Monday, July 17, 2006

To Camp I go...

See you all in a month...

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Parshat Pinchas Preverted

This weeks Torah portion is Parshat Pinchas. It begins by finishing the story of the Zealotry of Pinchas, wherein he spears Zimmry and Cosby, killing them while they are in the peak of their sinful act. In doing so he averts a plague and is elevated by G-d to the status of a Priest.

The story of Pinchas is not one easily understood. The key is to remember that, just like his grandfather Aaron, Pinchas was also an Ohev Shalom v'Rodef Shalom (a lover of peace and a pursuer of peace).

Unfortunately, a lot of people use the story of Pinchas as an excuse to promote violence and subvert the law against individuals who are involved in sinful behavior. As if on cue with the parsha this week, fliers in Jerusalem have appeared offering NIS 20,000 (20,000 New Israeli Shekels, or about $4,500) to anyone who will kill participants in the International Gay Pride Parade scheduled for Jerusalem next month. [Read the Arutzsheva Story Here]

Now, while I may not personally be a fan of having the parade in Jerusalem. (I do feel that it is an unnecessary slap in the face to the Torah Observant communities.) There are many other ways of dealing with it that are both more appropriate, and less criminal. Hate and Aggression are not the answer. I certainly hope no one takes those fliers seriously.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Bow Wow Wow Yippie Yo Yippie Yay!

The Rabbinical Council of America just recently (June 30th) ruled that smoking (at least of cigarettes, the article seems vague as to other types of tobacco use only directly mentioning cigarettes, though their logic should apply to any tobacco use,) is NOT permitted under Jewish Law. Read the full text of the Jewish Legal decision here. (It's also a great read for people who just want to get an idea for how Jewish Legal decisions are reached. It's written clearly, and mostly in English.)

Jumping strait to the conclusion we see that:

Accordingly, this analysis must lead to the unambiguous conclusion that smoking is clearly and unquestionably forbidden by הלכה [Halacha/Jewish Law] and that this should be made known to all who care about the תורה [Torah] and their health.

In my mind, this is a great demonstration of the progression of Halacha, and a demonstration of a time when the Halachic system really works. I applaud the RCA for making such a firm stance, even countering the many arguments made by countless others as to reasons not to prohibit smoking.

Two other great statements are made in the Tshuva [Legal Verdict/Responsa] that I feel need highlighting. First, the final statement of the entire piece, demonstrating caring and compassion for the individuals affected by the ruling.

A final note is in order: People who smoke are not, ח''ו ["Chas V'Shalom" -- G-d forbid], doing so in an attempt to flout הלכה [Halacha/Jewish Law]. In fact, most would dearly wish to quit, but shedding an addiction is no simple matter. While it is important to make clear that הלכה [Halacha/Jewish Law] prohibits smoking, it is also important not to condemn those who struggle with this issue. Rather we must offer our full help and support to aid them in their quest for physical and spiritual health.

Wouldn't it be great if this same mode of understanding and desire to aid and accept were applied to all Jews irregardless of which Halachic issues they were struggling with? If we were receptive to the fact that many of our brothers and sisters struggle just as much with other areas of Halacha that perhaps are more taboo in the religious fold yet still deeply rooted within the individuals psyche and physical makeup (Sexuality, just to name one), then, just perhaps, more of our brothers and sisters would also be increasingly receptive toward Orthodoxy as a movement and a renewed commitment to Halacha. When we realize that keeping all the Mitzvot (commandments) is not easy for everyone, and choose to focus on what is accomplished rather then on where one fails; If we provide positive reinforcement and friendly helpful critique rather then vehement condemnation, then we can foster the beneficial relationships and repair the rift in Am Yisrael (The Jewish Nation).

Second, a statement that was made that I'd like to focus on for my own philosophising:

Rav J. David Bleich שליט''א [
"Shlita" is short for "SHe-yichyeh LI-yomim Tovim Arukim" -- "May he live days that are pleasant and long"] has noted strikingly that, while given the information available in his day, Rav Moshe Feinstein זצ''ל [ "Zatsal" is short for zecher tzadik le-vracha" -- "The memory of the righteous is a blessing"] certainly ruled correctly, “It must be noted, however, that there is little question that Igros Moshe’s responsum, written in 1964, accurately reflects the societal reality of that time…However, it is more than likely that, at present, that condition no longer obtains.”

This begs several questions on scope. It is a common argument against Orthodoxy that it fails to adapt to increased awareness and social reality. Clearly, that is not the case all the time, as the above quote demonstrates. The question at hand is when. When can we determine that societal reality has changed such that the halacha also needs to change to reflect that fact? Can it only be applied to make the rules more stringent (To rule on the side of Chumra) as seen in the case above? Or can it also be applied to rule on the side of Heter (to rule more leniently). There is must certainly be limits, and a balance to the process. But what those limits are, short of Halachot Dorita (Written Torah Laws) and most likely Halachot D'Rabanan (Early Rabbinical Enactments such as Chanukah), is difficult to say. I for one certainly don't have the necessary knowledge base or authority as of now to make such a decision. How do we know who does?

