The Fun Stuff

I divide the stuff I translate into three categories:
a) The boring stuff
b) The interesting stuff
c) The fun stuff

Anything where I have to learn something new is interesting, even if it's totally technical. If I learn about a medical condition, an area of law, whatever, it can be interesting. Things that are just a drag - for example, a will or a birth certificate or anything repetitive or banal is the boring stuff.

I don't necessarily get paid more for the boring stuff or less for the interesting or fun stuff. However, if a project is neither fun/interesting nor decent-paying, I am much more likely to turn it down.

The fun stuff is, well, fun. My goal is to someday have my entire day filled with fun stuff. Of course, I can't put my finger exactly on what constitutes "fun stuff", so let me give an example from today. Granted fun stuff doesn't always have to be THIS much fun:
The Hebrew panel that you see here is an inscription from the tomb of Fernando (Ferdinand) III, King of Castille and Leon in the early 13th Century. His tomb contains inscriptions in Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, and Castilian.

Below is my (legible) Hebrew reconstruction as well as my translation. Like I said, the fun stuff:

וזה המקום הוא קבר המלך הגדול דון פרננדו אדון קסטיליה וטליטלה וליון ווליסיה ואשבילה וקרטבה ומרסיה וניאות חי נפשו בגן עדן אשר לכד כל ספרד הישר הצדיק המשוח המגדול הגבור החסיד העניו הירא מייי ועובד אותו כל ימיו אשר שבר ואבד כל אויביו והרים וכבד כל אוהביו ולכד מדינת אשבילה אשר היא ראש כל ספרד ונפטר בה בליל יום שישי שנים ועשרים יום לחדש סיון שנת אלפים ושתים עשרה לבריאת העולם

This place is the tomb of the great king, Don Fernando, Lord of Castille and Telitala [Toledo] and Leon and Valesia [Valencia] and Asvila [Seville] and Karteva [Cordoba] and Murcia; and his soul lives well in the Garden of Eden; who captured all of Spain; the upright, the righteous, the anointed, the tower, the mighty, the pious, the humble, who feared God and served Him all his days; who broke and destroyed all his enemies and who elevated and honored those who adored him, and who captured the province of Asvila [Seville], which is the head of all Sepharad [Spain] and died there on the night of Friday, the twenty second day of the month of Sivan, in the year five thousand and twelve from the creation of the world.


Book Review: Siddur Shema Koleinu

I recently was introduced to this book because its publisher, Amit Sofer, is a friend and neighbor of mine in Modiin. As a musician, he often found himself in a situation that he was taking his kids to school late, and davening with them in the car because they would miss it in school. This situation gave rise to the Siddur Shema Koleinu.

Many contemporary children’s have sound filed embedded. This siddur has about 15 minutes worth of audio in it, and it contains most of the basic prayers that children say in school and at home. Some of its 16 tracks are simple recitations (Birkot ha-Shachar, Shema), but others are full-fledged songs (Adon Olam, Yigdal, Hamalach).

I’ve found that this siddur helps children with pronunciation and reading skills as they follow along in the text as they listen. It is highly recommended for a family contemplating aliyah that wants to get their kids used to the style of davening in Israeli preschools. It would also be a wonderful addition to Jewish preschools in America. I bought a few to give as gifts to preschoolers who are just learning the rudimentary prayers.

Batteries are not included.

Book Review: The Schechter Haggadah: Art, History, and Commentary

This review has now migrated to the Tradition Seforim blog (link)


Me & the Prez

I filled out 3 different NCAA brackets this year. One is the "main one" - the one I have the most 'incentive' to win.
The amazing thing is this:
I picked the same champion, finalists, Final Four, and Elite Eight as President Obama.
So far, all eight are still in (only 2 of my Sweet Sixteen teams have lost so far).


Quid contra quo

About a month ago, my son Raphi (age 4.5) earned a prize from his nursery school teacher for behaving very nicely in school and not fighting with any other kids. The prize? A water gun. I have no idea if the irony is lost on the teacher, but we found this hilarious.

