Sunday, September 28, 2008

Season's greetings

With just a few hours left until G-d opens up his big book in the sky and begins to judge us all, I'd like to say "sorry" to anyone I may have offended in the past year through the TRS blog. Yes, I probably meant it at the time, and you probably deserved it... Well, that's not a good way to go about apologizing, is it? No, I suppose I'll have to make like Henry Paulson and get down on one knee and grovel for forgiveness from my compassionate readership.

And though this isn't the traditional Jewish phrase...

Happy New Year!

Oh yeah, and may the big Guy up there write some nice shtuff by your name.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

1st annual TRS 10 predictions for the new year!

Rosh Hashanah is rapidly approaching. What more can I write? The day or reckoning is upon us, and only the most fool-hardy of spirit dare ignore its clarion call. Thus TRS steps into the breach, confident in the fore-knowledge of his own ultra-hyphenated predictor of success, and assured that no matter how badly he misuses the English language he will escape scot-free, for vengeance on a personal scale is nigh, or perhaps it is nigh impossible.

Having said all that, I think that it's now time for the 1st annual TRS predictions for the new year post! With special guest Joshua! Oh the joy!

"So Joshua, are you all ready for another fantastic predictions post?"
"Well, yeah, I'm ready, but it's not 'another', this is the first one!"
"You know, it's nitpicking like yours which can really get a guy down. Regardless, would you do us all the honor of making the first prediction?"
"Sure. Ok, let me see...Prediction number one for 5769: The Jews will complain about the new Prime Minister in Israel, doesn't matter who it is."
"That sounds about right. Those Jews, huh? Always complaining. And now for Prediction number two: The Shemtov family will love whoever wins the US presidential election.
"Well, it doesn't take a TRS to figure that one out."
"Thanks for your moral support, Joshua. Why don't you say the next one-I'll bet you never would have thought this one would happen."
"Prediction number three: At least nine Tzfatim will be arrested this coming year, and they'll blame it all on Yudel."
"See, I knew you'd never guess that one. How about this? Prediction number four: Hechsher Tzedek will certify Spam."
"Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Some people try to do the right thing, and all you can do is make fun of them. How absolutely typically TRS'ish. Mine here is much better: Prediction number five: Lipa Schmeltzer will get banned by someone, for something, and then go do whatever it was he got banned for in an even more spectacular manner. And the entire blogosphere will as one applaud this."
"Oh yeah, that was much nicer. A bunch of Rabbis are trying to justify their power, and here you go one abusing them. I'm ashamed of you Joshua. Prediction number six: There will be no hit movie with the words 'varicose vein' in the title."
"Um, what's up with that?"
"I've always wanted to see Hollywood produce a blockbuster with those words in the title. Don't you think that would sound good?"
"Not particularly. This next Prediction (number seven), however, should prove to be more accurate: The oceans will rise fifteen feet, swamping Nevada and making Tennessee prime ocean side real estate."
"I won't even comment on that one, except to say that Prediction number eight: Matt Drudge will continue to deny the truth of global warming."
"We only have two more to go here, and I feel that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Prediction number nine: The US economy will continue to be misunderstood by all those who get paid to understand it."
"You know, that one actually has a fair chance of being true. As everyone knows, no one knows what is going on."
"Are you going to continue babbling, or do I have to say the tenth one?"
"Never fear, it is here: Prediction number ten: The more things will change, the more they will the same, and this will apply particularly to the field of blogging."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I have no idea. You're the one who wrote these down."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Working to avert the decrees of any sort

There's a great article by Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer that I think everyone should read, if only to understand what makes my gander fluff. She writes:

Sept. 11, 2001 occurred just six days before Rosh Hashanah. It was the tail end of what had been a difficult 12 months on the Jewish calendar: violence in Israel, a presidential election arbitrated by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Enron scandal.

Funny, it was actually a great 12 months in this Jew's life. That presidential election? It was the greatest one this country has ever had. As I've written before on this hallowed page, I look back on the election of 2000 with undisguised glee-I could not have been happier that there was, after eight years miserable years, finally a Republican in the White House. Heck, the Vikings were beaten by the Giants 41-0 in the NFC Championship game, the Twins had their first winning seasons in a decade, and my sister was engaged to be married! I had a great year. Regardless...

Then, on a particularly gorgeous morning, terrorists attacked New York and Washington. Rabbis who had worked hard on their High Holidays sermons all August rushed to rewrite them.

Which Rabbis were these? All the Rabbis I know only start to work on their sermons while they're walking to Shul Rosh Hashanah morning. But I digress.

The liturgy seemed stunningly relevant. Who shall live and who shall die? Who by fire and who by water? We acknowledge our vulnerability in light of death, the harsh decree. But, the liturgy tells us, teshuvah (repentance), tefillah (prayer) and tzedakah (righteous deeds) will avert -- not nullify but avert -- the evilness of the decree.
In other words, we cannot always prevent the worst from happening, but we can choose to wrest some meaning from it.
So here we are seven years later, about to enter the Jewish year 5769. The deaths of 9/11 have been compounded by more deaths in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In many ways our world is more violent and certainly more fearful than it had been.

Yes, there are more dead people in the world now than there were in 2001, but there are also more people who are alive and free. Is our world more violent? Is it certainly more fearful? I hardly think so. Saddam Hussein is gone. Libya is finished with. Pakistan is no longer a state supporter of Jihad. Are we afraid? Yeah, maybe, but no more than we ever were.

Evidence of evilness abounds.

What's her point exactly? There's evil in the world? Whoopdedoo. There's been evil in this world ever since Eve and Adam sat down to a fruit salad with a slippery character in Eden.

But this is also the time to take stock of the ways in which our liturgy speaks to a universal human theme. Many Americans, Jews and non-Jews, in the face of tragedy have chosen to move forward in these seven years -- to engage in teshuvah, tefillah and tzedakah.

TESHUVAH: For some Americans, the first step of repentance was to say, "I don't know enough; let me repair my ignorance." Since early 1992, groups of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women have been joining together in living rooms to discuss books about their respective faiths. The Daughters of Abraham book groups began in Cambridge, Mass., when one Christian woman realized she didn't personally know any Muslims. Now there are 14 such groups in the Boston area alone. We just began one in Philadelphia and already there is a waiting list.

How is this Teshuva exactly? Teshuva is, as Ms. Fuchs-Kreimer wrote so eloquently above, "repentance". Sure, many Rabbis will begin their sermons this year by noting that in fact Teshuva is not repentance, but is more properly "return". However, Teshuva is decidedly not, "I don't know enough; let me repair my ignorance." Since when is ignorance a sin? And since when does violating a Torah law, the studying of other faiths, become a form of Teshuva? And why is there a waiting list? If this is such a great idea, can't everyone be included?

TEFILAH: In 2001, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb of Albuquerque decided she wanted to pray for peace alongside Muslims. So she called the local mosque, where she knew no one, and found herself on the phone with a scientist and peace activist named Abdul Rauf Marqetti. They came up with the idea of a peace walk -- a meditative, prayer-in-motion march for Jews and Muslims together.

In 2003, a group of Philadelphians decided to emulate them, and with no institutional backing, an ad hoc collection of Jews, Christians and Muslims began meeting monthly at the Al Aqsa Mosque in the Kensington section of the city. The first walk began at the mosque, stopped for prayer at two churches and culminated at a synagogue. It drew 400 people. Plans are under way for the Sixth Annual Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace this coming spring .

Philadelphians are not the only ones praying with others. In 2000, The Hartford Institute for Religion Research conducted a survey to find out how many congregations, if any, had participated in an interfaith service in the past year. The answer was 7 percent. By 2005, the number had grown more than threefold, to 23 percent.

Ahh yes, the brilliance of Ms. Gottleib. Since they've decided to kill us all, why not pray with them? And a peace walk. Sounds like a crusade, except this time it's the Jews who are starting it, though of course at the end of the day they'll still be the ones suffering its effects. And who exactly are we praying to here? Seems to me that on Rosh Hashanah, we should be praying to the Jewish G-d, not the Christian or Muslim one. And what are we praying for, anyway? For Muslims not to kill Jews? Seems a bit odd to pray for that in a Muslim house of worship, no?

TZEDAKAH: The Hartford study had even more striking news. When it asked about community services, the institute learned that 8 percent of congregations had joined with those of other faiths to improve conditions in their communities. Five years later it found 37 percent -- a nearly fivefold increase.

