Welcome to TheCollegeRabbi.com

birthright adAre you a Jewish college student? Do you feel disconnected from the Jewish community? Is the Jewish community on your campus too small? Is there a large Jewish Student Union but it’s just “not your scene”?

Maybe you run the show. You’re a small Jewish college community that would like to provide more from their students, but just don’t have the resources.

I’m here for you. I am the College Rabbi and I can provide the Jewish resources you need. I’m here to answer questions, provide resources, and just to talk to if you need.

Feel free to surf the pages of this site. Also, enjoy the blog!

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The College Rabbi Audits A Social Media Strategies Class

I am apologizing in advance to Dr. Jacqueline Vickery for doing this specifically to her class.  Since I “met” her some time ago on Twitter, ever since I had to explain to her that the Rambam was Maimonides (like I should ever expect someone outside the Yeshiva bubble to know that), we’ve had a number of pleasant conversations.  We disagree quite a bit, but like she points out in her class Social Media is a unique way to gather information and share ideas in a way never before possible.  The catch of course is that inevitably if you put yourself out there enough, an unsolicited and unwelcome opinion will cross your feed.  One can only hope that it’s respectful, which I hope mine is.

My current disagreement with Dr. Vickery is over a basic question of pedagogy: whether a video can constitute appropriate learning material for a college classroom.

 

Basically, there are two concurrent issues under consideration.  The first is the concept of a multi-sensory approach to education, that is developing the classroom in such a way that different learners can benefit from and not just auditory learners (reading is actually an auditory activity, not a visual activity).  The second is the great debate among educators whether the teacher is the “sage on the stage” or the “guide on the side”.  Actually there’s a third that knocks both of these out of the box, but I’ll get there.

Educational researchers have long advocated for a multi-sensory approach to education.  Not only should reading by part of the curriculum, but so should videos and hands-on activities be part of it as well.  Recently, major pushes towards this have been made and it is heavily pushed in education programs.  In principle, this should be a great idea.  However, at least at the primary and secondary levels, it puts a lot more work on teachers and the benefits are not uniform.  As one of my education professors once said, “If no child is left behind, then no child gets ahead.”  A strong argument could be made for this based on current literacy rates and modifications to the SAT.

Another major piece of educational wisdom, which is actually a big part of Jewish learning, is student-driven learning.  The study partner (hevruta) system in yeshivot, student led classes, and class presentations are all examples of this.  I am a major supporter on this side.  However, the disagreement isn’t just methodology but of who gets to determine curriculum.  Again, in the educational world this is debated to, and she has what to rely on.  Maybe.

The third consideration, which is the driving force behind curriculum, is the intended goal.  For primary and secondary school, there are a number of considerations: skill building, knowledge accumulation, encouraging a love of learning, and building self esteem.  In college, there’s only one real goal: prep students for work or higher education.  This is what parents, and students who pay their own way, are paying for.  Therefore, doing anything but pushing students with challenging assignments is the only way to do it.  Students must be forced to read academic writings as much as possible because they need to both learn the vocabulary and endure the rigor.  I was speaking with a lawyer about why only the top 5% of law school classes are highly desired by employers.  It’s not because it means they know more per se as much as that they are able to reproduce their knowledge quickly under high stress.  Getting through a doctorate is serious business as well, which requires heavy reading, strict demands from a dissertation comity, and ultimately deadlines.  This is something Dr. Vickery knows very well since she is a PhD and knows very well what it takes to get one.

That’s why allowing students to assign themselves a video is a joke, particularly a video of something they’d likely watch on their free time anyway.  It doesn’t challenge them, expose them to anything new, or expand their minds.  I’ve been reading Coppleston’s A History of Philosophy (veeery slowly) and you would not believe what hoops people had to go through to get their baccalaureate 400 years ago.  Besides for knowing the classical languages (Hebrew, Greek, Latin) they had to increase the body of knowledge by producing original works.  Thems days is long gone, and definitely to our detriment.  We aren’t producing the kind of student we were even 100 years ago, and we totally could if professors took the position that education must increase your knowledge base, take you outside of your comfort zone, and make you sweat a little too.

I’m telling you that in yeshiva they pushed us like this.  And you know what?  We learned hard and we loved doing it, and I’m a much better student for it.  More than that, I learned to embrace my inner nerd, and have pursued knowledge outside of the Torah world with the same zeal.  College students are missing out, and flushing money down the toilet, if they aren’t given this.

And I didn’t even hit up on the content of the class, but that’s enough for one day.  Besides, I’m not looking to disparage, just to challenge.

