But, my Rebbe is right that there is no satisfaction that compares with working something out yourself, struggling with a Kedushas Levi or a Mishna or a ma'amar. My learning is much more gratifying now that I am able, with hard work and the help of a dictionary, to get through a number of Hebrew seforim.
Choral Carlebach Davening Experience II

The goofy ad for Neginah Acapella Singers that I referred to last week is now on line so you can see for yourself.

If anyone can explain the Al Jolson pose at the bottom of the ad I'd be eternally grateful.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Diaspora Concert....With Special Guests

Anyone who is looking for a really sweet (and sometimes rockin') evening of music should be aware of what's going on at Aish Kodesh in Woodmere this coming motsai Shabbos.

Avraham Rosenblum and Diaspora will be playing, highlighting his new CD (I guess you can't say album anymore) Kedem in additional to playing some of his very best tunes. I just found out that Menachem Herman and Daniel Ahaviel are in from Israel and will be joining the band. Menachem is one of the best guitarists and Daniel one of the best fiddlers in all of Israel and I'm pretty excited about those guys playing with Avraham.

The night will start at 8:45 p.m. with Nochie Krohn, a young and talented musician from Monsey (who usually backs Chaim Dovid when he is in town) playing a few of his own niggunim. I've heard his stuff and it's really sweet.

Aish Kodesh is at 894 Woodmere Place in Woodmere, corner of Woodmere Place.

(Be advised that, like all gigs at Aish Kodesh, it's separate seating only and they don't permit alcohol or drugs on the premises at all. If you're looking to get high, you can get high on the music.)

I just received a long and very thoughtful email from Adam Davis, a holy Jew, and Director of Kfar Jewish Arts Center in Chicago. Kfar Center organizes all kinds of Jewish music and cultural events in the Chicago area across all Jewish denominations. Adam was actually the writer of the email to which I (and BloginDM) responded on March 16th.

Adam makes a number of very good points about the value of Jewish music in connecting unaffiliated Jews to their roots. He thinks we are not so far apart and I agree; in fact, one of my basic beliefs is that real music (as opposed to techno garbage that is written just to make money) can reconnect so-called affiliated Jews, particularly teens, who are going through the motions of observance but feel no spiritual connection. I think a lot of the differences relate to the differences in the relative Jewish scenes in Chicago and New York. Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to address the points he makes one by one. I hope to get to them soon.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

More on JM Advertising

On another topic but relating to the same ad that I referred to in my immediately preceding post, and followiing a thread that has been raised many times by BloginDm, the gaiva (conceit) or, at a minimum, lack of anivus (humility) displayed in the ad is breathtaking.

First of all, it's called the "Jerusalem Experience". It should have been called the "Brooklyn Experience" since all the performers are from Boro Park or Flatbush whose only Jerusalem experiences are as tourists. (a similar billing was given to the recent HASC concert but at least they had the decency to fly in Chaim Dovid who really is from Jerusalem).

Secondly, the ad refers to Mordecai Ben David as "the King of Jewish Music". Gag me with a spoon. Personal feelings aside (like, I can't even be in the same room when they play his stuff), how does a Chassidishe Yid allow such immodest language to be used? The King?? I will be dan l'kaf zechus (judge favorably) and assume he doesn't know about it.
Clarifications on JM Predator

Regarding my earlier post on the Chassidic singer who was arrested in Jerusalem for seducing 16 year old Chareidi girls into sex and drug sessions and is now scheduled to appear at a concert in June in Manchester, England:

1. My initial link to the original post by BloginDM was broken. It is now fixed but to make it easier, here it is again:

2. The initial post did not include a link to the on-line advertisement for the concert because although as DM has also recently pointed out is common in the JM music world) the promoters sent out an email with the URL, it wasn't up and running at the time. I have added it to the original post and, again, list it here.

3. The ad features three performers. Although the subject of my post is fairly well known in JM circles, it occurred to me that many people might not know who I was talking about and might think it was one of the other artists featured in the ad. So, to be clear, I AM NOT talking about MBD or Mendy Wald.

4. It is important to note that while I do not know whether this performer has been convicted or copped a plea to the charges, when someone I trust asked the promoter of the concert about the inclusion of this performer in a Jewish music concert, the promoter admitted that he knew what the performer had done and was alleged to have done. Interestingly, the performer has also not, to my knowledge, publicly denied anything.

So, to reiterate: How is it possible that no one seems to care that this performer is going to get up again in front of people and sing words of tefilah and Torah?

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

More on Parking

I received an email from a reader regarding Sunday's post on the lack of common decency exhibited by those parking near my shul.

"Your recent post about parking is rather biting. I am VERY sensitive to parking problems - I live in KGH*. (My life is a parking problem.) However, "what part of the sign do they not understand" does not address the ethics of the parking, but the intelligence of the parkers. The former is fair game for your commentary.
The latter is not. Those words are not the type that should easily emerge
from the mouth (or keyboard) of any true chossid, MO or otherwise."

(*Kew Gardens Hills - as my correspondent implies, parking in KGH is excrutiating).

I know I was being sarcastic. It's a problem I have, especially when it comes to people who have no consideration for others. I wasn't implying that anyone was stupid; just inconsiderate. Today being Rosh Chodesh Nisan, I will take it upon myself to work on that midah rah.

By the way, I didn't even note in my previous post that there is a huge parking lot less than a football field away from the shul. On Sunday morning it was virtually empty. Instead of parking illegally and blocking neighbors driveways people could have parked there and walked for less than 2 minutes.

Also, this morning there was a bris at the shul and the same thing happened again. Ich kenesht.

Monday, March 22, 2004

"Between You and Me"/Grammer Machlokes

Can someone please explain to Cookie at Heimishtown why she's wrong. I know I'm right but I can't explain why.
JM Predator Alert

I recently saw a posting on the Yahoo Jewish Music list regarding a forthcoming concert in Manchester, England. The concert is being billed as a "mega concert" and includes various big name Boro Park Rockers. What blew me away was that one of the singers being featured was the subject of a BloginDM posting back on November 24, 2003. This singer, together with another man, was reported by the Jerusalem Post as having been arrested in Yerushalayim for luring 16 year-old chareidi girls into a sex and drugs session and photographing the girls in intimate situations.

