Saturday, December 31, 2011

Eli Yishai (Interior Minister): A Charedi only city will have no income and will not be able to survive

In a radio interview to Kol Brama, Eli Yishai explained his opposition to splitting Bet Shemesh into a Charedi city and a non-Charedi city. He explained that a Charedi city has little or no tax base, cities raise much of their money from property taxes (arnona). However, 80% of Charedim receive a very large discount paying very little. In addition, in a Charedi city there is little or no industry.The bottom line is that a Charedi city with no Chilonim will be bankrupt.

What does this say about the viability of the Charedi world as constituted?


Thursday, December 29, 2011

What should we do with contradictory medrashim especially when Rashi quotes both?

When Yosef reveals himself to his brothers the medrash says that he "proved" his identity by showing them his mila. Yet, in last week's parsha (Miketz) the medrash on the Pasuk
ויאמר פרעה לכל מצרים לכו אל יוסף אשר יאמר לכם תעשו
says that Yosef forced all the מצרים to do a מילה and therefore if even the Egyptians had a מילה what proof was Yosef trying to bring by showing them his מילה?

There are a number of answers offered but I believe that this raises a more fundamental question, do we need to assume that medrashim are not contradictory especially when Rashi quotes both? I can't offer a definitive answer but I would suggest that the answer is no. The purpose of medrashim is not necessarily to tell us the pshat in the text but rather to bring out certain lessons and therefore even if the medrashim conflict the lessons are still valuable.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Noted Charedi Mechanech: Banning The Internet Is Not The Answer

London - Noted Charedi Mechanech: Banning The Internet Is Not The Answer

Rabbi Osher Shapiro explained how the internet is not the reason for the ever growing problem of at risk teens that plagues society.  Rabbi Shapiro, who lives in Stamford Hill London, is the son of the Naroler Rebbe Rabbi Berish Shapiro Shlita, in addition to being a well known mechanech and founder of Kol Bonayich, a United Kingdom based outreach organization.

 In fact, Rabbi Shapiro placed the blame for the younger generation’s fascination with the internet squarely on the shoulders of those who issued internet bans and said that the act of banning something such as the internet or a concert only increases its appeal. According to Rabbi Shapiro the internet, like the telephone, the radio or the cell phone, is an instrument that was, at first, met with great trepidation by many in the Jewish community, but when used properly can become an integral and appropriate part of our lives.

Finally someone in the Charedi world who is willing to say the emperor has no clothes. There is no question that the internet is not going away any time soon and in fact is becoming more and more ubiquitous. More and more services are going online and soon there will be many things that are only accessible on the internet (e.g. making an appointment at the US Embassy in Israel). It is simply not workable to ban the internet in modern society.

R' Elyashiv's No's - No to Nachal Charedi, No to Charedi colleges, No to Charedi job programs

The following letter from R' Elyashiv was printed on the front page of yesterday's Yated Neeman:

... We must protest and warn of all sorts of trends from outside to harm the pure cruse of oil, who found 'special frameworks for Haredim,' which will be under their full control and spirit, included in this are: programs of national service, army service,
They also are encouraging all kinds of institutes and colleges for job training and academic degrees which bring in foreign ambitions absorbed from the outside, and their goal is to bring a change in the spirit and essence of the Haredi public, and act to introduce all sorts of other aspirations, national and enlightenment which our forefathers did not know; and to integrate and connect them with the nonreligious life and the culture of evil people.

The question that needs to be asked is where will the money come from? If job training, secular studies etc. are prohibited how will people make a living? Live on handouts? Is that really the traditional Jewish way? Given the recent events in Bet Shemesh things are coming to a head and the secular majority is not going to give the Charedim money for much longer. In any case in 20-30 years the Charedim will be the majority and there won't be any money for the government to give.

The Charedi world has this idea that everyone is out to get them, that the secular want them to become irreligious. IMHO, from my experience working in Israel (with mostly Chilonim) this is simply not true. In fact, my experience is that they respect the religious people that they interact with at work. The average Chiloni has no interest in making anyone irreligious. They do however want a number of things:

1. Freedom from religious coercion
2. Army service for Charedim
3. No money for people sitting and learning

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Another fascinating picture of R' Ovadya Yosef and his family

This time as a young child, the adults are his mother and father.


When to daven mincha this Friday?

What is different about this Friday? This Friday we will be lighting Chanuka candles. Usually on Friday, most peoples wives light Shabbos candles and then they go to daven Mincha. The minhag on Shabbos Chanuka is that we light Chanuka candles before Shabbos candles (this needs a post by itself to explain why). Davening mincha after lighting Chanuka candles is problematic for 2 reasons:
1. The Chida writes that since Chanuka candles are זכר למקדש, they should be lit after Mincha because in the Beis Hamikdash the menora was lit only after the תמיד של בין הערבים. Nowadays, Mincha is instead of the תמיד.
2. There is a machlokes what is the nature of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanuka? Is it a mitzva of לילה? Or is it a mitzva of פרסומי ניסא? According to some Rishonim (the Rashba and others) it is a mitzva of night (see What is the nature of the mitzvah of lighting candles on Chanuka?, for a lengthy explanation of the machlokes). Based on this, when we light before sunset on Friday night, it is the regular din that you can do a mitzva of night starting from plag hamincha. If so, when we light we are designating the time from plag hamincha until shkia, night, and therefore it is inappropriate to daven mincha then (this is similar to the early Shabbos problem of davening Mincha and Maariv between plag and shkia).

Based on these 2 reasons, the minhag in many places has become to daven Mincha this Friday early (mincha gedola time) so that Chanuka candles will be lit after mincha.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Free private Mehadrin buses for 6 million shekel a month

The incident with Tanya Rosenblit seems to be the straw that broke the camels back (Tanya Rosenblit Is The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back) and it is clear that Egged will not be able to continue the Mehadrin bus lines.

Therefore a group of Charedi askanim have come up with a plan to set up free private mehadrin bus lines. Why free? Because by law a private company cannot run a fee for service bus line without a permit from the Ministry of Transport which they won't get. Therefore, to get around this the buses will be free, however, there will be pushkas on the bus for anyone who wishes to contribute.

