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

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Thousands of Ba'alei Teshuva

The current issue of the OU's Jewish Action (not yet online) has two articles about the apparent difficulties being encountered by children of ba'alei teshuva.

While I may write about the substance of the articles at another time (after they are posted on line), I was struck by a consistent thread in the two articles.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber writes:

The sixties and seventies were fascinating times; there was a surge of interest in the spiritual, the transcendent. Thousands of young people, disillusioned by the materialism of society were searching for a different way of life....They were seraching for utopia; they wanted to raise their families in a different kind of world.

Yiddishkeit promised them just that. Communities and rabbis reached out to beginners, and yeshivot were created for them. Newcomers encountered a deep and meaningful tradition. They found religious families full of warmth and homes that were open for Shabbat. Thousands signed up - the ba'al teshuvah movement was born. (emphsis added)
In the second article, Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky writes:

The teshuvah movement broke new ground over thirty years ago, bringing thousands of estranged Jews back to authentic Judaism.
Is it me or does anyone else wonder where the "thousands" of ba'alei teshuva are? There may be thousands of "ba'alei teshuva professionals" but I'm not sure I see "thousands" of ba'alei teshuva. This is more than semantics. Broad statements such as these that are taken at face value tend to justify the over allocation of Jewish charitable resources to the kiruv "movement."

Am I off base?

Monday, June 28, 2004

More on Chupah and Badekin

The Hasidic Musician takes issue with my recent post on the behavior of chassanim and kallahs walking to and under the chupah (at least the part of it relating to the Badekin). A couple of commentators also had issues.

Shaina points out that the Taame Haminhagim says that one should be somber and, in fact, sobbing until after the Chupah. COOP is thankful that many have moved away from universally adopting that minhag. One of the points I tried to make in my original post is that those (like COOP) who are uncomfortable with the minhag of crying or shuckling under the chupah should not be so critical because, as Shaina notes, such a mehalech has a very strong basis in our mesorah.

Hasidic Musician takes issue with my statement that a slower niggun at the badekin is more appropriate. On this narrow point I agree that it may have been more appropriate to write "may be more appropriate".

However, he seems to support my proposition that the badekin is a time of hissorurus by noting that according to the Bach "the badekin constitutes chupa. By this logic, the badekin and chupa should have the same tone." I agree. My point is that the tone of the badekin and chupah, until immediately after the chupah, should more properly be somber and introspective, not leibidig.

He goes on to say:

I'm not convinced that the music needs to be slow. Different communities have their own customs with regard to the music sung/played at a badekin. Lubavitcher Chassidim sing the “Alter Rebbe’s Nigun”. Many other Chassidim use the spirited “Vayehi Vishurun Melech” which is also frequently played when the kalla enters the kabbolas panim. The Sheor Yashuv crowd sings “Adam Harishon’s Nigun” on the way in to the badekin and “Keili Ato” on the way out. And, of course, as MO Chassid notes, many people use “Od Yishoma.”

I’ve also seen a variation wherein the walk into the badekin is to a slow melody while the chassan’s exit is accompanied by a fast, upbeat tune. Sometimes, instead of following a set minhag, some people choose a favorite tune. I played one badekin where the crowd sang Carlebach’s “Hashem Oz.”

People are different and find inspiration in different ways. Some people may be feeling more introspective and want the music to amplify that aspect of the badekin while other may be bursting with simcha and wish the music to emphasize that part of it. I can’t agree with MO Chassid’s assertion that a slower nigun is neccesarily more appropriate. People can either follow the minhag of their own community, or else choose the approach that best works for them.

I've actually found that, in many cases, the families and/or guests (and sometimes the kallah too) find the Sheor Yashuv approach underwhelming, to say the least. The guys may be into it... but they should bear in mind that it takes two to marry and that Kibud Av v'Em is a D'Oraysa.
I agree with Dm that it is more important to make the Kallah and the parents happy and that if they are not mekabel the point one should revert to a fast niggun rather than make everyone miserable with a slow one (or adopt the compromise of a slow niggun in and a fast niggun out). Interestingly, like Dm I also find the Shor Yoshuv approach incredibly depressing (but not the use of the Alter Rebbe's Niggun). I agree with him that one need not be limited to just those niggunim (For example, I have heard Chaim Dovid's "Kalev Niggun" used to great effect). I'm not saying it's a capital offense if you march into the badekin with Od Yishamah. I'm just saying that, based on my understanding of the seforim, I continue to believe that, lichatchila, one should try to pick a niggun of hissorurus.