DM agonized over whether to post the item and then wondered how the JM business would respond. He wrote:

"I'm not going to name the singer here because he is presumed innocent with regard to the particulars of this accusation until proven guilty. I will say that at the very least the drug part of this has been an open secret for years. And sadly, my point here isn't just with regard to one individual. There are several others as well who are known to indulge in alcohol/drugs. The big question here is how will the industry respond. Will business continue as usual, or will the others see this as a wake-up call?

"The industry's response to this scandal is even more important than the individual artists. To date, there has been no public response by the industry, and perhaps there shouldn't be, but privately there should be some deep introspection on the part of those who produce and promote Jewish music."

Well, I guess DM got his answer. This singer had disappeared from the JM music scene (apparently without denying the charges) since that incident but, I guess, thought enough time passed for him to get back into it. (Interestingly, although he lives in Brooklyn, he chose to make his first appearance in England).

It seems to me that the predatory singer is taking advantage of three Jewish concepts: The prohibition against speaking lashon harah; the admonition to judge others favorably; and the concept of teshuva. He is also taking advantage of the first principle in the Jewish music scene: Anything goes if you can make money.

Because of the prohibition against speaking lashon harah, there has been very little said in public discussion groups about the scandal. For example, the Yahoo Jewish Music Group that focuses mainly on the Boro Park rock scene has been amazingly quiet about all aspects of the scandal. It is as if this singer, who was one of the biggest in the industry, has disappeared from the face of the earth. Indeed, there has been absolutely no reaction in the group - positive or negative - to the announcement of his scheduled appearance at the Manchester concert; as if he is not on the program at all.

The other concepts that are helpful are the Torah's requirement to judge others favorably and give people the benefit of the doubt and the belief that everyone is entitled to do teshuva.

The thought process may go something like this: The singer must have been tempted by all the young girls who scream and throw themselves at him during concerts. Who can resist that? And, who is going to say that this singer hasn't done teshuva and isn't, therefore, entitled to make a living in his chosen field?

These arguments are specious. I don't care how many girls scream and throw themselves at you. If you use your superior position to take advantage of 16 year old girls, you are a sexual predator. That goes whether you are a musician or a teacher or a cop or anything else. How much more so if you are a Chasiddic music icon singing words of Torah?

In terms of teshuva, I am all for it. Nevertheless, I think it's shameful that this singer would even consider getting up in front of people again to sing about Yiddishkeit and the Torah after committing such reprehensible acts. The fact that he might have done teshuva doesn't mean that he should have a free pass to take on the trust and responsibility that goes with this job. I think he has gone so far over the line that he has forfeited that right.

Besides the singer himself, how can any self respecting observant music promoter get involved with him? Is money really the only thing that this is about? Are there no standards? No shame?

I am appalled at this whole business. But, like DM, I can't say that I am surprised.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

What Happened to Common Decency

Earlier today I ran into a friend who lives down the block from my shul. She told me that there was a simcha this morning in the shul and about 10 cars parked illegally on her block. (This is not just a legal issue; the block is extremely narrow and parking on both sides of the street makes it difficult for cars to pass and almost impossible for home owners to get their cars out of their driveways).

Unfortunately, this happens all the time when our shul hosts simchas, lectures or musical gigs and guests come to the shul (our own membership is mostly compliant).

I have to admit that I just don't get it. What part of the "No Parking Any Time" sign do they not understand? How do they think the neighbors are going to get out of their driveways? Do they think that the Master of the Universe is going to be pleased that they went to a mussar or hashkafa shiur and parked illegally in a way that blocks in the shul's neighbors? Do they consider that these people may not be Jews and that this might constitute a chilul Hashem? Or that they may be non observant Jews and it might constitute a chilul Hashem?

More on Carlebach Minaynim

On Friday, BloginDM commented on my piece earlier in the day concerning Neginah's "Choral Carlebach Friday Night Davening Experience". We agree that bringing in special ba'eli tefilah to 'perform' a Carlebach davening (in shuls where this type of davening is not the norm) can actually create a mockery of the davening.

DM cited to some earlier posts in which he discussed his views on Carlebach Minyanim. I'm largely in agreement but I have a few other thoughts.

1. I agree that bringing in special ba'alei tefilah to places where Carlebach davening is not the norm (to the contrary; the goal of many of these places is to get through the Friday night davening as quickly as possible) can be embarassing. I attended a Carlebach Minyan last year at a large local minyan featuring Elli Kranzler (about whom, more later) that was painful to watch. The olam was SO not into it; when they finally got up to do a rikud (dance) it was so forced and unnatural it was goofy. I felt bad for Elli who was trying so hard to get the kehillah into it with very little success.

2. On the other hand, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to the lay leadership or Rabbi (in the case I just mentioned, it was the lay leadership; the Rabbi was totally not into it and contributed to the icy reception by not even getting up to dance) for trying to introduce some spirituality into an otherwise cold and uninspiring davening. Unfortunately, this method rarely works.

3. What can work is when shuls bring in ba'alei tefilah to do Carlebach minyanim for a select subsection of the shul, particularly the teen minyan. For example, Chaim Dovid did a Carlebach Shabbos at this very same shul that was targeted to the teen minyan. It was a fantastic success and they invited him back. Even though the teens are reluctant at first to get into it, most of them break through their own 'cool' defenses and ultimately participate. While it might seem a stretch, I believe that a Shabbos like this can have a lasting effect on a number of the kids that participate (whereas adults are generally too set in their ways and too cynical).

4. As DM suggested, what also works is when these ba'alei tefilah come to shuls that are either full-time Carlebach minyanim or pre-disposed. My shul, which is not a Carlebach minyan but usually does L'cha Dodi to a Carlebach niggun and is, in general, very into singing, has had Chaim Dovid, Elli Kranzler, Ben Zion Solomon, Aron Razel, Shlomo Katz and Eitan Katz. Each time it was a special davening. It wasn't viewed as a show; rather as an opportunity to be led by someone who really has the 'nusach' down and could really add to the davening.

5. I suspect that having these Carlebach Shabbosos out of town is very different. It has been my experience that many people in smaller Jewish communities thirst for anything special. I don't really know what I'm talking about on this point and maybe someone else has a better insight.