This is expected to cost 6 million shekel a month. As I wrote here, The real cost of mehadrin standards, you have to question whether this is the best use of such a large sum of money. The Charedi population is very poor (see Poverty in Israel - some disturbing statistics about the Charedi world) and I am sure that the money could be used for more pressing needs then Mehadrin buses.

Different laining in חו"ל and ארץ ישראל on Chanuka?

Every year this amazes me.

On Chanuka we read the parsha of the נשיאים, every day the נשיא for that day. Each נשיא is 6 pesukim and we have 3 aliyas. The miniumum number of pesukim for an aliya is 3. therefore we are 3 pesukim short. From where do we get the extra 3 pesukim? This is a machlokes the Mechaber and the Rama. The Mechaber writes that we simply read over that day. In other words, tomorrow morning Kohen will read the first 3 pesukim of the 5th נשיא, Levi will read the next 3, and the third aliya simply repeats all 6 pesukim of the 5th נשיא. The Rama on the other hand says, that for the third aliya you simply read the next day. In other words, tomorrow morning Kohen will read the first 3 pesukim of the 5th נשיא, Levi will read the next 3, and the third aliya reads the 6th נשיא. In חו"ל the minhag is like the Rama and in EY the minhag is like the mechaber.

The Gra points out that this is לשיטתם by chol hamoed succos. On chol hamoed succos the problem is greater, each day is only 3 pesukim and there are 4 aliyos. According to the Mechaber in חו"ל kohen and levi read the 2 days of sefeka d'yoma and then the next 2 aliyas simply repeat them. The Rama writes that שלישי reads the next day, meaning if today is the first day of Chol Hamoed, the first 2 aliyas read days 2 and 3 and the third aliya reads day 4, even though it is clearly not day 4 even with the sefeka d'yoma, and רביעי goes back on the first 2 days. In EY the machaber writes that we simply repeat the same thing 4 times. Here also the minhag in EY is like the mechaber.

The machlokes would seem to be does the next day have any connection to today and does it make sense to read it.

Interestingly enough the Ashkenazim in EY are noheg like the Mechaber both on Succos and on Chanuka.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Colored strollers prohibited? No it's a fraud - UPDATED

I saw the following pashkevil that colored strollers are prohibited, I don't if it is a joke or real.

According to Kikar Shabbat the pashkevil is a fraud.

However, that fact that so any people believed it or at least thought that it could be true says it all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The IRS is going after me and other Americans in Israel

There have been articles in Hamodia for months about how the IRS is cracking down and is auditing people in Israel who claimed the child tax credit. However, I never thought it would happen to me. Last week I received a letter from the IRS stating that I owed tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and penalties. I was quite surprised as I file a tax return every year and get a refund every year. It took me a while to figure out why they thought I owed all that money but I finally figured out what they did. I immediately went to an accountant who specializes in these things and he told me that I am not alone, many people have gotten such letters.

Here is the IRS's modus operendi. Let's take as an example someone who made $100,000 in salary working in Israel and paid $40,000 in Israeli taxes with 6 kids. The taxes that they paid in Israel more then cover what their US tax liability and since the child tax credit is refundable they would get between $5000 - $6000 as a refund. What the IRS does is they believe that you made $100,000 but throw everything else away. (Very similar to teh idea of פלגינן דיבורא in halacha). They deny that the foreign taxes were paid and the fact that you have 6 children. From their perspective it is all a fiction to cheat the US government. Therefore, from the IRS's perspective you made $100,000, paid no taxes, and in fact got $6000 in illegitimate child tax credits. Oh, and by the way you have 30 days to answer them otherwise they start taking your assets.

Proving that I made what I said I made and paid taxes in Israel like I said, is not difficult, I have my pay stubs and year end (tofes 106) statement. However, how do you prove that your children are your children and that they live with you? What kind of proof can you bring? The accountant suggested going to our family doctor and getting a letter from him attesting that these are our children. We did that and it turns out we were not the first to ask him for it.

The accountant needs to get my Israeli pay stubs etc. translated and then he will respond to the IRS. Hopefully it will go well.

One lesson that I learned, never throw out things like pay stubs, etc. You never know when you may need them.


After submitting all my supporting documentation (pay stubs, children's passports, letters from schools, doctors, etc.) the IRS has withdrawn their claim and sent me an official letter stating that I don't owe anything.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Maintaining a pure Torah outlook

The following letter appeared in today's Hamodia and to me epitomizes the issues that I have with the Charedi world.

Can you believe this? No matter how much Torah is learned how many mitzvos are done, it is all worthless if you don't have the pure Torah outlook. Of course the big question is who decides what the pure Torah outlook is? In the book Harav Mibrisk Volume 3, there is a discussion of the Aguda convention before WWII where the question of the partition of Palestine was discussed and in fact the majority opinion was in favor. The book describes how R' Elchonon got up at the convention and expressed the pure Torah view against Zionism, partition etc. and that this was the Brisker Rav's position as well. What is amazing is that the author describes R' Elchonon's position as the pure Torah position and dismisses all of the other Gedolim's opinions as non-pure Torah positions. Based on what? Why was R' Elchonon's position more pure Torah then the other Gedolim who were at the convention? How do we decide? In fact a bigger question is whether there is such a thing as the 1 pure Torah outlook? Was R' Akiva not propounding a pure Torah outlook when he declared that Bar Kochva was Moshiach? Was R' Saadya Gaon not expressing a pure Torah outlook when he dismissive the idea of gilgulim? I could go on with any number of example, the fact is that on just about every major theological issue there is a fundamental machlokes starting with who does hashgacha pratis apply to, to the source of machlokes. Is 1 side not expressing a pure Torah outlook?

