Monday, July 31, 2006

Israel Day 7


Day 7 was a bit easier on my stomach than was day 6, thank the Lord. We bummed around in the morning (AKA slept in) and then went to Cafe Rimon for lunch, which is actually quite affordable during the lunch hours. You know, the whole not eating meat during the 9 days (read: not eating Burger's Bar) is really getting old. Oh yeah, I look nauseating with this beard, too. Anyway, I got this spaghetti platter for lunch and specifically asked for it without cheese. When I received it the sauce looked too light to be cheeseless, and I started freaking out that I was going to die from eating cheese. It turns out there actually was no cheese in the pasta, and that my brain was only perceiving it as such.

After a quick dinner consisting of leftovers from lunch, we decided we'd trek out to Mini Israel. While the trip, overall, was well worth it, I did experience my first encounter with a failure in the public transportation system in Israel. In general, the system is great and you can get anywhere you need to go. However, upon being dropped off at the bus stop that we were told to get off at, we were dismayed to find out that we needed to walk a mile down the highway with no sidewalks (see picture). That may not seem like a long walk (as per the picture), but it was, and was actually a bit scary on the walk back, when it was dark. Anyway, Mini Israel itself is very thorough and well done, but I will say that it would be more interesting with children. It was interesting to me how many Chiloni children were asking their parents "Ima, Mah Zeh?", in reference to the Kotel. I had a conversation with a little girl who merely noted that it was a Beit Knesset and she admitted that she had never heard of the Kotel or ever been there. Interesting.

Thanks for the comments - we're heading to the Biblical Zoo and Israel Museum today.




(The closest I've been to the Temple Mount)

Sha'ar Shchem - see the knocked over man on the inside - maybe it was a Jew that went in and the Arabs killed?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Israel Day 6


While day 6 was quite eventful, my body spent the day rejecting a falafel that I inhaled last night at 1am. Funny...it seemed like such a good idea at the time. Anyway, PegLaz went to visit a friend (who, at her age, as 3 kids) in Beitar this afternoon, which gave me a couple hours free. What better place to go with a couple free hours than the Mir Yeshiva? An old school Fredneck is learning there and I got a solid 2 hours of shtaiging in. On the walk to the Mir, in Meah Shearim, I saw Chasidim surrounding a couple guys who were trying to put posters up calling for a Tefilah on Tisha B'Av for those who previously lived in Gush Katif. There was alot of pushing, and, upon my entering the middle of things due to curiosity, nearly died of suffocation from the awful stench of the Chasidim.



Anyway, after our separate afternoons, the wife and I met up, made a shuk run, and headed off to another Fredneck's apartment for dinner. On the way, we saw a security motorcade that was presumably for Condi Rice - crazy security. After dinner, we just hung around reminiscing about old Beth Sholom days, etc etc. On the way home, walking through the shuk, we turned the corner to find a jazz band playing in a random alley with 10's of people watching - it was pretty cool. That's it for today - any ideas for trips in Yerushalayim anyone?


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Israel Day 4/5

Day 4, Friday, was a pretty light day, as we were to be traveling to an area just outside of Tel Aviv and B'nei Brak later in the day for Shabbat. We bummed around town in Jerusalem, finally settling on a nice Italian restaurant called Luigi's for lunch where we got awesome soup in a bread bowl. Next to our table was this thing (see picture) that could be filled up with liquid and dropped it down to shot glasses waiting below. If anyone knows officially what these things are called, let me know, as they are a must have for Kiddush club. We headed back to our apartment, packed, and got ready to go to our Shabbat destination - Givat Shmuel.


