RCA, Rabbinate reach conversion deal | Jerusalem Post

I'm too tired to think about this anymore. I sympathize with Rabbis Angel and Weiss, but agree that giyur needed to be cleaned up in America. If they keep cool heads and use common sense, the RCA network should be ok.

The All-imaginary Dollar

Bluke, and many in his wake, have been talking about the effects of the dollar's plunge in the community, even noting the absurd scenario where the gedolim paskened that the dollar is worth 4 NIS.

Usually, I'm not the last to pile on the haredi community. Here, though, it's a bit more complicated, and this type of thinking is not exclusive to the haredi community. Take, for example, the real estate market. For decades, real estate - both purchase and rental - has been bought and sold in US dollars (not officially, of course, since that's illegal, but at every step of the way until the signing the contract). Thus, in my neighborhood in Modiin, people are selling houses, quoting a certain dollar figure, but then insisting that, in NIS, the price would be 4.1 x the $ price. In other words, the dollar is worth 4.1 shekel to them. I asked a real estate broker what would happen if I wanted to pay in actual dollars. Would the seller then say no, because my $410,000 in cold, hard, cash is really only worth about $360,000? The agent was stumped.
The issue seems to be that Israelis - across the board - got into a habit of thinking about NIS in dollar terms.
There are several causes: the ingrained fear of inflation (because you never know when the gov't will begin spending recklessly again), the basic instability of a small, unlinked currency, the fact that so much of Israel is neck-deep in imports and exports (as one would expect from a country with a dearth of natural resources but a wealth of human resources), the fact that much of what Israel buys and sells (oil, diamonds, NASDAQ shares, real estate) is traded in $, the fact that Israel has massive amounts of $ income (in the form of foreign aid, tzedaka, organizational spending, tourism, yeshiva and seminary tuitions, and business transactions), and since the value of the NIS vis-a-vis the $ has been extremely stable since Netanyahu's PM-ship (look it up; I'm not making gratuitous political statements), people simply took for granted that, aside from temporary blips, the shekel would remain between 4 and 4.5 to the dollar. Thus, the average Yossi treats the situation as being anomalous, imagining the dollar to still be worth 4 or 4.1 NIS.

Though I might know a bit more than Average Yossi about economics, there are still a few things I do not understand. I am waiting to see the price of American products- or anything else imported in $ -drop, but they have not. As far as I know, the weak dollar has not been accompanied by high inflation in the States, so prices should remain stable. I would expect that as the dollar falls, American products get cheaper. Also, over the past few months, the dollar has dropped but the price of crude has remained relatively stable. Since crude is traded in dollars, this means that, the price of crude in NIS has actually dropped. Yet, the price at the pump has gone UP. Why? Does it take time for the price at the pump to reflect the price of oil? It certainly doesn't take too long for the price at the pump to rise when crude goes up.


Rabbis and Doubts

There was a certain theme contained within various reactions to my 'burka' post which I think is worth mentioning. The reaction pertained to the fact that in it I, an ordained orthodox rabbi, expressed some form of doubt in the veracity of the mesorah. I get the impression that some of the reactions would not be as strong if I were 'just a balabus'. So I ask, why?

There's a current thread on the Lookjed Educator's Forum discussing how to deal with students who have doubts. What if the teachers have doubts? Do people who themselves have doubts find it in any way comforting when their ostensible spiritual leaders admit that they have issues with the national meta-narrative, a la 'imo anochi be-tzarah'? If a rabbi has doubts, should he stop calling himself a rabbi? Should he just keep his mouth (or pen, or keyboard) shut, and not agitate the unwashed masses?

For those wondering, I'm not about to pull a David S. Gruber (who, incidentally, was hired to replace my wife when we went to UMD) . Though some of his questions resonate, I don't like his answers, and really don't like the implications that he draws from them. I'm not trying to erase or rewrite Jewish history, or say that anything that happened in the past x number of years in inauthentic. I'm just trying to find some type of taxonomy, some way of looking at things which can validate that which should be validates, and jettison that which should be jettisoned. Like I wrote about Rashb"i, I'm really just interested in finding a path through the graveyard.


Milk and Agnosticism

Wolf links to a page on Chabad's 'Ask Moses' website in which they write that:

"Drinking unsupervised milk causes agnosticism. The milk may in fact be 100% from a kosher animal, but if no Jewish person was present to watch the milking, it has the effect of casting doubts in our core beliefs."

I have written here before that I hold like the poskim who say that 'chalav stam' in most countries IS, in fact, cholov yisrael. However, since making aliyah, I have been consuming, by default, pretty much exclusively cholov yisrael in the sense that most people use it. It has not improved my faith.

My father recently returned from a trip to the U.S. with a serious haul of milk chocolate. Earlier today, I had my first Hershey's Peanut Butter Kiss.

