05 August 2019

Publishing My Second Book: Essays on BBYO History

I published my second book this weekend on BBYO.[1] Focussing on key essays accompanied by several appendices, the book is coming out at an auspicious time, as this year marks the 95th anniversary of BBYO. In just five years, the organization will be experiencing its centennial anniversary, which should hopefully yield an increased interest in the organization's history. 

Two key essays anchoring this work focus on the first five years of AZA, prior to its incorporation within B’nai B’rith, and one on finding permanent facilities to house BBYO’s leadership programs. I composed both of these when I was in college in the early-mid-2000s. These two essays appear with some updates for this edition. A third essay, which I recently posted, concerns the creation of BBYO’s website (which is something which very few people know). There are a couple of other essays which do not depend on research and are my own contributions to BBYO history (including an updated version of this essay).

Not to be forgotten are the appendices, two of which are transcriptions of BBYO memorial plaques, while two further appendices concern my own involvement with BBYO for credential purposes. However, the appendix that is the most significant is the listing of the location of every single BBYO International Convention.[2] I’m not aware of anywhere else providing a list this comprehensive of BBYO International Convention locations.

A further boon to future historical research on BBYO is the bibliography provided. While I have not pored over every single possible relevant document of BBYO history, this bibliography certainly provides a great springboard for those looking to delve into such historical research.

The first time the idea occurred to me to publish a book of essays of BBYO history was in 2004, having produced a couple of essays and was considering a third. However, having gotten involved with rabbinical school that fall, I dropped that third essay, as well as the book idea, altogether.

However, having returned in the summers of 2011 and 2012 to serve as a Judaic educator at ILTC those summers reignited my interest in the organization and the study of its history. That subsequent winter I decided to reach out to someone who had been in my region and had created BBYO’s website from the beginning and, thankfully, he still had some materials from that time, which was eminently helpful in my crafting a piece on the origin of the website.

While trying to put together a book that summer in advance of having a third child, I dropped the project, even though I had moved it along fairly well. Perhaps I got busy with life, work, and family, but I let it collect virtual dust for years. That is, until this summer, when I realized that I could get stuck with these files forever never seeing the light of day and it would be better to finally publish it. So, I did. 

Having published it on Amazon, I can go back and revise or update it as need be, but it’s a great start to providing a helpful resource for those looking to learn about this organization’s history.

A Youthful Historic Movement: Essays on BBYO History is available both in paperback and ebook.


[1] My first book was published in 2017.
[2] Although I have not discovered the locations of the conventions of 1946, 1947, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1954, and 1955 – if you can point me to a resource wherein I can find the locations of those conventions, I would greatly appreciate it (and provide you with a shout-out in the updated version).

15 May 2019

Now a Licensed Real Estate Agent!

I am now an officially licensed real estate agent!

How did I get here?

Having had literally no interest ever in real estate, it can seem somewhat surprising. Previously, when people would tell me they were in the real estate business, it would fade into the background, as they were just involved in buildings, which held no intellectual interest to me.

The idea of getting a real estate license first occurred to me as a tongue-in-cheek idea amidst a meeting in August in my previous position as the recruiter for Cincinnati's Modern Orthodox community. If my job was to help people move to Cincinnati and find appropriate lodging and even purchase housing, wouldn't it make sense to understand how that works? Having known nothing about real estate, studying real estate and earning my license would not only be a useful professional skill, but it would also grant me access to real estate listings and help people find houses.

However, at that time, it was not a fully serious idea, but something to keep in mind, especially as I was still early on in that position and had a lot more to learn, do, and people with whom to meet.

As the fall progressed, it popped into my head that it could be worth it to at least get a referral cut of commissions from bringing people to Cincinnati. The idea began to grow in my head (although I was very busy with the job, so I wasn't considering beginning the courses just yet).

Finally, February rolled around and I decided to order the course materials and begin studying a little bit on the side. However, shortly thereafter, the job dried up, so I decided it was time to go ahead and knock out the coursework and begin my real estate studies.