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Shanah Tova Rabbi Style

Rosh HaShanah is a serious time.  It is the Day of Judgement for the world, and I wouldn’t say the world is holding in such a great place either.  Nonetheless there is a happy aspect to it, since we are at the closest we can be with Aveinu Malkeinu, our Father our King.  I think happy is good, so here is my Rosh HaShanah greeting.  Enjoy!

 

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Deadmau5 Has a Potty Mouth…And a Point

Deadmau5 is IMHO a rare breed.  Not only is he a talented musician but he’s developed a cult of personality as well.  Quite frankly he’s one of just a handful of musicians that have debuted post-2000 that I have really gotten into and since it’s all instrumental I don’t run into certain religious issues that I do with some of my other favorite bands.  I wish I could say the same about his tweets, which I continue to follow despite the obscenity for a variety of reasons.  I actually follow a lot of people I don’t see 100% eye-to-eye with, but I digress.

He also pushes some limits, and it has gotten him it trouble.  His Purrari earned him a cease-and-desist from Ferrari and his mouse head bares at least some resemblance to Mickey Mouse, though I do wonder the limits of how much.  I’m in no place to assess trademark violations.  And in some sense it makes him no better than Disney, at least assuming Disney did in fact use “Ghosts ‘n Stuff” without permission.  I’m really not looking to accuse or demonize the happiest company on Earth.

There were two issue Deadmau5 did bring out that I think are worth addressing.  Number one, he wants credit for his work.  A major argument I’ve had since the days MP3′s first came on the scene is that theft of intellectual property is theft.  When you buy a CD (when we did such things), you’re not doing it for the booklet and case.  It’s for the music.  As much as Metallica earned the wrath of their fan base for targeting serial downloaders, they were right that these people had no right to their music without paying for it.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a cash-strapped consumer or a massive corporation whose use of your song might be considered flattering.

The other issue worth noting is a complaint leveled against many major corporations, that they use their money to leverage the courts.  The Torah warns us to actively pursue justice (Dt. 16:20) and the Rabbis tell us that this is not just a warning to judges but to all individuals.  Money is not supposed to be used to buy influence in the legal system.  Assuming Deadmau5 is correct, it would be inappropriate for Disney to utilize their cash reserves just to shut some guy down in court.  If he has violated copyright law that’s one thing.  It’s entirely another to bog someone down in legal costs so they are forced to give in because they lack the cash to keep fighting.  The courts are supposed to be about resolving differences in a civil manner not a mention of getting your opponent to bend to your will through attrition.  Again, I’m not a judge to say that Disney did do that.  All I’m saying is the principle is correct.

So Deadmau5 gets a nod from an unlikely place.  I wish you well Mr. Zimmerman and I wouldn’t take offense if you told me to have a magical bleeping day.

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9/11′s Bar Mitzvah

Numbers are very significant in Judaism and the number 13 very much so.  13 is the number that signifies maturity and adulthood.  G-d’s attributes of mercy, both those formulated in Exodus 34:6-7 and in Micah 7, are formulated in terms of 13, demonstrating that the way of the adult is to conduct themselves with mercy and forgiveness.  So on this the 13th anniversary of the fall of the Twin Towers it behooves us to reflect deeper on those events.

“Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.” Gn. 14:4

The Abir Yaakov says the events in Genesis 14, the War of the Four and Five Kings, allude to a great spiritual truth.  Chedorlaomer is symbolic of the Evil Inclination, which a child is completely subservient to.  Only in the 13th year when a child reaches adulthood do they have the ability to “rebel”, to subdue their passions and wants to clear logic and moral reasoning.  Man is naturally motivated by emotions but as an adult we are mandated to either ignore them or direct them in the right direction.

Some will always grieve.  I’m not speaking about the families because they are grieving for loved ones, a terrible lose I can’t imagine and don’t wish on anyone.  I’m talking about those people who grieve for the simpler life before 9/11/01, the generation I grew up in that was criticized by their parents for being angry about nothing while they had Vietnam hanging over their heads.  Others will be angry because they feel their rights to safety and security have been permanently breached.  There will be those still calling for blood and those urging tolerance, some even to the point of apologizing on behalf of the terrorists.  In truth, none of these approaches are appropriate anymore.

As adults, a generation that has reached maturity in respect to 9/11, we need to take a different approach, a rational approach, and an active approach.  We have enough facts to know what motivated these people and should know enough that we can stop people from getting sucked into these kinds of activities.  We need to engage in more acts of kindness, the simple kind like holding a door for someone.  We need to take an interventionalist approach to our friends and families lives, that if we see someone involved in something dangerous, we need to show our concern and step in, before they make a rash decision that may cause them to hurt themselves and/or others.

