Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Astronauts to Iraq

I'm a very practical person. So all this wasteful war really bothers me. I mean, I appreciate nation building and all, but it's quite expensive. Bullets don't just grow on trees.

When I heard about the landing of the space shuttle Discovery, I had similar thoughts. What do we really get out of the space program? There must be cheaper ways to perform this scientific research.

And then I realized the obvious solution. Send our astronauts to Iraq. It's every bit as inhospitable as outerspace. I'm sure they could run all their tests in the desert there, and if they succeed there, then, hey, they could succeed anywhere. And the best part is with gas prices so high, we could save on all that rocket fuel. All it ever does is blow up anyways, so why not just save it for Baghdad. We can get double duty. Now that is using taxpayer money wisely.


Yes, this is sarcastic.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Black and white is teh hot!

Frum guys know how to dress. Well at least they should. I think the Torah has a lot to say on the subject. In my understanding, that is why the Charedi world has a fairly uniform standard of dress. Not because one guy got a huge wholesale deal on white shirts and black suits, but because it reflects intrinsic values in Torah. Now don't confuse what I'm saying with Halachah. I don't think that we are required to wear anything specific. After the basic rules of modesty are filled, the rest is left up to our discretion. I put a lot of thought into what I wear based on my understanding of Torah values (as I try with every decision I make). I want to share some of those opinions here.

Modesty isn't just about revealing the flesh. It is an attitude. It is about being humble. It is about placing more importance on things other than physical beauty. This Torah value shouldn't just be reflected in skirts for girls. Guys too need to be conscious of what they are wearing. Shorts, short sleeves, and even bathing suits. Everyone faces a level of Tznius. And it doesn't matter where you are. The concept of Tznius is "Standing before Gd," so it applies even when you're alone. It's not only about tempting others. It's knowing that at every minute we're standing in front of a king. How could we not dress appropriately? Forget about knees, I don't go out with out a sport coat on, just like I wouldn't go out to the store in an undershirt. Notwithstanding those who wear flip-flops to the White House, I could not walk around with anything less than the layers required of being in such exalted presence.

But it's not just about how many layers you wear. It's also about attitude. How can we be flamboyant, attention grabbing, when we are in the presence of a King? Anything so attention grabbing that it is just silly (as is common with the retro, pimpin' look), is ludicrous when we consider what Judaism has to say about our mission in this world. For this same reason, we should try and wear clean, pressed clothing. A Jew should be a beacon of someone who is not slovenly. After all, the servant's appearance reflects on the Master.

I think cost is a factor too. Gd has provided us with opportunities to make a living. With the money we earn, we can do many things. I don't think shopping was meant to be one of our goals on Earth. Maybe materialistic American marketers will tell you otherwise. But I don't think Gd wants us to see an $800 suit as an end. But it isn't just about overly expensive. It's also about total dollars. Do we really need to buy a new wardrobe every season? What was wrong with last years clothes? Sure, things wear out, but if not, why buy so many new items? I don't think it is a Torah value to be buying things that will go out of style and need regular replacing. Simple, classic styles will suffice. All those patterns are quite excessive and can end up looking like an old Chanukah gift. For example, I've been in certain "modern" communities where it seemed they were a good 20 years out of style!

I want to be clear that these are just some of the thoughts floating around in my head and are by no means Halachah. Obviously there is no one way to dress in Judaism, nor do I think somebody that dresses with a different standard is any better or worse than me. Just because somebody wears "traditional" dress doesn't mean they have put any thought into the subject; Nor does somebody who wears the whole rainbow necessarily ignore religious values. But I do think that if somebody believes Judaism is a value system, and not just a list of independent laws, then there will be an application of those values into the minutiae of daily life. How each person interprets these will differ, but it will reflect the role they see for themselves in this world.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Blazen Saddles

I was driving to work today, and I passed a frum neighbor getting in his car, not wearing a yarmulke. And it struck me that this is, B"H, a phenomenon that is not as common in my generation. In my parents generation, it is fairly regular for people to go to work without a head covering. I'm sure they faced extreme discrimination for displaying their Jewishness publicly, and it is ingrained in their heads that the only way to make a living is to remove the Kippah.

I'm not going into Halacha here. But I think that in our generation, a lot of the discrimination has been eliminated by the embrace of diversity in America today. Being different is, if not appreciated, protected. I have a few friends that have either removed their Kippas or have faced problems because of them. It's just hard for me to believe that in America today there is really a pressure to remove it. Sure, there are people who don't wear Yarmulkes in their private life. Their lack of passion to this action carries over into their work-life. But is there really a need nowadays to do without?

I'm not judging anybody negatively who doesn't wear a Yarmulke 24/7. But it just seems so strange; we must have a totally different view of the attitude of how religious Jews are perceived in America today. Isn't the glass half full?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


The bad news is, I've been busy the past few days, and haven't been able to post anything here, or leave a trail of comments elsewhere. (I don't write at work, but I do the occasional read). The good news is I'm travelling to New York next weekend. Reunion anybody?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Gazan Border

Loving the land Posted by Picasa

If you've read any of my comments on the Gaza withdrawal, you'll know I'm no Jewish extremist. Still, looking at this picture, from Google Earth, I am awed by what a little love can do to an otherwise inhospitable land. See what Egypt, the Palestinians, and the Israeli's have each done to the patch of desert where the three people collide.

In a Solomonic parable, two women were fighting over one child. In his famous ruling, Solomon declared that the baby should be torn in half and shared. When one of the women cried that she'd prefer that the baby be preserved alive in the hands of the other woman than killed, the wise king knew he'd found the true mother.

Ariel Sharon may be no King Solomon, but I think I have a better picture of who the true mother is.

Blog Whore

HEY! Look at me! I'm right here!

The need to be seen is not new. America is obsessed with celebrity, 15 minutes of fame, green mohawks, and pretty much anything that attracts attention. From an existentialist point of view, this is obvious. In trying to understand our lives within the context of billions of humans that live and die, we feel a need to leave our mark. We aren't content to just pass through this world as some organic collection of elemental materials, but as some contributing or improving figure. It's no wonder that people donate buildings with their names on them, or even have marble headstones next to their graves. At the end of our lives, there is a fear that if we aren't remembered, it is as if we were never here. If you don't believe in an afterlife, then like the proverbial tree being chopped down in a forest with nobody to hear, our lives, after years of struggle, are is if they never were.

