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

Monday, May 31, 2004

A Humbling Biking Experience

This morning at six I rode 24 miles in Central Park on my new bike. On Sunday, I rode 18 with my son who inherited my old Schwinn.

At the six mile mark, I caught and passed a woman who has riding a very fancy bike with aero bars. I was feeling pretty good about my riding. Then I caught this chunky guy in cargo shorts on a 10 speed that had to be at least 20 years old. I didn't even give him a second thought since there is no thrill in dropping chunky guys in cargo shorts riding ancient bikes.

To my chagrin, this guy kept catching and passing me for the next 12 miles! Every time I thought I finally lost him he would appear in the corner of my eye. My extra 17 gears and Spandex bib shorts didn't seem to be helping.

He finally disappeared after 12 miles and I finished another lap without him at my rear wheel.

For the entire 12 miles I was thinking of good reasons why I couldn't bury the guy. I'm much older. My calfs are half his size. I'm tired from yesterday. But "chunky guy in cargo shorts on a ten speed relic" came popping back into my head.

I finished my 24 miles in 93 minutes, approximately a 15.3 miles per hour pace. I have a lot of work to do before my bike tour.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Staying Home

Tamara addresses the issue of stay-at-home moms.

She writes:

I am not advocating that mothers not work outside the home. I do have my own biases. I believe very young children (under five years of age) benefit from having their own mothers as their primary caregivers (what a cold word!). This is why I choose to stay home with my children. I respect the right of other mothers to make different choices, ones that are appropriate for their families. I do find it very odd, though, that in this day and age one has to defend or justify the decision to do the most natural thing in the world.

My wife, like Tamara, stayed at home or worked very part time while our kids were little. When they got older, she specialized within her field such that she was able to work full time but was always home until the kids got on the school bus and always home when they got back. My wife never missed one school play, siddur presentation, chumash presentation, recital, performance, etc. (I also did my best to be at the vast majority of these).

It is a significant adjustment when your children begin to leave the nest, as ours are. It is comforting to know that you tried to do everything in your power to make your kids stimulated and secure, even just by being there. The time has passed so quickly and we will never have those special moments again. I'm glad we didn't miss them.

It may be politically incorrect to say but I couldn't agree more with Tamara.
I Love to Ride my NEW Bicycle

On Friday I picked up my new bike. I felt like a kid on Chanukah.

Sunday morning at 6 a.m. I was in Central Park testing it out. Gevalt. Although I love my 15-year-old Schwinn (now the proud possession of my oldest son; he isn't all that much older than the bike), this bike is ridiculously better. Much lighter. Triple crank (i.e., three chain rings in front, much better for climbing; the Schwinn was a double). The hand brakes double as gear shifters (the shifters are on the downtube of my Schwinn) making it SO much easier to shift. I knocked off 24 miles pretty easily. Next Sunday and Monday, IYH, 30 each morning.

The charity bike tour that I'm doing in Israel in October just announced the itinerary. Awesome. From Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev to Yerushalayim. On the last day, we ride from the lowest point on Earth literally (the Dead Sea, 400 meters BSL), to the highest place on Earth figuratively (Yerushalayim 800 meters ASL). I'm pumped.

(If anyone wants to join the tour, check out the website; it has all the info. If anyone wants to sponsor me (I'm supposed to raise at least $2,000 for the hospital) follow the instructions on the website and type in MoChassid as the rider).

Friday, May 21, 2004

Michalel Erev Shabbos

Last week I was michalel Erev Shabbos. I had to get on a conference call at 3 p.m. that was supposed to last until 4:30. That would have been bad enough but the call, on a tax related matter, went on for another hour. I didn't get home until 6:45 p.m. Even though Shabbos started around 7:40, we always daven at 7 during the summer so I had 15 minutes to shower, dress and get to shul. I was about 5 minutes late for mincha.

I try very hard to get home at least two hours before Shabbos, especially during the Summer. Unless one has the time to mentally prepare, it is very hard to make the transition from yemai hachol (the days of the week) to Shabbos.

In Eretz Yisrael, Erev Shabbos has its own mitsius; everything shuts down early and a calm takes over in the afternoon. In America, especially in the MO world, the chashivus (importance) of Erev Shabbos has largely been lost.

I am lucky to daven in a shul where the Kabbolas Shabbos is so intense that in spite of my lack of preparation last week, I was swept into Shabbos by Lecha Dodi.

I plan on being home well before Shabbos today. I will avoid telephone calls from tax lawyers today.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Oh Canada

I'm in Toronto on business for a couple of days.

Last night future Yankee Randy Johnson, The Unit, at age 40, pitched a perfect game, one of the most astounding and rare accomplishments in baseball. He was the oldest pitcher ever to do so.

On the Canadian Sports Center it received third billing after a review of the Flyers/Tampa Bay Hockey game of that night and the Calgary playoff game (against someone?) of the previous night.

