29 December 2005


Ooooohhhh, that's rough. I was not nominated for the JILB. Now, for a five-month old blog, that's probably nothing about which to fret - true. I wasn't really aware of them until my roommate mentioned to me that he was nominated. I think we were both kind of surprised as he is not a tremendously frequent blogger. Nevertheless, I am definitely happy for him.
We'll see, if If my blog is still around in a year, maybe I will get nominated....
Don't get me wrong, I don't deserve to win in any of the categories, it's just the nomination thing that'd be nice.

Recent Drew Hanukkah Doings

After spending four and a half hours in the YU library working on my Talmudic Sleep Ethics paper (for my school's annual journal (Milin Havivin), which is due when we get back from break, which is, like, in a few days), yesterday, I then went to a couple of small Hanukkah get-togethers in the Heights, which was nice, before heading to bed.
I got up early (before 10 am during break does, indeed, constitute waking up early), davened, then went to work back on my paper at the YU library. While working on my paper, I was able to retrieve my five free copies of the most recent issue (Jan. - March 2006) of the Jewish Bible Quarterly, and got to see my first ever published article (YAY!!!), which was, relevantly, on Biblical Sleep Ethics, and which I conveniently referenced/cited. After finishing up around fiveish, I was pretty relieved and happy :)

I then ran a couple of errands, before picking up the next DVD of 24 (disc number 3, for those keeping score at home), which, when I returned to my apartment, my roommate queried me and said, "The first season?? You're watching the first season??" And to that, I replied, "Yes, I have never, ever, never, never, ever seen 24 before this week in my life." "Where were you?" I said, "I was in Israel, when it came out, and was trying to focus on Torah." He then said something about modernity or something, and I said, well, yeah, there is that, but, for me, there is the Koheles factor also (I suppose that's fodder for a future post).
Anyways, after sitting down for a good three-hour showing of 24 (OMG, it is so addictive!), I am now doing some blogging, and trying to come up with a good posting for Esther's dating blog carnival thingy (yes, it's a new thing of which I've never heard, but it's not only a good idea, but Esther e-mailed me about it, too (I'm moving up in the JBlogosphere when Esther e-mails me, I guess.)). So keep posted. :)

28 December 2005

Our Last Day of Working (Friday 23 December)

Friday morning consisted of Ben and I waking up late and making it over to daven shaharis at Chabad a little later then everybody else, talking to Gideon afterwards a little, and then heading off to Touro hospital, where some of the guys were staying, before starting our workday. At Touro, we actually picked up a guy who was working with us for the day, and we were to find out that he actually is an assistant editor for the Seattle Jewish newspaper. We first went to the house where the other car had gone to tear down the fence the previous day. Our task was to get the crossboards in place, and then to leave a few guys behind to put in boards, while the rest of us were to go back across the lake to finish up the job we had started Thursday. We did just that, in fact. During our travelling, especially the drives across Lake Pontchartrain, we had some interesting conversations with Josh, the newspaper guy, as he is not Orthodox, and probed us regarding various things in the Orthodox world, but more towards our personal thoughts, etc. It was quite interesting. After finishing up our work, and picking up the members of our group who we had left behind, we had enough time to check out Beth Israel, the Metairie shul which had been horribly devastated and is better known as the shul that Zaka members removed Torah scrolls while wading in water, which were shown in those photos. A lot of emptying out had been done by the Chabad group in town on Monday, of which my sister was a part, so when we got there, some amount of things, especially holy texts, had been removed (they even found a Torah scroll of which no one hadn't been previously taken care) - the texts were buried in a geniza, and they also removed the pews, which were probably trashed. The smell of mold was strong throughout, but the strongest in the sanctuary, which was awful. The books that had remained in one of the three libraries were in horrible condition. It was definitely a scene of a destroyed synagogue - something that reminded me of a desolate synagogue, something that was history - which it will likely be, as the water had reached around a dozen feet high, and the building will most likely be razed. We then hurried back to drop off some of our group to Touro Hospital, while Ben and I went to go find where all of us were staying. Once we found it, I showered, then went to pick up some of the rest of the group, while Ben showered. We got there with just enough time to drive over to Chabad for minha. Then shabbas came.