Today is the 10th Yahrtzeit of the holy Tzadik, the Klausenberger Rebbe, ZT'L and the 11th Yahrtzeit of my Rebbe's Rebbe, the great tzaddik Harav Dovid Lifschitz, ZT'L. May their memories be a bracha and may their neshamas have an aliyah.
Shuckle, Rattle and Roll

Commenting on this post, "COOP" asked me to darshon on the tendency of chassanim and kallahs to walk down the aisle as if they are walking to their execution (and, I would add, standing under the chupah, shuckling uncontrollably as they say Tehillim and read off names of cholim or girls in need of shiduchim).

This is a tough one.

On the one hand, it is true that these chassanim and kallahs tend to offend our sensibilities. We think to ourselves, "Why aren't they smiling as they approach such a holy, and wonderful moment". It is certainly disconcerting to see faces that reflect such intensity (and, seemingly, pain). Indeed, when we see the opposite it is very refreshing and beautiful. I was privileged to attend two weddings in the last four weeks where, in each case, the chassan's face lit up the entire room as he watched his kallah walk down the aisle.

On the other hand, it is true that the moments leading up to the chassunah (including the badekin, about which more later) are an 'eis ratzon', a special time when the gates of prayer are wide open. (And, what is not widely known, it is an eis ratzon for all those attending the chassunah, not just the chasson and kallah). Undoubtedly, the chassan and kallah have been taught this at their respective pre-chasunah classes. Consequently, it is hard to fault them for davening hard at this time even if it looks painful and offends the assembled guests.

What often happens, I hear, is that the chassanim and kallahs who do carry on this way under the chupah regret it when they see the videos showing them shuckling as if they are attending Ne'ilah on Yom Kippur.

Finally, a word about the badekin. The badekin is a time of incredible hissorurus. It is said that the neshamas of the departed relatives and ancestors of the chassan and kallah come down from shamayim to join them for this holy moment. That is why it is actually more appropriate to play a slow niggun of hissorurus during the badekin rather than the more common upbeat "Od Yishamah". I'm not sure how the custom of playing upbeat music at this time evolved. If anyone knows I'd be interesed in hearing it.
Dressing for Shabbos.

The heiliga Simcha, in support of his am ha'aretzdic "comrade in blog", namely me, sets out the halachas of dressing for Shabbos.
Pass the Advil

at Riding With MoC

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Wedding Music: PSA on a PSA.

Velvel writes:

The first dance set is the essence of your wedding. That's what counts. If you have to fight for one element, fight for this.

All your guests are there. Everyone still has all their energy. I'd recommend 55 minutes. Take no less than 45 minutes. Do not let the caterer, band or wedding coordinator try to make-up time at the expense of this set. Make sure the people in charge are clear on this. You are the king/queen. Make it happen.
I mostly agree with Velvel but I offer some 'aitzas' and a slightly different perspective (that, once again, could have something to do with our different locations). I also think that the second set can be as equally as important as the first for reasons I will explain.

1. The music is key. In fact, the music is the only really important element of the whole wedding. People will not remember the flowers or the color scheme or whether they had chicken or fish for the main, but they will remember the dancing. So, you have to get the music right. Just as you would spend time with the caterer or the florist with specific instructions, so should you spend time with the band leader. Beat him up till he hears what you are saying.

2. The first set, for the reasons Velvel mentions, is key. So:

A. Take Chosson - Kallah pictures (except for the touching pictures, of course) before the Chupah. There is no halachic basis for not doing so and its a huge tircha to make your olam wait an hour and more after the chupah.

B. Make sure the badekin starts on time and that you have someone herding the people into the chupah quickly thereafter. In order to do this you need to make sure someone is in charge of keeping tabs on the aidim and the mothers.

C. Talk to the caterer before the wedding at least 20 times to remind him that the first set has to go at least 45 to 55 minutes. 30 times is better. Ditch the middle course if necessary. It's all about the music.

3. Don't underestimate the second set. While Velvel is correct that everyone is there and energized for the first set, the people you really want stick around for the second set and the dance floor is much less crowded. This is particularly important at mega NY weddings that have upwards of 600 people. The dance floor gets ridiculously crowded during the first set and only opens up during the second set. Second sets can be much wilder than first sets.

4. Finally, if done properly and with thought and preparation, the music at the chupah can be the deepest and can change the whole nature of the wedding. Caveats: A. If you are having a friend or relative sing under the chupah, make sure he can hold a tune and that the band is playing the same key as he is singing, and B. Don't write your own music. Sorry to break it to you but you're not as good as Reb Shlomo.

It's stuff like this that discourages American Jews from making aliyah.

