Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tax Season in Shushan - Purim Repost

משנכנס אדר מרבים בשמחה

I have absolutely no time to write, but the least I can do is repost my award winning Purim Torah (this won the Kibbitzer Prize) about Chachmas Nashim and Offshore Bank Accounts.

You may download it and send it around if you like it.

Good Shabbos!

Iyei Hayam Basic

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ad K'dei Kach - The Ten Commandments Revisited

I think Orthodoxy is on its way out. Both as a term and as an institution.

The problem is that as a term it is undefinable. It's a Greek word that means: Ortho = straight or correct; dox = opinion or way of thought

So it means someone who has the correct way of thought.

Well, apparently, we now have a variety of "Orthodoxes" or, in other words, we have plenty of "correct ways of thought" to choose from. There is Ultra Orthodox and Modern Orthodox and Ultra-Modern Orthodox and Modern-Ultra Orthodox and I just heard of a new one (courtesy of my friend who is "Centrist" Orthodox): Open Orthodox which obviously implies that there must be a Closed Orthodox (or is it Closet Orthodox?). Everything except just plain Orthodox.

And if they are all Orthodox then they must be all correct. Is that correct?

Evidently, there is nothing Jewish about the term Orthodox and so, there are no Jewish concepts that can be applied to give it a firm definition.

So it doesn't have one.

I wrote about this at length in a post that I actually posted twice (click HERE).

My logic tells me that there cannot be so many different kinds of "correct" and that some varieties must actually be "incorrect" (or a bit un-Orthodox) and as such, they will ultimately self-destruct as is the manner of most incorrect philosophies.

Consequently, a lot of "Orthodoxy" won't last.

So what Orthodoxy will last?

The Orthodoxy that also carries Jewish terms that have clear definitions in Jewish ideals. I wrote all about it in Chapter 9 of my book. These are the Yesharim, Tzaddikim, Chassidim and Kedoshim of our Shabbos prayers at Shochen Ad. The Tzaddikim, Anavim and Yareim in Tehillim, or the "Chareidim l'dvar Hashem" in Yeshaya (and in One Above and Seven Below).

As I wrote in my book and explained to many people who don't feel like reading it, every type of Jew has their opinion of what is the "correct way of thought". What I try to do in my book is to present G-d's opinion. And so I merely quote what G-d tells us in the Torah with a lot of emphasis on Parshat Bechukosai.

It appears that many Jews that fall somewhere in wide range of "Orthodox" aren't ready to handle Parshat Bechukosai. Why don't we just stick with the Ten Commandments? The essence of Judaism is the Ten Commandments so we can safely say that somebody who keeps the Ten Commandments is Orthodox.

Well, last week we read about the Ten Commandments and this week we have a bit of a follow through on the great event including the grand declaration: Naaseh V'Nishma.

But how many of us really understand what we are reading in these two Parshiot? And how many of us understand the chareidi perspective of the Ten Commandments themselves?

To clarify this, I wrote a fascinating Torah essay about the true meaning of the connection between Parshat Yisro and Parshat Mishpatim and what is going on between the two parts of the story of Mattan Torah. It is titled Ad K'dei Kach - The Ten Commandments Revisited and it is presented here as an iPaper document. Parts of it I heard from various darshanim, parts of it are posited by the Ramban at the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim and the rest of it is what I built out of all the parts.

It is meant to answer the following questions:
  • What is the meaning of the short list of unrelated mitvos at the end of Parshat Yisro?
  • Why is the narrative of Mattan Torah interrupted by all of the detailed Halachos in the front of Parshat Mishpatim?
  • What is Rashi really referring to when he says that the opening "vav" in Parshat Mishpatim is adding it on to the previous words?
  • Why, as opposed to some "Centrist" thinkers, there is nothing "Orthodox" about "Open" Orthodoxy?

So for your oneg Shabbos, I hereby present Ad K'dei Kach - the Ten Commandments Revisited

Note - I have been encountering difficulties with the embedded document display. If the document does not display in the window, please click on the link to view.
Ad Kdei Kach- The Ten Commandments Revisited

Friday, February 5, 2010

While We're on the Subject of Emunah - The Final Judgement

My last few posts have dealt with some of the intricaties of Emunah. The jury's been out for a while but now let's hear from the judge.

Somebody sent me the following story in an email last week. I have no idea if it's true but it should be. Behold:


In Florida , an atheist created a case against the upcoming Easter and Passover Holy days. He hired an attorney to bring a discrimination case against Christians and Jews and observances of their holy days. The argument was that it was unfair that atheists had no such recognized days.

The case was brought before a judge. After listening to the passionate presentation by the lawyer, the judge banged his gavel declaring, "Case dismissed!"