Day Two in New Orleans (Thursday 22 December)

Thursday morning, Ben and I made it over to the Chabad House for Shaharis, where I got an aliyah for kohen and there was quite a nice spread of breakfast, though I limited myself to some scrambled eggs, OJ, a bagel with some cream cheese and a little lox. Fortunately, that breakfast kept me until lunchtime, when I didn't even feel hungry and had forgotten about lunch. Our second day of volunteering for the Jewish Federation (however, see their article that ignores our work for them(!) that came out two days ago) started out for us with worksite located out in Covington, LA, which also means nothing to me, as I was an out-of-towner. However, to get there, we had to cross Lake Pontchartrain, the largest inland estuary in the US (610 sq. mi.), via the The Causeway, which, at 23.9 miles, is the longest bridge in the world(!) (for more info on this bridge, see Metairie's website). One of the more remarkable things about this bridge is that one doesn't see land for a while - just water (one source says for eight miles along the bridge, one cannot see land at all(!)). So we got there and had two tasks to perform - one was to fix up a couple parts of a fence as well as to build a walkway, making it easier for an older relative of the houseowner upon which this person would be able to more easily perambulate. In order to take of the latter task, we had to saw up boards and then to hammer nails into them to get them into previously installed boards. For the former task, we had to not only remove the bad parts of the fence, but also install a metal support post before putting up some crossbeams and, of course, the fence boards, themselves. By around lunchtime, we got finished with sawing up some of the boards for the walkway and had removed the bad boards and begun to put up some of the crossboards as well as some of the boards, but had just poured some cement for the support post (guess who poured it?), so we had to wait 24 hours before using it again. So, we left to head back over the world's longest bridge to get to our next places of help and to eat lunch along the way (24 miles provides some good time to eat, unless you're the driver (which, along with Mike Schultz in the other car, I was). Mike's car went to a house near the bridge to remove a fence, in order to prepare it for the following day, when we would build a new one, while our car went to a house in a neighborhood where a breeched levee had spilt out its disgusting watery contents (not just water, some caustic substances as well). Our task was to remove heavy and bulky things out of this family's attic. Water had flooded over five feet for the whole neighborhood, so this family's house was no exception, as their house was pretty much totally flood-damaged and had only a one-story house. So, everything in their attic and on shelves in their garage (yes, ironically, the stuff they had put away because they didn't need it was the stuff that was unharmed and the stuff they did need was damaged/ruined) remained unharmed, while most of the stuff in the house was destined for the trash heap and the homeowner had decided that the house was pretty much destined to be destroyed. Since this family could deal with taking most of the stuff down from the attic, we were to remove this stuff. The husband/father of the family met us outside, dispensing fancy gasmasks to us (yay!) and we went in - although we had initially gone in without such apparati, and had been stunned by the horrible smell of mold. After we finished, we were speaking with the father/husband, when a guy with a camera drove up and said that he was doing a documentary (apparently, he said, for the Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival) and inquired if he could do some interviewing, so a few of our guys (Maurice Appelbaum, Meir Rabkin, and Daniel Braune-Friedman) responded, so maybe there will be some Chovevei guys in a documentary sometime.... By the time we were finished, we davened מנחה (the afternoon prayer service), and made our way to my sister's apartment, where I was able to check my e-mail, and we chilled for a little bit, before heading back to Touro Hospital, to meet up with the other car to head to dinner. For dinner, we went to Creole Kosher Kitchen, which, for us, was the last of the three kosher restaurants we had visited in New Orleans. It is located in downtown New Orleans (between a Taco bell/KFC and an adult novelty store, go figure), where most of its business is tourists, which is great for travelers who either keep kosher or just would like to eat kosher. After enjoying a great meal (I had some spicy jumbalaya - really good), which my sister joined at the end, as one of her friends and her husband of three weeks was also in the restaurant with our group, and we were sitting around talking, Maurice saw that we had enough for a minyan for מעריב (evening prayer service), so we, along with the restaurant's owner, Gideon, davened (yes, all thirteen, except for maybe Bob, of us davened (okay, so my sister, her friend, and Mike's wife, Laura, were not part of the minyan, per se...). Afterwards, Gideon instructed us to sit down and brought out some scotch and some plastic cups. He poured some for everyone and would let no one not drink. He then began to tell of his woes of having started back up only three weeks prior and how he had very little business due to 99% of his business from tourists (when a lot of the Jewish community is gone, anyways, and no conventions, business is going to be hit badly(!)), and that our minyan would be the last in a long time as he had decided that he would be closing up shop for perhaps a year and starting up a new business out in LA (see the Jewish Journal's article on his family for more information on his devastation). He told of some stories about his restaurant, which had been in existence for five or six years, and how it will no longer be here, that it will lose out on its impact. He said it's more than just money - it's getting Jews to eat kosher (although this seems pointless, he told us of a story of a guy who had walked by the store a few times before coming in and ordering a wine and some food. When Gideon had asked this guy why he had walked by a few times before coming in, he said that he went to another restaurant and ordered a wine, but thought to himself that if he had no excuse of eating kosher, since it was there, so he paid for the wine, without drinking any and went to Gideon's. Again, nothing special, but the guy came to Gideon some time later and said, "Remember me?" Gideon said, "No." Apparently, this fellow had come to keeping kosher, etc. as he said he had no excuses to keep kosher, and to do those other Jewish things, either - a truly beautiful story (one which, someone had remarked to me later, that got Bob nodding his head...).). In sum, it was quite a heavy experience, but one that was incredible. We then went back to our respective places of sleeping and called it a night.