From Fiddish

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The Strange (and I Do Mean Strange) World of Chicago JBlogging

There is a strange phenomenon out there in the Blogosphere that I will refer to as the Chicago Chevrah. As far as I can tell, it consists of four primary bloggers and two ex-pats currently living in Israel, all of whom are more or less part of the same extended Chevra.

Let me state that I know almost nothing about Chicago and absolutely nothing about its MO community. I have been on a couple dozen business trips over the past twenty years but each trip consists of a cab ride to the Fairmount Hotel, a morning run along the lake, a cab ride to a law office, and a cab ride back to the airport. So, consistent with JBloggers everywhere, I feel particularly qualified to comment on this phenomenon.

Velvel is the senior blogger of the group. He is a musician who is one of the more prominent and thoughful J Music commentators around. Although he and I have widely divergent tastes in music (he "Loves To Rock"; I'm partial to Carlebach and Modzitz) we share a disdain for Shiny Shoe music and the machinations associated therewith. At one level we have very different hashkafic perspectives (he thinks I'm a "zealot", down from 'bitter') but at another we are soulmates of a sort. He likes bourbon. I drink scotch.

Cara is a sweet, charming, short, formerly curly-haired, bourbon-drinking young lady who likes to hang out with "the guys" and is still looking for her first base hit. The main (only?) topic of her blog is her world. In my humble, politically incorrect opinion, what she really needs is fewer male 'friends' and one male chassan.

Schmavis runs the Kfar Jewish Arts Center. He is more Conservative than MO but seems to run with the rest of the MO crowd. He, too is a frequent commentator on Jewish Music and has a much broader perspective on J music than I, owing, in part, to his less MO background and the fact that he lives in the boonies (from a Jewish point of view). He is apparently on blogging vacation although he continues to comment on other blogs.

Prodly, also known as SklaroWorld, is an enigma with whom I have sparred on numerous occasions. On one hand, he is a strident, vegetarian tree-hugger. On the other, a foul-mouthed, right wing zealot. He likes Phish but not fish. The subtitle of his blog says: "Few will be able to understand the lunacy inside my head". I am not among the few.

The two Israeli parts of the puzzle are Adi Eliyahu and Yaakov Cohen (Head). I haven't really followed these blogs so I don't have anything to say except that Cohen seems to be a good friend of Velvel (I think Velvel set up the blog).

The Chicago Chevra are the main commentators on each others' blogs and seem to get together frequently. They know how to party but need work on getting up early. I greatly admire their friendship and devotion to one another. For reasons that I cannot articulate, I feel drawn to their blogs and am amused by their unique and strange MO existence.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

I'm Ashamed

After going through this website, I feel so silly about my stupid post below.
Angry Email

Tamara writes how she almost messed up by sending an angry email to a friend. She consulted a Rav and, before she had a chance to send the email (pursuant to the Rav's guidelines), found out that the information that angered her was untrue.

I have had a policy forever of taking anything I write in anger and putting it in my top drawer overnight. I then re-read it in the morning. It has never happened that I didn't tone down what I wanted to say originally. Many times I just ripped up the original.

Now, in email land, it is even more important to be careful. So, instead of putting angry emails in my top drawer, I send them to "Draft" and read them the next morning.
J Blogging

Recently, I've allowed myself to get drawn in to a number of hashkafic 'comment wars' on my and other blogs.

I am reminded of the time my older son was in high school. He was, and still is, in general, very gentle and well mannered (he takes after my wife, BH). However, as a member of the school's debate team (and as a top floor hockey player) he showed a another, aggressive side of his personality.

Unlike many schools that actually took debate seriously (like Ramaz where the students would not be allowed back in school if they lost), his school, an all boys school, couldn't have cared less. While the other teams were spending weeks researching the debate topic, my son would usually spend ten minutes on line the night before the debate surfing the web for just enough information to make him dangerous.

My son's tactics included sarcasm, loudness and aggression. Since few judges actually prepared adequately, facts were irrelevant (He would always get a kick out of seeing the 'serious' teams frantically searching their reams of notes checking his 'facts'). He took particular pleasure in debating all girls schools where his level of aggression would be even higher. He lost most of his debates but he had a lot of fun along the way.

It occurred to me that the J Blogging world is not much different. Like my son, there are many bloggers and commentators who do not let facts get in the way of their arguments. You have 19 year olds who have never so much as opened a Chassidishe sefer spending most of their time denegrading Chassidus; porn-meisters waxing on about everything Jewish; unmarried 20 year olds pontificating about raising Jewish children; Single cretins who probably haven't had a date in five years giving dating advice; Self-described whackos who scream and curse about the depravity of eating meat, and people like me, who don't know the difference between a minor key and a major, going on ad nauseum about Jewish Music.

Like my son on the debate team, aggression is key; facts secondary. We may not win the debate but we're having fun along the way.