Ich kenesht.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Misunderstanding Shaitels

Many of the Jblogs are focusing on the issue of the shaitels and whether ones from India are impermissible because the hair is donated as part of an avodas zarah (idolatry) ritual.

From an halachic standpoint the only thing that is clear is that nothing is yet completely clear. I suspect that over the next few days and weeks the rulings will get more crystallized.

Some of the posters and commentators are mocking the whole issue, the Gedolei Yisrael who are making very difficult halachic rulings, and the chareidim, particularly in Israel, who reacted to the initial ruling by getting rid of their 'tainted' shaitels. Many think this is just another silly 'chumrah' or, worse, part of a conspiracy by the makers of sheitels in order to rip off unsuspecting chareidi consumers.

Another interesting reaction that I have seen in a number of blogs and in many comments goes to the heart of the issue of shaitels. Many have questioned whether wearing a styled shaitel defeats the very purpose of covering one's hair. Interestingly, this issue has been brought up by people from the right as well as the left (but overwhelmingly from the left). The reactions from the right tend to suggest that women should revert the 'purer' form of covering hair, i.e., scarves, tiechels, hats or snoods. From the left some of the comments question the very validity of covering one's hair since it seems so hypocritical to put on a wig whose hair may be nicer than one's own. (This is a straw man that I will discuss below).

I've seen very few posts (but a number of comments) recognizing the amazing mesiras nefesh of women who are willing to get rid of an item of utmost importance and tremendous expense on the word of a gadol. Instead, these women have generally been mocked as mindless losers.

I've only seen one female blogger so far, Cookie, who is 'm'kabeles' of (accepts) the consequences of the ruling and is spending her time trying to figure out what to do.

I think that all the cynics among us should read her post. We should all be touched by her sincerity and yiras Shamayim. The way Cookie reacted is the way my wife and all the other women in my shul reacted over last weekend. The men joked around about it but we joke about everything. Nevertheless, we were prepared to deal with the consequences pending the resolution of the halachic issues and the sources of the sheital hair. As my Rav said, this matter should be a viewed as a huge limud z'chus on Klal Yisrael.

I've been thinking a lot about why this issue has attracted so much blogging attention. I think it's because the issue of a woman covering her hair is so central to the divide between the MO and Chareidi worlds and even within the MO world.

When a woman decides to cover her hair she is deciding much more than that. Assuming she is sincere and consistent, she is also committing to a specific lifestyle, not just for herself but for her whole family. There are many, many other things that come with covering hair. A woman who covers her hair won't wear pants. She won't go mixed swimming. She will dress modestly. She won't go to R rated movies or shows (or, perhaps, any movies other than G rated kids' movies). She won't socially kiss other women's husbands on the cheek. And, so on.

Perhaps there is a feeling of defensiveness on the part of some of the MO blogging world that is partly responsible for the sarcastic comments about chumras and immodest wigs. The halachic requirement is that a woman cover her hair; not that she make herself look shabby or unattractive. Of course she should comport herself in a modest way. Is anyone suggesting that they see many women in shaitels walking around in mini skirts, plunging necklines or with exposed belly buttons? Are there such women who wear skirts that are too figure-flattering? Of course. Is that the rule? I don't think so.

I think the act of consciously covering one's own hair leads to a certain set of behaviors that are modest and that are consistent with the spirit as well as the letter of the halacha. They should be admired rather than ridiculed.

Monday, May 17, 2004

What We Do II

My previous post apparently doesn't relate just to religious issues.

My wife is extremely makpid (strict) when it comes to putting on suntan lotion. In fact, my children make light-hearted fun of her because she shmears them with lotion any time they go out during the summer, even if it is pouring. You never know....the sun might pierce through the clouds or the weather might change.

The biggest victim of my wife's zealousness has been my older daughter who is fair skinned and gets sunburned just standing in front of the Shabbos candles.

Yesterday morning I was planting the vegetable garden. It was very hot and very sunny. I wasn't wearing lotion but my wife was out so I thought I was safe from the 'mad shmearer'. All of a sudden my older daughter popped outside and asked: "are you wearing suntan lotion?" I said no. She said, "not too smart" and went inside to get the lotion.

Gevalt. We've created another shmearing monster.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

What We Do

Recently, I have been attending my shul's hashkama minyan (early Minyan) on Shabbos. The minyan meets at 7:15 a.m. and is usually over before 9:00 a.m. As an early riser I like to go because the minyan is nice but quick and I have the rest of the day to learn, eat and rest. Usually, I am home by 9:15. (Does it get much better than Cocoa Krispies at 9:30 on a Shabbos morning)?

A few weeks ago, I stayed a little later because someone had yahrtzeit and made a little kiddush after davening. Then I got into a discussion with a friend about my planned bike tour in Israel. So, I didn't get home until almost 10 a.m.