27 December 2005

Third Night of Hanukkah

Nothing major here.
I went to West Side Jewish Center's Hanukkah Extravaganza to help support the congregation and to listen to Bsamim perform, but I was there, initially, to help support Rabbi Jason Herman, a recent YCT graduate, who invited us (me certainly as he was my "big brother" or something last year at yeshiva, but that only really meant he took me to Dougie's for lunch once, oh well) to come. Pictured is Rabbi Herman, Ben (a fellow YCTer and a roommate), and me. Also is me in front of the bima in their gorgeous sanctuary - I had led מעריב (the evening prayer service) upon the request of Rabbi Herman, though that was probably due to my having been near the front of the shul. I thought how often is it that one's first time in a shul, one leads the service? (Okay, it wasn't a
major one....) It was cool to see that Rabbi Herman has his own apartment a couple of floors above the shul - that'd be great - having a shul in one's own building as well as a beit midrash! But it is an older building, so more modern shuls seldom have such things, which is good, as it gives rabbis more autonomy in their living - but for a single rabbi, it's probably not that important.
Afterwards, I went to Daniel Bloom's, where he was having a little Hanukkah get-together. It was nice, though I had come on the late side of it, so it was kind of mellow.
Following the soiree, I stopped by Golan Heights, the shwarma place in the YU neighborhood, and went back to my place to watch a movie I would never have seen on my own - The Dukes of Hazzard. I do not recommend it to anyone, unless they do not want to think about what they are watching and just want to see some car-racin' and just some other guy stuff. I was in a kind of movie-watching mood and kind of tired, but I would much have rather watched a more thoughtful flick. Oh well.

26 December 2005

On The First Day of Hanukkah...

