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

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

World War IV...

...According to Norman Podhoretz, in the September Commentary.

As a policy matter I never discuss politics on this blog. I leave that to bloggers far less qualified than I. Nevertheless, I think the Podhoretz article is brilliant and should be required reading.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Giving 110%

On my Bike.
When Did They Reduce The Minimum Age for Cops... 16?

Walking from Penn Station to work today, there were cops everywhere. In Penn Station itself there were groups of 4 or 5 cops every few feet (to be honest, I didn't take that much comfort; they seemed to be shmoozing amongst themselves and checking out the young ladies passing by).

When I got to Fifth Avenue, there were cops directing traffic at every crossroad. The cops at these stations looked to be no more than 16. Someone told me that the City put all the trainees from the Police Academy in uniform for the Convention. That must be it. But they looked young even for that.

Maybe I'm getting old.

Friday, August 27, 2004

The First...


Next week will be a propitious time to commit a crime in New York City so long as you stay away from the area surrounding Madison Square Garden. The outer boroughs would appear to be particularly attractive.

Since there are (already) cops stationed every ten feet in Penn Station and the blocks and avenues around the Garden, it doesn't seem possible that there can be any others anywhere else in the City. Have fun.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Ruach Hakodesh

In response to the Jewish Blogmeister's view that it was ok for Jewish musicians to do stuff to make parnasah, I commented that:

I am not suggesting that song writers be destitute. I am suggesting that if money is the only factor motivating the writing of a song, it's unlikely that any particular ruach hakodesh is going to come down to you in the process.
He responds:

I think he makes a very valid point there is only one problem.. There is no more ruach hakodesh. The last person documented with ruach hakodesh was the Premishlaner (I can see an argument brewing here).
Let the argument commence. Who says there is no ruach hakodesh? There is no nevuah. There is ruach hakodesh every day. When talmidei chachamim work out a chidush and when real musicians bring down a real niggun, it's ruach hakodesh.
What Would the Chafetz Chaim Say?

I am confused about how to react to what is going on in the J press and J Blogosphere regarding allegations of sexual abuse against a prominent Rabbi.

The immediate source of my confusion is something I read this very morning in the English translation of Sefer Chofetz Chaim called "Chafetz Chaim: A Lesson A Day".

For the past couple of years, MHW has been (unsuccessfully) urging me to read the daily section of the book that includes a piece from the sefer Chafetz Chaim and a piece from the sefer Shmiras Halashon. MHW has been doing this for the past five years or so.

(Blogger's Note: Anyone who knows me and MHW will find this pretty amusing. In our 23 years together, I don't recall MHW ever saying anything even remotely negative about anyone. Let's just say the same cannot be said about me. So, of course, she is the one reading about lashon harah every day and I am the one avoiding the sefer).

Last week I was recruited to join a community effort on behalf of a friend who is battling Oso Hamachlah to do what MHW has been asking me to do for so long. This time, starting Rosh Chodesh Elul, I took up the challenge, and have been faithfully following the schedule.

Today's lesson (we are on our own schedule, not the schedule in the sefer) says the following:

A derogatory statement is considered loshon hora even when the information is common knowledge for, as stated above, to speak negatively of one’s fellow Jew is shameful in itself.

Negative information about Jews appearing in newspapers may not be repeated. Newspapers often publish articles based on hearsay and thus, one is not even permitted to believe such information if the newspaper is its only source. Even after one has verified the information, he may nevertheless not repeat it.
Luke links to an interesting summary by R. Yosef Abramowitz of Jewish sources for ethical journalism that would perhaps carve out from the prohibitions of the Chafetz Chaim the instant situation:

Based on the above and other citations, a while (sic; should be 'wide') body of law developed elevating the value of a reputation of an individual in society. It was prohibited to say, and later, print anything (often even true) which could damage the standing of the individual. The rationale was that if people were created in G-d's image, then they must be given respect. The exceptions, based on the Biblical phrase that "You shall not stand idly by the blood of your fellow" (Lev. 19:16), relate to warning the public in order to prevent more sins from being committed.
On the other hand, he writes:

In general, Jewish law commands giving everyone the benefit of the doubt ("You shall judge your fellow favorably," Lev. 19:15). Therefore, Jewish law would prohibit the widespread journalistic practice of printing the names of people arrested prior to a guilty verdict in court. However, a strong case could be made that if potentially dangerous people were let out on bail, that the community should be publicly notified.
I (and Hasidic Musician) have, in the past, taken a very strong position in this space against a certain Shiny Shoe singer who has been accused of the most heinous acts of sexual behavior with minors (and against the J music establishment that has protected, and continues to protect, him). Cookie has passionately disagreed with my actions, based largely on her reading of Chafetz Chaim and Shmiras Halashon.

