Etzba Elokim

I'm a couple weeks late with this. As is well known, when it came to the plague of lice, the Egyptian magicians said 'etzba Elokim hi'. This is normally translated 'it is the finger of God'. If I was doing the translating (and was given poetic/Midrashic license) I would translate it as 'God is giving us the finger'.


Haredi Holocaust Research

There's an article in today's Haaretz about Holocaust studies in Haredi society. I wonder if this signifies a shift from Holocaust as 'memory' to Holocaust as 'history'. It's not like the Holocaust has been absent from Haredi consciousness until now. Rather, the Holocaust (or the Shoah, or Churban Europa) has shaped post-War Haredi society in profound ways, and often consciously so.

[the following story comes to mind: A Haredi couple sits at the airport, many kids in tow. The kids get antsy and make some noise. A bystander (in some versions it's a non-religious Jew; in others, it's a German) asks contemptuously how many kids will they need to have until they decide they are finished. The mother replies, "Six million"]

However, Holocaust consciousness in the Haredi world doesn't take the shape of a historical discipline. It's about stories - some aporcyphal, some not; some with tragic endings, some with happy endings; some natural, some miraculous - that transmit a memory of massive loss that we have not yet overcome. Hard facts, research, and even long memoirs are not part of the process.

If there is a shift, I would think that it's somewhat sad. History, as Yerushalmi wrote in Zakhor, comes to take the place of failed memory. I think that there's still a lot of memory being transmitted, but perhaps fewer and fewer people have access to it. In any event, I'm very interested to see how this develops. The story of Haredim in the Holocaust, other than a few examples like the Piaceczno Rebbe, the Mir in Shanghai, the Beis Yaakov martyrs, the Belzer Rebbe's farewell speech, and the stories in Yaffa Eliach's "Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust ", hads not been adequately told.
Hat tip: Joel


Listening to Harry Chapin

Recently, friends lent us a 2-CD Harry Chapin album. I had never heard his stuff before. Having listened to about half of the songs by now, I had a few thoughts about them:
  • Both I and my wife – who listened to the song independently – felt that there were many similarities between our relationship and the one described in ‘Shooting Star’.
  • I was listening to Chapin’s most well-known song, ‘Cat’s in the Cradle’, while I happened to be driving down a street in my neighborhood where many commuters live. By ‘commuters’, I mean people who live in Israel and work in the States. There are many people in the neighborhood who work ‘in the U.S.’ – many telecommuting, and many actually traveling back and forth. There happen to be a number of telecommuters on my street, Rechov Yissachar, and a high concentration of commuters on Rechov Yosef. I thought it would have been appropriate for that street to be called Rechov Zevulun, to follow the pattern of the verse (Devarim 33:18), “Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out, and, Issachar, in thy tents.” In any event, I thought it poignant that a song about an absentee father came on as I was driving down that street. People sacrifice a lot to live here.

  • Finally, the song that our friends wanted us to hear, given our educational philosophy, was ‘Flowers are Red’. It describes how a child ‘learned’ to draw flowers in the ‘proper’ way – red petals, green leaves – though he originally saw many colors. The teacher’s refrain is:

Flowers are red, green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than the way they always have been seen

And the boy’s refrain, until he learns the teacher’s way, is:

There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one

I liked the song a lot, but kept thinking that it sounded very familiar, until it dawned on me. The tune was recycled by Uncle Moishy, who set it to words that at the same time captures and perverts the message of the original lyrics. In this version, the teacher’s refrain is:

Listen, talmidim, very closely to what I have to say:
If you learn some Torah and review it with a friend,
You’ll be a talmid chacham one day

And the student’s refrain is:

But there’s so much to learn Rebbi,
All the sefarim in the library
It’ll take so long to learn every one
I’m afraid I’ll never be a talmid chacham


How Can You Drive That Thing?

Israelis and Americans have very different tastes in cars. Part of this is because of different needs, part because of different economies, tax structures, gas prices, etc. And part of it is just different tastes.

We bought our ‘aliyah Car’ in September, and it just turned 10,000 km. It’s a Daihatsu Sirion, a compact car, relatively inexpensive (very relatively) and gets good gas mileage (or kilometrage). It’s not beautiful, but it gets the job done. Here’s what it looks like:

There’s another car that I’ve seen a bunch of recently called the Ssangyong Rodius. It’s a very nice wagon, but the most common color that I’ve seen is black. Here are some examples of what the black Rodius looks like:

All I can think about when I see this car is that it looks like a hearse. I see them and I’m like, “Who died?” Truth be told, however, corpses are generally conveyed here in retrofit minivans or ambulances. The classic-looking hearse is virtually non-existent here. Whatever. One of those cultural things.