On my way home, I passed a few fathers walking their young sons to various shuls none of which started later than 9 a.m.. I also saw a few high school and college age boys going to the teen minyan at one of the local MO shuls. Two of them were brothers, one in a yeshiva high school and one in college. The one in college went to a very fine Yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and currently attends YU. I could see in their faces that the young men were embarrassed to see me because they were almost an hour late to shul.

It struck me then that their father, a wonderful, erliche guy, is notorius for coming very late to shul himself. It got me thinking about how every little thing we do as parents can effect our kids profoundly and, consequently, how careful we must be.

(My point now is not about the merits of coming to shul on time. That is obvious and, perhaps, a discussion for another time.)

What do we expect from kids who see their father come to shul over an hour late virtually every week from the time they are little? What if that same father would never think about being 5 minutes late to a basketball game? How would that effect his kids' perceptions of the relative importance of tefilah and basketball. How do we think kids will feel about the importance of tefilah when they see their parents talk from the minute they get to shul but tell the kids to be quiet during their favorite TV shows? Or when their fathers have tremendous kavanah for a football game but drift lifelessly through davening? What do we think our kids will think about Rabbanim if, at the Shabbos table, they hear their parents denigrate their own rabbanim with sarcasm and contempt? What will kids think about the importance of Shabbos in general if their parents fly through the Friday night meal without z'miros or divrei Torah, the only goal presumably being how quickly they can bench and get to sleep? Will anyone be surprised when a kid whose father smokes starts to smoke himself? What about a kid who sees his father drink to excess at a Shabbos kiddush or seudah? What about a kid who sees his parents transact less than honestly in business or in the market (Do I have to pay sales tax if I pay cash?).

Over the years I have often heard things come out of my kids' mouths that were so obviously originally from me that it gave me the creeps. Conversely, how many times have I heard things from my kids' friends that were clearly coming from their parents?

Obviously, it isn't so simple. Kids, especially teens, are tremendously influenced by many factors, particularly their friends and the popular culture and we have to do the best we can to try to steer them in the right direction. (Ultimately, we have to daven for siatah D'shmaya that they don't fall under the wrong influences.) But if we think that what we do has no impact, think about the yeshivah boys coming an hour late to shul.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Is Meh Contagious?

I seem to have caught it through the Blogosphere.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

More On Shiny Shoe Charity

Velvel graciously posts an email from Monro888 with whom he had been sparing regarding Velvel's posts on Shiny Shoe music. In his email Monro told the story of how Shloime Dachs, hearing about Monro's difficult financial situation, not only offered to sing at his daughter's wedding free of charge but actually provided a one man band as well (and, to top it off, brought Yisroel Williger along). Monro also adds that the Shiny Shoe musicians (my term, not his) are 'on call' to play at hospitals for sick children on behalf of Chai Lifeline and do many other 'in kind' charitable acts.

I know that what Monro says about these musicians is true. Not only do musicians come to the hospitals but many, including Shloime Dachs and Avraham Fried, make an annual trip up to the Catskills to play at Camp Simcha and Camp HASC (as do many non-shiny shoe musicians like Chaim Dovid and Avraham Rosenblum).

Like Velvel, I am not suggesting that the shiny shoe musicians are bad guys. On the contrary, I get upset precisely BECAUSE while many of them are very nice guys, have beautiful voices and are very talented, rather than using these talents in a real and pure way, playing real and holy music, they get caught up singing lousy pop songs, doing silly videos and producing outrageous PR, in order to be a player in an industry that is so fake and artificial.

Indeed, I would be willing to bet that these musicians get much more personal satisfaction from playing for free in front of 100 sick kids at Camp Simcha than for good money in front of 2500 screaming teeny bopper girls at Brooklyn College.

If they listened to their inner voices rather than the external voices of their producers, they would be much better off.

Loshon Ha'rah or Criticism?

G'neivas Ha'daas or Hyperbole?

The saga continues.

Yesterday, Velvel posted and responded to an email he and I received from "Moish JM Fan". Moish was very upset about our trashing a new shiny shoe J musician for (i) misleading people on his website about his robust CD sales for a CD that had not even been released (which, to his credit but largely in response to Velvel, he has changed), (ii) planting a so-called 'review' in a local J newspaper that heralded his debut CD as the greatest thing since sliced bread, and (iii) producing an incredibly goofy video. I responded to his email privately and he responded to my response yesterday.

I find his response fascinating and it brings up two issues that I think are at the heart of this 'machlokes'.

First my response to his email (which is on Velvel's post that is linked above).

Dear Moshe JM Fan

What I find disgusting is that Jewish Musicians lie on their web sites to create the false impression that they are the hottest musician since MBD when they haven't even sold one CD.