Both Blog in Dm and I sought rabbinic guidance in that instance and were permitted to go forward, presumably on the basis of the pasuk:

"You shall not stand idly by the blood of your fellow".

(As an aside, our efforts were spectacularly ineffective since this singer, after hibernating for less than a year, is once again a shainer Yid, back in the concert and wedding scene and about to release a new CD).

So, my thinking goes as follows: In the Lanner case, it was only because of the revelation by Jewish Week that authorities took action. Publishing that article, then, seemed clearly to be a case of 'not standing idly by'. When Blog in Dm and I tried to get something going with the J Music predator, it, too, was a case of not standing idly by because no one else in authority was doing anything about it. Here, it seems, the RCA is undertaking an investigation (whether it is doing so only because they knew the issue was about to be exposed is another question). What category does publishing or blogging this fall into?

I don't know.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

More J Music Blogging

The Jewish Blogmeister weighs in.

Hat tip to our J music Rebbe, Blog in Dm.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I Aways Wanted to be...

A Redhead
Is Art Howe Dumber Than a Doorknob?

I rarely write about sports but I am moved to discuss how strikingly bad a manager Art Howe is. The only reason he won in Oakland was because Billy Beane kept him on a very tight leash and wouldn't let him do stupid things. Had the Mets simply read Michael Lewis's book, "Moneyball" they would have discovered this and might have thought twice about hiring him for many millions of dollars.

The reason I raise this now is because of Howe's handling of Barry Bonds this past weekend. Barry Bonds is certainly the greatest baseball player of the generation. The year he is having in 2004 is statistically almost beyond belief. He has 286 official at bats and has walked a mind-boggling 176 times. He has 35 home runs (about once every 8 official at bats), 79 RBI, his OBS is .612!!, his slugging percentage is .822, his OPS is 1434 and (Ben knows his NOPS). He has struck out only 24 times.

Virtually every other team in the Major Leagues has decided to pitch around Bonds. Many have decided to walk him intentionally (or semi-intentionally) in virtually every situation, even when there is no one else on base and even when he represents the tying or go-ahead run. These teams believe that it is not a good idea to let the best player in baseball beat you. They would rather take their chances with the rest of the San Francisco Giants, none of whom compares with Bonds.

But not Art Howe. He knows better. He's macho. So, he decided to pitch to Bonds during the three games series. In the first two games all Bonds did was get 7 hits out of 8 official at bats. He also walked twice so he was on base 9 of ten times. Although he did not homer, he smacked four balls, each of which hit a different wall in his home park.

This was not enough to convince Howe of the error of his ways. On Sunday, he decided to pitch to Bonds again with a runner on base in the first inning. Result: two-run homer. Result. Mets lose by two runs.

When asked whether the weekend results would change his view on pitching to Bonds, Howe replied: "I don't know".

Ich kenesht.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Cooked and Frozen

Riding with MoC
A Story About Talent

Apropos of my recent post on talent, a story I heard from a friend:

Shaindel came home from a date and told her father that she wanted to marry Yankle.

"What does Yankle do?" asked the father?

"He's a Chazan (Cantor)" replied Shaindel.

"A Chazan? Absolutely not! I won't let you marry a Chazan," said the father.

"But Daddy, I love Yankle. I want to marry him!"

"No Chazanim. Absolutely not."

"But Daddy. Please, give him a chance! At least listen to him daven!"

Reluctantly, the father agreed and the next Shabbos went to the shul where Yankel davens for the amud.

Shaindel waited anxiously for her father's return.

When he arrived the father said. "OK. You can marry Yankle."

"But daddy, I thought you wouldn't let me marry a chazan."

"Nisht kan Chazan" replied the father.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Velvel's Chitzonius

Psycho Toddler started a thread on studio musicians that was picked up by Blog in Dm and authoritatively summarized by Velvel, who went in a slightly expansive direction.

Velvel talks about the difference between Jewish Folk Rock (JFR) and Shiny Shoe music as being a result of the difference not of motivation (as I have frequently posted) but of focus. In the Shiny Shoe world the focus is the singer/producer and in JFR it is the band/songwriter.

I think Velvel is right but wrong. I agree with everything he describes. The difference between my theory and his is the difference between a Chassid and a not-yet Chassid. He is looking at the chitzonius (the exterior reasons). I am looking at the penimius, the deeper reasons. I still hold that the reason Shiny Shoe music stinks is because the people writing the songs and producing the CDs are in it largely to make money. Period. Everything else is details.