IMHO this is the biggest problem in the Charedi world today. The inability to admit that there may be more then 1 path, that everything is not black and white. As R' Elyashiv was quoted as saying "They could say it we can not". Since the end of the Sanhedrin there have always been multiple opinions in Judaism, the Charedi world's attempt to deny this is simply revisionist history.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The mystery of the ninth year is solved

A few days ago I posted about Kupat Hair's big campaign of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year and I (among others) asked the question how is this the 9th year? This morning in shul I saw a whole booklet put out by kupat hair where they explain this "segula" and have an FAQ. Question number 4 is our question, the sefer says the ninth year and yet this year is not the ninth year? The answer given in the name of R' Wosner is you are right, it isn't the ninth year but it doesn't matter. In fact any 9 is good.

Here is the actual text from the booklet:

So when you really think about it, according to R' Wosner the whole Kupat Hair's campaign was a fraud. There is no 9 minutes of grace, as according to R' Wosner any 9 is good, just like it doesn't have to be the ninth year who says it has to be the ninth hour. Maybe all day on the 9th day of the 9th month is good. In fact maybe even the whole month?

The bottom line is once you say R' Wosner's answer that the 9th year is לאו דוקא where do you stop?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Some interesting statistics about the Mir Yeshiva in Yerushalayim

Number of students: 7200
Number of Batei Medrash: 20
Number of Yeshiva students: 3400
Number of Kollel avreichim: 3000 (I know the numbers don't add up)
Number of staff members: 200+
Number of shnitzel pieces served on Wednesday's: 10,000+
Number of students served lunch every day: 6000
Monthly budget: 10,000,000 NIS
Monthly stipend budget: 3,000,000 NIS
Yearly budget: 120,000,000 NIS
Debt owed: 54,000,000 NIS

Source: Mishpacha magazine in Hebrew ה' כסלו תשע"ב

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What is the significance of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month of the 9th year? - Updated

This ad is all over the Charedi press this week.

I understand the 9th day of the 9th month but how is this the 9th year? What is it the 9th year of?

Someone suggested that 9th year is the 9th year after Yovel. However, that is impossible for a number of reasons.
1. This is the 4th year of the shemitta cycle so there is no way that this is the 9th year of the Yovel cycle the math doesn't work out.
2. There is no Yovel nowadays so there can't be a 9th year in the Yovel cycle.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

R' Shteinman - Life insurance is not worth it, it is better to rely on tzedaka

Shas has been working on a plan to provide life insurance for all kollel students. The plan is to take 30 shekels from their stipend each month and use it to buy life insurance at a discounted group rate.

The Mishpacha newspaper has an article this week that R' Shteinman is against the plan. He is reported saying, life insurance is not worth it, as the merit of giving tzedaka to the widows and orphans is what is saving this generation from destruction. Here is the article in full:

I find this very hard to understand for a number of reasons:

1. Is there no shortage of tzedaka that needs to be given? Even if every person had life insurance there would still be plenty of poor people who needed tzedaka. As I pointed out in this post, Kupat Hair - Marrying off your children puts you on the tzedaka rolls , according to Kupat Hair the profile of the recipient of Tzedaka has changed dramatically in recent years. Most of the people who now get money from Kupat Hair are regular people who are poor because they married off their children. To marry off their children they had to buy them apartments and that put them under water. They borrowed money that they could not repay and now they need tzedaka. Unfortunately, these people are poor because of their lifestyle and will not be helped by life insurance. In fact, if everyone had life insurance, maybe there would be more money to help these kinds of people. In addition, let's not forget that the Mir yeshiva has a $10 million debt. In short, מרובים צרכי עמך and even if everyone had life insurance there would still be plenty of opportunities to give tzedaka.
2. If we really think about it, what this is saying is let the widows and orphans suffer so that we can have a chance to do a mitzva by giving them tzedaka. There is no question, that without life insurance these people suffer. They have no money and have to worry if the tzedaka campaigns will bring in enough money for them to live on. In addition, tzedaka campaigns are done right after the person dies, what happens a year 2 years down the line when there a whole bunch of new widows/orphans that get the tzedaka campaigns and the widow of 2 years has no money to feed her kids. Is it fair for us to tell widows/orphans to suffer so we can do a mitzva? Would it not be a bigger זכות for us to set up a system where everyone is provided for if someone dies? Wouldn't that be the highest form of tzedaka?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Rashi believed in mermaids

On Tuesday the Daf Yomi learned Bechoros 8. At the top of the daf the Gemara says הדולפין פרין ורבין מבני אדם (Rashi's גירסא is מבני). Rashi explains this as follows. דולפין is a sea creature that looks half like a person and half like a fish, they are called sereine in Old French. Rashi clearly refers to mermaids (the French sereine derives from the Latin siren, meaning mermaid). The Gemara is saying that if a man and a mermaid have relations the mermaid can get pregnant.

The truth is that the simple pshat in the Gemara is that it is referring to dolphins and the Gemara is saying that dolphins reproduce like people ( הדולפין פרין ורבין כבני אדם).

However, Rashi for whatever reason had a different girsa (see Tosafos there) and believed that the Gemara was talking about mermaids.

What we see clearly from Rashi is that he took the mythology of his time and believed it and used it to understand the Gemara.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Mir Yeshiva is virtually bankrupt

With the unexpected death of R' Nosson Tzvi Finkel the Mir Yeshiva has become front page news. In this weeks Mishpacha newspaper the main front page headline is that the Mir Yeshiva has no money and that they are trying to raise millions of dollars during the shiva of the Rosh Yeshiva, to save the Yeshiva.

The Mir Yeshiva is the biggest yeshiva in the world with approximately 7600 students in many locations. The operating costs are staggering and due to the world financial situation the money has stopped flowing in. Because of this, the Yeshiva has not paid stipends to the Kollel Avreichim or salaries to Rebbes for the last 5 months and the Yeshiva has a 10 million dollar debt.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Could Avraham Avinu have been as tall as 74 men?

Parsha blog quotes the following from the end of Maseches Sofrim:
"The man [who lived in Chevron] was the greatest of the giants" (Yehoshua 14:15) -- This refers to our forefather Avraham, whose height was equal to that of seventy-four men. The amount of food and drink he consumed was enough for seventy-four men, and he had the strength of that many men as well.