On the one hand I'm excited and hopeful at the knowledge of the possibility for change that could lead to a reJEWvination of our people and an increase in those willing to engage in the Halachic lifestyle. At the same time I'm hesitant, and even fearful of such a process, as the possibility exists of going too far. Striping Judaism of its core and meaning. The last thing I would want is for religion to become a cultural process. It seems clear to me that G-d consciousness is critical, as is the need to ultimately respond to his absolute authority rather then our human desires. I just wish I knew where to draw the line that would maintain authenticity while accommodating as many Jews as possible. I wish it were easier to balance my love of each and every Jew with my love for G-d and his Torah.

Just to end on a technical note, I wonder how other types of smoking and tobacco use are treated. In my mind, any regularly used product, a pipe, chewing tobacco, or what have you, that is used with frequency and regularity, would also be prohibited by this ruling. That to me seems to be a strait forward extension, and clearly what the authors would intend to convey. The place where it seems less certain is casual, non-regular, tobacco use, such as a celebratory cigar, or a occasional smoking of a hookah. Here the health risks, and risks of addiction, are significantly decreased. A person who smokes a cigar once a year, or a hookah one time while on a Birthright trip in Israel are not really causing themselves any long term physical harm. They will be no worse for ware after their experience. In this case it would seem like the Halachic reasoning used in this article doesn't really apply.

Again, however, we are faced with a question of frequency and scope. We now have to judge at what point a person has used too much. Is once a month ok? Once a week? Maybe only once every 6 months? Again we seem to be playing with a slippery slope. Is this a reason to possibly extend the prohibition to any use of tobacco, no matter how limited, period? Who would decide how much is too much?

So, while I applaud the RCA for its (long overdue) verdict, several questions still remain worth considering. What do you guys think?

While you ponder all this, please continue to pray for my father (Baruch Matan ben Miriam) who is due to under go major heart surgery. (I'm not going to keep linking to all the previous posts, please feel free to explore older posts if you want more details.) Thanks!

Link to Press Release from RCA [here]:
Quick Links to Other Blogs Who've Posted on This Issue: [Jewschool] [Danya Ruttenberg]
That's all I've found so far (after making my post).

**2 more links. (Seems like this is a slow issue...) [Orthonomics] [Hirhurim]

Time to Hit the Road

As of one hour ago, I became a newly licensed driver (which helps to explain the badly edited photo). That's right, I passed my road test.This is a very good development, because had I failed, well, failure was not an option. I need the license for my summer job. There was no wiggle room there. So thanks to all those who've helped me acquire the license. (Chris, Lev, Guppy, and Joanne over at Easy Method Driving School.) You guys made this possible.

Now the fun part, doing the rest of the work I need to do this summer,including but not limited to driving the Big "Gay" Keshet Van. (Please don't take offense at the word usage.) It gets its name for a reason,namely being a giant white fifteen passenger van with a rainbow logo on the side with only the word Keshet (Hebrew for Rainbow) below it.Topping it all off is the fact that everyone inside is paired off with someone of the same gender, camper and shadow, it's a special needs camp after all, and the fact that it is driven in very rural, religious,Wisconsin, and it's needless to say that we attract some weird looks and a few horns and such... Oh well... Keshet Pride and all, right?

More fun is the fact that the van is not only large, making it difficult to drive to start with, it's also older then old, and the mirrors on the sides blow in from the wind so you can't use them. It's a pain to drive, or so I'm told.

Anyway, Please Keep praying for my father (Baruch Matan Ben Miriam). He should be blessed with a quick, painless, successful surgery, and a speedy recovery. (See Previous Post, and this post.)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

A Much Needed Update

Until recently, I hadn't realized how many people not only read my blog, but relied upon it as their primary source for gaining information about me, my where abouts, and activities. I also hadn't realized that people would actually be upset at not having that information. So for the sake of the many who've expressed concern,wondering how I'm doing, and how things have resolved, etc., here's the update:

Internet: Check! I lucked out and, as of last week, am piggy backing my neighbors wireless. Connection is poor but sufficient. This means I'll have fairly regular Internet access until I leave for camp on July17th, at which point I will be going back to the email and business only gig. (The camp has Satellite Internet and long lines, so usage is kept to a minimum.)

