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

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Rabbi Dr. Steinfeld

I was talking to MHW this morning about a medical matter relating to one of our kids and I said: "Why don't you ask Rabbi Steinfeld?" MHW pointed out that I called him Rabbi, not doctor, and that she does the same thing all the time.

"Rabbi" Steinfeld is actually "Dr." Steinfeld and has been our kids' pediatrician for over 18 years. He is a wonderful doctor and wonderful, gentle man, whom we trust and admire greatly. But he is not a Rabbi. And he is traditional rather than observant.

What is the meaning of this?

I once read a story about Rav Avraham Yitzchak Ha'Kohen Kook, ztk'l's days as a talmid of the the Netziv in the Volozhin Yeshiva. A couple of other bachurim in the Yeshiva came to the Rosh Yeshiva to ask permission to wear their tefillin in the bais medrash all day. The Netziv turned them down. One of the bochurim brazenly asked the Rosh Yeshiva, "Rebbe, you allow R. Avraham Yitzchak to wear his tefillin all day. Are we not talmidei chachamim like him?". The Netziv replied, "Yes, certainly you are talmidei chachamim. But Reb Avraham Yitzchak is a yashar".

It is hard to define what yashrus means. Literally, it means "straightness" and I guess that is close enough for me. I am reminded of this story by one of the things I've recently been posting about, to wit, the case in the Supreme Court regarding file-sharing systems.

To briefly review: A bunch of music and movie producers are suing a number of internet file-sharing systems that facilitate the unlawful downloading of music and movies. The plaintiffs want to hold the file-sharing systems liable for copyright infringement and the systems are claiming that they are not themeselves doing anything illegal.

It is not clear what the Court will decide but, if I had to guess, I would bet that the Court will decide for the defendants.

What is clear and is the settled law of the land is that the downlowding and copying of music and movies by individuals without paying is an unlawful breach of the copyright laws.

Interestingly, the halachah, according to people who know more than me, is murky when it comes to both the issue of intellectual property and to the issue of the application of the principle, "dina d'malchusa dina" (the law of the land is the law). (Gil, help me out!)

Despite the law, the practice of unlawfully downloading music and movies from the internet is widespread, with millions of downloads every day. This practice is also very widespread in the frum community. In the MO community the practice is comprised of the usual downloading of secular music and in more chareidi circles it is the uploading and sharing of Jewish music CDs.

This bother me no end. The practice is unlawful in this country. As unlawful as going into a store and stealing a physical CD. It is taking someone's intellectual property without paying for it. Period. Even if it is technically within halachah, it is certainly not lifnim m'shuras ha'din. It is not yashar.

I just don't understand all the justifications. What are we teaching our kids?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Is It Good To Be Loved...

....By a Rebbetzin? Even a Renegade Rebbetzin?
Stealing II

It is dangerous to predict Supreme Court decisions based on oral arguments but published reports of yesterday's arguments on the internet file-sharing case that I recently highlighted suggest that the Court was not sympathetic to the plaintiffs.

It sounded like many of the Justices were reluctant to hold the file sharing systems liable for the copyright infringement of their customers. This would be consistent with the Court's ruling in 1984 that Sony was not liable for the copyright infringement of those who purchased its Betamax system (remember those??!!). In all likelihood, the Court will rule that the file-sharing systems are not liable.

Nevertheless, it is important to remember that it remains settled that it is unlawful to download music without paying for it or to copy someone else's CDs. I am still working on obtaining a better understanding of the halachah (including the application of dina d'malchusa dina) and I have heard various opinions.

This presents a very difficult problem for parents whose kids are downloading music for free. It is unlawful and possibly against halacha yet it is incredibly widespread among our kids. Because it is so widespread and so easy, it is difficult even convincing kids that it is wrong. But it is wrong.

I don't know the answer.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

How Wrong Can Wrong Be?

One of the things I like about DovBear is that I can almost always count on him being wrong. But sometimes he is SO wrong it makes my head spin.
Bill Gates: Closet Chassid??

The concept of going off by yourself to think and meditate is called Hisbodedus. It is a very powerful tool for connecting to the Master of the Universe and is something that we could all benefit from. Although not an original Chassidic concept, it is a very fundamental part of Breslov Chassidus and was something promoted very heavily by Rebbe Nachman.

I raise this because yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a fascinating page-one article (available on-line only by subscription) of Bill Gates' annual "Think Week". Each year, Gates goes by himself to a secluded cottage somewhere along the Pacific Ocean and reads scores of papers on all kinds of topics prepared by various Microsoft groups throughout the world. He works at least 18 hours a day and rarely leaves the cottage. He is completely alone except for one attendant who prepares his two meals per day.

Gates marks up the reports (he reads more than 100 during Think Week) and sends emails all over the world in response to the ideas presented in the reports. Following Think Week, there are follow up meetings and discussions all over Microsoft in reaction to Gates' comments and suggestions. Over the years, Think Week has spawned many of the new ideas that have been very successful for Microsoft.

Not that Bill Gates needs my approval, but, as a business matter, I think the concept of a "Think Week" is brilliant. We do not spend enough time thinking, either by ourselves or as teams. While I have no use for touchy-feely seminars that supposedly build team work and make you "think outside the box", I do believe in executives spending time together to think and exchange ideas.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The WQ

My shul has one of the weirdest collections of people I've ever met. And, I'm not talking just on Purim. Dov Bear, in a moment of inspiration, referred to it as the "Nassau Community College of Shuls".

There are a handful of normal people, but only a few. The shul is a collection of ba'alei teshuva, gerrim, Russians, FFBs who have moved to the right, Chassidic wannabes, Litvaks who like the quiet, Yekkies who like the quiet, Israeli Nationalists, and sundry others. Most are united by being inspired by our Rav and being a little bit (or more) 'off'.

The few of us who are normal measure the weirdness of the shul by what we call the WQ, or Weirdness Quotient. WQ measures the number of whackos relative to the number of normal people in the shul at any point in time. On Shabbos the WQ is usually off the charts because besides our own, home grown whackos, we attract some of the weirdest Jews from around the metro area and, indeed, the world.

Every time we think the WQ is going down because of an influx to the shul of normal people, a few particularly strange birds seem to join and the equilibrium is restored. And, sometimes when you think the WQ can go no higher, a few visitors from another planet show up on our doorstep for shabbos.

All in all, never a dull moment.
Psycho Sister

I have been bugging my older brother and one of my older sisters to join me this coming fall for the Wheels of Love Bike Tour in Israel. I thought it would be a nice way of spending time together while raising money in memory of our dad.

My brother is considering it but my sister is definitely on board. In fact she is totally on board. In fact, she is getting psycho, even worse than I was last year.

I stopped by her house yesterday to show her a few things about her new bike and to give her some riding tips. I also showed her what tensions to use on her spin bike to properly simulate climbing in the Golan and Jerusalem. Finally, I was going to give her some advice on 'core training'. After a minute it was clear that she could have taught me a few things. She is already in awesome shape, is incredibly determined and will no doubt be able to ride with me during the bike tour.

When I was driving home, I thought, how embarrassing would it be if my older sister dropped me like a hot potato on the hills of the Golan Heights? I better start getting serious.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

OU Bans Candyman

In the Purim issue of the "Outlook", an advertising supplement distributed in the Five Towns and Queens, "Harris S. Judah" wrote a very funny spoof about the OU's alleged ban on shul candymen. (It's not online, although "Mr. Judah" has a website at The OU's next target: shuckling in shul.

The subject of shul candymen is close to my heart because for most of the last 30 years of his life, my dad was a shul candyman. I always thought that a shul isn't really a shul without a candyman.

Unfortunately, there was always something that bothered me about my dad's role as candyman. And I see the same things going on today.

