30 November 2005

Drew & Academic Study of Talmud: Part Two

In a previous posting, I began to speak about academic Talmud study and me. This posting will encompass two topics not covered there.
The first topic is something about which I am horribly remiss: the downside to a more critical study of the Talmud. A problem which was raised on Monday in our Modern Orthodoxy class is that a downside to this approach is to mess with people's understanding and experiential approach to halakhah and Jewish life. With dealing with the study method that has heretofore been widespread, there is an ahistorical bent to it, which is frustrating to us historically-minded moderns, but at least it's not given to questioning all that much about the eternality or certitude of elements of Jewish law. When one starts to realize and witness the development of Jewish law, life, and practice unfolding before one's eyes, it can be both marvelous (as I had previously mentioned) as well as able to puncture a hole in someone's experiencing of things. Until I can figure out how to better articulate this danger, I will merely stick with what's here.

The other topic is one of my critical approach to Talmud study: I don't think it's fair to academics to call my approach academic. Why not? Simple - I have no formal training in this area. Furthermore, the main two tools I employ are identifying when the respective sages lived, as well as parsing out the different layering going on in the gemarra (see picture for a section of the Talmud that I have highlighted according to the different elements making up the section). I have been trying, as of late, to try to devise a good highlighting system in order to better enable me to understand the Talmud: I have one color for Tannaite statements, two colors for Amoraic statements: one for formal legal statements and one for talking (marked by Aramaic), and two colors (so far) for the different voices of the [different] stam[s]. I may also add more colors for other identifications.

Rabbi Sacks Speaks

This evening, England’s chief rabbi spoke in Manhattan on doing kind things. The fourth annual Bella Wexner Memorial Lecture was delivered by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks (pictured speaking at the podium, with Richard Joel sitting behind his right shoulder). His lecture “The Chaos Theory of Virtue” was on how “Small acts can have large consequences,” that “whatever we do has incalculable consequences.” A closing thought he shared was that we the Jewish people need to show, in the face of fundamentalist tendencies the world over, a “counter-fundamentalism of love.” I thought he was a little over the top in the way he spoke, but one did get the sense that he is quite used to speaking. As Lab Rab, who was sitting next to me, mentioned afterwards, that it was very simple concepts he was trying to impart, but was pulling a Mesillat Yesharim – revealing what we already know. I wasn’t tremendously impressed, but it was a treat, nevertheless. I imagine if he came to speak to a rabbinical school, it would be more interesting and detailed than to a general public, as he did this evening.

I was pleased with President Richard Joel’s remarks, as he was lively, humorous, and personable.

The least lively speaker of the evening, but undoubtedly the most controversial, was Susan Wexner, in her speech on “The Left, The Right, The Wrong.” It was a little troubling for me as she spoke about politics, explicitly saying that the Bush administration has already been failing (I agree with this, but it was weird to say it in such a forum for me). Anyways, she made a very good and strong point to say that it has been horribly unfortunate that being pro-Israel has become associated with more conservative, right-wing elements, thus being bad for leftists. However, this is oddly striking as there are many leftists who support Israel – how are they to deal with this? She was saying that it should not be a political issue as to on which side should being pro-Israel be, but rather that it is a moral issue – it is right to be pro-Israel; that it should not be an issue of being on the left or being on the right, but rather whether it is right or wrong. She took aim at the development of crude ideological camps, that of the left and that of the right, which stem from the tide of knownothingness which is sweeping college campuses (it’s definitely there, at least at IU when I was there), where labels replace thought, thus then there is no further need for thought. She wanted to suggest that there should always be right and wrong. Although I find it difficult for me to agree with that last sentence, I did like her taking aim at the knownothingness.

A surprise guest, Itzhak Pearlman (pictured to the right), showed up, also, and introduced the quartet, Ariel, which was playing this evening.

28 November 2005

A Little About Drew & Talmud Study

Today, during Modern Orthodoxy class, we were discussing, among other things, the academic study of Talmud. One point in particular struck me in the course of discussion: that of the controversy in Israel about those wanting to introduce it into their curriculums in high schools and those who have reacted against it. A reason to which those who are for the implementation of this method of study is that it may help students get more into learning Talmud. Especially as we are more historically-minded today. I thought that sounds nice, but it sounds rather abstract on the whole - and for those who don't really understand this benefit, it may seem empty. However, since my introduction to this method of study last year (in a three-pronged way: via my gemarra rebbe a little bit, via discussions with my roommate who was going for his masters in Talmud, and through reading a few articles here and there), I began to grow an affinity for the study of Talmud last year. While it continues a little bit this year, unfortunately for my studying of gemarra, we are primarily focusing on Tosafos this year - I might say that we are only learning the gemarra in order to learn the Tosafos (if one really knows about what I'm typing, it can sound kind of funny).
When I studied in Ohr Somayach, no attention was paid to when these various sages lived nor anything about the editorial layer of the gemarra, and very little was paid to the environment in which the sages of the Talmud were living. I also found it boring to learn Talmud, but something of a necessity as an Orthodox Jew. However, since my coming to YCT, my interest in the study of the Talmud has skyrocketed - it was really revolutionary as to how I approached the text. Judaism was no longer something so staid, but rather something more dynamic, and the development of normative rabbinic Judaism was unfolding before one's eyes on the pages of the Talmud - surely something of interest.
When I think about this method of study, I cannot help but want to promote it, especially to high school kids, who probably don't give half of a rat's tail about learning gemarra, as I think it would pique their interest in learning about their own heritage.