Now they want us to give Tzedakah to people who hate us? What's up with that? And what does "improve conditions" mean? Let me guess- let's fund a new community abortion clinic, a new Hamas training camp, and perhaps even a swimming pool! Oh no, sorry about that last one. The fundamentalists wouldn't allow a swimming pool, it's too risque.

Which brings us to Eboo Patel, a young Muslim born in India and raised in the American Midwest. In 2001, he was in England completing his studies as a Rhodes scholar. When he returned to the United States, he had a big idea. The way Patel saw it, young people want to change the world, and extremists are expert at giving them a cause to believe in, an exciting and dramatic movement to be part of. But what about moderate, pluralistic, liberal men and women, he wondered, those who saw religion as a way to work across faiths to make the world a better place? Could they offer young people a compelling counterpart to what the extremists offered?

Why does Ms. Fuchs-Kreimer imply here that fundamentalism and extremism are bad? And what is so great about moderate, pluralistic, and liberal people? Would it perhaps be too much a stretch of the imagination to conceive that some people might actually believe in a cause, and that not all liberalism, though glittering, is gold?

Patel thought so. He founded the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago to bring together young men and women of different faiths to serve their communities. Since 2001, his staff has grown to 20; Jewish teenagers and college students throughout the country are joining with Muslim and Christian peers to create a national interfaith youth movement.

How wonderful, a national interfaith youth movement, so they can all forget their faiths, assimilate, and we can finally we rid of this pestilence that is religion. Didn't anyone ever tell Ms. Fuchs-Kreimer that it's simply not done to discuss religion at the dinner table? Only with the greatest stretching of religious laws can there be interfaith movement. But I forget, of course, that laws are for fundamentalists, not the morally-bereft members of this youth movement.

Something is happening out there, something good. It does not eradicate the very troubling developments precipitated by the Sept. 11 attacks, but in small ways it is helping our society achieve what Jews worldwide seek to achieve at this time of year -- to avert the severity of the decree.

What are these troubling developments, pray tell? That radical Islam has lost its edge? That the world is finally prepared to face terrorism, and Israel is allowed to take care of its business? Are these troubling? And since when did Jews want to avoid the severity of the decree? Perish the thought! We long for a clear record; not a mere reprieve, but the ultimate redemption.

That's worth remembering as we mark another anniversary of that beautiful and horrible September morning -- and another Rosh Hashanah. This year our anxiety -- who will live and who will die? -- must be matched by our belief in our ability to make a difference.

I certainly do believe in my ability to make a difference. A difference, a real change, a true harbinger of freedom. I also believe in my ability to ignore stupid articles like this one in the future and not waste my time responding to them.

(Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer directs the religious studies program at Philadelphia's Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.)

(TRS eviscerates liberal hog-wash for fun and profit while trying to stay on G-d's good side at Morristown's Rabbinical College of America.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


So I was asked to write up my experiences in CT for the Lubavitch paper in, where else, CT. It's a bit soppy, and you've read most parts, but I'm too lazy to write anything else. And with that fabulous introduction, here it goes!

When I first found out that I was coming to Litchfield, CT, with my friend Yossi, I thought, "Wow, Connecticut? Does anything interesting ever happen there?" I spent last summer in Kansas, and blogged about my experiences on the great plains. This year, I wondered, would I have anything to blog about? Turns out that I did. For example, I met a wonderful old Jewish man, named Wolf, who shared some truly inspiring stories with me. Here's one:

In 1938, when Wolf was 15, the Germans kicked all foreign-born Jews out of Germany. All these Jews were thoroughly Germanized, and it came as a big shock to them. These Jews had originally left Poland ten or twenty years before in order to find a better life, and they had done so in Germany. Even though they had become German citizens, the Nazis decided to deport them. They were brought to the border on a Thursday, and put outside German territory. The Polish Government didn't want to accept them, as they were officially German citizens. The Germans had stripped them of their citizenship, so they weren't citizens of anywhere.

The local Rebbe managed to bribe the guards to allow the Jews through, but the only time they could do it was on Shabbat. All the townspeople went to the border, with their horses and wagons, and brought their fellow Jews to the town, though they had to go outside the Eruv (enclosure in which one may transport certain objects on Shabbos), as Wolf noted. Once everyone came back safely, there arrived the additional problem of food, as no one had prepared for the guests. Back in the day, everyone used to make Cholent in their homes and then bring it to the baker's oven to cook until Shabbat afternoon. The Rebbe announced that all the Cholent was now owned by the community, and would be distributed to the refugees. The townspeople went home and ate herring and crackers.

It's amazing when you realize the Mesiras Nefesh that people had, and still have. The realization that nothing is mine, but rather it is yours; the understanding that we are not put here on this earth to serve others, but rather to serve our fellow men.

Another time, we visited with a Jewish man who's currently incarcerated in a hospital prison ward. We discussed reward and punishment, which seemed a bit strange, because this man was currently in the midst of a pretty long punishment. In the middle of our discussion on Teshuva, wherein I mentioned that Teshuva is properly not repentance but rather return, he mentioned something along the lines of "Well, I did a big sin. I killed my parents." I didn't quite know what to say, and just responded with a "hmm". The conversation continued unabated, and I explained how no one is inherently evil, no matter how heinous a crime he or she has committed. If anything, their soul has merely become covered; all they really need to do is wipe off the grime. He seemed to appreciate that, and I suppose that answered my questions on punishment as well. G-d doesn't want us to suffer, but sometimes he has to do a little scouring, much as we wash dishes to make them sparkle again.

We also met a lot of Jewish people in old-age homes, and in hospitals as well. At the time, I wrote, "This afternoon we went to the Waterbury hospital and I put Tefillin on a guy who can't speak with his mouth; it didn't matter, because his eyes spoke louder than words ever could. Funny, you read a sentence like that, and think, "Man, TRS is being trite and illogical, eh?" Funny thing is, it's the truth. He really did communicate with his eyes." I look back and realize that it's really true, isn't it? Words are merely echoes of the soul, and when there are no words, the soul can speak clearly. For a Jew, no matter where they are, or in what situation, is always connected to Hashem, and he sends his messengers to help. Here I was, thinking that I was doing a favor, coming out to Connecticut, but the truth is, Connecticut did me the favor.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The joys of Novocaine

This morning I woke at 5:15. Impressive, no? I said Selichos soon after, and had my Tefillin on just a few minutes after the permissible time had arrived. I was done Davening by 6:55, and then it was off to the oral-surgeon. When we arrived I had to fill out a bunch of forms that basically stated, "If you die, it's not our fault," with a bunch of smaller caveats too, like, "If anything goes wrong it's not our fault." After this reassuring interlude I was taken to get a panoramic x-ray. I'd never had one done before, and it was pretty cool. You bite on this plastic-covered rod, hold on tight, and then the machine does a full 360 around your head. Next it was into the waiting room, and I got connected to a blood-pressure arm-squeezing thing, another heart device on my finger, and two calipers on my arm, whose purpose I did not bother to ascertain.
After a couple minute's wait my physician came in, wearing scrubs, and he told me what he going to do. I then had an IV tube stuck into my arm, and an oxygen mask placed over my face, which smelled faintly of strawberries, I know not why. Within minutes I was out. While I was under the influence the good doctor also loaded my mouth up with a powerful dose of Novocaine, which is still in affect 13 or 14 hours later. On the one hand, I can't feel the pain; on the other, I can't taste anything. I think it's a fair trade-off.
The nurses told me, before I went to sleep, that when I woke up I'd be pretty dazed, not remembering where I was and why my mouth was all numb, with two big gauze pads stuffed in to staunch the heavy flow of blood. My first memories are a bit hazy, but I do seem to recall the nurses asking one another if they were planning on going to tonight's Twins game. I have a vague feeling that I told them not to, as the Twins were bound to lose, but I sure hope I said no such thing, as the Twins in fact came through in the clutch with a must-win 9-3 pounding of the Chicago White Sox.
I was then lead, a little unsteadily, to a bed in a little nook, where I napped for a bit. Truth is, I could've napped for an hour, I really don't recall. One of the nurses brought me my four teeth, which I had requested, and now I'm trying to decide what to do with them. Perhaps I should put them up for sale on eBay? A little while later was got home, which was pretty cool, because I was seeing most things in double. Also, at this point I still couldn't talk very well, which was of course quite the painful experience. Even more painful than anything I've experienced so far. Fortunately, after exchanging my gauze pads the bleeding stopped, I took a bit of a nap, and I was able to talk again, though I still can't really fully open my mouth. Then I ate. But that's for a different paragraph.
One of the great things about this whole business is that you can eat as much as pudding as you want. Unfortunately, it's hard to truly savor the flavor, since as I mentioned earlier, my taste-buds were away without leave. Anyway, first I had some apple-sauce, then a spicy vegetable soup, then some vanilla pudding, then some couscous, and then some mashed potatoes. Yes friends, it was quite exciting.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the pain-killers I took. After some consultation with Rabbi Manis Friedman, I put a post-it note that said, "Arnica 200c" in my pocket during the operation, and later took the drug every other hour, alternating it with another homeopathic remedy, though this one didn't require written confirmation. I've also been taking ibuprofen every six hours, and just a little while ago took some Vicodin. All this, combined with extensive icing to ensure minimal-swelling, meant that I was quite busy the whole afternoon popping pills and looking at all the things (meat) in the freezer that I couldn't eat.
The thing about remedies is that you have to believe in order for them to be effective. Now, I'm not sure how much I believe in homeopathy per say, but I sure as heck believe in Rabbi Friedman, which is pretty much the same thing. Anyway, I've been pretty pain-free throughout the day, so whatever it was, it worked.
And that, friends, is a full and basically true account of my time under the scalpel.

