Friday, November 28, 2008

A halachic riddle

How can you remove a kazayit of meat from a hot soup and make the soup milchik?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Forests and Trees

Rabbi Chaim Rapoport author of Judaism and Homosexuality: An Authentic Orthodox View was scholar in residence at my shul this past Shabbat. In a drasha he gave on Chumrot, he told the following story:

The Gemara in Brachot makes it clear that one must be very careful to pronounce the words of the Shema clearly and correctly, not slurring any of the words together or mispronouncing them. It lists several cases where the risk is particularly acute. One of these is in the 3rd paragraph of the Shema, where one must be carefult say tiZkaru rather than tiSkaru. When we pronounce the word correctly, we are saying we must remember the mitzvot. If we mispronounce it, it appears we are saying we must be rewarded for the mitzot. Pirke Avot makes it clear we should be like servants performing without expectation of reward, rather than those who only work to receive their reward.

Once when he was in a shul in Jersualem Rabbi Rapoport heard a man who was reciting the Shema with great concentration and attention. Sweat was literally pouring down his face as he continued. When he tried to say l'man tiZkaru, he wasn't happy with his pronunciation. 3 times he repeated the word, before finally saying in Yiddish "Lord, you know what I mean" and finishing the prayer.

Afterwards, Rabbi Rapoport walked over to him and asked him why he put so much effort into it. Surely there was no reason to work so hard at saying the prayer? The gentleman replied "But think of the schar (reward) I will get for doing this!".

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Interesting Bracha questions

Should a bracha be recited over food that might taste terrible? Vos Is Neias has an interesting article on it.

They talk about a brand of jelly beans that has a mix of edible and foul tasting beans. The beans are not distinguishable by color or odor. When you eat a single jelly bean, should you recite a bracha or not?

Interestingly, the article misses what I regard as some key points.
1) Perhaps you could eat a handful of beans so the chance of getting one good tasting one is large? The question would be whether such a mix could taste ok, or would the whole mix taste foul.

2) They tasted the 'foul tasting' jelly beans on adults, not on kids that would buy the mix. Perhaps the kids derive enjoyment even from the foul tasting beans?

3) They question whether the OU should certify such a halachically difficult food. I remember hearing that in Israel 10 - 20 years ago the Badatz had serious questions about certifying bubble gum and ice cream as they saw no point in children eating such trash. The natural question is why the OU should have qualms over this when they already willingly certify things that don't need certification. I'll remain silent about the elephant that may or may not be shechted with this question - perhaps one of my commentators will say something.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Middah Kneged Middah in Vayera

Just a quick thought which I will expand if I can think of more to say. Lot's treatment of his daughters in Sodom shows that he places the mitzvah of responsibility to guests over humane treatment of his daughters. After Sodom is destroyed, his daughters' treatment of Lot shows that they place the mitzvah of pru urvu over proper treatment of Lot.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rav Elyashev assurs most sheitels

Anyone ever hear of a on-line newspaper named Hamercaz? They are reporting that R' Yosef Sholom Elyashev recently stated categorically that the typical Sheitels worn by most Orthodox women are forbidden. They also include a link to a audio link.

Anyone who hears about this for sources other than the Daas Torah blog please drop me a comment.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tales from HP 2

During Sukkot the shteibel I attend had a Simchat Beit Shoevah. One of the Bostoner customs is that during the celebration the 15 Psalms that begin "Shir HaMalot" are recited. For each psalm Reb M would ask someone to recite the psalm (with everyone repeating each verse), and then pick a zemer (song) or niggun (wordless melody) for us all to sing.

My ability to read a random Hebrew text is limited - I can stumble through it, but it is obvious I am struggling. Since there were more than 15 men there I was relaxed since Reb M is familiar with how much I dislike reading unfamiliar texts aloud. Imagine my surprise when he called on me to read! Oh well, into the breach. Shir Hamalot, Bishuv Hashem, Et Shivat Tziyon .... He asked me to read the psalm we say on Shabbat and Yom Tov before bentching! I was so pleased he had done such a thoughtful thing. I got through it without difficult and led people in my favorite niggun.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Yated letter that needs to be read

Dear Editor,
I’m pretty sure that I am speaking on behalf of many Jewish girls. I’m sure they will agree with me on an issue I’ve finally decided to voice my thoughts on.
A “frum-from-birth” person is born frum and born to live a religious lifestyle. She has no choice; she was born that way. She’s expected to do all the mitzvos, no questions asked. Chas veshalom if you ask questions about Judaism. A baalas teshuvah, however, becomes frum on her own free will. Why? Because everything, Judaism and all the mitzvos, were explained to her, detail by detail. She asked myriad questions and she got answers. This was all probably through a kiruv organization.
“FFBs,” however, are expected to act frum with no explanations. Judaism isn’t explained to us. To whom should we address our questions without anyone’s eyebrows being raised?
In school, lessons are being taught, but questions arise. You can’t ask questions in school because, number one, there are too many, and number two, because classmates and teachers will think you’ve gone crazy! Well, maybe not all my classmates, since I’m sure I’m not the only one. After all, I’m a normal, smart, yeshivishe Bais Yaakov high school student from Monsey and no one suspects a thing. I’m actually considered one of the more yeshivishe and frum girls of my class, but I still harbor questions! So you never know, there may be so many more like me.
Maybe Yiddishkeit can be explained to frum Bais Yaakov girls as much as it’s explained in a kiruv shiur or a kiruv camp.
Thank you.
S. F.

