Category Archives: Religion

Chodesh HaAviv

FotB (Friend of the Blog) Moishe tweeted this earlier:

And got me thinking (as I tweeted in response to him – you can see them in the sidebar), what if things were a little different.  As we know, the interpretation of the torah calling Pesach “Chag HaAviv” means that the holiday has to occur in spring.  This has wide-ranging implications, and is the primary foundation (together with using lunar months) upon which the entire Jewish calendar is based.  Pesach has to happen in the spring, and that means after the Vernal Equinox.

But I got to wondering, what if Chazal had interpreted to that to mean spring, in a real climatic sense, as opposed to a calenderical one?  What if they had ruled that when Pesach comes, you MUST BE somewhere it’s warm and springy weather.

I joked: “Think about living in New York and having to fly to Israel or Miami for Pesach. That’s crazy!”  Well, because obviously.

But can you imagine the halachic machinations that would have gone on over time?  The questions and t’shuvos?  Does where you are for Pesach depend on how early or late it is?  The average historical temperate in NY for March 21 (about the time of the equinox) is 49 degrees for a high and 35 degrees for a low. Not exactly springy.  But by April 21 the range is 60/44.  Getting there.

Or does the temperature have to be warm enough outside at night, at the time of the Seder, because then NY is out.

What if you go to place that’s normally warm (say, Miami: 80/66 on March 21; 83/70 on April 21), but you encounter a cold snap, and the temperatures drop to the 50s?Do you have to pack up and go somewhere else?

“K’Vod Harav: my family arrived a day before Yom Tov in Miami, where it is normally warm, but the temperatures are brisk, around 50 degrees. We are all wearing coats and sweatshirts, and don’t ‘feel springy.’ Is this a problem?”

“Nir’eh Li, it would be min hamuvchar that you should move; you can rely on a forecast (no longer than 5 day forecasts are acceptable, 10 day forecasts are not reliable) from a known, reliable weather service, that predicts a warming trend, and stay, if the tircheh of moving is great (you have elderly people in your family, for instance). If the forecast calls for more cold temepratures, then you should go to what I presume are your alternate arrangements in warmer weather.”

Yeah, I’m a little loopy today.


A Lingering Thought from Yom Kippur

On Yom Kippur we ask God to deposit our sins in a place where they cannot be remembered [by him] so that our “record” (as it were) would be clean and we could be forgiven.

Everyone I’m sure is familiar with the philosophical “Omnipotence Paradox” (see here) that asks “can an omnipotent being create a task that it can’t perform” frequently articulated as a rock so heavy that even he cannot lift it.

Well, here was my thought/philosophical paradox from Yom Kippur: can an omniscient/omnipotent God create a place that he can’t remember? We ask God to put our sins away in a place where they can’t be remembered, but can such a place really exist?  Can God “forget” something, even if he affirmatively chooses to?

I know this is liturgical and meant to convey the concept of forgiveness and not be taken literally, but these are the deep thoughts I had.

Cleaning the Pipes

If you’re not following Dr. Ruth on Twitter, you are missing out.

For instance, there was this nugget a little earlier today:

Men who ejaculate 5x/week in their 20s reduce risk of getting prostate cancer later by a third. Protect yourself guys.

I love that she not only lays out the science, but encourages men to “protect” themselves by, ya know, 5x/week.

And here’s where I get to thinking deeply in terms of religion.  Our particular brand (and this is by no means specific to Judaism) frowns on what is probably the most common male method for getting to ejaculation.  Wasting and all that.  And unless a guy’s sexual partner is a real champ (and even if so, during those two weeks he’s not allowed to do anything), pretty much the only way to get to 5 times a week.

So what does this mean?  If the halacha knew that there were tangible, identifiable benefits to masturbation, would it still be assur?  With slightly better knowledge, scientifically, of men’s health and internal plumbing, should the halachic attitudes change?

For instance, if it’s shown that regular maintenance of the plumbing system (flushing the old, to make way for fresh new sperm) is beneficial not only for a man’s health (as above) but also increases the likelihood of insemination and healthy children during copulation, does that change the calculus?

