Friday, February 26, 2010

Reb Artscroll

One score, one decade and four years ago, if a Shul had a disagreement among Mispallelim as to what practice to follow, they asked their Rav. Nowadays, it is many a Rav who just might answer “Well, what does the Artscroll say?”

Artscroll can certainly be credited with the rejuvenation and proliferation of Talmudic learning around the world. Many a Baal Habos would be utilizing their time less wisely had Artscroll not made learning so simple. Yet hopefully this “crutch” will inspire the user to eventually graduate to the Shas of their Zaidy’s, sans the English translation.

Yet the question must be asked: How does Artscroll choose among the many Minhagim with regard to Tefillah? Certainly they have their Halachik advisors, but how do they Pasken for their entire user base? It is true that they realize that there are different customs, and they encourage one to question their local Halachik authority, but their choice of text will influence many for years to come.

Is it Geshem or Gashem? Yisgadal or Yisgadeil?

Imagine the childhood game of telephone. At some point, someone in the middle of the line may try to best create the original message, but at that point it is most probably not what the originator had initially spoken.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Smashing Computers

There has been some buzz around the internet regarding this video depicting the smashing of a computer. Some thought it to be a Purim prank, others thought that this perpetrator was not of sound body and mind.

In the VIN interview , I found this rosh yeshiva to be quite sane. He fielded a myriad of questions with aplomb. In the end, I tend to agree with almost all of what he says. No one can deny that the internet has taken it's toll on the frum world. It is certainly a challenge to keep racy images from appearing on the screen, and there is a very strong addiction factor that must be factored in when deciding to bring this technology into your home.

Additionally, having a computer in the home allows any inhabitant to turn that machine into a movie projector by slipping in a DVD. He also parries the excuse that one needs the computer for parnossoh by saying one should find other means to sustain himself. “It's better to clean streets and dirty your body than to work on the Internet and dirty your soul.”

This reminded of a paraphrased quote I once heard in the name of Rabbi Avigdor Miller regarding television. “You wouldn’t let a sewer line empty into your living room – but better a carpet get dirty than sully a child’s mind."

The argument that he could have given the laptop to a worthy cause can be countered by the psychotherapists who advocate the need for destroying the implement that is destroying their patient. No one will complain that it is Baal Tashchis for a smoker to set fire to his last pack of cigarettes (and I don’t mean by lighting them one at a time), for an alcoholic to drain out his inventory (not into his facial orifice). The Gemara cites several examples of destruction as sometimes being necessary for a greater good.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Purim and the Persian Empire

There is a fascinating new book on the market, published by Feldheim and written by Rabbi Yehuda Landy titled Purim and the Persian Empire.

The book contains many photographs in full living color that depict the actual site from the Purim narrative. Additionally, the author has tracked down many of the Persian utensils from that era that are ensconced in the various museums worldwide and has reproduced them in this beautiful work.

The author, a notable Talmid Chochom in addition to being an avid student of archaeology, and an expert photographer too, has managed to draw the best from Jewish and secular sources to shed light on this mysterious chapter in our history.

I have been privileged to tour many areas of Eretz Yisroel together with Rabbi Landy, have been to many of his Shiurim, and have marveled at his encyclopedic knowledge of both Shas and Tanach. I eagerly anticipate more works of similar caliber. This book is impressive!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dan Lekaf Zechus

The preferred location for Tefilah is a Makom Kavuah. The more familiar a person is with a place, the less distraction and the easier is the concentration necessary for prayer. While this quest is easily attainable for Shacharis and Maariv, when one is usually closer to home, Mincha presents more of a challenge.

And so it was some time ago that I found myself in a Mincha Minyan Factory. It is not for naught that Halacha prohibits walking in front of those Davening. The peripatetic flow of traffic, the latecomers, the early goers, all contributed to an atmosphere that was not conducive to Kavannah.

Amidst the din, my eye beheld an unimaginable sight. The fellow to my right was Shukkeling with intense concentration while scrolling and reading from his Blackberry! I wondered to myself what email could be so important that it can’t wait until Shemonah Esrai is completed? Whatever little Kavannah I had attained up to that point, completely dissolved.

Only later did I realize that he was probably just using the “siddur” feature, having the text of the Siddur fully loaded on his handheld device. Perhaps one day the Weekday Siddur will be a thing of the past, another casualty of the electronic age.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Futuristic Beis HaMedrash

I love the Beis HaMedrash. Every time I enter, a cacophony of sound greets me amidst the lively give and take, as the participants delve into the intricate texts of old. The newcomer is bedazzled by the decibel level. Those of the secular world are puzzled as to how one can study under such circumstances. They are used to the sterile atmosphere of the library, where the stern glance of the librarian will shush even the most obnoxious patron.

Seforim piled high, chairs askew, animated conversations and pacing to and fro are some of the familiar sights.

Yet one thing that always bothered me was that at the end of the Seder, as the study hall empties of participants and fills with a serene quietness, the Seforim are left alone, bereft of users, left to be scooped up by the Gabai Seforim.