Flatbushing It Up & Sister Visit

As it is, I seldom have much reason to go to Brooklyn, and certainly not Flatbush, in particular, but I found myself there two consecutive days, attending three different gatherings. Not totally relatedly, my sister came in for just about the same exact amount of time - from Wednesday evening through Thursday night. On Wednesday evening, my sister and I met up with our second cousin and her three daughters (all six of us are pictured below to the right). What makes them singular is that they are a frum family and while that isn't anything peculiar, them being related to us is, as we have just about no frum family members. So we ate dinner together and it was the first time my sister had met them and it was a pleasant time (and good food). Immediately following that, we went over to another part of Flatbush, where my roommate Ben Greenberg was having his l'chaim party for his engagement that same evening (I am pictured, up left, with him at the party). Fortunately, the wedding is not for another five months, so that's good for his two roommates (me being one of them) that he's not leaving immediately, and thus I guess we'll be having to look for another roommate? Which is bittersweet as a single person as you hope the people in your apartment get married off, but then you're left wondering about a replacement roommate.
Anyways, the following day, my sister and I went to my schoolmate's, Yonah Berman, grandmother's house for a Thanksgiving repast along with his family, which was interesting, and the food was good and the people hospitable.

26 November 2005

My Non-Mt. Sinai Washington Heights Shabbas

With this shabbas being during Thanksgiving weekend, I knew a lot of people weren't going to be around in addition to being invited to someone's for lunch who goes to the Bridge Shul (Washington Heights Congregation), I decided I would not attend Mt. Sinai this shabbas. It ended up being that I davened alone for every davening except Saturday morning, which was fine. I found the experience interesting, as there were maybe 35-40 men and maybe a dozen or so women at the Bridge Shul, though I was told that there are usually 20 or so more people usually there. With such a small turnout, I found it slightly amusing when about a half dozen men left conspicuously before the haftarah reading, ostensibly for a kiddush club. The rabbi's sermon consisted of two parts, neither of them having to do with each other, the first part of which was a story about someone who spoke at the first Zionist conference and the second part being about לשוח בשדה in this week's parasha. When he said about what he was going to speak when he started, I thought, "Oh no, he's going to talk about prayer." However, he also offered the other alternative, that it could have been related to planting bushes or something along those lines. I was actually happy with how he spoke about those two possibilities. The cholent during kiddush was incredible and I had to go for a second bowl. I highly recommend it. After lunch at Hillel Deutsch's (which included some chocolate liqueur :)), I got me a mix of reading and sleeping, preceded by davening מנחה, then followed by davening מעריב. It was a relaxing shabbas.

New Furniture

Wednesday morning, after waking up and actually making it to מנין (prayer service) at Mt. Sinai, I went to the bank then checked out some stuff someone was selling. This person, Adina, was moving out of the Heights to go to Memphis, so she was selling some of her stuff, and I thought what a good opportunity it was to help furnish my apartment while helping her sell off her stuff.
While the items I bought were in good condition (a bookshelf as well as some sort of dresser thingy), I was thinking how as a single person, I'm not necessarily interested in getting things that will last a long time, as when I marry, I may end up having to get rid of a number of things anyway. Just a little thought.

21 November 2005

תיקון לעבודתי (finally not being so lazy)