But on top of this, we need to become better informed about the positions we take and who we vote for.  Most of us take the positions we do because our gut told us to.  This is not how an adult should conduct themselves.  Adults are supposed to take the time to do research, evaluate the situation, and make decisions based on logic.   We need to move as a society from raw emotion to thoughtful reflection or risk never being able to.  Let us hope this year can be a year of healing for our nation.

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Birthright: Come See For Yourself!

As bad as the 4000+ rockets that were fired into Israel during Operation Protective Edge were for Israel, the PR war arguably took a worse toll on it.   Jews all over the world suffered collateral damage for “Israeli aggression” along with their Israeli brothers and sisters, which was nothing of the sort.  A synagogue in France was attacked and Jews were murdered in cold blood in Belgium.  “Peace” demonstrations all over the world turned into anti-Semitic hate fests.  #Hitlerwasright trended on Twitter.

Meanwhile back on campus, Israel’s story is seldom heard.  Numerous student organizations have taken the position that Israel is a massive violator of human rights, possibly the worst in the world, and have organized campaigns as BDS and Mock Evictions which have served not only to demonize Israel but intimidate Jewish students at colleges in America and beyond.  Many if not most academics in Middle Eastern and Judaic studies have largely accepted the Israel-as-oppressor narrative and teach it in the classroom.  At the same time major Jewish organizations are debating whether or not to include anti-Zionist voices such as J Street at the table.  One really has to ask: is it all true?  Is Israel really that bad?

There is a way, a great FREE way to find out for yourself. Taglit-Birthright Israel is a program that’s been in existence for 20 years sending Jews ages 18-26 the opportunity for a whirlwind adventure to explore the country for themselves.  They get to visit major historical and archaeological sites, go on hikes, hear speakers, and a taste of the religious side of things.  Many different Birthright programs exist all with different focuses and lengths of time.  I was pleased as punch that Yael Adventures reached out to me and asked me if I could let students know about their exciting 10-day trip.  While I haven’t had the opportunity to go on it myself (sob sob), it looks like a very well-rounded and substantive itinerary.   They visit the holy city of Tzfat and modern metropolis Tel Aviv.  There’s hiking on Masada and rafting in the Jordan River.  They even do Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall), which is a must in my humble rabbinic opinion.  The hotel is in walking distance of Meir Shearim so you can go tisching as well Friday night if you like.  If you don’t know what these things are you will learn quickly.

For more information call 781-715-1126 or write recruiters@freeisraeladventures.com and tell them the College Rabbi send you.  Registration for Winter 2014-2015 has already begun.

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Inreach at Club Orthodox

I wish I could say that I involve myself with college students because everything is cool in the Orthodox community and that we are having no issues with retention.  This is unfortunately not true and a lot of ink has been spilled over the problem.  Basically there’s been two basic schools of thought on how to make Judaism more appealing: make it fun (R’ Fink) or make it educational (R’ Sommer).   In truth both have a point.  Judaism was never like the Amish Church and it was never meant to be held to be an ideal.  Therefore, those who wish to create a more inclusive, welcoming, warm, happy environment in the Orthodox world are certainly right to do so.  However, it’s also true that Orthodoxy is not a social club and should never become one.  Judaism is ultimately about service of G-d and fulfilling His commandments, and once that ceases to be the focus Judaism loses its raison d’être.

The fact of the matter is that it’s Judaism’s message, and any religion’s message for that matter, that is its main selling point.  No religious service no matter how cool or freaky will ever have the pure pleasure aspects of secular culture nor can it rid itself of its inherently sectarian nature that hard-line secularists love to demonize it more.  That’s why I actually took offense on behalf of Mormons for R’ Fink’s left-handed compliment of their success.   The reason they have the kind of communal atmosphere that he would like to see in our community is because it is a natural extension of their belief system, and the reason Mormonism is a draw is people see that, regardless of how far out some of their beliefs actually are.   R’ Sommer is dead on that the focus of any in-reach or outreach movement within Judaism must come from our main selling points: we possess the G-d given truth that our ancestors received from Sinai and living our lives in accordance with the Torah’s tenets is not only the right thing to do but the thing that is ultimately what will benefit its practitioners the best.

