30 March 2009

Twitter Teshuvot

There are several websites already online that feature ask a rabbi feature (Ask Moses, Chabad, Aish's Ask The Rabbi, Beit-El Yeshiva Center, and even Reform Judaism are just some sites that have this feature).
The step beyond this is for SMS ask-the-rabbi, which Rabbi Shlomo Aviner has taken up, with his ongoing Shut SMS series (
#1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10a, #10b, #11a, #11b, #12), about which Rabbi Adam Mintz discussed a similar thing of Rav Aviner's couple of years ago (although not SMS Shut, per se) in his teshuvot series of lectures.
Over this past weekend, Dani Klein and I were talking about the opening there is on Twitter for an ask the rabbi account (he actually mentioned this online on Wednesday) and although I'm not sure I would be up for such an idea, myself, I do think it's a good idea. In fact, I'm surprised Chabad is not already on to this yet (although there is @ChabadOrgNews and @Lubavitch, but they are not doing question and answers). Anyways, this is an as of yet unexplored niche and it will be interesting to see what will become of it.

29 March 2009

Towards an Appreciation of Ontology for the Modern Orthodox Community

Rabbi Kelsen speakingThis past Thursday’s parshah shiur at my school (as a part of YCT's weekly parshah shiur series) featured Rabbi Jonathan Kelsen, who spoke on “Encountering Reality”. He had a very fascinating set of things to say, beginning around the 31 minute mark,
I’m saying in this beis midrash specifically … because it’s Modern Orthodoxy. I think that - and I include myself in this - that many Modern Orthodox Jews - not all - shy away from what I just said - they shy away from this kind of ontological talk and they shy away from talking about somehow there are specks of dirt on the soul because that’s kind of crazy – that’s kind of fundamentalist – that’s kind of radical.

The worry I have for the Modern Orthodox community is that, in denying any ontology and any talk of these types of things and only insisting on thinking things through (I’m going to contradict myself in about two and a half minutes, so stay tuned), as long as it’s not psychological and it’s not about our current narrative and our community’s sphracht or our psycho-spiritual whatever – those types of terms, we don’t know what to do with it. And, in fact, I think a lot of us, I think you will find that a lot of your congregants, I imagine, are not going to want to going to talk about legal constructs, about legal authority either, kind of positivist legal constructs.
I don’t think that a lot of Modern Orthodox Jews like to talk about, “Well, I don’t mean that the soul actually has a stain, but when you do a חטא, it generates a חיוב of a חטאת, as a חלות שם חיוב חטאת, and I don’t know how it affects metaphysics or not or what it has to do with the other world, but because God commanded and I just do גזירת המלך and there’s sort of like this cause-and-effect legally, it’s halakhic reality – not what we call ‘real life’ and ‘actual reality’ and what you end up with is ‘halakhic reality’ and ‘real life’ and the twain shall never meet and that’s a problem.

I’m telling you why I am saying this: I, as much as anybody else, cannot adopt ontological language – it is very hard for me. For a long time already – I have been through the positivism, I have been through the social constructs, and I have been through the psychology and I am still there. But I will tell you what I think I am missing by doing that. And what I am missing is everything about human experience, which ontology actually describes accurately. And here’s what I mean by that: When people talk about the stain of sin, they talk about it for a reason; they experience sin as stainful. When people talk about guilt, they are not talking about wrong-doings, they don’t mean that "I have a חיוב to feel guilty right now, legally." Or "As part of filial loyalty to my community, I am going to feel guilt for my sin" - they may, but I hope they don’t.
That means they are missing out on the experience of guilt, or of joy or of קדושה.

I think that by being reductionist in our language, in shying away from ontology all together, we are blocking ourselves off from part of human experience and I think that’s really what my theory is. I am afraid that if we are always symbolizing things – talking about what the referents are, and what’s beyond the immediate, then we miss out on what the point of it was to begin with.

So I think that while it’s hard for me to adopt – to really go all the way towards ontology and really accept the Ramban and really accept the Ramban’s notion of my soul is stained by sin and I want to encourage the Modern Orthodox community to start returning to that as far as we can. For those of us who can think in those terms, I think that’s great and they have a lot to offer our community, which has been so sophisticated sometimes that it forgets about life. And if you can’t get all the way there, which I can’t, then psychologically to remember that there are those who experience sin as being real.