6. I can't speak to the other Americans who do this gig (the Carlebach chevra from Eretz Yisrael are in a different class) but Elli Kranzler is a very holy Jew who has the most angelic voice I've ever heard and whose only goal is to inspire Jews with his tefilah. If Elli's davening doesn't move and inspire you (like those unfortunate specators I referred to above) it is very sad.

Finally, I don't know whether DM ever followed up on the whole concept of moving away from traditional nusachs. One of the complaints I get from some of the kalta litvaks in my shul when we do Carlebach is that it is improper to move away from traditional nusach. Any thoughts?

Friday, March 19, 2004

Good Shabbos.

Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos!

Oy Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.
The Choral Carlebach Davening Experience!!!!!

Blog in DM often points out the ridiculousness of some of the ads for Jewish Music, particularly in the Boro Park Shiny Black Shoe world. I saw such an ad in this week's Five Towns Jewish Times for Neginah Orchestra's "Acapella Singers". (They also site a website,, but as of this morning there was nothing there).

The whole layout of the ad is dopey, particularly the image of a bocher in a suit and tie crouched down in an Al Jolson pose (what's up with that?).

But the most outrageous part is the piece that says:

"Ask about our original creation - The Choral Carlebach Friday Night Davening Experience"

Leave it to the shiny shoe music world to ruin something as pure and holy as a Carlebach davening. (I'm sure if it weren't impermissible on Shabbos, they would add digital techno voice distorters). And calling it ORIGINAL? The only thing original is how they can take a davening of depth and beauty (that can rest on its own), and add all kinds of garbage to turn it into an "experience" and ruin it.

In general I hate JM acapella music. (The whole concept of so-called "Sefira CDs" is a joke (and a topic for another time)).

One of the most horrible CDs I've ever heard (and that's saying a lot), Chevra's acapella destruction of Shlomo's music, is the one I hate most. (I was in a Judaica store and they were playing something that I could vaguely make out as some of Shlomo's niggunim. I told the store owner that I would have to leave the store if he didn't change the music. He said, what do you want from me, it sells. I was thinking: Gevalt. Shlomo must be spinning in his grave).)

But, I will talk more about acapella JM at another time. I've gotta do some work before Shabbos.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Music and Prayer

There is an article in yesterday's Jerusalem Post regarding the 10th Anniversary of Reva L'sheva

There is an interesting take on the impact that Shlomo Carlebach had on their music and their lives:

"Katz, Elias and Blumen first came to Israel on the advice of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, whom the other three members of the band also had the good fortune of knowing.

"Carlebach always talked about 'Jerusalem the Holy City,' and finally I just thought, what am I doing here when I can live near 'Jerusalem the Holy City' all the time?" says Katz, who first met the great musical/spiritual Jewish leader at a Torah study session in Florida in 1972. Finally, in July 1993, Katz and his wife moved from Los Angeles to Israel.

Blumen was 27 when he first met Carlebach while playing at a venue in New York City.

"After that first meeting with Shlomo, it hit me that music has a very high purpose," says Blumen. "Music is very deep, and it is supposed to carry a high message and bring people together."

"I think that music and prayer are synonymous," agrees Katz. "I feel that music is one of the only ways we are going to get out of this," he says in reference to what he calls the "bankruptcy in both political and spiritual leadership in Israel. (emphasis mine)

"I think God is waiting for us to cry out to Him. If everybody could come together for one day of prayer... I really think we could change the world."

I think Yehuda Katz is right in that music CAN be synonymous with prayer. Most of the music Shlomo wrote, and much of the music of some of his disciples falls into that category. That happens when you are connected to Hashem and the music you write comes into your head from a higher place (and not because you want to sell a lot of CDs). Listening to that kind of music can create the same kind of d'veykus (attachment) to Hashem as a good Shmonah esreih (indeed, a much better attachment for the many people who find it hard to daven with kavanah).

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

More on Jewish Blogs

Interesting piece about the proliferation of Jewish Blogs in the new Jewish Action, the quarterly magazine published by the OU. (page 60; the current issue is not yet online). Warns of lashon harah. Gives a good quote from Rav Yisrael Salanter, zt'l: "Not everything that is thought should be said; not everything that is said should be written; not everything that is written should be published."

Can you imagine what Rav Salanter would have said if he'd seen this blog? Gevalt.

The column also had a very positive review of Unbroken Glass.

Protocols also had a little post about the proliferation of Jewish Blogs but for reasons that are beyond my comprehension, did not include this one (or my good sparing partner Velvel).
The St. Patrick's Day Commute

I always look forward to the commute home from work on St. Patrick's Day. Walking to Penn Station, I am likely to pass by several drunk teenagers hanging out and making strange noises. Penn Station itself is also very pleasant. Best of all, the train home is invariably strewn with beer cans and bottles and other trash left by the chevrah coming into town to celebrate their chag.

Just a few more hours. I can't wait.

More Rockin with the Lord

DM, was cc'd on the email I responded to yesterday regarding YU inviting certain bands that had performed at BB King's and offers his own articulate response.

Essentially, DM doesn't have a problem with these groups gigging at places like BB King's per se. His beef is that the groups specifically target the yeshiva audience by scheduling these gigs during the chaggim and attract this audience to the NYC bar scene.

DM has certainly articulated the heart of the issue more clearly than I had. As he says:

"It’s not as if they take a gig in a bar, publicize the gig to the world at large, or even to the secular or culturally Jewish communities who are comfortable in that environment. Rather, they target the “frum” kids whose communities (and parents too, I might add) do not approve of such behavior.

"I’m not talking about a situation where a band gets a gig at a club, and someyeshiva kids (BTW, when I refer to yeshiva kids here, I’m talking mainly about the black-hat community) hear about the gig and decide to show up. Some of these bands are specifically trying to draw that demographic to their shows and their marketing is geared towards that end."

In theory, I agree with DM that a club scene doesn't have to be unkosher. For example, I attended a gig at the Yellow Submarine club in Jerusalem that featured Aron Razel. Razel, a classically trained ba'al teshuva who, unfortunately, is largely unknown in the US, is one of the most talented musicians/songwriters on the JM scene in Israel. His music is very Jazzy and sophisticated and appeals to a cross section of Israelis. The audience at the club reflected this cross section and the gig was wonderful. But it wasn't targeted to underage kids who would be coming to drink, mosh and get out of control. Unfortunately, I am not aware of many venues where you could pull this off in the US.