Of course, Judaism believes in an afterlife. And accordingly, the goals it lays out for each person's life does not involve making themselves known. Every person is given a highly personal mission, and serves that purpose irregardless of whether it is remembered beyond their lifetime. With this mentality, the concept of Tznius, modesty, makes great sense. Not just in the skirt-wearing, hair-covering use that most people associate with Jewish modesty. But the actual modesty required of every Jewish man and woman, as we humbly live our lives in the shadow of an immortal deity.

That all being said, I've found the "Look-at-Me" desire hard to shake. I used to be a very quiet guy. But at some point, I became the clown. If I weren't wearing black and white, I'd be wearing bright orange and blue. I'll get up at a party and start doing karaoke to a song I don't know, with no music playing. Sure I'm a middle child, probably trying to be noticed between all my otherwise better advantaged siblings. But it's much more than that. My behavior extends well beyond the family realm. And I see it as a negative trait, rooted more in the nihilism of America than the universalism of Judaism.

My antics have followed me to Blogville. I publish every rambling that comes to mind, desperately trying to connect to readers. I compulsively check for new comments and total hits way too often. I am a blog whore, visiting and commenting on other's blogs hoping more to generate additional visitors to my site than to contribute anything useful. Receiving personal responses to my comments is gratifying; whether they vilify my abhorrent logic or even possibly agree is irrelevant. But to look online, and to see nobody has responded, nobody has commented, nobody has read. Dread.

The ultimate lack of Tznius is the manipulation of the Yetzer Hora to accomplish this self-serving function. Whether physically flaunting one's assets in the classical sense, or simply airing one's sexual frustrations online, lewdness can be an easy replacement of this empty sense of self-worth. As many bloggers have commented, a sexual themed post, even when not pornographic, will earn at least double the comments. Fortunately, I don't think I've reached this level. Yet.

I think friendship is a good example of both a healthy and unhealthy life from a Tznius standpoint. The non-Tznius person may be known by everyone. With his antics, he's hard to miss. But they aren't friendships, they are tons of acquaintances. But how many of these people will still be there when the antics stop? And when one of those people need more than a laugh, where will you be?

But a Tznius person isn't just a friend because he craves attention. His relationships are strong, a two way bond, built on learning and caring.

This analogy carries online too. There are those bloggers that you bond with, and there are those whose paths you just cross regularly. Hopefully, my online relationships won't be about me seeking attention, but will grow into a source of learning, where I know I will have an earnest ear, but can equally provide an insightful opinion.

OK, deep breath. Now I must come down from the mountain, and see if I've learned anything today.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Blue Fringe

Half (Dov and Avi) of the Jewish music group Blue Fringe is staying at my house. Don't know if anyone has heard of them, or thinks it's "super cool" that a boy band is sleeping in the room next door.

The truth is, I'm not such a fan. Not just of Blue Fringe, or Jewish music. It's pretty much all music in general. Don't get me wrong, I sing to myself in the shower, lip sync driving in the car, and can pretty much always be found humming some tune. I just don't like listening to music. People don't believe me that I'll drive in a car for an hour on the way to work with the radio off. I'm just not interested in hearing somebody else sing. I like to sing. I like to be active. I like to think.

A tune expresses some of the deepest emotions of the soul. And my own soul has plenty to say.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Anonymity and Animals

On Semgirl's blog, a discussion is underway into the tension that tears each person between doing right and wrong. Some of the comments there have provided fabulous insight into human nature.

The power of blogs is that we can get a lot off our chests in a very open environment. Many use their anonymity to say the things that their community forces them to keep bottled up. I happen to have given up my anonymity, and, yes, with it, some of the opportunities for uncensored discussion. I can be fairly honest and open, but at the end of the day, I am still Josh, not some random electronic creation. And besides, my mom reads this blog. But either way, the ability to share our different experiences and our different struggles makes us all stronger.

What I didn't realize were the differences between girls and guys in the struggle to be religious. Now don't think I'm some clown who never realized that guys and girls are different. Just that I've never viewed the religious struggle from this dichotomy. I've always viewed this daily battle very simplistically, from my own perspective. Life is a ladder, at the bottom is the animalistic life, that which we share with all other creations. At the top of the ladder is Gd, and all our Higher abilities. The daily struggle is between the base instincts which pull us down, and our attempts to come closer to Gd. It is either up or down.

But based on a comment by theGirl, I realize that girls are much different in the religious realm as well. Their struggle isn't so clear cut. For them, life is a choice of different ladders. Some lead to Gd, some don't. It isn't simply a choice between base instinct and higher intellect. They are trying to feed their soul and their emotions, sometimes choosing the right path, othertimes the wrong ones. Their wants aren't in conflict with religion by nature, it's just a question of what direction they choose. What makes them tick isn't something I can necessarily understand, but they are different, I'm sure ;)

And that brings us back to the anonymity. For me, if I were anonymous online, I fear that it would be an outlet for my animal side to roam, to act out without fear of being caught. So I keep him bottled up here too. But girls can let it out online without risking letting the animal loose.

It's not like I never knew that girls are different. But so often we only look at people through our own eyes. But if you really want to learn from somebody, you need to be able to see their choices through their own perspective. So this whole revelation really changes how I see girls facing dilemmas vs. guys. So much to learn...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Making of a Murderer

Today the BTK Killer was put away for life. Dennis Rader, killed his victims by carefully torturing them according to his plan, while he received immense satisfaction in watching his victims struggle and die. The murderer was acting out highly controlled scenarios where he was able to dominate and gloat at the humiliation of his victims.

But the footnote to the story isn't just that this sicko was caught. Rader served as a compliance officer for Witchita, Kansas. A compliance officer is kind of like a policeman, except instead of saving lives you basically enforce minor code infractions. If you think about what this entails, it is basically relying on obscure and forgotten municipal regulations to harass citizens who mean little harm, all in the name of helping society.

I don't mean to comment on the necessity of this job, but a coworker pointed out a very important lesson that we can learn. Think of the skills that would be needed to fill this job: "Wanted: Individual who desires control over powerless individuals." The same tendencies that would leave society cowering in their homes are the same they would look for in their own government enforcer.

