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April 16, 2014 / 16 Nisan, 5774
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Vacationing Tip: Get Lost

Friday, August 9th, 2013

I’m on vacation this month, so there won’t be a regular column.  Or at least there wasn’t going to be.  The questions keep coming in.

Dear Mordechai,

I keep losing my stuff.  What do I do?

Lost

STEP 1: Check your person.  (Your person is you.  That’s just how people say it.  I don’t think you’re expected to carry around a smaller person and go, “Hi, I’m Mordechai, and this is my person.”  But if you do, you should probably check him as well.)

STEP 2: Make sure to check the same five places 68 times.  Especially if it’s not a likely place for it to be.  For example, if you’re looking for your car keys, make sure to keep checking the fridge.

STEP 3: Call for the item.  Continuously say things like, “I can’t believe this!  Where is it?”  Like the item is finally going to break down and tell you.

STEP 4: Calm Down.  Whenever I lose something, my wife ends up finding it, and whenever my wife loses something, I end up finding it.  Now I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking we should stop hiding each others’ stuff.  But it really has more to do with panicking.

STEP 5: Buy a new one.  As soon as you open the package, the old one will turn up.  Guaranteed.  For example, if you lose your car in a parking lot, the best way to find it is to buy a new car.  If that doesn’t work, you can use the new car to drive around the parking lot looking for the old one.

On the other hand, maybe the reason we can’t find anything is because we keep buying new things, and everything keeps getting lost under everything else.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Why does everyone around me move so slowly?  Especially when I’m in a rush.

No Time

 

 This is definitely a problem.  These people are everywhere.

For example, there are the people in front of us one the supermarket checkout line, who, even though they’ve been waiting the same 25 minutes you were, don’t even start looking for their supermarket card until they get to the front of the line.  Like it’s a total surprise to them that they need a Shoprite card.  In Shoprite.

Or how about the person directly in front of you who leaves his cart in line and goes off to do his shopping, even though you got in line behind him in the first place because he had a pretty empty cart?  But then he looked back at your cart, and he got some ideas.

“Orange juice!  Where’d you find orange juice?”

“Over by the refrigerated juices.”

“Ooooh!  I’ll be right back.”

There are also a lot of people in your way on the road.  Now I don’t begrudge other people for being on the road.  But sometimes I can’t go because the person in front of me is stopped, and has his window rolled down, and is talking to someone who’s sitting in a car facing the other way, who also has his window rolled down, and I want to yell, “Get a cell phone!”

But you know how your mother always told you, “If you do things quickly, you’ll just mess everything up and have to do it over?”  Everyone else’s mother told them the same thing, and they’ve taken it to heart.

But of course, on the other hand, there’s a pretty big chance that if you do things slowly, you’ll mess them up anyway.  At least if you go faster the first time, you’ll have more time to do it over.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Is it possible I just need a vacation?

Stressed

That depends.  How annoyed do you get by everyday things?  For example, I recently came across a poll of the top 20 irritating pieces of technology, and apparently, the invention that annoys us most is car alarms.  Of course, the main reason this annoys everyone is that no one knows what their own car alarms sounds like, so when it goes off in middle of the night, they’re just as annoyed as everyone else, and instead of going out and turning it off, they spends hours trying to block it out and to fall asleep.  So I’m thinking that maybe we should be able to personalize our car alarms, like ringtones.  For example, I would make mine sound like an ice cream truck, so that as soon as a burglar sets it off, everyone will run outside.

Another item on the list was printers.  Everyone knows how frustrating printers can be.  You have a tray that can hold 100 pieces of paper, but if you put in more than 5, it gets stuck.  And sometimes, for no reason at all, it will tell you that you’re low on ink.

“Proceed?”

Yes, of course proceed!  I spend $85 on that cartridge, and the papers are still coming out fine!

But when the printer breaks down, what do you do?  It has one button.  You press the button, and if that doesn’t work, you press the button again.  There’s no way this button is doing anything.

Another item on the list was alarm clocks.  Those guys take so much abuse.  It’s not their fault it’s 7:00.

But if you’ve gotten to a point where you’re finding technology inconvenient – technology, which is supposed to at least be better than not having technology, — then maybe it’s time for a vacation.

 

Dear Mordechai,

Where do you suggest I go to get away from it all?

Still Here

 

If you’re looking to get away from the irritations of technology and people in your way, the best place to go is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  My wife and I took the kids there recently, and it’s an excellent place to go if you want to get lost.  For example, one thing we did was walk through a gigantic corn maze.  Because getting lost while driving wasn’t enough for us.         

We actually spent a lot of our trip lost, because as it turns out, all farms look exactly the same, and there’s no one to ask directions from but the cows on the side of the road.  And we even did a lot of the steps of what to do if something’s lost: We called around for the place, we calmed down, we went down the same roads 68 times, but nothing.  And the whole time the kids are in the back going, “Look a cow!”  “Look! Another cow!”