For Shabbat we stayed with a couple of friends from back home who were married about a year ago and made aliyah immediately. It was great to spend time with them and catch up. They live 5 minutes away from Bar Ilan University, which is actually where we davened. The shul at BIU was really big with great AC and a youngish, normal crowd - not something you'd expect across the street from B'nei Brak. Anyway, for Shabbos it was just us, them, and PegLaz's sister and fiance. We had all of our meals together and just joked around, sang zmiros, etc etc. The highlight of the meal was when one of our host's friends (a Brit) showed up with a bottle of Balvenie Doublewood 12 - one of my favorities. Funny how that no matter where I go, the scotch follows. I hocked scotch with the guy for a little while, and he invited us over for Kiddush Shabbos morning. Since he was from Britan I knew he would have bottles not available for retail purchase in America - and I was not let down. At Kiddush I was able to taste Macallan 12 - Elegancia, Glenfiddich 12 Caoran Reserve and Glenmorangie 15 Sauternes Wood Finish - also things I did not expect to experience across the street from B'nei Brak.


Anyway, after Shabbos we shmoozed for a little bit, waited for the future brother in law to get out of the house he was staying in (he was locked in), and took a shady sheirut back to Jerusalem. We then took the obligatory stroll to Ben Yehuda to see PegLaz's sister who is here on Mach Hach. All in all a great couple of days - more tomorrow!

Oh yeah - the whole not shaving thing is really starting to get on my nerves...

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Israel Day 3


Day 3 started at 3:30am when my wife and I woke up simultaneously and proceeded to watch 1.5 hours of Kingpin (great movie). After oversleeping again (see previous sentence), we went to Gan Sacher (pronounced "soccer") - which I had seen in passing but never been to. It's basically a huge park which takes a long time to walk around, and has an amazing Jungle Gym. It had probably been 10 years since playing on a Jungle Gym, but this this was so cool I had to. The best thing about this activity was that there was zero opportunity to spend money, which is something that is hard to find in Israel.


We ate some leftovers for lunch and headed to Meah Shearim which obviously hasn't changed much in the past 200 years (same gross Chasidishe glasses). I saw a bunch of Charidim almost kill a man that was doing his job and putting up a notice of which the locals did not agree with. OK, well, they didn't almost kill him, but they surrounded him and were yelling things and knocked over his bicycle. Also, they were repaving the roads in Meah Shearim - apparently bulldozers with thousand-pound loads do not slow the locals down.


Dinner was eaten at a falafel joint - it's amazing to me that I can buy anything kosher for less than $10. The evening concluded with a beer/hooka with an old friend from back home, visiting my buddy Itzik that knits kippas for me (below) and calling it an early night (as per the 3:30am movie screening). More tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Israel Day 2


Day 2 was a fairly uneventful day, which began with my oversleeping (hence the davening on the porch here). After hitting the shuk, which is literally 3 minutes away, for some essentials, we returned to our doromroomesque apartment to straighten up. We returned to the shuk for lunch, and then made our first trip to the old city.


I always try to approach going to the kotel with very low expectations. Some people go in expecting it to be a life-changing experience and if it fails to live up to these expectations, they may leave the kotel with a bad impression. So, I went in with low expectations, and my first visit (of this trip) to the kotel was about a 5/10 on the spirituality scale. The highlight of the kotel was getting a blessing from a 101 year old man, who was still in great shape. I told him he only had 19 more years to live and he wasn't too pleased about that.


Anyway, after moseying around the old city and Ben Yehuda we were crazy hot and came back to the apartment to cool off. We met up with an old roommate of mine for dinner at Cafe Rimon, and hung out the rest of the evening here in our apartment with the sister-in-law and future bro-in-law, and my old roommate.


As for the feeling in the air; again, you wouldn't know there's a war a couple hours north, at all. I find myself wanting to check FoxNews at every chance, because I literally forget there is anything going on up north. Anyway, that's all for now - leave comments! Oh, and I was joking about telling the 101 year old man he only had 19 years left to live.

Israel Day 1

After a fairly uneventful flight from Newark, we arrived in Tel Aviv this evening at about 6pm. Really, it feels like I never left. Jerusalem feels the same as it did 18 months ago during my last visit, and you'd have no idea there's a war going on to the north if you didn't have a TV or internet access (of which I have both). I must admit, while I did get caught up in watching the news at every chance possible, it is a bit refreshing to be away from it all - funny how I have to come TO THE COUNTRY to get away from it all...but that's life here in Jerusalem.