I don't mean to belittle this profession. But the fact that such a professional role provides such a similar outlet to being a serial killer is amazing. More fascinating is that once this sick man became a compliance officer, his killing spree stopped. Rader had found a new outlet to channel his personality issues.

This is a fabulous insight into human nature. Everyone is born with certain passions. They aren't good or bad, just simply latent possibilities. As we are raised, we learn right from wrong. And once we are mature, we are left to act, good or evil, each according to his own tendencies. The Talmud teaches that one who is born with a bloody nature has a choice between becoming a butcher and becoming a murderer. The inclination might be innate, but the decision is yours.

In the book, The Devil in the White City, author Erik Larson does a wonderful job juxtaposing the potential, and starkly different accomplishments, of two creative and controlling men. One became the leading architect of his day, the other a serial killer. But it's not just these extreme examples that highlight our own ability to direct our personal talents. Somebody who has a desire to take things unearned can be a kleptomaniac, or he can "grab" time to study Torah. Somebody with the ability to tell fabulous tales can either be a con man, or a moving story teller. Somebody who loves to swap information can either tell Loshon Hora (gossip), or repeat inspirational stories.

We all have Tayvos (desires), and we all face Nisyonos (tests). But where we end up is solely in our hands.

The Simple Solution?

All those tear jerking pictures from Gaza. The settlers, knowing they would have to leave, forced soldiers to carry them out of their homes. Of course, they knew that the soldiers wouldn't hurt them, and that they'd get great press in the process.(I'm not saying it's easy to leave your home, but the drama wouldn't change that.) Regardless of how you feel about my prior suggestion, how about this food for thought, based on this CNN article.

"Settlers who chose to remain after the deadline -- which was Monday, although they were given a 48-hour grace period -- stand to lose up to a third of their compensation package, which ranges from $250,000 to $500,000 per family."

So they stay after the deadline, cost millions to physically drag out (and nearly incite a civil war), and yet they're still being paid?! Why not force them to forgo all the relocation assistance if they don't leave voluntarily? Whether or not it would actually encourage them to pack up on their own, it would certainly at least partially compensate the government for the cost of dragging them out. It all seems quite silly. Maybe I'm missing something.

Boys from Brooklyn

My community has "imported" 6 guys learning in Yeshivas Torah Temima in Brooklyn, New York for one week. The goal is to "help strengthen the community." I'm not sure what the plan is for them to accomplish this goal, but I guess any additional voices in the Beis Medrash here would be encouraging.

The truth is I think the impact on the community will only be a tangential benefit. I think the real accomplishment will be introducing six guys who have probably never left the "Old Country" of Brooklyn to the rest of the planet. Not that a Jewish ghetto is necessarily a bad thing, but I think more people in the small world of frum New York need a window into Jewish life outside. I think ultimately they'll have a better view of what Jewish life is like for others, and this will enrich their own practice, even if they decide to return back home for the rest of their life.

More Yeshivos should encourage every one of their Bachurim/Avreichim to spend some time in another community. It is not only a great way to engage them in leadership training opportunities, but just open them up to places where Eruv fights (and Eruvs themselves) are unheard of.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Out of Town

I love a small town. Not that I live in the smallest community ever. But I've always been attracted to the low key, close knit atmosphere of smaller cities in the US. It seems that the smaller the place you live in, the more people band together regardless of their differences. I don't think that is a shocker. Everyone realizes that they need each other too much to start distinguishing based on differences. The great effect though is quite healthy - everyone is free to live the life they see as the most meaningful (or least meaningful, if that is the route they choose).

But I'm not just here to tout a lifestyle foreign to many, to serve as just an atlas of life in "quirky" places. I'm here to encourage everyone to move to one. I mean, you don't have to. If you are happy where you are, by all means, enjoy. But happiness has to take precedence over the fear of the unknown. Don't just stay where you're at because you've grown up there your whole life. Get out and see the rest of the world. And if you think you can be a better person somewhere else, enjoy doing something different. You'll be surprised that things such as electricity and Kosher food are pretty much everywhere nowadays. And you may even take on a more active approach to spirituality, rather than passive, when you become the most knowledgeable person around.

Come on, doesn't Chief Rabbi of Montana have a certain cache?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005


The first step of growth is often admitting your weakness, recognizing the effect it has on your daily life, and looking to overcome the weakness by using compensating strengths.

One of my fears in life is failure. I know, pretty typical. But it holds me back. It's not that I'm under some ridiculous amount of pressure to be Superman. Nobody has set up high expectations for me. Except myself, of course. I can get past letting others down, but letting myself down...I have to look at myself in the mirror every day.

One of the effects of this fear is that I don't set any solid goals or expectations for my life. Either short or long term, I don't have any concrete plans that I'm aiming for. Obviously, this is so that no matter what I end up accomplishing, it will not fall short of some pre-determined destination.

I compensate by having very high ideals. While not concrete, they do serve as a strong motivator towards accomplishing more.

Recently, I was rejected in my application to the University of Chicago Business School. While this would've helped lead me along my ideal path, it was not a goal in and of itself. By making this mental distinction, the rejection just became a force that will push me along another path towards my ideal. Rejection did not serve as a depressing reminder of my failure to be anywhere.

My attitude may come across as "unfocused" to some, but it sure seems like a healthier way of dealing with things beyond your own control.

Fun and Games

The latest party game from the inventor of the animal game-

Old school: Picking a "back-up," somebody to marry if you're still single in 10 years.

New fad: Go through everybody you know and pick what age you'd have to be before you marry them.

Instead of the "yes or no" simplicity of the old school version, this update to a timeless activity lets you fill in all the gray area.

Monday, August 15, 2005


It seems the latest fad has been alarmist posts on the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. The Jewish blogs are up in arms. Aaron, L-Dem, Jack's Shack, Barbara, Aidel, EN, Bec, and Olah Chadasha have all dedicated significant space to this pressing issue. And I'm not one to lie low on such a hot button issue. Especially since I disagree with all of them.

Don't get me wrong. Their points are relevant. But if there's a reason to be upset over the disengagement plan, it's not the tragedy, but the injustice. After all, Jewish soldiers aren't evicting Jewish settlers out of hate. They're doing so because a democracy has spoken. I don't know whether the people are right, but I am in no place to judge. However, the injustice is that a principle of a free society is being violated. In my mind, every person in the world has the right to live freely, wherever one pleases. The creation of a Judenrein state in Gaza violates that principle. I'm not saying that Jews must live there, just to make a point. But forcefully evacuating them violates their right.