Our GPS couldn’t find us either.  In fact, before we left, I had tried, unsuccessfully, to borrow a better GPS just in case this happened.  But then my wife put it in perspective.  “Were going to visit the Amish,” she said.  “We need a GPS?”

Because yeah, we visited the Amish.  The big draw of the Amish, apparently, is that they live without any of the conveniences of modern life, such as cell phones.  Except for one Amish guy that I saw while waiting for a buggy ride (mostly what you do with buggy rides is wait for them) in a town called “Ronks”, which, I have to admit, is a fun name for a town.  Ronks Ronks Ronks.  It sounds like a duck clearing its throat.

I later asked a non-Amish tour guide about it:

TOUR GUIDE: “The Amish don’t use electricity, because they don’t want any wires coming into their house from the outside world.”

ME: “I saw a guy on a cell phone today.”

TOUR GUIDE: “Um… Cell phones don’t have wires.”

But the Amish do have it tough when it comes to parental discipline.

“You kids don’t know how good you have it.  When I was your age, we didn’t even have… Wait.  You don’t have that either.  Well, we had to walk… Well, you have to walk too.  Oh, I got one!  When I was your age, we didn’t even have covered bridges.”

“Whoa, really?”

“Yeah.  All our bridges were uncovered.”

“Wow!  What did you do?”

So where do they take vacations?  Amusement parks, apparently.         I see them at every one.

 

Got a question for “You’re Asking Me?”  Send me a smoke signal.  My cell phone’s still missing.  Or maybe call it, and I’ll listen for the ring.

Rationality, Not Rational

Friday, August 9th, 2013

“V’zeh yihiye mishpat haKohanim me’et ham me’et zivchei hazevach im shor im seh vnatan l’Kohen hazroah zerah v’halechaim v’hakevah.

The most frustrating conversations are with those with whom we have deep fundamental disagreements. If conducted in the right spirit, without personal animus and with sincere dedication to the pursuit of truth, they can be very rewarding. When we surround ourselves only with those who see things exactly as we do, we limit our growth. When we surround ourselves only with those with whom we have fundamental disagreements, we never get past the same discussions. We need a balance between the two.

I have a dear friend, a moral philosopher who is a Torah observant Jew. Our fundamental disagreement, one which we can never get past, concerns the relationship between God’s Law and God’s morality. Because the answers to such momentous questions lie at the heart of one’s hashkafa, we need to explore them periodically, testing the current state of our thinking for validity and coherence.  Parshat Shoftim gives us such an opportunity.

After stipulating that the Kohanim receive Divine gifts in place of a tribal portion of the land, the Torah enumerates the Matnat Kehuna. When the meat is slaughtered for consumption, they receive the right shoulder, the two bones of the lower cheek, and the stomach or gullet. The Ramban contrasts the midrashic reading on the significance of these body parts to that of the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim. The former identifies each of the body parts with a feature of the zealous act of Pinchas. The right shoulder representing the shoulder with which Pinchas took the spear in his hand, the cheek bones representing the prayers he verbalized, and the stomach representing the organs of his victims, penetrated by his spear. In other words, the Matnat Kehuna are not a sinecure for the Kohanim but a reward for the acts of their ancestor. In Moreh Nevuchuim, however, the Rambam offers a more direct explanation: each of these organs is the most select of the animal’s body parts, the shoulder being the most select of the extremities, the stomach of its innards, etc. The Matnat Kehuna represent then the recognition that the best goes to God, in this case through the Kohanim who have been designated to serve Him.

This is not the only such explanation that the Rambam proposes. In Chelek Gimmel we find a broad selection of other mitzvot for which he offers rational bases. There is no question that the Rambam maintained that the mitzvot each convey a benefit upon Am Yisrael. At the same time, Jewish law retains its positivist basis for observance since these benefits are not the rationale for observance. The Rambam makes an important move that allows him to accommodate within his approach both the inherent rationality of the Law with its positivist basis for observance: the general outline of a particular precept is rational while its details need not be. In Chapter 26 (Pines translation):

“The generalities of the commandments necessarily have a cause and have been given because of a certain utility; their details are that in regard to which it was said of the commandments that they were given merely for the sake of commanding something.”

The Rambam cites shechitah as his prime example. As he elaborates in Chapter 48, the general mitzvah of shechitah is intended to allow the people to have the good food they require while protecting the animals they slaughter from a painful death. The general mitzvah then exhibits a rational purpose intended to benefit the people. The details, however, e.g., the particular simanim which must be cut, are “imposed with a view to purifying the people.” The Rambam is referring to a passage in Berashis Rabbah cited earlier that asks what difference should it make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu if animals are slaughtered by cutting their neck in front or in back? The Midrash answers: Say therefore that the commandments were only given in order to purify the people.”