What I also find offensive is that the JM musicians who are supposed to be erliche Yidden put out ridiculous, untzniusdik videos and music that comes direct from the secular pop culture.

People may differ with my musical opinions (obviously they do; much more of this garbage is sold than the JM I consider good). But when they lie and put out silly PR to promote their CDs, I feel completely justified in exposing them.


Moshe JM Fan responded:

I am not saying that false advertising is right.
I am saying that this is the way all the industry has been for a while, and when some new guy from the other side of the world tries to start up - you shouldn't be knocking him over the head like that. He is only following the trends...
Even if the advertising is over the top - it still is disgusting to say things like "nebach" and that his video is so childish... i actually have seem many videos and this one was quite interesting and well done and i think shows that he has potential.. I did not find it ridiculous, untzniusdik or sounding like the secular pop culture (although you may be more well-versed to make the comparison..) I actually think the songs and singing are quite good. Maybe not MBD... but I think he compares with Wald, Shloime Simcha, Dedi and others.
Even if you think you are right, it is definitely wrong to say some of those things in public.. it just should not be the way of Jews...
I think you guys have decided to pounce on him because of a mistake he made - you should have corrected him, and advised him in a nice way that this kind of advertising doesn't appeal to you (Although it may appeal to some... )
Let me know what you think on the above points.

Anyone reading this blog knows how much I dislike shiny shoe music. What I am about to write, though, has nothing to do with the quality (or lack thereof) of the music. I will be addressing two fundamental issues that I think Moish touches on. He is an apologist for the two defenses that you hear repeatedly from shiny shoe musicians and especially their producers.

1. Everyone does it. All the hyperbole in advertising and websites is necessary to make a splash in the JM business these days. Good music and a nice voice will not differentiate you these days so you must take these extra measures.

2. One should never criticize these people publicly because it is Lashon ha'rah and very "UnJewish".

Let's take the first point. As I have said before, I am not qualified to make halachic judgments but I think that planting false reviews in Newspapers and lying on websites to promote CD sales may be "G'neivas Ha'da'as". Perhaps I am wrong and that it is simply permissible, harmless hyperbole. I defer to those more knowledgeable. Whatever the halachic status, I find the practice very dishonest and something that was never associated with authentic Jewish Music in its long history.

In terms of the second issue, criticism, again, as a halachic matter, I defer to those more knowledgeable. I find it interesting, though, that the same musicians who say you can't criticize their stuff because it is lashon ha'rah, have no problem planting false reviews in J newspapers raving about their CDs.

We can all agree to disagree about what is good J music and whether the Jmusic videos are ridiculous or not. But unless someone tells me that it is halachicly unacceptable to offer honest criticism about music or to expose dishonesty when I see it, I intend to continue so doing.

No matter where you daven during the week, there ocassionally will be a shliach tzibur who mumbles, slurs the words together or completely mispronounces them. This is because the sole selection criterion for the person at the amud is typically that he is in avel (RL). Unfortunately, many of the ba'alei tefilah went to schools like the one I went to and can't pronounce Ivra (the only reason I can is because my dad (zzg) was very makpid on Ivra and nussach).

This, of course, drives me crazy (I am pretty good with the big picture items but little stuff gets me nuts).

But, this morning I was thinking....

If it's so annoying to me to have to listen to a ba'al tefilah who mumbles, imagine how the Master of the Universe must feel, k'viyachol (so to speak) having to deal with people who come late to davening, speed through davening, mumble through davening, talk through davening, chew gum through davening and drink through davening. Luckily for us, the Master of the Universe is a Keil Rachum v'Chanun and is probably happy to see us davening at all, no matter what our shortcomings.

Nevertheless, I will keep this in mind and try my best to come on time and daven slowly and clearly so as to give the Ribbono shel Olam some ta'anug.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Four Girls

Four girls were born to members of my shul last week.

Last week's parsha talked about the concepts of kiddush Hashem (the sanctification of G-d's name) and chilul Hashem (the absence of G-d's name). My Rebbe said that the greatest kiddush Hashem is when erliche Yiddishe kinder (Jewish Children) are born into this world. Hashem's name is sanctified by the very existence of those who recognize His dominion in a world that overwhelmingly rejects His dominion and denies even His existence.

How does one explain a world where, in the same week, four girls, four holy Yiddishe neshamas, are snuffed out in cold blood by our murderous enemies, the ultimate chilul Hashem, and four girls, four holy Yiddishe neshamas, are born, the ultimate kiddush Hashem?

May Hashem reveal the secrets of His unfathomable puzzle, speedily, k'heref Ayin (like the blink of an eye).

Real JM

Before I get to the topic at hand, real Jewish Music, a shout out to Velvel
for saving me the trouble of responding to the same email that he received. There is nothing I can add to what Velvel articulately expressed.