In other news, I've come to the decision that once I'm in Motown I'm going to cut down and only post once or twice a week. This a good move, I think, because it'll allow me to concentrate on my studying and not have to worry about thinking up something for you to people to ruminate over. Obviously, if I find that I have gobs of time, then I might just blog daily, but I'm not really expecting that to happen. No, for one year at least, I aim to buckle down and really apply myself. After that, of course, I'll be taking a 'round the world cruise courtesy of Merkos, and...Just kidding, they're only sponsoring half.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The humbility of Hashemness

Sometimes you have a great post, and no title. Sometimes you have a great title, and no post. Sometimes you have a great title, and a great post, and yet the two have absolutely nothing to do with each other. This post is one of those posts. Anyway, I felt that the title was so good that it would be a shame not to use it, so I suppose it'll have to do. Today's post was inspired by an argument I'm currently in the middle of regarding the infinity of Torah; I mentioned to my fellow arguer that this morning I had just learned a Maamar which dealt with this very issue, and that I'd be happy to write that little section up. The Maamar is "Lehavin Inyan Simchas Torah 1982", which can be found in the Hosafos of Toras Menachem. Here goes:

It's not possible to say that there can be a completion of the understanding and comprehension of the Torah, as it says in the verse (Job 11:9), "Longer than the earth is its measure, and wider than the sea," and as it says (Song of Songs 6:8), "There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and innumerable maidens," which is expounded, "And innumerable maidens-" these are the Halachos (they are innumerable). Even though the principles which have been revealed already have a defined sum (sixty queens-the sixty Mesechtos of the Talmud, and eighty concubines-the eighty Bereisos), the laws which can be derived from them are without number. These laws were also given at Sinai, at is says in the Talmud (Megilla 19, folio B), "All that a student will in the future innovate was given to Moses at Sinai."

First of all, go learn the Maamar, because if there's one Maamar you should learn this holiday season, it's this one, and secondly, the Torah truly is infinite.

In other news, tomorrow morning I'll be having all four of my wisdom teeth pulled. I would love to blog the event live, but unfortunately, I 1. don't have a laptop, and 2. will be out cold. So instead, I'll treat y'all to a sneak preview: AAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWEEEEEEE
Yup, it's gonna be fun.

Shabbos blues

I'm a big fan of summer Shabbosim, while married people seem to prefer the winter versions. In the summer, you can do whatever the heck you want on Friday, and still have plenty of time to get ready for Shabbos. In the winter, you don't even have enough time to get ready for Shabbos! In the summer, you can listen to a ball game while getting dressed before Shabbos; in the winter, not only are there no games to listen to, but they only start around the time you're finishing your meal. In the summer, meals don't take too long, because otherwise you'd finish at 2:00 AM. In the winter, you have to sit through interminable meals, and then afterwords you have to socialize for three hours. In the summer, you don't have to wake up too early, because there's plenty of time in the day. In the winter, if you wake up late, you might not be able to finish everything. In the summer, you can Farbreng for three hours after Davening, go home and eat, have a nice nap, Farbreng again, and Daven Mincha on time. In the winter, you can Farbreng for three hours after Davening...let me start that the winter, you can go home and eat...wait, one more the winter, you can have a nap after the Kiddush...all right, third time's the the winter, you can Farbreng for ten minutes, have an abbreviated meal, and not be able to fall asleep before you have to go to Shul for Mincha. In the summer, Shabbos Mevorchim is no problem; you have the whole afternoon to finish Tehillim if (CH"V) you didn't finish before davening Shacharis. In the winter, even if you wake up on time, there's still a good chance that you won't finish before darkness sets in. In the summer, it's super-easy to build up an appetite for your Halachicly-mandated third meal; in the winter, you try to figure out if dessert counts, or do you have to drink another cup of tea. In the summer, you come home from Shul on Saturday night and don't have to agonize for hours about how to fill your time; in the winter, well, yeah, you agonize.
Now of course, on the other side of the debate, you have the people who prefer winter to summer. Here's a couple reasons why: In the winter, your kids can attend the Shabbos meals. In the summer, they don't even get to watch Mommy light Shabbos candles. In the winter, you don't have to worry about catching one more pitch, because there's no ball game on. In the summer, you end up with your radio on the whole Shabbos, because you wanted to hear "one more pitch". In the winter, you don't have to worry about not making Kiddush between six and seven. In the winter, you can have a nice meal and still get twelve hours of sleep. In the winter, you don't have to make excuses why you can't Farbreng after the Kiddush. In the winter, you don't have to come up with something for your kids to do after the meal. In the winter, you don't have to feel guilty about not learning after the meal. In the winter, you can actually do something besides sleep on Motzei Shabbos.

So you see, life is pretty tough. What's a guy to do?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Farbie for life!

Today was the 18th of Elul, and I attended a couple of Farbrengens in honor of that auspicious day. The first was with Rabbis Moshe Feller and Manis Friedman. The following two stories were told by the former; unfortunately, I'm not so good at writing down Chassidus type-shtuff on the fly, and so the latter's words will be available only in private consultation.

After the publication of the Rebbe Rashab's (the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) Kuntres Aitz Hachayim, many Rosh Yeshivos became very angry. The Rebbe wrote in Kuntres Aitz HaChayim that Yeshivos that don't learn Chassidus have major problems. The Roshei Yeshivos decided to make a big deal, and they sent a delegation to R' Chaim Brisker, their leader, and asked him to comment on the Kuntres. They were shocked when he looked it over and said that it was great.
Another time, R' Chaim Brisker asked the Rebbe Rashab, "Why is it necessary for Yeshivos to learn Chassidus? Why can't they just learn the rest of the Torah?" The Rebbe Rashab answered, "In order that they don't forget who gave the Torah." "I don't understand," said R' Chaim, "if they can forget who gave it when learning the Talmud, why not when learning Chassidus?" The Rebbe said, "I'm surprised you're asking this question! It's an explicit law in Pesachim; how can a person search for Chametz on Pesach, maybe he'll eat it! The answer is that he won't, because all his actions are devoted to destroying it So too, all Chassidus is devoted to learning about G-d, there's no way a person can lose sight of the objective."

After this Farbrengen I hightailed my way over to the Yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities, where a Rabbi Jacobson of Toronto was leading a rousing Farbie. Rabbi Baruch Zvi Friedman kindly provided the transportation, for which I am eternally grateful.

There was once a big cynic named Mendel, whose sole joy in life was making fun of Chassidim in general, and the Alter Rebbe in particular. Mendel once ran out of material, and he decided to go to Liozna to get some new shtuff to work with. When he got there, he changed his name from Mendel to Chaim and tried to get into Yechidus. The Shamash (beedle) told him he needed to prepare, and dedicated man that he was, he stayed many months, pretending to work on himself and gathering information. Finally he got into the Rebbe. He came into Yechidus with a note which said that his name was Chaim, and that he wanted a Tikkun for a big sin; he had once urinated on his Tzitzis by accident. The Alter Rebbe took his note and went into a state of Deveikus. Framed by two candles, the only light in the room, he said, ""Mendel, that's your only problem?" He became a Chassid.