Monday, June 21, 2004

New Post at Riding with MoC


Friday, June 18, 2004

New Blog

I have created a second blog, Riding With MoC, at which I will periodically post regarding my bike ridng adventures as I train for my bike tour in Israel.
More on Cookie's Music Views

Cookie responds to my post responding to her post on Shiny Shoe Music.

She agrees with me that the Shiny Shoe concerts are ridiculous.

She doesn't agree with my views on the business or advertising side of the Shiny Shoe music industry.

On Business:

I don't think it is evil to want to sell as many CDs as possible. If I own a pizza shop, no one condemns me for wanting to sell as many pizzas as possible. If you don't like the pizza at the shop, you can always buy elsewhere, or, if there is no other shop, open your own and compete. Still, if you can't, or won't, or don't compete, but just keep complaining, you just end up sounding kvetchy.

Remember, if enough people don't like the pizza at the first shop, and stop buying it, the business will shrivel up and die. Apparently, if the business isn't dead, people like it - or like it enough. So in your opinion, they have bad taste. So sue them.
I never said it was evil to want to sell CDs. Anyone who ever produced a CD wanted it to sell. My point is that unlike pizza, which is not intended to have soul, Jewish music should. If the main reason you are producing music is to sell CDs and make money, it is very unlikely to have soul.

Cookie's point about competing completely misses the point. Once real Jewish music tries to compete for 'market share' by employing the tactics of the Shiny Shoe industry it will no longer be real Jewish Music.

Finally, I concede that I am kvetchy on this issue. Sue me.

On Advertising:

Cookie is right that dishonesty in advertising is rampant, and not isolated to the JM business, especially when it comes to local Jewish newspapers. Still, on an ethical level I can't come to terms with the idea of writing and planting your own music reviews. None of the musicians I know would even imagine doing such a thing. While I still think that it is genaivas ha'da'as, perhaps Cookie is right that because readers know that these reviews are shams, it is not genaivas ha'da'as. Simcha, any thoughts?

Finally, Cookie writes:

Do I wish things were different? Certainly. But I don't see that JM deserves any more ire than any other sector engaging in this behavior.
Sorry, Cookie. I disagree. There is a very big difference between 'other sectors' and Jewish music. I think this point is the very nekuda (focal point) of our disagreement.
Erev Shabbos - The HLML was Correct

In one of my earliest posts, I mentioned that my Rebbe, "in the name of another Tzaddik (whose name escapes me)" said that while we are shomer Shabbos in America, we are not shomer Erev Shabbos.

The Holy Lawyer of Maiden Lane emailed me then that he thought the "Tzaddik" whose name escaped me was the Rav, ZT'L. I responded that I didn't think so.

The HLML was, indeed, correct.

"Even in those neighborhoods made up predominantly of religious Jews, one can no longer talk of the 'sanctity of Shabbat.' True, there are Jews in America who observe Shabbat... But it is not for Shabbat that my heart aches; it is for the forgotten 'erev Shabbat' (eve of the Sabbath). There are Shabbat-observing Jews in America, but there are no 'erev Shabbat' Jews who go out to greet Shabbat with beating hearts and pulsating souls. There are many who observe the precepts with their hands, with their feet, and/or with their mouths - but there are few indeed who truly know the meaning of the service of the heart!" (On Repentance, pp. 97-98)
(Quote contained in a lecture by Rav Ronnie Zeigler on the VBM website)

In the same vein, the Piaczezna Rebbe, HYD, in the third Maimar at the end of Chovas Hatalmidim said that the reason there is chilul Shabbos (he was talking about pre-war Warsaw!!) is that we are "Zocher" Shabbos with our mouths, but are lacking in our "Shomer" Shabbos, with our hearts.

On that note, Gutten Shabbos to all. And, of course, gutten EREV Shabbos.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

More Old News

Both Hasidic Musician and Velvel goof on the Jerusalem Post for doing a music review of a nine year old Piamenta album. Neither mentions that the same column has a review of Yosef Karduner's latest CD, "Achas Sha'alti" (I Asked One Thing). Problem is, while not 9 years old, Achas Sha'alti was released in August, 2002, almost two years ago.

By the way, Cookie, Yosef Karduner's music has soul. A lot of soul.
Shiny Shoe Music: Popular, Yes; Jewish, Maybe; Soulful, No.

Cookie offers her two cents on Jewish Music. She asks two questions:

1. Is the genre (Shiny Shoe music) popular, and

2. Is it Jewish

I don't really understand her first question. I haven't seen anyone dispute the fact that Shiny Shoe music is popular. That is self-evident from record sales, concert attendance, etc. The fact that it is popular, howver, means very little. As Velvel said recently (I can't find the link), most music (secular and otherwise) stinks. I don't remember whether he said most popular music stinks. But if he didn't I will. Most popular music davka stinks.