After having seen a poll on ou.org about things one would like to work on or improve upon for this coming year around the holidays last month, I began to see something religious where I had not before. There was a list including paying attention to what one was saying when they are davening (having kevanah), learning more, and other such "religious" activities - all of which, btw, I tend to try to do and work on, but they didn't strike me so personally. The thing is, I am in a yeshiva throughout the day and Jewishness surrounds me, so I'm ever mindful of these things, so to do more on them seems kind of meaningless to me. However, the one option on the list that *seemed* kind of out of place was exercising more (!).
It struck me so glaringly, perhaps because it was something that really involves one's physical effort, as well as mental, but a heavy focus on the physical. Although I've generally been mindful over the years - at least since 1998 - about exercising, pretty much mainly jogging, with lifting weights here and there, I thought attaching a religious aspect would be helpful. Although last year after I would finish jogging, I would offer up a little prayer, this helps me put my actions into a religious context.
Unfortunately I haven't really developed this concept really philosphically, yet, but I kind of want to attach it to קרבנות (offerings). One may say, "But what about תפילה (prayer)? Didn't the rabbis replace the Temple service with prayer?" To that I would respond, "It's very likely as the rabbis did so (see Berakhos 26b)," but that doesn't mean I can't also do this due to this. Ultimately, upon trying to figure it out more, I may actually further develop it, drop it altogether, or leave it kind of hanging (whatever that means).
I came up with this posting after coming off of a lazy week last week in which I jogged only once and didn't lift weights at all (shame on me - I know). This week I already lifted weights yesterday and jogged both yesterday and today. Plus, after my one month membership ended, I signed up yesterday for a year's membership at J's Big Gym, here in the Heights.

A Little About Israel I Learned Today

Today, Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller gave a talk at YCT (he is pictured here with me) about the necessity or lack thereof about Jews settling the land of Israel. Seidler-Feller, the director of the UCLA Hillel and is known for his unique views on Israel (for instance, see this article (though he's also known for an incident (here and here)), spoke on the מחלוקת בין רמב"ם ובין רמב"ן על מצות כיבוש הארץ (disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban whether or not Jews are obligated to go [conquer the land and] live in Israel.
What was interesting to me was prior to the beginning of his talk, he mentioned that something that has held modern orthodoxy back has been their strong attachment to the land of Israel, slightly slighting Jewishness/Judaism/etc. I found that interesting as well as vindicating as I have harbored an indifferent attitude to Israel heretofore. This attitude was mainly cultivated during my time at Ohr Somayach, a non-Zionist yeshiva. Although Israel is a fun, Jewy place, I didn't have any special affinity for it - but don't get it twisted: it exists as a special place within my Jewish philosophy (okay, I know that's kind of intellectual), as well as having an attachment due to my time spent there.

On another note, when I was at Ohr Somayach the second time around, my second חברותא (study partner) had attended UCLA for undergrad and would avoid referring to Seidler-Feller by name, but rather calling him The Apikoros (a Hebraicization of the name of the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, often connoting a scoffer or perhaps a heretic). When I found out a guy in mechina had not only gone to UCLA, but had also greatly appreciated Seidler-Feller's perspectives and teachings, I got excited to meet this thinker. And now I have.

Oh, yeah, after having seen some of the sources (albeit very briefly), I like the Rambam's perspective. Gosh, I've been really sweating Maimonides of late (for instance, the morning hand-washing thing). We'll see how that turns out.

20 November 2005

News in Drew

Pieces of news in Drew:
1) A picture with me and three other YCT guys got placed in this month's Blueprint, though the article was only slightly related to the picture (the picture was taken in El Salvador of the four YCT boys who went on last year's AJWS's rabbinical student delegation).
2) I'm up to nearly 1000 songs now in my iPod.
3) My blog has now received over 3,000 visits.
4) Although I, or someone else, will be posting about this on the YCT Chevre blog, members of the first and second year classes, in lieu of doing community service or social action stuff here in NYC, will be able to go down to Mississippi for a week to help with the Katrina aftermath rebuilding efforts. So, I will be going down south for a week in late December (yay, I'm getting out of NY).

My Shabbas In Brooklyn

My shabbas in Brooklyn -
I stayed with my friend from yeshiva in Israel (my first time), Saul Sudin, in Clinton Hill, and two other guys from yeshiva came, as well, which made it more lively. The shul we attended - the only Orthodox shul in the area (ok, so there were some Satmar shtieblach around...) (and a 25-minute walk away from where we were staying) - was Congregation B'nai Abraham, which was a small shul run by Lubavitchers. It was a neat experience, as it was a small shul, with some middle-aged people, along with some Pratt students and Brooklyn Law students. (For more on the shul, see Saul's description about it.)
The only two liturgical differences I saw were the opening of the ark for יגדל (Yigdal) on Friday evening and something else which I can't currently recall.
Although Saturday lunch was held at this stunning brownstone of a family's (it had to have been worth millions, easily), with a lot of people, after a good kiddush, featuring fishes and cholent, Friday night dinner was held at shul, with a special guest speaker. The food was great - the soup was one of the best I've had in a long time - as well as the other items - the fish was also quite good (eventually, I hardly had any room for the chicken and only had a small amount of it. What's worse is that I usually finish whatever's on my plate, but they had given us whichever portions and was so full. And just as I was deciding to stop eating the chicken, the guest speaker said something about people in the Middle East struggling to eat or something like that and felt bad.). The guest speaker was Salma Abdullah, an Israeli Arab, originally from Haifa, currently living in the US since her 20s (I think that age is right). She spoke about trying for peace, but also describing to us the attitudes of Arabs in the Middle East and describing the differences between Israeli Arabs and other Arabs. One interesting thing she had to posit was that Arabs not in Israel or Palestine should stay out of the issue. There were some things she said that I had already knew, but there were, of course, as mentioned above, some things of which I had heard.
After dinner, we stopped by a guy's apartment for some drinks, then we headed back to sleep. Saturday afternoon was spent between lunch and מנחה (afternoon prayer service) mainly just lounging around at where we were for lunch, then taking a look from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade over to the southern tip of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
After shabbas, I made it back to Manhattan.