Two Misnagdim once came to make fun of the Tzemach Tzedek. One of them dressed up as a woman, and they came as a couple, saying they were married for thirteen years, and yet still had no children. The cried, begged, pleaded, and generally outdid themselves, and the Tzemach Tzedek, after looking at them for a short while, blessed them with many kids, etc. The two came out of Yechidus laughing, with the knowledge that they had pulled a fast one on the Rebbe. A couple weeks later the "wife" started feeling chest pains. At first he thought it was something he ate; five excruciating months later, he was in Lubavitch, begging for forgiveness.

A Chassid once called the Rebbe's office, and said that his wife was giving birth, but there were major complications. The Rebbe gave a Bracha, a blessing, that everything should go fine, and eventually she gave birth. The next morning, her husband telephoned in the good news, and at what time it happened. He received a response from the Rebbe's secretariat, saying Mazel Tov, but also that there's something wrong with the time. The Chassid checked at the hospital, and found out that since the birth was so complicated, they hadn't written down the exact time, and had in fact put it about half an hour later than in really was. Later, the Rebbe explained, "When I heard that she was having trouble, I couldn't sleep, and at the real time I fell asleep. Later, when I heard the other time, I wondered what the story was...."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Gay avek!

I saw an article this afternoon on Jpost, and I thought I'd blog about it a bit. Here, first, is the article in full, by David Benkof.

With the High Holy Days coming up, I thought I would offer my own Rosh Hashana drash with reference to my fellow gay men and Torah Judaism.

Many gay and lesbian Jews have argued that since God made them gay, He must certainly want them to express that sexual orientation in their family and bedroom lives. Even Steve Greenberg, who has rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University, has made this argument. Now, I believe on most levels that God does not give people sexual orientations, but that's a subject for another column. For now, let's assume that being gay or lesbian does come 100 percent from God.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana, the Torah reading is from the book of Genesis, the story of the akeda, or the binding of Isaac. One of the most famous and challenging stories in the whole Bible, it goes something like this, at least if you have my subject in mind: God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. So what did Abraham do? He did not reply, "But I'm not the kind of father who is able to sacrifice his son. Maybe you should give that mitzva to one of the Molech worshipers down the street. Every bone in my body resists your commandment that I sacrifice Isaac. I'm not 'oriented' toward child sacrifice. In fact, I think it's a mitzva not to kill one's own child."

Nor: "I have no other heir. Preparing Isaac to be a forefather is my entire life's work. You're asking me to cancel everything I thought my life was about. No!" He didn't say that either.

Instead he replied, "Hineini," which means "Here I am," and he brought Isaac up the mountain, prepared to sacrifice him, and in the end God made it all okay.

Now, over the centuries there has been a tremendous amount of commentary, creativity, energy and debate over just what the akeda means - albeit probably never making this kind of reference to gays. There have, however, been some gay-related interpretations of this story, including a 1995 homoerotic photograph called "Akeda," which shows a shirtless man wearing tefillin and a Band-Aid, as a commentary on the AIDS crisis.

A 2003 Rosh Hashana sermon by Rabbi Michael Strassfeld (of the Jewish Catalogs) at the Conservative-Reconstructionist congregation Society for the Advancement for Judaism said: "The clearest place where the tradition's voice is overruled is when we have concluded that the tradition is out of step with contemporary moral values. The values of equality, inclusiveness and pluralism then lead to creating new traditions related to women and gay people."

BUT FOR me, the story reinforces my decision nearly eight years ago to stop having same-sex relations and to eventually pursue traditional Jewish family life married to a woman.

The idea that we should avoid following one of God's mitzvot because we're not oriented that way is inconsistent with my understanding of Torah beliefs. For example I know some men who feel they're oriented toward being attracted to non-Jewish women, yet the Torah has no exception for them. Many, many men will admit they are honestly oriented toward loving and being aroused by more than one woman at a time, yet polygamy was never encouraged by Judaism, and since the 11th century it has been forbidden to Ashkenazi Jews.

Conservative activist and perennial candidate Alan Keyes got in a lot of trouble for calling lesbian second daughter Mary Cheney a "selfish hedonist." But the term is not so far off the mark. A person who believes in God and the Torah but overrules one of the commandments because it doesn't match his internal sexual makeup is basically saying, "It's all about me, me, me. My pleasure, my identity. Me." Judaism believes - and Abraham believed - that life is primarily about God and what God wants, not what we want.

Now, some Jews don't believe that the Torah comes from God. That's a much larger discussion. But what if my akeda drash can convince such people that if the Torah comes from God (assuming Leviticus 18:22 means gay sex is wrong - another larger discussion), then gay men should be celibate or marry women? If it can, this essay will have done its job.

After reading this article I forwarded it to LtD, who called me up and offered an explanation that he himself heard. Many Christians believe that it's impossible that people should be genetically gay; after all, if G-d had meant for people to be gay, then how could he have possibly forbidden it? This argument is a rather stupid one. G-d forbid people to steal. Does that mean that G-d didn't give people the desire to steal? Of course not! G-d forbade theft specifically because he implanted this tendency within people. Same goes for homosexuality. If no one wanted it, then why would G-d forbid it?
And yes, I know that it's a perversion, but so is the Milwaukee Brewers play the in the last two weeks, and we still see people paying good money to see them lose. It's a perversion to mate with animals, but people still do it.

This seems a perfect time to bring up the topic of child-abuse in the Jewish community. I live in Minnesota, and I'd love to be able to say that my community at least is safe from this. After all
we're so small, so tight-knit, nothing could possibly happen here, right? Now, I've heard nothing, and I'm not suggesting anything, but I honestly have a hard time believing that nothing has ever gone on here. Yes, I hope nothing has, but at the same time, is it possible? Definitely.
In New York, we know for a fact that a lot of kids have been hurt, and a lot of adults have done some seriously evil things, and it really makes me sick when nothing is done about it. Dov Hikind tries to do something about the situation, and all he gets is a bunch of stupid Rabbis stonewalling him. If a guy walked up to me, and said that the reason he left Judaism is because he was abused, and no one did anything about it, then I would have nothing to say to him. I understand that bad things happen; but to refuse to acknowledge that, and continue on playing the same stupid games? Wasting your time on banning music is great, if there are no other problems in your community, but the fact is that our community has a lot of issues.
In the meantime, I suppose we'll survive, the same way we've survived for thousands of years, but I sure as heck would hope that someone does something soon. I suppose we could draw a paralell to Rabbeinu Gershom's era. I highly doubt that no one opposed what he did, and I'm sure that many people refused to obey. Eventually, people did listen, for whatever reason. And yet, there are still orthodox men out there who justify their actions by saying that what they're doing is okay, because after all, polygamy is only a Gezeirah, right? Hopefully, something will be done here, and a proper ban can be enacted to stop abusers and protect children. Yes, people will still do it, but at least they'll be punished and censured.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TRS Enterprises

It's really a remarkable thing that the Federal government has so much money to spend on bailing out companies. It's even more remarkable that people who just a few days ago thought they were really hot shtuff are now realizing that in fact they are not such hot shtuff. All this falls in line with my new theory, that luck does not run in a circle but is actually a rhombus. I fully expect that my findings on the matter will revolutionize the way people think and feel about money, and that a growing consensus of people will come to the realization that the very best place for all their pennies is my bank account.
Obviously, I also accept that there will be some initial skepticism. "After all," people will say, "How do I make money off this, and what is a rhombus anyway?" All these questions, and much more, can be answered when you send a self-addressed stamped envelope to my address, along with four thousand dollars. You won't be receiving anything back from me, but you will have the satisfaction of a job well done, which in my books is a far, far, far better thing than the measly things you've been doing until now. So it's all for one and one for me, as we move into uncharted territories, discovering new vistas of opportunity, and finally beginning to comprehend the truth of my words.

Now I know that some of you are not content to get in on the ground floor of this offer, and would much rather secure yourselves a seat in the boardroom of TRS Enterprises. Well, don't delay, because the donuts and coffee, all certified by Hechsher Tzedek of course, are beginning to get cold! That's right, for just a ten thousand Euro initial investment, and four thousand Euros every week after, you can cast worthless votes on the TRS board, all the while enjoying delicious donuts and coffee! Additional perks include one (1) sip at the water fountain, and getting to skip to the front of the line when the class goes out to recess. If you don't eat too many donuts, then you might even be able to bring some home to your parents!

Now I know that some people are disappointed about the lack of true growth offered by TRS Enterprises. It is for these people specifically, though it's obviously open to all, that I have created a brand new position: Senior Figurehead. Whoever pays the most for this exclusive position will finally understand what it means to take all the blame without getting any of the credit, sort of like George W. Bush, but without the perks that are the White House, Air Force One, and your very own personalized set of napkins.
No folks, the titular head of TRS Enterprises will get to pump massive amounts of money into the firm in order to keep it afloat, and he or she will never see their money again. Still, I think that the honor and privilege associated with this position are well worth any hardship the applicant may encounter as they're fed to the dogs when the firm goes under. And yes, all checks may be sent payable to TRS.