It was absolutely divine.


A reader from Rochester, NY at 1:38 AM his time (8:38 AM Israel time) logged the 200,000th page view of this blog. It took a bit over 37 months to reach this milestone, and just over 15 months for the second 100,000 (link). Here are some other of this blog's stats:

  • Approximately 143,037 hits
  • Approximately 6540 comments
  • 703 posts - an average of just over 4 per week.


Naming Shuls for Women

In one of the local rags, there was an article last week about how a congregation wanted to name their shul, being built now, after a woman who tragically died young. The article reports how they asked the Rav of Modiin (the one who is Aryeh Deri's brother-in-law, not Rav Ovadia Yosef's son-in-law or Rav Y. M. Lau's son) whether it was permissible to name a shul after a woman. He responded affirmatively.

The amazing thing about this story is not just that this is the type of question that people seem to think needs to be asked of a rabbi, or that they entertain the possibility that it, in fact, is forbidden to name a shul after a woman, or that this is the type of issue for whom three different rabbis need to be hired from my municipal tax shekels, but that the local non-religious rag felt this to be newsworthy. Sheesh. Bourgeois as it is, Modiin isn't THAT dull.

Regarding the issue itself, let's put it into a bit of perspective:

  • From the age of 18, Rav Ovadia began delivering shiurim at a shul founded by Persian Jews. The name of the shul was 'Ohel Rachel'. Coincidentally, this name is identical to the proposed name of the Modiin shul.
  • There's a well-known shul in Katamon called 'Ohel Rivka'.
  • There's a shul in Har Nof called 'Pnei Shmuel', named for its donors - a couple whose names were Samuel and Fanny (think of it in Hebrew).
  • There's a shul in Weschester County called 'Young Israel of New Rochelle'
  • Go to the 'search by name' feature on GoDaven, and punch in any of the classics - Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Devorah, Chaya, Elisheva, Rina, and, of course, Beth.

Sorry, Stan

I hold an MS degree fro YU's Azrieli Graduate School in Jewish Education. I completed most of the coursework during the summers of 1998 and 1999, taking 4 courses each summer, as part of a special AGS program which was then known as the Block program (it may still be; I'm out of the loop). The summer of 1998 was in New York, and the summer of 1999 was in Jerusalem.

All in all, the summer of '99 was great fun, though it had only a little to do with the courses - it was a great chevre. We had two courses in 'Parshanut', both given by highly accomplished but old-school professors. There was a fabulous class on the History of Jewish Education, taught by Prof. Shaul Stampfer; it was the best class I took at AGS (a class with Dr. Eliach is a not-too-distant second). The fourth class was something about Judaism and Psychology, but I can't remember what the course title was. I slept through most of that class.

Anyhow, I was kind of stunned to see the teacher of that course in the news. Good thing I didn't learn too much from him.


Burka Sighting

My wife saw a woman wearing one of the new Jewish burka-style clothing. Totally candid, not posed or anything, just walking down the street in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

She's still freaked out by it. I am, too, though in a much less visceral way. I get terrified that it's really all like this, that everything we do developed like this, that some group once decided to take "and you shall bind them as a sign to your hand" literally, and so we now strap leather boxes to ourselves. We also shake twigs and circumcise our males; and the only reason that we consider one to be sane and the other to be crazy, is because we have an ancient tradition that these latter things are what God wants us to do, and no tradition regarding the former (textual interpretation can both promote the former, see below, or discourage the latter, with the exception of circumcision).

But when I look at these newfangled practices, it gets me worried that our collective memory is a very fragile thing. How long will it take for practitioners of this custom to forget that they were once a fringe group of whackos? How long did it take for double-head-coverings and upsherin to be read back into traditional narratives, and for the memory of their absence to be erased? Memories, amongst many segments of Judaism (and believe me, it's not just chareidi), are being manufactured and altered all the time. I find that terrifying, because it generates real uncertainty about the authenticity of the narratives around which I organize my life and which I am attempting to perpetuate through my children and students. But who says that I didn't receive these narrative through some gullible or ignorant ancestors, who, when some religious figure told them that 'this is your tradition', they bought into it. And what if they were taken to an isolated community, or if others were kept out of the community, so that alternative narratives could not be heard? To tell you the truth, it scares the hell out of me. I've come up with an apt metaphor for this problem, which is essentially an application of the famous 'Ship of Theseus' philosophical problem, but with the added dimension that someone might be trying to sell a new ship and pass it off as that of Theseus. I hope to write about it soon.

Interestingly, the source for the newfangled burkas is a statement of Rashi which he himself says is not peshat. Bereishit 38:15 states that Yehuda did not recognize Tamar, because she had covered her face. It is clear from the previous verse ("and she removed her garments of widowhood, and covered herself with a veil, and wrapped herself"), that the 'burka' that Tamar wore was actually her prostitute get-up.