My first day and second evening of Hanukkah went well - mainly relaxing. I started off my day going to Mar Gavriel's special Hanukkah minyan (advertised on his blog here and here). As he has already blogged about this minyan, I will only compose supplementary notes about it here.
It was definitely strange that he pronounced 'dalets' as a "z" sound, though I was already familiar how he pronounced his 'ayins' in a guttural way. A central thing which was to make this minyan unique was saying a kerova during the repetition of the amidah, and it was - an Israeli one from back in the day (like antiquity). The structure of the kerova was such that there were a couple of lines to be inserted in each of the berakhos before the closing of each of the berakhah, save for את צמח (one of the blessings). As we had some time before it, however, as some copies were being
made, haGaon Rabbi David Weiss-HaLivni gave a little talk about how in ארץ ישראל (Israel), they used to have eighteen blessings, but in Babylonia, they had nineteen as being due to the splitting up into two separate blessings - where there had previously been one unified blessing - of את צמח and וירושלים, which explains why there was no addition for the former. Although I knew this already, as I had learned a year ago from the scholar and incredible mentsch Professor Lawrence Hoffman when he gave a week-long Minimester at YCT, especially as the ולמשינים prayer seemed to have been included in the original eighteen. Rabbi Weiss-Halivni didn't speak on this and actually kind of confused me, prompting me to question him on this, though when I spoke to him later, he seemed to be fine with that. Since we're on the topic of Rabbi Weiss-Halivni, I got to ask him a question about the blessings on Berakhot 60b, which I had been wondering about for a while. Specifically, I was mainly interested in the material about what to do when one is entering onto his bed to sleep as to which sort of material that is. He identified it as tannaitic as there is no amora attached to it (I thought that was kind of strange reasoning, but it had seemed to be to me that way from before, though as to the stuff one does upon waking may be something else? Unfortunately, he was doing this only from memory and not with a printed text in front of him, so we couldn't really go into it. As Mar Gavriel pointed out on his posting, it was for unfortunate reasons that Rabbi Weiss-Halivni was back in the States, but it was fortunate for us that he was there.
When Mar Gavriel said "וכל-הנוצרים כרגע יאבדו", I thought my ears were playing tricks on me or, more likely, that I wasn't paying that much attention to what he was saying, as often happens to many daveners. But once I saw his blog, I realize I wasn't just hearing things. It went well, overall, and there was even some food afterwards, in the meantime of which, I spoke with the president of the congregation, finding out more about KOE. When that was over, it was ten until twelve, meaning there was about an hour left in the YCT yom iyyun on sexuality less than ten blocks away, so Steg and I went on our way towards OZ, until we bumped into two guys he knew who had just left it. They said that it was almost over and it wasn't worth it to go at that time, so we chatted for a bit as Steg knew both of them. In the conversation it came up that one of them had lit according to Beit Shammai and the other according to Beit Hillel. Although that was interesting to do something like people don't, pretty much, do in the last two thousand years. However, he said, that the reasoning that it's like the offerings during סכות (Tabernacles) makes sense as Hanukkah was instituted as a kind of make-up Sukkos, but for the idea that we elevate in holiness sounds like it is a Xian idea. I found that very interesting, even if not based in fact (it might be worth some investigation, though I'm not up for this one).
Then I went back to my apartment and grabbed some lunch. I thought I would watch an episode of "24", having never (never ever, that's right, never ever) seen one. Um, yeah, it's good. So after I finished the first DVD of four episodes, I then watched "Serenity" with Darisa (cf. her earlier posting), followed by another four-episode stretch of "24". So now I have to send those DVDs back to BlockbusterOnline and wait a few days before I can continue. Trust me, I would be watching the whole first season right now if I hadn't ran out - it's that addictive(!).

Leaving Biloxi and Returning to New Orleans

Tuesday night, we ate dinner, again with Annie, an exchange student from Pakistan, living in Oregon. We ate the previous night with her, sharing our pasta due to her being a Muslim and not eating pork and the food being served involving pork. However, that night, she ate from what was served and she sat at our table with us, and we continued conversing with her. After dinner, we had volunteered to clean up for the evening, which hopefully looked good for us. Afterwards, we went to sleep.
I woke up the next morning a little after five and packed up my stuff to go and we were off on the road less than an hour and a half later, and then arrived in New Orleans another hour and a half. There, we met up with a guy named Adam, who is in charge of public relations for the Jewish Federation down here, who mentioned that, pre-Katrina, he lobbied and stuff; now, he is trying to get together stuff for relief work - a huge change. In any event, he handed us over to work with a retiree from Ann Arbor, Michigan, named Bob, who had a little carry-on case of tools. As far as the relief crew for the federation we were it - us seven YCTers, one wife of a YCTer, and Bob. We went out to a someone's house whose fence had fallen down and needed to be taken away and replaced. As the pictures attest, we completed the task. However, what was a stark contrast from working with Hands On USA was a couple things: lack of supplies/equipment - whereas with HOUSA, we had an ample supply of tools, here, we have Bob's bag and whatever tools the householder owns. Although this wasn't too bad, it slowed us down terribly. A second thing was with HOUSA, the leaders had a clearer knowledge of what to do, whereas here - not. Anyways, after finishing the fence and the thanking by the couple whose fence we fixed, we made it to dinner at Casablanca - a nice middle Eastern restaurant. I enjoyed a lovely harira soup, an Eres beer, a Sprite, and a couscous platter with baked chicken and veggies. It was quite some good eating! We also took Bob with us from the work site, so that was neat. Following that, we then went to the Chabad House, meeting some of the students and then Maurice led a little class on disabilities and Judaism. While his class was informative, and he had sources, although I was critical of his texts, the session was good for me as it made me think a little further upon this topic and brought me a step closer to an understanding of how to deal with/treat those with disabilities. Afterwards, we dropped off people at Touro Hospital, where five of us were staying, and then Ben Greenberg and I - the kohanim in the group - went to stay at the JCC, where the boys from the Chabad restoration project were staying. We then prepared our things and went to bed.
(PS - I originally composed this either Wednesday night or Thursday, but I just noticed that their website mentions volunteers, but not us - so not cool!)