R' Chaim Kanievsky is his sefer on Tanach (טעמא דקרא) takes this medrash literally and in fact offers an explanation of the source. However, from a strictly rationalist/scientific viewpoint it is very difficult to take this medrash literally.

On one of my trips to the US I bought a fascinating book called, The Physics of Superheroes, which explains many of the basic principles of physics using examples from comic book superheroes. One of the superheroes that he discusses is Giant Man, his power being that he could increase his size when needed. In his discussion in the book he points out that the size that a person could grow to is limited by the strength of materials (particularly bone) and gravity. A person's size is ultimately limited by the cube square law. For simplicity's sake let's model a person as a box. A box's volume is a product of length x height x width so a box that has a length, width and height of 5 feet (our person model) will have a volume of 125 feet cubed. Now assume that he grows to 4x times these proportions (20x20x20). He will now have a volume of 8000 cubic feet, in other words quadrupling his length increases his volume by a factor of 64. Now we need to consider density and mass. It makes sense to say as a person grows his density stays the same (otherwise he would simply thin out into nothingness). To maintain a constant density means that mass must increase at the same rate as volume so quadrupling height increases weight by a factor of 64. The problem is that as weight increases the ability of the skeleton to support that weight does not. The strength of an object depends on how wide it is, it's cross-sectional area. In our case here volume and mass increase much faster then the cross -sectional area of the bones.

Let's take the following simple example of someone who is 6 feet tall and 185 pounds. A single vertebra can support approximately 800 pounds. Now lets increase his height by a factor of 10 to 60 feet. His volume and mass grow by 1000 while his cross-sectional area only grows by a factor of 100. His vertebra can now support 80,000 pounds but his weight is now 185,000 pounds, meaning that his skeleton can no longer support his weight.

The bottom line is that if Avraham Avinu was 74 times taller then the average man (between 370 and 444 feet tall) his body would collapse of it's own weight (well before 74 times). It is a matter of simple physics.

Of course we could come up with all kinds of miracles and believe anything, but we know that Hashem tries to limit miracles and the world works with nature (the laws of physics). Therefore it doesn't make sense to assume that Avraham simply being able to stand (against the laws of physics) was a miracle. In fact, there are many interpretations of this medrash in a non-literal sense (see for example which very nicely explain the medrash without having to believe that Avraham was literally 350 feet tall.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Can you daven too slowly?

Most people would answer no, if you want to daven slowly with kavana good for you. However, there are circumstances where it is not the correct thing to do.

I daven in a vasikin minyan where some days we have exactly a minyan and other days we have 11 or 12. What this means is that in order to start chazaras hashatz we need to wait for everyone (or almost everyone) to finish shemoneh esrei so that we have a minyan of people answering. In this situation if the minhag of the shul is to allot 6 minutes for the silent shemoneh esrei and you take 12 which causes everyone else to wait for you, your behavior is not correct. The person who is davening with great kavana is causing a tircha d'tzibura and making everyone wait for his frumkeit.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simchas Torah - How long should Hakafos be?

Many shuls drag out the davening/hakafos on Simchas Torah and finish very late. The shul where I usually daven started at 7AM and finished around 2PM (I believe since I was not actually there). IMHO this is not working and people are starting to vote with their feet. I have been davening vasikin on Simchas Torah for the past few years (at least 5) and every year more and more people are joining me at the vasikin minyan.  This year the vasikin minyan that I attended was packed to the gills, not a seat available. A friend who davened at a different vasikin minyan in the neighborhood reported the same at his minyan. More and more people are rebelling against being held against their will in shul until ridiculously late hours. These people have no problem with dancing and hakafos, they just don't want to be held hostage from 7AM until 2PM, they want to have some control of how long they are in shul and when they eat their yom tov meal.

The fact is, if you look around most shuls you will see a small core group of people who are dancing and everyone else is basically hanging out waiting for hakafos to finish. The average person (even in a shul of Bnei Torah) does not want hakafos to drag on forever.  The truth is that, in dragging out the hakafos shuls end up adopting a number of questionable halachic practices to do this:
1. Making Kiddush before Mussaf and eating more then a כביצה
2. Not davening Musaf before mincha gedola and therefore getting involved in a question of which should come first mincha or musaf
3. Not davening musaf before 7 hours (around 12:30 this year in Israel).

These are not the biggest issues but why get involved in these halachic issues.

In many yeshivas (including my son's) they have a much better system. They start davening earlier and have short hakafos (max 5-10 minutes each) and finish davening by 11. People can then go home and eat and enjoy the Yom Tov. They then daven mincha early and have hakafos from after mincha until Yom Tov is over, approximately 2 hours.

IMHO the above is a much better solution for a number of reasons:
1. It solves all of the halachic problems mentioned above
2. People can have a nice Yom Tov meal with their family at a reasonable time
3. Hakafos and dancing can be done at a time when no one is forced to stay, those who want to dance will dance and those who don't can go home

The bottom line is that people are voting with their feet.  More and more people are simply opting to daven vasikin and if the shuls don't adapt those minyanim that drag things out may find that their minyan is growing smaller and smaller every year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Some halachic considerations when building a succah

As now is succah building time I would like to post some common halachic issues that come up when building a succah.

Here are  2 posts from previous years which deal with many of the main issues encountered when building a succah.

Some halachic points regarding building a succah
Some halachos of building a succah

Sunday, October 09, 2011

What were you doing during Chazaras Hashatz on Yom Kippur?

If the shul I was in is at all representative it wasn't paying attention to every word that the chazan was saying.

Looking around during davening over Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur I noticed 3 different types of people doing 3 different things during chazaras hashatz

1. Learning - Many people come prepared with various seforim and spent much of chazaras hashatz learning. I definitely fall into this category.
2. Daydreaming/sleeping - Some people are simply bored and have nothing to do and therefore daydream or fall asleep during chazaras hashatz
3. Paying close attention to the chazan 

I don't know the exact percentages, but in my experience 3 is by far the smallest group, a very small percentage. There are very few people who pay attention to every word of the chazan. Of course, the truth is many people fit more then 1 category. I for example, spend a lot of chazaras hashatz learning but there are times when I do listen to the chazan and participate, it depends on what is being said etc.