Today, I saw that the OU did pretty much the same thing. It is organizing a Campus Learn-a-Thon. One of the prizes is a Nintendo Wii console. I'd venture that computer games are the greatest single cause of bittul Torah around today.

On the other hand, I mentioned the other day that my father provided me with an incentive to learn how to layn the Megillah. The incentive was a TV. I don't really watch much TV anymore, but I still layn the Megillah.

I still think that campuses should adopt an idea that I hatched when I was the JLIC educator at UMD, but never got the chance to implement. The idea was to have a Fleisch-a-thon to raise hunger awareness. The contest would be that one must remain in a fleischige state (according to the full-6-hour opinions) for the longest time possible. That means no dairy products for the duration of the contest, and that you must set an alarm to wake up in the middle of the night and munch on some meat. Sponsorships would be per 6-hour increments. The vegetarians would go nuts with this, but I bet it would be wildly popular.

Students who want me to sponsor them should email me (adderabbi at gmail dot com). Readers who wish to sponsor students - same email.

Quick Purim Riddle

Q. What is the difference between Purim and the 2008 bailout package?

A. With regard to Purim, the הלכה is: "כל הפושט יד נותנים לו"
With regard to the bailout package: "כל הפושט רגל נותנים לו"


Les Mis and Gush?????

This is truly bizarre. I was in the supermarket today, and I noticed, in the checkout line, a Hebrew DVD rendition of Hugo's Les Miserables (עלובי החיים) for kids. Portraits of two main characters adorned the jackets.

Here's the really bizarre part. The two portraits look astoundingly similar to Rav Aharon Lichteinstein and Rav Ezra Bick. Is this coincidence? See for yourselves. Freaky, no?


Purim Shpiel Clips V: Name That Shul

This is going up mostly for the benefit of shul members who missed the shpiel. I don't really expect others to find it so funny, though it is certainly entertaining.
The other 4 or 5 segments of our shpiel were either 'live action' or powerpoint, so I won't be posting them. If you missed it, you missed it (the fashion show - which included 7 or the songs on the soundtrack that I posted yeaterday - was really well recieved). Anyhow, it was great fun, and I'm looking forward to next year's. I apologize for the quality of the video. I'll repost when I figure out how to do better.

Purim Shpiel Clips IV: Sudoku

Sudoku tatzil mi-maves...
This was my Purim costume as well. A schnorrer who gives instead of taking...

Purim Shpiel Clips III: HaDarom HaMuznach

To a certain degree, this clip is Modiin-specific. It chronicles the plight of the residents of the new Modiin neighborhood of Buchman Darom (South Buchman). Of course the word "Darom" has other connotations as well. That's where the fun begins...

Purim Shpiel Clips II: Jewiish

Here, we model a new line of Jewish-themes games for the Nintendo Wii...

Purim Shpiel Clips I: Baby Lieberman

I'm going to post some clips from our shpiel. This is for regular readers as well as for shul members who missed the festivities. I'll be posting 5 clips. Enjoy!

This bit has universal Israeli appeal. We dug a little bit and found some footage of the incoming Foreign Minister as a baby...

Another Memorable Reading (That I Forgot About)

I forgot about one particularly memorable Megillah reading: my first one. I probably forgot about it because, for me, it was about getting through it and feeling a sense of relief. I was also a self-absorbed teenager at the time, and perhaps I did not notice how meaningful it was for others. Fortunately, my parents reminded me of that today.

That first reading was in 1992. I layned the Megillah at the Shomrei Emunah youth minyan in Baltimore. It was mostly people about my age, including many of my friends, but there were 2 people there who were much, much older: my grandfathers.

My paternal grandfather probably would have been critical of my reading had his hearing been intact. I know now that he always had a bit of trouble taking pride in his MO grandkids, but that's neither here nor there. He came, and he probably shepped some nachas. He passed away about 2 years later, on Chol Ha-Mo'ed Pesach.