In answering her second question, Cookie seems to equate the 'Jewishness' of music with its 'soulfulness'. She goes on to disagree with the Hassidic Musician and Jewish Fringe who have written that Shiny Shoe music lacks soul. Cookie feels that each record and each artist must be judged individually. She cites Avraham Fried as a shiny shoe artist whose music moves her. She points out that there are songs that are very popular and supposedly soulful (Mama Rochel) that don't do much for her. She thinks that each of our souls is effected differently and we should leave it at that.

This is what my soul says:

I agree with Dm and Jewish Fringe that the overwhelming majority (not all) of Shiny Shoe music lacks soul. There are many reasons for this. Headed by MBD, the self-proclaimed "King of Jewish Music", and MBD wanna-bes, it is, generally speaking, derivative, secular music put to pasukim and disguised as 'Chassidic music". It has as much to do with real, authentic Chassidic niggunim as Maddona (excuse me, Esther) and Back Street Boys. It is dominated by a small number of 'composers', arrangers and producers whose goal is to sell as many CDs as possible.

Standard Shiny Shoe music usually features a guy with a good voice wearing a dark suit and shiny black shoes belting out songs that are hard to distinguish one from the other. The fast songs are completely formulaic pop songs put to pasukim, feature the same beat and are unbelievably overproduced, with ridiculous numbers of horns and violins. The slow songs are equally formulaic. Every once in a while someone actually writes a nice slow song. (If that happens, it is usually played non-stop on the JM radio stations until you want to jump out of a window if you hear it again). The songs have no soul because they are written almost entirely for the sole purpose of making money.

Equally bad is that the advertising and promotion for this music is very often dishonest, misleading and over the top. Producers actually pay many of the JM newspapers and magazines to plant good reviews. People with vested interests send emails to Jewish Music emails groups extolling the virtues of this or that performer without disclosing their interests. (BloginDm and Velvel have been at the forefront of exposing this possible g'naivas ha'daas).

Shiny Shoe concerts have become spectacles as well. In the increasingly heated competition for audiences, the producers go to ever more silly lengths to distinguish themselves. The performers are now required to do certain hand motions, dance like fools, wear head mics like boy bands, skate around on roller skates, let loose smoke and fireworks, etc. So-called 'audience-request' concerts contain plants who yell out songs that the performer has prepared. There is no modesty and no shame. (Perhaps this is why the Chareidi rabbanim have recently begun to publicly attack these concerts).

And, just when you thought it couldn't get worse, three relatively new phenomenon have become popular. Eli Gerstner's vile techno/digitized sound (as exemplified by Chevra and Menucha), acapella 'Sefira' albums, and the crossover of Carlebach into the Shiny Shoe world.

The techno sound is a rip off of the boy bands from the secular world. The voices are digitally manipulated and distorted and there is even more overproduction than on standard stuff. The sefira albums are halachically dubious attempts to sell albums when regular music with instruments are prohibitted. Most of these albums are horrid. Finally, now that he is niftar (Achrei Mos - Kedoshim) many Shiny Shoe musicians (including the King himself) are covering (and mostly ruining) Reb Shlomo's niggunim. Just as the pop sound shiny shoe tunes lower the holiness of pasukim, so do their over-the-top productions lower the holiness of Reb Shlomo's niggunim.

Peggy Noonan had a great insight in her column about the Reagan funeral in today's OpinionJournal.

One of the things not sufficiently remarked upon the past week: The music, from California to Washington and back to California again, was old music, old American music, and it was beautiful. We have abandoned so much of the core of American music. And then a state funeral comes and the death of a president, and suddenly we are allowed to hear the old songs....

This music is part of our patrimony, every bit as much as the trees and mountains. Our children, in our civic life, have for a generation been denied these songs. The moral and artistic equivalent of river polluters have decided we need to hear--I don't know, what songs do they play now in school, at events? "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head"?

We need a new environmental movement--a musical conservation movement aimed at saving and preserving the old songs. The rivers and mountains and plains are so beautiful and need saving. But what have you lost if you lose the sound of your ancestors' souls singing? Even more, I think. (emphasis added)
These words could just as easily be applied to Jewish Music today. I'm not suggesting that we only listen to old Modzitz niggunim. I'm suggesting that we listen to music that is written for the same reason that the heiliga Modzitzer Rebbe, zt'l, wrote his niggunim. Music that was written with a sense of overwhelming d'veykus to Hashem that could not be contained in his heart.