What would I propose? The Israeli army should just leave. Just pack up it's bags. Tell the settlers that they'll receive no further Israeli protection. The settlers would be free to go or stay. That is their freedom. And the public could go on with it's plans, without the expense and wasted time of the prime-time drama unfolding.

Of course, the benefit of this strategic move would be clear. Without facing the media frenzy generated by the soldier-on-settler conflict, most of the settlers would simply pack up and leave. A tear jerking photo op opposite a brotherly soldier is infinitely more attractive to a settler than actually toughing it out with the Palestinians.

Now some settlers would stay. And I think that's great. Their ideology is obviously the stuff of heroes. The test of whether they end up protected by the wings of the Palestinians or snuffed out in minutes would demonstrate a real test in front of the world of the peace-living capabilities of these neighbors.

But if there is no freedom...

On the Opposite Sex and Sexual Mores

In a prior post, I flaunted certain relationships I maintain with girls. And as Elisheva pointed out, this was in seeming contradiction to another previous post where I discussed the Nisyonos (tests) that every guy faces with the opposite sex. In my brash embrace of hyperbole, I failed to fully discuss each issue, and because I feel both are so important to treat properly (as well as not to sound hypocritical), I'll try and fill in the gaps.

The "distractions" I mentioned emanating from the opposite sex were just that- distractions. It wasn't a metaphor for anything dirtier. Not that I (and every guy) doesn't fantasize, but a walk down the street doesn't morph into a wild orgy. My point was that frum girls drive me wild in another way, in their underlying (Tznius) attractive sense. (For the record, the word "depraved" in the original post was supposed to be "deprived." I thought it was harmless irony at the time, but alas, it appears I must be more exact.) I am always on the prowl- for possible marriage partners. Where ever a frum girl is, my mind starts to wander. For example, a girl can be behind a mechitza at shul on Tisha B'Av and I'll still be thinking about her. It's not sexual. The idea that a girl may be present can be distracting. It's like my instinct to find a mate just kicks in.

And my post on female friends failed to clarify that I am very particular in how I'm friends with girls. I don't just hang out and get ice cream with any skirt that comes along. In fact, I spend very little time with the opposite sex. Had one of the girls mentioned in that post not been visiting from out of town, I probably wouldn't have made an effort to get together. (I'm curious to know what I should fear once she leaves town. Probably her boyfriend.) And had the other girl not had an issue that she needed to talk to somebody about, I probably wouldn't have spent so long on the phone with her. I don't just go flirt with anybody, but that doesn't mean that I won't treat a female with the same loyalty and compassion that anybody deserves.

Don't think that I'm naive about what could happen. I have many SELF created stringencies to assure that I don't stumble. I'm very particular about what is appropriate conversation, and what is an appropriate place to meet. And if all else fails, I have my beard to ensure that no physical contact will ever evolve.

The bottom line is that I was exaggerating my point to show that, at the end of the day, I don't have a problem with speaking to the opposite sex in defiance of a communal norm. A person benefits more from self imposed rules than assuming a societal based standard. How so? It's too easy for the reason for these rules to get lost in the details. Accordingly, people raised in absolute communities won't necessarily curtail their sexual appetites, because they are told that the limits imposed on them will do the trick. This leaves them ill prepared to deal with the personal nature of the feelings that can overwhelm them. It's a known Halachic insight that every Chumra (stringency) has it's kula (leniency). Enforcing a rigid standard may feel like the best protection, but it can often have weakening consequences.

The intention of my post was mainly to force us to think critically about how we define the rules. In Judaism, there is the sacrosanct Halacha, from the Torah all the way down to Minhagim. My point was that beyond that we only have to answer to Gd and ourselves for our behavior. There is no issur (rule against) getting ice cream with a girl. If somebody wants to restrict themselves from this in order to restrain him/herself, great. If they choose to live in a community where everybody shares this concern, great. If they choose to enforce these rules on their children, that's their perogative. But this restriction is not part of the religion. I am responsible for my own actions. If I haven't taken enough steps to safeguard my actual behavior then I'll face my judgment. But just because you feel that I am at risk of "crashing" doesn't make my actions in and of themselves wrong.

The sages advise a man to keep his eyes within his own Daled Amos (four cubits) in order to avoid seeing anything that will lead him astray. Does that mean that looking outside of this box is a violation? It is only well intentioned advice. Only if you follow the forbidden have you violated anything. Again, as long as somebody is being honest with the risks they face, and are clear about what behavior crosses the line, you can't really have any complaint against them.

Similarly, although it is the norm for Yeshivos to learn Gemara (Talmud) B'Chavrusa (in pairs), am I a heretic if I learn Navi (the Prophets) by myself? If I decide that I don't learn torah better in a chavrusa, that doesn't mean I'm not doing a Mitzva (commandment). It sure beats turning to television because Talmud doesn't speak to you and no other learning is respected. Even if the Rabbis say you will learn better that way. They may be right- for the majority. That doesn't mean that I can recognize myself as the exception to their rule, and find my own way to best fulfill the word of Gd. I'm not saying you can make your own rules, or choose Halacha. But there is plenty of gray area where an individual can best define what will be the best spiritual incentive for him/herself.

Of course, I recognize that there are other factors at stake other than worries of forbidden physical contact. I must be true to three people: myself, my friend, and my (future) spouse. For myself, not only do I have to be sure that this encounter won't escalate into something forbidden, but that it won't hinder my growth in other ways. I can't be using this relationship to feed my ego, or to waste my time flirting and ignoring loftier aspirations. (Of course, I should be doing other things than hanging out with girls. I should also be doing other things than blogging. Nobody seems to question that. )

I also have to be sure that the girl I am speaking with is on the same page as me. Not just as far as the religious framework that we are working within, but also that the emotions are clear. It is important to be sure that you are not leading anybody on.