It was my first time ever doing online courses, which, while it lacks the in-person interactions and also leaves a lot of reading/understanding of the material up to the student, nevertheless was convenient, as it permitted to me to go at my own pace in apprehending the materials.

The material was very fascinating and most of the material was entirely new information to me. There was a lot to learn and to integrate into my brain, but it also made me a lot more aware about land, buildings, and more that was around us.

I then set up a date to take the exams (state and national), and was quite anxious about knowing the materials, facts, information, formulae, and more. Then, last week, I took the exams and, to my delight, I passed them!

The license was issued the other day and here I am: a licensed real estate agent :)

Now to begin from square one: there is a lot to learn about being a real estate agent in practice….

19 April 2019

Possibly Podcasting?

A couple years ago, it got into my head to make a podcast. My initial thinking was probably a Star Wars podcast, since I know a lot of Star Wars (and also occasionally appear on a Star Wars podcast). Recently in conversation with a fellow Star Wars fan, who heavily encouraged me to actually do a podcast, I realized this is really something that I have a whole lot of interest in doing, so maybe I really should go ahead and podcast. 

However, I'm not sure that I necessarily want to do a Star Wars podcast at the moment. I have two main concerns: 1) there are a lot of Star Wars podcasts out there - so what would my podcast add? 2) Since there are a lot of Star Wars podcasts already, what would be special or unique to what I would have to add? I still would like to do a Star Wars podcast, but I need more time to work it out. 

Another idea that’s been bouncing around in my head for a year or two has been a different passion of mine: Jewish texts. There are not so many podcasts about this arena. Originally, I had considered doing random rabbinic texts. More recently, however, I have in mind doing a Pirkei Avot podcast. I think such a podcast would be great, but it needs a lot of working on to get there. 

The immediate idea I have and I am seriously considering doing is a podcast focussed on Jewish drinking texts, with a guest each episode, whether rabbis, academics, or other such thinkers. The idea is to produce weekly episodes, lasting 12-15 minutes (maybe even up to 18 minutes). Although I was thinking of calling it מי חיים (“Water of Life”), I may call it something more familiar, like The Torah on Tap Podcast.

Before moving ahead with that project, though, I need to understand the mechanics of podcasting, so I will be learning about it and experimenting with it in the meantime.


16 December 2018

Highlights/Notes from Papers Delivered at the 2016 AJS Conference

As AJS 2018 is kicking off this morning, I figured it's better late than never to share some notes/highlights from the last AJS conference I attended. My attending the 2016 conference of the Asssociation for Jewish Studies was my third such conference. Out of ten sessions, I primarily attended those dealing with rabbinic literature.

5 papers that were particularly of interest for me were in the field of Rabbinics, 2 papers in other fields, and one response in the field of Rabbinics that really stood out to me.
Here are my notes:

Rebecca Scharbach Wollenberg "A Makeshift Scripture: Early Rabbinic Doubts Concerning the Status of the Biblical Text in Light of Late Antique Christian Parallels"
really well put-together paper that focussed on some excerpts from the Tosefta about what Ezra's role vis-à-vis the Torah scroll, such as Tosefta Sanhedrin 4:7 "opens up the possibility that Ezra was forced" to go into a new version of the text. Wollenberg described such stories as "tales primarily concerned with textual contingency." scribal restoration project as reconstruction
scribal housekeeping after period of degradation
manifestations of broader cultural anxieties about the text
she also compared it to what was going on in Christian circles


Noah Benjamin Bickart
"Gentiles and Anal Sex: A Sex Act as Cultural Boundary Marker"
scholars tend not to look for sexuality as site of cultural differences
rabbinic documents imagine different degrees of overlap between Jews and non-Jews
Rava reimagines anal sex as a form of sex that heterosexual people do - before him, it was problematic
imperial roman society
living in Sassanian Babylonian, Rava was wholly unaware of Roman culture
policing communities
after Rava, it's an act that is legally sex and it means something different for Jews and gentiles