The percentage of kids who said "thank you" to my dad when he gave them a candy was tiny, no more than 10%. This always amazed me and appalled me. (Although my father didn't do it, whenever I visited him for Shabbos, I would ask the kids after they took a candy, "what do you say?", thereby eliciting a thank you.)

I see the same thing today and worse. Besides not saying thank you, a large percentage of the kids simply drop their wrappers or lollipop sticks on the floor, inside or outside the shul. At the end of every Shabbos, the stairwells of the shul and the grounds outside are strewn with lollipop sticks.

This may seem like a small thing, but I don't think so. Where is the basic derech eretz? Where are the parents? Do they know what their kids are doing? When my kids were small (or, these days with fosterboy), whenever they came back to our seats with candy, I would ask whether they said thank you. If they said no, I would send them back to the candyman to say thanks. And, I would constantly remind them to throw their garbage in the garbage can. It's pretty basic.

I am not one of those curmudgeons advocating a ban on candymen (they actually exist in every shul) but it kills me when I walk through our beautiful shul on a Sunday morning only to see scores of wrappers and lollipop sticks all over the grounds. Something is wrong.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

....Till I Reach the Higher Ground

I just received an email from Alyn Hospital with some details about next year's Wheels of Love Bike Tour.

The tour will begin on November 6th in the Golan Heights (assuming Sharon doesn't give them away between now and then) and end up in Jerusalem (assuming Sharon doesn't give it away between now and then). Registration starts on April 3rd. The routes have been established (although not yet published on line). This is how they describe it (emphasis added).

The terrain will be a bit easier than last year, BUT—and this is a big BUT—this year’s ride will include a number of VERY serious climbs. If you haven’t started training, now’s the time. Aim for the hills, and if you live in the flatlands, work on interval training. Spinning classes are another way to build up your strength and endurance.
The ride is seven months away but I am already totally psyched. As far as I'm concerned there can't be enough hills so the prospect of a bunch of nasty climbs is awesome.

(There will also be a parallel off-road ride which is amazing fun, but not for me (you can switch off on different days). And, this year, there is an on-road sissy-tour for those who don't want to do the nasty hills.)

In light of the nature of the 2005 tour, I am ditching my plans to do a bunch of biathlons and will stick to riding hilly centuries and spinning.

I am trying to persuade my brother to join me on this year's ride. That would be very cool (although I told him that when I'm riding, I have no mercy for anyone, including my good ol' brother. If he can't keep up with me, I drop him him like a hot potato.)

The best way to describe this bike tour is that it is a "once-in-a-lifetime-experience" that you can experience every year. You need to be in very good shape and train hard but it is really a spectacular week (and you raise money for a good cause at the same time).

Like last year, I will continue to post about the ride at my old Riding With MoC blog.
What's In A Name

The wonderful news is that earlier this week our older son and his lovely wife named our first grandchild after my dad, z'l. I am told that it is a great zechus (merit) for my dad for a child to be named after him so soon after his petirah (passing). I choose to believe that.

The news that is hard to categorize is the reaction of my mom (zzg). When she heard the name called out during the bris she began to cry. (No one knew the name ahead of time except the parents and our Rav, whom they had consulted). One would expect nothing less, especially in light of the fact my parents were happily married for 57 years and the baby has both my father's first and last names. (I, too, admit that I was crying; I could hardly complete the kaddish that was said immediately after the bris).

But now things are getting out of control! At the seudah following the bris my mom hugged the kids and told them how much it meant to her, and, of course, began to cry. The other day my mom called me to tell me how meaningful it was that the kids named the baby for my dad. And, whaddaya know, she started to cry again.

Knowing my mom, she will probably cry every time she sees him (or even hears his name) for the rest of her life!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


Ted Olsen has an interesting Op-Ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal (it's a subscription service on line) called "Thou Shalt Not Steal". Olsen is the former soliciter general who now represents the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America. He writes about so-called peer-to-peer file sharing systems that are available free of charge to anyone with a computer. These services make their money by selling advertising aimed at the system's users. They make music and movies available to be downloaded by their users without charge. The systems argue that they are not doing anything illegal, but their arguments are sketchy, at best.

Later this month the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the legality of these systems in a case called MGM Studios v. Grokster.

Olsen makes a strong case that these systems are engaged in copyright infringement. He points out that 90% of the activity of these sites is for the purposes of unlawful copyright infringement. (It is beyond question that those users who are actually downloading the music or movies are involved in unlawful copyright infringement).

He makes another very important point:

These systems also inflict immeasurable damage to our standards and morals. By enabling millions of persons, especially our children, to take property without paying for it, we are sending a potent message that it is acceptable somehow to steal music if it is done in the home with a computer rather than stuffing CDs from a store into a backpack and walking out. That is why many organizations who represent traditional values have joined in the effort to stop this systematic and widespread theft - unified by the belief in the simple and ancient principle: "Thou Shalt Not Steal".
I couldn't agree more with this last statement. I know that many frum teens take advantage of these systems and also trade music that they upload from CDs. Indeed, I was told by a Jewish music insider that the Israel-based record store and distributor, Gal Paz, told him that the volume of their J Muisc CD sales is significantly down because so many people are "sharing" the music through MP3s.

This is a very disturbing trend, not just because it will cause financial harm to Jewish musicians (many of whom struggle as it is) but because a practice that is nothing short of stealing is becoming commonplace and acceptable.

I think it is incumbent on parents and Rabbanim to make it clear to their kids that file sharing and CD swapping is wrong, and, as Ted Olsen, writes, no different from shoplifting CDs.
Ritual Drinking. Part II

[This is a continuation of the thread started here.]

In the blink of an eye, our shul went dry. Rabbi Billet had been pushing this idea at the Young Israel of Woodmere for a number of years. I was vehemently opposed to implementing a ban on hard liquor at Aish. I felt that Jews had been celebrating with a l'chayim or two for hundreds of years, that there was nothing wrong with drinking in moderation and that we had, until that point, managed to keep everything under control. I even thought that it would be important to show the velt that drinking had a place in our mesorah and that we would be able to continue that tradition without losing control.

Also, while I understood and supported Rabbi Billet's position, as it pertained to his shul, I thought our dynamics were different, for many reasons, among them, demographics. Our population was much younger. There were very few teens in the shul at that time so I was less worried about the impression that drinking would make on our kids. And, very naively, I thought that we were somehow 'different' and would be able to deal with it as our kids got older.

The concert woke me up. Witnessing what I did that night, I realized that we were living in very different and challenging times and that desperate measures were called for. I now felt that we had to show our kids that drinking was not that important. We could no longer afford to make a big deal of the wonderful and expensive bottles of scotch and bourbon that we were all so proud of. That we could control ourselves.

Let me be clear. While I think measures such as these are necessary and important, if that is all we do we are totally wasting our time. The rash of drinking and drugs (and, more recently, gambling) that is plaguing our kids are symptoms of much deeper problems. We have to address the underlying disease, not just the symptoms. All the awareness programs run by our schools, the public pronouncements made by the OU, NCSY and others, the bans on the internet and even cell phones are for naught unless the underlying issues are addressed.

And it is interesting that these problems afflict the yeshivish world as much as the MO world. Kids who are growing up in entirely differnt environments are sharing the same problems. What's going on? What is the common denominator?

And another thing. There are so many kids growing up in frum houses who are NOT drinking or doing drugs and are not, on the outside, demonstrating rebellious behavior, but who are completely disengaged from and disinterested in Yiddishkeit. They go through the motions of being frum kids (out of derech eretz for their parents, I suppose) but feel nothing. We don't often describe kids like these as being "off the derech" but they could be described as "sleep-walking through the derech".