Addendum to the one below this one...

Life is a weird little thing. Sometimes it's so weird that you can't even write about it. I had a lot of ideas for tonight, but unfortunately I can't write about most of them. So instead I was going to give y'all some pretty bad poetry. Then accusations started to fly, and I banged out a whole reply in thirty seconds. Sure, it was brilliant, but I did miss some important information. For example, it was in fact SZB who was wrongly maligned. And in fact, it was Cheerio who twisted the facts beyond all recognition. But don't take my word, go read the transcript. So yes, it's time to acknowledge that we are all in fact deeply interested in Nemo's every move, and we have no idea what e's hair color is (well, I do, but that's not important). Of course, no one was referring to e, but he seems to like the attention, and who am I to stop him?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, here's some of the regularly scheduled programming...

Oh well, I suppose that such is the way the angel food cake with seven minute frosting does or does not crumble. Meanwhile, in other news, I started on the real meat today in Chullin. Yes, it's time for the endless polemics about drops of milk spilling on meat, and other good shtuff like that.
I don't want to bore you with this now, since I'll probably be boring you with it later in the year, so how about a little fun and games? That's right folks, it's time for poetry!

Here I stand
More accurately sit
surveying my computer screen
my fingers type
my teeth bite
a delicious beef spleen
still, if it's not too much to ask
I'd much rather have
a container of Boston baked beans

You liked that? Maybe I should try something sentimental this time? Of course, anything to do with food is sentimental. So we'll go for soppy then.

The drink
does sop
Quite unfortunate
don't you know
A nice Chablis would be better

Monday, September 15, 2008

Oh ye of little faith!

The hounds of hell have attacked, but TRS remains resolute and strong. Not content with destroying every happiness he has ever had or wanted, they have wantonly doubted his prodigious genius, and have thus incurred his righteous wrath upon their pathetic selves. I shall not tarry, nor wait for longer, but instead, I do proclaim, "The Day of Reckoning is Here!"

In other words, I was in fact correct when I said that the Rabbinic person who said, "Hate the sin, not the sinner" was a woman, not a man. It was Bruriah, that sainted woman of yore, who told her husband to pray, not that the scoffers should die, but that they should return in true and righteous fashion to the L-rd, their G-d.

I'll be accepting apologies until 1:00 AM CT.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Clarinets and cabbage, oh my!

Is there anything worse than being one of five people photographing an event which requires maybe a third of a cameraman to be accurately recorded? I refer to events which took place this morning at the S. Paul (semi) Jewish Community Center. After a Sefer Torah was stolen last year from the yeshiva High School of the Twin Cities, it was determined that a new one would have to be written. Today marked the completion of this writing, and once I had filled in the Tuf of the word Et it was already to go. All right, so they had another fifty people fill in letters after me, but we all know whose letter was most important, don't we?
Before this fun and games could occur I helped set up the vast amounts of bagels, lox, salad, cream cheese, and various other accouterments to a successful brunch-style brunch. After the aforementioned picture fiasco I sat down to enjoy a well-deserved three bagels, stuffed with more lox than Teddy Roosevelt could shake a stick at, and a singular cup of Coke. You know how sometimes Coke can be the most delicious elixir known to mankind? When you take that first draft of your cool, cold, and redundantly refreshing can or cup of Coca-Cola, you realize why our brave men, women, and drones are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, and now, for the first time ever, Israel. That's right folks, two members of the US armed forces are going to Israel to help with the missile defense shield thingamajiggie, which is supposed to shoot down the nukes that Iran sends at Israel, because Israel was not allowed to dismember those selfsame nukes due to the US objecting to that destruction. But I digress.
Those army people are fighting to keep our supplies of Coke safe, and I must say that I fully support their efforts. Coke is what keeps this country going, much to the Pepsi people's chagrin, and I certainly intend to keep it that way. That first swallow of Coke is as American as apple pie, and boy, do I like to apple pie. Unfortunately, despite the general excellence of the event at our fair city's JCC, there was no apple pie, and the Coke did not meet the standards to which I had become accustomed. Sure, it was palatable, but the only French which could possibly be used to describe it wasn't appropriate for a family blog like this one.
Regardless, the event itself was quite nice. I was shocked to see many people dancing with yellow flags, and even more shocked to see a complete disregard for the recent ban of R' Elyashiv as the keyboard played a 2-4 beat. I hope that my ears are never again insulted with such daggers as they were today. Imagine, just a couple days after the new bans were promulgated, and already these Lubavitchers are flouting the will of G-d, as communicated to his most humble servant, Rabbi Efraim Luft. Anyway, despite these disgusting goings on, the Torah was joyously completed, and sent on its merry way to the Yeshiva, where it will hopefully enjoy a long and distinguished career.

In other news, yesterday some people came, while we were at Shul, and put up John Mccain and Norm Coleman lawn signs in, where else, our lawn. It's nice to stick a finger at the neighborhood, and even better to know that our signs will surely herald a new era of peace and prosperity for all Americans, even those who are dumb enough to vote for a basketball player. Yes, a new a dawn is just beginning to show over the treetops, and look! Whose face do I see yonder in the blazing ball of fire that is slowly creeping over the horizon? Could it be, is it possible, if only, Al Franken! Or maybe not. Jesse Ventura was fun as governor, and I think that Al would be much better suited for that position. He just wouldn't be very entertaining in the senate, and like we all know, Al's main purpose in life is to provide entertainment for the rest of us. Jesse came through admirably, but I don't think the Senate is the proper place for a man with Al's unique and unenviable talents.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Jihad on Avraham Fried, Lipa, et all

There's a story on the BBC today about the new Chareidi bans on music. My views on this subject are well known, and I'd just like to reprint some of the comments here:

As a Muslim, I support the Rabbi's decision, finally they are thinking like conservative Muslims; after all Muslims and Jews are very much alike. Majority of modern music is immoral and degrading the faith.

Zuber Iraqi, Louisville, KY

The Jewish Orthodox community have shown to me and others that the Jewish faith often has a lot to share with the Muslim faith. The psychological effect of music and the message is contained is contaminating a lot of minds and causing a great deal of moral destruction. Muslims, Jews, Christians and everybody else should work together to reduce its influence in a world of deteriorating morality. I applaud the strength of these Orthodox Jews to hold on to their faith and prevent the evils of music from corrupting yet more minds.

Hassan, Manchester, UK

All I have to say, is that when Muslims are agreeing with you, you've got to know that you're doing something wrong.

Just when you thought...

If I was a Greek, and worshiped a pantheon of minor deities whose names began with "q", then I would certainly have a lot to be thankful for today. After all, it was undoubtedly these blogging gods who provided me with so much to write about! That would be if I was Greek. Fortunately, of course, I'm not. I'm Jewish. If I had been writing this at any normal time of the night then what would follow would be a serious blog post regarding Judaism in the 21st century, and how each one of us, in his or her own way, can do simply marvelous things. However, it is not currently a normal part of the night, and this gives me a lot of license to be silly. In order to save anyone from any future embarrassment, and me from having to use my brain, I think I'll post an old Joshua story. Here goes:

June 14, 2004
The 6th Joshua
Joshua’s Vacation

Joshua walked into his hotel room and tripped. When he got up he walked over to his bed and lay down upon it. Something faintly bothered him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it. After lying on the bed for four hours, trying to count the brush strokes on the ceiling, he realized what had been bothering him. He wondered what he had tripped on. As a rule, he only tripped on dead bodies, and since he had never seen one of those he rarely if ever tripped.

He got up to investigate what had been lying on the floor. It was a massive stuffed panda bear. He walked over to the door and examined it. The bear was in excellent shape, and it had a note hanging from the foreleg on the right. Joshua read the note. It said:

“Yo Man, what’s up? Like, uh, where you been till now? I been a missing you like so badly that I just like, uh, can’t imagine existing now. Even though I am. Duh.
RSVP Room 565”

Joshua thought about this note for a few minutes. It was obviously someone’s idea of a joke. The room number was not his own, and the writing was positively pathetic. Joshua decided to throw the panda outside the window and see what the rest of the world made of it. The panda wasn’t very heavy, and Joshua soon had it on his shoulders. The only problem with the whole scenario was that his window wouldn’t open. It seemed that his hotel did not believe in allowing its guests fresh air.