However as R’ Fink points out, there is a numbers game aspect to it.  Every Jew who gets disconnected from Torah is literally being cut off from the source of life and we can’t just write it off as collateral damage.  We all know: he who saves a life saves the world entire.  So R’ Fink is correct that Judaism needs to be experiential and a positive experience.  We need to make the part of Jewish life that is outside the classroom less like a classroom. I would say the #1 activity in the Orthodox community being offered is shiurim.  There must be other ways to communicate the message without making life like school because many people were just not cut out to spend their lives in a classroom and are alienated by the current structure of the Orthodox community.  And it’s not like we have no precedent.  Bakashot Shabbat mornings, the Hassidishe tishe.   These are the kind of activities I believe R’ Fink is alluding to, activities that encourage bonding and the social aspect and education comes along for the ride.

We absolutely must teach proofs of G-d, but how is the question.  We can be creative and we must be creative.  And as both of these rabbis acknowledge, we can always use improvement in our interpersonal skills in general.  But this should go without saying.

 

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Yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox Day Schools Round 2

The debate between Yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox approaches to learning is far from over.  However, based on the responses given now, over a week since Part 1 went down, I think the winner is fairly clear:

Rabbi Sommer’s response, which I recommend reading, outlines an approach to learning that many educators have been voicing for some time, and rightly so: the curriculum has to change to focus on core knowledge such as Tanakh (Bible) and Mishnah and push Gemara to later.  However, it’s also an implicit concession to Rabbi Student that summer camp is not THE solution to our education woes, nor is turning school into summer camp the way to go.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t have moved the discussion to content.  Rabbi Student shows of course that these questions have been raised in the Yeshivish world as well, which has given rise to the Zilberman Method.  The solution to our education woes is in education, serious education, education a la the Yeshivish approach, whatever form that does or will ultimately look like.  Point Rabbi Student.

There is a difference however between Rabbi Sommer’s outline for education and that of Zilberman and it does need mention.  Rabbi Sommer’s approach is informed by modern scholarship.  On this point he makes a strong case.  It’s not that the points in modern education scholarship (that are correct and effective) cannot be found throughout the Talmudic and Rabbinic literature, such as the Jigsaw Method and hands-on learning.  However, the academic institutions have fine-tuned them, systematized them, and made them workable for the classroom.  Teachers from the all walks would do well to receive formal training in curriculum development, testing design, and some of the other methodologies taught in Education programs.  Point Rabbi Sommer.

One thing I have noticed, a misunderstanding that appears in Rabbi Sommer’s piece as well as Zilber’s, is the understanding of what the Mishnah in Avot means at age 5 Mikrah, 10 Mishnah, and 15 Gemara.  While it is clear what Mikrah is, which is Bible literacy, Mishnah and Gemara are misunderstood.  Mishnah in the language of the Mishnah is rote teaching whereas Gemara is deeper understanding.  If we are really to meet the mandate of the Mishnah, ironically we must introduce Gemara early.  We just need to do it differently.  We need to treat learning Gemara at the early years as a reading exercise, since the research shows children learn language easier at early ages, and the Gemara has a language of its own.  What makes it easier is somewhere around 80% of all of the vocabulary in the Gemara can be found in about 20 pages.  The definitions have changed radically and Gemara now is every much as part of Mikrah as Tanakh was in the time of the Mishnah, a text that was only officially codified around the year 90 according to Dr. Lawrence Shiffman.   So the yeshivot are right to introduce Gemara early.  The question is how.  Point Rabbi Student.

Will there be a Round 3???

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Yeshivish vs. Modern Orthodox Day Schools Round 1

I was just privy to a spirited debate on Twitter between two colleagues of mine over this article:

The debate centered around who’s approach in Jewish education was really winning the hearts and minds of our children: the Yeshivish (otherwise known as Lithuanian Haredi or ultra-Orthodox [sic]) or the Modern Orthodox approach.  As true scholars actually looking for truth, they both acknowledged the relative merits of each other’s approach.  Still, I think it a worthy endeavor to weed out some of the emotional talk and actually weigh up the two sides.

Yeshivish: The Yeshivish philosophy is that Torah, as the word of G-d, must be studied intently by everyone to the exclusion of other considerations.  This means that students study Torah, particularly Talmud, for large parts of the day with secular studies taking a back seat.  It’s intense and serious, and there’s very little time for recreation of any type.