The Musar greats of yesteryear would decry such insensitivity. Why not restore the Seforim to their proper shelves? Even the great Halachists, most notably the Steipler Rav, have railed against this practice. Yet human nature seems to prevail and the Seforim remain strewn about, only to find refuge when the aforementioned Gabai does his duty.

Which brings us to the futuristic Beis HaMedrash. As mentioned before, the futuristic BH will feature a large screen monitor by each seat with all Seforim available by the push of a button. The text of the Gemara will appear in the middle of the screen. The Rishonim will be accessible by merely mousing over a text and choosing the Meforesh of your choice. Hyper links to the great codifiers will also be available with the click of a mouse. Obscure Seforim will all be available, in PDF (Tzuras HaDaf format) or easy-to-read block letter text.

At the end of the day, you will log off and your Seforim will be neatly packed away on the Yeshiva’s File Server.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Toeles in Jblogging - One JBlog can make a Difference

Wow. It seems like some recent posts really resonated around the jblogsphere.

This blog which has rarely seen much traffic with the exception of the Yankel Am Haaretz
post, was suddenly thrown into the limelight via RYGB’s blog and Life in Israel.

Reminds me of the greenhorn who needs to earn a living and finds work as a bus driver. Being new, he is given a fairly simple route in an obscure part of town and dutifully turns in his receipts of about 50 dollars a day. One day he turns in over $600 dollars. When asked to explain, he said: “I have very few people who ride in my area. I turned my bus down 5th Avenue – It is a goldmine there!”

It seems that the Super Bowl and the Jewish Observer are topics that interest many people. Perhaps the Toeles of jblogs will be to raise awareness at the Agudah to revive the JO.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Super Bowl and Diaspora Yeshiva Band

In the beginning, Jewish music was primarily comprised of Chazzanim. Yossele Rosenblatt and his contemporaries sang niggunim which were nostalgic of a time gone by, but their music did not necessarily resonate with the youth.

In the early 60’s and onward, Shlomo Carlebach changed that image, by singing trendy folk music accompanied with much Soul.

But in the mid 70’s, Avraham Rosenblum
and his Diaspora Yeshiva Band burst onto the scene with the new sound of “Country and Eastern Music": Tehillim, Bluegrass, Chassidic Niggunim, and Rock'n'roll.

As with any new trend, they were initially met with resistance. Their music was too similar to the secular music of the time, and the rabbis were not eager to dance to the new beat. Yet pretty soon, their music penetrated the hallowed halls of the Yeshiva World.

All music takes time to get used to, even Shmelka’s niggun was too modern when Ohr Chodosh produced it in the 60’s.

Some years ago, the good folks at Yeshivas Ohr Yitzchok, decided to combat the huge amount of time that was wasted by some Yeshiva Bochurim who watched the Super Bowl. They decided to bring a guest speaker, delicious food and fabulous music to their Yeshiva during the Super Bowl to hopefully persuade Bochurim to use their time more productively.

The singers were always the most trendy and were a huge draw. Lipa Shmeltzer graced the stage one year as did many others. Yet the most notable moment, was the time that Avraham Rosenblum of DYB fame began his performance with this opening line…

“It was always my dream to perform during half time of the Super Bowl!”

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Purim and Non-Drinking?

One of the most powerful videos, if not the most powerful I've ever seen. Please share.

The dangers and pitfalls of alcohol from Yehuda Mond Foundation on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Revive the Jewish Observer

I miss the Jewish Observer.

Years ago, when Jewish themed magazines were in short supply, there was an appreciation for the thoughtful articles and essays that arrived in the mail monthly. Sadly, this is no more.

While some of its writers have migrated to the internet and other printed media, it just is not the same. Some have labeled the cross-currents blog as a successor, but in no way does it rival the JO of yesteryear. Reading the JO gave one a sense of hashkafic security, as all the content was pre-approved by its Rabbinic board.

You would need to wait a full month to read the follow-up letters to the editor! Something unimaginable in our electronic media age.

If I recall correctly, Agudah has stated that the cost associated with producing the magazine led to its demise. My suggestion would then be to have the magazine produced digitally, then emailed as a PDF to the subscriber base.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Hakoras Hatov II

Thank you to whomever was responsible for adding this blog to If anyone knows how to add this blog to, please respond in the comments.

The Precious Pears

Back in the early 1970’s, there were a few books written for children featuring heart-warming stories with Jewish themes. Published by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (Lubavitch), they were:

The Call of the Shofar, and other Stories, published 1971 and,
The Secret of Success and other Stories, published in 1973.

These books were authored by Chana Suber-Sharfstein/Nissan Mindel, and illustrated by Zalman Kleinman.

One of the stories was titled “The Precious Pears”. The main character is a poor, older man who is no longer able to work and is offered a job gathering fruits from an orchard located deep in a forest. When he finishes the job, he is offered payment in “pears”, which he reluctantly takes – having preferred money. It turns out that these pears have the taste of Gan Eden, and he is able to sell them for a steep price and retire from the profit.

I was recently learning Baba Metziah 118a where the Halacha is pretty clear that if someone hires a person for a job, he may not pay him in goods, unless this was stipulated originally.

I sometimes wonder how many of our nurtured notions influence us later in life, causing us to have a skewed vision of Halacha.
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