Later that night Joshua decided to burn the panda instead of chucking it out the window. He kept the note though, placing it securely between his “State of Florida Passport to Fun Gift Card” and his “Official Back Seat Drivers License with New Personalized ID Photo.” When the maid came in the next morning he asked Joshua what was up with the ashes in the bathtub. Joshua explained to him that he was a phoenix, and resurrected himself once a day, preferably in hotel rooms in Washington DC. The man looked at him like he was drunk, but consented to clean the room and get Joshua an Alka-Seltzer.

After his stay in the hotel Joshua went home. He met his best friend once-removed, and proceeded to have a stimulating conversation with him. “Hi best friend,” said Joshua. “Hi Joshua,” was the reply. After this delightful discourse Joshua walked up to his room, undressed, took a bath, and reflected, once he was out of the water, what had possessed him to talk so volubly with the male maid. “It must have been sheer madness,” thought Joshua, “thankfully I was not crazy enough to tell him of the panda.”

That night Joshua fell asleep. This was not out of the ordinary, but it always filled Joshua with a quite sense of joy that he, unlike his best friend, was able to fall asleep. The fact that Joshua’s best friend had no trouble falling asleep and in fact remained in that state for extended periods of time did not bother Joshua. Not much did bother Joshua. He always felt that being bothered was a very unmanly thing to be and only allowed himself to be effeminate when his best friend was not in sight. Joshua was almost never in the presence of his best friend, and so allowed himself to be bothered more than a careful person like him perhaps should have been.

Joshua woke up, smelled the morning coffee, and went straight back to sleep. He got up out of bed a couple of hours later, and, leisurely stretching his long limbs one by one with little satisfying pops, ate breakfast. He reflected on his boring life and decided that he needed a change. A trip to Florida would be just great. Besides, then he could use his “State of Florida Passport to Fun Gift Card.” He hadn’t used it in almost four months, and that was really a shocking amount of time for a person to not be in Florida when one had the advantage of a “State of Florida Passport to Fun Gift Card.”

Joshua’s flight to Florida had a stopover in Washington DC. He got a strange sense of Yogi Berra syndrome as he stared at the people from the district who were catching the plane down to the water-ringed land of pleasure. At least that’s what their tour package operator, who was a pretty shifty guy, had said. Joshua settled into his seat, and prepared for takeoff. It wouldn’t be coming for twenty-five minutes minutes, but of course one could never be too ready. Joshua stared at the people filing past him. They were a nondescript bunch. Most looked like caricatures of English tourists visiting Cairo for the fifth time, and wishing they had chosen not to always do the same thing, but that didn’t bother Joshua. After all, his best friend was there too. On the plane that is, not Cairo.

Joshua stiffened as a man sat down next to him. It was the maid from the hotel. Joshua was shocked. He didn’t know that people like that could afford to take vacations with sleazy tour operators. Joshua hoped the man wouldn’t recognize him. Of course though, he did. Joshua cursed his infernal luck, and wished that the plane had landed in Tuscaloosa instead of Washington DC. The maid asked Joshua how he was, and expressed surprised that Joshua wanted to go to Tuscaloosa. Joshua hadn’t realized how loud he had wished. “Oh well,” he thought, “this too shall pass.” And it did, of course; everything always does.

As the maid was leaving he handed Joshua’s best friend a package. “It’s the ashes,” he explained, “I thought that your friend here would want them. He really seemed attached to that animal. It’s a pity that it got burned. I would have liked to have met it.” The best friend looked at him strangely, but gave the package to Joshua back once they reached their motel room in Florida. Joshua took one look at it and tossed it out the window, in the process hurting himself. The window wasn’t open. After icing his head for a few hours he went outside onto the beach, took the box, recited a moving and beautiful poem about its demise, and threw it into the waves. By one of the miracles of modern divinity the box traveled a long way. It went through the Panama Canal, across the desolate stretches of the Pacific, and finally lodged ignominiously into a landfill on the waters edge in China. At that point it was buried.

Joshua would have liked to know that the animal got a decent burial in its home town. Well, a decent burial for a stuffed panda that is. Room 565 would have liked that too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Osama Bin Laden-My part in his downfall

Today is the seventh anniversary of 9/11. I'm sure that a lot will be written, though probably not as much as should be written. One of the mercies of G-d is that over time we are able to forget.
Anyway, I played no major part on that fateful day, but like most people who were alive then I remember it vividly. Here then, in my own words, is an account unlike any other you have seen on this blog. By that, I mean that I didn't take any literary licenses with it.

I was in ninth grade in the Lubavitch Yeshiva of Minnesota-Wexler Learning Institute in the fall of 2001, and the Yeshiva was then located in the east wing of the Sholom Home East. We were taking off our Tefillin following morning prayers when Rabbi Nachman Wilhelm walked into the Zal and told us that a small aircraft had crashed into the Twin Towers, and we should say Tehillim. We said some, and were told that Seder would start at the normal time. After eating breakfast I went into Zalmen Kasowitz's room (did anybody notice yet that I'm an inveterate name dropper?), which also happened to be Avremi Klein's room (who else am I forgetting here?), and we sat and listened to the radio. By that time we heard that a second plane had hit, though neither tower had fallen. We stayed listening for about an hour, huddled up in a corner of the room, afraid that a member of Hanhala would walk in and confiscate the radio. As it turns out, the main member of Hanhala was watching everything unfold on a TV in a different part of the building, but at the time we of course didn't know that.

Afterwords I came into Zal and began to discuss the situation with Rabbi Mottel Friedman. Even at that point we knew that it had been done by Muslim terrorists, and I was convinced that war was in the offing. Later we went into class, and even though no one was interested in learning we did so because, as our teacher put it, "It's in the merit of those who died today."
That night Levi Feller came over and we sat and watched coverage on the TV. Over and over they showed the planes crashing in, and over and over we watched the Twin Towers tumble. A couple of times we saw footage of Palestinians dancing, but later on they stopped replaying it. That night, as I lay me down in my bed, I heard fighter planes circling in the sky, and realized that our national debt was about to skyrocket out of control.
OK, so that part isn't true, but the rest is.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Odd things

For the first time in many moons, I grew rather angry about this whole Rubashkin saga. I had been taking all their troubles as a big joke, confidently eating their food and waiting for the day when they would once again rein supreme in Jewish food-dom. But now it appears the OU has become involved, threatening to take away their certification of Rubashkin products unless the Rubashkin family stops making those products. Basically, they're a bunch of weasels who are kicking the horse after it's been slain.
Now I'm not defending Rubashkin here. All right, I am. What do you want from me? Should I criticize the meat company that has always been there for me?

In other, better news, I learned a great Maamar this morning, Ki Imcha Haslicha 1949. In it the Friedriker Rebbe curses out sinners. Well, that's perhaps not a fair assessment. He curses out people who convince themselves that what they're doing is not bad. It's a pity that I don't have the Maamar in front of me, because the Rebbe of course says it a whole lot better than I do. Anyway, go learn it yourself, hopefully it'll inspire a little guilt, which I think is all we can expect from this generation.

Moving right along, I'm distressed to see that no one could come up with any ways to make vast amounts of money off my new Chumra scheme. Where have the great Jews gone? I thought Jews were supposed to be the masters and exploiters of the world? Have they really proven the lies false? Is Henry Ford wrong?

Now that we've finished with that particular episode, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Al Franken's only getting 65 percent of the vote in today's primary in Minnesota. He was supposed to get 90 percent. I actually voted for one of his opponents, Priscilla Lord-Faris, because I wasn't particularly interested in having him be my senator. Sure, Norm Coleman isn't perfect, but he's definitely preferable to someone who grew up in S. Louis Park.
And that, my friends, is all the news that is.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Milk and Meat, among other things sweet

Today I was learning some Chullin when I came across what may very well be the next Chumra of the week. You see, there was some Amora who commented that if his father was like wine, he was like vinegar. His father would wait twenty four hours between eating milk and meat, while the son only waited six. This got me thinking, "Why don't we do this?" I mean, there have been a million other crazy stringencies out there, why not one with an actual basis in the Talmud? As a side note, it's pretty funny that we're as strict as we are when it comes to Kashrus. If someone was man (stupid) enough to rule straight from the Gemara, he could have a much easier life than the one we are currently enjoying.
Anyway, the only problem I came up with my brilliant plan for this new "Chumra of the week" is trying to figure out how it would be possible to make money off it. After all, what's the point of religious extremism if there's no one to siphon cash out of the fanatics' pockets? I thought of several ideas, and I hope that my loyal readership will chip in some more.