We got some Burger's Bar before the Nine Days started this evening, and was then upset because I could not get ice coffee later in the day - well, there will be plenty of ice coffee during the 9 days. We met up with my sister-in-law and her fiance, walked around, bought some necessities and came back to the apartment where we are staying (see above). By far, the highlight of the trip so far was my losing electricity for the entire building when I tried to plug in my phone from back home (yes, we will have our same 410 number here in Israel as of tomorrow) into a regular converter, instead of getting a proper electicity adapter. Apparently, our phone is cheap and isn't made to make the switch of currents like that - oh well.


After meeting up with an old buddy from Frederick and his wife/child for a beer, we came back to the apartment to call it a night. I hope you all enjoy the pictures. Feel free to leave comments.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Off to Israel...


I am lucky enough to have traveled to Israel on numerous occassions. Before each trip, when telling non-Jews, or people that have never been to Israel about my trip, they are often in disbelief that I am going to such a dangerous place. The reality, however, is that everyone feels more safe in downtown Jerusalem at 3a.m. than they do in downtown D.C. at 3am.

However, as I was telling co-workers about my trip this past week, even those who would normally be fine with news that an acquaintance is going to Israel are now skeptical. Regardless of the fact that we'll be in Jerusalem, too far south for the Katyusha's to hit (or so we hope!), I received many looks of disbelief and prayers for our well-being. All in all, though, we're leaving to Israel this evening, and I hope to update my blog semi-daily with pictures and thoughts on the atmosphere of the country in this unique time.

Above and below are a picture and a video showing you why Israel prevail through all of this - because it has many non-religion-perverting Gd fearing Jews on its side. The video below shows a soldier saying a prayer for their well-being upon undertaking a tank mission.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Unhappiness Rate in the Frum Community

I've heard the orthodox Jewish community lauded to non-Jews and non-frum Jews alike for the fact that the divorce rate is far lower in the community than it is in the secular world (where it approaches 50%). People suggest that the rest of the world should take a lesson from us on how to be a good spouse, and maybe this could lower the secular divorce rate. If only they could look at a frum family and see the way the husband and wife interact - or so the argument goes.

I argue things aren't so peachy.

I'll be the first one to tell you that I have no statistics to back up my thoughts; only personal experiences and stories from others. While there is no doubt the divorce rate in the frum community is significantly lower than it is in the rest of the world, I (and many others who predate me) argue that the unhappiness rate among frum couples is at least that of the non-frum world, if not higher. I believe the only reason that our divorce rate isn't at the level of the rest of the world is because, in the frum community, there is a tremendous stigma against divorce. We are taught that marriage is REALLY "till death do us part", and those who do divorce can be viewed as outcasts, aside from the obvious fact that it decreases the chance of getting another shidduch significantly.

So why all of the unhappy marriages? I believe that this is the case because frum people allow themselves to be influenced by too many outside sources, and are concerned with things far too petty. Essentially, potentially good marriages are "aborted" before they are even "born" because a compatible couple often never makes it to the first date. The family isn't wealthy enough? Forget it, you can't date him/her. The family will only give X amount of dollars in support, instead of 2X? Forget it. Their uncle went off the derech? Forget it, you can't date him. Ba'al/Ba'alat Teshuva? Haha, good one - forget it. The mother doesn't cover her hair? Forget it, you can't date him/her. She takes a hip-hop dancing class? Forget it, she's not tznius.