And finally, there is the question of exclusivity that comes with a monogamous relationship. While I haven't been there yet, I can understand that you must be conscious of how this "third wheel" might be perceived- and how you will have little control over those feelings. While I'd like to assume that I can find an open minded girl who doesn't feel threatened and jealous on all fronts, I have to be sensitive to the feelings of the girls I'm friends with- and that I may be forced to separate from. But all friendships grow and fade, and as long as you avoid betrayal- to any party you care about- I think you can continue to gain from having diverse friendships.

It's important to note that my background may be different than yours, and I may have different sensitivities than others. I'm glad you guys disagree. You learn more from people with different opinions than from those who just shout "Right on!" Thanks and keep up the good work of keeping me in line. Keep asking questions. I'll keep making up the answers.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tisha B'Av

Rabbi Yitchak Ghodsi of Skokie's Kollel Toras Chessed gave the following introduction to the Tisha B'Av Kinnos (dirges) last night:

Every Jewish holiday features a different way of connecting with Gd. Some are through joy, some through repentance, some through redemption. What is Tisha B'Av?

In "Al Naharos Bavel," the psalm we recite before Grace after Meals in memory of the destruction of Jerusalem, we say "HaZorim B'Dima B'Rina Yiktzoru- Those who plant with tears will reap with joy." What does it mean to plant with tears? And why should that be a good thing?

A story is told in the holocaust of a pious Jew who never ate non-kosher food in his life. One Nazi guard heard of this piety, and eager to mock it, sought out this Jew for ridicule. Sensing his evil intention and hoping to spare this Jew, the guard's informants fooled him by referring him to one Jew who had always lived secular and ate non-kosher his entire life. When the Nazi approached this irreligious Jew to test the values he thought this man held, this Jew stood resolute by the traditions of his people and refused to eat non-kosher, not to let his barbarian neighbor ridicule him and his people. For his refusal, the Jew received a fatal beating.

This Jew united with his creator after a life of completely atheistic living. But it took a fatal, final test for him to come to this conclusion. For him, he needed a moment of life or death to choose the eternal. He connected to Gd through trial, succeeding in "planting with tears." This too is the opportunity of Tisha B'Av. Like any holiday, it offers a unique way to connect with Gd. For some, this will be the emotion that they can connect with.

The deeper lesson of Tisha B'Av is that, unfortunately, it is often that we connect through the tragic. The opportunity is there for us to connect through the joyous. Were we able to go through life and regularly connect with the divine through the abundance of reward He bestows, we wouldn't have to suffer the tribulations that serve as a reminder of the closeness that He desires with His creations.


The important lessons here are that there is no singular way to find a connection with Gd in this world, and also that we are given difficult experiences, not because Gd doesn't care about us, but specifically because He wants us to connect with Him. Unfortunately, we have consistently shown that only under duress is our desire to come close to Him restored.

With that in mind, I tried to spend time on Tisha B'Av not simply focusing on general topics related to the holiday, but to meditate on internalizing its message and looking for opportunities for self-improvement. I found many opportunities, too many for this post. But I will share a quick thought.

For a time our hearts were joyous,
Prophets preached,
And King Solomon ruled
In cities of gold.
Levites sang their song,
And the High Priest presided
Over the temple rites,
But all these voices were silenced.

Then our voices cried out in pain,
Cities burned,
And families torn
In violence and famine.
Holy books desecrated,
And scholars smothered
Along with their hope,
All because our hearts were silent.

But our hearts did not bleed out,
Refuge was found,
And institutions formed
To enable a new continuity.
Wealth has been amassed,
And scholarship has bloomed
Guiding us through exile,
But yet the voices are silenced.

Even today the voices ring hollow,
Ideas ignored,
And opinions attacked
If they pose a challenge.
Recommendations abstained,
Insight never heard
By the absent majority,
And yet my heart remains silent.

Friday, August 12, 2005


Based on all the positive feedback, it looks like my last post will get further explanation. Unfortunately, I don't have time for that now, so you'll have to come back later. In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy a quick, unrelated thought.

If I was placed into a nice little box, the label would say "Reject."

What's your's say? Labels are useless...

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Being Yourself

First, two quick anecdotes. I was on the phone last night with a girl (not one that I'm dating. The other kind.) for awhile. We were talking. It happened to be that we were talking about whether it is appropriate for a guy and a girl to "be friends." (The conversation wasn't because of our relationship, but another one that this girl has.) Next, I went out before the phone call with two other girls. One was visiting from out of town (Gasp- from Southern Jersey), and it was an opportunity to get together with somebody I hadn't seen in awhile.

While I won't say that such relationships are necessarily good, I don't think they are by definition bad. Certainly, somebody who wants to be angelic in their religious ideals will avoid them. And that same somebody would probably spend their lifetime learning Torah. But Kollel isn't for all of us. And that doesn't mean there isn't a level that we can all strive to achieve. We just struggle on a different plane.

Friendships between the opposite sex are normal. They do pose a certain threat for spiritual accomplishment. But knowing the risk, I think an individual can carve for themselves a safe relationship. It is forbidden to have a physical relationship or have hirhurim (sexual thoughts) about girls. Good. I won't take a girl to a dark movie theater. But why not for ice cream? We can sit and talk. In public view. It may be a surprise, but you can learn a lot from people with a different point of view. I think I may be on to something, but opposite sexes seem to think differently. Why should I avoid somebody (let alone the rude/antisocial implications of ignoring 50% of the people in the world) if they could make me a better person?

I don't want to get into questions of Platonic Relationships, and other Rabbi Orlofsky trademarks. That is a whole topic unto itself. My opinion is you have to know yourself, and make your own precautions. Nobody else's "rules" will always work for you. That being said, the common difficulty in a genuine co-ed friendship, after you honestly have dealt with the Yetzer Hora issue (I don't want to come across as saying sex isn't on people's minds. I just feel that sometimes you can get past your hormones.) is dealing with the nosy public issue. This is the pesky topic known as the "reputation."

I don't want to go into all of the permutations of that ("Oy, this family will never get a Shidduch again...for generations!"), but the bottom line is that sometimes even after somebody realizes that a certain action is perfectly acceptable in a Jewish lifestyle, they feel restricted from actually carrying it out because of the public perception. But caving into GroupThink is actually more dangerous than being a freethinker. In many ways, the cutting edge logic that most of the Gedolei Torah (Leaders of Torah) have can be stomped out by public protest too. I'm not saying that all our personal decisions are as well thought out and Halachicly sound as theirs, but certainly if somebody truly believes that what they are doing is right, they shouldn't be intimidated from doing it by others who either have chosen not to think outside the box, or who personally have different Nisyonos and have assumed certain stringencies that are relevant to their situation.