A couple of months ago I was talking to my Rebbe about Jewish music. A couple of folk-rocky, post Carlebach, non-Shiny Shoe CDs had been released in the previous few months. It seemed clear that the artists and producers putting out these CDs were motivated by all the right things and were not doing it for the money or fame. Nevertheless, the CDs were, IMHO, derivative and not particularly melodic. Mediocre, at best.

(Indeed, there are many groups like that out there and I have met a number of them. They are very sweet and real and all they want to do is inspire other Jews with their music. Unfortunately, they simply aren't particularly original or good.)

So, I asked my Rebbe: "I understand why Shiny Shoe music stinks. Most of it is written with gaiva (conceit) and is motivated by money. But these guys are motivated by the right things, are not ba'alei gaiva and are not in it for the money. Rebbe, why does their music stink?"

Expecting a very deep, Kabbalistic response, I was surprised by his simple answer: "Because they have no talent. You can have all the right motivations but if you have no talent you will not produce nice music."

We talked for another few minutes. The Rebbe pointed out that this applies to many people in many pursuits. You can have the purest intentions but if you are not suited to the task it can be a bracha livatalah (lit. wasted blessing).

My Rebbe has often explained that part of the avodah of a G-d fearing Jew is to figure out why he was put on this Earth. He has often told the story of the stingy gvir (rich person) who was saying Tehillim after davening on Kol Nidre night. The Rebbe (I forget which one) approached. The gvir expected the Rebbe to sing his praises for his diligence. Instead, the Rebbe admonished him. He said being a Tehillim zuger is nice but your tafkid is to give tzedakah. You can leave the Tehillim for the aniyim (poor people).

I have repeatedly seen people doing things for which they are either unsuited or, at best, have no distinctive talent.

At the silliest level, it seems that the men who have the biggest taiva for the amud are the ones with the least amount of talent. On a more serious note, I have met people who, with great mesiras nefesh, learn all day (I'm talking about diligent people, not jokers supposedly in kollel who roll into the bais medrash at 10 a.m.) who, nebech, are just not that sharp and will never be talmidei chachamim. I have met many teachers who have absolutely no aptitude for the calling but feel that it is their life's work. If these people are fortunate, they soon discover for themselves that they are not meant for the job and find something else to do. If they are not so fortunate, the consequences, both to them and the children they teach, can be very sad.

(The flip side of this is that there are many professionals who give shiurim who are such spectacular teachers that one feels it is a shame that they are 'wasting their time' in a courtroom or office and not teaching our kids.)

Getting back to my starting point, I think that it is probably easier to delude oneself when it comes to music or the arts, which are so subjective, and where, I suspect, the taiva is the greatest.

May we all be zoche to figure out what it is the Master of the Universe really wants us to be doing.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

I'm Not Just Doomed, I'm Totally Doomed.

When I got back from shul last night I saw on the kitchen counter a package of beans. Gevalt!, I thought. MHW has decided to make a chulent for Shabbos and, after years of refusing to use beans in the chulent has finally seen the light and realized that making chulent without beans is like making meatballs with ground turkey rather than ground beef (oh...wait, she does that too!).

Upon examiming the package more closely, I discovered that the beans were not chulent beans at all. They were for growing bean sprouts.

Woe is me.
Elul Guilt Trip

My Elul started with a Chassidishe shnorrer laying a huge guilt trip on me.

Yesterday evening at shul, I was finishing Mincha by saying the additional tefilah, "L'Dovid Hashem Ori V'Yishi". (In shuls that daven nusach Ashkenaz, L'Dovid is said after Maariv). I find L'Dovid to be one of the most moving and beautiful tefilos and that concentrating on the words helps me, perhaps more than anything else, prepare for the Yomim Noraim.

Literally as I was saying the words, "Achas Sha'alti...." ("One thing I ask of Hashem; permit me to dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life"), the Chassid approached and started talking to me. I politely gestured to my siddur to show him that I was in the middle of davening. I resumed my davening and he immediately started to talk to me again. This time I snapped: "Can't you see that I'm davening!?!" This time he stopped.

As soon as Kaddish was over, the Chassid, in from Israel, apologized and asked my permission (I was the ranking shul officer at Mincha) to make an announcement prior to Maariv explaining his sorry personal plight and request help. I agreed.