It's obvious that one needs someone of a similar hashkafa and outlook on life. However, all of the aforementioned reasons that dates get cancelled say absolutely NOTHING about the person themselves or their current situation. Sure, maybe her mother doesn't cover her hair, but maybe her daughter says "Tehillim B'Simcha", making her one of the frummest people in town (jest). Too often are potentially compatible people not allowed to date one another, for reasons entirely outside the scope of the individuals themselves. And thus, we have people that date because their families and their shadchanim want them to; we have people that date because both families use a white table cloth on Shabbos; and we have people who date because their families are both willing to give X amount of dollars. All this, on top of the fact that there is such pressure to get married (more so for girls) upon returning from Israel, leads, many times, to young kids getting married to people that their parents want them to as much as they want to. Unfortunately, at 19 or 20, I believe the communal pressure to get married, combined with the parental pressure to date a certain person can cloud a person's mind to marry someone that may not necessarily be the best fit for them. All in all, it is plausible that their bashert was lost in the tablecloth, money, or yichus "shidduch filters".

Ahh, but you say, "Hashem will provide", or, "Have Emunah and Bitachon that Hashem will help couples on their path." Why don't you take that tell that to couples whose children see them fight on a nightly basis that they need to have Bitachon; why don't you take that Bitachon to the women at the CHANA shelters and tell them that they need to have some? Frankly, take that Bitachon and shove it. Now, I'm all for believing in Hashem, don't get me wrong. What I'm not into is relying on Bitachon alone instead of making sure that our teenagers (!) are marrying people that they want to marry and not people that the community or their parents want them to marry. A little hishtadlus on our part would go a long way; don't be so petty about turning down shidduchim, and don't tell a girl she's "over the hill" at 23 or else all you'll have left is Bitachon (sans a happy marriage and well-adjusted children).

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Parshas Pinchas

Based on R' Frand (but with my application):

In this week's parsha, parshas Pinchas, we have the story of Tzelofchad's daughters. Tzelafchad is left without any sons to inherit his land in Israel so the daughter's came to Moshe asking if they, the daughters, could inherit his land. In the end, Moshe went to Hashem who said that when there are no sons, the daughters can inherit.

Interestingly, the Medrash says here that there are times when an individual cant merit the reward of an entire generation. The Medrash says that this happened to Noach, Avraham, Lot, and the Bnos (daughters) Tzelafchad.

When looking at the members of this list, Bnos Tzelafchad clearly stick out. It is understandable that Noach merited great reward; he fought off his generation for 120 years. It is understandable that Avraham merited great reward; he jumped into a fiery furnace for his ideals. It is even understandable that Lot merited great reward; he persevered even with the impure surroundings of Sodom. But what did Bnos Tzelafchad do to merit the reward of their entire generation? All they did was bring a shaila to Moshe! I ask good questions all the time - does that mean that I can merit the reward of this entire generation?

The Medrash says that you have to look at the times to fully understand this great reward. Klal Yisrael was kvetching and complaining to Moshe, "Let's go back; it's not worth it; we're better off in Egypt". Moshe's agenda for each day was deflecting complaints of the people. Now, in comes Bnos Tzelafchad, saying, "We don't care what everyone else is saying now, we know that the Land of Israel is where the future of the Jewish People lies." This must've been a breath of fresh air for Hashem.

They weren't concerned with the hardships immediately in front of them. They understood that even though things weren't peachy now, Israel was where they wanted to be; Israel was where they wanted a piece of their father's inheritance.

I think it is apropos that parshas Pinchas falls out this week, with hundreds of Katyusha rockets being fired into Israel; the same Israel that Bnos Tzelafchad so badly wanted. It's very easy to stick up for Israel at a time when its reaction to never-ending terror attacks is restrained. So often Israel takes attack after attack, usually with guarded restraint. It's easy to laud the country to others at these times, praising them for their restraint, humanity, etc.

But what about now? Israel is no longer sitting back taking blow after blow by Hizbullah, with seemingly more soldiers missing by the day. Israel has decided that Lebanon has to pay, and is exacting revenge in a heavy-handed manor. They are blowing up TV stations, government buildings, airports, and military bases. No longer can you brag to your friends that Israel is showing restraint - quite the opposite now. Many people are probably calling Israel out (ie, the European Union, various European countries) for its "disproportionate" response and aggression towards Hizbullah and Lebanon.