If we don't let people develop healthy relationships in public, who knows what they will become in private.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


During this period in the Jewish calendar, a heightened awareness of the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem is intended to be felt by every Jewish person. One of the main distinctions of life without the Temple is the absence of any centralized governing Jewish body. This absence represents a breakdown in the communication channels between Gd and humans, in a certain sense. Having no "official" position on the best way to come close to Gd makes it harder for a plurality of people to recognize the opportunities for living Gdly lives. It is this difficulty, in part, that causes us to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

As paradoxical as this may seem, it actually presents us with a special opportunity. Because there is no "one way" to do anything, individuals who strive to live lives of truth have the ability to discover the channel that works best for them. There are numerous ideologies out there that each interpret our divine service in a slightly different way. But that doesn't mean that each is mutually exclusive. Without a Temple, nobody can claim a monopoly on truth. So we are able, in a very real sense, to pick and choose those paths that we see lead us, personally, closer to the truth. Of course we must be honest and play by the rules. This can't be misinterpreted as a green light to do what "works for us" and discard the rest. But it does mean that we have quite a bit of leeway in determining what lifestyle choices will make us holier people.

While many communities may appear rigidly built around generally accepted community standards, it should be clear that Gd is the only judge of who is genuinely doing what's right. People should fear Gd, not their neighbor. If you feel that what you are doing represents your best effort, you can't do any better, as long as you are honest about the spirituality of your goals.

Live Judaism as you see it, not as any community enforces it.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Not Holier than Thou

This might be hard for some of you to relate to. On the other hand, it might make it easier for others to relate to me.

I went out to dinner tonight with my family. We went to a local Kosher restaurant. No big deal. The problem was that there were a couple of waitresses there, and a few female patrons, that I couldn't take my eyes off. It didn't help that it took so long to get our food, but all these girls just totally distracted me. I don't know who they were (except for one), how old they were, or if they are really that frum. They all were wearing skirts, and had a certain sparkle to them. Not models, but oh so attractive. There is something about frum girls. Maybe because they are "marriageable" a deeper interest is stirred. Perhaps I'm "turned on" by their tznius, modesty. My mind literally tuned out everything else when any of these girls came into my line of sight at the restaurant.

I didn't realize until tonight how little exposure I really have to religious girls. I work with plenty of young women, and very attractive ones at that. But I'm just not interested in them in any special way. Sure they are pretty, but they are almost like fine art. Any interest I take in them is purely academic, like absorbing the view of a sweeping landscape. And outside work, I really don't get out much, nor are there that many young women in the frum community, even if there was a place I was likely to run into them. So I guess practically speaking, I am as sheltered and depraved as somebody in Mea Shearim or any other ultra-Orthodox neigborhood.

Why am I writing this? Because I think it's important to acknowledge when Gd throws you a test in life. If people think that very religious people are perfect because they don't have the same desires, but that the average person has much stronger desires and can't live up to the religious ideal, that is wrong. Not that I'm the religious ideal- far from it. But it's important to note that we're all fighting the same battle. Sometimes we lose a battle, but if we are fighting for an ideal we hold true, we'll go out there and keep fighting in the war.

It's important to know the difference between normal and not normal, and right from wrong. Every day is a struggle against the Yetzer Hora, especially regarding sexual temptations. I think it is normal to have a sexual appetite, but there are clear limits to what is the right and what is the wrong way to express that normal desire.

So I'm not some asexual android who looks down at anybody else for having some wacko desire to be physically close to the opposite sex. But you have to be honest and open with yourself about where the religious battle line is drawn. You may succeed or fail on any given occasion in living up to your moral code. Somebody who is interested in passing their Nisyonos, tests, however, will always be honest with themselves as to what they personally need to do in order to reach their ideal.

Kudos for Me

I am involved in an online marketing group for the Chicago Tribune, the main daily newspaper out here. I'm already making waves. The online forum allows for two way feedback between the Tribune moderators and the randomly selected surveyees. I posted a survey for all. Here is the response that the moderators posted on the home page:

"And while you are there, check out our most well-done member-initiated survey ever! Josh Goldman, a new Insights Online member, would love to learn what you think about the Tribune overall... and Lynne, Rocky and I confess- we are interested too! Thanks, Josh, for posting that..."

Cool Jews

One of my pet peeves is "cool Jews." These come in every religious level, and every age. They are the guys who wear their Yarmulke or hats a certain way. For girls, they are wearing the latest frummie fashion or have their hair with the latest frummie style. Or anybody who uses certain Jewish words in a regular sentence.

What I don't understand is what makes them cool? Certainly these "trendy" items can't be from non-Jewish sources. Non-Jews would laugh at all of them - no matter how they wear their space beanies. And certainly there is no basis for these trends within our own tradition.

So how have we adopted any items that endow a certain level of popularity status within the frum community? It seems that all we've done is take on the non-Jewish idea of superficial bookmarks of social status, and then create our own. I would argue that even though the measures we have are uniquely Jewish, it is specifically the secular approach of making these distinctions that endangers our spiritual communities. I think that is one good Nine Days lesson. Correcting a certain source of religious hypocrisy would restore a lot more people's faith in our ideal.

Nine Days

No promises, but this period in Jewish history is ripe for constructive reconciliations. In that spirit, I hope to A) hide some of my usual cynicism toward religious life, and B) contribute messages of inspiration.

The truth is, this has little to do with the calendar. I've just been reading some other blogs, and have noticed that many of them offer wonderful inspiration and encourage self-improvement, positive energy that has long been absent from my own words. I would do well to adopt this more optimistic approach, both for the effect it can have on myself, as well as the world around me.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Good for Nothing

I met my family for lunch. I made sure to thank my parents before I left for treating. I said, "Thanks for finally doing something nice for me."

As if I'm not 25 and living at home, driving my mother's car to work every day while she walks, and my mom still makes my lunch every day. Life is rough. I'm glad I properly expressed my Hakaras HaTov, recognition of a favor.