The rest of the night I felt guilty for snapping at him. Can one "dwell in the house of the Lord" when he snaps at unfortunate Yiddin in need of help? What would MHW have done? Surely not snapped at him. (I am not justifying his behavior; as desperate as he may have been, it is improper to interrupt someone who is clearly davening unless it is an immediate danger). I am trying to work on my patience and tolerance but feel that I failed my first Elul test.

Postscript: With the coming of Elul comes the onslaught of shul meshulachim. There were no fewer than four of them from Eretz Yisrael last night during mincha/maariv.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

A Leisurely Ride...

...With MHW

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Playing Hookey

To ride my bike.

It dawned on me yesterday that I don't have anything interesting to say. Many probably think I never had anything interesting to say but that's a different issue. Consequently, I think I'm going to take some time off from blogging.

I will continue to keep my bike training diary because I enjoy putting down my thoughts about riding even though I'm probably the only one who reads it (I haven't bothered to insert a site meter there).

This hiatus may last a day, it may last a week, it may last longer. I feel that I've overstayed my welcome and I don't feel like posting just for the sake of posting.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Two Flats and $80 Later...

We had a great ride.

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Educational Implications...

of the Teachings of the Rav by Rabbi Tzvi Pittinsky

He's looking for feedback
Happy Anniversary

Today, the 26th of Av, is our anniversary.

I keep wondering....What could MHV possibly have been thinking when she said yes?

Devorah, The Lone Ortho, gives her take on the TV issue.

I certainly commend those who have pulled the plug in their own homes. However, I get a bit annoyed when people use owning a TV as some sort of religious litmus test. Now in addition to asking what kind of tablecloth you use on Shabbos, the new standard seems to be whether or not you would watch TV. Now, I’ve certainly been posed sillier questions. But I guess I don’t consider it to be a “make-it-or-break-it” issue. Though I’m not intent on having a TV in my house, I wouldn’t nix a guy just because might want one. It just seems a bit too trivial.

But here’s the part that really got under my skin. A friend of mine told me that if you’re someone who’s not anti-TV, but could certainly live without one, you have to lie and say you wouldn’t allow a TV in your home under any circumstances, since the boys comparable to you are also instructed to lie. That’s how the game works, period. Sigh…
I hadn't thought about the TV issue in that way, as a religious litmus test. I guess if you are younger and in the shidduch phase of life these issues rear their ugly heads.

A few more of my own thoughts while I'm on the topic.

This issue can be approached from two directions, as it says in the 34th chapter of Tehillim, "Sur Mai'rah V'aseih Tov" (Run from evil and do good deeds). While I could (and might one day) go on and on about all the negatives of the having a TV, it isn't even necessary to go there. I think it is more persuasive to talk about the positive aspects of not having a TV (And, indeed, this is really the thrust of Chava Willig Levy's article).

Before we ditched the TV, my watching habits were limited mainly to sports (mostly baseball and hockey; I like hockey so much I would even watch a game between the Saskatchawan Hoboes and the Alberta Aligators) and a few of the 10 p.m. shows. Since we ditched the TV I have learned more, I have read WAY more, I have spoken with my children more and, mainly, MHW and I have had much more time to actually talk to one another.

And that is just me. Our children have benefitted in incalculable ways. There is a quiet and calmness that pervades our home that never existed before.

Do I miss the sports? I still listen to an inning or two of the Yankees on the radio and find I enjoy listening to games as much as watching them. After a few months, I stopped missing the hockey. Do I miss the 10 p.m. dramas? Actually, I can't believe I wasted so much time over the years watching that silly stuff.

Do my kids miss it? My daughters not at all. My younger son misses the sports and watches an occasional game at friends' houses.

When people ask me, I tell them that ditching the TV will change your lives for the better in ways you can't even imagine. I also tell young couples (when they ask; I am not a missionary on this issue) to begin their lives together without a TV and, if they already have one, to get rid of it before they start a family.

So, to Devorah, I would say, while perhaps it shouldn't be a religious litmus test, it is far from trivial.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

TV or Not TV II

I recently linked, without comment, to an article by Chava Willig Levy in which she describes her decision to get rid of the TV. Elf and Sarah picked up on this article as well. Their thoughts, and the comments on each post, are worthwhile reading.

I did not comment at the time of my first post because I have very strong, perhaps radical, views on the subject and did not have the energy to deal with the inevitable comments that would have followed (accusing me of being Taliban, yada yada, yada).

Suffice it to say that we ditched our TVs three years ago and the anniversary of that decision should be a yom tov in our home.
Wedding Deci-Bells

Hasidic Musician highlights Cheryl Kupfer's rant in the Jewish Press regarding the high volume of the music at weddings.