The lawyer immediately stood objecting to the saying, "Your honor, How can you possibly dismiss this case? The Christians have Christmas, Easter and others. The Jews have Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah, yet my client and all other atheists have no such holidays."

The judge leaned forward in his chair saying, "But you do.. Your client, counsel, is
woefully ignorant."

The lawyer said, "Your Honor, we are unaware of any special observance or holiday for atheists."

The judge said, "The calendar says April 1st is April Fools Day. Psalm 14:1 in The Bible states, "The fool says in his heart, there is no God." Thus, it is the opinion of this court, that, if your client says there is no God, then he is a fool. Therefore, he already has a day. April 1st is his day. Court is adjourned."

You gotta love a Judge that knows his scripture!

They don't make judges like this any more!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Gorilla for My Megilla


After searching out many candidates for a subscription based email marketing service for this blog, I have finally found one that best meets my requirements:

  1. Low price
  2. Ease of use
  3. Low price
  4. Powerful features
  5. Low price

And so, I have registered onto MailChimp to provide email distribution of my blog posts.

MailChimp offers free service (that was the price I was looking for) for up to 500 subscribers and up to 3000 total sends per month. For the time being that is more than enough and so, I am swinging with the Chimp.

My initial subscription list consists of my personal acquaintances and my 1A7B contact list. A number of people who have corresponded with me in the past will find their emails to have been automatically subscribed. Please feel free to unsubscribe if you are receiving my posts by email and would prefer not to.

For any reader who wishes to subscribe, there is a brand new subscription form in the left hand sidebar.

I highly recommend MailChimp for this venture because, besides the low price, they don't put up with any monkey business. And that's important because...'s a jungle out there.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Uncle Why Answers More of Your Jews Questions

Hi, boys and girls.

Uncle Why is back and, in this episode, Uncle Why is immediately going to answer one of your Jews questions.

This one comes from Rachel somewhere in the UK.

--Hi, Rachel ---

and it was posted as a comment in my previous post. Rachel writes:

Dear Uncle Why,

So, if someone believes completely in the 13 Principles of Faith, but does not keep shomer Shabbat (for whatever reason) - where do they fall?

Well, Rachel, they fall into a very deep hole where nobody wants to go...

Okay, okay. I think I need to shed the "Uncle Why" personna - for now - and get serious (no easy task for Uncle Why me).

Before I go on, I think it is important to know a few things about our questioner, Rachel. Rachel is an exceedingly sincere, passionate and conscientious individual. Her heart is definitely in the right place. She is also left handed, so her brain is definitely in the right place. And she is striving to embrace Judaism. So her soul is definitely in the right place. Sadly, she is from Britain, so the rest of her is definitely in the wrong place :-(. Rachel has come across my book and has actually written a glowing review which is available on her blog (available HERE) and I am very grateful to her for that (if only you would upload the review to Amazon!). If I had to guess why she liked the book, l would say it's because I wear tefillin on my right arm just like she does. I wish Rachel much bracha and hatzlacha and hope that she merits to become a true ger tzeddek (I don't know how to say that in the feminine).

Now, let's deal with her question.

You must know, Rachel, that you compromised your question by adding those three innocent looking words in the parentheses - for whatever reason. If one professes to believe in the 13 Principles and still does not observe Shabbat, it makes a whale of a difference what the reason is.

It goes without saying that, as a rule, the truest indicator that one truly adheres to one's beliefs is that they maintain a lifestyle according to those beliefs. So in a typical case, one who is not Shomer Shabbat is essentially demonstrating that s/he does not truly believe in all 13 principles. Nevertheless, for this to be conclusive, there are a number of criteria that must be taken into account. 3 in particular come to mind.

The first and most relevant to your situation is:
Where is the individual coming from?

Now here is the rub. Although belief in thought and belief in practice are interdependent in the final analysis, there is a maturation process (much like the fine Scotches that your Northern neighbors produce). In almost all cases, the two components - religious conviction and religious practice - do not come to an individual at the same time.

Jews such as myself were born observant. This means we were taught to observe Jewish rituals and avoid prohibitions way before we were intellectually mature enough to fully believe in why we do them. But by experiencing the splendor of these practices together with studying their source and their meaning, most of us eventually come to internalize the principles of belief as well. This is one of the methods of synergizing religious practice with religious belief and I wrote about it expressly on pages 259-260 in my book in the chapter about Kids at Risk. I called this the Naaseh V'Nishma approach.

Sadly, there are those who come to question and reject the beliefs and fall away. Some of whom, though they claim not to believe, even maintain the practices for social reasons and have recently coined a term to express it: Orthoprax.