So what is the underlying problem? And what can we do? I hope to discuss this next post.
Modern Technology: America Gonif

This morning MHW and I signed up on-line for our younger son's teacher's conferences. We were able to reserve time slots with each of his teachers with a few clicks of the mouse. The entire process took about five minutes.

As my father, z'l, might have said (quoting his father), "America Gonif".

(I don't really understand what that means but that's for sure what my dad would have said).

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Three More Things That Drive Me Nuts

In no particular order...

1) People who consistently ask klutz kashas at shiurim.

2) People who make sound effects during shiurim or repeat out loud words that the magid shiur is saying.

3) Well-meaning people who have no concept of space and get right in your face when they tell you things.

Three more things I need to work on.
Ritual Drinking: A 180 Degree Turn. Part I

My thinking about drinking (in the context of Jewish ritual and custom) has changed 180 degrees over the past couple of years.

It changed suddenly as a result of an eye-opening experience. Two years ago our shul sponsored a concert a couple of weeks before Pesach featuring Shlomo Katz and Chaim Dovid. We had been running J music concerts for about four years with great success and without incident. At this concert, we had about 500 kids from all over the community. Unfortunately, a large portion of them came very well prepared with bottles and flasks of beer and hard liquor and had clearly had much to drink even before walking in. (It was impossible to tell what kinds of drugs were being used and how pervasive it was).

We were totally unprepared and the night got very ugly. Kids were hanging around outside the shul drinking more and presumably doing more drugs. They were very rowdy and out of control and it became a very big problem both inside and outside the shul. Some of the kids got violent when we asked them to leave.

Let me be clear. I am not talking about ten kids. There were scores of kids in this state. Mostly boys but plenty of girls. And, they came from all of the schools including predominantly from the more right wing yeshivas.

In retrospect, I remembered that during our previous concert, a gig that was held about a week before Purim, I noticed that some of the guys had the smell of alcohol on their breath. I didn't think much about it at the time and attributed it to a few guys in the 'Pre-Purim Mode'. What I now suspect is that the word in the 'Jewish kids' underground' got out that these concerts provided a good opportunity to get smashed while telling your parents that you were going to a kosher Jewish event. So, while there were just a handful of this chevra at the Pre-Purim gig, there were many times that number at the next gig.

Coincidentally, after pushing for this for years, Rabbi Herschel Billet of The Young Israel of Woodmere, had just instituted a complete ban of hard liquor in his shul. He called me that week and asked if our shul would agree to the same conditions.

I called our Rav and we agreed. We instituted the policy immediately and it has been in effect ever since.

This was a radical, almost shocking departure for us. Although we were never plagued with the 'kiddush club' problem, we were known for our appreciation of a good single malt scotch or bourbon and for having a l'chayim or two (or three) at kiddushes. In a shul where there is no talking during davening, the kiddush afterwards was an outlet and an opportunity to bond with chaverim. Undeniably, liquor seemed to play a central role. (It is important to note, however, that our Rav does not touch the stuff. I would call him a tee-toatler but I don't think he even drinks tea).

Next time I will discuss the reasoning behind this decision and the development of my own thoughts on this topic.
Special Evening of Jewish Music

Congregation Anshei Lita presents a very special program of Jewish music this motsai Shabbos:

"An Evening Of Litvish Music"

The program will begin at 8:30 p.m. Please come on time because the program will end by 8:35 p.m.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Wall

I had intended to write more this week about Jewish education and the drug and alcohol problems afflicting our kids but I've hit the wall. I don't know where to start and I don't have the energy to think hard.

Maybe I need more sleep. Maybe I'll try tomorrow.
The Latest in Jewish Music

Shiny Ogre Music

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Fine Kosher Wine Tasting

On the same weekend that I received an email from the OU regarding drinking on Purim, and in the same week where there was a community-wide meeting for Rabbanim and educators regarding the drug, alcohol and gambling problems plaguing the community, I received an invitation to "A Night of Fine Kosher Wine Tasting" from one of the shuls in the neighborhood.

You can't make this stuff up.
J Scholastic Sports IV - Parents and Coaches

As much as I love scholastic sports (and floor hockey in particular), there are two major problems: Bad coaches and parents.

Let's take coaches first. A good coach can have tremendous positive effects on kids. He (or she) can instill a sense of discipline, camaraderie, teamwork, fairness and a work ethic. I have known coaches who have straightened kids out and changed their lives for the better. A bad coach, particularly one that can't control his kids or his own temper, can be a terrible influence.

Parents can be even worse. Parents are obviously very invested in their kids, including how they do in sports. Some parents, however, take this to an extreme. Over the years, I have routinely seen frum parents verbally abuse referees (often teenagers who are refing or umping games for a few extra bucks). On a number of occasions, it has come close to getting physical. I have also seen parents abuse kids from other teams. Indeed, before the beginning of every little league season, the youth director at one of the local shuls sends out a mailing reminding parents to put the games in perspective and, essentially, grow up.

(By the way, this phenomenon is not limited to kids' leagues. I quit the Young Israel adult softball league many years ago because I was tired of the arguing and whining. The only thing worse is a lawyers' league. Hamayvin Yavin).

This all came home last night at my son's JV hockey game, a semi-final playoff. My son's team is the number one seed and was heavily favored to win. They did not disappoint, dominating every phase of the game and winning 5 - 0. Shots on goal were about 40 to 3.

The referee, one of the most competent in the league, called five penalties on the other team (including three on one talentless goon of a defenseman who was head-hunting and was ultimately thrown out of the game for cursing at the ref) and only one on my son's team. While at first glance this may seem inherently unfair, one needs to keep in mind the fact that the ball was in my son's teams offensive zone for 90% of the time. In truth, he could easily have called another one or two penalties on the other team.

You wouldn't have known it from the sore-loser behavior of other teams' coach and parents. They were verbally abusing the refs for most of the game, especially in the third period. It got very ugly. It was fortunate that the boys on the other team, to their credit (and notwithstanding the pathetic behavior of their own coach), maintained their composure and did not go head-hunting with the game effectively out of reach.

After the game, one of the mothers of a boy on the other team commented to MHW that our team will do well so long as we have that referee working for us. MHW did not bother to respond but she could have pointed out, among other things, that we also beat that team 5 - 1 at their home court with different referees. (The truth is that our son's team could play the other team 100 times and would win 100 times no matter who the refs were.)

It's very sad. Instead of telling the kids, "great game, you played hard and hung in there against a much more talented team" (all true), they were sore losers, verbally abused the refs in front of their own kids and then blamed the loss on the refs. What lessons are they imparting to the kids?
Mashiv Ha'ruach U'morid Ha'geshem

If you thought that the davening in your MO shul this morning was with more kavanah than usual, you were not imagining things.

Fathers all over the metropolitan area were praying hard for rain. Today is the first day of little league in the MO shuls leagues. Having coached my own sons for more years than I care to remember,I remember distinctly how I used to daven for rain, particularly during the cold and windy days of April (I don't even recall the season starting in March in my day).

However, the Aibishter works in His own, mysterious ways. At this point, it looks like there will be just enough rain to make the day particularly miserable but nor enough to cause the games to be cancelled.

Baruch Shepitrani.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Shalom Berger on Substance Abuse: Who Bears Responsibility?

At Torah Currents, a quasi-blog established by the Orthodox Caucus.

He writes, in closing:

Why are our students “turned-off” to traditional community values and “turned-on” to [drugs, etc.]? Are our children’s lives so empty that they need to turn to alcohol, drugs, and gambling? Why do they need to escape? What are they escaping from?

It is time that parents, schools and community leaders brainstorm about these issues, not only on a level of “how can we solve the alcohol/drug/gambling/etc. problem?”, but also on a constructive level – “how can we fill our kids’ lives with meaning?” How can we make sure that our children understand that there is a purpose to their lives – a purpose that is greater than the short-term pleasure that any of these dangerous diversions can offer.