With the exception of a minority of people who are writing and producing music from their hearts rather than for the money, we have lost the sound of our ancestor's souls singing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

"Don't Stick the Blueberries up Your Nose"

Hassidic Musician, in an apparent lapse of judgment, urges "Hassidisco" music producers NOT to use a certain digital technique and then links directly to a website that has step by step directions on how to use that very technique. That is like telling children: "Don't stick the blueberries up your nose". It might never have occurred to them until you suggested it.
Casual Shabbos III

My recent post on Casual Shabbos attracted far more comments than I have ever gotten on any other post. I was frustrated by my apparent inability to properly articulate the 'nekudah', the essence, of what I was trying to say (as reflected by many of the comments).

Then I remembered a couple of lines from Moshe Koppel's remarkable essay, "Yiddishkeit Without Ideology - A Letter to My Son". Describing his adolescent journey (during the early 1970s) from a Yeshivish environment (where he was not happy) to an MO environment, he wrote the following:

You asked somebody there (an MO Yeshiva high school) if it was ok to daven in your gatkes, they start pulling books off the shelf. Lacking a sense of the heimish and hankering above all for middle-class American respectability they tended to undervalue the little hard-to-pin-down gestures and manners that give substance to Jewish distinctiveness.
I think this is at the heart of the disconnect I am having with many of the commentators. If you ask what are the Halachos of dressing for Shabbos, I will refer you to Simcha. If you ask me why is it ok for Israelis to wear white shirts, slacks and sandals on Shabbos, I will tell you I don't know. But if you ask me whether it is Shabbosdik for someone to come home from shul and make a conscious decision to take off his Shabbos clothes and sit at the Shabbos table in casual clothes, or to put on shorts or khakis and a polo shirt to go the the park, I will ask you whether davening in your gatkes is ok.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Elevating In Israel

Alyn Hospital has just released the road maps and elevation maps for its 5th Annual Wheels of Love Bike Tour which I will be doing, IYH, in October.

It is not for the feint of heart.

While the whole ride is tough, (about 105 kilometers a day for four days and a final 29k climb to Yerushalayim on the fifth day) two parts stand out. On the fourth day there is a 5.5k, 400 meter vertical climb (almost a quarter of a mile up) to Metzukei Dragot and on the last day there is a 1200 meter (about 3/4 mile), 29 kilometer climb from the Dead Sea to Yerushalayim, an average 4% grade.

Although the ride is very difficult, I am told that anyone who trains reasonably well and is in decent shape can do it without major problems. I am psycho so I will be training like a madman.

There is still room if anyone wants to join. Details here.

If anyone wants to sponsor me (Alyn Hospital is a pediatric rehab hospital in Jerusalem) click here. Use MoChassid as the name of the rider.
Holy Parrots.

I heard this on Friday at a funeral (of all things). Thanks to YDW.

A man went into a pet store looking for a parrot. Arriving at the first cage, he asked the clerk:: "How much for this parrot?"

Clerk: "$10,000".

Customer: "10,000!!!??? For a parrot? What does he do for $10,000?"

Clerk: "He can recite the entire Shas by heart".

They then moved over to the next cage.

Customer: "How much for this one?"

Clerk: "$20,000.

Customer: $20,000!!!!???? What does he do?"

Clerk: "He can recite all of Shas AND the meforshim by heart."

They then move over to a third, guilded cage.

Customer: "How much for this one?"

Clerk: "$50,000."

Customer: $50,000!!!!!????? What does this one do?"

Clerk: "I haven't heard him do anything but the first two parrots call him 'the Rebbe'."
Velvel's Kedusha Problem

Velvel was whining about an 11 minute Kedusha 'concert' put on in his shul by a guest chazzan.

I happen to agree with Velvel that chazzanim who 'perform' during the davening, particularly during kedusha, are missing the point and creating a tircha for much of the mispalilim.

Velvel also complains that he was a captive audience since his is the only Orthodox shul for miles so he had no alternative.

All I know is that if I were davening at a shul that had scheduled a guest chazzan (which, Baruch Hashem, would never happen at my shul), I would be davening at the hashkama minyan.

Unfortunately for Velvel, I think he is unaware that there is such a thing as 7 a.m. on a Shabbos morning.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Tormented By "Late Man"

Late Man has recently become "Later Man".

Late Man, who for the past five years has been coming to morning minyan between 12 and 15 minutes late every day (and has only been on time to shul once in the past five years), has been coming 20 to 25 minutes late for the past two weeks.

I wouldn't care so much if he sat in the back but he crosses right in front of me every morning on the way to his front row seat. It is driving me crazy, for two reasons. First, I just can't comprehend how someone comes so consistently late every single day and it is getting under my skin. What is he thinking?

