Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TGL and his descendants

First thing's first, a big Mazal Tov to Reuven Kasten and his wife Tzipora (read about their wedding here) on the birth of a baby daughter. Mazal Tov also to Shmuelie and Hindy Bortunk (read about their wedding here) on the birth of their firstborn daughter. A fun time round for all, eh?

Meanwhile, in other news, it has come to my attention that today's Torah portion deals with that most noble of creatures, the lion. As you may well know, the lion, otherwise known as Panthera leo, is best known for having perfected what is known as the "male dominance" lifestyle, wherein the male sleeps all day and the female does all the hunting. Females may dispute this, and claim that responsibility equals power, but real lions know the truth.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The blood runneth in the streets

It's like a Krakatoan Russia.

(By A. Petrosian.)

In case ya'll are wondering why I'm not writing anything on this here humble blog (and merely posting other people's pictures), it's because today I wrote a whole long thing on this here humble blog, and now I'm all blogged out!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The man doth protest

The tall structure in the center is a part of Peter Paul fortress complex, where Alter Rebbe was imprisoned.

No, the sky is not always of this color in Petersburg. Only when Putin kills especially many oligarchs on the particular day.

(courtesy of the CA)

Sunday, December 27, 2009


I had thought to continue my recent practice of commenting on the day's Torah portion, but though I had many questions while learning it I didn't encounter anything that was bloggable. Instead I'll relate a few matters which have been percolating in my mind over the last few days.

1. I spoke to a shadchan regarding a friend of mine a few days ago, and at the end of our comversation she said something along the lines of, "I give you a brocha that when it's time for you to go through this you should have-" At this point I interupted her and said, "Actually, I already-", at which point she interupted me, saying, "What? You're ready?" in an extremely excited voice. I hated to disillusion her, but these these things must be done, so I said, "Oh, no sorry, I was saying that I'm already married." She gave a very disappointed "Oh." to that one.

2. Today, after much annoyance and heartache, not to mention schlepping, I managed to get the rest of our shtuff toiveled. le7 is quite happy.

3. I would just like to point out to all the Lubavitch drivers of fancy SUVs that when the pedestrian has the right of way, and you come screaming through your turn, looking for all the world as if your going to cross paths with him, he will stop. Just because the pedestrian has the right of way doesn't mean he's suicidal. Now, if you stop, the pedestrian will begin to excercise his rights once again and cross the street. This is not, repeat not, a good time to honk at him and gesture rudely through your window. Just saying.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Disenfranchised kids

Interesting that Hashem spoke to Yaakov all the time, but not to his kids. For example, in the previous several parshas, we've found lots of interesting stories with the tribes, including many questionable decisions that they made. You would think that the age of G-dly communication has ended, and now people have been left on earth with only their own intuition and abilities. Then what happens? G-d comes to Jacob and has a whole conversation (Genesis 46, 2)! Where was G-d when Joseph was missing (yes, I know the Sicha that's brought down in the Gutnick Chumash on this very point), or when Judah had the whole thing with Tamar, or when Yosef was in Egypt, or when the brothers came down to him? In fact, this appears to be one of the few cessations in prophecy during the entire Tanach! What's most interesting, to me at least, is that the three forefathers all talked to G-d on a regular basis. Moses, Aaron, David, and Solomon, all talked to G-d on a regular basis. Yet do we ever find that he ever spoke with any if the twelve tribes?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Jewish Music Blogger Awards Are Here!

JMR is hosting this years awards, so go on over, tell them what you think and let’s hand out some statues.

Last year, YK of organized a Jewish Music Bloggers Awards where he gave both his readers and several Jewish music bloggers an opportunity to vote for their favorites in a number of categories. It was an exciting process to be able to vote for your favorites, read the opinions of some of Jewish music’s best known bloggers and finally see the winners when they were announced. YK was hoping that the Jewish Music Bloggers Awards would become an annual event and has asked us to host this year’s awards. We are so honored to be a part of this exciting event!

We have come up with a list of categories and are giving you, the readers, until Sunday night to nominated your favorites in each category.

Once we have firmed up the list, we will post it on our website and you will have ten days to vote for your favorites. During this period, we will be posting picks from a number of Jewish music bloggers who have graciously volunteered to share their opinions. After that, we will narrow the poll down to three finalists in each category, before we finally tally up the votes and proclaim the winners.