1. Is everyone you know keeping Chalav Yisrael this Aseres Yemei Teshuva? One up them, and be the envy of all your Chaveirim, with the new 24 hour Milk+Meat combo wait pack! For more info, please dial 1-426-278-2537.

2. Do you not floss? Does your wife hate you for this? Then you need a religious excuse! Start keeping the new 24 hour Meat+Milk combo wait today! Just send a SASE to

C/O PT Barnum
617 6th St. Lakewood, NJ, 08701

3. Tired of trying to figure out if you can eat pizza on Motzei Shabbos? Just buy into our new 24 hour Meat+Milk combo wait! Scared you won't be able to pass the test? Buy our new 24 Cholent-one spoonful and we guarantee you won't be eating for 24 hours!

And now it's your turn folks...

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Triple Jew Part II-It rhymes!

As promised, I’ll try to deal with the phenomenon of disenchantment with Chabad in particular and Judaism in general. I think that the first thing to make clear is that this is not a new phenomenon. The only stories we’re told, and the only people we hear about, are the guys who done good, the Chassidim who did extraordinary things, keeping their faith in the harshest of conditions. We don’t hear about all the people who didn’t quite make it, because why should our collective conscience wish to remember our failures? This is all perfectly natural, and I don’t think it’s blameworthy in any way. Still, I do think the point needs to be made that our generation is no better and no worse than any other. Heck, the Friedriker Rebbe’s grandson not only left Chabad but also tried to take some of it with him. And who will be remembered from our generation? In one hundred years, they’ll recall R’s Cunin, Feller, Shemtov, et all. They won’t recall the shlubs in Crown Heights or in San Fransisco, even if they stayed Frum and did their thing. They certainly won’t remember the kids who left the faith. Lubavitch at this point is big enough that even if one kid from each family goes out and marries a Muslim, everything will be all right, because the average family has four or five kids. I’m not saying that this is a good thing, because every Jew is precious, I’m just saying that I don’t think it would cause Chabad’s extinction.

One of the problems with Chabad is that we’re stuck in a holding pattern. We’re loathe to address any real issues, like this one, because we think that Moshiach is just right around the corner. I’m not saying that he’s not, I’m saying that this thinking is contributing to the problem. The Rebbeim didn’t avoid issues because they thought that they just needed to wait a little longer and everything would be all right; they dealt with the issues, because that’s what a leader has to do. Even when people say that they appreciate this point, they still don’t act on it. Is Moshiach coming? Yes. Does Chabad need to work on its issues? Yes.

Now onto the the particular people I talked about earlier. The first, our scion of great Lubavitch figures, has abandoned the faith of his fathers because he doesn’t believe in the divine origin of the Torah and he’s not interested in keeping its strictures. Which of these two conditions came first I’m not sure. He’s not the type of guy who can be won over by arguments; perhaps if someone offered him a cash settlement to stay frum he’d take it, but other than that, I’m not sure if there’s anything anyone can do about him. Perhaps when he matures, or leaves the fold for a while, he’ll realize what he’s missing, but whether that happens I can’t be sure. It would be patronizing of me to suggest that in some way he is deficient in his knowledge of Judaism; he knows a lot more than me, and all I can say is that if you don’t believe, or don’t want to believe, then that’s all there is to it.

My second friend is questioning his Judaism but trying to make it all work. His faith has been damaged by his unanswered questions. All I’ve been able to tell him is that he needs a Mashpia, a spiritual guide. What else can I tell him? I certainly don’t have the ability to argue him into the perfect faith that is the ideal of our religion. Of course, the Judaism gurus would have you believe that in fact perfect faith is not necessarily the ideal, and I suppose they’re correct. I also know that my friend would rather not have to deal with his issues, but such is his fate, and he must deal with it.
My third friend believes in Judaism, but he doesn’t understand why it’s so obsessed with details. Again, he’s intelligent, and knows all the answers that anyone could give him. All I was able to tell him was that perhaps he should leave Chabad and become Modern Orthodox or something. I think he realized the ridiculousness of my suggestion, which was my intention. He is of the school of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”, and will probably not do anything, though he will threaten. At the same time, I never expected to hear him talk the way he did when I spoke to him, so perhaps something interesting will happen. Who knows?

And at the end of the day, maybe everyone is just sowing their wild oats and will come back to the flock later. Or maybe they won’t. And that’s just the way life is.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

A quick word of Torah

I know I promised an exhaustive analysis of the situation in Chabad, but right now I don't really have time, so I'll just write a couple of quickies that I heard from Rabi Baruch Zvi Friedman tonight.

At the Kinnus Hamechanchim earlier this year some guy got up and gave a speech about how the way to get our children connected with the Rebbe is through teaching them about his life. Obviously, he elaborated a lot on this point, but BZ didn't, and therefore I also can't. Be that as it may, the Rosh (of YOEC fame) got up to give the next speech, and said that the way to get to know and connect to the Rebbe is not through not his life. After all, do we know Moshe through the stories of his life? No, we know him through the Torah that he gave us. Do we know the Rambam through his life story? No, we know it through the Yad Hachazakah, his seminal work of Halacha, and all his other Sefarim. Do we know the Rebbe through knowing his life story? Sure, it's nice, but we can only know and connect to the Rebbe through learning his Torah.

The Rosh continued

I hear bochurim in my Yeshiva making fun of Bochurim in "snag" yeshivos, saying that they're motivated to learn only because they're told that one day they can grow up to be a Gadol Hador, or at least a Talmid Chacham. In our Lubavitch Yeshivos, they motivate Bochurim to learn by offering them (And the following is the Rosh's exact words) one thousand dollars, or three thousand dollars, or even Rachmana Litzlan an iPod! And that's fine, if you need an iPod to learn, then great. But don't you dare make fun of snag Bochurim then who learn in order to become a Talmid Chacham!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Triple Jew

Three times in as many months I have listened to Bochurim describe to me their disenchantment with Chabad in particular and Judaism in general. I'd like to write a whole post explaining what they're going through, why it's quite terrible, and the six steps we can all take to prevent such things from occurring in the future. Unfortunately, that won't be possible, because there is no one answer, or indeed even three answers to this issue. Many would argue that indeed there is no issue. With most people I would simply shrug my shoulders and say something along the lines of, "You win some, you lose some," or, "Just separating the wheat from the chaff," or perhaps, "Good for them." But you see, these are three Bochurim who have not only entrusted their stories with me, but are also vain enough, even if they wouldn't admit it, to want to those stories be published, even if it is only anonymously.
Still, I'm hardly in the mood for biography tonight, and so I'll merely make some general comments on the state of Chabad in general and Judaism in particular.
One of my friends has given up the faith because he's lost his belief in the religion; another is terrorized by questions of deep religious import, and the third is disgusted with Jewish life (hypocrisy being a chief complaint) as we know it today. All in all, three different complaints, and yet they all do have one thing in common. The system has failed them. And it's not like they are of one stock: one is a scion of great Lubavitchers, while another only became fully Frum after his Bar Mitzvah, and the third is the son of Baal Teshuvahs in Crown Heights, and a product of the Lubavitch educational system in that great bastion of Chassidism.
It would seem that we've failed these guys. Or maybe we've failed everyone. Or no one. It's so difficult to understand what is really happening. There are guys who seemed to be failures at the age of fifteen, and yet ten years later they're a credit to their community. Others were early-bloomers, and like roses in December they have disappeared, all the glory of their religion and learning seemingly lost in the cold winter of reality. And yet...may there yet be a spring for them, may they one day come back and reclaim the heritage which they cast off so many years ago?
Who knows? This is the problem with pontificating on these matters; it's so hard to do so without sounding bombastic.
Perhaps I'll deal with the matter at a further date. Perhaps not. I'm sure ya'll'll survive either way.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Shameless partisanship on a stick

It's really sickening that I've been so greatly affected by a couple of speeches at a political convention. Rudy Guiliani, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin gave some great speeches tonight. It really pains me greatly that I have nothing snarky to say here. Still, I think that one woman's speech last night trumped all these, and will probably be a better speech than any we hear in the future. I'm talking about Laura Bush's speech. It's got to be really tough for her, to know that she won't be first lady in a few months, and that whoever replaces her will be married to a man who is a lot more popular than her husband is. And she stood by her man and told the world why she still thinks he's great, a position that I agree with. You think his presidency was a failure? Are you kidding me? First of all, in 2000, I took on my entire class, and my social-studies teacher, and won. If Bush had not triumphed in Florida, who knows where I'd be now? The man provided many hours of humor, and even saved a bunch of people in Africa, which I suppose is a good thing. It's a pity that I have yet to find a transcript of the speech, but here's a video. Watch it. You may find yourself thanking our President for a job well done.