Chilling With Gentiles

Ok, so I don't often 'hang' with gentiles - it's not that I'm racist or anything like that, please, it certainly is not that, it's just that I don't often find myself interacting with them - so when I do, it is of significance to me. So, when I went to my friend, Ryan Jolley's b-day party (guy from my town, Gahanna, who's now living in Manhattan and who's mother is a Jewess), he had quite a number of non-Jews there.
Initially when I got there, I was the first one there, which was cool, as we got to watch the recorded OSU-Michigan game, having arrived about an hour after it was supposed to have started. It was fine for a bit, just chilling, watching the game. A little while later, people start coming, then more, then more. As people kept on coming in, I kept meeting new people. What was interesting to me was - please, don't accuse me of being narcissistic - me and my sociability. There were were over twenty (more than thirty?) people, easily, and I knew everybody's names, and for some, their places of origin, undergrad school, and current occupation. I was complimented several times with my knowledge of peoples' names, which was nice, and the main social theme of the night.
Another point of interest of me was that I was confident! Especially when people asked me what I do and the subsequent questions that followed therefrom. I take this approach to social interaction largely from Chabad shlichim I have met that are largely positive, confident, and secure in their identities. It really shows that that's how one is, and I found it to be truly a קידוש השם (something which makes Jews look good (lit., sanctification of the Name), and wanted to emulate it - and finally put that into action!
Totally randomly, I was complimented on my eyelashes! It has been years since that has occurred.
All in all, it was interesting, and definitely not my normal element, but it was good to experience that. Unfortunately, I was already tired before I had gone and thought I would just stop by for a half-hour, maybe hour - no, I ended up there for much longer.
Good night.

18 November 2005

A Non-Heights Shabbas

After one shabbas in September, and one shabbas in October, this shabbas'll be my third in several months to be away from the Heights. It's weird, because a year ago, it was a different story, as I often tried to specifically not stay. However, after realizing there's a nice chevre here, I ended up staying here a lot. I'm off to Brooklyn.

17 November 2005

Torah Lishmah

After reading Chardal's posting about learning Torah lishmah (lishmah = literally, learning for its name), I decided I would post about my relation to this concept.
After having been exposed to Ohr Somayach's understanding, which is that one learns Torah just because one is supposed to learn, I realized that it was missing something, perhaps silly, even. What it was, was not learning Torah for its name (לשמה), but rather learning it because one is supposed to(לחינם). But why? Moreover, and of the utmost importance, is what is the "name" of Torah learning?
I see the עיקר (foundation) of it to be found in Joshua 1.8, wherein it says:
- לְמַעַן תִּשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכָל-הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ: כִּי-אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת-דְּרָכֶךָ, וְאָז תַּשְׂכִּיל
"in order to be careful to do, according to everything which is written within it, because then you will make your ways successful and you will then discern". The point is learning is to better understand and to do. There are also verses in the Torah which address this topic, though this verse comes to mind more readily.
On a side note, speaking of this verse, in the first part wherein God speaks to Joshua, saying, "This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, and you shall meditate upon it day and night," I view this as Rabbi Yohanan understands it (as reported by Rabbi Samuel, son of Nahmani, recorded in bMenahot 99b) that this verse is neither an obligation, nor is it a commandment, but rather a blessing, as Joshua really liked the words of Torah.
Perhaps at some later point, I will post about ביטול תורה (nullification of Torah) at some later point....

14 November 2005

Jewish Domestic Abuse Panel

Tonight, I attended a panel on domestic violence in the Jewish community, with an emphasis on the Orthodox community, presented by the Jewish Law Students' Association of Brooklyn Law School. It began at six but, due to school ending at six, I didn't arrive until 7:15, catching the remarks of David Mandel (pictured), CEO of Ohel, which I found informative and interesting (e.g. He mentioned that we've been "speaking of domestic violence as a women's issue - it's a family issue" and that, in general, we "have to find a way to engage the husband".). After he spoke, the panel, which included Mandel in addition to Chana Widawski, a social worker, and Margaret Retter, a lawyeress, both knowledgeable in this area, responded to questions from the floor.
A few further interesting facts came about, such as that when Jewish women try to litigate, they often have much more limited financial ability than do their husbands, women are often concerned about their children's future shidduchim prospects, and, the most disturbing of all (though I'm not totally naive, it's still shocking to really think about it) is that it goes on everywhere(!). This last part certainly seems difficult for me to consider. Inasmuch as I know it surely must be so, it still seems hard to think about people the same way. Worse, I will have to deal with this sort of thing as a rabbi. (For another difficult issue for me and other rabbis to deal with, see this article.)

