Monday, March 20, 2006

Bina and Daas...

I've always been an admirer of Chabad-Lubavitch. I've never let myself get dragged into the whole anti-Chabad, messianic disputes. But I recently journeyed into the core of the Lubavitch blog-world, courtesy of Chanie. And what I found amazed me.

I've always known Chabad through the emissaries (shluchim) they send out to communities. Through these interactions, I've always viewed Chabad people as very open-minded, worldly people, who've successfully combined their traditional world with an ability to relate to others all around them. But the window from the blog-world has shown me another world altogether, a world not separated by space it seems, but merely shaded from the view of outsiders like myself.

I'm not talking about the Rebbe is Moshiach crowd. Writing that off to isolated splinter groups still doesn't account for all of the odd practices considered common within the mainstream Lubavitch community. Chanie put together a quiz on her blog, and a number of the questions left me so puzzled, I couldn't understand where they were coming from.

Some examples -

The informal poll claims to determine whether you're Chassidishe. However, it seems that it actually identifies a Chabbadnik, as most of the criteria wouldn't identify a Chassid, neither in the Mishnaic or Baal Shem Tov sense.

Second, the poll asks whether participants participate in Farbrengens or have a Mashpia. These seem like nice high school terms, but I'm not sure why they would make somebody a better Chassid. They aren't Jewish commandments, and it would seem that somebody could be a great Chabadnik too through other channels.

Third, the quiz assumes that a Chassid should memorize Tanya, read rambam, learn the Rebbes sichos (addresses), and say Chitas (Chumash, Tehillim, and Tanya). Now these could be quirks of Chabad. Every group of Chassidim have their own favorite books. It just seems interesting that the wrote reading of specific works is so important. I understand if Chabad people find Tanya inspiring and educational, but again shouldn't learning anything make you a better Chassid?

Finally, Chanie asks how often do you write a letter to the Rebbe, and do you think the Rebbe is proud of you. Chanie is not a Rebbe is Moshiach person (at least I think), and I don't think that these views of the Rebbe as a personal mentor make you a heretic. But judging people's level based on their connection to a dead person? That sounds anti-productive to me. I have no problem if anybody finds inspiration in an historical character. It may seem a little weird if they communicate regularly with a person who is no longer with us. But it reaches a whole new level when such a relationship is a community standard of a good Chassid vs. a bad Chassid. This aspect is something very hard for me to accept.

Chanie is pretty mainstream Lubavitch. And even if she doesn't represent everyone out there, it is still enlightening to see even this one perspective. But yet I just can't understand how a core group so isolated from the normative reality of the frum world could hope to impact scattered Jewish souls. I'm not talking about the basic Misnaged vs. Chassid debate either. I expect Chassidim to be more ghettoed and rebbe oriented. I'm only frum because of Lubavitch. But is this normal?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I am not a fan of drinking.

Enough said.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Every few months it seems that some factory worker wins some $300 million lottery. There is inevitably media attention on his rags to riches fame (with an undertone that most of these stories end in rags once again, but I'm not going to broach that topic).

But what is notable, that he bought a lottery ticket? Did he invent the wheel? There is nothing noteworthy in someone winning a game of chance. In fact, statistically, the outcome was quite predictable. I don't need to rehash all the cliche arguments, that lotteries simply are a tax on the stupid. But they really serve no purpose.

Most of the United States bans most forms of gambling. People become addicted and funnel all of their expendable (and non-expendable) income into a slim chance that their life will be instantaneously turned around. But it's not going to happen.

And even if you did win, what have you accomplished? Will all this money make you happy? Forget about what it can and can't buy. In my mind, money you haven't earned can never make you happy. The only way to happiness is by contributing to the world and reaching your goals. But just being handed $300 million is just a reshuffling of income. Like any gambling, it doesn't represent any increased economic output. It is simply everyone contributing a few dollars and giving most to one person and the rest to the State. No matter how many toys you buy, no wonder you're left with an empty feeling. Who can feel accomplished when they've been handed a prize they didn't earn?

Judaism comes down hard on gambling. Even if you argue that it is not completely forbidden, the fact that your winnings are viewed as stolen goods should lead to a similar conclusion. It always bothered me seeing the ultra-orthodox in Mea Shearim buying tickets for Israel's lottery. Not only does such behavior seem counter to the law of Judaism, but it seems to belie a lack of commitment to the productive lifestyle that Judaism espouses, and to the divine rewards bestowed therein. (And of course, they are supporting the Medina through the idiot tax.)