Non-Violent Protests

I don't understand all these orange wearing American Jews. Whether or not you support the Gaza evacuation plan, I don't understand what your choice of clothing 7,000 miles away has to do with anything. The majority of people in Israel support the government's plan. What is a silent protest in America going to accomplish, pointing out a travesty...of a democratically supported peace-making effort? Whatever the outcome may be, unless you are going to pray, send a check, or go out to Gaza to affect Israeli public opinion, you are just wasting your time. And displaying poor fashion sense.


I've been checking out a number of other bloggers out there, and it seems like a lot of them have a lot of thought provoking and positive, inspirational messages to share. Not like me. I just share sarcastic rants.

And, if you were wondering, the reason why I don't have any links on the side to other folks' blogs is that I haven't been able to determine which ones I wouldn't mind being associated with.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Secret Admirer

You may have noticed that I'm not exactly discreet with my identity. I would post my address, phone number and email for anybody to contact, if I weren't worried about spam. While most bloggers revel in their anonymity, I haven't exactly hid my identity. One of the strengths of blogging is the ability to draw from your own experiences to add to the diversity of views online. And if you are worried that any story might "give you away," you can risk giving up some of your strongest talking points.

But that isn't the only advantage of openly presenting myself. I've noticed that a lot of bloggers seem to have, to put it nicely, more than one face. On the one hand they are thoughtful and introspective. And in the next line they are crass and petty. By the time I'm done reading a post or comment, I'm not sure who belongs in the "good" camp, who in the other. I think this is a consequence, in part, of the anonymous nature of Blogger IDs. Because people know their reputation is guarded, they aren't careful to avoid one or two "slip ups," an inappropriate sexual reference or a few four letter words. It's easy; why filter your words if you take on a clean identity when you log off? And if somebody thinks you're perverted, or a heathen, that won't follow you around in the real world.

The way I understand it, as a religious Jew, I carry with me a certain appearance wherever I go. Because of the this unique identifying look, I must always be punctilious in my acts and thoughtful in my manners. Because whether it will have an impact of somebody's perception of the Jewish people as a whole, or on my own character, I feel a responsibility to live up to a high standard. And by putting my name out here in blog world, that reputation is still in front of me.

Don't think that I'm saying that we should spend our lives in fear of our "reputation" or "standing" in the community. The only reason you should worry about the perception that comes with your identity is for when you look in the mirror.

A Buffet of Jewish Life

Yeshiva University has released a newly completed survey of Jewish attitudes in America and Israel on a wide array of subjects.

While most of the results show fairly predictable attitudes towards both American and Israeli politics, I found some interesting statistics revealed regarding Jewish perspectives of Judaism. There is approximately a 3% margin of error.

-How proud of you of being Jewish? While 100% of American Orthodox Jews said they were at least somewhat proud, only 95% of Israeli Charedi Jews could say the same.
-Only 94% of American Orthodox Jews and 93% of Israeli Charedi Jews said they kept a fully Kosher home.
-Unlike their American counterparts, more Israeli Charedi Jews said they keep Kosher outside their home than in.
-Only 55% of American Orthodox Jews and 87% of Israeli Charedi Jews said they strongly agree that you have to strictly obey Jewish law to be a good Jew.

Faulty Logic

This line was in this morning's Chicago Tribune, in a story attributed to the New York Times News Service about an increase in religious hate crimes in England following the subway bombings.

"The statistics fed into revived challenges to Britain's longstanding policy of multiculturalism. Britain differs from the United States in that it does not try to assert a single national identity over immigrant groups or expect that immigrant minorities will strive for integration."

Did these people look into the rise in hate crimes in the US following the 9/11 attacks? I love statisticians.

The Messiah

I think a few too many Jewish girls have marriage confused with the Messianic Era. They are all looking for some Messiah to rescue them. You know, like a fairy tale prince, but Jewish. Unfortunately, I think girl's expectations share the same misconception as the common Messianic misunderstanding does. The Messianic Era does not mean everyone living in the lap of luxury, with no wish, dream, or whim left unfulfilled. Even in those days, the daily trials of life will continue. Too bad more people didn't get past the children's version of the Messiah. Jewish girls (and guys) should realize that in life, nothing is handed to you. And, honestly, if somebody offered me something for "nothing," I don't know if I would take it. If I couldn't earn it on my own, I don't think the reward would "taste" as sweet.

Travel to Jewville

I took a rare trip into the frum neighborhood in the area. It's no Boro Park, but coming from my neigborhood, it might as well be. I visited their Lakewood Kollel, which needless to say, is a little more Lakewood than the one closer to me. There were these two guys who didn't quite fit in. Not only was there an absence of black hats and jackets, but they were wearing tshirts. Nothing uncommon for me. But this yeshivish kid of about 10 couldn't get over them. No stone throwing, enmity stuff. Just pure awe. One of the guys was saying Kaddish, and this kid was staring at him open mouthed, like he couldn't figure out how this guy could possibly know the words. It was quite humorous, considering that I didn't know people were that sheltered out here.

But I'm glad that kid did learn something. He'll be better off knowing how other Jews, and other people live. Hopefully, his parents will educate him well enough about why he lives the way he does, so that he can respect others from a distance while still remaining strong in his own practice.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Tiyufta - Refutation

For all the Lakewood Beis Yaakov girls that feel that their parent's have raised them in a restrictive environment beyond what is required in Halacha or healthy in Psychology, I saw a quote in the Talmud that should put you at ease.

In Maseches Shabbos [Tractate Shabbath], the liberal Amoraim quote a Mishnah that reveals their permissive attitude towards promiscuity and rebellious behavior[according to the official Artscroll translation], "A camel may go out with a halter and a female dromedary may go out with a nose ring." And it doesn't even say anything against sheer stockings...

Still Scary

It's been awhile since I've proven the title of this blog.

I was in the car with my brother, and I turned to him and said in his face, "If you're happy and you know it, snap your feet."

He sat there hesitating, not sure how to respond.

I jumped right in, and cooed, "Oh, look who's not happy."

The Blogger's Dilemma

To post or to comment? So many choices. I can sit within the virtual walls of my own blog, and write post after post, but never hear what goes on in the other neighboring blogs. Or I can venture near and far, gathering insight from many points of view by taking a tour of the blogosphere. But it seems as if there isn't time for both. It's tough if you want to talk and listen, but yet have little time. Today alone, I came up with approximately 7 posts I'd like to write. But this will probably be all I get out tonight. I can only assume that the rest of the blogosphere will miss my dizzying random comments as I momentarily swoop into their blog worlds.

