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

Friday, April 30, 2004

More on the Shiny Shoe Music Kerfuffle

In deference to Cookie, yesterday I agreed to henceforth refer to 'Boro Park Rock' as Shiny Shoe music (coined by a Yerushalmi musician in honor of the shiny black shoes that are de rigor for the performers of this genre). Although I agree with Blog in Dm, and Velvel, that Cookie should worry about more important things and that it's really no big deal, I think the coinage of the term 'shiny shoe music' was inspired so I'm happy to use it.

Dm, who knows a lot more about the JM music industry than I, is right that Boro Park is indeed the capital of shiny shoe music (and his analogy to Nashville and Motown is exactly right) and Velvel's description of the music itself as "slick, over-produced pop music that is engineered to sell to the masses" is spot on. He adds that:

"One could argue about the kedusha (holiness) that goes into making of this music. Arguing intentions is very difficult. Only G-d can know the inspirations of a person's soul. The one thing we know for sure is that the words are holy. Aside from the words, the only difference between that and secular pop is the demographic of the consumer."

I have argued before that it is possible to take holy words that come from Tehillim and pasukim and debase them with tunes that come straight from the secular pop music world (but sometimes not in a straight way; hamayvin yavin), are not holy and are designed only to mimic popular music and sell records. When you add to that the over the top and weird digital production techniques and the increasingly ridiculous, unrefined (as my parents would say, 'prust') stage productions that require little boys to wear goofy costumes and chubby 20-something-Yeshiva-Bochrim to wear Armani suits, wrap-around sun glasses and head mics and perform Madonna-like dance steps, it doesn't matter what the words are supposed to mean; their real meaning and holiness is lost.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Sklaro's Hot Dog Carts

In the "you can't make this stuff up" category, when I visited Sklaro's blog tonight, the banner headline advertisement was for American Hot Dog Carts. Among other strange traits, Sklaro is a very strident vegetarian. Indeed, while he doesn't like receiving mussar from Rabbis, he does not hesitate giving mussar to anyone who enjoys a steak from time to time.

So how did this happen? I suspect that Blogspot's programs that figure out where to put advertsing came across this.

Totally made my night.
Velvel Rocks
"Pashuteh Yiddin Amiteeim": Second Thoughts

The Heilig Rebbe of Klal Yisrael ("HRKY") sent me a one line email last night that I've been thinking about ever since. He wrote, "May we be zoche to be pashute Yiddin amiteeim" (May we merit being simple, true Jews).

I've also been getting a number of emails from the Holy Lawyer of Maiden Lane ("HLML") suggesting that I was off base in criticizing the local Yeshiva for playing music on Sunday evening at a Yom ha'atzmaut gathering.

Finally, at this morning's shiur in Choshen Mishpat, my Rebbe digressed and discussed a Torah from Rebbe Nosson of Breslov on the topic of sinas chinum and relationships bein adam l'chaveiro (among people).

The HRKY is a man of few words and each of his words needs to be considered carefully. The HLML is a frequent correspondent who always has an interesting and mature perspective. And, of course, my Rebbe is my main source of hadrachah (direction).

In the offending email, I suggested that the school was practicing ideological Yiddishkeit at the expense of halacha by scheduling a Yom Ha'atzmaut gathering on Sunday evening, for convenience, even though the Israeli Rabbanut had pushed off Yom Ha'atzmaut until Monday night.

Upon reflection I have reached two conclusions. Being an am ha'aretz (ignoramus) , it's really stupid of me to blog on specific issues relating to halacha. In the future I will try to leave these to Hirhurim and others more qualified.

Second, my bashing of this Yeshiva was an example of a regrettable lack of hakoras hatov (gratitude) on my part to an institution that my family has personally benefitted from and that has had a tremendous positive impact on the community. It is one of the most forward looking, together schools that I know of and, even if I didn't agree with them on this issue, I owed them the benefit of the doubt. It's easy to rant and rave (especially anonymously on a blog) but what I wrote wasn't an example of being a pashute Yid amitee.
Boro Park Rock/Shiny Shoe Music

Cookie sent me an email complaining that I am disparaging an entire Jewish community by using the term "Boro Park Rock" to describe a style of Jewish music that I often disparage.

She pointed out that most of the JM professionals who fall into that genre, both performers and producers, don't actually live in Boro Park.

Two points. Boro Park Rock is not a place but a state of mind. Also, I didn't make the term up; it's been used by others before me.

Nevertheless, so as to avoid being motsi shem rah on a community that I respect (Boro Park is the only place I've been able to get completely black 'black and white' cookies), I will henceforth use the term 'shiny black shoe' music, a term that was coined by a good friend of mine in Jerusalem to describe the genre.

Please no emails from shoe merchants.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Agreeing to Disagree

I will try to respond to Cookie's response to my response to her Yom Ha'atzmaut post. In some respects I may not have made myself clear but in others, in particular the status of the State of Israel as a haven for Jews, I couldn't disagree with her more.

I regret if I gave the impression that I think it's ok that the State of Israel is dominated by people who are not Yirei Shamayim and Shomrei Torah U'mitzvos. It breaks my heart to see how far from Torah Yiddishkeit Israeli society has moved. And, if I gave the impression that Rav Teichtal felt that way, chas v'shalom, I am even sorrier.

A few words about Rav Teichtal and Eim Habanim Semeichah. I realize that I do a tremendous disservice to Rav Teichtal and his holy sefer by trying to summarize it in a few paragraphs. It is an astounding sefer, written by the tzaddik literally while on the run from the Nazis. He had almost no access to source material and, with few exceptions, quoted his sources from memory. Despite these circumstances, the sefer is a heartbreaking, beautiful masterpiece.