This past Shabbos/motsai Shabbos, our kehilah merited to experience davening and Jewish music in its purest form. The way, I believe, it was meant to be and the kind, I know, brings nachas and oneg (so to speak) to the Master of the Universe.

On Friday night Eitan Katz davened Kabbolas Shabbos. Although, BH, Friday night davening in our shul is almost always wonderful, this week's tefilah was one of the nicest, most inspiring that I have experienced. Eitan (who just became engaged to Malki Braun, Mazel Tov), has a beautiful, angelic voice and is always personally inspired by the special energy in our shul. This was reflected in the davening. As tired as I was coming into davening (as usual) I came away all charged up.

Motsai Shabbos was our annual hilula l'kavod Lag B'Omer and the Yahrtzeit of Rebbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Eitan, on acoustic guitar, was joined by Nochie Krohn, another really talented musician (also on acoustic guitar) whose sweet music reflects his sweet, modest personality. Our own member, Avi Feinberg, played percussion.

They opened the evening with Krasicha Ka and Hiney Keil Yishuasi by Shlomo Carlebach and played beautifully for the next three hours, sandwiching inspiring words of chizzuk by our Rav. They played a lot of Shlomo niggunim, some Breslov, Modzitz, Belz, Chaim Dovid, Michel Twesrsky, Shmuel Brazil and a couple written by Eitan and Nochie themselves (individually). They played some deep, slow niggunim and then picked up the pace with niggunim that caused the crowd to get up and spontaneously dance in place. With only two acoustic guitars and percussion the place rocked. There was no need for 10 violins, 15 horns and digital distortion because the niggunim stood by themselves and the musicians singing them were completely without ego or pretense. The many hundreds of men and women who attended left the hilula (after 1 a.m.) inspired and with a sense of deveykus (attachment) to the Ribbono Shel Olam and an appreciation for the greatness of Rebbe Shimon Bar Yochai and Lag B'Omer.

It was something special and proof that Jewish music does not need smoke and mirrors (indeed, can't have smoke and mirrors) and still be great and inspiring.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Too Much Negativity

Looking back at my posts overthe past couple of weeks (months?), I realize that most of what I blog about is negative. My shul's "Late Man", chewing gum in shul, the horrible state of the Jewish Music scene, music during sefirah, etc. Other than my blogs about my planned bike tour to Israel it's been pretty depressing.

The thing is, while I've blogged about "Late Man", I've never blogged about the fact that there is a chaburah of 5 guys who meet at 5 a.m. a few mornings a week to learn. Or that we have a regular shiur with my Rebbe at 6 a.m. that attracts 25 guys every morning (including me) and that on Friday attracts over 50.

I've gone on ad nauseum about shinny shoe music but I never write about some of the wonderful Jewish music that I've discovered or the holy musicians I've gotten to know over the years.

For example, this Motsai Shabbos, our shul will be hosting a hilula in honor of Lag B'Omer. We expect as many as 800 people to attend to hear words of inspiration from our Rebbe and beautiful music from two wonderful, erliche, young musicians, Eitan Katz and Nochie Krohn, whose only goal is to connect Yiddishe neshamas to the Master of the Universe through niggun.

I've written about MO shuls that have lost the way but I never mention that despite their confusion the members of these shuls are generally incredible ba'alei tzedakah and feel passionately about Eretz Yisrael. I never talk about a shul, the Yeshiva Netzach Dovid Minyan, comprised of young MO families that are mamash trying to change the world.

It is, of course, easier to write about negative stuff. You can be funny and sarcastic much more easily. And, of course, the main purpose of my blog is to focus on those aspects of the Orthodox Jewish world that have (IMHO) lost their way. Nevertheless, I will try to balance the negativity by posting on some of the wonderful things that I see every day.

I will start next week with a report on the hilula, one of the highlights of my year and a huge kiddush Hashem.

In the meantime, Good Shabbos, Good Shabbos.
More on JM PR

BloginDm started the thread about the new Shiny Shoe musician who bragged about his fast selling debut CD that hadn't come out yet. Velvel and I followed up and so did Dm.

Yesterday, in the Five Towns Jewish Week, I saw an over the top "review" of this CD. Since Dm does not have access to this newspaper, I decided to pick it up the thread myself.

The review starts:

"From the 'land down under' comes a singing sensation who is destined to become Jewish Music's newest superstar".

And then:

"Truly an extraordinary artist"...

His album is "proof positive that [he] possesses the musical talent of which such musical legends as MBD and Avraham Fried are made, but make no mistake about it - the Melbourne born and bred young performer is clearly in a league of his own.

"His album is "truly a treasury of musical gems"...

"Those who have been fortunate to see [him] perform in person have long awaited the fruition of his dream of recording an album..."

Finally: "Those who are hearing Australia's celebrated Jewish music performer for the first time on his debut album, run - don't walk! - to the nearest Jewish music store to purchase [the album]".