In Judaism, the optimal solution usually involves a tempered mixture of both extremes. Hopefully, I'll succeed in balancing the expression of my own issues here, while at the same time not neglected learning and responding to the other truths expressed out there. Of course, all the blogging comes at the expense of my Torah learning time.

Weeknight Plans?

My parents went out of town for the day, so I needed to do something for dinner. I also have a friend who recently moved to town, and I haven't gotten a chance to see him yet. It worked perfectly for me to invite myself over. So I did, and he accepted (did he have a choice?). It was nice seeming him and his wife. In fact, it was nice just seeing anybody during the week. We had a wonderful homecooked dinner.

The funnest part of the evening would be discussing dating. I've gone out with a number of his wife's friends, so they know all sides of the stories. And for some reason, they're hesitant to set me up again. I don't get it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

For the Record

I don't have much time to blog tonight; I just got home. But I thought I'd write this before anyone else got a chance. As far as all the Blogger's Rules I pointed out in my last post, I'm perfectly aware that I regularly break every single one of them. I am a hypocrite, but like my religious life, the first step is recognizing your ideals and where you actually are. The fact that there is a gap between the two doesn't mean you're a liar and a cheat, or that your ideal is faulty. It means you are a human being with more to achieve in life.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Blogging Tips

As an add on to my previous post, I thought I'd do the service of providing the five rules of blogging for any blogger.

1) Write often - If you have the choice of putting out 10 posts in one day or 1 post a day for 10 days, space it out. If you disappear for indefinite periods of time, people will find other sources of conversation.
2) Pick a niche - Your blog should be united around some theme that uses your creativity to force others to think. If you want to connect to any audience, your posts will consistently need to resonate with them. It is hard for the same people to identify with your diaper changing woes at one moment, and then switch to debating the cause of high fuel costs.
3) Use your wit - Whether a slapstick humor, dry humor, sarcastic humor, or some other creative mannerism, something about your writing will have to entertain at the same time that it educates. Otherwise, I could just count the obituraries as blog material.
4) Don't underestimate grammar - Bottom line, if I need a translator to read what you write, I'm probably going to move along. Punctuation and spelling don't need to be the Queen's High English, but language in general was intricately crafted to be able to allow complex thoughts to be communicated between diverse individuals. If I can't hear your passion, I probably won't listen to your message.
5) Write short - Let's face it, if we had attention spans, we'd be reading books.
6) Don't follow any rules


The internet is a place with many obstacles for a striving frum Jew. The Jewish Blogosphere, while removed from the blatant pornography widespread on the internet, does have its own set of hazards. Particularly because we feel at home, safe with Jews from similar backgrounds, it is easy to let our guard down. But a lot of Jewish blogs are filled with filth that may not be as extreme as other stuff out there, but may be just as dangerous, if not more. Hearing of behavior casually referenced by what we believe is an Orthodox Jew can have deeper personal repercussions than any trash we might see "out there" but which faces steeper hurdles to actually penetrate into our system.

It is to address this concern that I am setting down what should be the five official rules of every Frum blogger.

1) Be respectful. Too many bloggers, and those that comment on them [the Meforshim], don't exhibit basic levels of respect for others. Whether a specific person whose statement you object to or a more general disagreement, it is vital to focus on asking critical questions and raising relevant points. Character attacks are pointless. Aside from the issue of Loshon Hora (slander), silencing another blogger violently ruins the opportunity for an open, fun, and fresh dialogue. In Judaism multiple views are often tolerated. When a view seems outside the bounds, say so. Don't resort to callng names.

2) Don't display your sin. I recall a teaching in Jewish Law that a person should not confess in public to their sins. While pointing out our failures, temptations and general weaknesses is productive, pointing out specific examples of religious violations does not have the spiritual productivity that we might think. When somebody performs a sin three times, the Rabbis teach that the act becomes to him like it is permitted. Psychologically, repitition wears out the sense of shame that comes with performing a sinful act. Similarly, confessing a sin on a blog has the same effect on the writer, as well as the readers. The sin becomes perceived as unavoidable to a wide group of people. This doesn't mean that personal and communal failings shouldn't be discussed, just that we must think with a religious mind (if that is who we claim to be) if we want to be productive with our openness. For example, let's say I have a friend who is struggling with his homosexuality. I can write that, A) I have a friend who is struggling with his homosexuality, and discuss what I perceive to be flaws and outcomes of how our community deals with the issue, or B) I can tell you (descriptive!)stories of what he's done. A) is the way for a frum blogger. No need to censor the issue, but no need to bring up specific sins.

3) Don't be pornographic. Following on the previous point, there is no need to be obscene. Tznius, Nivul Peh, and other forms of tactless talk aren't becoming of a frum person. Again, there is no issue that can't be debated, but there is always a way to do it. This goes for foul language as well.

4) Say when you don't know. We aren't all Gedolei Torah (great teachers). That doesn't mean we can't talk about things based on our individual understandings of Torah. But we have to be prepared to admit when we aren't the absolute expert. When quoting a halacha or other source, say if you are quoting it, paraphrasing it, repeating something you heard, or vaguely remember once learning the topic at hand. You never know who in the audience may unwittingly be using you as a source for their own practice.

5) Don't hold back. Judaism has a tradition of rational, open debate. Use your logic, and don't hold back. Challenge and question, all in the spirit of openly pursuing truth.

The Mumbles

It seems that Yeshiva Bochurimm (Jewish Seminary students) get a bad rap. They are stereotyped as habitual mumblers. Eloquent and enunciated speech is assumed to be foreign to their mannerisms. As one (depends on who you ask) of the accused, I fully concur. So maybe are speech is vague and hard to follow. There are a lot of muscles in the mouth, many of which need to be utilized in the forming of audible language. Obviously, the Bochur can't be expected to channel all of his calorie burning in the cranial area if he is going to detour precious energy to operate his jaw muscles. So the effect is slurred speech. But it has such a gruff, street tough feel to it anyways. Brilliant and in touch with the common person...isn't that what a Yeshiva Bochur is supposed to be?

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