Below are the categories for this year’s awards. Who would you like to see nominated in each category? Let us know at We look forward to hearing from you!

  • Best Album
  • Best Song
  • Best Debut Album
  • Boys Choir Album
  • Best Arrangement
  • Best English Song
  • Best Yiddish Song
  • Best Concert DVD

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Maybe the computer tells them

I've just returned from my third wedding in two nights, and I'd love to write all about them, but something very important has come up that must be addressed. I was talking to a bochur tonight at one of the weddings, and we were having quite the conversation, but then he had to go. Why? I wondered the same thing. Was it because I was boring him? Perhaps he had an urgent appointment with his hairdresser? Or maybe his phone needed to be sanitized?

Turns out it was none of the above. Turns out he had to attend a shiur, entitled, "How will I know when I've met my bashert?" After snorting my ginger ale up my nose two or three times I inquired if he was serious. He was. I thought this a bit ridiculous. I mean, seriously, what are you expecting? Will there be angels singing verses from Handel as cherubs place wreaths of garlic over you and your beloved's heads? And that's just the first date!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Dedicated followers of this here blog will recall extensive discussion regarding alcohol and its effects on the human psyche/body. Here's a little science on the matter:

Dark Liquor Makes for Worse Hangovers

A new study may help drinkers pick their poison. In a head-to-head comparison, bourbon gave drinkers a more severe hangover than vodka, report Damaris Rohsenow of Brown University and colleagues in an upcoming issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

But vodka drinkers aren’t off the hook: Drinkers’ sleep suffered equally with both drinks, as did their performance on tasks requiring attention and quick responses. Understanding the lingering effects of alcohol after a night of heavy drinking is important for people who engage in safety-sensitive tasks, such as driving, while hung over Rohsenow says.

The researchers recruited 95 healthy young adults, ages 21 to 33, and gave them caffeine-free cola mixed with bourbon, vodka or tonic water. The drinking ended when participants’ breath-alcohol concentrations hit an average of 0.11, well over the legal intoxication limit. Participants were then hooked up to sleep monitors, which record brain activity, and allowed to sleep it off. At 7 a.m. the next day, the researchers roused the subjects from bed (a wake-up that did not include coffee or aspirin) and asked them to rate the severity of their hangovers.

Overall, bourbon drinkers reported feeling worse than vodka drinkers, rating higher on scales that measure the severity of hangover malaise, including headache, nausea, loss of appetite and thirst. It should come as no surprise that alcohol drinkers said they felt much worse than those who had drunk only tonic water.

One reason for the different effects of vodka and bourbon, Rohsenow says, could be that bourbon contains 37 times more toxic compounds than vodka does, including nasty organic molecules such as acetone, acetaldehyde, tannins and furfural. A good rule of thumb for liquors, she says, is that the clearer they are, the less of these substances they contain.

Both the bourbon drinkers and vodka drinkers slept poorly compared to the nondrinkers, the team found. The next morning, when the participants performed cognitive tests that required attention and quick reaction times, the drinkers performed worse than the nondrinkers, but the type of alcohol had no effect on performance. Both groups of drinkers were impaired equally.


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Charity saves

There are many people who ask for money in Crown Heights. Some of them work in stores and give items in exchange for the money they expect you to hand them. Sometimes these items are even worth the price. There are many other people in Crown Heights who ask for money in exchange for the chance to win thousands of dollars. Most of these people run what are known as "Chinese Auctions". Some of them are from Williamsburg. Unlike the store people mentioned above, these inquirers rarely give anything in exchange for your money. Still, there's always the promise of filthy lucre, which is not to be sneered at.

We now come to that most honorable class of money makers, the schnorrer. 770 is filled with these people, and most of them are rather harmless. Sure, they'll give you dirty looks once in a while, but all in all they're happy when you give 'em the odd quarter. It's always embarrassing to be saying Rambam on an iPod Touch and to say you have no money on you, but it's true! If only these people carried credit cards around...