Second, as I have said before, I feel as though this is a test that I am failing miserably. I know that we are commanded to 'dan likav z'chus', judge others favorably, but I find myself unable to do so.

And, it is said in the name of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov that in these situations Hashem is giving you a chance to determine how He judges you. If you judge someone favorably, the Master of the Universe will give you the benefit of the doubt when you come up for judgment. If you judge harshly, so will He.

Oh Boy.
Is the Talmud Republican?...

Jay D. Homnick asks in the American Spectator.

Monday, June 07, 2004

D Day - A Tribute to My Dad

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of D-Day, the invasion by Allied Forces at Normandy that began to turn the tide against the Nazi's (may their name be erased).

Although my Dad (zzg) did not participate in that invasion (indeed, he served in a different theatre), it seems like an appropriate time to write this.

My dad came to this country from Romania a few years before the war. A graduate of Torah Vodaath, my dad decided that rather than seek a religious deferment by signing up at a yeshiva, he would serve his new country by allowing himself to get drafted. He served in the US Army with distinction for almost four years, mainly in North Africa, and, at the conclusion of the war received an honorable discharge in the rank of corporal.

My dad almost never talks about his years in the Army. When I ask him why he joined the army, he says, simply, because it was the right thing to do. That is how my dad always conducted his life and how he continues to live today. May he be well.

Friday, June 04, 2004

J Music According To MoC

Jonathan over at House of Hock recently engaged the issue of Jewish Music blogging and included this blog in his discussion.

JewishFringe responded here.

Velvel weighed in recently with commentators on Jewish Rock and Shiny Shoe music respectively.

And, yesterday, Menachem Butler at Village Idiots, linked to Menachem Wecker, who raised the issue (in the context of a Blue Fringe/Soulfarm concert), what is Jewish Music?

Brother Bob and Matt commented that the issue is not what is Jewish Music but rather what is Orthodox or Halachic music. I think they have crystalized the issue that concerns me. My interest is not what is or isn't Jewish music. It's what is or isn't acceptable from a hashkafic and halachic perspective.

Take a few examples of music that is unquestionably Jewish. On the one hand, Jewish Rock from Avraham Rosenblum can be very holy while Shiny Shoe Music with lyrics from Tehilim from a Chassidishe Yid who wears a gartle can be entirely unholy. (Dm recently posted a Rabbinic condemnation of a 'Chassidishe Pop gig in London). On the other, Jewish Rock played by Jewish bands at a treif club like BB King's can be very unholy and Chassidishe music played by the Breslover Chassid Yosef Karduner can take one to incredible heights of d'veykus.

I have a lot to say on this topic and other JM topics but I am completely swamped and have no time. I will try to address these issues over the coming days and weeks.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Kiruv and Community Kollels

I think that, on a relative basis, way too much charitable money goes to 'Kiruv' organizations. In the metropolitan New York area especially there is a huge amount of duplication and unnecessary bureaucracy. And, while there are many ba'alei teshuva around, its not as if these organizations are reeling them in.

While this may sound harsh, if kiruv were run like a business, it would be hard to justify such a huge investment on the basis of such relatively small results. One might argue that cost should not be taken into account. Haven't we all learned that 'He who saves even one life, it is as if he has saved the world?' I subscribe completely to that notion but question whether our charitable contributions might be better spent within our own schools. We are arguably losing as many kids who are already within the tent as the entire kiruv movement is bringing back to the derech.

One place where kiruv seems to be having a profound (and cost-efficient) effect is in the community kollel sector. A case in point is in Phoenix where the Phoenix Community Kollel is working wonders.

Rather than try to describe it myself, I present an article that was emailed to me written by a Lakewood yungerleit who spent the most recent Shavuous in Phoenix. I think it was or will be published in Yated.


By: M. Norman

Under conventional circumstances it would be fair to say that the influx of Torah to the community in Phoenix, AZ this Shavuos was a special zchus for the community. However, I was one of the six Kollel families who traveled out west this Yom Tov, and I can testify that the honor was truly ours to be there. Actually, when the offer arose in Lakewood during mid-May for us to go to Phoenix for Shavuos, I was a little wary of the idea. Where will I spend Yom Tov? Will there be kosher food? Are there even any Jews who will be interested in us at all? But alas, the opportunity of going to sunny Arizona was to tempting to pass up, and thus we scheduled a ticket to leave erev Yom Tov, and to return just after Yom Tov, in order to play it safe. Little did we know what was in store.