The second method works exactly the opposite direction. And it applies to Jews who were brought up non-observant as well as to people like yourself, non-Jews who enter the covenant of Judaism. In this method one first adopts the beliefs and through the beliefs, one comes to sowly but surely take on the Jewish lifestyle. I called this the Atta Yadati approach that was introduced by Yitro, the first convert to Judaism from the time that we were given the Torah.

Just as the Naaseh V'Nishma approach does not necessarily occur overnight, neither would the Atta Yadati method. It may take some time.

So to answer your question, if one professes belief in the 13 principles and after a substantial period of time - let's say 5 years or so - still cannot observe Shabbat properly, I would question his level of Emunah. But for one who is in a transitional phase, it is no contradiction if the two components - practice and belief - have not yet blended together.

The second criterion to examine is how are we defining "observe the Shabbat".

You see, there are two aspects to the mitzva of Shabbat: Zachor and Shamor.

Zachor means to commemorate the Shabbat by saying a Kiddush on wine as well as lighting candles, wearing special clothes, and eating special foods (Cholent???). The part about not turning on lights, watching the telly or the computer, and not driving as well as all the other forbidden activities is all wrapped up in the Shamor part. It goes without saying that it is much easier to observe the zachor aspect than it is to observe the Shamor aspect (unless you prefer to sleep all day long).

Now you seem to indicate from your writing that you do keep a lot of Shabbat, just not "all of it". Is this to say that you are not Shomer Shabbat?

So here I would recall the first criterion and say that much has to do with where you are coming from. For one who was raised to observe Shabbat and all 39 categories of activities, refusing to observe some of them may be enough to consider the individual as a Mechalel Shabbat (violator of Shabbat). But for one who was brought up with no knowledge of Shabbat, even a partial observance of Shabbat may be considered a bone-fide Shomer Shabbat in the initial stages.(Don't hold me to this, it's not really up to me.) Incidentally, I once heard one of my mentors, Rabbi Avigdor Miller, ZT"L, say in a lecture that if one is used to smoking 30 cigarettes/day and on Shabbat he decides to only smoke 25 in deferrence to Shabbat, he has attained some level of being Shomer Shabbat (don't try this at home, boys and girls).

The third criterion is, as I indicated above, to examine why it is that the individual is not completely Shabbat observant.

The mitzvot are meant to be challenging. If they were not, there would not be much merit in keeping them. We are all subject to temptations and pressures and it is not necessarily a breach of faith for one to succumb. Still, the argument can be made that if one firmly believes that he is being tested, and that he has the ability to withstand the "test", and that withstanding the test will eventually bring immeasurable reward (the Joseph Syndrome), he would not succumb and thus it does indicate a lack of faith. Yet, we cannot put transgression under duress in the same category as transgression without any duress.

Many of us are aware that in the early 20th century United States, it was virtually impossible for any person who was not self-employed to obtain Shabbat-free employment. This affected thousands upon thousands of pious Jewish immigrants. There were a few who stood firm in their observance (see the story about my great grandfather ZT"L on page 274 of my book) but the majority gave up Torah observance entirely. Yet I have heard of a number of pious "Shabbat violators" such as one individual who worked a graveyard shift (midnight to 8 am) in some factory 7 days a week. His peers thought he was forced to take the graveyard shift out of desparation but he said that he actually volunteered in particular for this shift. This is so he can go to shul and daven on Friday night, go home and make Kiddush and eat, and then go to work, get back in time for the morning davening, go home and make kiddush again and go to sleep. In this way nobody has to know that he is Mechalel Shabbat.

The point is that we can assume that this person kept the Shabbat properly for all the time he did not need to work. We can also assume that if he reached a point where he could forego this factory job, he would resume full Shabbat observance. He only put the Shabbat into "temporary suspension" for the time it was necessary. He did not succumb to the "all or nothing" mentality that caused so many others to give up Torah observance entirely once they could not keep Shabbat for part of the day.

So, to summarize and to put it all together, Criterion 2 says to us that partial observance of Shabbat may be considered as a "full" observance of Shabbat if there are inhibitions which prevent full observance for the time being and the individual would resolve to be completely Shomer Shabbat when these inhibitions no longer apply. Those inhibitions may be inexperience (Criterion 1, hailing from a non-observant background) or pressures and temptations (Criterion 3). Thus, if one believes that G-d created His world in 6 days and that he commanded us to observe Shabbat to commemorate it AND he is not plagued by these other inhibitions, he will be fully Shomer Shabbat. But one who is not fully observant and has none of these inhibitions standing between himself and the observance of Shabbat can only be sufferring from a lack of Emunah.

Thank you for writing and thank you for your review (don't forget Amazon!) and good luck to you!