I have walked out of a number of simchas because of the ear-splitting decibel levels. And, when we recently had a simcha, I was very makpid on the issue. I e-mailed the band leader around ten times before the simcha reminding him that I wanted the volume controlled. At the simcha itself, I designated one of my friends to do hang out while the band did its sound check before the simcha started.

The question is why is it so loud?

My bandleader explained that what sometimes happens is that the lead singer or one of the musicians can't hear himself in the monitors and asks the sound guy (or the band member running the sound system) to pump up the volume in his mic or connection. This causes a vicious cycle where all the other musicians ask for more volume because they now can't hear themselves. The result: Ridiculous decibel levels. It sounds reasonable but I am not a musician so I don't really know.

May I suggest another reason? Insecurity bourne of years of exposure to shiny shoe music. In the shiny shoe music velt arrangers and producers try to mask essentially mediocre to lousy music with over-the-top arrangements. If they add enough synthesizers, horns and violins they figure that maybe nobody will notice that the underlying melody stinks. Perhaps this attitude has permeated some of the bands. Play loudly enough and no one will focus on whether we're really good. I don't know; it's a s'fara.

I could be wrong. It's happened before.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004


Most of the things I listed that drive me crazy are really stupid. It's ironic that such silly things drive me nuts because, in general, I deal very well with the big picture items. I almost never lose my temper and I almost never raise my voice. I don't think I've raised my voice at work more than 3 times in 24 years. But if someone davens with the wrong nusach, I stew.

What is the proper approach to overcoming this goofiness?

I know it can be done because when I was younger traffic used to make me meshugah. Now, it doesn't bother me because I really worked on not letting it bother me. What's the key?

I think intolerance results when two closely-related midos come together and a third midah is missing: gaiva and ka'as (self-importance or conceit and anger) are abundant while the ability to be dan l'kaf z'chus (judge others favorably) is missing. If one thinks that the world revolves around him then he will be bothered by anything that doesn't conform exactly to his way of thinking and will not give the benefit of the doubt in connection with that matter. So, for example, if I get upset that someone mumbles when he davens for the amud it's because in my world view, someone who can't pronounce the words shouldn't be matriach the oilam by davening for the amud. And, my ka'as, which is just the flip side of gaiva, kicks in. The other way to look at this, of course, (and the way MHW looks at everything), is "Ok, it's true he's mumbling but he's trying hard. And, you have to give him credit. He's a Ba'al Teshuva who just recently learned how to read Hebrew and has so much respect for his departed parent that he wants to honor him by davening for the amud during his year of aveilus (mourning)."

In every situation there is some way (sometimes, admittedly, not so easy), to find an excuse for someone's behavior. I have heard Rav Yissocher Frand say that if you've tried every which way to be dan l'kaf z'chus and just can't find an opening it's better to conclude that the person is just not too smart rather than thinking bad about him (midah-wise).

Now, of course, the trick is to put this plan into action. With just a few days to go before Rosh Chodesh Elul, it's a good time to start trying.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

I'm Doomed

Not only did MHW host Dina Solomon's vegetarian cooking class tonight, she purchased Dina's cookbook, "Wild Figs For Breakfast: A Kosher Vegetarian Cookbook".

For my part, I rode my bike and then went out for a super deluxe hamburger.
Shul Schnorers

An issue that I have been thinking about for some time is what is the appropriate way to deal with the endless stream ofcollectors who come around to shuls? The issue came up specifically the other day when one of the collectors who comes to my shul every week reeked of cigarette smoke. It bothered me that I was giving tzeddakah to a guy who was then blowing at least part of the money on cigarettes at some ridiculous amount per pack. Then, when I thought about it some more, it bothered me that I was thinking that way.

I think that shul collectors can be divided into three groups.

Chassidim, Russians and collectors from kollelim, usually from Eretz Yisrael.

A little more background. The collectors in the first two categories usually come in waves. The Chassidim usually in groups of two or three and the Russians in groups of four or five. The Chassidim hire car services and make the rounds of the shuls. The Russians also hire car services and either make the rounds or station themselves in a particular shul. (In my neighborhood, the YI of Woodmere is very popular because hundreds of men pass through each morning). The third group are more ad hoc.

Many shuls, but not mine, do not permit the collectors to enter the sanctuary. In those shuls, the collectors block your exit and hit you up on your way out. It is very annoying when collectors shnor during davening. While the Chassidim generally know when it is not appropriate to collect (like during kedushah) the Russians don't.