Rav Teichtal was a Chassid of the Munkatcher Rebbe, Zt'l, who was, as is known, a strident anti-Zionist who did not favor yishuv Eterz Yisrael among his chassidim under the circumstances. Until the war, this was the position held by Rav Teichtal. It was only as a result of what he saw with his own eyes that he began to re-examine this position.

Rav Teichtal's view was not political at all. It was based solely upon his examination of a plethora of sources that he concluded that Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, even an Eretz Yisrael dominated by chilonim, was the key to redemption. In no way did Rav Teichtal suggest that their failure to observe Torah or Mitzvos was, CV, a good thing or forgivable. His point was that even chilonim (so how much more so yirei Shamayim) merit great rewards just by engaging in the act of redeeming the Land. The entire sefer is a plea to Yirei Shamayim to become involved in the redemption of the Land (rather than just the chilonim).

His disagreement with the tzaddikim of his generation is profound but respectful and, again, based on his re-examination of countless sources. He was a tremendous talmid chacham and his views should not be taken lightly. Obviously, there are those who continue to strongly disagree.

It would be imprudent for me to predict whether Rav Teichtal would feel the same way were he alive today. I suggest that people read the sefer and reach their own conclusions.

Let me now address the issue of the State of Israel as a haven for Jews. Cookie writes:

"Some haven.

A Jew under Nazi occupation was afraid to go on a bus, and a Jew in Israel is afraid to go on a bus.

A Jew under Nazi occupation was surrounded by hostile neighbors, and a Jew in Israel is surrounded by hostile neighbors.

The only protection I believe Eretz Yisrael has is the incredible amount and level of Torah learned there. That, in my opinion, is the only reason it has survived."

To compare the situation in Israel today with Nazi Occupation is completely, and demonstrably off base. Suffice it to say that from 1939 until 1945 six million Jews were murdered by our enemies. In the 56 years of statehood, fewer than 30,000 Jews, all precious souls, have been killed by our enemies in Eretz Yisrael.

While it is true that we are still surrounded by our enemies as we were during the Nazi Occupation, now, unlike then, we have an army that fights back.

One may still believe that the only protection we get results from the great amount of Torah and learning in Eretz Yisrael without having to deny the obvious, which is that the State of Israel is indeed a haven.

Finally, sadness. I agree with Cookie that sadness is an emotion that is natural and that should not be supressed. And she is right in correcting me that she never said she was "overcome" with sadness (which is what the Chassidishe Tzaddikim implore us to avoid).

The only sadness I feel is that, because of decisions I made much earlier in my life, I am still stuck in galus. I am not overcome by sadness either because, b'ezras Hashem, I am hopeful that that will soon change.
Stop the Presses: "Late Man" on Time

I almost dropped my siddur this morning when, for the first time in five years my friend "Late Man" came to morning minyan on time. It quickly dawned on me that today was his father's yahrtzeit.

Once again, I took inspiration from my friend. He proved that, properly motivated, we can all change deeply ingrained habits. The question is what motivates us?
Misplaced Sadness

Cookie marks Yom Ha'atzmaut by lamenting the chiloni (secular) nature of the country.

She concludes:

"When the land is barren of mitzvos, the language devoid of sanctity, the culture devoid of Torah, what's the point?

That Yom Ha'atzma'ut takes place in Sefirah, this annual time of mourning, is simply another indication of how deep the disrespect for Judaism runs in this land of Jews.

And that is why I'm sad today."

The Tzaddik, HaRav Haga'on Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal, HYD, writes in his monumental sefer, Eim Habanim S'meicha,

"[T]he simple Jew who builds the Land without any spiritual intent (kavanah), merely for his own benefit, accomplishes greater a rectification (tikkun) in the supernal worlds than the greatest tzaddik with his tearful and lamenting midnight prayers (tikkun Chatzos) recited for the sake of the Shechinah and the end of exile. The latter certainly accomplishes a great rectification, yet it cannot compare to the rectification caused by the simple Jew who physically rebuilds the Land, even if he has no godly intent."

He continues:

"[I]t is clear that the Omnipresent desires the work of today's builders and accepts their efforts before his glorious throne with love and abounding affection. This is true even if they act sinfully and even if they do not fulfill God's will when it comes to other mitzvot of the Toraj (God forbid)."

Rav Teichtal wrote that the Geulah (redemption) will only come through the redemption of Eretz Yisrael. He laments the fact that the tzaddikim of his generation misunderstood the biblical sources in their opposition to the settlement of the Land. He implores us, the frummer, to return to Eretz Yisrael to redeem the Land and bring about the Geulah. He asks us to respect those who redeem the land, as misguided and off the derech as they may be. They are part of the Divine plan.

(Rav Teichtal, a Muncatcher Chassid, wrote this sefer (without the benefit of inside sources and relying almost entirely on his amazing memory) while on the run from the Nazis, may their name be erased. He ultimately died al Kiddush Hashem at their hands.)

In the Chassideshe Seforim, we are told that we must work hard to avoid being overcome by aztvus, sadness.

Is the situation in Eretz Yisrael a mess. Sure. Are there huge problems in religious-secular relations? Sure. But sadness?

We should rejoice on Yom Ha'atzmaut that we have the opportunity to continue the process of redemption. That we have a haven for our people. That we have an opportunity to live in the Land, an opportunity that has been denied to so many generations of our ancestors.

Rather than becoming overcome with sadness, we should wake up and realize that we all belong in Eretz Yisrael and that if we go, as Rav Teichtal urges us, we will bring about the Geulah speedily in our times.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

On Music on Yom Ha'atzmaut

Simcha at Hirhurim has a couple of interesting posts on the topic of music on Yom Ha'atzmaut here and here. I don't know if it they are in response to my inquiry, but I thank him in any event. Thanks also to the heilig Rebbe of Klal Yisrael who sent me a helpful email. (I respectfully ask the Rebbe of Klal Yisrael to continue letting me know when he thinks I'm off base or I've gone too far).