Eight years ago, Rabbi Chaim Silver took over as the Rabbi of Young Israel. He soon discovered that the thirst for Torah in his community was too great for him to handle single handedly, and he soon introduced the idea of bringing a Kollel to town. Four years ago, a group of yungeleit, led by Rabbi Zvi Holland headed out to Phoenix to found the Phoenix Community Kollel. In the four years since, the Kollel has grown to seven families, the community has grown tremendously, and the thirst for Torah is far from quenched.

Since the Kollel arrived, they have been playing more than an integral part of the community. As one member of the community said, I love the Kollel rabbis. Each one has his own personality, and they are all so helpful and openhearted.

The feeling is what we, the yungeleit from Lakewood were zoche to experience. We can now testify that we have seen Kabolas Hatorah in its true sense, in a sense of K'ish Echod B'lev Echod. We have witnessed the power of six Kollel families who as one heart have fully dedicated their entire lives and souls to help others find their roots and return to Torah. And we were fortunate to see the people of this reborn community be mekabel the Torah, many of them for the first time in their lives this Shavuos. We saw them accept it with love, with excitement, with eagerness, and with happiness. During the short time we stayed in Phoenix, the people of the community attempted to squeeze out of us anything we had to offer. A Yungerman in Lakewood may have no idea how much he can give to someone who is seeking even the smallest amount of Yidishkeit. To them we were special guest rabbis visiting from the renowned Lakewood Yeshiva. We originally went to simply learn there over Shavuos. But how could I turn down the thirteen-year-old boy who approached me on the night of Shavuos and asked me to review with him the few blatt of Berachos that he learned? I sat down to learn with this boy only to discover that he was a whiz. He translated a few lines in the sixth Perek as if it was his second language. And when I explained to him the idea of shaos zmanios, he picked it up even before I was done. And while I sat and showed him how to find the Rambam through the Ein Mishpat, he pointed out his father sitting and learning with another Yungerman on the next table. It was only the next day that I discovered that this boy was frum for less then two years. It was really amazing- an entire family latching on to the ways of the torah all-together. And all this a result of the dedication of the Kollel and the selfless hours they put in to the community. The encouragement and friendliness they show to each and every individual.

One of the fascinating things I found was the welcome that we got from all the members of the community. Almost every family invited us to come to their house and even to stay by them if we ever return to Phoenix. They all told us how they love Kollel people and how the kollel made such a difference in their lives in the short time that its been there. You guys dont have any idea how much youve done for us just by coming for Yom Tov, said Morris Friedman. Although most of the times we heard the comments throughout our stay they did not come with an explanation, by the time we left it was self understood. For the people of Phoenix to see that their six yungeleit who learned all day, kept the mitzvos, and were not any less normal than themselves, were part of a world of Torah observant Jews had such a great impact. They felt that they can actually relate to being a Torah Jew. They can follow their daily lives as usual and still keep their heritage. They can find meaning and fulfillment in their lives. They can understand how to respect rabbis and to follow their teachings. And most of all, they can now understand what it means to be a Jew. That it is something more than a title, an embarrassment, or a way of being different. As Rabbi Silver said in his sermon on Yom Tov, We are in fact different so let us act different. Being different is a responsibility. The Kollel has shown these people HOW to be different. How to act differently and why we are in fact different. We are an uplifted people, and sometimes in order to understand this, we just have to experience this revelation. For us six yungeleit from Lakewood, this beautiful revelation has come forth this Yom Tov. We saw an uplifted nation opening their arms to their long lost brothers, and we saw their brothers returning and accepting this sacrifice. We saw how six families can change hundreds of people's
lives, how close to one hundred people Anashim Nashim Vtaf who were barely ever exposed to Torah were eager to stay up all night to learn about the torah as a result of the hard work of these families. And we saw the fruit of labor that comes lsheim shomayim, from nothing more than the desperate plea of a few Yeshiva people for their brothers to return. Now there is joy in Phoenix. The joy is on all sides. The members of the community are thrilled to be a part of torah life, and the members of the kollel are so happy to have brought them back. We have all heard of the beautiful city of Phoenix, but to us yungeleit from Lakewood this beauty has a new meaning. It is the beauty of ruchnius, the beauty of Gan Eden. The Rambam says if one is being influenced by his surroundings and is not successful in torah, Yeilech Lamidbar. We have seen Kabolas Hatorah in the midbar and we are thankful to the people of Phoenix for giving us that opportunity.

A young man by the name of Frank with whom I spent some time learning with over Yom Tov came to bid us farewell. We hope you guys come back soon, he said misty eyed. Dont worry, Frank. Were far from finished. We'll be back.
You can have all the codes and seminars you want. Kiruv starts with a smile, a good word, a kugel and a chulent. Everything else follows from there.