I also agree strongly with DM that if groups like Blue Fringe and Moshav really want to expose all kinds of Jews to Jewish cultural music they should be playing at college campuses and not targeting the heimish community. I know, for example, that when Chaim Dovid comes to town, he goes out of his way to play a few Hillels and college communities, often for very little money. It can be a very effective way of connecting with Jews who have very little exposure to Yiddishkeit. That is very different from playing the NYC bar scene.

What? Me Bitter?

I am delighted (I think) to have been included on Velvel's Jewish Blogroll. His description of this blog follows:

"MOChassid is a bitter Modern Orthodox man who has some good rants. The world was first introduced to him a week ago by the Hassidic Musician. He likes to point out what's wrong with everybody else and what they should be doing. But somehow, I love to read his stuff. We also happen to be in the middle of an inter-blog discussion. MO-C, you bastard, you rock." (emphasis in the original)

Coming as it does from someone who prefers Bourbon to Scotch, perhaps I shouldn't take it so hard, but his description of me as being "bitter" smarts. I am not bitter. I am a zealot. there is a difference.

Being bitter typically implies that you are unhappy with your lot and are jealous of others. Baruch Hashem, I am extremely happy with my lot. Hashem has blessed me with a beautiful tzadekes for a wife and four wonderful children. Though far from wealthy I make a comfortable living. Over the past few years as my family has moved from a traditional MO existence to a deeper and more spiritual observance of Yiddishkeit (based, in part, on the teachings of the students of the Baal Shem Tov), I have become more serene and fulfilled. I have a very long way to go but at least I feel that I am on the right path. I have very little to be bitter about.

My belief in that path is what makes me a kanoi (zealot). I believe that this type of approach to MO observance can be very rewarding (and, in some cases, transforming) to many, many people (I know not everyone). It pains me that despite the obvious problems in the MO and Yeshivish worlds, not enough institutions or Rabbanim are questioning or challenging the status quo and are going merrily down the road to nowhere.

That's what this blog is largely about. If I am coming off as bitter, I suppose I need to tone it down. Not.

Finally, thanks to Velvel for his technical help over the past few days. (I'm probably much older than most bloggers and I can barely turn on my computer without assistance from the Help desk at my firm.)
"My" Car

I used to own a car. Not a fancy car. A 1997 Toyota. I used it mainly to take me to shul and then the train station. Of course, car pooling the kids on Sundays.

Now I still technically own a car but I really only have "indicia of ownership". The registration is still in my name. I get to make the monthly payment. I usually buy the gas. I still get to drive it to shul.

But then I have to pick up my daughter, a high school senior, and then she drops me off at the train station. When I get back from work, I am at the mercy of my daughter (and often my wife) to pick me up. She is usually on time but sometimes comes a few minutes late. Sometimes I can't get through on the phone to tell her I'm when I'm arriving (despite the fact that we have two phone lines and about forty cell phones; go have teenagers). Once or twice she got so involved in her homework that she forgot to pick me up (and since I couldn't get though on the phone I ended up walking).

Why am I whining about this now? Last night I worked very late. Because of the weather, I couldn't get a car service so I took the train. In the good old days, my trusty old Toyota would have been waiting for me at the station. Last night I had to walk home 20 minutes in the snow (it was past midnight and I wasn't going to call home).

The good news? My holy daughter, zzg, will be going to a seminary in Eretz Yisrael next year. I get my car back in August.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Return of Velvel

It's almost 10 p.m. and I am still at work (bring out the violin) so I will take a few minutes to respond to Velvel's response to my post. Once again, my comments in italics.

"My most recent post generated a lengthy mussar shmooze/comment on MO Chassid's blog, to which I'd like to respond. His blogging style is very heavy-handed, but his opinions are usually poignant."

I resemble that remark!

"'I'm sure Velvel would never oversleep a gig (he is a musician) but it bothers him not at all to get up late for shul."

I'm habitually late to many things, especially in the morning. It bothers me when I'm late. So, yes MO Chassid, I might arrive a little late for soundcheck now and then. Also, my gigs are usually in the evening. The Shabbat services at my shul are no less than 3.5 hours long. Even during the winter. On the high holidays I sleep over in a different neighborhood and go to services which are known to be heimish, yet quick. I arrive on time."

Three and a half hours???!!!!! What can they possibly do for three and a half hours?? I thought sacrifices went out with the destruction of the bais hamikdash? I would recommend a hashkama minyan (early minyan that usually goes very quickly) but in light of Velvel's tardiness he would probably miss the whole thing!

"'I feel bad for Velvel that the only way he seems to be able to talk (or sing) to the Master of the Universe is through single malt scotch."

It's not that I can't talk to G-d without booze. I would rather drink after services. But as 11 o'clock rolls around, it's very tempting to join my friends for a drink. (also, I prefer bourbon to scotch)."

On a serious note, there is absolutely no reason Shabbos morning davening should take three and a half hours. Two and a half tops. I could see how it could drive people to the kiddush club (especially when the davening is so uninspiring).

As to the bourbon rather than scotch, I have one word: nebech.

"'The more I think about Velvel the more I feel that it is so gevalt that he wants to connect to the Ribbono Shel Olam and inspire others in the way he knows best, i.e., through drinking and zemiros."

I love inspiring people to sing, but I certainly don't need to inspire anyone around here to drink.

I didn't mean that Velvel inspires people to drink...I meant that by having a drink or two it leads him to sing zemiros and have an impact on others in a holy way.

"'Wouldn't it be great if this was just a complement to geshmak, inspired davening?"


I wasn't just saying that stam. My Rebbe says, in the name of many Tzadikim, that the very area where a person is most challenged is the area where he can most greatly excel. I believe b'emunah shleima that anyone who can inspire Jews to a level of avodas Hashem through song must have a deep power of tefilah within him. I have seen with my own eyes the worst shul-talkers become the biggest daveners. It's a question of finding the power within.

Rockin' to the Lord

Time to respond to the email I received that took issue with my post on a couple of Jewish rock bands playing at YU after they played at BB King's, a trief (unkosher) nightclub in Manhattan.

To make it easier to understand my response, I quote the email again. I will respond in italics, point by point.:

"I take issue with your post about the kashrut of Jewish bands performing at non-kosher venues.