It is important that leaders of the American Orthodox community are discussing ways to deal with these issues and that they are offering to support Israeli institutions in facing them. But one of the main concerns should be a frank assessment and reevaluation of the values and priorities that are being fostered in the homes, schools and synagogues in North America (emphasis added).
Only when we address the root will there be any hope of fixing what's broken.

Indirect Hat Tip: Presence
What is a Shadchun?

I guess we'll find out.
(NOT) Drinking on Purim II

(NOT) Drinking on Purim I

From the OU

My kids' school forwarded the following email (abridged by me) from the OU:

Dear Parents,

In an ongoing effort to address relevant and timely parenting issues facing frum families today, the Orthodox Union will be presenting a major communal conference for parents of elementary and high school children at the Edward R. Murrow High School, 1600 Avenue L, Brooklyn, New York on Sunday, March 20 2005, from 8:45 am - 1:30 pm.

This conference is part of the Orthodox Union's national Positive Jewish Parenting initiative which has attracted thousands of participants in frum communities across the country. The presenters are well-known professionals in the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work and the rabbinate who will lead interactive workshops and discussions on strengthening parenting skills and providing practical ideas and suggestions through a Torah observant perspective. In addition to the workshops, Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. and Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, PhD. will each present a keynote address......

Within the past year alone, the yeshiva world and the general Jewish community have been rocked by unsettling stories of young men and women affected by the influence of drugs and alcohol. Although we have thought ourselves immune from the many dangers of contemporary society, our children are now confronting some of the same issues as their secular counterparts. Among the many parenting workshop topics to be presented, we are dedicating two sessions to promote an awareness of substance abuse in our community. Hopefully, ongoing educational programs will provide the knowledge to empower parents to recognize and prevent these concerns from developing within their individual families.....
It is admirable that the OU is trying to take some concrete steps to address the rampant drug and alcohol problems effecting our communities. The problem is that programs like these are doomed to failure because, despite the best intentions, they all address the symptoms rather than the cause.

I don't have time now but I hope to post extensively on this topic next week.

Thursday, March 17, 2005


Why does Dov Hikind think he has standing to do this? Without expressing an opinion one way or the other on the disengagement from Gaza, I just don't get how publicity-seeking Jews from Brooklyn have a right to make a physical tumult regarding the internal politics of Israel. When he moves there he can demonstrate all he wants.
Nothing Has Changed...

In A Year

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

MoC Gets Results

Obviously stung by my criticism in this recent post, Lance Armstrong reacted by retracting his endorsement of the Paris bid for the 2012 Olympics and confirming his support for New York (sixth paragraph from bottom).

Lance may be tough, but apparently not tough enough to mess with MoC.
Aish Kodesh: Shteeble or Not? You Decide

In response to recent post, DovBear was surprised that the gabbai of my shul actually scheduled the ba'alei tefilah more than a few minutes before the actual tefilah. "Very unusual for a shteeble", said the bear. I explained that Aish Kodesh was not a shteeble; rather, the second largest shul in Woodmere. He responded that "if a Hasidic guy sits up front, it's a shteeble".

As a public service, I have assembled a checklist of a few of the characteristics of a shteeble and compared it against Aish Kodesh. (I am open to suggestions from readers regarding characteristics I may have overlooked).

Here Goes:

1. Constant talking is required in Shteebles. There is no talking at Aish.

2. There are tables in shteebles with men sitting with their backs to the aron. There are no tables in the main sanctuary of Aish. Even in the bais medrash, no one sits with his back to the Aron.

3. The rabbi in a shteeble is Chassidic. The rabbi at Aish is chassidic.

4. The rabbi in a shteeble usually speaks with a Yiddish accent and never goes to college. The rabbi at Aish speaks perfect English and has a master's degree from Colombia.

5. The rabbi in a shteeble is usually a musmach of ABYU (Anywhere But YU). The rabbi of Aish is a musmach of YU.

6. The rabbi in a shteeble has usually never heard of Rav Avraham Yitchak Hakohen Kook. The rabbi of Aish gives a shiur in Oros Hateshuva.

7. Shteebles begin kiddush in the shul during chazoras hashat'z of musaf, have six-week-old herring and lot's of hard liquor. Aish begins kiddushes downstairs in the socail hall after davening, has fresh herring and does not permit any hard liquor in the building.

8. The ezras nashim of a shteeble is usually a 4' X 4' space cordoned off by a shmata for a mechitza. Aish has a large women's section with a state-of-the-art one-way glass mechitza.

9. Aliyos are sold in a shteeble, they make multiple 'mishabeirachs' and there are a minimum of ten hosafos. Aliyos are not sold at Aish, there are no multiple 'mishabeirachs' and there are no hosafos.

We report. You decide.
Blue Fringe St. Patrick's Day Concert

Blue Fringe announced that it is playing a special St. Patrick's Day concert this Thursday night at O'Reilly's Bar and Grill in Manhattan. A spokesman for Blue Fringe said, "What better way to prepare for playing before 1000 drunk Jewish teeny-boppers than a St. Paddy's Day gig. While Jewish teens are quickly closing the gap, the teenage St. Patrick's Day revelers still have a thing or two to teach us about getting smashed."

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Quick, I Need A Mekubal!

My administrative assistant went into the hospital yesterday where they discovered that she had big time blockage of her arteries. She is lucky to be alive but will be out of pocket for a while. A few months ago, my previous AA slipped in the office and threw out her back (which she is apparently milking for all the long-term disability it is worth).

Clearly, the cubicle in which they sat is spooked.

We need an exorcism, asap.

Please send resumes to my comments section.
Science Fairs: Thinking Inside The Box

Our elementary schools waste huge amounts of time on lots of touchy-feely narishkeit but one of the biggest annual wastes of time is the science fair. It isn't science and it isn't fair.

It is presented to parents as an important inter-disciplinary project that combines research, writing and creativity. We all know that it is nothing of the sort.

The so-called science is a joke. Most kids do the same tired "experiments" that have been done for decades. Typical topics: What absorbs more water, corn starch or diaper crystals; or, how seedlings react to various levels of light or heat.

The "reasearch" consists of spending an hour on the computer finding some gobbledygook remotely related to the topic.

The creativity depends on (a) how much work a kid's parents are willing to do, (b) how good his or her computer skills are, and/or (c) how sophisticated his or her computer graphics system is.

Despite the ridiculously low level of work, grades of 95 are routine. So kids think that they've learned something when, in fact, they've learned nothing.

The time and effort invested in science fairs could be put to use much more beneficially. A real interdisciplinary report ought to be mandated on a topic that is actually useful. Let's say, for arguments sake, The History of the State of Israel. Pick a key characher or event and write a real report, with real research and real writing. Or, if you prefer, Tefilah. How about picking one tefilah, translating it, looking into it's background and history, etc. These are just two ideas that might result in some actual useful information being passed on and some real skills being learned. I'm open to suggestions. (And, for the small handful of science geeks in each class, have a voluntary science fair for extra credit. That way, those who are interested will participate and the projects won't be embarrassing.)

Everyone knows that the science fair is a big, tired joke. The parents know it and the kids know it. The schools should know it. It's time to start thinking outside the box.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Doesn't the Megilah Start with A Party That We Shouldn't Have Attended?

I received an Email from Blue Fringe advertising their Purim night gig at the treif night club, B.B. King's:

So after you're done reading megillah wherever you are, shoot on over to B.B. King's and celebrate with us.
Hashem Yirachem
A Conversation

Following is the transcript of a telephone conversation between Our Older Son (the new father) and Our Older Daughter (who is studying at seminary in Israel).

OOD: Hello.

OOS: Is this Aunt OOD?


OOS: We had a boy!