I believe the current situation in Israel and the story of Bnos Tzelafchad are similar. The Jews were complaining to Moshe that they wanted to go back to Egypt; that it was a better alternative than the present situation. This is the EU and European countries calling out the world saying "Israel is bad!". And what was the little act of Bnos Tzelafchad that caused them to get such great reward?: the little shaila to Moshe Rebbeinu. I believe that we, right now, can get great reward to sticking up for Israel; defending it to our co-workers, friends, and the media outlets - to anyone that is claiming that Israel is wrong in their actions.

Again, it's easy to stick up for Israel at times of restraint - but will you stick up for Israel at a time of heavy-handedness; at a time when alot of the world is calling for condemnation of Israel and their actions? The Medrash teaches us that we have to take the time into account when weighing how much reward an individual gets for a particular action. Surely, at a time like this, our defense of Israel will reap great rewards.

Fingernails and Havdalah

There is an interesting debate about the blessing said over the flame during the Saturday evening Havdalah. There is an established minhag to look at your fingernails to get benefit from the Havdalah candle. The question is: do you look at your fingernails before or after the blessing? The debate centers around exactly what type of blessing "Borei M'orei haAish" is, with some saying that it is a Birkas haShevach (a blessing of praise), while others say that it is a Birkas haNehenin (a blessing of benefit).

A Birkas haShevach is something like the blessings said over hearing thunder, seeing an exceptionally beautiful person, etc. In these cases we are praising Hashem for the creations around us. These blessings are said after the event being blessed as, obviously, it is impossible to make a blessing on thunder beforehand - as you don't know exactly when the thunder will boom. The Mishna Berurah (296:31), among others (namely, the Steipler; see Orchos Rabbeinu 3:235), holds that the blessing over the Aish is a Birkas haShevach (similar to thunder) and therefore, the blessing is said after looking at your fingernails.

On the other hand, a Birkas haNehenin is said over things that you will be benefiting from (ie food, spices, etc.). Obviously, we make blessings on the specific foods before we consume them. Other commentators, namely, Rav Moshe and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (see also Siddur haTanya, Siddur haGra, Siddur Ya'avetz) opine that the blessing on the flame is a Birkas haNehenin, and the blessing is therefore said BEFORE looking at the fingernails.

Intuitively, at least to me, it makes more sense to say that it is a Birkas haNehenin, as in the other aforementioned examples (food and spices) you know beforehand that you are about to have these things, and can therefore make a blessing beforehand. However, in the case of a Birkas haShevach, you don't know beforehand that the event (thunder, etc.) is coming, and it is therefore impossible to say the blessing beforehand. In our case of the flame, we know beforehand that we are about to see the flame, and therefore, makes more sense that we would say the blessing beforehand. This, in fact, seems to be the prevailing minhag, presumably because Rav Moshe said so.

My minhag is evolved into doing it both before and after the blessing. However, while driving to work this morning, I realized that this doesn't make much sense as it does not satisfy both opinions. I was comforted, however, when I read this morning that this is the minhag of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

Fingernails and Havdalah

There is an interesting debate about the blessing said over the flame during the Saturday evening Havdalah. There is an established minhag to look at your fingernails to get benefit from the Havdalah candle. The question is: do you look at your fingernails before or after the blessing? The debate centers around exactly what type of blessing "Borei M'orei haAish" is, with some saying that it is a Birkas haShevach (a blessing of praise), while others say that it is a Birkas haNehenin (a blessing of benefit).

A Birkas haShevach is something like the blessings said over hearing thunder, seeing an exceptionally beautiful person, etc. In these cases we are praising Hashem for the creations around us. These blessings are said after the event being blessed as, obviously, it is impossible to make a blessing on thunder beforehand - as you don't know exactly when the thunder will boom. The Mishna Berurah (296:31), among others (namely, the Steipler; see Orchos Rabbeinu 3:235), holds that the blessing over the Aish is a Birkas haShevach (similar to thunder) and therefore, the blessing is said after looking at your fingernails.