Finally, if you think I'm nuts about the juxtaposition of Yom Ha'atzmaut with sefirah, check out the Cookie Monster.
Ideological Yiddishkeit

Today is Yom Ha'atzmaut, Israel's Independence Day. Or was it yesterday?

The decision of the Israeli Rabbanut to make this year's Yom Hazikaron (Israel's Memorial Day) and Yom Ha'atzmaut "nidche" (pushed off) from Sunday-Monday to Monday-Tuesday has caused all sorts of confusion here in galus.

I know of at least two examples. The lower school of a local yeshiva celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut yesterday while its high school divisions are celebrating today. I was also told that a Manhattan shul dropped tachanun and said Hallel (with a bracha) both Monday and Tuesday because of the confusion.

In the case of the school, on Sunday afternoon they held a major gathering to mark Yom Hazikaron and the transition into Yom Ha'atzmaut.

The program itself was very poignant and moving. It included words from an alumnus who is now serving in the IDF. Importantly, they also honored a number of children and families that are making Aliyah next year. Strangely, however, the band started playing before shkiah (which was during Sefirah under any calculation) and continued into the evening (which was Yom Hazikaron according to the Rabbanut and the high school).

Being an "am ha'aretz" (ignoramus) I am not qualified to comment on the idea of playing live music on Yom Ha'atzmaut despite the fact that it falls out during Sefirah. While I don't completely understand the explanations, I accept that there are gedolai Eretz Yisrael who have ruled that listening to music on YH is ok. I am also not at all qualified to comment on the concept of pushing off Yom Ha'atzmaut (although my first impression was, "what is this, President's Day?") but I certainly accept that the Rabbanut had valid reasons for so doing.

It seems to me, however, that, for the sake of convenience and ideology (making the gathering Sunday afternoon), the school played fast and loose with halachah. How can the same school celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut on two different days, especially when it implicates violating the prohibitions against listening to music during Sefirah? And, even giving them the benefit of all doubts, what's the deal with starting the music on Sunday afternoon? I just don't get it.

This is symptomatic of ideology-driven Yiddishkeit. It was so important for the school to prove that they are real Tzionim that they make tortured halachic decisions to justify their actions.

Moshe Koppel addresses the topic of ideological Yiddishkeit (in both the MO and Charedei worlds) in his wonderful essay, "Yiddishkeit Without Ideology: A Letter to my Son". It should be required reading for all Jewish leaders and educators.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Pat Tillman, Real American Hero

Following are a number of columns about a true American Hero.

American Spectator 1;

American Spectator 2

American Spectator 3

National Review 1

National Review 2

National Review 3


Sunday, April 25, 2004

I Love to Ride My Bi-Cy-Cle (but only up to a point).

In contrast to last Sunday morning, which was as beautiful a Spring day as you could ask for, this morning was 12 degrees colder and much windier. Nevertheless, I dutifully got up at 5 a.m. to do my training for the bike tour that I will be doing, IYH, in Israel next October.

Once again, I drove to Central Park and this time I was on the road by 6:15 a.m. My plan was to do four laps around the perimiter road, a total of 24 miles.

If you like wind tunnels, today was your day. By the time I finished the first lap I was already considering all the good reasons why I didn't really need to do 4 laps. The tour was still 6 months away; There's no point in cold weather training for a bike tour in the Negev; I'm already in pretty good shape; I'll do 30 next week, and so on.

By the middle of my second lap, my toes and the tips of my fingers (I wear biking gloves that cover up to my knuckles) were frozen. 10 years ago, when I was more intense, I would have kept going. Now, I said to myself, "shkoiach; nice ride; but I'm going home; this is ridiculous; I'm not having fun).

So, I cut out at East 72nd Street after 12 miles, hooked my bike up to the bike rack, happily got into my car, turned on the heat, and drove home.

30 miles next week.

Friday, April 23, 2004

I'm Confused

Anyone who follows this blog knows that I'm a kanoi (zealot) when it comes to the importance of Seudah Shlishis (the Third Meal on Shabbos). In particular what disturbes me is the widespread tendency of MO shuls in the metropolitan area to replace seudah shlishis with lectures, often of a political or ideological nature having nothing to do with Torah or Shabbos.

(For a sample of my rantings, check here, here and here.)

So, when I saw an email this week from the Young Israel of Woodmere about another non-Torah related lecture during the time of Seudah Shlishis, my reaction should have been, "Oh no. Here we go again."

But that wasn't my reaction. The lecture is being given my Joey Asch, a captain in the reserves of the Israeli Navy Seals. His topic is 'The Offensive in Jenin'.

If I were consistent, I would say that this lecture falls exactly into the category that I scream about as having nothing to do with Torah or Shabbos or Yiddishkeit. But I know this is different. This is not the president of YU or of the OU talking about ideology or a politician talking about politics. This is a Jew who put his life on the line for other Jews and who can describe how Yidden are different even in the way they wage war.

I know that there is an opportunity for him to have a great impact on the kehilah, to create tremendous hisorurus. Isn't that what seudah shlishis is all about?

On the Power of Music

Blog in Dm discusses an article written by Rav Dovid Glodwasser in the Jewish Press in which he attacks Jewish musicians who convert secular songs into Jewish niggunim. Dm discusses a different view brought by R. Mattisyahu Salomon, suggesting that even coarse, secular music can be used to grow spiritually. Nevertheless, Dm points out that R. Salomon is bothered by today's JM "pop culture".