I have always given to the Chassidim because I was brought up to give tzeddakah to anyone who asks. I don't know whether they are con men or legitimate and I never really gave it much thought (until the smoking incident). Same with the collectors from Israel. The group that I find the most troublesome is the Russians. Although they put on yarmulkahs and learn a few words of Yiddish, they are not frum (some have suggested that some of them are not even Jewish). I think it is clear that these guys are con men and that this is their 'job'. Going against my grain, I do not give money to the Russians.

I think my initial reaction regarding the smoking was also wrong. It is not for me to judge. If I were in a situation where I had to collect, I might be a smoker too.

As far as the Russians, I don't think we should be encouraging them by giving them money.

Many community Rabbanim are also very against the idea of giving any of these collectors anything with the exception of collectors from yeshivas or other organizations who get a certificate from the Rabbi that they are legitimate.

Monday, August 09, 2004

How Are the Mighty Fallen

Tomorrow night MHW is hosting a shul Sisterhood-sponsored VEGETARIAN cooking class given by Dina Solomon (of Moshav Meor Modi'in). In our house!!! A vegetarian cooking class!!

I am a past president of the shul. When the current president announced the class after musaf on Shabbos, the Rebbe turned to me and quipped, "This never would have happened during your administration!"

Prodly is cordially invited on his way to Coventry.
Sports in The Yeshiva Classroom

One of the 56 things that rubs Barry Katz the wrong way is "Rabbis talking sports".

When you think about things logically, you realize that following sports is a senseless, illogical waste of time. It's just plain stupid....

Which brings me to rabbeim. Is there anything wrong halachicly with following sports? Probably not. So why does it bug me when rabbeim talk sports? Because to me, it shows that they lack the insight that sports is stupidity. Does that mean I think they're morons? No.

What bothers me is that I expect rabbeim to be above the fray, not one of the guys, and talking sports makes them look like they are trying to show how with it they are, and I don't dig that. And again, I expect them to be at a point where their intellect is such that they think sports is junk.

Now that doesn't mean that a rebbe can't be into sports. Maybe he got into it as a kid and hasn't been able to shake it. Fine. I understand that it's an enormous yetzer hara, and the rebbe also needs an outlet - that's all well and good. Just don't talk sports. Read the papers if you want, watch and listen to the games, fine. Just don't discuss it with your students or congregants.

Of course, in a kiruv situation, maybe I can understand - the rebbe has to show the guys that he's cool. But for a typical black-hat yevisha, I don't see the logic. I've had rabbeim who never mentioned the Mets or Yankees, and nobody thought they were nerds. Some of these rabbeim were more with it and more respected than the ones who walked in asking whether the Mets won or lost last night.

There's no need. In the long run, I lose respect for them, thinking, this rebbe is supposed to be on a high madreiga, not on my and my classmates' levels. So if the rebbe likes sports, he ought to keep it to himself. And if you think your rebbe's spaced out because he doesn't follow sports, you've got serious issues.
I disagree with virtually everything Barry Katz has ever written on his blog but never more than with this post. It is pashut that a Rebbe who is tuned into sports and uses it properly can reach elementary school to high school boys in a way that rebbeim that are not so versed cannot. A skillful rebbe will use that knowledge to engage the boys interest. A very skillful rebbe will adapt sports into the curriculum itself. There are many lessons that can be learned from sports.

Let me give three examples that popped into my head from recent sporting events.

1. Greg (Mad Dog) Maddox just won his 300th game as a pitcher. He is, without question, one of the greatest pitchers ever to play in the Major Leagues. What makes him special is that he is not especially big or strong and doesn't throw the ball 95 mph. He has won with pinpoint control and his wits. (His nickname, Mad Dog, is an ironic joke; he looks like a professor).

2. Lance Armstrong came back from cancer to win the last six Tours de France. His determination in overcoming the disease was inspiring. His amazing preparation for the Tours de France and his incredible will to win were also inspiring. (Someone pointed out that since he divorced his wife and is living with Sheryl Crow he is pasul as a role model; I concede the specific point but my general point stands.)

3. As discussed here, Lance Armstrong crushed an opponent (in an entirely legal way) when he did not have to, only to settle a score. Was that ethical? Was it yashar? What would Shulchan Aruch say? Assuming the S.A. said it was technically OK, what about the concept of 'lifnim m'shuras ha'din'? What would the hashkafic seforim say?

It doesn't take much imagination to see how a skillful rebbe could use these examples to make important points.