On the other hand, a Birkas haNehenin is said over things that you will be benefiting from (ie food, spices, etc.). Obviously, we make blessings on the specific foods before we consume them. Other commentators, namely, Rav Moshe and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (see also Siddur haTanya, Siddur haGra, Siddur Ya'avetz) opine that the blessing on the flame is a Birkas haNehenin, and the blessing is therefore said BEFORE looking at the fingernails.

Intuitively, at least to me, it makes more sense to say that it is a Birkas haNehenin, as in the other aforementioned examples (food and spices) you know beforehand that you are about to have these things, and can therefore make a blessing beforehand. However, in the case of a Birkas haShevach, you don't know beforehand that the event (thunder, etc.) is coming, and it is therefore impossible to say the blessing beforehand. In our case of the flame, we know beforehand that we are about to see the flame, and therefore, makes more sense that we would say the blessing beforehand. This, in fact, seems to be the prevailing minhag, presumably because Rav Moshe said so.

My minhag is evolved into doing it both before and after the blessing. However, while driving to work this morning, I realized that this doesn't make much sense as it does not satisfy both opinions. I was comforted, however, when I read this morning that this is the minhag of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Wine of the Country

It seems to be a stable tradition across denominations to make Kiddush and Havdalah (if said) on a glass of wine. But - what if you don't have wine to make Kiddush of Havdalah on - is it permissible to recite these passages over other beverages?

First off, regarding the Friday night (and Yom Tov night) Kiddush, if one does not have wine, it is preferable to make Kiddush over the Challah, as opposed to substituting another drink. Additonally, the simple reading of the Shulchan Aruch (272:7) tells us that red wine is preferable, although the Mishna Berurah (272: s.k.10) says that a preferred white wine takes precedence over a lesser-preferred red wine. That being said, what about using other beverages for Shabbos morning Kiddush and Havdalah?

The Rambam says explicitly that other drinks can be used for Havdalah but not for Kiddush, assuming the drink is "Chamar Medinah", or literally, "wine of the state/country". The Rosh adds that Chamar Medinah can also be used for Kiddush, and it seems that the prevailing minhag is to permit use of Chamar Medinah drinks. It should be noted, however, that according to most opinions, if one has wine, it is preferable over all drinks (MA, 272:6; see, however, the Chayei Adam, Hilchos Shabbos, 6:18 and Mishna Berurah that say if Schnopps is preferable to you, it may take precedence over the wine l'chatchila).

The Rashbam (Pesachim 107a, s.v. Chamar) says that water cannot be ever considered Chamar Medinah and the Shulchan Aruch codifies this when discussing both the laws pertaining to Havdalah and Kiddush. As I see it, the question that needs to be answered is WHY the Rashbam said that water can never be considered Chamar Medinah. Based on different answers from a variety of Achronim and contemporaries, we have a wide range of drinks that could be permitted - depending on who you ask:

  • It seems that according to the Chida (cited in MB, 296:10) water cannot be used because Chamar Medinah requires an alcoholic beverage, similar to wine. This is the opinion of R’ Ovadya Yosef and R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik.
  • However, the Aruch haShulchan (272:14) says that many gedolim made Havdalah over tea or milk in certain circumstances. Thus, the AHS seems not to require an alcoholic beverage, and Tzitz Eliezer permits relying on this leniency when necessary. While the logic for this isn’t explicit, perhaps it is in line with….
  • R’ Moshe Feinstein, who adds to the Mishna Berurah’s criteria (who says Chamar Medinah is a beverage that is prevalent in the locale and would be served to esteemed guests) that in addition to being served to esteemed guests, it must be a drink that isn’t served to quench one’s thirst. Clearly this is in line with the Shulchan Aruch who says that water can never be considered Chamar Medinah, as water is usually drank to quench thirst. Accordingly, he permits tea, coffee, and milk, in extenuating circumstances. Clearly R’ Moshe would permit beer and whisky on the grounds that it isn’t served to quench thirst.