1. Musicians don't often have a choice about where they get to play, especially if they get paid to do it (which is how they feed themselves and their families). Jewish rockers have even fewer choices, and in the world of rock music, BB Kings is a choice gig. They would be misguided not perform there, and one might argue irresponsible if they have financial obligations to family or charities for which they perform."

The statement "musicians don't often have a choice about where they get to play" is misleading. It's true that they might not get to play at venues like Madison Square Garden, Giants Stadium, Carnegie Hall or even a Young Israel but they certainly do get to choose (or turn down) gigs that they feel are inappropriate. The reader seems to be suggesting that as long as he is getting paid, a Jewish musician owes it to himself and his family to take the gig. That is a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? If a musician knew for sure that the venue was a den of drug use would he be obligated to take the gig?

"2. In case you hadn't noticed, most young Jews don't hang in the Bais most Saturday nights. They're out at the clubs. If we can bring any yiddishkeyt into that atmosphere, we do something to stem the tide of assimilation and light a spark of identity (or maybe keep it lit) in those who attend the shows. Many of those attending these shows aren't even shul-goers or observant- they're more casually, culturally affiliated Jews who are either seeking something more or a connection their shul doesn't provide, something that straddles their modern sensibility, passion for their identity and that ultimate of chassidic touchstones, music. You of all people should realize how effective this sort of kiruv is."

Let me quote verbatim from a review at Adiel of a gig that took place at BB Kings (Thanks to DM for the link). Is this the kiruv and Yiddishkeit the reader is referring to?

"so i went to this concert in midtown at a place called "B.B. King" which is a blues bar during the week. tix were like 25 buckeroos but very well worth it. they had 1) Blue Fringe, 2) Moshav Band 3) Soul Farm. i couldnt believe my eyes and ears with what went on there. when i first got there, Blue Fring was finishing off their gig. they sounded OK. then there was a 15 minute break. during this time i walked around thinking about how really out of place i was. everyone around me was a teenage pisher pretending to be drunk and pick up ppl from the opposite gender. so i'm too old for that. but also - there was the fact that i havent been to a concert in ages -- so i felt awkward about the whole thing.
the leader for the moshav band is this guy who grows his hair long and has a beard. i thought he would be kind of yeshivish, but he dressed in girly clothes and danced with 'spasms' like he wuz on drugs. at one point between songs, he siad that since your supposed to light menorah at home and they lived in israel, the BB King bar would be their home for the night, so he lit menorah ON STAGE. wild. then in the middle of one song, he was trying to get the crowd a little more hyped up, so he said "everyone say 'dreidel'....'latkees'..." etc .. it was pretty fun. C Lanzbom was playing with them even though he is mainly with Soul Farm (formerly known as Inasense - i THINK). does anyone know if he was ever a part of Diaspora?
its amazing what u can do with music.
btw - the whole time, there were guys and GIRLS jumping off stage and into the crowd hoping to get carried around somewhere. this was toooo funny. one weird looking fellow who had a beard, payos, and tzitzis on the outside, was dancing with EVERYONE and acting like he was high on something really nice.
then soul farm came on stage. oh my gosh. these guys rocked the house. i happened to like moshav band better, but everyone was wild with these guys."

"Those who argue that Jewish rock bands performing at rock clubs take Jews away from the fold are imitating ostriches and are not cognizant of the realities of today's youth culture, which does impact our youth. THEY ARE GOING TO GO OUT ANYWAYS. We should take appropriate action and support the bands and promoters who go out and provide cultural context in clubs with contemporary Jewish music, no matter how derivative or secular, with our thanks and checkbooks open."

There is a school of thought that holds that any music is "kosher" so long as you put Hebrew verses to the melody. (This applies both in the so-called Jewish rock world as well as the "Boro Park Rock" world. The Boro Park JM scene is even worse because the musicians with the Armani suits and shiny black shoes truly believe that they are elevating the music by putting pasukim against them when in fact they are lowering the pasukim by putting horrible tunes to them (then making it worse by adding techno-garbage and dancing around the stage like N'Sync and other boy bands.) But that's a different topic for another time.)

I have been to supervised gigs in SHULS where kids snuck in alcohol (and presumably drugs) and got out of control drunk. Many of the kids that go to the gigs at these clubs are teeny boppers who are completely unsupervised and get into things that are very "unkosher". I'm not blaming the musicians for what happens but I don't want to hear that we should be thanking them for providing a kosher Jewish cultural context. That isn't what is happening. Who is the ostrich?

If these bands want to play at BB Kings that's fine. America is a free country and they can do what they want. But why are places like the YU student council putting their stamp of approval by inviting these bands to play?

Kiddush Clubs: The Liquor is the Ikkur

Velvel had an interesting post the other day about a top ten list he had seen on BangItOut called top ten signs you are a closet alcoholic on Shabbos. The last two reasons were pretty funny:

2. You have no clue what a haftorah is.
1. It is the real reason you don't drive to synagogue.

Velvel said that this post hit pretty close to home:

"I have never been a shul person. I like to sleep late. I daven fast and get distracted easily while waiting for the chazan. I like to talk to my neighbors. A lot of services leave me uninspired. It has to do with me, the chazan, the congregation and the Rabbi. I've been inspired by services many times before--a couple times, at my current shul. That is my own thing, and I'm trying to figure out what to do to make shul more meaningful to me.

The one thing I have been able to give back, is ruach (spirit) at Kiddush (ceremonial snack and drink buffet after services). Within the last few years, I have always tried to imbue whatever table I ate at on Shabbos with z'mirot (songs). There was one time, a couple months ago, that my wife and I had no plans for lunch, because we knew there would be the right kind of food there to make it our official meal. There were enough of my friends there that had the proper spirit, so we sang. Now we've stretched that ruach so we can sing at kiddush, every week. My point is, if (when) I drink on Shabbos, I like to keep it in the spirit of Shabbos. I know that my z'mirot are appreciated at the shul kiddush, even though my kiddush club activities might not be.

A lot of people (especially squares) like to talk about the bad things about alcohol. It's very dangerous, and many people have difficulty controlling themselves. That is all true. It obviously needs to be controlled. It is also fun. And whether people want to admit it, or not, alcohol also lends itself to singing and dancing. And a lot of times, that's good."