Introducing “Torah Margins”

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I no longer work for Tzohar. Well, that was totally true until this week. I’m now doing a couple hours a week for them, translating a weekly d’var Torah that they’ve been sending out in Hebrew into English. Apparently, my translation was superior to what they were getting from professional translating outfits, which is not surprising, since we’re talking about translating divrei Torah and not technical documents. This is the second translating gig that I’ve landed (and there may be a third on the way – you know who you are ;-), and so far the feedback has been excellent. Hopefully, I can carve out a niche in this field. Let me know if you’re looking for a translator.

Anyhow, the weekly sheet is connected to the Parsha, but specifically relates to the professional world in some way. It was written up in the Maariv newspaper a few months ago (link), and the archives through Bereishit are online (link). The target audience is Israelis – not-necessarily-religious Jews employing other not-necessarily-religious Jews. So the market in the states will be limited, though it can still reach most law and accounting firms and medical practices. The introductory English edition (link), written by Rav Yuval Cherlow and translated by yours truly, is being distributed in the US by the RCA (Tzohar and the RCA have been flirting with each other for a while now, and it’s not a terrible shidduch either).

In this particular essay, there was one sentence that contained a term that I simply couldn’t understand. This is the sentence:

אנו חיים בעולם שיש בו עקרונות אבל גם מציאות מורכבת, ולכן גם אין מקום לצפות מקהילת העסקים לנהוג כדון קישוט בסוגיה שכזאת.

I had no idea what כדון קישוט meant, until it occurred to me that it means “like Don Quixote”. So I translated it like this:

Though we remain principled, we cannot expect the business world to quixotically ignore a complex reality.

The general tedium of translation can often be broken by fun moments like this.


Difficult Questions

Last Shabbat, I was having Se’udah Shlishit with my wife, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. I wondered aloud if we’d stay in Israel if there are reports that Iran got the bomb. We all agreed that we’d head back to the U.S. No need to be an evaporated hero. Iranian nukes continue to be the greatest cause for concern here.


YU and the Holy Roman Empire

A comment on my last post reminded me of my favorite YU paradox (which I'm pretty sure I invented). Yeshiva University is not a yeshiva and not a university. Discuss.
(ok, it's a bit oversimplified, but it gets the point across)


School Prayer

Being a campus rabbi differs so greatly from being a high school or yeshiva/seminary rabbi because , basically, you have no power. That's not necessarily a bad thing. For many students, I was the first rabbi they ever spoke to because they wanted to - not because their parents made them or because they had the power to detain, expel, or give a grade to them. Every single one of the 300+ students who sat at my Shabbos table during those two years was there because they wanted to be there, chose to be there.

It seems that many educators have trouble breaking out of the paradigm of compulsory religion (aka kfiyah datit), even when they are working with college students. I think it's very risky to do that, and I tend to doubt that it works in the long run.

Case in point - I tend to doubt that making attendance at minyan a requirement for Mechina students will truly encourage minyan attendance for those with no desire to attend minyan in the first place. In their eyes, this requirement is draconian. Perhaps, in fairness, the point here is to weed out those who have no interest in attending minyan. For those who wish to attend but have trouble waking in the morning, like me or like everyone, this could be an excellent motivator.


The Hillel Rabbi’s Job

Cyberdov posted about a talk given by my friend and colleague, Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, entitled "What is a Hillel Rabbi’s job?"
The money quote is this:
he ultimately came to understand that his real job was to care - deeply - about the students on campus, as individuals
It took me a while to come to that realization as well. But once I did, it was a no-brainer.


Dancing Camel in the Mainstream Media

A few months ago, I linked to the homepage of my friend and neighbor, microbrewer David Cohen of the Dancing Camel Brewing Company. The Jerusalem Post did a story about him today (link). Of course, the blogs are way ahead of the curve. So when you come to Israel, we’ll sit down and drink a Dancing Camel together. Perhaps the Trog Wit will be in season.