The diyuk in the Midrash is clear: “What difference do the details make to Hakadosh Baruch Hu? Say therefore that the [details of the] commandments were only given in order to purify the people.” The Rambam can therefore conceive of a functionalist law with a positivist rationale for observance. The generalities of the Law are rational; the details of the Law are positivist in nature. The fact that the Torah exhibits an interior rationality does not preclude an absolute mandate for observance. By asserting that the details serve the purpose of requiring commitment to law independent of rational understanding, the Rambam puts the halachic system firmly on a positivist footing.

When the Rambam declares the Torah a reflection of the rational Mind of God, he does not mean to assert that it has lost its essential character as commandment. Those who interpret Jewish law as a set of social policy prescriptions miss the distinction between rationality and rationale. This confusion plagued the Wissenschaft des Judentums movement, leading those who saw Jewish legal sources as rational responses within a historical context to deny their binding nature. Similarly, those who cast Torah entirely as positivist decree may be victims of the same delusion, denying rationality in order to preserve rationale.

Definition of Insanity: Failed Negotiators Trying Yet Again

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Twenty years after Yitzhak Rabin attempted to conjure arch-terrorist Yasir Arafat into a worthy partner for peace, it seems we have not learned the necessary lessons from the past.

As the “peace process” continued to hit bumps along the way, Israel and its American ally attempted many different variations, all of which led to the same failed result. Perhaps the problem with Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations lies not with the process but with the people involved in representing the parties at the table.

In most professions, when one fails at his job and leaves the project in question in chaos and disarray, he is not asked to keep working on the task at hand. Not so when it comes to the “peace process industry.”

Saeb Erekat is the main representative for the Palestinian delegation. He has held this position in one form or another since 1991 and has not brought the Palestinians one inch closer to peaceful coexistence with Israel. More troubling, it is clear he never really revised his radical views about the Jewish state. During the second intifada, Erekat accused Israel of massacring 500 Palestinians in Jenin, completely ignoring the facts showing that one-tenth of that number had been killed and most of those were armed terrorists. As recently as 2007, Erekat denied the possibility of the Palestinians ever recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.

Representing the United States at the latest round of talks is former ambassador Martin Indyk. Like Erekat, Indyk has been a major player in the peace industry since the early 1990s, and he also can point to zero achievements in bringing peace and prosperity to our region. On the contrary, when Indyk served as the American ambassador to Israel during Prime Minister Netanyahu’s first term, he was known for his disparaging attitude toward the democratically elected government of Israel.

Since leaving public office, Indyk has revealed his true political leanings. Until his recent appointment by Secretary of State Joh

n Kerry, Indyk chaired the International Council of the New Israel Fund (NIF), an organization that has refused to stop funding groups that call for boycotting Israel.

Finally, we are left with Israel’s chief negotiator. Compared to Erekat and Indyk, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is a relative newcomer to peace negotiations. Nevertheless, she too has endured countless hours of negotiating with the Palestinians. Most troubling, her views do not represent the majority of the current government and are at odds with the average Likud voter, not to mention the Israeli public, which sharply spurned her in the recent elections.

While serving under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni offered the Palestinians more than 95 percent of the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria and the unprecedented division of Jerusalem – an offer that was ultimately rejected by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Erekat.

As a father of three small children, there is nothing I want more than to believe that the latest round of talks will lead to true and lasting peace. But we all know that a definition of insanity is the endless repetition of the same experiment in the hope of obtaining a different result. Therefore, all sides should end the insanity and appoint negotiators who have not failed us in the past and who truly represent the best interests of the people they aspire to represent.

(JNS)

Will Observant Judaism of the Future Look Like Satmar?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

A friend of mine (by way of the internet – I never met him personally) once told me never to predict the future based on linear projections. That was a very wise observation.

One of the things that many people seem to believe is that the exponential rate of growth of the Charedi community is so vastly greater than the growth of any other segment – that ultimately the future will be theirs. Meaning that the rest of Orthodoxy will either be absorbed by them, or will become so small in comparison that it will become either irrelevant, or extinct altogether.

I am one of those people. The Charedim have won. By their growth and sheer determination they are the wave of the future. But I have a modified version of that prediction. Moderate Charedim will populate the the new mainstream majority. It will also contain those I have called RWMO (right wing Modern Orthodox). And evolve into a sociological demographic I call the New Centrists. Rabbi Berel Wein was first made note of this phenomenon. And it is already in progress.