Zaide MoC

With immeasurable gratitude to Hashem Yisbarach, MHW and I are pleased to announce that our HDIL and son had a boy this morning, thereby, inter alia, making us ...cough...cough....grandparents! B'H, Mom and baby are doing great.

For those of you of the female persuasion, I can also tell you that the baby weighed in at 6 pounds, 12 ounces. (Why this is important is beyond me but, hey, I'm gender-challenged).

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Show Me The Mun-ey

I have posted frequently about the sad decline of Seudah Shlishis (the third Shabbos meal) as an institution of MO shuls in America. B'H, my shul still hosts a communal third meal every week, all year 'round. The importance of Seudah Shlishis was brought home this past Shabbos.

Raiva d'raivin (the chosen time of the chosen day). Lights dimmed, sitting around my usual table with my good friends, the discussion, as usual, turned to the deepest topics, this time related to Purim: What's better, Hamentashen with mun or Lekvar (prune butter).

The conversation got heated. I, for one, think it is no contest. Lekvar, obviously. In fact, I cannot even swallow mun. Mun is one of those overrated foods, like Halvah, that I simply can't get down my throat (There is nothing worse than taking a bite out of a chocolate danish only to discover that it is a mun danish. yuchh). My chaverim on the mun side, most of whom are at least 15 years my junior, suggested that perhaps my preference for prune butter Hamentashen was age-related and imagined that they, too, might begin to see the gadlus of prune when they reached my age.

Needless to say, the matter was not resolved. Ailu v'ailu.

Friday, March 11, 2005

My Shul's Gonna Rock This Shabbos

Being an insider in my shul I have the distinct advantage of knowing in advance the Shabbos davening line up. This allows me to avoid (or at least mentally prepare myself for) the few ba'alei tefilah that I'd rather not listen to.

This Shabbos, Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Adar II, we have an outstanding lineup, from Kabbolas Shabbos through Musaf. It is enough to make a kalta chassid such as myself forgo the hashkamah minyan and attend the main davening. You are all cordially invited.

I am thinking about purchasing those clips that nursery school children use to clip their mittens to their winter jackets. So far this winter, I have lost three left gloves (what's the deeper meaning of that?). I am now reduced to wearing those $1.00 one-size-fits-all gloves that MHW buys at the beginning of each winter in anticipation of the kids losing their regular gloves.

I am also thinking about my other glove, my softball glove. How strange that while I lose an average of two or three pairs of gloves per winter, I have managed to hold on to my softball glove for the past 24 years.

(In fact, I have had only two gloves in the past 35 years. I lost my previous glove when I was an associate at a Wall Street law firm. I played second base for the firm team (I should have been playing third base but that position was occupied by a rather rotund and talentless partner who couldn't move more than one foot in either direction; but owing to his status as partner and mine as lowly first-year associate, he ended up at the hot corner). One game I singled and tried to stretch it into a double, slid in to second and broke my left wrist. I took a cab to St. Vincent's Hospital where I waited seven hours until they finished taking care of all the drug addicts and shotgun victims. Unfortunately, I forgot my mitt on the field and never saw it again).

I love my glove. It is small, not like today's massive gloves, a real infielder's mitt. I paid $100, a fortune, 24 years ago. Even though I rarely play anymore (Years ago I played in the Young Israel league but I got fed up with all the arguing and whining and started to ride my bike instead) I oil my mitt every season. I even sent it to the Mitt Mender when it started to fall apart a number of years ago (They did a fabulous job).

I am looking forward to picking up my beloved mitt and tossing the ball around with my kids as soon as the weather warms up.

Just when you thought that DovBear was becoming yet another tedious left-wing blogger whose idea of humor is, for example, suggesting that George W. is not the sharpest knife in the toolbox (ha, ha, ha, ha), (its gotten so bad that in an effort to help out my good buddy I had to spend a good portion of my day yesterday commenting on his blog, injecting it with a little life and thereby subjecting myself to attacks from his whacko supporters (the two-dozen liberal MO Jews remaining in the world), one of whom called me 'hard hearted' because I think people shouldn't be able to welch on their credit card bills), he redeems himself.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Cognitive Dissonance

One of the tools that assists the public realtions machines of most of the MO elementary schools is the immense amount of cognitive dissonance on the part of the parent bodies. By this I mean that parents are unable or unwilling to believe things about the education of their children that should be plain to see.

Of course, the schools fuel this through a combination of out-of-control grade inflation and dumbed down curricula. So long as their kids continue to bring home grades of 104 on their tests (extra credit for writing their names correctly), participate in the class play and get involved in the latest chesed program, everything is good.

(Don't get me wrong. I am not minimizing the importance of some of the extra-curricula activities. I think they are very important but not to the exclusion of actual learning).

Teachers quickly learn to go along with the charade. At parent-teachers conferences, you will see lines out the door for any teacher who is very demanding or gives high grades grudingly. Why would a teacher want to subject himself or herself to that. It's easier to give out the 104s and go through the motions.

Does anyone ever wonder how it is that their kids get 90s on every single English composition even though the only thing they read are Archie comics? Did you ever actually read one of those grade-90 compositions? (Over the years I have routinely seen grades of 90 and higher on papers that my own kids wrote that were full of spelling and grammatical mistakes; I have been shocked by the grade inflation, particularly in this area).

How is it that some kids spend eight years on the Dean's List but can't read a Rashi and can't translate the simplest pasuk of Tehillim that we say every day in davening. (Try it sometime. Ask your elemntary school kid to translate Ashrei, Yehi Chavod or Modim, for example. Simple pshat; nothing deeper. You may be surprised).

One could argue that actual learning is secondary to raising good kids who are erliche Yirei Shamayim. I would agree. And most of the kids, do, by and large, come out nice, mainly because their parents are nice. But the kids leave school with little feeling towards their Yiddishkeit, not knowing what it means to have a personal relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam and not knowing how to daven (or caring about it).

If you don't believe me, pick a day and go to a morning minyan at a high school, even an all-boy's high school. 25% of the kids will be davening. 75% will be staring into space, many not even bothering to open their siddurim).

But because of our cognitive dissonance, we don't see what is there before our eyesit's all good. After all, my kid got a 90.

(And, please, no comments that it's worse in the Chareidi world. That may well be the case but it doesn't change the reality in the MO world which is the world I know and the one I'm addressing).
Say It Ain't So, Lance

Lance Armstrong betrays his country and publicly supports the Paris bid for the 2012 Olympics.

Apparently he's been hanging out with Sheryl Crow and her ilk for too long.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Rabbi Rothstein's Non-Apology "Apology"

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein, who wrote the article promoting a boycott of the Siyum Hashas has written a couple of emails regarding his original column. These are two of the most non-apologetic apologies I've read in a while. (See, in particular, the second, more substantive letter). I would assume that he got in trouble with some of the machers at his school who must have given him heat and forced him to disassociate himself from them.

He doesn't really back off an inch. Not on his views about Daf Yomi and not on his views about the appropriateness of a boycott. I continue to be astonsihed by his arrogance.
The Ivrit B'Ivrit Conundrum

One of the big problems in MO elementary school education is the confusion over the role of teaching in Ivrit b'Ivrit ("IBI"). IBI is the process by which all Judaic studies classes, from Chumash and Navi to Halacha and Talmud are taught entirely in Hebrew. So, for example, a pasuk in Chumash will be translated by the teacher into other Hebrew words rather than into English. Even outside the texts, teachers are required, under the IBI system, to speak in Hebrew.