27 March 2009

Trying to Twitter Torah

Apropos of my recent posting on Torah on Twitter, I figured I will give it a go for a limited time, especially since there are various reasons to do so. I figured also that it would be a good experience for me to try my hand at brief Torah thoughts (no rabbi is good at this).
While I am still thinking about how best to do this task, I am planning on doing one tweet per day on the topic of ברכת החמה (the blessing over the sun (not the sun) (more info)) - if it goes well, great; if not, also fine. Either way, it's a specific short amount of time.
While I am on the topic, there was a posting today entitled "A Preliminary Bibliography of the Recent Works on Birkat ha-Chamah" (give it kavod here (like I did)), which makes for an interesting juxtaposition - the posting there speaks of many books written on this blessing said every 28 years, some of which are hundreds of pages long. On the other hand, Twitter limits messages to 140 characters long. Some of those books were way over 140 pages! Anyways, shabbat shalom and I look forward to embarking on this new opportunity next week.

25 March 2009

Torah on Twitter

On Monday, Rabbi Irwin Kula came to speak at our school and brought up the issue of tweeting Torah, suggesting that it will likely elicit in people one of two responses: either one of nauseousness or of opportunity (mine was the latter). (Granted, not many of my fellow YCTers are on Twitter, and, after passing around Rabbi Kula's tweet about it, there was some backlash against Twitter (not too different from this amusing video), although Twitter has not been a rabbi magnet [yet], so it's not confined to my school.) My first thought was that although there is some Torah on Twitter, most, if not all of it, is simply a providing of links to Torah elsewhere. For instance, @RabbiGreenberg tweets self-containted Torah Tweets, as well as, to some extent, @TorahTweets and @TorahToday. However, most of the Torah Twittering is not self-contained, such as @WebYeshiva, @YUTorah, @JewLearn, @JewishTweets, and @JewItYourself. While this is, to some degree, helpful, it is not confined to Twitter. For me, who gets a lot of tweets to my phone with URLs, if I'm actually interested in checking out the content of the referred link, I can forward that tweet to my email, where I can check it later (unless I am using my computer at that moment, then I can just open up the Twitter page and go from there (meta-comment: looking back in a few years, how outdated/obsolete will this aforementioned be?)). However, what I believe Rabbi Kula was suggesting was a challenge for more divrei Torah (or, what I'm thinking is more manageable, divrei halakhah) on Twitter, itself (without reference for external links). With divrei halakhah, for instance, a very manageable possibility is to do a daily devar halakhah, perhaps for people to stick with a given topic for awhile or to topically do more consistently.
Oh well, we'll see if this is taken up at all. (I held off the entire post about rabbis struggling to limit themselves time-wise, even to 140 seconds, let alone 140 characters, phew.)

23 March 2009

Still Digging, but Giving Kavod, too

I joined Digg almost a year and have liked it since then as a place to share material on the Web that I found interesting. I know that there are other similar social news websites out there, but I have chosen to stick with it, as it is one of the more well-known places. However, one thing about which I had been wondering over the past few months was why weren't there more Jews using it or at least Jewish content being dugg? Hopefully that has been ameliorated with the launching of Kavod at JTA, whereby users can submit and vote for online content that they like. As opposed to say, a model like Tzvee's Talmudic Blog (which, btw, doesn't discuss the Talmud much), wherein Tzvee often mentions or simply quotes and links articles. Instead of doing that, he could simply Digg it or give it a Kavod, where relevant, rather than putting a blog post doing the same thing.
Anyways, I decided that I like the Kavod idea and support it and want to encourage other Jews out there to do the same, as there haven't been so many joining as of yet and taking part. Additionally, I wanted to mention that I am now no longer, for the most part, digging items with Jewish content, but rather putting them on Kavod.

22 March 2009

19 March 2009

Considering the Moral Question in Regards to Women's Rabbinic Ordination: Briefly On Sunday's Dinner