This brings me to the camp thing: The salary issue was indeed a mistake, which in the context of the disorganized state everything is in for this summer makes perfect sense. Basically, I've been promoted again. I'm now the site supervisor/director for the Keshet program at the Wildrose Moshava in Wisconsin. They doubled my salary from last summer, but also dumped a lot on my lap. Apparently, the previous director accepted a position in LA as the principle of a Day School,and left the organization stranded. They turned to me, and since then I've been frantically trying to put together the program for this summer. (Doing 6 months of prep work in 1 month isn't fun or easy.) I spend most of my time these days on the phone co-ordinating with the camp, with parents, with the organization, and with camper's full time care givers trying to brainstorm individually tailored programs for each camper and work out conflicts and particulars. Anyway, I still need to hire 2 more male staff members to serve as shadows this summer. (It's an integration program for children with special needs.)So, if you think you are a good candidate, or know someone who might be a good candidate to work within the B'nai Akiva camp environment working with a child with disabilities please contact me ASAP. It pays a decent salary for the position.

The move out of my apartment was successful largely in part to the generosity of time, vehicles, and shleping of my former roommate Guppy and the key second trip by a good friend of mine from High School who made the 3.5 hour trip to Rochester just to load up his car, turnaround and drive back. Chris, your the Best! Good luck with Everything.

The move into my new apartment should happen sometime after Aug. 20 but before Aug. 27. (Of course not on Shabbat.) I'll be living with Drew Kaplan, and while I don't know who I'll be sharing a room with yet, I'm looking forward to what should be a good year. I do need to learn how to use the $2 vans to Teaneck though that he was telling me about.

Why's that you ask? Well... YCT, my Rabbinical School for next year,has decided to outsource me for the first of my two years of mechina (preparatory years prior to starting Rabbinic program). I'm the first person they've even accepted and approved a second year of mechina for.Basicly, they wanted me, but didn't really have the infrastructure in place for me to gain the foundations in language and text that I would need. Therefore, they are going to be sending me to Teaneck to learn at ITJ (Institute for Traditional Judaism) the flagship institution, so to speak, of the UTJ (Union for Traditional Judaism) as part of the Metivta program. Chovevei is still going to cover all the tuition costs and provide me with the stipend. The largest impact for me will be the commute. Of course, UTJ itself is already an interesting, if not controversial, movement/organization. It traces its history back to a break off from JTS during the 1970's after they started ordaining women Rabbis, or as Drew would call them, Rabbatis. This just compounds the seeming controversy of my path to Rabbinic ordination. Even if YCT is sometimes said to be on the fringe of Orthodoxy, ITJ is perhaps even more liberal. It should be a fun, interesting, enlightening, and educational experience. I'm looking forward to it. After all, it will be good to balance an organization seeking to open orthodoxy with one that seemingly was closed minded to change within the Conservative movement and seeks to engage things in a more classically Jewish manner.Of course, the honest truth is that I still don't really have a grasp on either organization or what they stand for as of yet. I've heard lots of speculation, but it seems for the most part inconsistent with the personal experiences I've had. For my part, I am thankful of the opportunity to be around people who are actively committed in their Judaism and seek greater understandings and connections with G-d, even when there are some things that I may not fully agree with. Needless to say, I still have a lot to learn.

Just as a side note, a tid bit of the latest Chovevei news. Rabbi Saul Berman, the head of Edah, recently announced that his organization was going to be winding down its operations and passing the torch to others. Shortly thereafter he was appointed the Director of Rabbinic Enrichment for YCT, a fantastic addition to the Yeshiva.

OK... On to the Driving thing. Wish me luck as I take my Road Test on July 5th. I only really get one crack at this and must have it for my job this summer. I should be ok. I've taken a few lessons with the local driving school here, Easy Method, and they've helped me a lot.They've also told me that I'm ready for the exam and are taking me out for it. They even helped grab me a cancellation because on my own I wouldn't have been able to schedule the road test before I had to leave for camp. So, even though it's their job and I'm paying them, I still owe them a thank you as I wouldn't have been able to even try to get my license in time without them.

As a final note, please continue to pray for my father, Baruch Matan (HaLevi) ben Miriam. As some of you may remember he had congestive heart failure right before I left Rochester. Since that time more heart related issues have surfaced and he is in need of major surgery. Now that all his test results are in, we now know that aside from having to replace 3 of his 4 heart valves, he also has a hole between his upper chambers, and another between his lower chambers. This is on top of the enlarged state of his heart from the CHF. There are only 3 hospitals in the country that have the facilities and expertise to do the surgery that he requires, Columbia Presbyterian in NYC, a hospital in Boston,and another one in Cleveland. His doctor here is currently fighting with his insurance company to cover the operation so that he can schedule him at one of these hospitals. The surgery will, B'Ezrat Hashem (With G-d's Help) be by the end of June. In the mean time,things are pretty touch and go and even with the surgery there is still the off chance that he'll need a transplant. So, please, keep him in mind with your prayers.