IBI is more an offshoot of MO/Zionist ideology than it is a workable teaching methodology. Even though the overwhelming majority of MO families have no intention of moving to Israel (and would in some cases be horrified if their kids moved), for ideological reasons they want their kids to speak fluent Hebrew and are willing to sacrifice real learning to accomplish this. (These people are what I refer to as the Shabbat Shalom Brigades; even though their parents said 'good Shabbos' and they grew up saying 'good Shabbos', they would rather say Merry X-mas than say good Shabbos. It's Shabbat Shalom or nothing!).

IBI can work in some of the more modern MO yeshivas (where boys and girls are not separated) and the kids (even some of the boys) will actually come out knowing Hebrew. On the other hand, the children will generally leave school without knowing much Torah or having much Yiras Shamayim. Amazingly, many of those schools don't teach Torah or give over Yiras Shamayim and the kids still can't put together a sentence in Hebrew. That's quite a trick and I haven't figured out exactly why they are such dismal failures. I'm open to suggestions.

The problem is exacerbated in schools that do separate boys and girls but still insist on teaching IBI. In most instances the girls will learn some Hebrew but the boys will learn zero Hebrew despite the best efforts of the administration. The reason is simple. In schools like that, there are usually two conflicting goals: On the one hand, IBI, and on the other what I call "the Geshmakness factor". While at the same time they want their kids to learn Hebrew (for the aliyah they are not contemplating), they also want their kids to be exposed to geshmak teachers (so that they can at least have a taste of geshmak Yiddishkeit that is lacking in most of their homes).

As a result, the schools hire geshmak rebbes for the boys and geshmak morot for the girls. Unfortunately, the geshmak rebbes are virtually illiterate when it comes to conversational Hebrew. Even some of the morot are sorely lacking in that department. And no amount of Ulpan or workshops is going to change the fact that these teachers are not comforatble teaching IBI.

On the other hand, forcing these rebbes and morot to teach in IBI results in the kids: (a) not learning Hebrew, (b) not learning Torah and (3) frustrating the teachers and reducing the very geshmakness factor for which the school hired them in the first place.

Instead of just letting these morot and rebbes teach the kids Lashon Hakodesh through the learning of vocabulary, working out texts inside and developing dikduk, their ideologic ties to the Hebrew language get in the way.

If you want your kids to learn Hebrew, move to Israel. I assure you that within a year they will be fluent. If you want them to learn Torah, make sure their school hires exciting, competent and geshmak teachers and lets them teach.
Worst-Timed Post of The Year

I propose a new category for the 2005 JIB Awards: "Worst-Timed Post of the Year" and I proudly nominate this post. In the 24 hours from the time I wrote it, the temparature dropped 40 degrees and there was a nasty frozen-rain/snow storm that wreaked havoc on last night's commute. Next time I think I'll keep my thoughts about Spring to myself.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Underestimating Our Kids

I think that one of the biggest problems in Jewish education today is that we underestimate the ability of our kids to learn, especially at a young age. The curriculum is most schools has been dumbed down to an alarming extent. So much time is spent on feel good nonsense and not enough on fundamentals.

It is axiomatic that younger children can pick up languages more easily than older ones yet we squander those formative years with gobbledygook rather than teaching, for example, vocabulary and dikduk.

With respect to so-called text-based learning, in fact most of the teaching seems to be "outside the seforim" so kids get through 8th grade with a bunch of touchy-feely silliness and never get challenged to work out a pasuk of Chumash or Rashi. By the time they get to high school (where the focus, for most boys, is almost entirely on Gemarah), it's generally too late.

The kids almost never learn biur tefilah, so, by the time they get to high school not only do they not understand what they are saying when they daven, but, in the majority of cases, they have been exposed to environments at home where tefilah is not respected. What do we expect them to think about davening?

They are never taught what it means to have a neshama or what it means to have a relationship with the Almighty. Most 8th graders would look at you funny if you tried to engage them in a conversation about that topic. So, not only do they not learn anything concrete, they don't understand what the big deal is.

Even the shtarkest and most together high schools would have a hard time fixing the problems that they inhereit (and most Jewish high schools are far from shtark and together).

There are exceptions that prove my point. For example, I know of a school where the vocabulary, dikduk and general knowledge of the first grade boys can match that of most fourth grade girls (don't even talk about the boys) in another local school.

It can be done.

We need to start by giving the kids more credit than we have. We need to challenge them.

I started blogging one year ago today. Big deal. Unfortunately (and, I might add, as usual), I have nothing profound to say on this occasion. But, since everyone seems to take note of their blogoversaries, so will I.

UPDATE: To celebrate my one-year anniversary, I had a hot dog with mustard and fried onions from Mendy's. I can't remember the last time I had a hot dog. Having a hot dog is the fleishig equivalent of having a Drake's Cake Devil Dog. It's great for the ten seconds you are eating it but then you feel like garbage the rest of the day.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Two Ways of Looking At It UPDATED

The weather is finally spring-like today. There are two ways of looking at this. One is, "why couldn't the weather have been like this yesterday so that I could have taken a spin on my bike (even though my bike is not my mid-life-crisis-dream-bike)". The other way is to take comfort that today is a harbinger of good days to come. I think I'm looking at it both ways at the same time.


As one of the commenters noted, I jumped the gun. Today is cold, rainy and snowy. Hard to imagine a yuchier day.


Last night I received an email from the Holy Rebbe of Klal Yisrael that made me feel silly in light of this whiny post. He was about to go to sleep a little after 1 a.m. after a hard day (and night) at work (You think it's easy being the Holy Rebbe of Klal Yisrael?). He got a call from his local shmira organizer reminding him that he had guard duty from 1 a.m. until 3 a.m.! D'oh! He put it best: "Ashreinu ma chelkeinu". And I'm whining about not being able to ride my bike.
Education by Public Relations

Mykroft made an interesting comment on my recent post discussing whether it was worthwhile for our younger son's high school to send the entire school to the Siyum Hashas. He said that it was no different than sending the kids to stand around like zombies at the Salute to Israel Parade. According to mykroft, it is all about public relations.

I think there is much truth to what he said.

The STIP is a good place to start. As any parent of kids in mainstream MO schools knows, schools will spend thousands of dollars on T-shirts and parade floats. Attendance at the STIP is mandatory (and non-attendance is punishable by death (almost)). Yet, the overwhelming majority of kids coming out of the Zionist MO schools barely knowing who David Ben Gurion was (and almost certainly not who Menachem Begin or, for example, Levi Eshkol were). They will know almost nothing about the War of Independence or the Six Day War or anything else preceding those events.

Schools make huge productions when the little ones are given their first siddurim and chumashim but will often graduate 8th graders who don't know the literal translation of "Ashrei Yoshvei Vaisecha" (to say nothing of a deeper understanding). Many will leave 8th grade not knowing how to read a Rashi.

Our kids will waste a huge amount of time year after year on science fairs that are a total joke, with topics that are just plain goofy and meaningless. (Most kids with the advantage of having older siblings will simply copy their silly projects; the younger ones often rely on their parents).

Schools will also spend resources and time on Middle States accreditation not because it adds any value but because yenim school has it and we have to keep up with the Joneses.

There are all kinds of non-learning programs that take time from the classroom, incredibly long vacations (these days you get off Erev Erev Pesach even though 2% of the people actually stay home for Pesach and do any work) there is a terrible lack of decorum in classes and ridiculous grade inflation. All of these conditions exist because the goal of the educators is not to teach but to make sure that the kids "feel good about themselves" (and, consequently, that the parents, especially the influential ones, won't give them grief).

In my day, we didn't learn because the teachers were largely inept and parents (many of whom were 'greene') had zero clue about what was going on. These days the opposite is true. We have many wonderful, motivated teachers who are not given the opportunity to teach because of the micro-meddling of parents and the consequent efforts of too many administrations to placate the parents and simply make it look like the kids are learning.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Daf Yomi: The Hat

You knew it was only a matter of time.

Hat tip: G. Rothstein
Daf Yomi is VERY BAD....