13 November 2005

News in Drew

-I hopped on the bandwagon today. Yup, that's right, after iPods being around for a while, I finally got an iPod. Yay. Unfortunately, putting in songs definitely takes a lot of time. Worse, it's keeping me up tonight, screwing up my week. Bad.
-I finally hit 2500 visits to my blog - yay. I know I didn't celebrate 2000, which makes this all the more celebratable.
-I decided this past week that I would not be taking any Revel classes this spring. Either I will not enroll there, or I might wait for the fall....
-I have to figure out where I am going for Thanksgiving break and what I will doing. I had thought to maybe stay in and work on composing some articles, though my roommate, Meir, suggested that I could work on them throughout the schoolyear, but how often do I get to travel? Good point.

My Long Saturday Night

On my social calendar following shabbas were two things: 1) Attending a showing of Ushpizin with Mt. Sinai at Lincoln Center Plaza (or something like that) at 8, followed by 2) stopping at my fellow Columbusite's (a 'Columbusite' is someone from or who lives in Columbus (I'm thinking Ohio, but I suppose this term could extend to other Columbuses)), Sarah Nemzer's, belated birthday party.
The former event was nice, it went well, and I got to sit next to Zehava Krinsky, who was a cool person next to whom to sit, and I found the movie to be nice, worth my time, but not anything significant, per se, to me. After which, I made it over to the latter event, which had some people leaving as I was entering, but it was okay. My roommate, Meir, struck up a conversation with one of Sarah's roommates, Gail/Gayle, which lasted a little while, all the time of which I was feeling kind of tired and wanted to leave to go attend, or at least stop by, a birthday celebration of another Columbusite, who lives in the Heights, having lived on the floor below me last academic year. So, eventually, we made it there, though we stopped to say "hi" to another Columbusite (trust me, I rarely see Columbusites, so three or more in one night is truly a rarity) at a bar on the same block. Both bars, though especially the first one, was truly a cultural experience. As I generally neither go to clubs, nor bars, it struck me as to how these people were behaving. While it might have seemed fine to them, from someone leading a frum lifestyle, it was truly different.
Anyways, so we stopped in for about a dozen minutes, then left, hoping that Talia's Steakhouse would be a happening scene. Nope. There were maybe a dozen and a half people, and all were sitting in groups eating. Definitely nothing exciting. So Meir and I went back to the car. At this point, I was further tired than I had been previously. But, we go and pick up his sister, her two Montreal friends, and this other guy, Gideon, from Holland, living in Brussels, who's travelling in America for two and a half weeks. We then go driving around looking for the Meatpacking District, eventually finding some place and having drinks for a while. After all of that, we went back to the Heights.
I probably should have ended my night after the Talia's Steakhouse thing, as I was tired. However, I unfortunately ruined my Sunday (not that it has happened yet, but I just know it has) by staying out beyond when I should have.

10 November 2005

Two pieces of News in Drew

Here are two recent events in my life:
1) The Compendium of Sources in Halacha and the Environment תשס"ו just came out, edited by Ora Sheinson and Shai Spetgang, published by Canfei Nesharim. My contribution to this inaugural volume is my compilation of sources to be found on pages 67-78. Check it out, it's well-printed, even though a couple of the articles may be shvach, but some are good, as well.
2) A few weeks ago when my sister visited, she named my guinea pigs (see here and here for info on my guinea pigs), calling the smaller one, "Butterscotch," and the other "Biggie Smalls."