However, there is room for discussion within R’ Moshe’s definition, as one could argue certain drinks are served to quench thirst, while others may say that those same drinks are not used to quench thirst. The following is a list (some of which have been previously mentioned) of drinks that are permitted according to various authorities – I would imagine that they permit them on the grounds that, like R’ Moshe says, they are not used to quench thirst:

  • Milk (AHS, 272:14, Igros Moshe OC II #75, Tzitz Eliezer 14:42, Yechaveh Daas #35; however, see MB 296:6 who says that in Germany it should not used)
  • Orange Juice (in speeches from R’ Moshe and Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg; however the Debetziner Rav, R' Moshe Stern disagrees)
  • Apple Juice (in speech from Rav CP Scheinberg)
  • Soda (in speech from Rav CP Scheinberg; however, see Igros Moshe OC II #75 who disagrees)
  • Tea (AHS 272:14, Igros Moshe OC II #75, Tzitz Eliezer VIII # 17 and XIV #42, Rav CP Sheinberg; see however, the Ketzos haShulchan 96 and Badei haShulchan #8 who disagree)
  • Coffee (same as for tea)

As a final note, beer and whisky are considered Chamar Medinah according to everyone. However, it should be noted that the MB isn’t a huge fan of making on whisky as according to many, you need to drink a shiur revi’is, something which is hard to do (and nauseating to think about) with liquor. Some, however, are lenient relying on the Taz and the Maharsham who say that the shiur revi'is is different by liquor than by other drinks - and therefore permit making Kiddush on a shot glass. At the end of the day, though, according to most, if you have wine you are required to use it over any of the aforementioned beverages.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Parshas Chukas - Balak

In this week’s parsha we learn about the Parah Adumah – something who’s reason is beyond human comprehension. The fact that it turns people from pure to impure, and impure to pure, makes little sense to us, and the Torah gives us no reasoning for it. Interestingly, the Sefer haChinuch, who gives the reasons for all of the mitzvos, merely says that he is “afraid to explain the reason for the command.” Interesting stuff.

On a side note, R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky says that when the Sefer haChinuch, or anyone else for that matter, gives reasons for the mitzvos, they aren’t giving THE definitive reason – they may be giving a reason, but not one that is tied in with the commandment to the point where if the reason for doing it no longer applied, we would cease practicing this commandment. Along these lines, there is a Talmudic dispure between Rav Shimon, who says we do consider the reason for the mitzvos, and the Chachaim (sages), who say we do not take them into account. That being said, their argument isn’t whether or not we have to walk around like zombies practicing Yiddishkeit, not attaching any reasons to the commandments. Rather, their dispute is, like mentioned above, whether or not we would stop doing a mitzvah if its reason for doing it no longer applied. We rule like the sages.

But even according to the sages who say we don’t – they don’t say its assur to say that mitzvos have meanings – so what’s the harm in the Torah telling us why we do the Parah Adumah? Just give us a reason, and we can still rule like the sages and we will continue doing the commandment even if the reason no longer applies. However, the Torah leaves us out to dry; it does not give us a reason. But why?

Answers R’ Yaakov – we need to know that at the of the day, we do things because G-d tell us to. Sure, a lot of what we do makes sense (ie circumcision for hygiene reasons, etc.), but we do it because we are told to.

Having the mindset to constantly look for reasons for the mitzvos can be dangerous at times, as you may constantly find yourself saying, “But that doesn’t apply anymore, why do I have to do it?” Enough of this questioning may lead one to not observe a mitzvah because it may not make sense. To me, reasons for mitzvos are good explanations when asked by a non-Jew or a less observant Jew why we may or may not do something. The Parah Adumah, however, teaches us that while things may or may not make sense intuitively, we do them anyway, because Gd wants us to.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Muslim NIMH

I'm guessing this was filmed at the Muslim National Institute of Mental Health Schizophrenia inpatient ward. Either that or at a mosque...

Smoking and Jewish Law

The Rabbinical Council of America has come out with a P'sak Halacha (legal ruling) regarding smoking. And wouldn't you know it - our own R' Dovid Gottlieb is on this Va'ad Halacha. It's a must read, and you can link to it here.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

What I'm Drinking...