...for parking. Our shul started a Daf Yomi shiur for the first time on Wednesday evening. Almost 30 men attended. (Of course, as one member pointed out to the Rav, even Shea Stadium is full on Opening Day). When I arrived for 9 p.m. Maariv I had to park a block away. Same thing happened last night and this morning (when the daf shiur is given at 6 a.m.).

Maybe Rabbi Rothstein is right.
Siyum Hashas: Second Thoughts

I have previously posted on my misgivings about our younger son's high school's attendance at the Siyum Hashas. I was concerned that they would simply be bored and would get nothing out of it.

I was partially right but I was totally wrong. The more I think about it, the more I think it was the right thing for the school to have done.

A couple of years from now our son will not have remembered one word that was said at the siyum. He also will have forgotten about how bored he was. The only things he will remember, and he will remember them for the rest of his life, are how 20,000 Jews got together to give kavod to the Torah; mincha; singing Ani Ma'amin; and the rikud after the siyum. On second, thought, I'm very glad he went.

(Since I can't help but pile on, this is yet another reason this article, suggesting a boycott of the siyum, was so astonishingly wrongheaded and misguided. Think of how many people were inspired to take on additional learning (daf yomi and other things) simply by being surrounded by those who finished the daf yomi cycle.)
Poetic License

MHW got back from Israel yesterday and was scrolling through my blog when she noticed this, a post about how she purportedly left us without her fabulous homebaked Challah for last Shabbos forcing me to spend $17.40 on 2 challahs and 6 challah rolls in a very fancy Manhattan restaurant.

MHW politely pointed out that she did, indeed, leave us homebaked challah albeit in frozen and unbaked form. All I had to do was defrost them, let them rise and put them in the oven. This is true. In fact, I was too lazy to follow her instructions and I simply bought store-baked challah out of laziness. I explained to her that I had invoked poetic license in my blog to make a joke and that I hoped she forgave me. The good news: She did.

Anyone who knows MHW would instantly have known that it would have been unthinkable for her to have left us without homebaked challah. To those of you who don't know her, MHW would never dream of leaving us without homebaked challah.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

How Cool Is This?

I worry when they don't give the price.

(Hat Tip: Avi B.)
Daf Yomi: Four Men
UPDATE: FIVE men; I'd forgotten about Gandhi

I have not been able to stop thinking of the recent column (originally addressed here) suggesting a boycott of the siyum hashas and decrying the worthlessness of daf yomi. I am astonished by the arrogance and mean-spiritedness of the article. I am amazed at the author's detachment from the reality of who is actually participating in daf yomi and what they could otherwise be doing with their time. While 120,000 Jews of all stripes were celebrating an amazing kiddush Hashem, he was bitterly suggesting that those who had devoted 7 1/2 years to the daf had wasted their time and that he knew a better way.

I couldn't help but think of five men I know who have either completed the daf yomi cycle or began more recently. I will briefly tell their stories.

"Avraham" is a doctor who lives in my neighborhood. He is MO, in his 40's, and has a full time medical practice. I only see him on Shabbos and I don't recall ever seeing him on a Shabbos without a gemarah in his hands. In addition to attending a daf yomi shiur, he spends countless hours preparing and chazering the daf. He has teenage children who witness his daily commitment and mesiras nefesh.

"Yitzchak" is a clinical psychologist in private practice who lives in my neighborhood. He, too, is MO, in his 40s and grew up frum. He goes to a 6 a.m. minyan and runs over to a different location to make it in time for a 7 a.m. daf shiur before begining his long workday. Like Avraham, he, too, takes the daf very seriously, preparing beforehand and chazering afterwards. He, too, has teenage children who are aware of his dedication and commitment.

My father in law goes to shul at 5:50 a.m every morning so that he can attend daf at 6:30 a.m. He recently retired and has been doing daf yomi since his retirement. His father died when he was 13 and he grew up in the post-depression era in Scranton, PA. His learning was cut short post-high school by the need to make a living. He has attended other shiurim over the years but now looks forward to the daf shiur every day. He has always loved to learn but because of his limited background, an iyun shiur would be lost on him.

"Mr. W." is the father of a friend, a wonderful, erliche Yid in his seventies. He also attends the 5:50 a.m. minyan and does the daf at 6:30 a.m. after which he still puts in a full day of work. He just completed his second cycle of daf yomi. Perhaps he could learn more b'iyun but his learning was cut short by his stay at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. When I saw him the morning after the siyum, he was shining. The daf gives him life. He told me that his goal is to stay healthy enough to attend the next siyum.

"Gandhi". I almost forgot about him. He completed shas twice. He grew up in Krakow and also spent time in Auschwitz. He fought in Israel's War of Independence and helped capture Katamon in Yerushalayim. He was among the founders of Kibbutz Sha'alvim. You can read more about him here.

Rather than denegrade their accomplishments and bemoan how they wasted so much time, Rabbi Rothstein would be wise to stand in the presence of these five men, wish them mazal tov and say chazak, chazak, v'nischazaik.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

How Unfunny Is David Letterman?

Every morning at 5:45 a.m. on my way to shiur (no, not daf yomi) I listen to sports radio 1050 for a couple of minutes. Todd Wright, All Night, I think it's called. For some reason, every morning at just about that time they play David Letterman's Top Ten List from the night before.

Now I haven't watched David Letterman for years (I haven't watched anything for years; we ditched the TV a few years ago) so I'd forgotten that how unfunny he is. But, in the past few months I've listened to scores of his Top Ten Lists. I have to say that I don't think that there have been 5 items in total that have been even remotely funny in the hundreds of items I've heard. Not even smirk-funny.

Do people actually watch that junk?
Siyum Hashas - I'm Getting Aggitated

Although I had misgivings about our younger son's school attending the siyum, and although I agree that there are obvious shortcomings to the whole concept of Daf Yomi, I have nothing but great respect and admiration for those who had the dedication, commitment and discipline to complete the 7 1/2-year cycle of learning.

And, the more I think about it, the more aggravated I get when I think about the column that Dov Bear and others brought to my attention yesterday.

I think Rabbi Rothstein misunderstands the Daf Yomi phenomenon, and, perhaps because he himself is perched in the "Ivory Tower" of the chinuch world, lacks an appreciation for the goals and aspirations of the Daf Yomi hamon am that exists in what we call "the real world".

He begins:

The upcoming celebration of the completion of another cycle of Daf haYomi presents the paradox of a practice with great staying power despite the rigor of its demands and the minimal results it produces. Coming to grips with the Daf Yomi phenomenon leads us to realize that how we react to the Siyum haShas will reflect on our own dedication to furthering the stated goals of Judaism
.As we will see, Rabbi Rothstein's understanding of what Daf Yomi produces is very narrow and does not take into account other, less tangible results.

He continues by comparing Daf Yomi to running a marathon which, in his words, "requires little skill, just the willingness to show up with discipline and consistency". Again, comparing Daf Yomi to the marathon, he grudingly acknowledges that it takes a great deal of effort and deserves our admiration.

Having run two marathons myself, I know that there are two ways to train for a marathon. One can simply put in the miles, running 12 or 14 minute miles with the goal of simply finishing the race in 5 or 6 hours. Or, one can train very hard, running 7 or 8 minutes miles with a goal of breaking some pre-determined time, like, for example, 3 or 4 hours. Both methods are admirable; perhaps the second way is more admirable.

In my experience with those who have learned Daf Yomi, I have seen the same thing. While many people are satisfied with the 6-hour version, the two people from my shul who have just completed the daf yomi cycle did the 3-4-hour version. Besides going to a daily shiur, they each spent an additional hour or more each day by themselves chazering the gemorah and working through meforshim. I think this is the case with many more people than Rabbi Rothstein credits.