The bottom line is that there is a major problem here. Most people simply do not really pay attention to chazaras hashatz on the Yomim Noraim. The chazaras hashatz simply does not speak to them as a religious experience.

In fact, I believe that this is a problem all year round, as well. It is just that chazaras hashatz on a regular weekday and shabbos are relatively short, so you don't see it. However, even on a regular Monday very few people actually pay attention to chazaras hashatz.

The reason is really simple, we just davened and therefore it is hard to see the relevance of chazaras hashatz to us. We don't feel a connection/need to have the chazan repeat what we just said.

I don't know what the answer is but we need to acknowledge that it is a problem.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs death, how should it affect our יום כיפור?

I don't claim to know why Steve Jobs died and why he died now. However, the time of his death does give us an opportunity to learn a powerful lesson for Yom Kippur.

Steve Jobs death should be a lesson that Hashem is ultimately in control. Steve Jobs was a billionaire who changed the world, yet he died at the age of 56, all of his money and brilliance could not save him. All of the technological progress, all of his money could not stop his death at a relatively young age. Hopefully his death inspires us to realize that רבות מחשבות בלב איש but ultimately עצת ה' היא תקום. We need to realize that as much as we think we control events, we don't, and that our fate for the next year is being decided on Yom Kippur.

Unfortunately this is not an easy thing to do. Over the last hundred years there has been so much technological progress that we have lost our connection and fear of Hashem. We get sick and we go to the doctor and we believe that he cures us. The temperature outside is 100 degrees, we turn on the AC and sit comfortably in our chairs. Night falls and we turn on the lights, and the list goes on. Life expectancy in the Western world has gone from 36 in 1800, to 52 in 1900, to 78 in 2000. Our standard of living is unimaginably higher then even the King of England 200 years ago. This leads to a feeling of hubris and a feeling that we are in control of our lives. We have gained a lot from the technological advancement but we have also lost a lot. We no longer have a real connection to Hashem in our everyday lives. We feel that we are in control not Hashem.

Dr. Chaim Soloveitchik describes this phenomenon better then I can in his essay Rupture and Reconstruction.
In 1959, I came to Israel before the High Holidays. ... The prayer there was long, intense, and uplifting, certainly far more powerful than anything I had previously experienced. And yet, there was something missing, something that I had experienced before, something, perhaps, I had taken for granted. Upon reflection, I realized that there was introspection, self-ascent, even moments of self-transcendence, but there was no fear in the thronged student body, most of whom were Israeli born. Nor was that experience a solitary one. ... I have yet to find that fear present, to any significant degree, among the native born in either circle. The ten-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are now Holy Days, but they are not Yamim Noraim—Days of Awe or, more accurately Days of Dread –as they have been traditionally called.

I grew up in a Jewishly non-observant community, and prayed in a synagogue where most of the older congregants neither observed the Sabbath nor even ate kosher. They all hailed from Eastern Europe, largely from shtetlach, like Shepetovka and Shnipishok. Most of their religious observance, however, had been washed away in the sea-change, and the little left had further eroded in the "new country." ... Yet, at the closing service of Yom Kippur, the Ne'ilah, the synagogue filled and a hush set in upon the crowd. The tension was palpable and tears were shed.

What had been instilled in these people in their earliest childhood, and which they never quite shook off, was that every person was judged on Yom Kippur, and, as the sun was setting, the final decision was being rendered (in the words of the famous prayer) "who for life, who for death, / who for tranquility, who for unrest." These people did not cry from religiosity but from self- interest, from an instinctive fear for their lives. Their tears were courtroom tears, with whatever degree of sincerity such tears have. What was absent among the thronged students in Bnei Brak and in their contemporary services and, lest I be thought to be exempting myself from this assessment, absent in my own religious life too- was that primal fear of Divine judgment, simple and direct.

I hope that Steve Jobs death can inspire us to recapture some of that primal fear of Divine judgment, simple and direct this Yom Kippur.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Creative solution for selichos and vasikin

I have been davening vasikin for the past year, but this week with selichos it is simply too early. Selichos start around 4:50 in the morning and I simply can't get up at 4:30 AM.

However, someone suggested that I do the following. I should get up for the vasikin minyan (which starts around 5:20) and then go to selichos after davening (around 6 - 6:15). This way I can daven vasikin without getting up at 4:30 and still say selichos at a reasonable time. The only drawback is that I would be saying selichos after davening, however, I don't think that it is a serious problem as once you aren't saying selichos before alos hashachar it is bdieved anyway. I really don't see a problem saying selichos at 6 (which I have been doing and davening at 6:30) after davening.

I am thinking about doing this tomorrow. If I do it I will report back how it went.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The insignificance of baseball

I have been a baseball fan for a long time, since I was about 8 years old. For better or worse, the internet has made it possible to continue following baseball even when living in Israel.

This year Rosh Hashana came out on the last day of the season and continued into the playoffs. It also happened to be that both wild card races went down to the last day (as did the race for second place in the AL) and going into Rosh Hashana none of these were decided.

If not for Rosh Hashana this would have generated a lot of interest, speculation etc. on my part. However, due to Rosh Hashana from Wednesday until Saturday I was completely tuned out of all this. In Israel where I live, there is no outside information, period on Yom Tov. WW III could have started but if the bombs were not falling in Israel we wouldn't know about it. In a way this makes it easy to tune out the outside world and forget it because you know that simply aren't going to get any information for 3 days so you can simply shut it out and concentrate on what is important. I am very happy that over the 3 day Yom Tov I was able to do this regarding baseball. It's significance paled in comparison to what was going on. It was the Yom Hadin so who cared whether the Red Sox or Rays made the playoffs. Life or death, poverty or riches, health or sickness, etc. was being decided and therefore I had no time or energy to think about the Red Sox or the Rays. In fact, it didn't matter, when you really think about it baseball is silly, it is a game played by adults but it doesn't really matter.