Here's my collection as of today. I will go through the bottles and rate them on a A-F scale. I'm far too lazy to give in depth analyses right now, but if you're wondering about a specific bottle, let me know. Here they are, in no particular order.

  • Glenfiddich 12 - C - ehhh, overrated.
  • Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve - A - one of my favorite bottles; one of the smoothest scotches I've ever tasted, with a long finish too...
  • Glenfiddich 18 Ancient Reserve - B - has a bit of a bite for an 18 year old
  • McClelland's Speyside Single Malt - C - pretty good bottle for the $13.99 I paid for it, although it's only a 5 year old
  • Glen Garioch 10 - C - again, worth it for $15.99, but not worth much more than that - extra long smokey finish
  • Macallan 10 Fine Oak - B+ - a change from the heaviness of the regular sherry line, but enough sherry to get me by
  • Macallan 12 - A- - this bottle is now my measuring stick for all scotch that I drink - the 18 and 25 only get better...
  • Speyburn 10 - C+ - a diamond in the rough in my opinion - I paid $13.99 for it, and it's great to serve guests who don't know a thing about scotch...
  • Balvenie 10 Founders Reserve -B+ - Balvenie is growing on me more and more by the 10 - this is another measuring stick
  • Balvenie 12 Doublewood -A- - Finished in sherry oak, so imagine the 10 but with a hint of sherry - yumm...
  • Aberlour 15 Sherry Wood - A - one of my favorites - huge sherry taste; if only the finish were a drop longer...
  • Oban 14 - B- - I think my expectations were too high - a bit too salty for my liking
  • Bruichladdich 10 -A- - this bottle was my bar-mitzvah into Islay malts - just enough peat to recognize, but not enough to over power
  • Bowmore 12 - B- more of a "right-wing" peatiness, but at least the scotch is still tastable
  • Glenmorangie 12, Madeira Wood Finish - B+ - more Glenmorangie's are too boring for me; this one keeps me interested...
  • Glenlivet 18 - A- - I was brought up drinking Glenlivet (OK, well, not really) - but my scotch endeavors began with Glenlivet, and from what I've tasted: the older the better
  • Chivas Regal 18 - ? - I mean, what Jew doesn't have a bottle of Chivas? I refused to by the 12; it's absolutely horrible - I hear good things about the 18, although, I haven't tried it yet
  • Glenrothes 1992 (13 year) - A- - is it normal that I can taste licorice in this?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Kids in Shul

I look forward to the day when I can bring my children to shul and teach them proper shul decorum. I am a firm believer that if you want your children to act a certain way, you need to act that way yourself. If you constantly minyan-hop, trying to start as late as possible but end as early as possible, your children will learn that shul is a place where a minimal amounts of time are to be spent. On the other hand, if, with kids in tote, you arrive to shul on-time, refrain from talking, etc., you're children will learn the proper decorum.

That being said, I believe children need to be of an appropriate age in order for them to fully soak in these lessons. To bring a 3-year old child to shul - as nice as it sounds and as big of a burden it is off the shoulders of your wife - it isn't appropriate. There is no feasible way that children are learning from this experience, and they are probably ruining other shul-goers tefilos. I recall in shul on a recent shabbos almost a full row filled with a certain man's children - not one above the age of 7 (or at least that is how old they appeared to me). Is it possible that anything more than giving the wife a break is going on? These kids were chatting the entire time, interrupting the concentration of those around them, only to be repeatedly "shushed" (which is bothersome in its own right).

Sure, a certain amount of decorum is learned a shul, and we don't necessarily need to wait until children are perfect little angels before bringing them. But at 2, 3, and 4 years old? Come on - it's simply too young. And, let's say that the decision is made for these children to come to shul; the children need to be removed from the shul immediately when they begin disrupting people - not repeatedly shushed. We make a big deal over cell phones in shul, as they are truly bothersome to all around. Why is a group of raucous 3-6 year-olds any different?