Paradigms for Religious Success on Campus Part II: The Countercultural Jew

Continued from part I, IA

There are students on campus who thrive religiously by setting themselves up as the counterpoint to the prevailing campus culture (or subculture, such as Hillel). Make no mistake – being countercultural as a way of participating in a given culture, though under duress or protest, real or feigned.

The relationship between these students and the campus is akin to the relationship between Statler & Waldorf (modeled, incidentally, after two of Jim Henson’s UMD professors) and The Muppet Show. The pair remains somewhat aloof from the show, ridicule the show, and ostensibly hate the show – but keep coming back, week after week, and are, ironically, actually part of the show.

The countercultural student can express his or her protest in any number of ways. She can refuse to call the university by its proper name, opting instead to call is ‘the makom tumah’ or ‘Gehenem’. He will insist on being the ‘frummest common denominator’ by demanding a higher mechitza, or chalav yisrael, or that no women make Kiddush at Hillel – even if existing practices are halachically permissible or acceptable, even if not desirable. It can even be a preference for a quickie davening as opposed to Carlebach-style. Dress is another important factor, but is an area of overlap with ‘the Advertiser’ and will be discussed there. The most common vehicle of expression is complaint, or rant. Anything which makes the campus not like Bnei Brak, or Baltimore, or Gush, as the case may be, will be duly noted.

A countercultural approach can work very well for some, but it often turns others off. In a pluralistic framework like Hillel is/purports to be, these folks cannot integrate easily. Sometimes, that will keep them away from Hillel. Sometimes, they will attempt to change or mold Hillel (or comment on the mode of dress of Hillel staff members). In either case, they are not contributing to positive Jewish campus experience. They would contend that they are not there to do kiruv; they are having a hard enough time maintaining their own level of frumkeit to worry about anyone else’s.

Being countercultural need not be a pervasive personality trait. A student can be a full participant in the campus culture, positive and negative aspects, but when it comes to those aspects of life in which they choose to include religion, they exhibit countercultural tendencies. For example, you may have a group of guys who are doing varying degrees of who-knows-what during the week, but get together to learn once a week. During that time, they are not just trying to find time to learn. They are trying to recreate the environment of a Yeshiva. They don’t want women in the Beit Midrash. They want a guy with a hat saying the shiur. Alternatively, it can be a facebook club like ‘I’d rather be in Yeshiva’, ‘I’m shomer negiah’, or even ‘I want to make Aliyah’.

Indeed, countercultures can become very ‘clubby’, which is a double-edged sword. It’s great if you’re a member; otherwise, you feel excluded. Access to the club isn’t necessarily difficult, but will often require playing by the club’s countercultural rules. These rules can be pretty childish at times – an obsession with meat as a reaction against the vegetarianism popular on most campuses, a misogynist streak as a response to feminism – or they can be more mature. There’s no doubt, though, that the club itself is important to its members and provides them with comfortable numbers as they continue to express their dissatisfaction with the campus culture.


Lost Tribe?

The ADDeRebbetzin and I spent our motha’ei Shabbat watching the movie ‘Whale Rider’. We both really enjoyed it. After the movie, I wanted to learn a bit more about its subjects, the Maori of New Zealand. I read the following about them:

With the loss of much of their land, Māori went into a period of decline, and by the late 19th century most people believed that the Māori population would cease to exist as a separate race and become assimilated into the European population.

The predicted decline of the Māori population did not occur; instead levels recovered. Despite a substantial level of intermarriage between the Māori and European populations, many Māori retained their cultural identity. There are a number of discourses as to the meaning of Maori and who or who is not Maori. The Maori population is not monolithic and no one political or tribal authority can seek to speak on behalf of all Maori.

In case you missed it, try reading that again, substituting ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewish’ for ‘Maori’.


Paradigms for Religious Success on Campus Part IA: It's Not Just Us

Continued from Part I.

Not that it's shocking, but the Christian community in the United States struggles with many of the same campus issues as frumme Yidden. I'm no expert on the topic, but I would imagine that many of the same paradigms apply. Interestingly enough, this article appeared in Monday's Wasington Post about a freshman Evangelical Christian at UMD. His experience seems so different, yet very similar, to that of Orthodox students. Enjoy the read.