YCT's Hike Today, Tosafos and Me

Today, on YCT's hike, I mainly ascended with other students, in addition to myself, though I was able to listen to the Rosh haYeshiva speaking with some students about the school's mission statement and about Israel, which was interesting. However, on my way down, I caught up with Rabbi Love, and listened to him as students were asking him questions and discussing different topics (Rabbi Love in action with stick in hand, while discussing something (probably the future of Jewry) with students Sorin Rosen and Yonah Berman). But as the question of women aliyos and כבוד צבור (honor of a congregation) came up, I started thinking of different understandings, etc. What struck me was how תוספות (Tosafot, commentary of medieval rabbis (if you have no idea who they are, click the link or go to Wikipedia)) might have played around with these and other varying concepts.
This year, at least certainly this year, in the first year of rabbinical school at YCT, we are focusing on Rishonim, starting mainly on Tosafos, especially as it is one of, if not the, hardest such commentaries to decipher. I've been getting kind of frustrated with how they just blend all these different ideas with no distinctions as to whether the statement is tannaitic, amoraic, or stammaitic. Granted, it is interesting to see how Tosafos deal with various issues in the Talmud in their quest for figuring out halakhah (despite my frustration from my previous statement).
What also struck me is no
t just the playing around of halakhic concepts, but how sometimes, it doesn't matter for what the halakhah may allow, but that certain things don't go well in people's minds. This came up very visibly in people's comments to my Women and Simhat Torah posting, when people suggested that this-or-that may not be too comfortable for them. I found it interesting as I live most of my days in an ivory tower a beis medrash, where we toss around and play with ideas. Unfortunately for practicality, we only deal in two dimensions, but not the third dimension of human experience and feelings. I will have to be thinking how to deal with this issue through the years....

06 November 2005

Mima'akim Journal Release Party

This evening, I had the pleasure of attending Mima'makim's release party for their sixth journal. I had previously attended in the spring and found it to be of interest and enjoyable, as well. I went with a few fellow Heights people (can be seen in the top left photo, though only my roommate's right shoulder can be seen), and eventually saw a few others (including Aaron and Shira, the former of which presented a couple of his poems and is pictured with the light shirt). Upon my walking in, I saw a face I hadn't seen in at least a couple of years. This face belonged to Adam Chandler, a guy who I had known in my international involvement with BBYO, spending three weeks together on a summer program in 1998, as well as being at the BBYO International Conventions for a week each of that and the following two years. He's apparently now in New York City (he grew up in Houston and attended university at GW) working at Heeb. He introduced me to Lilit, who was the third presenter and is a poster at JewSchool (she is pictured with book in hand).
As I'm not much of a connoisseur of poetry, I enjoyed the music, though there was not as much music this time as there was last time, though this probably made it last not as long as previously. My favorite act was Basya Shechter of Pharoah's Daughter. It was very polished - certainly the mark of a professional artist. She started off with one song, then brought on another fellow, who beatboxed! It was quite enjoyable. For her third song, she brought on another performer, a young lady who played on some sort of stringed instrument (so I don't know what it's called...) along with the beatboxing, etc. Tremendously enjoyable - I will try to go to her [group's] performances. What was so good about the last was that she was quoting from Pirke Avos, and it made me realize how great this is - it's like Jewish culture, but done in a very enjoyable and good way. For me, it was mixing entertainment with Judaism (often my Judaism and entertainment don't mix paths), which kind of made me proud of Jewish tradition for a little bit and wished that this sort of thing was more common.
The most thought-provoking act of the night was this fellow Josh's prose. He is blurrily pictured here with his wife (she is wearing a red shirt). Speaking of which, he made an amusing comment after having asked her something and she responded with an "Okay," he said, "'Okay' is close enough to a 'yes' when you're married."
Beyond that, he raised in his presentation a few good thoughts: 1) When he was a kid, he looked for God, like looking for an imaginery friend. If so, I wonder how many youngsters do the same, and how that affects their understanding and relationship with God as they go through life. 2) Oftentimes, we talk about God with words usually only reserved for sex.... 3) What's the function of a מחיצה in a shul where there are homosexual males on one side and lesbians on the other side? In addition to these three, he mentioned in a prose piece about everybody rebels at some point in their youth (his example was a girl eating cheeseburgers for a month). Interesting, I thought, as I am a BT (not raised from birth as being observant), and I'm going to have to deal with my offspring who will rebel. It's a fact of life. I heard someone remark about a year and a half ago that when BTs get married, they hope to have little BT babies, but, alas, they will be FFBs (raised from birth as observant).
To end the evening, the coordinator of it, Jake Marmer, closed off with some selections of his. While the music was neat, after the first couple, I was ready to go, then he did a piece, entitled "Shalom/Goodbye," which I thought was a perfect opportunity to end the show. But, it did not.
He kept going, and so we decided to bounce at that point.
Overall, it was good, though the space where it was held was way too small, as there were people consistently standing way in the back. Furthermore, where it was held last time was at least wide, though not tremendously deep. This place was somewhat (but not a lot) long, but kind of narrow. Hopefully, they will resserve a larger venue for their future events in anticipation of crowds of this and bigger sizes.