Wow. Velvel raises many issues that are close to my heart.

Let's take it one issue at a time.

Tefilah. Velvel seems to fall into the category of MO Jews that simply can't relate to tefilah. Like so many others, he comes late to shul and proceeds to socialize when he gets there. He davens quickly and gets nervous waiting for the chazan to finish. He has no use for the Rabbi's 'sermon'. (see my threads below entitled, "Mailbox", "Administrator in Residence" and "What about Shalosh Seudos" for more on that). I'm sure Velvel would never oversleep a gig (he is a musician) but it bothers him not at all to get up late for shul.

There are many reasons for this. The davening in many MO shuls is cold and uninspiring. Too many 'kalyicals' who are only interested in hearing themselves daven for the amud. (A friend of mine once observed that in most places money talks; in Orthodox shuls money sings). Too many Rabbanim are boring speakers and even when they are not they virtually never talk about tefilah. The MO schools have no tefilah curriculum. You can get through most yeshiva high schools without knowing the literal meaning of Ashrei or Shemonah Esrei; forget about the deeper meaning.

What can be done? Nothing much will happen until the Rabbanim and the schools are willing to address this problem head on. In the meantime, generations of MO Jews are being raised thinking that this is the norm.

(Paradoxically, there are more beautiful seforim on tefilah in both Hebrew and English than have ever existed. Rav Schwab (zt'l)'s book on Prayer is one of the most remarkable books around. It explains the davening tefilah by tefilah. Two seforim by Shimshon Dovid Pinkus, Nefesh Shimshon on Sidur hatefilah and Shaarim b'tefilah are extraordinary (they are in very basic Hebrew). There are many others. In addition there are scores of tapes in English on tefilah.)

There are also many minyanim that are devoted to inspired davening. Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, New York is one. A new shul, the Yeshivah Netzach Dovid Minyan in Kew gardens is another. Of course, there are many Carlebach minyanim all over the place, many of which meet at least once a month.

I feel bad for Velvel that the only way he seems to be able to talk (or sing) to the Master of the Universe is through single malt scotch.

Now to Kiddush Clubs.

There is a huge difference between kiddush clubs that meet during davening (usually during the haftorah) and kiddushes that meet after davening. The former are a really terrible phenomenon that has infested shuls (of all kinds) in America, while the latter a Jewish tradition going back hundreds, if not thousands, of years but has recently been abused with many people drinking way too much.

Not only are Kiddush clubs held in the middle of davening halachikly wrong (you are not permitted to daven musaf while under the influence of alcohol), they are a bizayon (humiliation) of the services (and usually the Rabbi). Moreover, they set a horrible example for our children about the relative importance of drinking and davening. I have seen literally scores of men walk out of well known MO shuls as soon as layning was over, stumbling back for the Rabbi's speech or musaf. It felt like halftime at a Knick game.

Kiddushes after shul make no such statement. Unfortunately, over the past decade or so, it seems that the amount of alcohol consumed has gotten way out of control in many cases. Again, this sets a terrible example for our kids and has led a number of shuls to ban hard liquor from kiddushes. (I used to keep a very fancy selection of single malt scotch in my house. Even though I would only have one or two shots at lunch on Shabbos (and none any other time), there came a point as my kids got older that I stopped drinking scotch completely. They were picking up on the chashivus (importance) that I attributed to the stuff and I (and especially my wife) didn't like the direction it was going).

I think mid-davening Kiddush clubs should be absolutely banned. Rabbanim need to put all of their stature behind this because it is so destructive of the values we are trying to pass along to our kids. I am not so makpid (strict) on post-shul kiddushes although there should be very strict rules regarding serving alcohol to kids. Finally, parents need to take responsibility and understand that their kids are watching them closely. If you drink too much at kiddush don't be surprised when the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

The more I think about Velvel the more I feel that it is so gevalt that he wants to connect to the Ribbono Shel Olam and inspire others in the way he knows best, i.e., through drinking and zemiros. Wouldn't it be great if this was just a complement to geshmak, inspired davening?

Monday, March 15, 2004


I find it amusing that shortly after Protocols posted this:

"I'm glad that the discussion of my Shapiro article has gone so well and remained so civil. There are a few points raised that I want to address now, and I'll raise some additional issues of my own." (emphasis mine)

regarding his thread on Marc Shapiro's new book about Rambam's 13 principles of faith, the comment section deteriorated into a nasty catfight, starting with a comment about posting on Shabbos and deteriorating into personal name-calling.

Pretty funny stuff.

My own contribution to that thread (posted a couple of hours before Shabbos) was that we should all stop worrying about this issue and get ready for Shabbos. I know it sounded dopey compared to all the intellectuals (and would-be intellectuals) who were breaking down the various points of view, but all I could think about at that time was that in a few hours, after a very hard week at work, I would be sitting with my family eating my wife's gevaldik chicken soup and lukshin. I think there is nothing better to clarify Rambam's 13 ikarim than sitting around a Shabbos table with your family singing zemiros and eating chicken soup and some kugel. It may not be very sophisticated but it works for me.


I was pleased to discover that at least a few people read my blog during the first week. I got a few congratulatory emails as well as a number that were critical of positions I took. In addition, I got one email that was critical of my attitude, i.e., my cynicism. Let me start there. Re-reading my entries of the first week, I have to agree with him. Going forward, I will try to express myself in a more positive way.

Now. To the criticism. One reader took issue with my position on Richard Joel speaking at the Young Israel of Woodmere last week.

"I thought your criticism of the shuls for giving pres Joel an opportunity to speak was offbase. He has years of experience as a Jewish leader and some people, perhaps not you, find his message meaningful. You may decide that the YIW is not for you for this reason, and you would probably be right. It is not right, however, to criticize a shul because their choice of speakers does not meet your standards."

Obviously, I did not make myself clear. As I said, I have nothing personal against Richard Joel (or Mandell Granchow, former president of OU who spoke at another shul). Indeed, he is a fantastic public speaker, very witty and charming. I was just trying to address the fact that many MO shuls have had a tendency to recruit speakers ON SHABBOS who speak about topics that have nothing to do with Shabbos, the parsha, tefilah, etc. Further, many Rabbanim themselves speak on Shabbos about political topics (e.g., the situation in Israel or the US position vis a vis Israel). Furthermore, many shuls have replaced the practice of having shalosh seudos (which the Zohar Hakadosh refers to as "the chosen time of the chosen day") with a lecture. What a missed opportunity to give over the beauty of Shabbos to our kids and to have personal hissorurus!