Comments Fully Enabled

Thanks to the good folks at Haloscan, comments are now fully enabled, even on permalink pages. I hope to move leftover Blogger comments to Haloscan shortly.
Apparently, Google now automatically spellchecks posts even in the Blogger editor. Cool.
I still need to tag all my old posts and repost Maven Yavin material. I also want to have a 'favorites' tag. Any recommendations as to what should be included?


Paradigms for Religious Success on Campus Part I: Intro

As I Mentioned in a recent post, I am going to attempt to describe several approaches which I’ve notices over the years, which allow for success in an environment like a secular campus. Before beginning, I wanted provide several caveats:
  • The descriptions that will follow in the next few posts are typologies. They are not descriptions of any individual, though certainly many individuals whom I’ve encountered have contributed to the idealized description. Furthermore, there is nobody who fits ‘purely’ into a single category, and the categories themselves are no more than a convenient way to conceptualize very diverse phenomena.
  • These categories can be identified in many other areas of life as well, not just the college years. Nevertheless, these tendencies can be more pronounced in college.
  • People can change; they can move from category to category, approach to approach. What works for someone today, might not work tomorrow, and vice versa.
  • Just as individuals display tendencies toward these different paradigms, so, too, do universities. Campus communities are generally self-selecting, and people in the same campus culture will tend to respond similarly.

On to the categories themselves: I have identified five paradigms, and will describe an idealized example of each-

    1. The Countercultural
    2. The Lonely Man of Faith
    3. The Micromanager
    4. The Advertiser
    5. The Responsible


A Manufactured Midrash - Name, Speech, Garb, part II

[sorry it's longer than usual; it's good, though]

In my previous post, I discussed the fact that the ‘well-known’ Midrash that states that the Israelites in Egypt never changed their names, lanuage, or clothing, doesn’t actually exist. I also discussed (a bit) what I think similar midrashim really mean.

But I want to address some other questions which have bothered me since that last post, namely:
  1. What motivates the different lists that we get in the various midrashim?

  2. Perhaps more importantly, how is it that this non-midrash gained such currency? That two midrashim are conflated isn’t a great surprise, but that the conflation, and this particular conflation, gained such wide popularity in Orthodox circles? (if you don’t believe me, look at this, this, or this). Most discussions of Jewish identity in Egypt will list at least these three elements.

There are two basic lists in the midrashim. There are variations within each list, but it seems that there are only two groups of lists. Here’s one example of each (translation mine):

ויקרא רבה (וילנא) פרשה לב
רב הונא אמר בשם בר קפרא בשביל ד' דברים נגאלו ישראל ממצרים שלא שנו את שמם ואת לשונם ולא אמרו לשון הרע ולא נמצא ביניהן אחד מהן פרוץ בערוה

פסיקתא זוטרתא (לקח טוב) דברים פרשת תבא דף מו עמוד א
דבר אחר ויהי שם לגוי. מלמד שהיו ישראל מצויינים שם. שהיה מלבושם ומאכלם ולשונם משונים מן המצריים. מסומנין היו וידועין שהם גוי לבדם חלוק מן המצריים:

Yayikra Rabbah section 32
R’ Huna said in the name of Bar Kapparah: Because of 4 things Israel was redeemed from Egypt: They didn’t change their names or their language, they didn’t speak lashon ha-ra (we’ll leave the translation for now), and none of them was promiscuous.

Minor Pesikta, Devarim (Ki Tavo) 41a
Another interpretation: “And there they became a nation” – this teaches that the Israelites were distinct there, in that their clothing, food, and language was different from the Egyptians’. They were identified and known as a separate nation, apart from the Egyptians.

The first midrash describes four things that the Israelites actively maintained. Their non-change was reactionary and counter-cultural. The two non-cultural elements on the list can be understood in this way as well. Their chastity prevented an intermingling of bloodlines, preserving the ethnic character of their group, and perhaps also can be read in a way that’s similar to Malcolm X’s call (as told in his Autobiography) for black men to recognize that his infatuation with white women is a vehicle of oppression (indeed, Malcolm X’s thought provides a lot of insight into the complete annihilation of identity which slavery entails; jettisoning his ‘slave name’ was another manifestation of his countercultural assertion of separate identity).
Lashon Ha-ra fits with the group if we recognize that it doesn’t mean gossip. In fact, there are versions which say ‘lo hilshinu’ – they didn’t slander or incriminate each other. When the Egyptian cops came around with a photo of a wanted Israelite, they got a lot of ‘never seen him before’.
Thus, the sense of this midrash is that the Israelites actively maintained a sense of reactionary ethnic pride in the face of a persecuting and enslaving culture.