"Rabbis, Doctors and Patients: Conceptions of Medical Expertise and Knowledge in Rabbinic Literature"
Shulamit Shinnar
accounts and experiences of the patients - not just opinions from doctors
wde range of experience and training - also lack of trust
gender plays into rabbinic adjudication
patients may also have medical knowledge, not just from doctors and medical books
in rab.lit, ppl would pay up-front, but that would be strange in Roman context, where you only pay afterwards
doctors are seen with a certain amount of ambivalence
rabbis serve as intermediaries between doctors and women patients

Redaction and Codification: On the Appearance of Halakhic Conclusions in the Talmuds
Edmond Isaac Zuckier [Shlomo Zuckier]
both PT and BT use the term halakhah or hilkheta to signify a halakhic conclusion
codifying language, but does not mean that Talmud is a code
legal codification can be seen as important part of redaction
M and T do not usually codify the law as such, although there are some exceptions
the terms appear hundreds of times from amoraim from different generations and scores of stammaitic times
1st or 2nd gen amoraim from EY
hundreds of cases whee halakhah are by middle and late amoraim
early Pal amoraim did use for operative halakhah, but not much
codifying sacrificial law?
could traditions from EY 1-2gens of amoraim only reached Bavel in 3rdgen?
avoiding conclusions on sacrificial matters - yerushalmi
from 3rd generation of amoraim and on, bavli amoraim don't state halakhah/hilkheta about non-practical matters
different approaches: authorial, redactional, compositional, etc.
both Talmuds point to a shift where the amoraim don't get involved in establishing halakhah for Temple practice at a certain point

Christine Hayes, respondent
composition and redaction are complicated during amoraic times - not clear (also, editing, etc.)
not just in amoraic period do both composition and redaction take place - even in post-amoraic period, redaction and composition can take place
stammaitic project engage ina  limited form of composition in making large groups of memrot in
we think about composition and redaction from the perspective of print culture, but that's not how it works…
oral performative literary culture where these things collapse or get separated all at once
amoraim and post-amoraic figures engage in redaction and composition in different degrees and kinds
difficulty in separating composition and redaction
halakhic conclusions might be seen as a source
something might have features of both redaction and composition
healthy measure of ambivalence about rhetorical techniques of persuasion - subjective

"Walking Through the Bible: Four Moments of Mythmaking in the Desert"
Sara Ronis

focussing on bBB 73b-74a 5 stories of Rabbah b.b. Hannah
construct certain Biblical spaces as rabbinic
Biblical scenes as understood through rabbinic lenses
make Biblical history immediate and real
only can serve as a distant and inaccessible backdrop for rabbinic life
exegetical convos with Arabs about Yishmael
taya becomes a generic label, vs Arab, which is used for settled communities
on the most basic level, all five instances are set in the dessert, where the taya is nomadically traversing
see magical negro phenomenon, endowed with folk wisdom, etc. to benefit the white character
numerous similarities between taya and magical negro
it his inherited folk traditions….
the taya'a magically disappears, we don't know much about him, he appears on his own, and not with others
the rabbis leave him, rather than him leaving the rabbis
functions much like Elijah in rabbinic narratives
in bBerakhot 6b, mss divided whether it's a taya or Elijah
the rabbis insisting that Rabbah bb Hannah as having missed out and mired in foolishness
rich site of rabbinic mythmaking
points to the tension of an imagined past


Howard Lupovitch
“The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and its Impact, in Hungary and Beyond”