I know my overall mentality on almost everything is that halachah should adapt, especially in the face of better scientific knowledge, and this is no different.  I guess I just wanted a reason to write about masturbation, ejaculation and halachah.

/Achievement unlocked

What Can We Learn?

Obviously, the Paterno/Sandusky news from the Freeh report today was terrible.  The victims can almost feel doubly hurt by the knowledge now that the sicko Sandusky was abetted and helped for so many years.  I’m sure there are many people who will make the connection to the Ultra Orthodox communities and the systemic secrecy at PSU, and hope for a similar type of exposure to the harsh light of day of the many secrets and pedophiles we’ve harbored and helped over the years.

But my particular focus in this post is a little different.  It seems that Nike, the same day as the report was made public, began to remove Joe Paterno’s name from one of it’s buildings (a child development center).  For more, see SB Nation or Deadspin.

Paterno wasn’t tried or convicted, he was just exposed.  And yet, his name is an embarrassment to Nike, so they removed it.

And yet…the names of criminals (tried and convicted and in jail) remain on countless buildings and institutions in our communities.  A criminal is an embarrassment to the entire community, and shames the institutions that bear his or her name, regardless of the crime.  And while people may make a moral relativism argument that Paterno’s crime is worse than some of the financial ones  we are so well known for, I say that’s irrelevant.  The financial crimes had victims, too, and are still a black eye on the community.

Our institutions should have the conviction of action that Nike does, and remove the names of convicted felons from their institutions and buildings.  In an ideal world, our institutions could return the money that was ill-gotten, but that not really a possibility.  But the basic step of disassociation from criminals is, and should be taken.

Does the Underlying Reason Matter?

Having received, by email, the personal recommendation from a friend whose opinion I value in the highest, I just ordered the book Why We Pray What We Pray: The Remarkable History of Jewish Prayer, by Rabbi Bernard (Barry) Freundel.  If it is as it’s described (“the book is fascinating, incredibly well researched, and is so different from anything I have read about prayer”) then I am looking forward to it immensely.

But not just because of the high praise.  Because of the subject matter.  For instance, from the book description on Amazon:

”Why We Pray What We Pray” details the various factors that influenced six important Jewish prayers and shaped how and when Jews recite them. This book shows that each prayer (Shema, Nishmat, Birkat HaHodesh, Anim Zemirot, Aleinu and Kaddish) has a complex history of which contemporary worshippers are mostly unaware. When we learn about the factors and forces that shaped these prayers and Jewish liturgy in general, our appreciation of what Jewish worship is all about becomes that much more profound. Why We Pray What We Pray also sets forth important moments in Jewish history with depth and detail.

I have recently, or not so recently, come to think about the origins and evolutions of things.  Whether that’s the prayer/liturgy/ritual we perform or the bible itself (one has a hard time avoiding such questions reading Kugel’s How to Read the Bible) (DovBear posted something tangentially related earlier today.)

For instance, and this is only one example, the alphabetical acrostic.  This poetic form is all over our liturgy, from ancient Psalms to modern-day kinos, to the point where the alphabet itself is revered and the acrostic given holiness of form.

But was it always so?  I have my doubts.  See, in the time of oral transmission, the acrostic was a mnemonic device.  It’s much easier to remember the words if you know the words, or the sentences, are alphabetical.  The alphabetical acrostic made remembering and transmitting the composed prayers much easier.

Which gets me to my question in the headline: let’s assume for a second that a particular liturgical form or particular ritual activity was created or evolved the way it did for a specific reason.  Does the removal of the underlying reason remove the holiness of the activity?

This calls to mind the old story told of the shul that everyone ducked their head as they walked into.  A guest came to town as asked his host why this was, and the host told him that it was always that way.  Finally, not satisfied, he asked the oldest member of the shul, one who had been there since childhood.  Who responded, “I remember, when we first started, the room we used to daven in had a low header.  Almost every adult except the shorted had to duck to avoid getting hit.  By the time we moved into a new building, everyone was so used to ducking as they came into shul, they kept doing it, even with the taller doorway.  I guess it stuck.”