Larry's comments follow:
I couldn't agree more. This cry is repeated at all levels - BTs complain that after they leave their initial kiruv situation they feel abandoned and neglected, gerim say that post-conversion their formal education comes to an end. Judaism is supposed to entail education for life - and not just the rote memorization of halacha and minhag, and not just divrei torah, but serious spiritual struggle with both our texts and the world. Growing up as a Conservative Jew, I was told that one of our big differences from other religions is that free questioning was not just allowed, but desired. That spirit needs to be part of Orthodoxy as well. No one ever died from a question, but people need to ask them if only to hear an authority figure say "I don't know, but nevertheless I believe."

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Alphonse and Gaston with Mitzvot

Everyone knows the old Alphonse and Gaston routine, right? Two guys trying to go through a door, but the keep deferring to one another rather than one of them just going through already?

Well, I see that happen at my shuls all the time, and there often is some creative jockeying for position. One morning I was walking into shul. Someone was holding the door already, and Avi and I were about to pass through. I gestured to Avi to go first, and he handed me his siddur. As soon as I took it, he said "You're holding a sefer, you go first." Point to Avi.

This past Shabbat at Shalosh Seudah I was trying to go through a door after washing before eating bread, and Yaakov was trying to pass through the door the other way. He smiled, backed out of my way and said "You're doing a mitzvah, you take priority." Point Yaakov. On the way out after benching, we got tangled up in the door again and I told him "You're the zaken (elder, wiser one), you go first." He looked a little hurt and said something about "I'm not sure that was fair" but he went through anyway. Point me.

A Joke and A Serious Question

First the Joke:

Back in the 30s Sheinar Shendle was a new immigrant to the US from her shtetl in Poland. She quickly found a neighborhood fool of landsmen and found a rabbi to consult for her shailas. She had one peculiarity - every Friday morning she took her chicken to the rabbi to check that it was kosher. Week after week she came, the rabbi looked, and pronounced it kosher. Finally, after many months, the rabbi asked her "Why are you bringing these chickens to me to check every week? You should only come if you see something that makes you doubt it is kosher." Sheinar Shedle replied "I knew it! But the other ladies in the community insisted that A&P grocery store chickens were treif!"

The serious question:

If I bring home a chicken today from a shochet, rather than buying it at the store, is there any kind of inspection that can be done to reveal that the chicken is actually treif? Obviously we can't review the knife, or whether the shochet said the blessing, but what can be done? On the one hand, there are lots of stories about women taking their chicken to a rabbi when they aren't sure it is kosher. On the other hand, once the feathers are off and the internal organs removed, what is left to inspect?

Monday, October 06, 2008

Yom Kippur humor

Last minute tickets on youtube.

Kosher Agencies Merger

From Kashrut Today:

Orthodox Union set to announce KOAOA merger 
New York…The near 100 year-old Kosher Overseers Associates of America (Half-Moon-K symbol) has ceased to exist and is already a part of the Orthodox Union (OU). A spokesman for the Orthodox Union confirmed the widely reported rumors about the merger, including a report on at least one kashrus website, but he said that a formal announcement would be made in the coming weeks. Founded in 1910 by Rabbi Hyman Sharfman, the Los Angeles based KOAOA, had in recent years upgraded the level of its certification but in the end decided it was better to merge with the world’s largest certification agency. KOAOA was headed for many years by the founder’s son, the late Rabbi Harold I. Sharfman, a flamboyant and outspoken personality who had on occasion clashed with the kashrus establishment. His half-moon K symbol was challenged in the courts by the Brooklyn based OK Labs which charged copyright infringement, citing the “similarities” of the symbol. Rabbi Sharfman was a passionate defender of kashrus but his certification was never fully accepted by many mainstream kosher consumers. After his demise in 1998, the agency made a major effort to upgrade its certification and several kashrus authorities had even gone out on a limb with the improvements.