For my maternal grandfather, it was a very different story. His hearing was fully intact, though the rest of his body, by that point, was wracked with cancer. Learning to layn the Megillah was a lifelong goal of his that he never fulfilled. He came to shul that night with an oxygen tank in tow and left with tears in his eyes, knowing full well that it was probably his last Purim, satisfied that he lived long enough to bear witness that one of his own lifelong dreams was being fulfilled by his posterity. He passed away less than 3 months later, on Erev Shavu'ot. Much of his last time on earth was spent tying off the loose ends of his life (it was quite fitting that he completed the counting of the Omer, with a bracha, the night before he passed away). Based on his remarks, that Purim was another of those loose ends, another item on his "Bucket List", that he was able to fulfill before departing. Memorable, indeed.


Memorable Megilla Readings

Have Megilla, will travel. That pretty much sums up my Purims for the past 17 years or so. I got a Megillah for my Bar Mitzvah, and at some point in my teenage years, my father incentivized me learning how to work it, and so now I lain several times every year. Usually about 4x per Purim. I generally lain at home at night and by day, and then usually at least once more each night and day. This year will be no exception. Here are some of the more memorable ones:

1) On Purim, 1992, my friend Kess (who I recently reconnected with via Facebook after having fallen out of touch for over a decade) had a gig playing the drums at a post-Megillah party at a shul in B-more. He set up his equipment and then walked over to the sanctuary - where they were in the middle of the second chapter. He calls me up, I take my Megillah with me to a party scheduled for later that evening at Kosher Bite, and I end up reading it for him in his car (the only quiet place there). 21 minutes is still a personal record, I think.

2) During the KBY years (1994-96, and again just for Purim in 1998), I made a habit of travelling to Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot with some other guys, we'd go from room to room singing and making merry, and we'd also take down the room numbers of anyone who wanted to hear the Megilah. About three of us could lain and had Megillahs, so we'd divide it up and cover ground. Those really felt nice. Of course, I once ended up laining to someone who was asleep by the end of the first chapter (at least I hope she was just asleep).

3) In 1997, I got drunk at night, slept until the next afternoon, and ended up having to borrow a Megillah (my Megillah was an ocean away) from a friend (now the Rav in Yenem's Velt), which I lained in the back seat of another friend's car on the way to the Purim party of a YU Rosh Yeshiva whose shiur I was attending at the time. I left his Megillah in the car, and it was nearly a year before I got it back for him. Funny enough, me, the Megillah owner, and the car owner all ended up together at the Gruss Kollel 2 years later (where the current Yenem's Velter Rav did pishut yadayim ve-raglayim when saying "eshtachaveh el heichal kodshecha" of Yedid Nefesh; he somehow got the idea that Purim was an appropriate time for shaleshides, but I digress).

4) I wrote about this one 2 years ago, but it happened in 2004. That year, there was a woman in the community who was recovering from surgery and couldn’t really move around much, so they asked if I could come by and lain for her. Present for the reading was the woman, her husband, and their three large dogs. Three large dogs in a small apartment means that the apartment smells like dog and dog food. Plus, these were apparently shedding dogs, because I could feel my nose start to tingle as soon as I walked in (I have severe pet hair allergies). Anyhow, at first they tried to lock the dogs in one room while I layned in the another, but the dogs weren’t crazy about that and raised quite the ruckus. So we moved the dogs out to where I was layning, and they calmed down. I was layning at blazing speed, racing against time before I erupted in sneezing fits. I was going for broke, trying to shatter the 21-minute mark. But the dogs had other ideas. The first time I reached the word ‘Haman’, the (human) couple began clapping and stomping. Needless to say, this spooked the dogs, who started barking like crazy. When they finally calmed down, it wasn’t long before the same happened at the next ‘Haman’. After a little while, the dogs had been well-trained to bark like crazy whenever they heard the word ‘Haman’, much to my chagrin (though Pavlov was no doubt schepping nachas). And inevitably, I started sneezing, but I tried to hold back until the Haman breaks. So every time I said Haman, the couple would be clapping and stomping, the dogs would be barking, and I would be sneezing. I’m glad I can laugh about it now.