The latter Midrash is an expansion of the Sifra which is recited as part of the Haggadah. Some early commentaries, such as Ritv”a, Rashbam, and R”I b. Yakar mention that the Jews wore distinct dress, even suggesting that they wore tzitzit! (as can be seen in the astounding artwork of the Katz Haggadah). The Midrash is describing the manner in which the Israelites remained metzuyanim (or, according to some versions, mesuyamim). This can have one of two connotations (which are similar in English as well): they were distinct or they were distinguished. If the former, then the point of the midrash is that they remained a separate nation even within Egypt – which is even the sense one gets from the verse (“and there they became a nation”). As I mentioned in the previous post, there’s nothing to redeem if there’s no distinct entity. If the former, then it’s suggesting that the Israelites did more than simply maintain an ethnic identity; they remained proud and dignified about it.

Regarding the second question, as folks pointed out in the comments of the previous post, the three elements of the popular version of the midrash already appears in the Abarbanel’s Zevach Pesach, and in a book called the Meturgeman by R’ Elijah (Bachur) Levita, both composed around the late 15th, early 16th centuries.

However, this version doesn’t really ‘take off’ until the 19th century, and following the trail backwards leads to the document I mentioned in the previous post, namely, the Tzava’ah (Ethical Will) of the Chatam Sofer (translated in the work ‘Hebrew Ethical Wills’), in which he instructs his descendants:

Beware of altering your Jewish names, language, and attire. A clue to this is found in the verse, 'Jacob arrived in peace (shalem), in Shechem' (Genesis 33:18) The Hebrew word shalem is a pneumonic (sic) for Shem = name, Lashon = language, Malbush = attire…

His spiritual heirs, which included the Mahara”m Schick and R’ Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, began to take this statement as normative. The Divrei Yatziv, who was Rebbe of the Sanz-Klausenberg Chassidim for the latter part of the 20th Century, invokes this ethical will when prohibiting speech in any language but Yiddish in a Jewish home (though I doubt that Sephardim were part of his intended audience), explicitly mentioning Hebrew and English as verboten alternatives!

R’ Ovadya Yosef (in a Responsum on using the ‘Christian’ secular calendar) mentions these three together, and specifically mentions that they were singled out in the European milieu of emancipation and haskalah, when name, dress, and spoken language became bones of contention between modernizing and reactionary elements of Jewish society. The Chatam Sofer’s instruction (which, incidentally, doesn’t mention the Israelites in Egypt) must be read in this light (which isn’t such a great chiddush).

What I find interesting is that it appears that only after these three cultural elements – name, dress, and language – became rallying cries for the nascent Haredi movement in Austria-Hungary that they were made a part of the movement’s ‘meta-narrative’. In other words, the popular ‘version’ of this Midrash was manufactured by the Haredi movement to see its own values in the very infancy of the Nation of Israel.

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Name, Language, and Dress

I recently got a question from a student, asking where the well-known Rashi that the Israelites didn’t change their names, language, or style of dress in Egypt is located. I wasn’t sure if it was a Rashi or another source, so I started digging.

Amazingly enough, that list first appears in – the ethical will of the Chasam Sofer!

He, and especially his students (Mahara”m Schick and others) were very insistent on preserving various elements of Jewish culture during the upheavals of the 19th Century.

Of course, there are Midrashim that discuss different ways in which the Israelites preserved themselves, and interestingly enough, one of the ways mentioned it that they maintained a distinct diet. They ate different foods than the Egyptians. I think I’ll mention this to anyone who knocks ‘gastronomic Judaism’ or ‘Lox n’ Bagels’ Judaism; according to that particular Midrash (it’s in the Psikta on Devarim, by the vidui bikkurim), dietary habits make the list, but names don’t. Sorry, Shloymie. Give up the Chinese food and we’ll talk.

Regardless, the notion that the Israelites preserved an identity in Egypt is mentioned in the exegetical (tzei u-l’mad) section of the Hagaddah – ‘this teaches that the Israelites remained distinct there’ (especially according to the version that has ‘mesuyamim’ instead of ‘metzuyanim’, but it works either way). The notion that their ultimate salvation was a result of this distinction is also pretty early.