25 December 2005

A Little Housekeeping (Post #100)

Just a few things in this post:
1) This is my hundredth post.
2) This blog has now had over 5000 visits. :)
3) About a week or so ago, I changed my template from a black background to a little more colorful of one.

And don't forget about my upcoming posts about New Orleans....

Back From NOLA and in NYC

I'm back from New Orleans in New York and am set to get back to blogging. I had little time and little Internet access, so that accounts for not having blogged yet about any of my New Orleans experiences. However, it will take the next day or two to blog about them.

BTW, my guinea pigs are still alive. :)

20 December 2005

Day Two of Helping Out in Biloxi

Before I begin to blog about my day, I want to make a little report on what I have seen. While there are houses that are completely destroyed, and some that are semi-destroyed, there is damage abound. Many businesses were hit hard. However, the buildings which are being rebuilt are the casinos and hotels - seemingly, perhaps, because they have enough money to do so. Houses and smaller businesses, however, are not there yet. Ok, now to me.
Last night, we made some pasta - think macaroni and cheese with some spaghetti, as well - kind of weird, but whatever - as a group dinner. See, we decided that we would do other meals of the day each guy for himself, but dinner together. After dinner, was the HandsOnUSA meeting, then we had a reflection group after the meeting. That was last night.
Today, I went out to do work with a demolition of interiors team. I had coined this activity yesterday as a little boy's dream. Having taken part in this activity, I can say that I was right(:)). We ended up taking apart most of the insides of two houses (one smaller and one bigger) - i.e., we removed the wallpapering, the drywall, the insulation in the first, a lot of walls, windows in the second, random nails, cabinets, cupboards, etc. Pretty much everything, leaving just the skeleton of these houses. I want to state officially now that I enjoyed my day today - doing that physical labor just spoke to me - it was kind of spiritual, actually. Hmm, come to think of it, I would say that physical labor is a spiritual endeavor for me, whereas learning in the beis midrash is not, practically devoid of such a thing (more in this post on this topic later, though I posted three months ago about my relationship to, and understanding of spirituality in an earlier posting, though I think this experience furthered my personal experience).
Anyways, although handling a sledgehammer was great, the part I enjoyed most was destroying drywall. In fact, I would suggest that it's now a new hobby of mine to break up dry wall - yeah, it was fun.
For lunch, we stopped at "The Point" - the end of the peninsula that's part of Biloxi and where we could see the enshambled Biloxi-Oce
an Springs Bridge (see the picture of Meir and me). We sat on these steps right by the water where the water would calmly lap up against the sides and we were eating, while seagulls flew over the water and we looked at the bridge. While most people were talking, I took the time to enjoy my food, and was able to experience something that was going on there. I was struck by the juxtaposition of the calm water and the calmness that surrounded me with the downed bridge - this same water that was thrust so mightily against it and did a number on it, was now calmly lapping around its supports. Something kind of neat.
I had a realization as we were returning to HQ after finishing up our work for the day was that I have been experiencing or encountering or thinking of God in these few days more than I have all semester in the beis midrash. Just think how it will be by the conclusion of the week (!). However, not that that's really saying much for batei midrash (Jewish study halls) - for me, I don't experience God there - I experience Jewish learning and textual study. It's something to which I will have to get used. I experience God in the world, not in the study hall. There may be a connection there to my intellectualizing there, while out in the world of activity, it's more of an experiential - doing, that is - thing.
After having a learning session with Maurice this evening after the after-dinner meeting for Hands On USA, we will be going to sleep and waking up early to leave at 6:00 am tomorrow to reach New Orleans in the morning and start to help out there.