4) I only spent one Purim at Maryland (speaking of which, Gary must go). The other year I was there, Purim fell out during Spring Break. The next year was a different story. Students had classes, there were a whole bunch of different readings, and so I lained 5 times that Purim: once at Hillel, twice at my house, once in the room of a sick student (which then became the defualt location for another 8 or 9 students who called during the day to ask if there was going to be another reading), and, acharon acharon chaviv, at a bar in College Park (Mexican style bar/grill that hosted a Purim party that year; can't remember the name). I knew there would be a bunch of students there who hadn't made it to the earlier readings, so I worked it out with the organizers that there would be a reading on premises. A good number of people attending the reading, but the party did not stop. That was the loudest reading of my life, trying to make myself heard over the gangsta rap.

5) Last year, things got hectic between me going to shul, then the shul Purim party, and then my wife attending her school Purim party. She got home after midnight and had not yet heard the Megillah (she tried attending an earlier reading, but Raphi barged in hysterical, and she had to leave). I was sound asleep. Now, the Mishna and Gemara of Megillah are pretty well known. The Mishna refers to a case of ha-korei u-mitnamnem - one is reading the Megillah and constantly nodding off. Well, it happened. My wife had to wake me up several times during the course of the reading, as I just kept falling back asleep while reading. I already lained for her tonight, so I won't have that problem this year (she's at the same school party again as we speak).

It might be true that funny things just seem to happen, but, in truth, if you have a Megillah and are willing to travel, funny things will tend to happen on their own.


Purim Playlist

If you happen to be samuch or nir'eh to Modi'in tomorrow night, I highly recommend that you stop by the Masu'ot Neryah school after the Megillah reading for BKA's annual purim shpiel. Last year's was funny. This year, the team from AVE J Productions (I'm the E of AVE J) has produces a ROTFLYAO hilarious shpiel. It will not be long - 30-40 minutes - but it will be memorable.

As a teaser, below is the "soundtrack" of this year's shpiel. All of these songs figure into the shpiel in some way or another, and in no apparent order:

Sunday Bloody Sunday - U2
Sweet Caroline - Neil Diamond
The Place where I Belong - Journeys
The Pink Panther Theme
YMCA - The Village People
Girls Wanna Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper
Chariots of Fire Theme
Shabbos Yerushalayim - Miami Boys' Choir
Nowhere Man - The Beatles

For those who miss it, there will probably be some youtube clips available at some point.


I've read 25

See my comments at the end.
This list was compiled by the BBC, and they expect the average person to have read about 6 of these.

Copy into a new note Put an X next to the ones you've read. Include the number you have read in the headline and tag your friends!

X1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
X2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
X 4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
X 5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
X6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
X 8 1984 - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
X16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
X 18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
X 22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
X27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
X33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
X 36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
X 37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
X 39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
X 40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
X 41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
X 42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
X49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
X58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy.
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Inferno - Dante
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola (I read L'Assomoir, so I am counting that.)
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
X87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
X89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
X91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
X92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
X 98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
X 99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

a) Way too much Dickens and Austen here. 10 of 100 from just those 2? Ridiculous.
b) There should have been some "something by" - I've read Hunchback, not Les Mis. That should count for something. Also, I've read a lot of Dostoevsky, but only C&P is on the list (even though The Brothers Karamazov is, IMHO, the greatest novel ever written). Lord, I've tried reading Tolstoy several times. Can't get through more than 10 pages. As Emo Phillips said: "There's nothing like curling up in front of a fire with a copy of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Y'know, a thick book like that can feed a fire for hours". Especially prodigious authors, like Shakespeare, should get categories - have you read at least one Shakespearean comedy? Tragedy? History? It the Chocolate Factory really that much more edifying than the Great Glass Elevator?
c) No Mark Twain? A shonda. I can live with no Arthur Miller.
d) Alex Haley should be on the list, if for no other reason than the cultural importance of his books. Either Roots or The Autobiography of Malcolm X should be on the list. The FOuntainhead should be on the list for the same reason.
e) I'm probably defining "the Bible" differently than the compilers of the list.
f) I do not count it if I only saw the movie.
g) I do count it even if I only read it as part of my formal schooling and didn't like it.
h) My wife has read 49 of these titles. That's impressive.