So put your money in the stock market. The 65,999,999 people that don't win the lottery will make a much higher return in the end. And they'll have earned it by giving something to the world in return.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


It's amazing how so many people feel stuck in a particular religious community. There are a number of bloggers who have written about feeling constrained by living in a world that has so many fixed rules. Some end up leaving them completely, while others end up spending years complaining about how they are being held back against their will.

Personally, I can't comment on every community. But I can say that no place is perfect, and there are always those that won't enjoy a community no matter how ideal it is. People just come with different preferences.

OK, so what is my point?

The decision to find what's right for you is in your own hands. Nobody is holding you back. But nobody is pushing you. Only you can find the right balance between all the elements around you that are right and wrong. You can't necessarily change your community. But you can change who you are. Even if nobody else follows your lead, you'll still be happier being true to what you think is right (if you are really doing what you think is right, but that's a whole different story). And if enough people start to assert their own beliefs, then the community standards will gradually fall in line with being more accepting of people's choices.

Might it hurt your (or your family's) shidduch chances? Might it affect your standing in the Kehilla? Sure. But if you believe that those institutions aren't in-line with what you believe to be true, then playing by their rules won't help you in any way. What good is a "good" shidduch in a system that penalizes you for being yourself? If you have to fake who you are, do you really think you'll get something more in-line with what you want?

This is somewhat of a mini-rant. But I found it self-applicable in many ways. Thanks for listening.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Invisible Line

Yesterday I had the immense privilege of finally breaking down the barrier between blogger and real, beating heart. And I couldn't have thought of a better occasion than AnySara's wedding. I had never met her before, and only known her, like you, through our blogs. But the personal touch was there, the shared simcha real. I met other bloggers, The Tailor and BlogBlond, there as well. And all I can say is how amazingly real our connection was.

But I don't want to get caught up in the amazement of putting live flesh to the personalities I already know well. The shining star of the evening truly was the joy of the bride and groom. It was the real deal, not tarnished in the least by any of the trimmings that end up overshadowing so many weddings. The guests were truly a diverse crowd, each bringing their own unique connection to the bride and groom. But yet the entire room meshed into one to celebrate the truly holy matrimony that united us.

I took a bunch of pictures, and I hope to share some after receiving the necessary approvals.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Frei Guys Have All the Fun

At Friday night dinner on the UWS, one of the guests made this interesting observation. Yeshivish people have no life. He didn't mean that in a specifically mocking way. He just meant that they don't do anything. They don't go out to movies, they don't go to bars or clubs, and they don't really go out to any of the places that most other people do.

The first question - is the observation valid? Perhaps it is an unfair generalization. But I tend to agree with the speaker, if for no other reason than I have no life either. The second question - why would this be so? Is it part of the Yeshivish hashkafa that hobbies are Assur? Is it specifically a Modern Orthodox feature to have outside interests?

I think if you look closely, right wing orthodox people do indeed have personal interests they are occupied with in addition to just Torah and sleep. However, I think the disdain for busying ourselves with entertainment bespeaks the Hashkafa that our lives our filled with purpose. By spending our life searching for ways to occupy our time, we are only finding ways to ignore our potential. If life is about growth, how can we value as a society interests that are meant to distract us from acheiving our potential? It is a valueless society that leaves its citizens struggling to find mundane matters to occupy their time so as to distract them from their mortality. But a religious mind filled with purpose knows there is so much more to accomplish. How can you watch prime time tv, when you consider the fact that you ideologically know that it doesn't represent any improvement, personally or communally?

Does that mean that all forms of entertainment are forbidden temptations, hedonistic self-worship? Does this mean that somebody who can't handle the pressure of constant acheivement is left behind? No. It just means we have to understand our actions in context. Recognize what is growth, what is rest, and what is waste. You can watch Seinfeld to gain a greater artistic understanding of Gd's creations, you can watch it to enjoy a lighthearted critique of society, or you can enjoy it for the rampant sexual connotations.

Earlier in my life, I viewed Modern Orthodoxy as the latter - living its values contrary to a Torah lifestyle when not specifically usurped by Halachah. Later, I gained appreciation for Modern Orthodoxy to accomplish the former - to learn from even the most un-Torah sources the secrets of creation. However, it seems that even the cream of the Modern Orthodox crop seem stuck in that middle category today, that living in recreational mode is enough.

Do Yeshivish people have no hobbies because they are growth oriented? Surely this wouldn't be going through everyone's mind - many were just told it is frei to partake in these activities. But what of those people that can't keep up with this rigorous lifestyle? Is Assur an answer, when not ideal is the truth? Should we enforce the ideal as a communal standard? Should we just admit that they aren't on a certain level, and do keep themselves entertained, and vaguely on the derech? How should the Yeshivish world view these people? Or perhaps they have a secret that we don't.

Or maybe I should just get a life.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?