19 December 2005

Day One In Biloxi

Today, I went with a group to clean up a park. Although it was mainly stated yesterday that there was a big tree that needed to be removed, upon arrival, it was apparent that we were supposed to clean up the entire park(!). Well, okay, maybe it wasn't that clear, but that's what we did. I wouldn't have believed it would have looked the way it did by the time we left had you asked me when we got there, but it sure did look cleaned-up. Later on, when we were driving along the highway, the park stuck out as a "sore thumb" in an area that was messy, to put it nicely, as it was clean (yay).
After returning around 2:30, I grabbed some of the lunch I had prepared for myself (I had had a banana after davening shaharis, and a granola bar around 10:30, yet was only kind of hungry for lunch), then was about to wonder what to do when I saw Max, who was about to go drop off some clothes and toys, so I went with him. While there, we saw a fellow Hands On USA volunteer, who was happy to see us as she needed a ride back to HQ. Also, while waiting before unloading, a fellow with quite some accent shared with me a little derash (perhaps he heard it from his preacher(?)) on Pss. 23.4 that in order for there to be shade, there needs to be a light - a light from the above. I thought that was interesting, though I'm not quite sure of the metaphore, though I'm assuming the light to be God. Anyways, while there, I realized the awesomeness of the situation and recognized the need to thank God for not needing to be in such a situation. But more than that, I felt very humbled by people coming there to get basic necessities like food and clothing, even other things, having near to nothing - I don't quite have the words to put to the sense (not emotion, not thought, certainly nothing intellectual) that I realized - but it was impressive on me of the human situation.
Anyways, after that, we took a little detour to the end of the island where the bridge was downed (you'll know which picture this is), and saw more of the damage that Katrina/God wrought to the area. It's amazing how much damage there has been to the area - and that's just what I've seen. There are some scenes I've heard described to me that are quite amazing. It is at this point in my post I want to make a statement: COME DOWN HERE,
SEE THE AWESOME DAMAGE THAT HAS BEEN DONE, AND VOLUNTEER TO HELP OUT. You won't regret it. I'm very glad we're taking this opportunity and really, really glad that we've been given it (thanks to Michael Schultz for the idea, thanks Rabbi Linzer for allowing us to go down, thanks YCT for whatever, and muchas gracias a Dios!).
One last thing for this posting is that last night when Michael was asking if we might be uncomfortable with this or that, I thought for a moment (okay, a few moments) about bringing up a slight uncomfortability I have - though it was neither the time nor the place. And that slight uncomfortability is something that I will be trying to deal with over the next few years and will be transformed after I graduate. And that is my social intercourse with gentiles. Although this was an issue I danced around, but didn't quite spell out in an earlier post, it was in the background of the posting. Yes, I grew up going to public school; yes, I went to IU for four semesters; etc., but I still find it not as comfortable as I do around all Jews. However, this isn't so weird, apparently, as there was a girl in the class I took at Columbia this past summer who had said that she feels more comfortable around people when straight people aren't around. Same, too, for me, though you exchange "straight people" for "gentiles" and you get my comfortability - people are more comfortable around people who are not dissimilar to them. This is an issue that will remain with me, though is not that massively huge.
(Oh, and also, there's a blog, too, for Hands On USA, not just their website.) Also, for more pictures from our trip, I have set up a Yahoo!Photos page to view.

18 December 2005

Arrival in the South

We arrived today in New Orleans - there were six of us so far (another one will be joining us tomorrow and a wife of one of the guys will be arriving on Tuesday), we rented a couple of cars, went to Kosher Cajun - a part store, part deli in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, where they are trying to get back on track (the owner said they usually have a staff of ten, but currently have only three working), had some food -which was quite delicious, then set out towards Biloxi, MS.
On the way over, it was interesting to see some of the damage done - there was more in MS than in LA. The damage that sticks out most in my mind is that of the billboards - there were three in a row that the "boards" part of them were just the metal - no signs - and leaning in a certain direction. As much as that was pretty surprising, we also saw one that was snapped in half - not the "boards" part, mind you, but the steel pole holding it up(!).
We got to Biloxi in time for the ending up of the pre-Hanukah party of the only synagogue in Biloxi (a [liberal(?)] conservative shul). The synagogue, however, of this congregation was horribly destroyed, as only their sanctuary - which was hit fairly well - was the only thing left of their shul. So we were there, spreading the cheer, etc. Then we registered
with Hands on USA, the group running the rebuilding efforts here, and started moving our stuff in.
After moving our stuff in, we went to Winn-Dixie, a local supermarket, and even stopped at Wal-Mart (I [heart] Wal-Mart - I really miss it, we don't have such conveniences in NYC), before heading back. We had a text study led by Michael Schultz (pictured) about giving to gentiles or not, and if so, how much, though it was a cursory shiur, it was quite appropriate.
It's an interesting place and atmosphere here - there are roughly a hundred people, with varying ages, though I would imagine most are in their twenties, but that's a rough guess. We're in a
building attached to a church, but it's hard to describe the physical outlay of the place. In any event, people are sleeping in sleeping bags, often on blow-up mattresses, some of them in tents - all of this is on the second floor, like a balcony overhanging the eating and meeting area all around - while some people are sleeping in tents also outside. There are three showers - one inside, two outside. Lights out and quiet time starts at 10 pm, and we plan on waking up around 7ish or before and heading out at 8 to go out and help clean up. :)