One might ask, why delve into the world of sports to find this mashals? Because most boys either relate to sports or live for sports. That's a fact. And, it goes especially for the MO world, and, yes, even for the Yeshivish world.

Finally, my own anecdotal experience completely bears this out. The rebbeim that related best to our two sons and their classmates were the ones that used (and, better yet, played) sports to their advantage.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

A Wonderful Morning Ride...

But Why Am I So Slow?
The Final Word...

On the so-called Charedi-MO rift.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Riding With My Son

A blessing.
The Death of a Child

Yesterday, MHW called with the news that Chasyah Nechamah Liba Bas Sagit had succumbed. She was 11. Baruch Dayan Ha'emes.

She had been chronically ill with a heart ailment that took a terrible turn for the worse in mid July. Nechamah had just started her session at Camp Simcha Special when this occurred. She was taken straight to the hospital and never recovered.

Nechamah was a friend of my little one. My little one is in sleepaway camp and might find out from someone else so MHW has to call her today. MHW asked me what she should say, as if I would know. I told her that the words would come to her. They always do when it comes to talking to our children.

MHW went to the levayah which was held at JFK. She said she couldn't hear the hespedim but it didn't really matter. The women, including a bunch of staff from Camp Simcha Special, were just crying and hugging each other the whole time. (The girls who work at Simcha and Simcha Special are extraordinary...but that is for another time).

As a parent, I can't even begin to imagine the pain her parents are experiencing. We have been given a window into this terrible world by Robert Avrech, but still....

May Hashem find a way to comfort Nechamah's parents and give them strength.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

I'm Back got back to me about my inability to access the blog from work and told me to clear my cookies. The only Cookie I know is here and I don't think she wants to be cleared, certainly not by me.

So, I assumed they meant something technical. I went to one of the company techies and he explained what to do. Mirculously, I followed his instructions and, viola!, I'm back in business. I am astounded. Should I say Hallel?

Speaking of Cookie, she appreciates that I refer to MW as MHW. If Cookie knew MW, she would know that she's H and that I am not just saying it. And, having met Velvel and HHW, I can tell you that Velvel means it, too.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004


This may come as a shock to followers of this blog but I think I suffer from a serious case of intolerance. (OTOH, it is good to see Barry Katz blogging because he makes me seem like Mr. open minded). As we head towards Elul, I will endeavor to work on this midah. MHW will be my role model since she has yet to say (nor, I bet, think) a bad word about anyone.

These are among the things that drive me crazy:

1. People who are late to shul
2. When I'm late to shul
3. People who daven for the amud and mumble
4. People who daven for the amud too fast
5. People who daven for the amud too slow
6. People who daven for the amud and don't know the nusach
7. People who smoke and put their arms around me
8. People who dress casually for Shabbos
9. People who live in the U.S., are over the age of 40 and whose ancestors come from Poland yet say Shabbat Shalom instead of Good Shabbos.
10. People who don't return a "good Shabbos" with a "good Shabbos" (or even a Shabbat Shalom)
11. Shiny Shoe music
12. "sefirah albums"
13. People who talk too loudly on cell phones while riding the LIRR
14. People who talk too loudly to each other on the LIRR
15. Anyone who bothers me while I'm riding the LIRR
16. People who say "between you and I"
17. Stupid advertisements in Jewish newspapers
18. Shmarya (most of the time) and Chakira (all of the time)

I'm sure there's more but it's late and I can't think of any more right now.

I will work on becoming more tolerant starting now. It's good to beat the Elul rush.
The Tepid European Reaction To the Generation's Greatest Rider

Because he's American
Newsday Does Tomatoes

Following MoC's thread, Newsday focuses on the chasivus of tomatoes.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

I Think I Need a Break

If all I can post about is the profundity of tomatoes, I think I need a break.
More on Tomatoes: The Weed/Tomato Conundrum

Why is it that one must plant tomatoes every single year but weeds grow perennially, when you don't even want them? In fact, if one does not mulch properly and completely, weeds will sprout given even the smallest opening. Tomatoes will grow strong and healthy only if properly watered and given appropriate sunlight. Weeds will grow under almost any circumstances. Once they have sprouted, if you don't pull them weeds will totally overwhelm tomato plants and choke them to death. This is all very frustrating and, I believe, yet another metaphor for life.

I think that weeds represent the yeitzer hara (evil inclination) and tomatoes the yeitzer tov (inclination for good).

The yeitzer tov must be planted and carefully nurtured. The yeitzer hara is always there, just waiting to sprout given even the tiniest opening. If one doesn't constantly check his or her yeitzer hara, it can easily overwhelm the good that one does.