Wins:

  • Students generally demonstrate a high level of observance and many desire to increase their observance levels
  • Overall retention rates are high
  • Torah scholarship is high and they are producing most of the major Torah scholars now
  • Students marry, marry early, and marry within the tribe

Losses

  • High level of stricture means some kids have no place and slip through the cracks
  • Some students who rebel rebel hard and become anti, and have even caused great embarrassment to the community through tell-all books and TV appearances
  • Students less equipped to handle some of the challenges presented by the Western world including academia, atheism, and certain temptations that they only learned were forbidden but not how to deal with them
  • Students less prepared to make a living

Modern Orthodox:  Modern Orthodox says that a Jewish student must be knowledgeable about Judaism and the secular world as well.  The value of Torah and secular studies is equated.  Many schools have incorporated a campy aspect to their Torah curriculum to get the kids to love Judaism by having fun with it.

Wins:

  • Students highly successful in secular studies, often entering top-notch schools and winning awards
  • Students enter lucrative careers and are often very financially successful
  • Students generally have a positive attitude toward Judaism and a positive self image
  • Students “fit in” to the Western world better and are less intimidated by it

Losses:

  • Retention and observance levels often lower than Yeshivish counterparts
  • Halacha (Jewish law) viewed as the rules for a Jew version of Dungeons & Dragons rather than a function of the Divine Imperative, where either they or their rabbis are the Dungeon Masters
  • Students often have Western attitudes toward sexuality and dating, leading to more secular patterns of dating, marriage, and divorce
  • Learning levels tend to be much lower and students are often neither inspired to continue lifelong Torah learning or even can without the assistance of English learning aids such as Artscroll

I guarantee the two gentlemen I am addressing this post to will take issue with at least some of the points I have made.  I wrote this to further discussion, not end it.

Round 2, fight!

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Sam HarriS’ Silly Semitic MiStakeS

I’m always interested in hearing a different perspective on controversial topics, even though I know going in I’m highly unlikely to agree with the viewpoint. Sam Harris’ recent defense of his own unwillingness not to bash Israel over the current conflagration in the Middle East did not disappoint.  I was really wondering how he was going to turn the crisis into a referendum on religion in general but I was taken aback how much he was willing to slam Israel for existing even as he was “defending” it.  I was unaware of his position that Israel’s existence was illegitimate simply because of the fact that it was founded as a “Jewish and democratic state” and since Judaism is a religion, a country could not be founded based on it.  I found his defense of his position not to criticize Israel very confused and self contradictory, and most of all completely uninformed.

I do not want this piece to become another piece of hasbara, because the issues with his positions go far beyond not knowing the historical background of the conflict.  His fallacies fall into three major areas: ignorance of Judaism, Middle East history, and a confused moral system.  In order not to distract from the major issues, I will simply add some links about Judaism’s approach to Zionism and Middle East history.  See at the end of the article.   I would hope that after he informed himself about these issues he might be in a better position to make public statements on the issue.

I want to hone in on the morality issue, as this is where Mr. Harris makes the crux of his argument.  I can see where many people might want to dismiss Jewish and Arab historical claims to the land as a “he said, she said” kind of thing.  Let’s remove all consideration of these factors and hone in on Mr. Harris’ wildly spinning moral compass.  If he’s willing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, on whatever grounds he is, shouldn’t Israel be able to defend itself?  Should Israel’s right to defend itself be strictly limited to the bare minimal and have to maximize risk to its own military and citizens in order to minimize casualty on the other side?  Does the fact that Israel is fighting an existential war change the rules of the level of conduct by which it must engage in war?

Actually, there is only one real question: where is he getting his ideas about what is or is not okay in warfare?  If he wants to take a Kantian approach, then the best place to look would probably be the Geneva Conventions, a generally accepted warfare practices guide. There it spells out what war crimes actually are: attacking civilian populations, using human shields, perfidy etc… By Sam Harris’ own admission Israel is not engaging in those behaviors, and is doing everything to minimize civilian casualties.  The concept of collateral damage is acknowledged and a nation that accidentally kills civilians while engaged in acceptable military behavior is not guilty of war crimes.  So how could he possibly say that he is certain Israel is engaging in war crimes?  If he is using his own conscience as the source of what constitutes a war crime, he has already proved that is an invalid place to start given his willingness to pass judgement and make assumptions without being informed of the facts on the ground.  If he says he’s sure something happened, but has no proof, then we have no reason to accept his certainty as anything but conjecture.