All right, the partisanship is killing me right now. Is this the same TRS who attended a Barack Obama speech in the House that Norm Built? Has the humor which I pretend to totally been swept aside by the soaring eloquence of a few hack politicians who are desperately trying to stay relevant in the next four years by asserting their place at the GOP table now? These are questions I ask you.
Meanwhile, last night I had a request to explain what exactly I meant when I said that this was how the west was won. At the time I was merely referencing a popular, and rather ancient, movie, but now I suppose the time has come to defend my proposition and show that not all I say is entirely meaningless and without merit.
The west was won by community organizing, voting present at the state senate, and writing memoirs. No seriously, it was won by sitting in a prison in Vietnam for five years and banning people from taking other people's money to run roughshod over other people in elections. Oh yeah, and he also put thousands more of Americas troops in harm's way, despite the counseling of virtually everyone, and somehow managed to come out looking like a genius.
Oh man, I just can't seem to shake this GOP thing I got going now.
And some might even say that that's a good thing.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Where have you gone?

So people are getting bored of Joshua, eh? I guess it might just be time to stick him back in a closet and wait another five years until he's appreciated again.
Today I went to a Republican Jewish Coalition event at the Walker Art Center which was ostensibly about honoring pro-Israel governors. Sure, we got there half-way through, but is that any excuse for there being no governors when I arrived? Dennis Prager emceed the event, but as I say, it was basically over by the time I got there. Nu nu. The good news was that I got to see a lot of people eat non-Kosher food (and I'm not being OCD Frum here either-we're talking Wolfgang Puck catering) at a Jewish event. Sure, there was Kosher food also available, but it was by the back wall, and all the servers going round with tasty-looking Hors Dourves were certainly not carrying Kosher food on their trays. I asked several people if they wanted to put on Tefillin. One, who looked like an ex-Yeshivishe guy, declined, and wondered if I should be asking people to put on Tefillin at a private event. I said, "Hey, it might be private, but by golly it's Jewish!" He didn't put on, and neither did anyone else, but hey, at least I tried, right?
Following this extravaganza it was time for Civic Fest, which is a really cool event in the Minneapolis (our not so fair twin) Convention Center, which brings together lots of political and Minnesota exhibits under one roof. At the RJC they were giving out lanyard-type credential thingamajiggies. You know, the things that hang from people's necks and allow them to do shtuff from which mere mortals are forbidden? Great.
The reason I bring this up is that workers at Civic Fest wanted to know if I was a delegate to the RNC. I told them that I wasn't, which was the whole truth, but wish I had just once said that I was, and seen what happened. Maybe they take delegates into a special room and give them lots of money. Maybe they don't. But I'll never know, will I?
Anyway, Civic Fest itself was very nice. I shmoozed with several people, and even gave an Israeli vendor the chance to put on Tefillin. He said he had done it earlier that morning, though I didn't believe him too much. Let's just say that I trusted him about as far as I'd trust a dead dog in April, which ain't too much at all.

And that, my friends and compatriots, is how the west was won.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Joshua gets feisty!

You know what really gets me annoyed? It's not Gustav. Sure, this pathetic hurricane which did nothing to anybody upstaged S. Paul, but I understand that. What really gets my fur ruffled is all these stupid protesters who are making a mess of my city. Who do they think they are? If I went around chucking rocks through windows and destroying cop cars, I'd be put in jail, but these people claim that they have rights, that it's an expression of "free speech". Morons, they should all be shot.
Meanwhile, I've heard calls for a treatment of the possible sexist attitudes towards everyone's favorite soon to be grandmother/VP candidate. Once again, I'll be passing the buck to Joshua, and let him deal with the situation.

"Hail to thee Joshua, how goes the battle?"
"That's it? I go all Elizabethan on you, and all I get is a simple 'Hi'? How reprehensible your behavior has become."
"I'd love to talk, but I'm too put out by all the nonsense I've been hearing lately."
"Like what?"
"For example, some doddering old fool has announced that some beehive hairdoed' mother of five is to be his mate in the running for the highest office in the land. What gives man?"
"You approve not of this most brilliant of choices?"
"I think it's ridiculous. Women are fit only for the kitchen."
"Joshua, I'm surprised at you. Even if you really believe what you're saying, I thought that you were at least PC enough to keep your feelings to yourself."
"There is a time for sweet words, and another entirely for the truth to be released from the bounds which hold it captive. In other words, I've had enough with the proletariat running roughshod over the Bourgeoisie-down with the revolution! Let loose the hounds of capital, unbind the hands of social repression, apply the chains of lower-class sublimation, allow the domination of the masses!"
"That's all well and good for a baron of industry, but what does it have to do with women?"
"Sorry, I got a little carried away. Let me try again: Men of the world unite! For too long have out hands been shackled, our legs manacled, our manhood stampeded beneath the train of fury that hath wrought upon us this lowly creature that presumes to rise from its natural lowness and replace its crassness with an assumed power over its rightful owners. The usurper will fail, it must fail, for its success would auger a terror to terribly alliterative to behold. What sin have we done to deserve this fate, an end more terrible than any other the human mind could possibly comprehend. Has the power which in former days we called our own forever left us? Rise up men of the world, and proclaim to all and sundry that the time of our submission is over; no longer will horror be out lot. Look out, you women of the world, for the end of your posturing is nigh. Men of the world, unite!"
"Quite impressive."
"Thanks. It was all I could get up at the spur of the moment, but I hope you liked it."
"Yes. But tell me, do you really believe these things? Even the most conservative have swooned at the woman you despise."
"I don't despise her, I just think she should be at home taking care of a down syndrome child and keeping a close watch on her promiscuous daughter."
"You cad! How can you criticize the mother of a down syndrome child, or castigate the family of a candidate? Even your messiah has declared that these people are off limits, and he's said that he'll fire his people for commenting on her people's dealing with other people, or something very much like that."
"If I was bound by the pronouncements of that puppet of the vast left wing conspiracy to deliver America to her enemies and prepare for the second coming of Karl Marx, then I wouldn't be here pontificating on an obscure blog in the outskirts of humanity's drive for sanity."
"What? That made very little sense."
"All I'm trying to say here is that I'll say what I want, when I want, because despite what the current President seems to think, this is still America, and I can still say whatever I want."
"Actually, in many cases, it is illegal to incite people to do certain things."
"Yes, I suppose that's true."
"It's also funny that on the one hand you're quite elitist, and seemingly an upstanding right-winger, and at the same time you harbor a visceral hatred for the people who currently inhabit the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue."
"I'm actually a big fan of the Junior Bush in the White House. No matter how many mind-numbingly stupid things he may have been accused of doing in the past eight years, he is still-"
"Did you just interrupt the eloquence issuing from my mouth?"
"Yes, and here's why: I think that it's time for you to settle down in the world, and start having some real positions, to begin to actually believe something."
"But that would be so boring!"
"Contrary to your opinion, life is not all about excitement."
"But if people were to know what I actually believe, then I couldn't argue with myself effectively."
"Do you think you effectively argue with people as it is? Your opinions are so wild and your words so ridiculous that no one listens to you seriously anyway. They're just being polite."
"No, they're actually fascinated I think that you're confusing their stares of shock and awe with those of politeness. A careful student of the human condition, as I am, will be quick to note that the two are in fact quite different."
"How so?"

I bet that the following words, if left alone, would excite the most comment on this blog, even if they're really periphery in every respect. Now that I've said that, of course, no one will dare give me the satisfaction of being correct, and they'll unwittingly make me right by not commenting. Of course, it they comment, then they're also proving me correct. They can't win!

"Polite people have a glazed look in their eyes that says that they're more interested in the doughnuts you're undoubtedly holding in your hands than in anything you have to say. Shocked and awed people have their mouth hanging open in bewilderment, and if you can keep the effect going for long enough, then they might even drool, which is always quite gratifying."
"Maybe the drool is because of the doughnut."
"Impossible. They'd have stolen it out of your hand long before any drool would begin its slow descent out of the mouth and its much speedier fall to the worms of the earth."
"That's quite disgusting, and with that I think I'll have to end the conversation."
"Charmed, I'm sure."