Category Archives: Deep

Am I Back?

I don’t know.  I mean, there was a reason I kind of stopped posting here.  “I lost my mojo.”  Ya know?

I’m not totally gung ho about blogging again, and the “no posting about work” rules will still totally apply.  And I’ll still be posting on Twitter (see the new sidebar….niiiiice).

But maybe I’ll post some here, too.  For a bunch of reasons.

To get Adam to stop whining about how we used to meet here for conversations and don’t anymore (Mazel Tov, btw, he’s engaged!).

Because sometimes I feel a little constrained by the 140 character limits.

Because I deleted my Facebook account (I’ll join again for the next reunion, I guess).

To get the “I let my blog die” monkey off my back.

Because I think enough time has passed that my audience (which had grown larger than I ever expected or wanted) has petered out, and I don’t have to be as conscious about who I offend.  (Seriously, people were coming up to me at random affairs to mention that they were readers…it was weird).

So, I guess I’m back.  I already have a post percolating in my head.  Spoiler alert, it’ll get the “anger” and “rants” tags.  Classic Noy G?  Let’s hope so.

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Why I Said It

So, despite my protestations below about saying Birkhat HaKhama, here’s the reason I said it this morning, and it’s the one reason that had any sort of resonance (minor) with me from my discussions with my friends about it:

despite it’s falsity and everything else, it is a way the community marks time, and is a good, albeit arbitrary, time for reflection and demarcation, and a link between generations

My older daughter, who is four going on five, had learned about it school.  I made a point to explain to her what we’re saying and why (in a way that I didn’t find offensive) and she perceptively pointed out that she’ll be older than I am now when we say it next time.  That link between us, as a continuity and mesorah thing, is important for me and my family.  So I said it with her.

MoC’s post on this topic is exactly what I mean.  Iy”H, if I am still alive, I want to be able to look back, remember this time of my life, and maybe even call my daughter 28 years from now, and remind her that we said this together today.  And maybe she’ll have kids of her own who she will say it with.

Why I Won’t Be Saying Birchat HaKhama

One reason:

Even if Hazal had mandated such a B’rakha once every 28 years, the calculation used today, based on the T’qupha of Sh’muel which assumes a year of 365.25 days, is inaccurate. The real figure is 365.24219 days. Over 2000 years, the discrepancy adds up -today it amounts to over two weeks. If anything, the B’rakha should have been said on the day of the vernal or March equinox (March 20), the astronomical event supposedly referred to by Abbaye. On Nissan 14th this year no astronomical event will take place… (Source)

So many things about this bother me.  I can’t wrap my head around blessing something that is false.  It’s a fiction.  Aside from the fact that it requires a literal understanding of Ma’aseh B’reishit (which I don’t believe in), it’s also based on a Julian calendar, which is shown to be wrong.  We follow the Gregorian calendar now.  So why not update our math (assuming, for the sake of argument, that there’s something to celebrate, which I dispute also)?

People are getting all excited about this “once in 28 years” thing, and I just don’t get it.  It’s not once in 28 years.  That’s a made-up, erroneous number.  If I randomly and arbitrarily decide that every 1276th Shabbos the time for shkiah is the same as it was during B’reishit, and then institute a special kiddush for the “Original Shabbos” and call it “Birchas Shabbos Rishon” or some such, and say we do every 24.5 years, that would be as legitimate and factual as birchas hakhama.

I had a discussion about this on Shabbos with someone, who agreed with me on all counts, but insisted that the “halachic fiction” had value.  I guess this is where we diverge, because I have a problem accepting halachic fiction that is based on science that is proved to be demonstrably false and wrong.

Assuming for a second that Abbaye really said what he said about Birchat HaKhama, so what?  (See point one in the link above which disputes that).  It was wrong!  Why do we need to maintain the charade?  Because he said it a long time ago?  I don’t like that.  It’s not a good enough reason for me.  Wrong is wrong, even if it’s an amorah who was wrong.  Plenty of ammoraim were wrong.  There are mesachtot full of discussions with Ammoraim who are shown to be wrong.  Why are we do afraid of that?

By the way, if you’re making a bracha on an event that you can’t see and isn’t really happening, isn’t that a bracha livatala?  Why aren’t we saying “safek brachos l’hakel” on this, and repealing it, or at least recalculating it?

 

 

Hattip: DovBear

Megillah

Yeah, I haven’t blogged much lately, and the primary reason, aside from the sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament, is that I finally allowed myself to give in to the yearly requests from my shul to lain Megillat Esther.

See, if I knew how to lain Megillat Esther, this would be less of a problem.  Now, we are cruisin’ for a train wreck.

So, yeah, I basically know the trup.  But that sucker’s long and confusing and hard to memorize.

Interested to see how I do?  Stop by the YIW on Purim Morning.  And don’t blow my cover that I’m doing it all wrong as a “Purim Shpeil” reading.

In the meantime, reacquaint yourself with some of my previous writings on the Megillah.

Was Achashverosh an Anti-Semite?

The Megillah as Royal Power Play.

Depression and Stigma

The tragic news that recently came out of Baltimore, and the treatment of that news in the j-blogosphere (as summarized well by Ezzie and DovBear, with a follow-up here) has brought up something I mentioned a couple of years ago, not just in the context of the Jewish Community.

Ezzie has a very good post up about it, and I just wanted to share a comment I made there with my audience, because I think there is an inherent lack of understanding that keeps the stigma alive.

Depression and any other mental illness IS a physical ailment.  It is the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, whether it’s Serotonin (depression) or other brain chemicals and/or hormones, there are actual, physical explanations for mental illness.  There’s no spiritual or non-physical aspect to it just because it happens in the brain.