Not suprisingly, there is a paid ad for this CD elsewhere in the newspaper.

In the ad, it is described as "An album that needs no 'catchphrase'"

Since the CD has not yet been released but is "selling fast", I would advise you to run - don't walk - to your nearest time machine to get to Lag B'omer so that you can purchase this CD before it sells out.
The Apocalypse is Upon Us III

The Five Towns Jewish Times ran an ad this week for a company that makes goofy yarmulkahs. The ad featured a picture of a dog wearing a kippah.
Baruch Rofeh Cholim

The Maidel and her family are getting better.
Apocolypse Averted.

The New York Times reports that Major League Baseball has backed off its idiotic plan (that I posted about yesterday) to paste Spiderman logos on the bases for all games on the weekend of June 11-13th.

The reaction to the plan was almost entirely negative. The tradition-minded Yankees, for one, said that they wouldn't do it. Public opinion prevails.

Music To My Ears

Among the sweetest words in all of tefilah: "Hayom Yom Shishi B'Shabbos....".

Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Apocolypse is Upon Us II

If anyone is interested in seeing everything that is wrong with Shiny Shoe JM music, watch this video.

There is an expression I learned in law school called res ipsa loquitor (the matter speaks for itself). In the case of this video there is nothing I can say that could describe the depths to which the Shiny Shoe JM music world has sunk that watching this video wouldn't convey much more eloquently and completely.

Hashem Yiracheim.

The Apocalypse is Upon Us

The New York Times has a story about Major League Baseball's agreement to promote the new Spiderman movie by putting a likeness of the ol' web crawler on the bases!!.

I grew up reading Marvel comics (how else would I have gotten though limudei Kodesh if not drawing comic book heroes?) and have a special place in my heart for Peter Parker, but Spidey on the bases? Are there no standards left anywhere? Is nothing sacred? Gevalt.
Shiny Shoe Record Sales

BloginDm exposes a new J musician whose website claims that his debut CD "has B'H been selling fast".

The only problem with the claim is that the new CD is first being released, B'H, next Sunday, Lag B'omer, May 9th.

Dm blogs a lot about goofy JM PR, whether in ads, emails or websites (and, luckily for him, there is no dearth of material to make fun of). As I have said before, I think the JM PR is symptomatic of the deeper, fundamental problems that plague Shiny Shoe Music, i.e., gaiva (hubris) and the chase for money.

On the Yahoo shiny shoe music email group representatives of JM musicians constantly brag how many thousands of CDs their musician sold in the first days of release or how quickly the tickets for their concerts are selling. (As a sidenote, most of these claims are either outright lies (see above) or huge exaggerations). What is the purpose of generating such silly hype? Why don't they just let the music stand on its own?

I'm not saying that they shouldn't advertise; just advertise with some anava and tznius (humility and modesty).

Finally, why do all these guys have websites with photo galleries? The musicians all look virtually identical, 90% are 15 to 50 pounds overweight, and they all wear the same tailored black suit and the same shinny black shoes. Why do they think I want to see pictures of them?

UPDATE: See Velvel for a revealing exchange between Velvel and the JM musician the subject of my post. See my post above (the Apocolypse is Upon Us II) for more on this JM musician.
Word Up! It Worked

If this works right, I should have a comments section below. Thanks to Velvel, my J Rocking bloging colleague from the Windy City for the technical assistance.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004


AidelMaidel added me to her blog links. She is a "nice Jewish Girl in NYC" who has recently given birth to her second daughter (mazel tov!!). Many of her recent posts have been about her recent pregnancy (which, she feared, would never end). I enjoy reading her stuff because it brings me back to the days when we were in that 'parsha', having been in diapers for 12 straight years spread out over four kids.

Her babies just got colds (refuah sh'leimah). How do I break it to her that it only gets worse when the kids get to school. And that the more little kids you have the more likely that colds get recycled within the family numerous times?

Nevertheless, as I'm sure she already knows, it's all worth it.

UPDATE: AidelMaidel is in serious need of a hug. Now her husband is sick and the Bikur Cholim meals are running out soon. Cookie recommends Pizza. That's good advice for the meals. Unfortunately there is nothing she can do about the colds except wait them out.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

An Educated Consumer is Our Best Customer

Having signed up last week to do a five day bike tour in Israel next Fall, I just decided to purchase a new bike. I had been feeling guilty about spending so much money on a bike but my yaitzer harah (evil inclination) was wearing me down, convincing me that I had to have it for many reasons, yada, yada, yada.