Whether the Yankees win or lose is irrelevant on the larger scale of things, namely what we are doing in this world. When we die (after 120), no one in the next world will care whether the Yankees won the World Series or finished in last place. We will be asked much more important questions. If baseball helps us unwind and relieve some tension then it is fine, it is helping us in our ultimate purpose, but when it takes on a life of it's own, becomes important in and of itself, we need to take a deep breath and take a step back. We need to realize the place of things like baseball and what it's role is.

It is all too easy to get sucked into professional sports and take it very seriously. There are people who almost literally live and die with their teams. In NY there are 2 all sports radio stations that talk sports 24x7x365. We need to be able to take the good from sports (teamwork, passion, beauty, exercise, etc.) and not get sucked in to the all encompassing nature. We need to be able to put sports into perspective and I believe that this 3 day yom tov helped me do this.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Selichos and sleep (or lack of it) - Updated

This week and next are two of the toughest weeks for me of the year. I don't get that much sleep normally and with selichos a half an hour before davening my sleep time is cut even further. I have been davening vasikin for a while and while this week is tough (selichos starting around 5:50) next week is insane. After we change the clock netz is going to be around 5:40 with selichos starting around 4:50.

What is even more depressing is that even getting up this early I am not saying selichos at the real proper time. In fact, there are very few people who actually say selichos at the proper time. The shulchan aruch in siman 581 states that the minhag is to get up early in the morning before alos hashachar and say selichos.

The Mateh Efraim discusses saying selichos after Alos and says that b'dieved this is fine and that it is better to say selichos after Alos then not say them at all.

In other words, the proper time to say selichos is before Alos Hashachar, saying selichos after Alos Hashachar is only b'dieved. Considering that next week in Israel Alos Hashachar is before 4:30AM (depending on how exactly you figure it), there will be very few people saying selichos before Alos.

It is interesting how it has become completely acceptable to say selichos not only after Alos but after netz and no one says boo about it. Why by selichos are we so accepting of doing things in a b'dieved way?


One of the comments mentions what has become a common practice, saying selichos in the first half of the night. While it certainly appeals to my sense of sleep, all the sources that I saw do not recommend it (to say the least).

Here are some sources in the acharonim discussing the issue:

Mishnah Berurah 565:12, selichos should not be recited before midnight.

Sha'arei Teshuvah 581:1 quoting Birkei Yosef, one who finds himself in a shul where selichos are being recited before midnight, should not recite the Thirteen Attributes along with the congregation.

Igros Moshe O.C. 2:105, R' Moshe is very against the practice of saying selichos before midnight.

Yechave Da'as 1:46, prohibits saying selichos before midnight, instead he advises reciting selichos before Minchah.

R' Willig told us that based on the above, that instead of saying selichos at 10:30PM, a better choice is to daven mincha a little early and say them between mincha and maariv at the end of the day before sunset.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The real cost of mehadrin standards

In the Charedi world today, Mehadrin is the buzzword. Everything is mehadrin whether it is food, tefillin or buses.

At first glance this is a good thing. Why shouldn't people want to do the best that they can for Hashem? Why shouldn't we have the highest standards for food, tefillin etc.?

The answer is that there is no free lunch and mehadrin standards cost money, a lot of money.

A few days ago I posted (Entitled to tzedaka?) about R' Shlomo needing/accepting tzedaka to buy his son's tefillin. R' Shlomo didn't have money to buy tefillin and yet with the tzedaka money he bought the best mehadrin tefillin. The difference between the best mehadrin tefillin and non-mehadrin tefillin can be over 2000 shekel. Does it really make sense for someone who doesn't have the money to buy tefillin to use tzedaka money to buy mehadrin tefillin? Clearly R' Shlomo is poor. Wouldn't that 2000 shekel be better served using for more essential needs like food?

The same goes for food. Mehadrin chicken and meat is significantly more expensive. Does it make sense for people to go hungry or not eat chicken at all because they are buying mehadrin chickens?

I recently was solicited to donate money to build a mehadrin mikva. In Israel, mikvaos are built by the government. However, again, what the government builds is not mehadrin enough and therefore they are trying to raise millions of dollars to build a mehadrin mikva. Is this really the best use of millions of dollars of tzedaka money when people have no food, shelter etc.?

The fact is that I would guess that many people who eat only mehadrin, buy mehadrin tefillin etc. do so because of social norms and not because of any real religious reason. The average person has no idea what is the difference between a mehadrin chicken and a non-mehadrin chicken and is only buying mehadrin because that is what is socially acceptable. They are doing it by rote not any deep seated religious feeling. One of the unfortunate byproducts of the modern era is that it is very easy to find chumros. You can do a Bar Ilan search and find all kinds of chumros on every issue and the various hashgachos are competing on how many chumros they can follow.

The Gemara and Shulchan Aruch have a concept of יוהרא (see for example בבא קמא נט ב) that a person should not do things that make him look like he is super frum. For example the shulchan Aruch says that the average person shouldn't put on R' Tam tefillin because of יוהרא. Unfortunately this idea is gone today. No one cares about יוהרא, rather everyone wants to out frum the other person.

Imagine you take your 5 year child on a test drive of 2 cars, a Toyota Corolla and a Lexus. The child will not appreciate the leather seats, the superb handling, the quiet ride, etc. of the Lexus. From his perspective the 2 cars are basically the same. In many ways the same applies to most people regarding mehadrin, they don't appreciate the difference because they have no idea what the difference is and why A is better then B.

In a number of places the Mishna Berura writes בעל נפש יחמיר על כעצמו. Today everyone is מחמיר on these. However, that is not what the Mishna Berura wrote. He wrote that these chumras are for certain people, a בעל נפש, the fact that the average person considers himself a בעל נפש is the height of arrogance.

The bottom line is that mehadrin standards for everything cost a fortune of money that the Charedi world doesn't have today. Sometimes it is יצא שכרו בהפסדו. If eating only mehadrin chickens means that you can't afford chicken for Shabbos and therefore your oneg shabbos suffers, that is a steep price to pay. If buying mehadrin tefillin means you need to go into debt and can't buy food we need to ask whether it is worth it.