There are two schnorrers in Crown Heights who I do not particularly like. One is the woman who sits next to the dreidel by the Jewish Children's Museum and insults passers-by who fail to make a contribution. Though this makes for great street theater, and is undoubtedly a source of entertainment for the women herself (who wouldn't like coming up with innovative curses with which to shame the masses?), it's also very sad and a bit disturbing.

The other guy I really don't like goes around saying, "Give Tezadaka please" with this curious sing-song that suggests intense boredom and a desire to appear as if the money's not needed by him. About three months ago I heard from someone that he's a really big nebach, as he's a CH druggie, which answered one question of mine (why didn't he just get a job, like the rest of humanity?) and brought up another, (why should I give him a penny?)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cold Borscht

In verse 21 of today's portion in the Torah we read, "Then they said to one another, 'Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we did not listen; that is why this anguish has come upon us.'" Right after all this mutual commiseration Reuben pops us and says, "Did I not speak to you saying, 'Do not sin against the boy'? But you would not listen! And his blood as well - behold! - is being avenged."

What exactly was Reuben hoping to achieve here? To be all self-righteous and lay the blame on others? In general, his is a sad life. First there's the matter of his moving his father's bed, which got him pretty badly censured. Then he's not around to save his brother when push comes to shove, which of course resulted in the embarrassing episode mentioned above. Then comes the task of guaranteeing the safe return of Binyamin, and his own father calls him a fool. Ouch. Later on his father doesn't bless him, his people choose not to live in Israel, and even Moshe doesn't bless him. And yeah, can't forget that whole little thing of losing the birthright and the priesthood, eh?

Seriously though, what was he doing telling everyone that he was blameless? What did he hope to accomplish? Why did he do it?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joe College

I had an interesting conversation with a semi-relative tonight at a chanuka party. Essentially, he questioned Yosef's motivation in his dealings with his brothers. The guy sets himself up as this horrible scary ruler, continues the charade for a while, and at the end he says, "Hey boys, guess who I am!" Why didn't he do this in the beginning? Presumably he was testing them, trying to figure out if they had repented enough for their past sins. The immediate question is, who is he to play G-d? What gave him the right to set himself up as this big guy on campus, deciding the fates of his family with his only concern being an ancient slight? On the other hand, he was certainly a big believer in individual divine providence and all that jazz, so if the fates had delivered his brothers into his hands, who was he to argue?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Only in Texas

With thanks to the Shvigs.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Almost like a jelly doughnut

Tomorrow night is Chanuka, and in honor of that I made a new label, "Chanuka", which contains much Festival-of-Lights-Goodness. Here's an excerpt from some of those posts, containing a newly freshened-up bit about my favorite Maamar of all time, Al Hanisim '29:

There are two main points of this maamar. The first is an explanation of the war between the assimilated Jew peoples and the faithful-to-their-father-in-heaven peoples. What was the root of their argument? The Greekifieds refused to accept the existence of G-d. Simple, no? You would think that things would've change in the last two thousand plus years, but I suppose that wise King Solomon was correct when he asserted that, "There is nothing new under the sun." The Greeks asserted the primacy of reason, as does our culture. If they didn't understand it, well, obviously it couldn't exist. And even the particularly enlightened ones, who acknowledged that reason is not the be all and end all of human existence, refused to accept a higher power. Even when they acknowledged that they didn't know everything, and even more so, that it is impossible to know everything, that intellect and logic can't explain all there is, they still refused to accept a higher power. Why? Presumably because they were having too much fun attending toga parties. But seriously, they had major issues with Kabbalos Ol. They couldn't accept anyone telling them what to do without a good reason. If they had known there was a good reason, just they couldn't understand it, that would have been ok, but for there to be no reason? This they couldn't accept.

So what is the way to fight this invidious form of human behavior? There's only one way: with Mesiras Nefesh. And that doesn't mean giving your life up either. It can also mean deciding to say Tehillim after Davening instead of running to breakfast and getting runny egg yolk from sunny side up eggs all over your freshly laundered shirt. Which happened anyway, as it turned out, but I suppose that's one of the reasons for sweaters.

Mesiras Nefesh means that you have to do something which is crazy, to tap into your internal soul-powers, to go beyond intellect. That's really the whole point, isn't it? To do something that makes no sense. Not to you, and not to your mother either.