Then I had a fortuitous discussion with a bike freak ("Riding Man") who is also doing the tour. Riding Man, who has done the tour in Israel all four times, rides 6,000 miles a year and has the same bike as Lance Armstrong (retail: around $5,000). As luck would have it, Riding Man gave me two very solid reasons why I needed a new bike. First, my current bike only has a double crank and he highly recommends a triple crank for the amount of climbing that we will be doing. Second, my gear shifters are on the downtube rather than in the brake lever. On the hilly terrain of the tour, I will likely be shifting constantly. Having to reach down to the downtube every few seconds is just not practical. Understand?

Add to that the fact the the new bikes are much lighter and there's nothing more to talk about.

Riding Man turned me on to the Trek 1500 or the Giant OCR 1 and I'm looking into them.

The only problem with getting a new bike is that I will no longer have a good excuse when the Amazon Men drop me in Central Park.
Three More Points on Nusach

1. Kehilah-Freindly Nusach. I got the following email in response to yesterday's post on Nusach Carlebach:
I think the purpose of nusach is to help the person davening in the kehilla
to achieve a greater kavana. Think about the tune for Kol Nidre and your
heart should automatically beat faster. But here is the problem: if it is
sung nicely and close to how you remember it, it bring you to tears and your
kavana increases. If it is sung poorly or not how you like it, your mind
finds the mistakes, and you feel compelled to share your critique with your
neighbor. The same goes for nusach. If you know the tune, like it, or or
in the mood for it, it helps the emotional side of davening. Many times at
davening an excellent ba'al tefilla brings more ruach and kavana to the
kehilla with a well placed and sung tune You can hear it, and feel it, and
be swept up in it. But, that same tune, sung by someone else, or a
different tune, by that same person, or under different circumstances, can
yield only a lonely solo, atop an undercurrent of murmuring. Sooooo, a
good ba'al tefilla should try to get a handle on what it take to increase
the kavana and emotional/spiritual content of the tefilla and pick
tunes/situations accordingly.

I think the writer's point is excellent. Selecting ba'alei tefilah who are pleasing to the kehilah is probably the toughest job of a gabbai. Many ba'alei tefilah have unrealistic views of their own talents and think they are much better than they really are. That often leads them to 'perform' and go much more slowly than necessary. Also, these ba'alei tefilah will often pick niggunim that few in the shul know (or, if the ba'alei tefilah are really bad, few in the shul will even recognize). When this happens, rather than enhance the davening, it can become a source of great frustration and aggravation to the kehilah. (This principle also applies to those who try to daven nusach Carlebach and don't know what they are doing.)

2. Tradition. The HLML's email that I discussed yesterday regarding the importance of tradition in nusach leads me to a related topic. I've noticed that many MO shuls that daven nusach Ashkenaz has adopted minhagim (customs) that come from nusach sefard. Two examples: I have seen a number of shuls say "Shir Hayom" on Shabbos followed by kaddish immediately after the repetition of the Amidah of shacharis (rather than at the very end of musaf). And in a practice that I think has become widespread, on Succos, many MO shuls say Hoshanas immediately after Hallel rather than at the very end of davening.

I assume that the Rabbanim of these shuls have decided to make these changes in order to maintain better decorum. Is that a good enough reason for changing the mesora? I leave this one for Hirhurim and others. Are there halachic or hashkafic implications to changing practices in nusach that have been normative for hundreds of years?

3. Nusach and Decorum. The topic of the lack of decorum in most Orthodox shuls is a topic far too big to address at this time. But JewishFringe (who started this whole discussion), points out that there is much more kavod hatzibur and connection with the traditional nusach than at Orthodox shuls. He suggests that it may be because those who come to a Conservative shul are making a conscious decision to do so whereas MO mispalilim may just be going through the motions.

Interesting observations. I will have a lot to say about the decorum breakdown in the MO world in the future but I don't have any perspective on the Conservative shuls.

Monday, May 03, 2004

On Nusach Carlebach

The Holy Lawyer of Maiden Lane has been hocking me to continue my discussions of Nusach Carlebach. In particular, he is interested on my thoughts on replacing traditional nusach with Shlomo's. I have been too busy writing about more important things, like my bicycle training, but then, this morning, I saw JewishFringe's post on the issue and decided to finally engage the issue.

Jewish Fringe is not a fan of nusach Carlebach for a number of reasons. One is that many of the ba'alei tefilah don't know what they are doing. In particular, he is driven crazy by people who use a major key when a minor is called for. I have no idea what that means on a technical level but I do understand, and it also drives me nuts, that people sing his niggunim differently from the way he wrote them. Even major bands mess up Shlomo's music in this way (V'niskav is a prime example; they go up on "bayom ha'hu" when they should go down).

(On a separate but related point: whether you use Shlomo's nusach or anything else, the first part of Lecha Dodi is supposed to be a slow, deep niggun. The niggun should change to a more up tempo, optimistic tune with Lo Seivoshi. It is appalling how many ba'alei tefilah don't do this properly. But we digress).