If so, then a) why do we downplay the elements listed (i.e., if a Jew is named Howard, wears business suits, speaks English, and frequents Dougie’s, we don’t really look askance at any of that)? b) how do we reconcile that with the numerous statements that the Israelites were just as bad as the Egyptians, or that they were of the lowest level of ‘tum’ah’ etc.?

I had the following thought, and just saw that it’s echoed by a Romanian poseik, R’ Sperber (not ybl”ch R’ Daniel Sperber of Bar Ilan). The Israelites preserved an ethnic identity. Without anything else to bind them together, they stuck with those basic cultural elements – language, dress, cuisine, etc. – that preserved them as a subgroup. Some form of distinction was necessary if the Israelites were ever to be redeemed. You can’t redeem what doesn’t exist. These elements did not, however, keep them ‘above’ everyone else.

I’ll illustrate by a personal example. I studies at YU. YU is in a neighborhood with ethnic groups who have not changed their names, language, style of dress, or cuisine. Yet, to my knowledge they are not on a very high level of kedusha, at least no more than any other American subgroup.

Haloscan comments
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Reposting from Maven Yavin

As many readers remember, I was one of 4 contribuitors to a short-lived but popular blog called Maven Yavin. It was hacked, but everything has been reposted here. I'm going to post some of the Maven Yavin stuff on this site, and hope to eventually repost everything here. I'm going to start today with two related posts on Parshat Shemot. It relates to various lists, Midrashic and otherwise, of the things that the ISraelites kept in Egypt, and an analysis of the significance of the items on the list.


Hilchot Cover-Up

I wanted to write this in more of an essay format, and therefore have been putting it off for a long time. I decided now to post just the mareh mekomos and a summary of the ‘bottom line’. While the halachot in question pertain to the laws of excommunication, the issues of publicity and chillul Hashem lie at the heart of the matter, and therefore should shed light on appropriate responses to similar situations today. At the Agudah convention, R’ Matisyahu Salomon stated that the Torah tells us when things should be swept under the rug and when not. Below is a short summary of some of the central Torah sources to deal with the topic.

There is halakhic discussion, starting from the Gemara, about the circumstances in which a talmid chakham may or must be excommunicated (publicly), and when it should be dealt with ‘behind closed doors’. It appears as a machloket between Resh Lakish and Rav Huna in Mo’ed Katan 17a (Resh Lakish’s opinion appears alone in Menachot 99b as well). Rav Huna maintains that an Av Beit Din who sins (‘she-sarach’) is not excommunicated, but given a ‘leave of absence’. If he repeats, then he is excommunicated, because of the chillul Hashem involved. Resh Lakish maintains that it must be ‘covered up like the night’.

Rambam (Talmud Torah 7:1) paskens like Resh Lakish that the matter should be dealt with privately. He actually divides it into two halachot: a truly prominent leader (chakham zaken, av beit din, nasi) is never excommunicated (rather, privately given lashes) unless he acts ‘like Yeravam ben Nevat’. When it comes to ‘any talmid chakham’, Rambam warns against jumping to conclusions and praises batei din which avoid excommunicating Torah scholars.

The Rosh discusses – and paskens – a story which appears earlier on the same page in Mo’ed Katan, in which Rav Yehuda excommunicated a Torah scholar because of ‘san’u shumaneih’. The Rosh gives a few examples of what this term includes: people who cause chillul Hashem, people about whom there are rumors which embarrass their colleagues, heretics, and people about whom it is said ‘May God forgive him’. From the Gemara it is clear that this scholar did not violate anything publicly. Rather, he sinned discreetly, but there were rumors about him (the sense of the Gemara is that the sins were sexual - AR). The Rosh does not address the machloket between Resh Lakish and Rav Huna.

The Tur, the son of the Rosh, and the Sulchan Arukh (YD 334:42) in his wake, synthesize the Rambam and Rosh. The Tur, like the Rosh, does not distinguish between a higher-level chakham and a general talmid chakham, but the Shulchan Arukh, following the Rambam, does. He repeats the Rambam’s formulation, and then adds the opinion of the Rosh as the conditions under which the general Talmid Chakham may be publicly excommunicated. The Sulchan Arukh’s conditions are very similar to those of the Rosh, namely, at least one of the following: occupation with heretical works, excessive drinking, colleagues are embarrassed by him, and he causes God’s name to be desecrated.