There needs to be a return to some kind of balance. Someone who follows the עיקר הדין should not be looked down upon like a second class citizen. On one hand, no one wants to eat non-kosher food, on the other hand we don't need to be חושש for every דעת יחיד.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Pagan Sacrifices - Sacrificing our children for our honor

Two weeks R' Moshe Grylak wrote a fantastic editorial in the Mishpacha magazine in English. He accused many parents of sacrificing their children on the altar of family honor. He pointed out how many parents try to get their children into the top yeshiva for all the wrong reasons. The reasons range from, if their son is in a top yeshiva he will get a better shidduch with an apartment, their daughter will get a good shidduch, to the fact that the father will be embarrassed if his son is not in a top yeshiva. Unfortunately, for many of these kids this results in them being sacrificed as they do not succeed in the top yeshiva and either go off the derech or simply don't succeed in the yeshiva and end up hating learning.

This week he published a follow up column where he published some responses that he received:

So what do you want me to do? Not fight to get my son into a prestigious yeshiva? True, he won't really fit in there.
What you say is logical and true but it's almost impossible to apply in today's environment.

Furthermore the issue of shidduchim for girls is serious issue.
I stand to suffer serious damage and you tell me to ignore it?
I feel that you are right but I have no choice -- the social pressure and my family's image are stronger then me

The letter which was one of many, shows that while people talk a lot about emuna when push comes to shove they have none.

R' Grylak's answer is that we need to take a lesson from Avraham Avinu and do what is right even if the whole world is against us.

I was very impressed with these 2 columns and highly recommend them.

However, if we take R' Grylak's thesis to it's logical conclusion then it is really an indictment of the Charedi educational system in Israel as a whole. Just like he bemoans parents sacrificing their kids in the name of family honor, we should bemoan the many children in Israel sacrificed on the altar of no secular studies, no army, no work. How many kids could grow up to be wonderful Jews if they were given the chance to succeed outside the Beis Medrash? Imagine if they were given the chance to learn a trade or a profession instead of whiling away hours in the Beis Medrash doing nothing? Let's face it, not everyone is cut out to sit and learn all day, the Charedi world's insistence on every boy sitting and learning with no alternatives is sacrificing a lot of kids.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Entitled to tzedaka?

The Hamodia magazine published a tribute to someone who died recently and the story highlighted his generosity specifically in how he provided tefillin to bar mitzva boys who couldn't afford them.

However, the story was very troubling on another level. The recipient of the tzedaka seemed to feel entitled to the gift and had no sense of shame in taking it and felt no need to try to do anything to avoid needing the tzedaka.

The story is as follows.

Reb Nosson was a middle aged single man (no wife no children) who made aliya from Brooklyn. He learned in a yeshiva with Reb Shlomo "a very chashuve yid, a tremendous talmid chacham and a real masmid". When Reb Shlomo's oldest son was approaching Bar Mitzva Reb Shlomo had no money to buy him tefillin. A few months before the Bar Mitzva Reb Nosson gave him an envelope full of cash, enough to buy the best teffilin.

The next year was his second son's bar mitzva and again he had no money for tefilin. "I had no idea whether Reb Nosson's generosity would repeat itself this time around and with little alternative I waited to see what would happen. And in fact a few months before the bar mitzva the same scenario reoccurred. The story repeated itself four more times."

As you can see from the story already from the second son he felt a certain entitlement. He simply waited to see what would happen if the money would appear. Was there really nothing he could do? Why didn't he feel the need to try something so that he wouldn't need to take Reb Nosson's tzedaka?

The story goes on. "When my fifth son's bar mitzva was approaching Reb Nosson had already taken ill and hardly came to Yeshiva. I wondered whether this was the end of his generosity to me. After all out of sight means out of mind, didn't it?

Well it didn't ..."

Can you believe it? Reb Nosson is dying, alone, childless, and his friend (Reb Shlomo) is worried that Reb Nosson won't give him money so that he can buy tefillin for his son? How selfish is that? In fact, Reb Shlomo says that he was out of sight of Reb Nosson and he was worried that Reb Nosson forgot about him. Imagine, the man had no children, he is dying, and his chavrusa for whom he has done tremendous chesed for doesn't visit (otherwise why does he consider himself out of sight?)???

Contrast this to the following story about the Brisker Rav (published in במחיצתם). R' Shlomo Lorincz (the author) was traveling in America when he got an urgent letter that the Brisker Rav was sick and needed to move out of his small dark and dank apartment for health reasons. R' Lorincz immediately went to a rich relative and got a check for $20,000 to buy the Brisker Rav an apartment. However, before taking the check he said that he had to check with the Brisker Rav. He sent a telegram explaining things, and the Brisker Rav immediately responded "absolutely not". When he returned to Israel he went to the Brisker Rav to discuss the matter. The Brisker Rav asked him, how could you even consider that? How could I walk in the street living in someone elses house?

What a difference, the Brisker Rav was embarrassed to take charity while Reb Shlomo not only took it not once not twice but 5 times, but expected to get it and felt entitled to it.

This is a very big issue in today's world. everyone feels entitled. Boys who get married feel entitled to get an apartment from the girl's parents. They feel entitled to be supported. Today's Yeshiva Bachur has no compunction and feels no shame to take things for free even if he could do it himself. The idea of נהמא דכיסופא (literally free bread), which means that Hashem put us on this world so that we could earn our עולם הבא so we wouldn't be embarrassed by being נהנה מזיו השכינה for free, is a completely foreign concept to today's Yeshiva Bachur.

See these posts
Bnei Torah and a sense of entitlement
Why are you turning into a schnorrer?
for a similar theme.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Delta's alliance with Saudi Arabian Airways

Delta is entering into a partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines through its SkyTeam Alliance, beginning next year. Delta planes don’t actually fly there, but Delta customers will be riding on Saudi Arabian through an interline agreement.

A lot of people have made a big deal about this saying that Delta would comply with Saudi requirements regarding who can arrive in the country, which could lead to the exclusion of Jews.