"Incidentally, in this essay, R” Salomon protests today’s Jewish pop music. He says that it’s commercial—designed to hook people and get them into it. He says that the “star” mentality of promoting the individual entertainers is abhorrent and that certainly most of them aren’t worthy of being role models."

The problem that I had with Rav Goldwasser's article is that I didn't understand precisely what he was referring to. Was he only talking about songs like, for example, "Asher Bara" from Piamenta, which are clearly converted secular songs ("Land Down Under" from Men at Work)? Or was he also addressing the general Boro Park Rock scene in which song writers listen to rock music, fool around with the tunes and then put pasukim to the modified tunes?

I suspect that he was referring to the former. I, personally, am more offended by the latter than the former. At least you know where the tune comes from in the case of converted rock songs.

Also, what is Rav Goldwasser's take on the music of, for example, Avraham Rosenblum , Chaim Dovid, Yosef Karduner or Aron Razel, or other Ba'alei Teshuva who cut their teeth on secular music and brought what they learned in that world into the world of Kedusha. These musicians write songs that come from their hearts, based on their experiences and their past musical influences; they certainly do not consider themeselves "stars" as decried by R. Salomon. To me, this music is the purest Jewish music on the market (and is much more musically interesting than most of the pop garbage cranked out in the Boro Park scene).

Presumably, Rav Goldwasser wouldn't have much use for the music of Jewish rock bands like Soulfarm, Moshav and Blue Fringe, who, unlike Diaspora, Chaim Dovid, etc., came from the opposite direction, i.e., grew up frum but are largely influenced by secular, rock music (as well as the Carlebach sound). But he doesn't really say.

Unlike Rav Salomon, Rav Goldwasser also doesn't say anything about the appalling gaiva (conceit) and lust for money that permiates the entire Boro Park JM scene (where, for example, Chassidishe Yidden permit themselves to be advertised as "The King of Jewish Music"). This arrogance and money grubbing is at the heart of what's wrong with the JM scene.

If all that bothers Rav Goldwasser is that some musicians convert secular songs, he is missing the boat.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Music On Yom Ha'atzma'ut

With Yom Ha'atzma'ut around the corner, I have received numerous email notices about related events, many from yeshivas and shuls.

Yom Ha'atzma'ut falls at a point in Sefirah where instrumental music is not permitted under any custom, whether you observe the prohibition from the begining until Lag B'Omer or from Rosh Chodesh until shortly before Shavuous.

Nevertheless, many of the Yom Ha'atzma'ut events of which I've been notified include live music. Even more interestingly, many of the events are being held on Saturday night or Sunday (before shkiyah), not Monday (the actual day of YH), yet still include music.

I don't really understand this. I'm not being sacrcastic or cynical. I simply don't know the halachic principles or rulings on which these musical events are relying. Especially with regard to those events being held on Erev Yom Ha'atzma'ut. If anyone does know I would be grateful for a heads up.

I do know that even raising this question in polite company is very politically incorrect and might subject me to accusations of being some kind of whacko anti-Zionist chareidi (which I'm not. At least the anti-Zionsit Chareidi part). I think this is one of those ideological issues that people don't give much thought to because of their love of and connection to Medinat Yisrael. The halachic issue just never enters the radar screen.

Shlep Your Dopey Kid to Work Day

Today is "Bring Your Child to Work" day, perhaps the dumbest idea ever in the history of the human race. This started a number of years ago as a feminist brainstorm, Bring Your Daughters to Work Day, some kind of silly symbolic statement that "we can do anything better than you can". (The last place on Earth that I'd ever want my daughters to work is Wall Street).

Then the PC police entered the picture, complained that boys were being left out (and it would damage their self images, or some narishkeit like that), and it was changed to its current iteration.

At least before, as misguided as it was, it had some meaning. Now the only meaning it has is that it's more difficult for me to get a seat on the Long Island Railroad and that McDonald's will probably have a banner day.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Cara's World Includes Three Meals

Cara suggests that I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to Seudah Shlishis outside the New York area.

I plead guilty.

Cara's shul never misses it and she clearly agrees with me that there is something special about the singing, camaraderie and divrei Torah at a communal seudah shlishis. I sincerely hope that she is correct that more MO shuls outside New York hold communal Third Meals at the time of "Raivah D'Raivin", the chosen time of the chosen Day.

By the way, if you would like to experience seudah shlishis in the most amazing way (this is for men only, unfortunately), next time you are in Yerushalayim, go to Rav Tzvi Meir Silberberg's seudah shlishis at the Viznitz Talmud Torah in Geulah. 800 men of all different types come to hear his incredible, powerful and inspiring shmooze. Tzvi Meir speaks in Yiddish but, believe me, you don't need to understand a word of Yiddish to get his message. If you go, don't make early reservations for motsai Shabbos. Shabbos extends by at least an hour (and the singing goes on for more than an hour after the first round of maariv).

Krivu Li, Chazu Chaili, D'Lais Dinin Diskifin
Prototious Times

I was at a family simcha this morning, a bris of my wife's first cousin's grandson. My wife's cousin and her husband are the sweetest people. They have moved from the MO world to the Yeshivish world over the course of their lives together and, despite being Yeshivish, are very spiritual and seem to have a soft spot for machshava (Jewish thought) and Chassidus.

The grandfather (he's my age; it's hard to believe I could be holding there) handed out little pieces of paper with a tefilah (prayer) that is meant to be said "at the prototious time of a baby boy crying during his circumcision."