While the half-moon K symbol will continue to appear on many products, the Orthodox Union is planning to phase out the symbol and replace it with the Circle U. Kashrus sources say that any products with the half moon K symbol were already produced under widely accepted kashrus standards. Rabbi Dovid Jenkins, who was the manager of KOAOA kashrus operations, is now part of the OU kashrus team in its Manhattan headquarters. In an open letter in June 2007, Rabbi Jenkins and Rabbi Zushe Blech, the senior kashrus administrator, spoke of the upgraded standards for the KOAOA’s 580 certified companies representing 20,000 products. It was not clear how many companies and products will be affected by the merger.

ME and I have been telling people for a while that the Half Moon K's certification had improved and most products were considered reliable.  A number of people simply refused to believe us.  They weren't even willing to investigate on their own, just told us that 'everyone knows' that it is an unreliable certification.  They got upset when we told them that was Lashon Harah.  See this earlier post of mine as example of doing it right.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who asks for forgiveness

The Elul season is one time of year I try to do a serious cheshbon hanefesh (self appraisal).  I think about the big personal events I had this year, how I acted during them and how I wish I had acted.   Then I review my relationships with my close friends and determine who I owe apologies to and for what.  Since I view the purpose of doing teshuvah as self-improvement, I don't regard blanket statements to people of "If I did anything that wronged you this year I'm sorry." as having any value at all.  Instead I try to think hard about what specifically I did that I need to apologize for, and then make my apology to that person directly for that behavior.

I'm finding this was easier to do when I lived in a nonobservant and nonJewish community.  The coworkers and friends I approached started by getting weirded out, but afterwards they said they actually appreciated the discussion.  Sometimes I learned that what seemed a big deal to me wasn't anything they even remembered, but something I had forgotten seemed like a big deal to them.

Here in my frum community I'm finding this exercise somewhat harder.  The one person I approached this year didn't let me finish speaking, but since told me I was forgiven (for what he had no idea) and asked that I forgive him for whatever (unspecified) wrongs he had done me.  It was formulaic and very offputting.

I'd be interested in the opinions of my readership (all 5 of you :>).  Do you do detailed apologies?  Do people stop to listen to them?  Do they serve a purpose in your eyes?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Moshol

Once a man was zoche to own the Mona Lisa. He wanted to be in a position to fully appreciate all the qualities of the painting. And so he studied - he learned about the history of painting, the Renaissance, the biography of Leonardo DaVinci. Then he moved on to learning about other paintings in order to appreciate the Mona Lisa better.

A friend came by and told him he was doing the wrong thing. "What if you find that you like some other painting better? What if you are looking at the painting one day and you find yourself thinking "The Mona Lisa is nice, but the color in Van Gogh's Starry Night is nicer"? And your study of painting techniques might lead you to mistakenly think that the painting could have been done better. The best approach to fully appreciating the Mona Lisa is to avoid any interaction with other paintings and restrict yourself to the Mona Lisa alone.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Cleanliness is next to Hashemliness

In my community there are occasional problems with 'frumming out' - a phenomenon where kids become much more stringent religious than their parents.  Parents could either take advantage of this trend or nip it in the bud with the following lesson:

The quote below is from Rav Shlomo Aviner's On the Air #46 a summary of his twice weekly radio broadcast.  The shows can be heard at

Clean your room!

Q: I am eleven years old. I do not like cleaning my closet and it is pretty messy. My parents say that it is important. Is it important to have a clean closet?

A: Yes, there must be order. If a person has a clean closet, he also has a clean head. If he has a messy closet, he also has a messy head. If he is not responsible in his closet, he is not responsible in life. If he fulfills the mission to clean his closet, he becomes accustomed and educated to accept other missions and advance in them. Therefore, there should always be order. I understand that it is difficult for you to clean, but you need to see this as a challenge and begin in stages. Let's say that your closet has eight different areas, you can clean one or two areas a day. It does not matter how much as long as you are progressing. In the Mussar Yeshivot, there were two opinions regarding order. Some said that order was a preparation for serving Hashem. Others said that order itself was serving Hashem -- not serving Hashem like observing Shabbat, but serving Hashem nonetheless. The Master of the Universe created the world in disarray as it says (Bereshit 2:1): "And the earth was chaotic and darkness was upon the surface on the deep." Hashem organized the world and He asks us to continue to organize the chaos that is in the world.

I find it interesting that Rav Aviner does not mention kibud av v'aym in his response.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sanhedrin vs. the Government of China

The nascent Sanhedrin has urged the Chinese government to cease persecuting the Falun Gong:

With this background, the Court found that in cases involving persecution by governments, Justice cannot be achieved by adherence to normal rules of procedure and of evidence. Adherence to such rules would be “stopping ones ears from hearing of blood, and shutting ones eyes from looking upon evil” [per Isaiah 33,15]. The only way to discover the truth is to allow indirect, hearsay and circumstantial evidence, since that is all that is available. This type of evidence is acceptable in Noahide jurisprudence.