17 December 2005


Due to my tiredness over the last few days I haven't been blogging so much, though that's not going to be helped by my leaving in a few hours to go down to Louisiana and Mississippi with several other YCT guys to help with the post-Katrina rebuilding efforts going on down there. Hopefully I will not only blog, but also post pictures from down there.

In other news, I attended my first aufruf this shabbas. Although I have never been to one before, I got invitations to two separate aufrufs: one in Riverdale of a fellow YCTer and one in Flatbush of a friend - as I had been invited over a month in advance, I attended the one in Flatbush, not to mention that I see him less often than my schoolmate.


Also, Aylana is retiring her blog. :(

14 December 2005

Minor Career Epiphany

As a student, one thinks of oneself as such. I, too, think of myself as a student. Especially when one is mainly looking at printed texts and discussing them for most of one's day, one considers onself as just a student - nothing more and nothing less. At least, however, as a rabbinical student, it's true, those texts are of Jewish tradition. I don't however, usually think of myself as a future rabbi when dealing with such texts. There are times when we have a class here or there that it comes up, or on shabbasos when people ask what I want to do after I graduate, but it's usually just abstract, and I don't actually consider what rabbis do. So, as far as watching what I say and such on my blog as I am a student who, several years away, will become a rabbi, often doesn't cross my mind. I just think I'm only a [lowly] student (and a freshman at that)- that's it. Sunday night, I was mulling over my choice of occupation. Over the last year or so, I have gotten to the point of being critical of texts and so forth, to which there is a certain healthiness, but sometimes it can be a bit much. Also, I like to research and write, so I was thinking, "Hey, why don't I drop this rabbi thing? I won't have to support the rabbinical view or rabbinic exegesis or hermeneutics as opposed to when I am a rabbi. Plus, I will be able to learn a lot of stuff and have more finite hours than I would as a rabbi." However, once I started thinking about teaching (something I would not like to formally do), and not having any special, meaningful, and possibly life-ameliorating interactions with people as I would as a rabbi, I quickly changed course in my thinking. I realized that, yes, I am only a [lowly] student now (yes, just a freshman), but I should try to, at times, be mindful of my future vocation. Plus, I really, really appreciate Rabbi Weiss' warmth and would like to try to emulate it to whichever extent I can (criticalness is not easily given over to being warm, per se). Sometimes I wonder if maybe, also, that I'm a little afraid of becoming really warm and loving as a rabbi, rabbinical student, or even just a person, but for that, time will tell.