When I saw it I laughed. No dictionary I own includes the word "prototious". I assume they meant "propitious", which means favorable. Nevertheless, the seforim hakedoshim do indeed consider the moment a baby cries at his bris an "eis ratzon" when the gates of tefilah are wide open and our prayers ascend to the Heavens on the wings of the baby's cries.

I hope to share many more prototious moments with my heiliga cousins.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Did you ever notice that in most MO shuls, more men than women cover their hair?
In Central Park With Bubba

On Sunday, I wrote about my wonderful morning riding my bike in Central Park. I referred to an experience I had many years ago running around the Reservoir with Bill Clinton. A number of people asked me about it so here goes:

Before I became MO Chassid I was just MO. In those days, while I still got up very early, instead of going to a 6 a.m. shiur and minyan, I used to take a 5:30 a.m. train into Manhattan and go directly to the gym. On nice days I used to run from my gym into the park and knock off between 5 and 10 miles.

One morning in 1994 or 95, as I reached the entrance to the park on 6th Avenue and Central Park South, I saw cops everywhere. I asked one of them what was going on but he wouldn't say. I got on with my run, going north up to the Reservoir and started doing laps. It was crazy. Cops were stationed about every 50 feet!

Running counterclockwise, I reached the East 90th Street entrance to the Reservoir running track where, suddenly, on the perimeter road below, I saw a bunch of cops on motorcycles followed by about 15 black cars and an ambulance followed by more cops on motorbikes. My curiosity piqued, I stopped to see what was going on. After a couple of minutes out popped a couple of massive human beings dressed in tee shirts and shorts. After two more minutes, a man dressed in goofy purple shorts (real short...the kind you see on NBA players from the 70's) and a purple tee shirt got out of another car. It was Bubba!

Flanked by the two Secret Service guys, Bubba skipped up the stairs and started running. By then, there was a flock of about 15 runners (including me) who decided to tag along. The Secret Service guys were amazingly relaxed and we were able to run right alongside the Big Guy. Some people shmoozed with him but I decided to leave him alone.

For a chunky guy reputed to be hooked on Big Macs and Hostess Twinkies, he actually ran at a decent clip, somewhere between 7:30 and 7:45 minute miles (I have been blessed with the relatively useless talent of being able to estimate my running pace with amazing accuracy without the benefit of a stopwatch). After a couple of laps (about 3.1 miles), he was done, got back in the car and went back to the Waldorf together with his 15 car entourage and motorcycle escort.

All in all, an interesting morning run.

I still don't know what the 15 cars were all about but I figure it must have cost the taxpayers of New York City thousands of dollars in cop costs so that Bubba could take a spin in the park rather than run on a treadmill in his hotel.
On Jay Litvin, OBM

AidelMaidel (may she have her baby b'sha'a tova umutzlachas and may that hour be soon) notified us of the untimely passing of Jay Litvin, OBM. I didn't know Jay except through his prolific writings which have moved me greatly over the years. For a taste, read his short story, "How a Ruler Saved My Life".

May his family be comforted among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Talmid Chacham in Residence II

On Friday, I posted about the Shabbos visit of Rav Asher Weiss, shlit'a, to the Young Israel of Woodmere. I posited that MO kehilahs are much better off hearing divrei Torah from tzaddikim like Rav Weiss than their usual fare, divrei politics and ideology from politicians and academics.

Apparently, I was correct, at least in this case. From accounts that I have heard, the visit was a huge success. Rav Weiss, a Kloisenberg Chassid who is a tremendous talmid chacham and inspiring speaker, attracted very large crowds to all three of his shmuezen and made quite an impression on the kehilah.

I continue to believe that Yiddin, even the most MO, are seeking more meaning, more spirituality, more p'nimius in their lives. The leaders need to understand and act upon this need.

The Third Meal

Velvel's holy wife tricked him into waking from his Shabbos afternoon nap in time for Mincha and Seudah Shlishis (Velvel: how many hours can you sleep on Shabbos anyway??).

In the Zohar, Seudah Shlishis, the meal of Yaakov Avinu, is referred to as "the Chosen Time of the Chosen Day". Indeed, in some of the Chassideshe seforim, Seudah shlishis is compared to Kol Nidre or Ne'ile (See, for example, Tzav V'zirus of the holy Rebbe from Piacezcna).

I have previously bemoaned the fact that in many MO shuls, the third meal has been replaced by lectures, often those that have nothing to do with Torah or Shabbos.

So, kudos to Velvel's wife for waking him out of his literal and figurative slumber so that he could taste of the beauty of the third meal. Keep going Velvel; I know the niggunim will come back to you!

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I Love to Ride My Bi-Cy-Cle

What a day!

I got up at dawn this morning and drove to Central Park with my 15-year-old Schwinn Circuit road bike strapped to the back of my car. It was 60 degrees by 6:45 a.m.

Central Park at this time of the year is one of the wonders of creation. All the fruit trees are in bloom and signs of Spring abound. When I finally make it over to Eretz Yisrael (May it be soon), this is one of the places I will miss the most. I have run countless miles here (once with Bill Clinton around the Reservoir, but that's another story), competed in many New York Road Runners races (if you call finishing smack in the middle of the pack competing), finished two New York Marathons across from Tavern on the Green (is it ten years ago already? My knees are still sore) and biked around the perimiter road on many early Sunday mornings. I love the place.

I just started training for a 5 day bike tour in Eretz Yisrael that takes place in late October. From the Negev to Jerusalem. Gevalt!

The terrain is pancake flat where I live so I need to find some hills. Central Park has some nasty hills, especially in the North end. Not like climbing the road to Jerusalem, but it's a start.