On the basis of the accumulation of the various testimonies and indirect evidence, the International Court of the Nascent Sanhedrin, came to the conclusion that there were unnumbered cases of killing of innocent Falun Gong practitioners, perhaps also out of consideration of material benefits derived from organ harvesting.

The Court wishes to clarify that it does not reject capital punishment in principle, in accordance with the seven Noahide commandments.

The Court finds it appropriate to turn to the Government of the People’s Republic of China with an unequivocal demand to assure the minimum of liberties as indicated by the seven Noahide commandments, as given to Adam, to Noah and to all humanity, which include:
1. Prohibition of Murder
2. Prohibition of Theft
3. Dealing Justly with Criminals
4. Honoring internationally accepted humanitarian law to the extent that this law is not in contradiction to Torah and to basic human morals.

These laws include prohibition of torture, unlawful confiscation of property and organ harvesting without the consent of the donor.

The Government of the People’s Republic of China is required to implement the Chinese law, which was enacted in the spring of 2007, which will put an end to the killings without trial and to organ harvesting without consent.

The Government of China is required to allow missions sent by a coalition of international public organizations to investigate freely the compliance of the Chinese government agents with the basic elements of the seven Noahide commandments as stated above, which are the Human Rights Charter according to the Torah [The Five Books of Moses]. These missions are to have freedom of travel and are to have the freedom to grant protection – including extradition - to anyone who testifies or who tries to testify before these missions. These freedoms are necessary to ensure that the missions will be able to verify compliance with the said elements of the seven Noahide commandments.

Full decision in English (pdf)

Hat tip: Religion Clause

This is how we should do it

A rabbi in Israel has reviewed the kashrut at many different restaurants. He doesn't just list who the certification authority is, he describes their standards and whether they live up to them. This is such an improvement over the US, where a supposed fear of lawsuits(*) results in rabbonim and other certifying agencies simply saying 'recommended' or 'not recommended' and refusing to give a reason. Even worse, most commonly one doesn't even consult with a rav but simply listens to the common rumor on the street.

Hat tip Kmelion on livejournal. Actual report available in Hebrew pdf format starts on page 5.

(*) "The truth is no libel" has been an established principle in the US since colonial days. Don't want to lose a lawsuit? Don't lie. Furthermore, courts are extremely reluctant to rule over religious issues such as whether a store is really kosher or not. Also, Lashon Hara rules do not apply when it comes to preventing someone from commiting an averia. Arguably one commits more Lashon Hara by saying "Restaurant A is not kosher" then by saying "Restaurant A's mashgiach comes in once a week, and he doesn't thoroughly check vegetables".

Monday, July 21, 2008

50 Million Frenchmen wrong again?

The reality based community blog has an article about the decision of a French court to deny a Moroccan-born Muslim woman citizenship, because she does not uphold one of the fundamental values of the Republic, namely gender equality. (Court decision in French here).

What does this mean for Orthodox Jewish immigration to France? I think this decision is thinly disguised anti-Muslim prejudice. Anyone else have an opinion to share?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Yated quotes Hirhurim!

From this weeks email version of Yated:

Why do People Stay Orthodox?
by Avrohom Birnbaum

“Why do people become Orthodox?” was the question posed.
This was one answer:
“Community. Orthodoxy creates a powerful caretaking community. Little wonder that so many step into an Orthodox synagogue and feel instinctively, here is the emotional core of religion at its best. The shul visitor to Shabbos lunch quotient, which I propose as a measure of a community’s fidelity to itself, is immeasurably higher in Orthodox communities…”
Here is a second answer:
“Coherence. This is not only a feature of Orthodoxy, it is the defining intellectual position. All of the tradition is essentially seamless…There is no degree of apparent discontinuity that would persuade the Orthodox community that Moses…Maimonides…were practicing essentially different faiths…”
And a third answer:
“Connection…Mitzvah is, at bottom, ratzon haBoreh. …nothing can be greater than its fulfillment. G-d wishes it. A mitzvah can make a difference in the fabric of the universe… How pale, by comparison, is the dutiful liberal explanation that the mitzvoth will make you a more sensitive person, a more caring person, someone closer to the history and destiny of your people. Of what power is such therapeutic encouragement beside G-d’s expressed will?”
The reader may think that these answers were presented by one of the capable kiruv rechokim organizations that have done such wonderful work in bringing Acheinu Bnei Yisroel back to Avinu Shebashomayim. Believe it or not, these answers given to the question of “Why do people become Orthodox?” were written by a Conservative rabbi!
Before discussing the clergyman’s wise, insightful comments, the following disclaimer is in order. A little more than ten years ago, I penned my first op-ed article devoted to drawing the lines between Orthodoxy and Conservative and Reform Judaism. The piece lamented the fact that well-intentioned individuals were conducting kiruv rechokim efforts in Conservative and Reform temples, something that granted de facto legitimacy to those places of worship, thereby violating the ruling of the great roshei yeshiva of the previous generation that prohibited such conduct.
Ten years later, I am citing fascinating quotes from a Conservative rabbi named Rabbi David Wolpe on why Jews become frum. No, I have not changed my opinion on the prohibition of collaboration with Conservative clergy, nor would it make a difference if I did. The ruling of the roshei yeshiva is incontrovertible.
Nevertheless, these quotes, far from placing legitimacy on Conservative Judaism and their clergy, do just the opposite. They show how even from within the very leadership of the movement, their own clergy admit to the bankruptcy of their denomination. The only question that he leaves open is why he himself does not become Orthodox!
I was sent the above quotes by a friend who gleaned them from “Hirhurim,” a popular website that primarily offers the Modern Orthodox point of view.
Indeed, Wolpe’s wise ideas bear contemplation. He rightly zeroes in on two very important foundations of Torah Judaism.
I have not, however, cited these quotes to show the bankruptcy of Conservative Judaism. That has been proven repeatedly over the past few decades and is akin to beating a dead horse. Rather, I think that a far more contemporary lesson can be gleaned from the above mentioned remarks.
If the above answers are to the question of why people become Orthodox, I think we can extrapolate and ask, “Why do people stay Orthodox?”
It is no secret that our Torah observant communities - right, left and center - are experiencing the tragic loss of a small, but not insignificant, minority of our youth who are falling through the cracks and abandoning Torah observance. This abandonment is most often the result of physical and emotional issues, not because of any underlying ideological concerns that they have with Torah Judaism. If we desire to stem that tide, surely there are common themes between why someone would want to become frum and why someone would want to stay frum.