An Ashkenazi Implication of Rav Ovadia’s Ruling

The Israeli media and j-blogosphere is all in a tizzy about Rav Ovadia Yosef’s recent ruling that, in certain circumstances, a woman can be motzi a man in Megilla reading. Gil has an excellent analysis of the halakhic issue, which really draws attention to the fact that, in the current context:

a) The whole attitude of “gee, I wish an Ashkenazi posek had the guts…” is totally misguided. This is a machloket between the Mechaber and the Rema. Thinking that it has to do with contemporary agenda, while perhaps not completely inaccurate, ignores 500 years of halakhic tradition.

b) I think it’s hilarious how everybody thinks it such a chiddush that Rav Ovadia is meikil here. Rav Ovadia is not machmir in general, and he has some truly groundbreaking kulot to his credit (see Beta Israel, Karaites, hetter mekhira, and Yom Kippur War agunot). This might surprise some people in the media, who tend to see Rav Ovadia as an obscurantist, ayatollah-like political figure who can be counted upon for extremist, racist, or chauvinist statements. All of a sudden, he says something that is compatible with a feminist agenda, and he’s a media darling. Go figure.

I do believe, however, that this psak has implications for Ahskenazim. Rav Ovadia’s ruling is based on 2 premises:

a) Men and women have equal obligations to read the megillah (according to the accepted opinion).

b) Given the equal obligation, there is no external reason (e.g., kol isha) to prohibit the woman from performing the obligation on behalf of men.

The Rema’s disagreement is based on premise (a). Although there are poskim who would disagree with (b) as well, there is no Ashkenazi masoret psika against it. The ramifications would be for a case where all agree that men and women have an equal obligation.

An example of such a case is Kiddush. The Gemara links the obligations of Shemira with those of Zechira. The Shulchan Arukh and other mainstream poskim (Gr”a, Arukh Ha-Shulchan) explicitly state that, based on this principle, women can be motzi men in Kiddush. There are poskim who disagree fundamentally (Bach, Prisha), but even the Mishna Berurah only turns it into a chumra, importing the concept of zila milta to discourage the practice (see here, in brief).

Rav Ovadia’s ruling implies that he is not concerned for the Mishna Berurah’s issue of zila milta in this context, and this would seem to be an acceptable precedent even for an Ashkenazi poseik.



There's been some buzz about David Forman's article entertaining the idea that Reform and Conservative Judaism declare themselves to be a separate religion in order to gain independent recognition from the state.

The irony of the situation is that it is not new, even in a modern context. Beginning in the late 19th Century, Orthodox communities in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and eventually even the Land of Israel seceded from the main Jewish communities in order to gain independent recognition. R. Shimshon b. Raphael Hirsch was the prime mover behind this initiative, called Austrittgemeinde. In the Land of Israel, this secession created the Edah Chareidis. Its independence continues until today in certain crucial respects (it should be noted that the Chazon Ish was against this type of Austritt in the Land of Israel, though this was a major bone of contention within the Agudah in the late 1920s and through the 1930s).

To his point, though, he's dreaming if he thinks that Israelis will come flocking to R and C rabbis once they are enfranchised. They would be better served to try to end the Rabbanut monopoly.


The Role of a Rabbi

The job of a rabbi is to expose you to a vision of yourself that is beyond where you are now, yet still within your grasp.

The rest is commentary.