Gary Rosenblatt speakingThis past Sunday, I attended YCT's first ever Evening of Appreciation (the last five years, the school has held Gala Dinners, but, on account, of the economic climate, they opted to scale it back). It was certainly not the same level as in previous years, with noticeable differences being the omission of hors oeuvres (with the exception of a little fruit) and the lack of an outside band (some students who played well accounted for the evening's musical accompaniment).
Aside from the entertaining remarks by Howard Jonas, the news-making element of the evening was the panel of several alumni fielding questions from the audience. Gary Rosenblatt, the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Week, wrote an article entitled "Orthodox Women’s Ordination? Even Rabbis Are Split", referring to a question posed to the panel if there was any moral impediment to women becoming rabbis (Bargain Jewess referred to it as "a question that will shock many and while there are many more pressing issues on the table it is something to think about as the dynamics of our community change."). Alex Kaye speakingHere is what he wrote about it:
Alexander Kaye, rabbinic assistant at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side, elicited applause from many among the more than 300 people in attendance with his one-word reply: “None.”
But his fellow panelists were not as certain, with Adam Scheier, senior rabbi of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, and Saul Strosberg, rabbi of Sherith Israel in Nashville, Tenn., noting that while the ordination of Orthodox women may be a burning issue in the New York community, it did not have the same sense of urgency among their congregants.
Later in the discussion, Rabbi Kaye amplified his earlier response, asserting that while there may be strategic and political reasons for not having Orthodox women rabbis, he felt there was no moral basis for it.
The panel, as reflected above, was not unanimous. However, the question of morality in regards to women's ordination or not still is open. One of my schoolmates wrote the following (who permitted me to quote it here from a larger piece):
I personally do not feel egalitarianism is a moral imperative (I'm okay with roles) and if one does see it as a moral imperative, then as I've said in the past, then one should not be orthodox....since for a principled egalitarian Orthodoxy is an amoral system (that can only be pushed so far) and one should not lead, participate, or even affiliate with a system that is so antithetical to their definitions of morality. Also, I do not understand what is so bad about creating a leadership role for woman just as there has been for men for thousands of years. Why do we have to make her role have the same title as what has historically been a man's title? There is nothing magic about the title.....a new title will mean whatever role women play in Orthodox Judaism's future both based on the perception of the masses and the actual actions of women.
He continues:
Morality is not merely an academic ivory tower construct. Issues of morality cannot be separated from the real conditions to which the idea is related. Decisions to act upon our moral constructs and arrival to what is the moral action or decision must be tied to what will be the practical implications of the moral construct. The socio/political implications of what we conceive as moral actions is integral to arriving at what is the moral thing to do. This means, in my opinion, that in the case of Sarah Hurwitz, the practical implications for musmachim, YCT, and the congregants of synagogues led by YCT musmachim must be considered in arriving at what is the moral decision. If by doing this, musmachim may lose jobs, if congregants will feel betrayed, if congregations who want to be seen as orthodox will no longer be seen as orthodox will no longer be seen as orthodox, etc., then these issues must be factored into our process of what is the moral decision. To many Orthodox Jews, their standing and belonging to the Orthodox community is an important value and crucial to their Jewish identity. To jeopardize what these congregants believe to have important spiritual and practical value must be considered. We cannot do whatever we want just because we believe it is right. As leaders, we have responsibilities to the needs of our congregants. To act and talk publicly without regard to those who have put their trust in us is tyrannical and immoral.
It's certainly an interesting response to the moral question.

17 March 2009

Brief Notes on the Recent Issue of Jewish Action

In the recent issue of Jewish Action (Spring 5769/2009) (Volume 69, Number 3), Rabbi Yaakov Luban mistakenly, in his "Chanetz Sheavar Alav HaPesach: The Supermarket Controversy" piece, says that it was in "fourth-century Babylonia when the Talmud was redacted" (p. 42), when he is actually a couple of centuries off (it was redacted in the sixth century). Update: Rabbi Luban wrote back to me: "Thanks for catching the error in my article about the date of the redaction of the Talmud. You are absolutely correct. It was the 6th century."
Also, as usual, Ari Z. Zivotofsky has a great piece in the Legal-Ease section with "What's the Truth About Ga'al Yisrael?" (pp. 74-78).

04 March 2009

Jewish Telegraphic Agency's Website Adds User-Generated Content Stuff

Just today, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's website has added user-generated content software. Announced earlier today, by Daniel Sieradski, that it was launching, there are three new aspects: the first is the blog aggregator, the second is the readers report, and the third is the Kavod bookmarker.
Although the first two should be good, it is the third of these that is something that, to my mind, has been heretofore missing in the Jewish Web 2.0. Akin to Digg, which is the social bookmarking website I use, this should be a great boon to the JBlogosphere.
Something I've been recently wondering of late has been why aren't more of my Jewish friends using Digg or BuzzUp or whichever other social bookmarking services to share various articles of online content. Aside from some of my friends on Digg digging various related articles about the recent war in Gaza, it hasn't been used much. Now that Kavod is here (which, by the way, I've added to my posts at the bottom of each), this may help the Jewish social bookmarking/sharing.