Community. Chazal refer to it as dibuk chaveirim. Dibuk chaveirim - belonging to a close-knit group of individuals and feeling that one is an integral part of a group - is an important component that cannot be understated. There are so many mitzvos that we primarily perform as a group, including davening with a minyan, eating seudos Shabbos, and many others. As Torah observant Jews, we sometimes take the idea of community for granted. We do not properly appreciate the tremendous boon represented by being part of a community, a shul, shteibel, a yeshiva or a kehillah. Lonely people who don’t belong to any particular group can attest to the fact that the loneliness, the feeling of not having others who care and who worry about their whereabouts if they don’t show up, is one of the most difficult things to bear. Belonging to a group is a foundation of Yiddishkeit that cannot be understated.
Undoubtedly, an important component in keeping youth anchored in a Torah lifestyle is giving them the true feeling that they belong to something, that they are an integral part of something bigger than themselves - a close-knit, warm community that truly cares about them. A community and a home that does things together, davens together, eats together, sings together and cares for one another together.
I have the sneaking suspicion that if one speaks to an average child who is at risk, one of the underlying feelings that will surface is the fact that he does not feel that he belongs; he does not feel that his community, family, school, rebbi, etc. really cares for him. He may be dead wrong, but in this case his perception matters even more than the facts. Therefore, projecting the ideal of dibuk chaverim, chevrah, and belonging to a close-knit community, school or yeshiva, and taking pains to connect with each child and teen on a personal level, are surely some of the most important factors in ensuring that “people stay Orthodox.”

The second and third points mentioned by Wolpe are also very significant. He calls it “coherence and connection.” I would like to rename both points in our vernacular as “a solid hashkafa foundation.” Understanding why we perform mitzvos and serve Hashem. Understanding that we perform the same mitzvos as those performed by Moshe Rabbeinu and Rabi Akiva. Understanding that the mitzvos performed by little me and little you make a difference in this world and the Upper Worlds.
Understanding that mitzvos build celestial worlds and aveiros can destroy celestial worlds, and comprehending why that is so, are so integral to ensuring that a young child or teenager performs mitzvos not lifelessly and by rote, but with a penimius, with a fiery depth that is truly meaningful.
Recently, I had a discussion with a prominent yeshiva principal about the tremendous spiritual hurdles facing our youth, hurdles that we did not dream of encountering when we were younger. The menahel pointed out that, in his opinion, it is imperative to place a far greater emphasis on teaching the foundations of emunah and hashkafa in the upper elementary school grades if we want to have a chance of succeeding to inoculate our youth with a vaccine that will help them overcome the carnal pull that characterizes life in technology-saturated 21st Century.
If we want to equip our youth with the requisite tools to fight against the nisyonos, the spiritual tests and hurdles that face them daily, they must be firmly grounded in a solid hashkafa of what mitzvah observance is all about, what emunah is, and what it is that Hashem wants from us, our observance of mitzvos and our refraining from aveiros.
Just doing mitzvos by rote, because that is what everyone does, simply won’t do. We must take the time to address questions, even those that aren’t voiced. By doing so we can perhaps ensure that a niggling question or a kernel of doubt should not serve as the excuse and facade of legitimacy to follow the momentary, fleeting physical pleasures in exchange for true happiness, both in this world and the next.
Yes, just as these two critically important issues - of community, of belonging to something, combined with a renewed emphasis on the foundations of emunah and hashkafa at a young age - are indicative of why people become Orthodox, perhaps they are also two of the most integral components in ensuring that those who are Orthodox stay Orthodox. We can’t afford to ignore them.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A positive attitude

From the weekly announcements of Khal Chassidim, the small shteibel I belong to:

We were miracle to a neis last Shabbos when a large branch from a tree crashed down onto the Beis Medrash, breaking a hole in the roof. Baruch Hashem, no one was injured even though people were learning in the beis medrash at the time.