Ken Wilbur in the Israeli Press

First a little intro to Ken Wilber. I’ve only read one of his books, A Brief History of Everything, and, despite the ambitious title, I found it to be an excellent book. His goal is to introduce a paradigm – a map, as it were – for the understanding of human consciousness, experience, and knowledge. It’s a very, very powerful paradigm. Like anything that purports to conceptualize everything, it falls short, but he provides some amazing tools. You can find a basic summary of what I found to be his most useful conceptual tools here. The main Wikipedia articles (here and here) are not as useful, since they are heavy on particular vocabulary.

Wilber’s thinking is an excellent critical tool as well, as his critique and analysis of different schools of thought can easily apply to elements of my own milieu. He provides the vocabulary to articulate many ideas that I intuitively sensed but could not express. Through his work, it is easier to understand the uniqueness and controversy that surrounded figures like Rav Kook. His identification of the pre/trans fallacy is genius – and very valuable for anyone trying to understand religious consciousness. He sheds light on the free will/determinism conflict and the science/religion conflict – importantly, not by providing his own ‘solutions’, but by providing a conceptual framework for dealing with them.

I was given Wilber’s book as a gift from a friend who thought I would enjoy it. He was right. I since lent the book out, and it has not been returned. I particularly appreciated the book in light of my own interest in thinkers like Freud, Nietzsche, Kohlberg, Gardner, and Berger on one hand, and R’ Kook and R’ Tzadok as Jewish thinkers.

It seems that Wilber has begun to make inroads in the Hebrew language. This is both encouraging and disturbing because, despite the value of his ideas and their applicability to understanding Judaism, he has his own religious system worked out, and it is Buddhist. I hold by his chokhmah but not his torah, as the saying goes, but he does not necessarily divide the two (which is typical of great thinkers and would not be a fundamental critique of his work had he not been trying to provide a history of everything).

A report of his activities in Israel can be found here, and you can even download his interview with Israeli Carmel Weissman if you are willing to register on the site.


Immigrant Rabbi

I was thinking about my current situation – a new immigrant to a foreign country, a Rabbi trying to make a name and a career in the new land – and how frustrating it can be. Then I thought of my grandfather. He came to the U.S. after The War with three kids, not speaking the language. He took a bunch of odd jobs before finally deciding to go off on his own. He built a little shteibl in Baltimore which he ran for 30 years until his retirement. He never became wealthy, but was able to provide for his family and retire in comfort. It gives comfort to think that this path has been traveled before, in my own family, and not even so long ago.


Back in Baltimore

I'll be back in Baltimore, my hometown, later this week. I'll be officiating at the wedding of two UMD students under the same chuppah where my parents and sister were married, and in the same sanctuary where my grandfather, a"h, davened, was principal of the day school, and ultimately, where I was maspid him 14+ years ago. It will be a charged event for me.

Having grown up in Baltimore, I feel qualified to register my own 'oib'ism. Stylistically, it will be a bit different from the ones you'll see here and here. Baltimore is the only place on Earth where you can see a chassid in full regalia of shtreimel/spodek and kapote strolling down the street on Shabbos, walking his dog.

I'll be in Baltimore for the greatest sporting event to take place there in decades: the Baltimore Ravens will be hosting the still-hated Colts of Indianapolis, formerly of Baltimore, in an AFC playoff game. I remember the day that the Mayflower vans drove off, and know the years of agony that Baltimore suffered at the hands of Bob Irsay and Paul Tagliabue. That hatred will remain with Baltimorians until the legacy and name of the Colts is returned to the city of Baltimore (much as the expansion Cleveland Browns inherited the history of their predecessor, the franchise that became the Ravens). It's a philosophical thing; I don't even like football that much. I think it's way too violent.


Hey, Mon

Well, I have not found a job. I’ve got four. None full-time, obviously, but four part-time jobs can work, too.

So I’ll continue teaching Halakha twice a week in that one seminary, I’m doing some freelance translating, I’ll be working several shifts as a news brief writer for Arutz 7’s English news website, and I’ll be teaching some English and math at a nearby high school. I also might have another 1x/week teaching job. And there’s also the Pesach gig.

This is a tough way to make a living, but it’s a way.

By the way, between what I’m doing and the Rebbetzin’s 3 teaching jobs, we’ve got like 8 jobs. It reminded me of that sketch called ‘Hey, Mon’ from the old TV show ‘In Living Color’.