This was my first time out this season so I only did three laps, 18 miles. I thought I was in good shape but I'm pretty tired. Although I was cranking at a decent pace, I got passed by a whole bunch of Amazon men (and some Amazon women). Some of them made me feel as though I were on a stationary bike. It must be my bike. Or maybe it's me. Or maybe both. I guess I should take comfort from the fact that the guys dropping me were probably 20 years younger and their bikes weigh half what mine does.

Not that I have anything against my bike. It's one of the best purchases I've ever made. It has stood by me for 15 years. It's never broken down, not once. We've done a lot of good rides together. I love my bike. But, by today's standards it's really heavy. I would trade it in for a new Trek in a New York minute. I just can't see spending $2,000 on a new bike right now. It looks like my Schwinn and I will be off to Israel in the Fall.

I thank Hashem for mornings like this.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Responding to the Cookie Monster

With all due respect for the admirable midos of the Cookie Monster and her concerns about ho'tza'as shem rah (slander) I still think she is wrong about the JM musician. I continue to believe that BloginDm and I have it right...even applying the seven principles of the Chofetz Chaim that she cites.

I will not rehash (or even link back to my previous thoughts on this issue) but I will make two final points. First, as Dm suggests, I believe that this situation is similar to the Lanner situation. There, countless people who could have done something knew or had very strong suspicions regarding what he was doing over the course of 20 years. Many who tried to do something were intimidated by those in authority into keeping silent. Nothing was done and the results were disasterous.

Similarly, here the JM-powers-that-be also know exactly with whom they are dealing. For personal financial reasons, many of them are going along with this charade. Those that might be inclined to do something may be intimidated because the people involved are, in fact, major players in the JM scene.

Second, Dm and I both consulted important (but different) rabbanim before posting on this issue. In his case, Dm actually showed the text of his post to his Rav. I did not. Perhaps I should have.

Finally, on a different matter, I'm glad Cookie and I can agree on something.
Talmid Chacham in Residence

I have, in the past, raved and screamed about the tendency in MO shuls to invite for Shabbos "scholars in residence" who, while fine Jews, are mainly administrators, academics or politicians, who discuss politics or ideology but never Torah, the parsha, Shabbos or anything connected to the sanctity of the day.

I was therefore very happy to see that the Young Israel of Woodmere, one of the offending institutions I cited, is hosting Rav Asher Weiss, shlit'a, an English speaking, Klosenberg Chassid living in Yerushalayim, who not only is an immense talmid chacham and brilliant author ("Minchas Asher" on Bereishis, Shmos, the Hagaddah and some masechtas of Gemorah, so far) but a wonderful and inspiring public speaker.

Call me crazy, but I have no doubt that the YIW kehilah is far better off spending a Shabbos learning Torah from this great tzaddik than listening to, for example, lectures about why Torah Umadda is an important ideology.
Maisa Shehaya

This morning I dropped into Modell's to get something for the gym. As I was standing near the "athletic supporter" section (When I was in high school we called these "jock straps"; I don't know when they turned into athletic supporters. I thought athletic suppoerters were fans), a customer approached a clerk and asked: "Are these all the athletic supporters you have?"

The clerk responded: "Yes. What are you looking for?

The customer said: "I need one for my 8 year-old son."

I have, BH, raised two very athletic sons who are now quite a bit older than 8. Both have played organized sports from the time they were in kindergarten. I coached little league baseball for more years than I care to remember. So, I think I know a little bit about what I'm talking about here.

A jock strap for an 8 year-old???? What was this guy thinking?

You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

"Sefirah Albums"

There is a story that when the great Tzaddik, R. Chaim Ozer, zt'l, met the holy Rebbe from Modzitz, the author of countless holy niggunim (melodies) that are still part of our davening today, Reb Chaim asked the Modzitzer: "I understand where chidushim (new ideas) in Torah come from but where do your holy niggunim come from?"

The Rebbe responded, "When my heart is so filled with love for Hashem that it overflows, the result that comes out is a niggun."

In contrast, today we have a very different phenomenon in the Jewish music scene. What often seems to be the case these days is that when a JM composer's bank account is no longer overflowing, he sits down, turns on some rock and roll radio station and then puts some pasukim (Biblical verses) to a tune that resembles the rock song.

So, instead of a holy niggun, like those written by the Modzitzer Rebbe, we have very unholy songs that, rather than elevating the rock music, diminish and sometimes debase the pasukim.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than during the time of Sefiras Ha'Omer. For 2000 years, observant Jews totally refrained from listening to music during a substantial portion of Sefirah in commemoration of the deaths of 24,000 of Rebbe Akiva's students. Only on Shabbos would they engage in zemiros, since there is a prohibition against mourning on Shabbos.

However, in the last number of years, great minds in the JM scene have determined that, notwithstanding this 2000 year history, observant Jews can no longer hold out without Boro Park Rock music for 32 days. So, they have created an entirely new phenomenon, and market, called "Sefirah Albums". Relying on a technical halachic heter (leniency) that purports to permit music that is played without instrumental accompaniment, they produce acappella albums that are targeted specifically for this period of the Jewish calendar.

Many posking (halachic decisors) are very opposed to this concept. Even among rabbanim who are willing to concede that the technical heter is, b'dieved, ok, I have yet to meet any Rav who thinks Sefirah albums are a good thing. Nevertheless, each and every year a new batch of these new CDs comes out.

Most of these CDs are pretty awful. More recently, they've become brutally bad as digital technology has allowed producers to do weird things to distort the human voices. This is not surprising since one should not expect much from Jewish music that comes not from a spontaneously overflowing heart, not from devaykus (attachment) to the Master of the Universe, but from an underflowing bank account.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Macaroons: Postscript

I just got back from working out for the first time since Erev Pesach. I weighed myself, expecting to have gained five pounds owing to the fact that I hadn't worked out in over a week, ate abundant amounts of food, especially on the five of eight days that were either Yom Tov or Shabbos, and snacked on potato chips, potato sticks and ice cream (which I almost never do except for Pesach). Instead, I tipped the scale one pound lighter than before Pesach. Nissim v'nifla'os.