Jewish Fringe also writes the following:

"I dislike [nusach Carlebach] because its generally just not done well. Modes aside, it never tends to be as spirited as its billing. Is Nusach Shlomo having trouble living up to its hype, or is it like the 7th generation photocopy that becomes more faded, fuzzy and stodgy each degree of separation from the original?

My thought is that it needs to be done is a small room where everyone's pushed together and cozy."

I agree that there are not that many people who really know the Carlebach nusach. (On the other hand, there are also a limited number of people who know traditional nusach and that doesn't stop those who don't from davening for the amud).

I also agree that it works much better in an appropriate venue. I have written earlier on this issue. With very few exceptions nusach Carlebach works best in small, self-selected minyanim (often the teen minyan) where only those people who want to be there attend. Carlebach nusach works worst in large cavernous shuls whose mispalilm are wondering (or worse, discussing) how much longer they will be tortured before they can go home, fly through the Friday night seudah and get to bed.

JewishFringe also suggests that:

"Most people dislike Carlebach nusach because its not traditional enough."

I don't agree that that is the main reason for most of the people who don't enjoy Carlebach. Many people just are into quick davening, many are not into singing, alot are really not into doing a rikkud (dance) during davening. I think a minority really care about traditional nusach.

Having said that, the HLML does care about tradition. As he writes:

"The way I see it, part of the Jewish religious experience is maintaining the practices of the previous dorot (generations). Obviously that clal (general rule) is subject to exceptions but it does not seem to me that nussach hatefilah should be one of them. Elokei Avi v'aromimenhu may mean that I will glorify the god of my father the way my father did it. I am not saying this as a matter of halacha, more of what fits with my own personal view of the Jewsih religious experience. BTW, I seem to recall that the Maharil prohibits taking nussach from one part of davening and using it elsewhere. It would seem to me that replacing the nussach altogether with a brand spanking new nussach invented by some talented fellow ten years ago is arguably a matter of kal v'chomer (loosely, how much more so)."

"This is not to say that I don't like singing. Even in the Litvish world, there is some singing in davening. I happen to be a huge fan of old shteibel niggunim and some modern stuff as well. All of those niggunim are added to [the] context of the standard nussach that has been used for years."

As much as I personally love the Carlebach nusach and look forward to the day (may it be soon) that I will be living in Eretz Yisrael and davening nusach Carlebach at the Kotel every Friday night, I actually agree with most of what the HLML has to say. Let me add a few thoughts.

I agree that mesorah (tradition) in davening is important. (I also think that the break with mesorah in the MO world is one of the sources of many of its problems. This is a huge topic that is not for now).

On the other hand, it is clear that in the MO world (and even in much of the Litvish Chareidi world (other than in the Yeshivas)) davening is in terrible shape with lateness, talking and kiddush clubs the norm. Something isn't working (again, a subject much too big for now). To the extent that a nusach can wake people up and excite them about davening it should not be dismissed just because it is new. That's why I think there is a place for nusach Carlebach, particularly among high school and college age kids.

I think the way my shul handles this issue is ideal. On the overwhelming majority of Shabbosos, we daven the traditional nusach. We incorporate singing (usually Shlomo's tunes) in L'cha Dodi and V'shamru on Friday nights and and during Kail Adon, kedusha and Ain Kailokeinu on Shabbos mornings.
The singing, especially, in my view, when we stick to Shlomo's niggunim that people recognize, enhances the spirit of the davening tremendously.

On certain occasions, like when Elli Kranzler, Chaim Dovid, Shlomo and Eitan Katz, Aron Razel or Ben Zion Solomon have visited, our Rebbe has agreed to full blown nusach Carlebach. The Rebbe feels that once in a while, as long as the ba'al tefilah is someone who is really connected to the nusach and can inspire the kehilah, it is a very positive thing. But we wouldn't institute a monthly Carlebach minyan as I've seen other places do because of the importance of retaining the mesorah.

The HLML is also troubled by the dancing that often accompanies a Carlebach davening. I think that if the dancing is spontaneous and not part of some 'show', there is nothing wrong with it in moderation. Lighten up, HLML, you kalta Litvak.
Al Regel Achas

I had occasion to spend Shabbos visiting friends who were celebrating their son's bar mitzvah. Kabbolas Shabbos was led by a very holy Jew who is one of the best ba'alei tefilah around and the davening was, indeed, very beautiful.

It turns out, however, that the ritual committee of this large MO shul was not happy that the ba'al tefilah failed to wear a tie and a representative asked him to wear one when he davened musaf the next morning (which he did).

Apparently, it didn't bother the ritual committee that their congregants talked virtually non-stop during davening; that the shul barely had a minyan when shul started at 8:45 a.m.; that at least 5 men (just within my site lines) were chewing gum in shul; and that a number of women were dressed incredibly inappropriately for shul. As long as the ba'al tefilah wore a tie, everything was cool.