12 December 2005

Jews, Exercise, and Drew

Having just got back from my first jog in a few weeks (bad Drew, bad. For people who would like to call me a hillul haShem, this is your chance.), and certainly the first in this cold, wintry weather (granted, I did play basketball each of the last two Saturday nights and have lifted here and there (again, something I need to do with more frequency, though I did lift today and yesterday, so that's a good start to the week in that department), so I'm not totally lazy (hmm, this seems like this might be a cycle)), I have decided I would post about Jews and exercise. Two things helped stimulate my thought for this posting. One was Gil's posting about it, though it was the comments on that posting that really got me thinking about the subject. A second stimulus was an e-mail from my mother in which she said,
For some reason, a lot of the Orthodox young men strike me as being scrawny. ... Am I generalizing way too much? Also, a lot of the more mature Orthodox men strike me as being out-of-shape and plump.
She also inquired as to my exercising, but we're not going to discuss that now, as she would not be happy with my lack of exercise as of late. But I agree with her observations.
When I initially began exercising, it was before I became frum, so I didn't think about couching my reasoning, or justification, in religious terminology, but rather saw it simply as keeping up one's health is the right thing to do in addition to it making me feel good after having endeavored in it. Now, in my being a committed Jew and, more significantly, in my being a rabbinical student, I have to consider exercise within a halakhic
framework. For me, the most personal reason is the hermeneutical take on Deuteronomy 4.15 (דברים ד,טו וְנִשְׁמַרְתֶּם מְאֹד, לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם): "And you shall guard yourselves very much, for your souls." The line is speaking about keeping the Torah and the commandments, etc., though one can take it out of its context (as the rabbis have done many times over with various scriptural quotes) and see it as saying to guard one's body, to keep it up.
Inasmuch as that may be a personal reason, a grander reason is on account of how Jews are perceived (known as חילול השם) - it doesn't look good to not be such a healthy nation.
Another reason is similar to the previous in that since we are created in the shadow, or image, of
God (Gen. 1.27), we should do what we can to give honor to such a divine image. Not off hand do I know its location in Bereshis Rabbah, but there is a midrash that one of the rabbis was going to the bathhouse when his students asked him what he was doing, whereupon he replied going to fulfill a מצוה, a commandment, that of being in the image of God, so we see a rabbinic expression of taking this descriptive line in Genesis and transforming it into an actual commandment of looking presentable.
I hope I have done justice to this topic and further hope that people consider this well.

No More (For Me) Heights Blog

When I first came up with the idea to have a Heights blog, I thought it would be great to have a number of team members and it would not only be a great forum for discussion of ideas, but also I would be able to not mention so much Heights goings-on on my blog. Well, aside from wanting more traffic to come to my blog, I also decided that even I wasn't into the Heights blog all that much.
So basically it's mainly this blog for me and somewhat on the YCT blog.

11 December 2005

Drew and Talmud Study, part 3

Drew at his makom in yeshiva
When R' Meir Lichtenstein spoke at our yeshiva, I realized that I have a problem with attributing logic to the statements of our sages when they are not specified within the Talmud. Granted, there is, of course, the issue of the Stam (or of various different Stammaim, if you will) attributing reasons to the sayings of the Amoraim or Tannaim, which can be sometimes problematic (see, e.g. the link above), but that is not what I am discussing in this post.
What I am discussing is mainly the Rishonim as well as even current-day commentators. For instance, in the lecture R'
Lichtenstein presented, he posited the reasoning for Rava, without hedging it nor with allowing for other reasons - he said that's his read of the texts. I thought this was unfair (plus, GatosHombre mentioned that there was likely a difference between the sages of Israel and Babylonia at that time upon the particularRabbi Meir Lichtenstein at YCT matter, which R' Lichtenstein didn't consider). It's possible that his way is not the way to understand the meta-statement of Rava.
Moving beyond that comes the Rishonim. As we are learning them (I began to
speak about Tosafos earlier), one cannot help but be aware of their attributing reasons to the statements of the rabbis. Now this seems innocuous, but it has halakhic consequences. For instance, for the issue of washing one's hands in the morning, there are at least four different approaches (as I mentioned at the end of my hands-washing post), each of which have different possibilities for determining the halakhah. That may be fine, but when one starts to say that it's all of them or a mixture of them, it can be problematic (okay, two possibilities may be fine). As my fellow student, Gatos Hombre recently stated this week, "It is one thing to make hiddushim and read into texts when they are not clear, but it is another to make the text say something it is not saying." Thus, I wonder if we brought back the sages of the Talmud to speak with Rishonim and current-day sages, what would go on. Would they agree to what the later authorities said the earlier ones said - sometimes, perhaps.
A big thing that I have
been kind of thinking about is how much meta is behind the statements of the sages mentioned in the Talmud. Granted, we see the Amoraim dealing with the reasoning a little bit of the Tannaim, though the Stammaim really take this to another level when they mention concepts left and right. This piece of information necessitates one to consider that one should figure out why they were saying what they were saying.
However, on the other hand, to someone who reads these texts more critically, I see the statements of the sages as
something certain, though I wonder how much we can say what they were thinking about it. One could be wrong (for a number of reasons), one could be right, and one might also just have an insufficient amount of information. Just some thoughts, it's a struggle - but it's a struggle that I hope to continue to deal with over the rest of this first year of semikhah dealing with the Rishonim.