IMHO this is really idiotic. The Saudi government only allows in non-Saudis who have a visa. To get a visa you need to apply with the Saudi government. The Saudi government will not issue a visa to anyone who has an Israeli visa stamp in their passport nor to anyone who they think is Jewish. No airline can fly you to Saudi Arabia without a visa, agreement with Saudi Arabian Airways or not. In fact, today, you can fly on Continental through Frankfurt to Saudi Arabia and on American Airlines through London to Saudi Arabia. The problem is with the Saudi Arabian government not with Delta.

The Wall Street Journal seems to agree with me Blame Saudi Arabia, not Delta, for Policy on Jews

Should we go to the best doctor?

Last week R' Elyashiv had heart surgery and the Charedi press had extensive coverage. Mishpacha (Hebrew) had a number of articles about the surgery including a profile of the surgeon. They flew in the top cardiac/blood vessel surgeon from Cleveland (a religious Catholic) to do the surgery.

The question I would like to ask is why was that necessary? The prevalent (only?) Charedi hashkafa today is that not even a leaf falls without it being a גזירה מו שמים and that השתדלות has no effect, it is just an illusion. השתדלות is just so that we avoid ניסים גלוים (see מכתב מאליהו, חזון איש אמונה ובטחון and others). If so, shouldn't bringing the top surgeon be too much השתדלות and a lack of בטחון? After all, Hashem is doing the healing not the surgeon and once we have done our השתדלות, going to the doctor and having the surgery, why should it matter whether the surgeon is the best in the world or simply Joe surgeon who is competent? As long as we do our השתדלות to avoid requiring a נס, the rest is a גזירה מן השמים. If the גזירה is that the surgery will be successful, then it will be successful even if done by the average surgeon, and if the גזירה is that it won't be successful then it won't help that you have the best surgeon.

In fact, what does it actually mean that someone is considered the best surgeon? After all, הכל בידי שמים, our success is actually an illusion to make it look like it is our skill. In fact, our success in worldly matters is simply a גזירה מן השמים so the fact that he successfully operated is not due to his skill but due to the גזירה מן השמים.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

R' Sternbuch's response to the Segula Ring

The original ad in last week's Mishpacha listed R' Sternbuch as endorsing the ring. Mishpacha this week printed the following disclaimer from R' Sternbuch's son.

It is interesting that R' Sternbuch seems to accept the segula, he just says that he doesn't know if these rings meet the criteria for the segula.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Some of the segula type ads that I have seen in the past

Here are some of the ads that I have posted about in the past.

For the first time since Moshe Rabenu ...

Kupat Hair never stops

Historic event in Vilna taking place today

Here is the schedule for today's big event:

Important information for all Daf Yomi Learners

The tzedaka wars are escalating

Here is the latest Kupat Hair ad:

R' Chaim Kanievsky and tzedaka organizations

The Tzedaka campaigns are working overtime

These are all from 1 edition of Yated Neeman in October 2008.

Believe it or not this is just a drop in the bucket, there is literally a campaign a week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

This time it's "Segula Wine"

The following ad for segula wine was a full page on the back of last week's Hamodia.

I don't know what to say anymore, what's next?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Judaism or Avoda Zara? Updated with contact information

I could not believe an ad that I saw in this past week's Mishpacha magazine. It was for a "Silver Segulah Ring". Is this what we have come to? Believing that wearing a "magical" ring can get us a shidduch, money, health, etc.?

For anyone who actually wants to find out more and maybe buy one here is the contact information:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Yated continues the war against Mishpacha

For the last few weeks Yated Neeman has been waging a war against the weekly Charedi magazines especially Mishpacha. Last week they published a pashkevil from R' Nissim Karelitz saying that it is prohibited to read Mishpacha. According to Mishpacha (who printed a handwritten letter from R' Karelitz last week), R' Karelitz was misled and has since retracted his ban. Today Yated Neeman printed the ban again with the notable exception that R' Nissim Karelitz is no longer on the ban. It will be interesting to see how this plays out as Mishpacha has a large readership in the Charedi world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The NY Times has sunk to an all time low

They printed an op-ed today from Mahmoud Abbas which has brazen out and out historical lies. Opinion is one thing but I don't understand how they can print something which completely and utterly distorts history.
The Long Overdue Palestinian State
the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued.

Arab armies intervened ??? This is such drivel it is ridiculous but unfortunately the average NY Times reader will believe every word.

What  is even more egregious is that the NY Times own archives unmask the lies of Abu Mazen.

The New York Times, Nov. 30, 1947: While the Jewish leadership and population in Palestine accepted partition, all of the Arab members states of the UN - Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen- voted against it. Upon the resolution's adoption, the Arab delegates declared partition invalid

The main headline of the NY Times on May 15th 1948 was as follows: Zionists proclaim new state of Israel ... Tel Aviv is bombed, Egypt prepares for Invasion

Monday, March 14, 2011

I"m in kollel but my life is a sham

This was the headline of an article in the English Mishpacha magazine a few weeks ago (repeated last week in hebrew). The article details how the author met a yungerman who was learning in kollel for years who doesn't believe in God and he has no one to talk to about it. Anyone who brings up these types of emuna questions is immediately labeled an apikorus. Here is an unbelievable quote from the article:
A group of teachers came to consult with this talmid chacham who is also a prominent figure in chinuch. One of the issues they raised was what to do about students who voice doubts about emuna. 
"How do you answer them?" the gadol inquired. 
"We silence them, and tell them that such such questions are not to be asked."
"Why don't you just answer the questions?"
Are there any answers to those questions?

Can you believe it? The teachers themselves doubt that their are answers.

The fact is that for the Charedi world there may not be answers. The questions in emuna that are raised are not new and have been dealt with in the classical Jewish sources like the Moreh Nevuchim, Sefer Haikkarim, Ralbag, R' Crescas, etc. However, many of the answers given in those seforim do not fit the current Charedi hashkafa and would be considered apikorsus today. They could say it we cannot and therefore unfortunately the teachers may be right.

I am planning on writing a series of posts about  which will outline some of the major questions and the various answers found in the classical sources.