This is what bothers me.  People have attached a stigma to psychopharmaceuticals which is completely unfair.  Would you tell a diabetic not to take insulin?  To “get over it” or control himself with willpower, or “snap out of it”?  If you would, you are an ignorant, heartless idiot. So why would tell those things to someone who has depression due to low serotinin levels instead of acknowledging that serotonin reuptake inhibitors, like Prozac for example, might help?  They are the equivalent of insulin for a diabetic.

So do me a favor, check out Ezzie’s post.  And maybe the next tragic suicide in the frum community or outside of it can be avoided, and that person might get help instead.  And he or she won’t be worried about what people think, or how it might affect his or her shidduch possibilities.

God’s Dimensions

I watched this and felt my brain melting out of my ears a little.  I get some of this, sort of follow some and go blurry at some.

But here’s the greater point I want to make:

If* you believe in an Almighty God, who exists outside out of humanly ascertainable planes of reality, then God is, at the very least, past the “Tenth Dimension.”  Why this is important, to me, is because any conception that Humans have of God is necessarily limited to a third dimension view of the omniverse.  And anyone that purports to understand, or worse, explain, God in any meaningful way is, by my definition, wrong, or worse, lying.  A charlatan.

For example (it would help here if you watch the video): time.  God exists outside our time “line,” the “fourth dimension.”  Wherever God is, at the very least he perceives, as lines, curves, blobs, what have you, from the dimensions above, what we see as a point.  To God, the entirety of human history, and every possibility of human history from the instant of creation to every possible scenario that could possibly occur in every possible universe that’s every possible combination of basic rules from Big Bang (creation, whatever) to every possible outcome, occurs simultaneously – exists as a POINT.  Feel small?  You should.  Past, present, future….they have no meaning to God.  This universe as opposed to any other?  No meaning.  This particular set of circumstances as opposed to any other?  No meaning.  To God, it all exists in one point.  And He exists outside this point.

If we assume that God is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent, then we can assume that God can unravel the dimensions and play with us here in the Third.  In fact, if you believe in hashgacha pratit, you have to.  But what does that mean for us?  We believe in schar v’onesh, but who knows if the schar precedes the onesh or vice versa?  Does it happen immediately in God perception, but 20 years later in ours?  Or does God, CAN God, delay?  Of course not.  Delay is a human perception of a time line that is a line, from the perspective of one point on the line.  If God exists outside this line, then there is no concept of delay to God.  It doesn’t exist.  Everything that has happened, and will happened, has already happened, and already exists in a point, as the Ninth Dimension, to God.  And if there can be another point in the ninth dimension, to create a line, the Tenth Dimension, then God would be outside that as well.

What does that mean for me?  Cynical me says “you can’t perceive or understand God in any meaningful way, so don’t try.”  But that’s not an entirely cynical idea, is it?  I mean, any attempt by humans to do so is inherently limited, flawed and serves only to demean and dimish God.  We can’t perceive of God’s boundaries (because they don’t exist) yet when we try to pinpoint God, then we necessarily put a boundary on him (the boundary of our understanding).  This would seem to be a flaw in our understanding of God.  Any study of “emunah” in fact, serves as a flaw in our emunah.

* – Please do not understand my use of the conditional here as an indication of my own belief or lack thereof, it’s an introduction to the idea, that’s all.

How Young is Too Young For Kefirah?

So, obviously, I wouldn’t ever (intentionally) expose my children to actual kefirah, but I mean to say at what point can I begin to explain to my children the nuanced views I hold about Torah, History, Science, Hashqafa and the interaction between them (which some people may think is kefirah)?

For example, my four and half year old daughter, who is in nursery (a program that is defined by the IRS as child care, not education, and therefore reimburseable from a Dependent Care FSA), was talking to me this past Friday night about what she learned in school this week.  Ya know, one of those “good parenting” things you’re supposed to do (ask about what they learned) and one of the things she mentioned was from the Parsha.  Specifically, she told me that Eisav tried to bite Ya’akov’s neck, but Hashem turned it into stone and he couldn’t.

At that moment, I was faced with a decision.  Ultimately, I said nothing, but I was considering whether I should try to explain to my daughter that is but one interpretation of the story, and it’s a metaphor at that; it didn’t really happen that way.  The reason I didn’t, was that I think 4 is a little young to understand metaphor and other literary devices, so I held back.

But this is a fundamental problem in our religious instruction, imho.  As children, we are taught the simplest, most child friendly stories.  We learn parsha through “The Midrash Says” and other books like it.  Except we don’t learn (or teach) that the Midrash is a book of metaphors not to be taken literally, not do we learn that the stories in the Midrash are therefore not accurate history.

With regard, for instance, to the above-related story: Rashi has several explanations for the story.  Mind you, Rashi only feels the need to comment at all because of the dots that exist above the word “kissed” in the Torah.  Otherwise, there is no gap in the story that needs explaining to begin with.  Rashi wonders what the dots mean, and concludes, that there was something strange about the kiss.  Among the explanations given, is that while Eisav truly hated Ya’akov (with good reason, imho), at that moment, he kissed him with sincerity and brotherhood.

But all that nuance and exegesis is lost on my four year old daughter.  So I let it go.  But at what point do I start?  At what point, when she comes home with similar fanciful stories and Midrashim that she’s been instructed to accept as fact, with complete disregard for the actual text and history, do I tell her different?  Do I risk undermining her confidence in or respect of her teachers?  Obviously, I would do it in a respectful way, but when?  First grade?  Second?  Later?  I don’t want to wait until it’s too late, lest she be like me, and come to these discoveries in adulthood, after already being disillusioned with high school torah education (see, here, for instance).

To the parents of older kids out there: when your son or daughter comes home from school and tells you what they learned in parsha, do you ever set them straight?  How do you do it?