In brief  what is happening is that both communities have adopted modalities of the other. So that even if our Hashkafos are somewhat different, our lifestyles are not. Moderate Charedim and RWMO are both generally are well educated in Limudei Kodesh and Limudei Chol. Both generally have solid careers where many are professionals.

We are both Koveiah Itim (establish fixed times for Torah study); Daven in the same Shuls; send our children to similar – and occasionally the same schools; are very often good friends, trust each other’s Kashrus; and our families  interact socially each other. It is not that uncommon to find a Chavrusa  beween a moderate Charedi and a RWMO learning together at night in a community Kollel. Our differing Hashkafos are not a divisive issue socially. The extremes on both the right and left may continue to exist, but in my view will at best be marginalized.

Nothing new here.  I have mentioned all this before. Many times. But what I have not mentioned in this context is another demographic that is perhaps the fastest growing demographic of all. One that has absolutely nothing to do with the above phenomenon.  The exponential growth of Satmar and like minded Chasidim. Does that mean that I believe that Satmar is the wave of the future… that eventually they will overtake the rest of Orthodoxy by their sheer population size?  Based on linear projections, one might say that will indeed happen. But I don’t think so, despite their continuing and phenomenally rapid growth.

Currently Satmar Chasidim live in their own world and prefer to keep it that way. The same is true of other Chasidic sects like Skvere.  They will not ‘assimilate’ into any new grouping.  Their values are not the same as the New Centrists at all. They live in a world apart from the rest of observant Jewry.

They are not well educated in Limudei Chol. And although they do work, they generally do not work as professionals. They do not attend colleges and universities. They work at jobs that often do not pay a living wage. Certainly not for a family of 12 or 13 is which is a very common family size. So a great many of them live in poverty…. isolated from the rest of the world.

While it is true that there are some very wealthy Satmar type Chasidim in trades like the diamond industry, construction, and other businesses (like the wildly successful B&H) – they are the exception and not the rule.  Most Satmar Chasidim barely eke out a living and more often than not have to be aided by free loan societies.

There is an article in the Forward by a Frimet Goldberger. She was raised in the world of Satmar. Ms. Goldberger describes  Satmar Chasidim as not only living isolated lives, but as living very religiously demanding lives. More than any other religious demographic. Lives that are stricter now than at any time in the history of Satmar. They have taken upon themselves Chumros that that did not even exist during the life of their founding Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum. And he was pretty Machmir  requiring the rejection of the outside world in its totality.

His purpose was to insulate his Chasidim form the slightest taint of non Jewish culture.  His method was to not only live in a tightly knit neighborhood  - but to be as different from the rest of the world as possible. That would make it virtually impossible to see any commonlaity and thereby assimilate.  That – combined with their extreme Tznius measures makes them culturally incompatible with -  not only the secular world, but even   the moderate Charedi world. Not to mention the Modern Orthodox world.

Here is how Ms. Goldbeger describes it:

(The Satmar Rebbe) had railed against married women growing their hair underneath the turbans and wigs. After his death, most Hasidic women finally adhered to this rule – many out of fear of the severe ramifications of defiance. It is now the acceptable practice in Satmar to expel children from school if their mothers do not shave their heads. The Satmar Rebbe also decried the thin stockings and uncovered sheitels worn in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Now, most Satmar women wear thick, seamed stockings.

The latest Chumra is the blurring out faces of little girls in their photos. Which did not exist when the Satmar Rebbe was alive. She calls such radicalization alarming and not to be ignored.

In my view, all of these factors are the reason that we should not project a victory for the Satmar way of life. This lifestyle is not the wave of the future. Despite their rapid exponential growth. Insuring the isolation that has kept this demographic together and intact, is no longer possible. The internet has just about assured that. Especially now that one can access it in the palm of one hand.  Bans of technological advances like I-phones no matter how harsh the consequences simply are probably honored more in the breach than in adherence.

I am not saying that young people will drop out in significant numbers. Although going OTD  is a growing problem for them like it is for every other religious demographic. But I do think that they will gradually see what the rest of the even Frum world has to offer and many will seek it out. The poverty and strictures particular to this community will accelerate that process. They will see that it is possible to be religious and not be as isolated as they have been in the past. Modernity will catch up to them. Their increasing poverty that their current lifestyle practically guarantees them will motivate many of them to try another way.

They will see a growing new Centrism and realize that there other legitimate ways to practice Judaism. I am not saying that they will all eventually become new Centrists. Although not likley – it is not out of the realm of possibility once they start seeking to better their lives materially. More likely is a scenario to create their own version of a centrist society – rebelling against that part of their culture that keeps them poor – by seeking a better education and pulling back a bit on their radically different appearances… like the insistence that all their married women must save their heads.

I can’t predict the future. But what I think I can predict is that this demographic is not the wave of the future as they are currently constructed.

Visit Emes Ve-Emunah .

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