The second part of the Maamar deals with a mystical explanation of the advantages of the horn, getting into a whole thing about Dovid and Shlomo vs. Shaul.

Also, a big Mazal Tov to Shmuelie Schapiro, brother of our great leader, who was not only in smicha last year in Motown but also came to the TRS+le7 wedding! At the lchaim I thanked him for getting engaged to a Crown Heightser so that I could repay the favor easily, and he said, "Repay the favor? It was worth every penny!" I thought that was very sweet.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Shmuelie Gourarie, why are you here?

Two things.

1. I'm one of those people who don't mind leading services for the congregation on occasion, and normally this goes off without a hitch. A couple weeks ago, I lead the evening services in the big 770, and while I was waiting around for people to finish their personal devotional services so that I could commence the Kaddish, I was criticized by several members of the congregation for my speedy rendition of the prayers. I'm not one to respond to criticism of this sort, so I merely shrugged my shoulders and half-smiled. Sensing fresh blood in the water, they pounced, and started telling me how terrible I was (or something like that). Eventually I escaped, and lived to tell the tale.

In my defense, this particular quorum of people had been waiting around for five minutes, and I had declined to lead the prayers several times, on account of my recitation of the daily Ramabm (to head off any advance at the pass, it was the laws of the sanctification of the new moon, and there's no way I'm learning that without a shiur and coffee). Eventually I got fed up (and finished Rambam), and agreed to pray for the assembled masses, to (at the time) great acclaim. Point is, these people wanted me to daven, and it's really not my problem that their own benedictions flowed like molasses in January (admittedly, I davened faster than one would Neilah on Yom Kippur, but still, it's not like I was pulling off a ten minute shacharis [obviously, it was maariv] or something like that). I felt rather put out at the time, but got over it, and am now a better man because of it.

Last night a similar thing happened. There were a number of people waiting for a leader to take them to the promised land, and after I finished up a conversation with an esteemed employee of I volunteered to lead the services. Learning from my previous mistake, I davened nice and slow, allowing everyone to take a couple yawns between paragraphs, and once I had seven or eight people waiting who had finished the silent standing I began "Sanctified and Hallowed be His Name." Soon after, while still saying Joshua's prayer (they always get you when you can't respond, eh?), I was assaulted by a man in black who demanded to know why I had begun Kaddish before I had enough people.

This time I managed to respond, and I told him that where I come from (good 'ol S. Paul), we say the Kaddish prayer when there are six people able to respond. Here there were definitely more. He said something about nine people, but I'll take Rabbi Z's word over his any day. He then launched into a whole thing about "sizing up the situation" which I felt was completely unnecessary, and finally let me go home when I gave him a non-committal grunt. Sheesh.

2. I saw a friend of mine, who recently went off to become a Shliach in southern California, in 770 this morning. I saw another friend of mine (undoubtedly looking for shlichus) and asked him why this other guy was in town. He said, "It used to be that when a guy suddenly appeared in 770 you didn't ask questions...". I answered that this was a very policy, and one which I strongly promoted, but it didn't cover the current situation. I continued that we couldn't even compare this case to that of Los Cabos, because there's no reason to suspect that the hospitals in Los Angeles are in any way inferior to those of New York. In fact, seeing as this person's wife is from Los Angeles, it wouldn't make any sense for them to come to Brooklyn for that reason. So, what's the story?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rabbinics vs. The Rabbanus

Courtesy of the Rev. H.B. Schmoe (הרוצה באילום שמו)

Don't ask why, but I ended up on the website of JTS's rabbinic school. The curriculum was laughable until I got to the part on "required skills." Your average flatbush/boro park shul rabbi can do about half of this and relies on bochurim and baalei batim for the rest.

Required skills:

  • Weekday nusah: Shaharit, Minhah, and Ma'ariv
  • Shabbat: Kiddush and havdalah
  • Knots (tying of tzitzit and tefillin knots)
  • Hallel
  • Torah/haftarah reading
  • Shabbat nusah: Shaharit, Minhah and Ma'ariv
  • Use of luah
  • Megillot trope
  • High Holy Day Torah reading
  • Shofar
  • Shalosh Regalim

Even funnier is that they not only expect the Rav to need the luach, but they don't expect him/her to know how to use it and need to give him/her a test.