Could it be because I stayed away from macaroons and Pesach cakes?

Sklaro, I'm posting this for you because I know you hang on my every word.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Bedikas Chametz II

In response to my latest post regarding the aberrant Chassidic Jewish Music performer in which I sited Blog in Dm's call for action, a reader suggested that while the blogging world might not be able to make an impact in the physical JM world, it might in the cyber world. He suggested an email campaign to, a popular website that plays JM music and related features, suggesting that they refrain from playing this musician's recordings.

While I actually think that, under certain circumstances, the blogging world can make a difference in the 'physical world', I also think that the reader's idea is a good place to start.

FivetownRadio's email address is "mail at (@)"

Jewish Action/Jewish Blogging

An interesting column in the Spring 5764 issue of Jewish Action (the OU's quarterly publication) on Jewish blogging that I first identified here on March 17th is now online.

Torah Umadda or Torah V'taiva??

Also in the current issue of Jewish Action is a series of articles commemorating Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's 70th birthday. Most fascinating is an exchange between Dr. William Kolbrener, a professor at Bar Ilan University and Rav Lichtenstein himself. Dr. Kolbrener critically examines Rav Lichtensteins 1997 seminal essay, "Torah and General Culture: Confluence and Conflict" in relation to the current academic scene. (You will have to scroll down a couple of pages on the PDF file to get to the exchange).

I have read Dr. Kolbrener's essay but not Rav Lichtenstein's response. I will comment after I have had a chance to read through both a couple of times. They both use a lot of big words so I have to really concentrate.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Kosher Fantasy Baseball

I knew it was only a matter of time, but you can now sign up for a glatt kosher Mets fantasy baseball camp in Port St. Lucie. It's only about $1,000 a day for four days. Hurry, there's only 96 spots!

I love baseball as much as the next guy but this seems a little ridiculous to me. Imagine. You get to spend a few days with a bunch of vulgar, washed-up, out-of-shape, philandering, tobacco-chewing, alcohol-abusing ex-jocks. And they aren't even Yankees!

You do get to run around in authentic Mets uniforms. What a thrill!

Does our frivolity know no bounds?
Bizarro Sklaro World

Sklaro World is the often-amusing blog of a young, foulmouthed and angry MO man who lives in a strange and bizarre alternate universe (and I don't mean Chicago, the place on this planet that he calls home).

Among his least-strange attributes is that he is a vegetarian. Not only that, but he seems to be a good candidate for the presidency of PETA since he continuously rants about the virtues of vegetarianism and how disgusting eating meat really is. He also likes to post gross pictures of animals in various stages of slaughter and rail against the current practice of shechita (to wit, not stunning the animals prior to slaughter).

I have nothing against vegetarians. Some of my best friends are vegetarians (actually, that's not really true but I couldn't resist that line...My good friends go out at least once a week to Hapisgah steakhouse in Queens and order the biggest steaks in the house). And, Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook, ZT'L, was a vegetarian (although he reportedly had a little chicken soup on Friday night L'kavod Shabbos).

Anyway, as a public service to Sklaro World and those contemplating vegetarianism, I offer up this topical article that I saw at

I have to go now, my chicken salad is waiting.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Bedikas Chametz

In all of the Chassideshe seforim, bedikas chametz (the search for unleavened bread)symbolizes not just a physical, external search for chametz, but an internal search for spiritual 'chametz'. In other words, a time for introspection, for a chesbon hanefesh.

In his Shabbos Hagadol drasha Blog in Dm's Rav employed this theme and Dm follows suit in his heartfelt call to his colleagues in the Jewish music business regarding its treatment of a JM personality who has engaged in very inappropriate conduct.

Blog in Dm first raised this issue a number of months ago, wondering how the JM music establishment would react to the public revelations about the performer (that were consistent with what everyone in the JM business already suspected or knew). I picked it up a few weeks ago when I saw an on line advertisement that prominently featured this performer.

Blog in Dm is disturbed by the fact that the JM business is, in fact, doing nothing, acting as if nothing had happened. He offers a call to action with very specific suggestions as to what should be done.

I remain skeptical that the JM insiders will put aside their focus on money and take any of the sensible, concrete steps suggested by Dm. I hope I am wrong and that in the spirit of Bedikas Chametz they come to terms with the rot that is afflicting their business.

Monday, April 05, 2004

A Freilichin Pesach

The holy Rebbe, Reb Naftali Rufshitzer, once said that Yiddin have it backwards when it comes to greeting one another on Purim and Pesach. On Purim people generally say have a freilichin (joyous) Purim and on Pesach they say have a kosherin (kosher) Pesach.

The Rebbe said, fakeirt. We should be saying have a kosherin Purim and a frielichin Pesach. On Purim we sometimes get carried away with the drinking and we have to remember to keep it kosher. On Pesach we tend to get so bogged down with the cleaning, cooking and focus on strictly observing all the mitzvos that we lose sight of the simchas Yom Tov.

So, a Freilichin Pesach to all.

May we merit to see the final redemption speedily in our days.
No More Dilemma

Yesterday, I was deciding whether to use our new Black & Decker "Gizmo" to grate the marror after using a hand grater for the past 30-plus years. My dilemma was solved last night as I tried the grater on potatoes I was grating for a potato kugel (My first cousin's recipe; a real Hungarian recipe and absolutely the best and most fattening potato kugel ever made). The Gizmo stunk. Maybe it can grate Parmesan cheese but it sure can't handle potatoes. Forget about the marror.