Rashi explains the peshat and then quotes a Midrash (perhaps he was bothered by the fact that the Torah repeats the news that Tamar covered her face) that states that Yehuda 'did not recognize her because she covered her face' when she lived in his house. She was so modest that her own father-in-law had never even seen her face. This midrash has now been transformed into normative practice by a scant few.

Note that I put an 'Ezra' tag on this post. Ha-maven yavin.


Biblical Financial Advice

I just saw a newscast and read an article about the burgeoning field of biblical financial advice. For example, check out ABC News: How Would Jesus Spend?
It reminded me of a story about a congregant who complained to his rabbi about his failing business. The rabbi suggested that the congregant employ the famed 'Goral ha-Gra' - open a Tanach to a random page, count a random number of lines, and there you will find your answer.
Several months later, the same congregant arrives at the rabbi's house in a brand new sports car and outfitted in a very expensive suit, gold watch, and designer shoes. He pulls out his check book and writes out a very nice donation to the rabbi's shul.
The rabbi is flabbergasted. He wants to know what happened, what caused turnaround. The congregant explained: "I did exactly what you said, Rabbi. I opened my Bible, counted the lines, and there was the answer, staring me right in the face."
"What did it say?", asked the rabbi.
The congregant replied, "Chapter 11."


Benno Jacob

A recent review of a new edition of Benno Jacob's commentary on Bereishit has spawned a bit of discussion on the Lookjed educators' forum. The review, written by Zvi Grumet, describes the author's contribution and the new edition quite well. The respondent criticized the fact that the reviewer failed to mention that Jacob was a Reform rabbi. Grumet defended himself by writing "It is not my practice to highlight ideological/party affiliations unless it is apparent that they impacted on the content. I was not able to detect any such impact on his commentary, and therefore omitted mentioning it." He added that he used the title 'Rabbi' when referring to Jacob because "He earned that title in his own institution, and functioned in that role. And I, for one, will not add fuel to the fires of mutual deligitimation."

I think the figure as well as the discussion about his place in frum learning institutions are both fascinating. I tend to agree with both - I think that it's important, if only in the interests of 'full disclosure' to give Jacob's ideological orientation in an introductory discussion of him. Same is true of the Rambam. The idea that ideology does not impact the content of the writing strikes me as very naive. Furthermore, it might be beneficial for a frum kid to learn that Reform rabbi actually took Torah study seriously, especially given the general attitude toward heterodox rabbis in frum communities. No doubt, to deny the title 'Rabbi' is quite insulting. Rav Moshe's compromise (distinguishing in his writings between 'rabbis' and 'rabbonim') shows that it is possible to maintain differences while according respect.

This discussion is actually pertinent to something I witnessed about 4 years ago. At the time, I was a high-school and adult educator in an 'out-of-town' community in the U.S. There was another educator in town, in fact, in the same shul, who is still there, and has been there for a very long time. Apparently he got smicha from somewhere, but there's no denying the fact that the man is a true am ha-aretz. For example, he once tried to convince me that the Rambam wrote the Moreh Nevuchim in Ladino; what do you do with that? Where do you begin?

He's a very charismatic teacher (which is not, in my universe, a compliment; indeed, he's not much of a teacher. It's semi-coherent haskafic rants - and that's his Gemara shiur. Guess that's what you gotta do when you don't actually know how to learn Gemara) and has attracted a bunch of groupies around himself, stunting their growth and playing with their small little minds. It's scary.

Anyhow, one Shabbos afternoon, he spoke in shul during shaleshudis. He said over a d'var Torah on the parsha, in which he quoted 'the Ramban in the name of the B'no Yaakov'. I was baffled. I knew it had to be a mistake (I didn't think of Benno Jacob because I had never heard him called 'Benno Yaakov' before, though that's his name in Modern Hebrew). Turns out, the rabbi of the shul had the same thought. We both had seen the erstwhile darshan reading the Hebrew version of Nechama Leibowitz's studies on the parsha (his Hebrew is better than his English), so we both figured we'd find the answer to our confusion there. We thought that perhaps the Ramban had a son named Yaakov who he quotes from time to time, but wanted to see 'inside' who the Ramban actually quotes. Turns out, Nechama quotes Ramban and THEN quotes a slightly different idea from Benno Jacob. The rabbi and I had a good laugh at the thought that this fairly farfrumt teacher unwittingly quoted a Reform rabbi, and had him quoted by the Ramban, no less. The irony of a frum rabbi who is an am ha-aretz quoting a Reform rabbi and Torah scholar is a real stereotype-buster, and pretty funny, too.