I would have been complaining about the ill fortune of the tree breaking the roof, not rejoicing that no one was hurt. That's especially true since we're so financially troubled.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ungrateful son-n-law letter fake!

From this week's Yated:


Dear Editor,

Cynicism has its drawbacks, but it is also very important in our lives. People who swallow everything they hear or read are in danger of falling for scams, rip-offs, being taken advantage of, and being left looking like an utter fool. Jews, especially, have not been known to be gullible. Maybe it’s our upbringing. We see how the Gemara takes nothing for granted and every statement must be backed up with solid proof or else it is met with a “Meiheicha teiseh?”

I must admit to being disturbed by the number of people who take letters in the Yated - many of them totally anonymous letters, mind you - at face value and allow themselves be carried away and be taken for rides. I have nothing against readers expressing opinions. But that is all it is: an anonymous opinion. Just because a letter is signed, “A Mental Health Professional,” or “A Teacher,” or “A Hurting Mother,” or “A Son-in-Law,” does not guarantee in any way that any such person wrote that letter.

For all any of us know, someone wrote it for the kicks, or to get people upset, or to support a cause, or for any other number of reasons. Take what any letter says for what it says, but don’t go around telling your friends, “You know, I read a letter where a son-in-law said the most disgusting things which display such bad middos! And this is a ‘learning’ person! I mean, can you imagine?!”

You don’t know that any such person ever wrote any such letter. These letters in the Yated get quoted, posted, e-mailed, talked about, and they take on a life of their own. It becomes ‘fact’ that such and such a person said such and such a thing about such and such a topic. All this shows is how many people are gullible. It shows little else.

How do I know this? Because I did a terrible thing. I am very embarrassed to admit it, and I almost decided not to write this letter. But I realized that the only way to undo the damage done is to write again to this very forum. There were no “two yungeleit” who were upset at their shver for asking them to say a shtikel Torah. Are there yungeleit who lack hakoras hatov? Probably. Are there people of all stripes and colors who lack hakoras hatov? For sure.

But these two were made up. How do I know? Because I made them up. I wrote that letter, which got so many people upset. Now you’re thinking that I am a terrible person. I won’t argue. I am terribly ashamed of what I did, and even more disturbed by the motzie shem rah I caused. Honestly, I thought more people would catch on that it was a fake. I guess that’s the excuse I made for myself when I wrote it. It was such a stereotypical letter, throwing in the support they receive and the car, all just to throw it all back in the shver’s face. I was just throwing in all the ‘code words’ to get a rise out of people. And it worked. Sadly.

I don’t even know why I did it. I guess partly for the kicks and partly because I was angry at my own son-in-law. So I let it out in this (destructive) way. If I’d have to be honest, I must admit that I ask my son-in-law for a lot more than just a shtikel Torah. I guess I’ve tried to run his life, mix into his private business, and I got brushed off - politely, but firmly. I was mad and I let it out in this terrible way.

I ask mechilah of everyone, and hope this will serve as an example in the future.
Unless a letter is signed by a real name, take it with a truckload of salt.
A Contrite Father-in-Law

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Star-K statement on oven use on Yom Tov

Regarding Star-K certified Sabbath Mode ovens:

Rav Heinemann, shlita, stands by his Psak that it is permissible to raise and lower temperatures on YomTov on ovens equipped with that particular Sabbath Mode feature.

Please see Star-K website:, or call our office for details about your particular model. Star-K will, in the next few days, post an audio presentation from Rav Heinemann explaining his views.

For those who wish to refrain from placing their ovens in Sabbath Mode and still use their oven on YomTov, please be aware of the possible serious "Michshol" on many models. Opening the oven door will immediately shut off the heating elements, an act clearly forbidden on YomTov. Thus, even if you don't raise or lower the temperature, it is still important to keep the oven in Sabbath Mode.