So, it's back to the hand grater for me. If only I could find my swim goggles.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Holiest Week of the Year IV

If, as my Rebbe says, this is perhaps the holiest week of the year, then today, Erev, Erev Pesach, may be the holiest day of the year.

After turning the kitchen over last night, the cooking for Pesach began this moning in earnest. At the same time, all of the Pesach stuff has to be brought out and inventoried and the holes filled in. Trips to the supermarket, a trip to the kailim mikvah (I don't recall ever celebrating a Pesach when I didn't have to go to the kailim mikvah to tovel something two days before Pesach). My oldest cleans the silver wine cups and seder plates. The youngest two are peeling vegetables for the soup and potato kugel. My older daughter is driving around town doing a few errands. My holy wife is surviving on fumes.

Take out food for lunch (that has to be eaten outside, of course). Dinner at a restaurant. B'dikas Chametz in a few hours.

On this day in particular I feel bad for people who go away for Pesach. Despite the hard work, there is such a geshmak in every little act. As I'm shleppping the dishes from the basement storage area I get a chill thinking about all the years that I've done this and all the memories of family around the seder table.

I'm crawling out of my skin in anticipation of the Seder.


My holy wife just bought a Black & Decker "Gizmo". It's an electric grater.

For over thirty years, it's been my job to grate the marror on Erev Pesach. I started doing it at my parents home and have done it wherever I've been since (mostly, Baruch Hashem, at our own seder). I use a very old hand grater that looks something like a rectangular squash racquet.

This is a seriously hard job since, to do it right, you have to sacrifice some of the skin on your knuckles and a little blood. At the same time, you can't help but cry because the fumes from the marror are so brutal (one time I wore swim goggles; they actually worked). My kids are always amused by my struggles.

I will have to decide tomorrow whether to take advantage of modern technolgy or stick to the old Mesorah. I don't know what to do.

Macaroons and Other Inedible Pesach Foods III

I want to be melamed zchus on the Chag of Pesach (as well as perform a public service) so I want to identify some good desserts for Pesach despite my earlier posts to the contrary.

Pistachio Nuts
Fruit (for women, anyway)
fruit rolls
Potato chips
Potato sticks
Ice Cream

If you stick to these and stay away from the macaroons and cakes, you'll be safe.

Friday, April 02, 2004

The Holiest Week of the Year III

The self-cleaning feature on one of our two ovens broke last night. The repairman came this morning and said that if he orders the part today, it will come in next week. That helps.

According to my Rebbe, we (what do I mean we, kimosabi?; my wife) have to clean it with Easy Off, wait 24 hours and then burn it off for a couple of hours. Just like the old days.

Speaking of the old days, I wonder what my alter bubbe from the shtetl, z'l, would have thought had she seen Brachs. Gevalt. It's probably bigger than her entire shtetl.

Have a great and meaningful Shabbos Hagadol.

Mi K'amcha Yisrael

I found out in shul on Wednesday morning that a prominent member of my community was diagnosed with a very serious, life-threatening disease. He checked into the hospital that morning.

Emails went out Wednesday through the various shul and community email lists asking that people say Tehilim and that donations of blood be made on his behalf at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. Someone I know called the hospital on Wednesday evening and was told that they had enough blood. An email to that effect went out yesterday.

Last night his shul hosted a Tehillim gathering on his behalf. It was completely SRO, attended by members of many of the shuls from the community.

I am also sure that the nashim tzidkanious of the community have already arranged to provide meals for the family for the foreseeable future.

Mi K'amcha Yisrael. Who is like Your nation, Israel?

It is especially at times like this that I thank the Ribbono Shel Olam for all He has blessed me with and for creating me as a Yid.

May Hashem grant a refuah sh'leimah b'karov mamash to Yakov Shmuel ben Yehudis.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Holiest Week of the Year II

Just called home. Leftover spaghetti for dinner tonight. Is this mesiras nefesh or what?
Hagadah Advice

Every year I try to buy at least one new hagadah and spend some time before the chag looking for nice things to bring to the seder. Last year a friend from Israel brought me a Carlebach hagadah in Hebrew (not the English one that is very popular but was somewhat disappointing). It was a little, orange softcover and was really a treat.

This year I got a copy of Tiferes Shimshon, a beautiful hagadah, also in Hebrew, that is a compilation of the teachings on Pesach and the hagadah from Rav Shimshon Dovid Pinkus, ZT'L, who died tragically in an auto accident a few years ago in Eretz Yisrael.

The Torahs are so sweet and beautiful (and many are very short). They are the types of ideas that are perfect for giving over to children at the seder table. Also helpful is that the essays are mainly transcriptions in modern Hebrew of sichos from Rav Pinkus (rather than his original writings) that are much easier to read for someone whose Hebrew is just OK and who is not used to reading "sefer Hebrew".

Macaroons (II) and Other Inedible Pesach Foods

Simcha of Hirhurim, in response to my post about macaroons, suggests that chocolate macaroons are "tolerable". Assuming for the sake of argument that he is correct (which he is not), my question is: so what?

Would you go the bakery on a normal Friday morning and order a dessert that is "tolerable"? Of course not. Why would you eat something for dessert on Pesach that is only tolerable?

While I'm on the topic. Did you ever try Pesach cereal? It's very similar to eating a Styrofoam coffee cup. Yet we serve them up to our kids year after year.

What about the potato starch cake mixes (or, for that matter, cakes sold in the stores)? I'd rather have marror for dessert. Can anyone can tell me the difference between cardboard and those cakes?

There's plenty of great food that you can eat for Pesach. Desserts and cereals are not among them.