I also think it's important for Jews to discuss political and social topics. I just don't think they should be on Shabbos to the exclusion of divrei Torah and a focus on spiritual matters.

Next topic. I had criticized YU for hosting Moshav Band and Blue Fringe in light of their appearances at BB King's, a treif nightclub in the village. I got this response from a reader who is very involved in promoting all kinds of Jewish music in a city outside New York.

"First, nice bog. Next, I take issue with your post about the kashrut of Jewish bands performing at non-kosher venues.

1. Musicians don't often have a choice about where they get to play, especially if they get paid to do it (which is how they feed themselves and their families). Jewish rockers have even fewer choices, and in the world of rock music, BB Kings is a choice gig. They would be misguided not perform there, and one might argue irresponsible if they have financial obligations to family or charities for which they perform.

2. In case you hadn't noticed, most young Jews don't hang in the Bais most Saturday nights. They're out at the clubs. If we can bring any yiddishkeyt into that atmosphere, we do something to stem the tide of assimilation and light a spark of identity (or maybe keep it lit) in those who attend the shows. Many of those attending these shows aren't even shul-goers or observant- they're more casually, culturally affiliated Jews who are either seeking something more or a connection their shul doesn't provide, something that straddles their modern sensibility, passion for their identity and that ultimate of chassidic touchstones, music. You of all people should realize how effective this sort of kiruv is.

Those who argue that Jewish rock bands performing at rock clubs take Jews away from the fold are imitating ostriches and are not cognizant of the realities of today's youth culture, which does impact our youth. THEY ARE GOING TO GO OUT ANYWAYS. We should take appropriate action and support the bands and promoters who go out and provide cultural context in clubs with contemporary Jewish music, no matter how derivative or secular, with our thanks and checkbooks open."

I don't think it's possible for me to disagree more on most of his points. However, it would take me all day to respond to this and I have to work so I will try to respond sometime in the future. I am curious how others feel.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Good Shabbos, Good Erev Shabbos

My Rebbe always says (in the name of another Tzaddik whose name escapes me) that while many Jews are shomer Shabbos, very few in America are shomer Erev Shabbos.

One of the great things about living in Eretz Yisrael is that it is easy to shomer Erev Shabbos because there is no school and not much work. One of my favorite parts of my stays in Yerushalayim is shopping in Geulah and Machnei Yehuda on Friday mornings. There you can get the feeling of what it is to be shomer Erev Shabbos.

In the States, it is hard to get that feeling. We tend to rush home from work just in the nick of time. I try very hard to get home at least an hour before Shabbos so that I can prepare myself and not go directly from the secular world to the "real" world of "Yedid Nefesh". It's not always easy, particularly during the Winter. One more reason we all have to get over there as soon as possible.

Have a great Shabbos. And a great Erev Shabbos.

Yiddishkeit Without Ideology

This may be old news but this article that originally appeared in Tradition Magazine a while ago, by Moshe Koppel, a math professor at Bar Ilan, is one of the most brilliant essays about the state of Yiddishkeit today, both from the MO as well as the Chareidi perspectives.

It is worth reading over and over. It should be required reading for every principal, pulpit Rabbi and teacher.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

More "Administrators In Residence"

This is a big Shabbos for "Administrators in Residence" in the Five Towns area. In addition to the Young Israel of Woodmere having Richard Joel (see my entry below for March 10th, "What about Shalosh Seudos"), Congegation Ohr Torah of North Woodmere will be hosting Dr. Mandell Ganchrow, immediate past president of the OU. Malcolm Hoenlein can't be far behind!

I'm sure that somewhere in the Five Towns there will be a Rabbi actually giving a drasha on the parsha.


I was reading a report this morning on regarding Todd Bertuzzi's apology for almost killing Steve Moore during an NHL hockey game a few nights ago. Bertuzzi, a 240 pound goon, sucker-punched Moore in the head from behind and then jumped him, smashing Moore's head into the ice. Moore broke his neck (thankfully, he is not paralyzed) and had nasty lacerations on his face. The NHL has suspended Bertuzzi for the rest of the season (while Moore is out for at least that long nursing his injuries).

I was struck by the mealymouthed nature of Bertuzzi's apology.

The report from FoxNews follows with my thoughts in italics.:

"An emotional Bertuzzi apologized to Moore.

"These comments are for Steve. I had no intention of hurting you," Bertuzzi said Wednesday night, reading a statement before the Canucks played the Wild.

What??? He had every intention of hurting him...perhaps not of breaking his neck, but certainly he intended to hurt Moore.

"I feel awful for what transpired," he said.

I'm sure he does. He's been suspended for the season.

"To the game of hockey and the fans of Vancouver, for the kids that watch this game, I am truly story," Bertuzzi said. "I don't play the game that way. I'm not a mean-spirited person and I'm sorry for what happened."

What does he mean, "I'm sorry for what happened". Shouldn't he have said, "I'm sorry for what I did?"

"To Steve's family, I'm sorry you had to go through this and I'm sorry again for what happened out there," Bertuzzi said. "I'm relieved to hear that Steve is going to have a full recovery, it means a lot to me to know that's going to happen."

"I'm sorry for what happened out there"????? Gevalt! What happened out there is that in a premeditated act, he punched someone in the face from behind and then pounced on him with all 240 pounds of his weight, smashing his face into the hard ice. Why can't the guy take some personal responsibility instead of spewing out this silly apology?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Casual Shabbos

I saw an interesting article, "The Perpetual Adolescent" by Joseph Epstein in the on-line Weekly Standard lamenting the institutionalization of the informality of today's dress. He compares the way men dressed (in suits and fedoras) to go to ballgames in the days of Joe Dimaggio with the way they dress today (jeans, tee shirts and baseball caps).

He points out that few restaurants could hope to stay in business if they required men to wear a jacket and tie. (I think of my parents, zzg. Growing up my father would never have thought of going to a restaurant without at least a sports jacket and tie if not a suit). Epstein attributes this to a lack of seriousness, what he calls the triumph of the youth culture.