And here is where I really started to take issue with Rabbi Rothstein:

The problem begins to become clear when we consider the religious yield of the practice, because there is so little of it. In an hour a day, the vast majority of those who attend such shiurim can do no more than watch the text whiz by, gleaning occasional nuggets of information that strike them as particularly interesting. Perhaps some small percentage of attendees can catch the text meaningfully at that speed on the first time around, and some even smaller percentage make the time to review what they have learned, but that is not the Daf Yomi experience in general.
What, exactly, does Rabbi Rothstein mean that there is so little religious yield? His definition of religious yield is obviously very narrow. He seems to be suggesting that there is little religious yield unless one understands the gemorah on the deepest level. I think this is surprising misunderstanding of what the term religious yield means.

Is there no religious yield for simply being koveiah itim for Torah every single day without exception for 7 1/2 years? Is there no religious yield when your children see you get up at 5 a.m. each weekday and leave an hour before shul starts on Shabbos in order to get to Daf Yomi? Is there no religious yield when your wife happily agrees to hold down the fort when you need to go to a 9 p.m. shiur?

He goes on:

My own experience has been that serious talmidei hakhamim do not study Daf Yomi, begging off with the excuse that they cannot see themselves keeping up that pace.
Who said Daf Yomi is designed for talmidei Chachamim?


Daf Yomi instead appeals, with notable but few exceptions, to those who get so caught up in the romance of completing a great task in bite-sized pieces that they do not notice that the bites are too large for them to digest, who do not figure out that they end up with the appurtenances of accomplishment without the actuality.
Again, I think Rabbi Rothstein completely misunderstands the people who do Daf Yomi. They do, indeed notice that they are not "digesting the bites". I have yet to meet a single person who thinks his Daf Yomi learning is anything other than touching the surface of the gemarah. Indeed, that is the goal of most of the people that I have spoken to; to merely touch the surface.

He continues:

No harm, no foul, I hear readers thinking. Why pick on people who are devoting such time and effort to studying Torah? Isn’t there someplace else to point one’s ire? Granted that these people might achieve more by choosing something else to learn - Rashi on that week’s parsha, for example, which is an actual codified fulfillment of a separate specific Rabbinic obligation. Why complain when they feel good about spending time in the study of Torah?.
It is certainly about more than just feeling good about spending time in the study of Torah.

It is precisely those people whose energies we might succeed at channeling more positively. You can’t coach height in basketball, and it is notoriously difficult to coach a willingness to work as hard and consistently at study of Torah as do these Jews. Convincing them to take up other books would benefit them, but also would benefit the rest of Jewish society, which often looks to them as the gold standard of dedication to Torah study.
I believe that many of the Jews who complete the Daf Yomi cycle do go on to other things. I believe we will increasingly see this phenomenon over the next cycle of Daf Yomi. I believe that Daf Yomi often acts as the catalyst for just what rabbi Rothstein is seeking.

Exchanging Daf Yomi for some more manageable task (a chapter of Nakh a day completes that corpus in two years, five daily mishnayot finishes Shas in five years, a chapter of Rambam a day completes the entire Mishneh Torah in three years, for example) can produce the same consistency, the same sense of accomplishment, but with a deeper clarity, a better understanding of what they are studying.
I don't think anyone disagrees that learning more b'iyun is the ideal.

He then suggests that Daf Yomi leaves no impression on its students and turns Torah learning into but another form of davening. He laments that Torah study becomes a rote observance devoid of all internal impact. I simply don't agree that learning Daf Yomi leaves no impression on the student and is devoid of all internal impact. That's not what I've observed. And, even if one were to concede that Daf Yomi has turned Torah learning into davening, is that so bad if it leads to deveikus to Hashem?

He continues:

Shifting the energies of current Daf Yomi Jews would also change the tenor of our community as a whole. A Jew today who becomes serious about including regular Torah study in his life will, I suspect, choose to join a Daf. If he (or she) keeps up with the group, his praiseworthy instincts will have been largely wasted, as we discussed above; if he finds the pace too much for him, he’ll probably give up on regular study altogether. The more we insist that Daf Yomi is for the rare few, the more likely that Jew will find other options, ones more appropriate to his current state of preparation.
I have already expressed my disagreement with Rabbi Rothstein that the efforts spent on Daf Yomi are wasted. And, contrary to what Rabbi Rothstein writes, I think Daf Yomi is indeed for the masses, not the few. The masses who work full days, have very little time and energy left for learning, yet make the commitment to get whatever learning they can under their belts. And, as I expressed above, I am convinced that Daf Yomi will itself lead countless numbers of these Jews, after spending some time (even a full cycle) with Daf Yomi, to learn in exactly the manner Rabbi Rothstein recommends.

The rest of Rabbi Rothstein's article is a discussion of how best to communicate this opposition to Daf Yomi. Since I disagree with his opposition, there is no real point discussing at length his suggestion that we boycott the siyum. Suffice it to say that I believe it is misguided.

He concludes:

We have limited energy in this life, and the energy that goes into the Daf is too precious to be wasted. Let us begin to oppose the Daf not to create mahloket, God forbid, but to move ourselves in the direction of a proper hagdalat Torah ve-haadaratah.
With all due respect, the people who learn Daf Yomi are largely working people who have made an amazing commitment to be koveiah itim for Torah. Whether they retain small amounts of Torah or nothing at all, their commitment and dedication is, itself, a kiddush Hashem. Their children and families and those around them will benefit in ways we cannot even contemplate. They inspire others to set aside time for learning.

Could they learn more b'iyun? Certainly some could. But we have to be realistic. Daf Yomi is like Economics 101 (l'havdil). Most people with an hour a day to spend on learning aren't going to go straight into learning b'Iyun. On the other hand, I believe that a good percentage will use the Daf Yomi experience as a springboard to the next step.

Rather than boycott the Daf Yomi siyum, we should stand in admiration for those who have committed themselves to the daily grind for 7 1/2 years.
Siyum Hashas Update

My misgivings about having our younger son's entire high school attend the Siyum Hashas seem to have been well-founded.

On a practical level, attending the siyum had its problems. The boys got back from Continental Arena at 1 a.m. last night. To his credit, OYS managed to crawl out of bed only 15 minutes after I first woke him. His entire car pool, on the other hand, was fafallen, so I had to drive him to school myself (and I made my train with 5 seconds to spare). Many of the boys missed davening and I assume the level of learning this morning will be shvach.

In terms of the siyum itself, the only thing that made much of an impression was mincha. There were many speeches, many of them long and in Yiddish and OYS (and I assume the vast majority of the boys in his school) tuned out.

What the school really should have done, in recognition of the limited attention span of 15-18 year old boys and their ignorance of Yiddish, was leave after the siyum itself. But, of course, this would have been politically incorrect so the boys were forced to suffer throug a few hours of boredom.

Net-net, I'm not sure what the school accomplished.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

MoC Wants to Know...

...What's with the snow?
More on Daf Yomi

Our younger son's entire high school is going to the Siyum Daf Hayomi this afternoon. Having attended the last one, I told him to take his Walkman but not to take any sharp objects. The only good things about the last one were mincha (it is an awesome experience hearing twenty-five thousand people answer "Yehai Shmai Rabbah...) and a couple of niggunim that rocked the Garden. The rest of it was a bunch of boring speeches, mostly in Yiddish.

I have mixed feelings about the school's attending the Siyum (not for the silly reasons expressed here (via DovBear)) but because if I was bored at age 42, how are 15-18 year-old boys going to react? On the other hand, perhaps the boys will get an appreciation for the dedication and commitment it takes to finish a Daf Yomi cycle (with all its shortcomings) and perhaps it is worth it for them just to experience the incredible davening.
MoC on Daf Yomi