While we live in Galut, we will always be oppressed

Another letter from Yated (attn Sephardi Lady)

Dear Editor,
Why do I have to feel like I am being farhered every time I go to my shver’s house in Brooklyn? I understand that he gives us money each month and we appreciate that very much. But does that mean that I have to be subject to questions about what I’m learning and pressured to say vertlach on the parsha every time we visit?
My in-laws are very nice people. They shower my wife, 5 children and me with gifts, they bought us a car, among other things, and graciously give us a monthly check to keep us afloat. Is that the reason that my father-in-law feels compelled to quiz me every time I come to his house? I mentioned this issue to a friend of mine who said that he experiences the same exact thing. This friend encouraged me to write this letter to the Yated. Actually, he’s pushed me for months to write something, but I never got around to it.
Perhaps there is a father-in-law out there who can explain it to us. Why do you have to bombard us with your questions on our limudim and with your vertlach on this inyan or that inyan? It is not that we aren’t interested. It is just that we somehow are made to feel that we have to constantly be ready for our next “exam” when we meet you.
(This is surely not as bad as a different friend’s shver who actually makes him fax a shtickel Torah to him once a month. This friend lives in Yerushalayim, while his father-in-law lives in New York.)
There are other issues about in-laws that my friend wanted me to share, but for now I think this one will suffice.
Answers, anyone?

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New Horizons in Chutzpa

A yeshiva bocher who is looking for a Shidduch writes the following in this week's Yated:

90% of us boys have rabbeim whom we speak to during the dating process. From the girls I have dated and hear about, it seems that only 10% speak with someone smarter than them to help make the right decisions (and parents don’t count).

Recently, a major shadchan wrote an article stating that 80% of the time, it’s the girl who says no at an advanced stage because “it just didn’t click,” which is not a real reason that any rov would say is enough to break a potential shidduch.

So it looks like this bocher believes that marriage is properly a matter decided between a boy's rebbe and a girl's rebbe. Not only don't the parents have a say, neither do the potential chattan and kallah!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Rabbi Yitzchok Miller on Women's Identities

From the Reader's Write section of this week's Yated:


Dear Editor,
A sincere yasher koach to the Yated editors for producing a quality newspaper every

I read with interest Sruli Gross’ explanation of the Chazal (Sotah 2a), “Bas ploni l’ploni,” to provide a mekor that a husband should be older than his wife. However, I beg to differ; I don’t think Chazal had this implication in mind. Why, then, does it say “bas ploni l’ploni” and not “plonis l’ben ploni”? Because in the signon of Chazal, a girl, especially an unmarried girl, is not given her own identity, but rather is referred to as bas ploni. The same Gemara teaches us that a bas kol proclaims, “Sodeh ploni l’ploni - The ownership of So-and-So’s field will be transferred to So-and-So.” The bas kol doesn’t say this field will become So-and-So’s. The field’s identity is defined by its owner; it is sodeh ploni. So too, an unmarried girl is described in Chazal as bas ploni, even if she is already born.

The Gemara in Pesachim (49a) gives the advice that “a man should strive to marry a bas talmid chochom and a father should marry his daughter to a talmid chochom. It doesn’t say that he should marry his daughter to a ben talmid chochom. This is because, as stated above, a girl’s identity is defined by her parents, whereas a boy has his own identity.

When Rivkah fulfilled the “test” that Eliezer created for her at the well, he asked her, “Bas me at - Whose daughter are you?” He did not ask, “Me at - Who are you?” True, he needed to ascertain if she was from Avrohom’s family or from Canaan. But just as she answered his question by stating not just her father’s name, but also her grandfather’s and great-grandmother’s (bas Besuel ben Nachor asher yalda lo Milkah), she would have done the same had she been asked, “Who are you?” Eliezer didn’t ask her this because this isn’t the derech haTorah; a girl is identified as being bas ploni.

May we be zocheh to live our lives according to standards the Torah sets for us.
Rabbi Yitzchok Miller
Chicago, IL

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Baruch sheptarani mei'onsho

Khal Yisrael was increased today by the addition of Ovadiya ben Avraham Avinu. May he proceed to Torah, Chuppah, and Maasim Tovim.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Tzaria/Metzorah thoughts

Last week's and this week's parshiot each deal with laws relating to the disease of tzaarat. A metzorah is expelled from the camp until his disease has receded, as determined by a cohen. Why was this task assigned to the cohanim? Some possible reasons:

1) The metzorah was expelled from the camp. One reason given was to give him a chance to contemplate his sin. One danger of unguided contemplation is that he might end up feeling alienated and hostile instead of repentant. Weekly visits by the cohen both provide an opportunity for spiritual guidance also reassure the metzorah that while they might be isolated, their welfare is of enough concern that someone with the status of a Cohen is obliged to personally look after them.

2) A Cohen is a person of great prestige. He may enter sections of the Beit Hamikdash closed to most people. Wherever he goes receives gifts (terumah, challah, etc.) from the common folk. Having to minister to the metzorah helps drive home the idea that with his privileges come responsibilities, even to the least among his people.