Sociability & Me

I remember as recently as eleventh grade, when I was in a career development class, that I wanted to work in a job where I would not have to deal much with people - certainly no jobs where there was a lot of interpersonal interaction. I certainly have been, and to a lesser extent nowadays, an introvert. Yes, people change.
I think my trying to be מקפיד (particular) to remember people's names in the spring of 2002, when I was an undergrad at YU and was playing basketball when a law student I knew was very good about calling people by their names. It struck me as I didn't and others seldom did, except the people they specifically knew. But what struck me about Richard, this law student, was that it was so... nice. Although people were nice to those, I found, in their own cliques, people often weren't particularly nice to others (that isn't to say that they were nasty or mean, though). He seemed to be indiscriminately nice, somehow, and that it was an aspect of כבוד הבריות (showing honor to others).
That following summer was my first (eventually, of three) summers staffing the international leadership programs of BBYO. I staffed a four-week program with over a hundred participants and a three-week program with about 150 participants (maybe more, but hopefully the figures aren't that significant). Having come off of an all-male yeshivah environment, having spent the previous fall in yeshivah in Israel, then the spring at YU, I didn't think it too appropriate to know all of the girls, so I didn't know all of the girls after that month, but I did a pretty good job of knowing the guys' names. I felt bad about not knowing all of their names, so for the next program, I made sure I got their names down - I actually did surprisingly well! From then on, I've been pretty good about getting peoples' names down.
Another two events are significant to the development of my sociability. The first of these two occurred in the fall of 2001, when I was in Israel. I had a dorm counselor who had two masters degrees and was pursuing a doctorate in psychology, I think (no bachelor's, though(!)), and was a fascinating guy and really enjoyed his Thursday night mishmar discourses, which were heavily infused with kabbalah or hasidus or something. Anyways, I had a few sessions with him, which were great, just talking with him. The latter part of that semester and, to some extent, the following semester at YU, I found it interesting to speak with other people. This remained until the second event, which were different discursive experiences, which mainly took place at the Hillel. I felt it sort of put me back into a more 'normal' and not 'interesting' mode of social intercourse.
However, over the past year, during my time both scholastically at YCT, and socially in the Heights/Mt. Sinai/young people crowd, my social skills have picked up, albeit with mixes of speaking of the metadiscourse within casual conversation, being sort of simple, along with the employment of other methods of discourse. Although it was slow last fall, from the spring, and especially through the summer, I have come to know a wide number of people here.
A couple of anecdotes from yesterday to share: at shul, I was going around, as per usual, meeting people and a RIETS guy who I know complimented me on my welcoming abilities, saying that I would make a good rabbi. 2) I was at a party last night and chatting with various people and twice (perhaps it was thrice(?)), people suggested that I go around and mingle - that maybe there would be someone for me. I found it amusing, as they were encouraging (no they were not trying to get rid of me (at least I hope not)) me, not that I was being antisocial, though, but in a way that seemed to say I had a certain proficiency with conversation.
Although I wouldn't say that I've gotten back to where I was a few years ago, I've realized it's not about regaining that sense, it's about progressing to incorporate what I learned then, as well as to try to live in the moment, and appreciate people.

The Plugging Post

It has been requested of me that I plug a few upcoming events. They are as follows:
  • Yosef Karduner Concert - this Tuesday, the 8th, at 8 PM at the Mt. Sinai Jewish Center in the Heights. The cost will be $15 for non-members and $10 for students and members. Separate seating, as well.
  • Power of Music Conference - 18-20 November at the Carlebach Shul on the UWS. There is much more information on their website.
  • Dr. Daniel Pipes Lecture - this Tuesday evening, the 8th, at 8 PM at Belfer Hall on the YU campus. More information can be found on Alan's blog.

03 November 2005

Chovevei Blog Started

I have now begun a blog about Chovevei Torah. Yay!

One effect will be that I will be blogging much less about YCT on my own blog, unless there's something I feel I want to express myself not under the aegis of my group of fellow students. BTW, it is an unofficial blog.

Things I am concerned about are three:
1) The negative reactions on the behalf of my fellow students due to concerns (which there are many, no doubt)
2) Disrespectful comments by those not so friendly to YCT
3) Statements or postings being misconstrued by the general public regarding our yeshiva

I hope it succeeds. In the even that it does not, I could go back to posting more about it here.
For some previous postings about Chovevei on my blog, see below for list of links:
YCT Returns
Pre-break Mishmar
Spirituality Retreat
New Year at YCT

01 November 2005

Got Evil Spirit On Your Hands?

Last week, at the Shmini Azeret table, I was asked for a dvar Torah. I said that I didn’t have anything to say. But then I said I would briefly speak on something upon which I had been researching that morning. I had taken out Tannaitic sources about sleep and beds and was looking into Rashi’s and Tosafot’s comments upon them. Just as I had started, mentioning the link between death and sleep (the most obvious source is the beraisa on ברכות נז:, which speaks about sleep being a negligible amount of death, though there are others (עין כגון בגיטין ע. וברכות סא:)) and he asked if that’s why we’re supposed to wash our hands in the morning. Though I said, “No,” I said I would respond to that after my brief presentation of sources.