So, life is NOT like a box of chocolates. It is like a tomato plant.

Monday, August 02, 2004


With so much of the J blogosphere focused on Monkey-gate, I decided to write about something equally as important, namely, tomatoes.

I have been growing tomatoes for the past 18 years and this year is no exception. Indeed, I am currently harvesting cherry tomatoes at such a rapid pace that I don't have enough relatives and friends to give them to.

I view growing tomatoes as a deep and profound metaphor for many aspects of life, in particular raising children.

When growing tomatoes one must must work hard to plant the seeds or saplings. One must mulch around the tomatoes and constantly be on guard for weeds. One must pick the tomatoes when they are ripe; not too early; they will be green, and not too late; they will split in half or get rotten on the vine. And, no matter what you do, there is an important element of siyata d'shmaya, Hashem's provenance. You can work as hard as you like but if there isn't enough rain and enough sun, you will not realize the best results. (This despite the existence of sprinkler systems. There is no comparison between sprinkler systems and rain, believe me).

So too, with children. So much work goes into producing the children beginning with the mother's pregnancy and labor and continuing for so many years. One must constantly be on guard for the 'weeds' that can badly influence your children (whether in the form of questionable friends or TV, movies and videos that are unsuitable). You must determine when your children are 'ripe'; how much freedom and independence to give them, when to pull back. And, of course, you need big helpings of siyata d'shmaya no matter what you do.

Baruch Hashem I have had success over the years with my tomatoes. I always daven that I have as much success with my kids.

Last night at 11:50 we received a phone call. I had only slept two hours on motsai Shabbos and had already fallen asleep half an hour earlier but MHW was still up. It was someone from OHEL Children's Home and Family Services on the line. They had an emergency placement requirement for a six-month old child. They were looking for someone in Brooklyn to take the baby but were having trouble. Could we take the baby? (One of the curious things about this episode is that MHW never once asked whether it was a boy or a girl!). MHW woke me up and we agreed to take the placement.

We have been certified as foster parents for OHEL for the past five years. During that time, we've taken two long term placements and a few short term 'respite' placements. We'd never been called upon to take an emergency placement before. (OHEL gets the first call for any Jewish child in the NYC foster care system. They have 24 hours to place the child with a Jewish home. If they can't, the child goes into the regular system and can be placed anywhere).

I got out of bed and pulled the crib from storage. I took out a screw driver and put the crib together. Our previous short term placement was also for a baby so I had been through this drill before. Last time it took me forever to figure out how to put the crib together (I'm not a Jewish carpenter) but this time it was up in ten minutes.

Literally the minute I finished the crib, OHEL called back to tell us that ACS, the city administrators of foster care, was not happy that OHEL was placing the baby outside of Brooklyn (where the baby came from). So, OHEL had kept calling until they found a suitable placement. We were off the hook.

MHW and I went back to bed at 12:30 a.m., relieved on the one hand, but strangely disappointed on the other (even though it would have required immense mesiras nefesh from MHW who has a full time job). It took me over an hour to get back to sleep. (Yet another example of the principle that no good deed goes unpunished).

We are always saddened to hear of these horrible circumstances where kids have to be pulled out of their homes, sometimes literally in the middle of the night. But we take chizzuk from the fact that OHEL is there. We are always awed by the people who work for OHEL who are on call 24/7 to deal with these situations.
Rough Morning

Starting with long lines at Dunkin Donuts.

Sunday, August 01, 2004


How stupid are the Mets? With only a handful of teams out of the playoff picture, the 'market' for players was completely overheated. Suffering from cognitive dissonance, the Mets were buyers when they should have been sellers.

When Michael Lewis asked the Oakland A's Billy Beane why he was willing to reveal his 'secrets' about baseball general management in Lewis's book, Moneyball, Beane replied that the other teams were too stupid too accept his 'radical' views. He obviously had the Mets in mind.
Bulb Night at MoC's

Tonight I changed seven or eight bulbs, five of which were in my den. My den had been down to one high hat when, after countless requests by MHW, I finally broke down and replaced the bulbs.

This raised a few questions in my head.

First, why, in a Jewish marriage, is it exclusively the husband's job to replace lightbulbs?

Second, what do single Jewish women do when their lightbulbs need to be changed?

Third, if the answer to the second question is that single Jewish women change their own lightbulbs then, why, in a Jewish marriage is it exclusively the husband's job to change the lightbulbs?

UPDATE: The Cookie Monster claims that not only does she change lightbulbs, she also takes out the garbage.