3) The talmud says that the causes of tzaarat were lashon hara (slander) and gavrah (arrogance or pride). As someone at the head of the religious hierarchy, a Cohen might have been especially at risk for these character flaws. Perhaps viewing the consequences helped the Cohen from actually committing the sin.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Tales of Chesed 1

I'm a reluctant BT - I became observant primarily under the influence of my wife. One of the things that won me over was the feeling that at least some Orthodox hashkafot had a better-than-average chance at creating mentches. For me, mentchlicheit is the prerequisite for frumkeit - you can't be a good Jew in my eyes without being a good person first. There are other hashkafot than this, as has become increasingly clear to me with time.

One of the main reasons we moved to my present town was the high degree of achdut among the Orthodox community. Shul bulletins routinely publicize other shul's events, many people are members of multiple shuls, most people eat over one another's houses. When we were first looking into the community, we were sitting in a realtor's office when a 16 year old boy came in. He had seen me at mincha, and since we were obviously looking over the town, he wanted to see if he could help - were we looking to stay over Shabbat, did we want to know about the town, whatever. Malka Esther said to me afterwards 'any town where they are raising the boys to be that helpful has got to be a good place to live.

So to help me get over my recent bout of negativity, I thought I would share some stories of chesed in my town. Here's the first:

D. had moved to town about a month ago. He was going to marry R. who has lived here for about a year. Neither of them had developed a lot of friends in town yet. D. & R.'s wedding was scheduled for a Thursday. That weekend was the afruf and wedding of the son of one of the town's biggest baalei tzedakah. The wedding on Thursday came off beautifully. A number of people who only knew D. casually not only showed up for the wedding, but were instrumental in making sure everything ran smoothly.

Friday night there was huge oneg shabbat in honor of one the visitors in town for the big wedding. He was a very well known Israeli rabbi, and literally dozens of people showed up for the oneg. The room was packed, and nowhere more so than the head table. Not only were the speaker and the wedding party there, but so were the rabbis of two synagogues, the head of the local kollel, and other prestigious out of town guests. While we were waiting for things to begin, in walks D. The host of the oneg sees D., makes his way to him through the crowd, gets a rousing chorus of "Od Yishama" started, and then brings D. to the head table, where everybody scrunches over to make space for the new chatan. Personally, I had never seen a bridegroom treated that way other than at his own sheva brachot. Here at an event for someone else entirely, someone made sure that the chatan was made to feel like a king, despite being new in town.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Kosher Drama in Miami

Get the full story by clicking on the title of this post.


On March 3, 2008, representatives of Kosher Miami received information from a private investigator (who would not disclose who he was working for), that he had surveillance of activity that allegedly showed that an employee of Fu Xing Chinese restaurant was buying non-kosher chicken and bringing it into the restaurant.

Immediately after leaving the office of the private investigator, the delegation of Rabbonim went to Fu Xing. They immediately questioned the employee whom they saw in the pictures, and the employee ran away on foot before answering any questions. The Rabbonim went to the parking lot in the back of the restaurant, found the employees car, and were able to see chicken in a bag inside the automobile.

The restaurant owners claimed that the employee must have been stealing chicken from the restaurant.

As a precautionary measure, the Rabbonim asked the restaurant patrons to leave immediately, and suspended the hashgacha of the restaurant pending further investigation.


Kosher Miami representatives went with the pictures to the non-kosher meat supply house where the purchases were allegedly made, and asked the management and staff if they recognized the Fu Xing employee as someone who shopped at the supply house. No one was able to recognize him.

It has been reported to Kosher Miami by reliable sources that the private investigator was hired by a competing Chinese restaurant. Considering this, and considering the results of the investigation, Kosher Miami at this time does not believe that the allegations are true, but the investigation is still ongoing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bookish thoughts

If I ever do write this, I have no idea if it will be a Purim torah essay or an entire book, but I call dibs on the title What color is your Kool-Aid? - A guide for the new BT

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The notebooks of Latzar Long

Click on the title for the original.

What is the halacha? Again and again and again - what is the halacha? Shun wishful thinking, ignore obscure cabala, forget 'a good segula', avoid blogs, care not what the minhag Yerushalmi is, never mind the unguessable future 'daas toirah' - what is the halacha , and is it d'oraita, d'rabbanan or minhag? You pilot always towards Olam Haba; halacha is your only chance. What is the halacha?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Long Non-Vidui

This may be humor (or at least irony) but it certainly isn't simcha.
So I'm publishing it on erev Rosh Chodosh Adar, which is to be celebrated this year as a Yom Kippur katan.

Not everything that is thought should be spoken aloud
Not everything that is spoken should be written down
Not everything that is written should be published
Not everything that is published should be read
Not everything that is read should be believed
Not everything that is believed should be acted upon
Not everything that is acted upon should be admitted to aloud

If we perform this whole cycle once, let us lather, rinse, and repeat