Sadly, this phenomenon has seeped into the Shabbos dress code of much of the Modern Orthodox world. On Shabbos afternoons in many neighborhoods it is common to see grown men walking around wearing "Gap Casual"; khakis and tee shirts. You even see men walking around in shorts and sandles. The women tend to be dressed in comfortable skirts and blouses, not anything they would wear to shul. I also know that many men come home from shul and immediately change into casual clothes before sitting down for Shabbos seudah.

The dress-down effect has effected children in an even more profound way. It is not uncommon to see MO kids walking around in shorts, sneakers and tank top basketball jerseys. (I'm not talking about kids playing ball; that's a different topic).

I think this has come about because of a combination of a lack of seriousness about Shabbos, and ignorance about the kedushah (sanctity) of Shabbos, exacerbated by the general trend described by Joseph Epstein. You can hardly blame the kehilah. Since most MO rabbis would rather sermonize about the evil of Yassir Arafat than describe the kedushah of Shabbos (and are loath to give mussar to their congregants), and since many MO yeshivas do a weak job of giving over the beauty and majesty of Shabbos, what do you expect? People think of Shabbos as a yom Menucha; a day of rest, without understanding what yom menucha really means.

I don't have a solution. I fear this trend will get worse as the general trend in society gets more informal (could anyone working in Manhattan 20 years ago even have imagined that secretaries would come to work in the summers looking as if they were going to the beach?) and as a whole generation of kids sees their parents treating Shabbos like any other day of the week.

I guess we just have to give over to our own children what Kedushas Shabbos really means and set an example by dressing appropriately.

D Minor

Thanks to my colleague at Blog in DM for giving me a plug. His blog is the one that inspired me to start this. So blame him.

Judging Favorably

For the past five years I have been attending a morning minyan where one of my friends has been coming between 12 and 18 minutes late virtually every single day! It drives me crazy. Although I have ocassionally teased him about it over the years, what I really want to do is grab him by the shoulders, shake him and say: "Hello! How about setting your alarm 15 minutes earlier!!! (On second thought, I know that wouldn't work anyway. I suspect my friend does set his alarm earlier but is a serial snooze button pusher. 2 x 9 minutes gets you 18!)

Every time my friend walks by me my first inclination is to judge him unfavorably. I simply can't understand how someone who is otherwise careful in his observance of mitzvos can't overcome such a seemingly simple problem. Then I try to remind myself of the teaching of one of the great tzadikim. He says that when a person is put in a situation of being able to judge his neighbor, it is really G-d testing him. If you judge the person favorably, G-d will judge you favorably in similar situations. If you judge harshly, you will be judged that way by the Master of the Universe.

It's true that I can't understand chronic lateness. (Although I have many faults tardiness is not one of them). But then I think to myself: How many times have I been faced with a situation where I can either engage in loshon harah or refrain from speaking loshon harah and I am to weak to hold myself back? Why is that any different from my friend's lateness to shul? (G-d must be thinking (so to speak)..."what's with that guy...can't he shut up just once??")

So, I try hard to give my friend the benefit of the doubt, thank him in my mind for causing me to think about my own shortcomings, and try to work on those many characteristics of mine that could use some work.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

What About Shalosh Seudos???

The Young Israel of Woodmere is hosting Richard Joel as "scholar in residence" this Shabbos. On the schedule is this:

"At 5:45pm, between Mincha and Maariv, Mr. Joel will speak on 'To Dare To Dream: Unlocking The Power And Potential Of The Modern Orthodox Movement'.

I don't know Richard Joel at all. I'm sure he is a nice man and a very capable administrator. Probably a good public speaker. But it occurred to me that if you wanted to unlock the power and potential of the MO movement, wouldn't you be better off having a hartzigah shalosh seudos with zmiros and divrei Torah? It seems to me that the MO movement suffers from the very replacement of the singing and comaraderie that comes with shalosh seudos with lectures about politics and other subjects (but not Torah) such as this one.

There is plenty of power in the Seudah of Yakov Avinu. It has worked for thousands of years. Why don't we try unlocking ITS power.

Why Jews Don't Believe in Jesus

Just saw this terrific article at by Rabbi Shraga Simmons that concisely summarizes why we don't believe in Yushka. We never discussed this stuff in the olden days when I went to yeshiva (not because we were learning anything useful) but it's probably a good idea to plug our kids into this in light of the fallout from the Gibson film.

Pesach Vacation Ads

I'm very happy that Pesach is getting closer. It means that we won't be subjected to the rash of goofy Pesach vacation ads for much longer.

Did you notice that caterers are no longer caterers...Now they are "hosts" and "families".

One would think that you are not 'yotzai" on Pesach unless you play 18 holes on a PGA golf course.

It must be a surprise to the Ribbono Shel Olam that Jews are going to Turkey to celebrate Pesach. Next year in Cairo!

And they all have "world reknown"...scholars in residence and musical entertainment.

3 meals a day plus "Round the clock Tea Rooms" (and, of course, "world class aerobics rooms" to help offset the 24 hour fressing).

These ads certainly give you a sense that you will be experiencing "Yetzias Mitzrayim" come seder night.

Monday, March 08, 2004

YU Pesach Concert

I don't really get this. The YU student council is staging a pre Pesach concert featuring Moshav Band and Blue Fringe. While I actually like some of what Moshav has done (I think their last CD, Return, was one of the best of last year) and admit that Blue Fringe is a pretty tight band (although I have no use at all for their original (derivative) music), both groups just played in BB King's, a trief nightclub in Manhattan. From reports that I've seen, the gigs were far from Kedushei Hashem.

Shouldn't that disqualify them from a gig at YU? Or am I being naive?

Greetings from MOChassid. I am a Modern Orthodox Chassid. I'm not really sure what that means. I hope to write from time to time on topics of interest concerning the MO world and give my views on why a focus on Chasiddus can be very helpful. I guess my point is that you don't have to wear the "levush" (in this context, uniform) of a chassid to have an appreciation of the beauty of Chassidus.

I have pretty strong views about what's ailing the MO world and I will try to temper my words.

I also have strong views about the sorry state of most of the so-called jewish music world. No way I will be able to temper that.

If you would like to comment you can reach me at