one of the most widely published book
ultra-Orthodox Hungarian canon
emergence of humra culture - tendency for stringency
unprecedented publication history - 12 separate editions in Europe in 1860s through 1930s - and different languages
widespread publication attests to the importance of print culture - where print culture can have an important impact on ritual
b1804 in Ungvar, standard Orthodox upbringing and a gifted individual
he was part of the world of Hungarian ultra-Orthodoxy, which was a response to reform and haskalah, but also to modern orthodoxy
prior to writing this book, his books were about specific observances, and then culminated in writing this book
even though he was very much a part of the UOH world, he wasn't involved in the polemicizing, simply someone who wanted to quietly write his book and be a dayan
wanted to write a guidebook and not polemical work
he compiled this abridgement so that Jews who lacked the ability to study the Shu"A could read this and easily find halakhah
why so popular: 1) bears a certain authenticity (structured similarly as the Shu"A), esp. on halakhic matters that are part of the day-to-day, 2) he chose three 18-19th c halakhists (Shneur Zalman of Liadi, Avraham Danzig, and ?), who were engaged in an opposition to modernity - b/c of his halakhists, it has an anti-modernist
succinctness and simplicity - each of its 211 entries are maybe a paragraph
user-friendly answers
3) it's compactness - should not be published with commentaries (of course, ten years later, there were commentaries that began to emerge)
it was easy to print, re-print, and to translate
3 examples of impact in hungary and beyond: 1) published same time as SRH's Horeb
for the European readers, they had the ability to read other codes - but in 1930s, the KSHuA, the only available guidebook for American Jews (English) - called the Code for Jewish Law in English, so there are many observant American Jews, they don't know that it's not the Shu"A, so that grants it a greater sense of authenticity
short-term accessibility vs long-term critical thinking
widespread circulation led to a certain mentality for observant Jews in America



Marzena Zawanowska
"Theological Limitations to Karaite Literalism in Bible Translation"

they are generally considered to be extreme literalists, at the expense of the quality of the product, rejecting the dual concept of revelation and rejecting rabbinic
needed to find new explanations of the Biblical text, using the Biblical text, so they engaged in a very detailed study of the Hebrew language - if they engaged in language studies, could engage with the text
also adherents of an intense rationality
deep tension for fidelity to the words of scripture and theological tenants
the same thing is done by Sa'adyah Gaon, but the difference is the way they justify their decisions
Karaite: didactic purposes - mechanism to teach something important about God, about Divine transcendence
Sa'adyah is concerned by extratextual concerns for rational theology
the Karaites look for stylistic or linguistic explanations
when God descended to see the city, both rabbanite and karaite say the angel went to see the city - the difference is that the karaites were more systematic
much more focussed on the text and more interested at looking at intertextual
engaged in rabbinic dictum dibrah torah kilshon bnei adam - as far as we know, they are the first Jews to really utilize this
the difference
Sa'adyah attributed the anthropomorphism due to the weakness of human language, whereas the Karaites say that it's a perfect means to communicate to humans
Karaites say that God needs to use common language of humanity
the Karaites are the missing link in Biblical interpretation - later on, see Maimonides for using lashon Bnei Adam, but Sa'adyah never uses it

02 May 2018

Leaving SoCal and Moving to Ohio This Summer

As my wife announced this morning, our family will be moving to Cincinnati, Ohio this summer. While we will be sad to depart from folks we know here, as well as the unquestionably lovely weather here in southern California, this move also represents a great opportunity for our family, having moved to southern California eight and half years ago.

My wife will be moving on from having served as the Executive Director of Long Beach Hillel for eight and a half years to becoming the new Executive Director of Cincinnati Hillel. We’re very excited for her new position, which she begins in August.

Ever since I parted ways with my former employer, having worked in that position for over six and half years, I have been taking care of my son and have been involved more with my daughters. It has been quite the humbling experience. With my son’s beginning to walk and soon to go to preschool, I am greatly looking forward to getting back into the workforce. 

One impetus for us to move is also looking for more of a Shabbat community. While we used to be able to walk to our local Chabad shul for holidays and sometimes for Shabbat, there wasn’t an eruv for us to be able to carry anything, nor for us to bring our younger children. With our move, we are excited to be moving to a Modern Orthodox community with an eruv, which should be great to have a more robust Shabbat community, which should be especially great for our kids.

It has been a great 8.5 years for us here in SoCal, especially having three of our kids and raising them in their younger years, but now it’s time for us to move on, professionally and as a family. We still have a couple months left here, so we’re still here to say good-bye to fellow SoCal people.