So if the only reason ancient composers used alphabetical acrostics was as mnemonic devices, does that mean the holiness we’ve ascribed to the form is wrong?  Does that mean in modern times, in modern compositions (post-printed era) there’s no need to adhere to the form?  Or has the added significance given to the form since its advent now become the new reality?

“Too Hot” To Work Here

If you’ve seen today’s Daily News, you’ve likely seen the cover story about the lawsuit filed by a woman against a company owned by Orthodox Jews, where she claims she was fired for being “Too Hot.”  Or maybe you saw it on Above The Law.

I have three reactions to this:

1. There should be no such thing as “too hot.”  Who fires an attractive women just for being attractive.  If that’s what happened, these people are dumb.  (Note, I don’t think that’s what happened.)  We should be encouraging hotness in the workplace. [I’ll finish the rest of this post just as soon as I get back from mandatory sexual harassment training.]

2. If she really was fired for, let’s say, dressing inappropriately (even if to the more exacting and nitpicky standards of Orthodox Judaism), then it behooves her employers (not as a legal obligation, but a religious one) to let her go in a way that allows her to maintain some dignity and does not cause her to publically file a lawsuit that, let’s face it, is salacious and juicy and people will use to mock/ridicule Orthodox Jews/Judaism and therefore causes a chillul hashem.  However, as it seems to me in this case, that was unavoidable.  This woman seems like a fame-whore.  The kind who joins a website that helps people get on reality TV.  The kind that hires Gloria Allred.  It’s possible that the lawsuit and the stupidity was unavoidable.  Which brings me to my legal argument.

3. This is Bullshit (that’s a legal term of art).  A private employer can set whatever standards or dress codes it wants for its offices.  That’s not religious or sexual discrimination.

The woman, Lauren Odes, is quoted saying, “I am Jewish as well and don’t feel any employer has the right to impose their religious beliefs on me.”  Well, you know what?  They do.  They are a private employer, and if you want to work there, you have to live by their dress code.  B&H is closed Shabbos.  Is that “imposing religious beliefs” on all the employees that might want to work on Saturday?  Of course not, and even suggesting it makes me feel dumber.

The article suggests that she wore to work the same dress she wore to the press conference, and is in the pictures of her on the Daily News website.  To my eyes, it’s borderline but not problematic.  But my eyes don’t matter.  The skirt doesn’t cover he knees, the sleeves to cover her elbows, and the high belt certainly accentuates her bust.  I might not agree with these criteria, but I certainly support an employer’s right to impose them.

A lot is made of the fact that this was a Lingerie factory/distributor.  That’s entirely irrelevant.  It’s an office.  You work in an office, you dress appropriately for that office.  I am sure nobody is walking around the main corporate offices of Victoria’s Secret in lingerie.  It’s an office, a place of business.  She’s not a model at a photo shoot.

Finally, and kind of circling around to my first point, this woman clearly has an inflated opinion of herself, and I have very little doubt that she (i) fabricated or embellished her story and (ii) gets a HUGE rush out of saying, over and over, the words “too hot.”  Please, honey, you ain’t too hot for squat.

This Is What I Meant

After I posted my contemplation about whether I should resume blogging, I logged into my dashboard and found a draft post from January of 2011. The title of the post was “Fake. It’s All Fake.” All that I had written in the body was “Recently, my neighborhood hosted a ‘mekubal’.”

That’s it.

I mean, I know exactly where I was going with it. I can even conjure up the thought process I went through then, and just being too lazy to go back and find and link to all my posts on segulah (like this or this or others).  That’s what I meant about not being sure I had the mental energy/focus to keep doing this.  Because that basically was the cause of the last time I stopped.

So, do I rant about it now?  Meh, it would kinda lose the immediacy of the feeling, so I’ll probably leave it be for now.

But if that guy comes to Woodmere again?  Then I’ll rant.  Maybe.  Eh, we’ll see.