So I did. There are no sources connecting רוח רעה (evil spirit) to sleep at all in Talmudic sources (there is however one source connecting this evil spirit to beds: תנא אוכלין ומשקין תחת המטה אפילו מחופין בכלי ברזל רוח רעה שורה עליהן – “It was taught: Foods and drinks under the bed – even covered in iron vessels, an evil spirit rests upon them.” (פסחים קיב.)), so it is errorful to attribute to either the tannaim, amoraim, or even the editors of the Talmuds, etc. this idea of evil spirit descending upon a person while sleeping. So whence is this idea?

It is none other than our sainted Rashi who came up with this idea. Now before one criticizes this great sage, one should appreciate his חידוש (novella) on a difficult סוגיא (pericope) in the Babylonian Talmud. The section in question is the following (bShabbat 108b-109a):

אמר שמואל טובה טיפת צונן שחרית ורחיצת ידים ורגלים בחמין ערבית מכל קילורין שבעולם.

תניא נמי הכי אמר רבי מונא משום רבי יהודה טובה טיפת צונן שחרית ורחיצת ידים ורגלים ערבית מכל קילורין שבעולם הוא. היה אומר יד לעין תיקצץ, יד לחוטם תיקצץ, יד לפה תיקצץ, יד לאוזן תיקצץ, יד לחסודה תיקצץ, יד לאמה תיקצץ, יד לפי טבעת תיקצץ, יד לגיגית תיקצץ, יד מסמא, יד מחרשת, יד מעלה פוליפוס.

תניא רבי נתן אומר בת חורין היא זו ומקפדת עד שירחוץ ידיו שלש פעמים
Shmuel said: A drop of cold water in the morning, and bathing the hands and feet in hot water in the evening, is better than all the eye-salves in the world.

It was taught likewise: R. Muna said in R. Judah's name: A drop of cold water in the morning and bathing the hands and feet in the evening is better than all the eye-salves in the world.
He [R. Muna] used to say: Hand to the eye, let it be cut off; the hand to the nose, let it be cut off: the hand to the mouth, let it be cut off; the hand to the ear, let it be cut off; the hand to the vein [opened for blood letting], let it be cut off; the hand to the membrum, let it be cut off; the hand to the anus, let it be cut off; the handto the vat, let it be cut off, the hand leads to blindness, the hand leads to deafness, the hand causes a polypus.

It was taught, R. Nathan said: She is a freewoman and she is careful/insists until he washes his hands three times.
The discussion above is one concerning cleanliness and its relation to health, especially as Shmuel was reknowned for his medical knowledge. The conversation pertaining to washing the hands is spoken both by Shmuel and by Rabbi Yehudah (though Rabbi Yehudah preceded Shmuel by about a century, as the former lived in the mid second century and the latter in the mid third century) in the evening. Then Rabbi Muna, a student of Rabbi Yehudah's, speaks in the same text of the health danger of hands, which is seemingly weird, if not just plain cryptic. Then, this section follows with a most puzzling statement by Rabbi Nathan, a contemporary of Rabbi Muna's, where he switches the gender in his statement. That is just the start of the problem, as we don't know who "she" is, who "he" is, nor the context in which this situation is taking place.
My best surmisal is that, from the surface reading of this section of the Talmud, it would seem that Rabbi Nathan is speaking about what had been mentioned in the previous text, that he is speaking upon the evening washing of one's hands and feet. It may thus be that the lady of the house enforces her man to wash his hands really well before touching stuff in the house, etc., perhaps because women are more mindful of cleanliness than men(?).
However, Rashi didn't take my approach, so he had a weird sounding set of texts in front of him. What to do? Starting from his comment on Rabbi Muna's statement (ד"ה יד לעין: שחרית קודם שיטול ידיו), he develops his חידוש of these texts speaking about washing one's hands in the morning(!) until the end of this set of texts (see esp. his comments on Rabbi Nathan's beraisa).
One has to appreciate the brilliance of the way Rashi handles this gemarra (section of the Talmud), as it is definitely an odd section. However, it's not necessarily the read understood by other ראשונים (medieval commentators) (see esp. the Rambam's laws on washing hands in the morning (הלכות תפילה ז:ד)(which is taken from Berakhos 60b) until the Tur came along and codified Rashi's approach (OC 4:2), which has been taken on by the Shulkhan Arukh and subsequent halakhic works.
However, even if one finds Rashi's reason unsatisfactory, there are still other reasons why Jews are supposed to wash their hands in the morning: the Rosh says it is due to our hands being active in the night, touching dirty places and the Rashba says it is due to being a new creation. While one can check into these sources (unless you want me to post their locations), I think that the Rambam has the understanding of our sages well in hand, as hand washing is on account of prayer (why else would hand washing be so far back in the list of blessings on Berakhos 60b?).
(The MO don't always bring a lack of sources, Chardal.)