But it gets worse for him.   Why shouldn’t two nations at war be able to engage in total annihilation policies?  This is the way most nations engaged in warfare for much of human history, and the Middle East still operates on this principle.  Multigenerational blood feuds are not uncommon in the Middle East.  The Sunni-Shiite struggle is almost 1,400 years and counting.  If anywhere, it might be said that the Torah that he so much demonizes could  be considered the source for treating civilians and soldiers differently.  In the Humash (Pentateuch), G-d forbids the Jews from waging war with Edom, Moav, and Ammon despite the fact that they are blocking their way into the land of Israel.  Even when Israel is waging a revenge war against Midian they are ordered to spare some of the women as they could not be considered enemy combatants (Nm. 31), keeping in mind of course that the women who were killed were involved in a very unusual type of non-conventional warfare (Nm. 25:1-8).  The Jews spared some of the enemy Canaanites and gave them sanctuary after making promises not to destroy them despite the fact that the sanctuary was granted under false pretenses (Jo. 9).  The Torah, while technically permitting a forced relationship during combat, implicitly discourages it (Dt. 21:10-23), and Israeli soldiers have taken the Torah’s words to heart on this issue.  In fact, without the Torah’s injunctions to limit the scope of warfare, where would he get the idea that there’s such a thing as war crimes?  I think most people agree war sucks, but if you accept the fact that sovereign nations can engage in warfare to protect the interests of their populations, why must they have any regard for the lives of their enemies?

The problem becomes more acute when you take into account Mr. Harris’ position that morality is a kind of scientific Epicureanism with Utilitarian overtones.  He assumes that increasing happiness (as measured scientifically) for the most number of people defines what is moral and can be addressed largely in terms of meeting people’s physical wants and needs, although I would think he will concede to Maslow that higher order types of pleasures of self-actualization are actually the real goal.  There’s two problems with this.  First, it is very easy to use such a moral system to justify genocide of a small population if it will bring happiness to the general population.  Second, happiness is not held by all cultures to be the end determinant of what’s moral.  He’s clearly not familiar with the Jewish moral principle that the determination of what’s moral comes from obeying the will G-d and not from a pleasure principle as the final end.  In fact, one of the terms used in the Rabbinic literature for a heretic is an Apikorus, derived from its attitude toward the philosophy of Epicurus.   Edward Said, the famous Palestinian thinker, devoted an entire work called Orientalism to discussing the issue of Western thinkers misunderstanding or disregarding the cultural factors in moral, ethical, and political decision making.  As framed specifically in the context of this conflict, R’ Meir Kahane said that Israelis failed to understand the reason that their peace overtures and promises of material prosperity fell on deaf ears because the Palestinians would prefer to have THEIR outhouses to Israeli toilets.  Some even believe there’s a moral imperative to suffer or even die to achieve a lofty etherial goal that may or may not bring them pleasure in the conventional Western sense.

Reflecting on Mr. Harris’ half-hearted defense of Israeli conduct has made me realize one of the reasons hard scientists mock the social sciences and humanities.  The social sciences and humanities are not really scientific and suggest there is something to the human condition besides a mass of sophisticated organic chemicals interacting with one another.  Sam Harris runs into a major brick wall when making declarations about morality: without G-d, where does morality come from?  It’s an issue that philosophers have tried to address but have failed since every theory of morality without G-d ultimately breaks down.   This IMHO explains why he can’t actually take a definitive position for one side or the other and lacks moral clarity at a fundamental level.

References:

Jews are Indigenuous

Israellycool.com

ElderofZiyon.com

Israelnationalnews.com

timesofisrael.com

Torahtruejews.com *

* While the Neturai Karta distorts what our great rabbis have said to take an extreme position that has earned them the rare honor of banned from the Jewish community, they nonetheless have thoroughly documented not only Orthodox objections to Zionism but also some of the more shameful moments of early Zionist history. However, one should do their due diligence in fact checking before accepting their reports out of hand.

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Reflections on a Smashed Guitar

It probably wasn’t the most rabbinic way to spend my anniversary, but it was definitely a fun way and not something I had done in years.  I went to see KISS and Def Leopard with my wife, my first time seeing both bands.  If you’ve been following my misadventures here and on Twitter, you will certainly understand how I chose KISS over seeing Nine Inch Nails again (not that the wife would have gone in for that) or Soundgarden.  Not that I have been to many shows since entering yeshiva, for a variety of reasons.  I will have to give KISS serious props for a memorable performance.  The theatrics were up there with Manson and GWAR.

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There’s a ritual that ends many a rock concert that I hadn’t really given that much to until my wife expressed a bit of horror when she realized what was about to happen.  Smashing the Strat (though an acoustic might work better) the lead guitarist was using after the show is a time-honored if not nonsensical rock tradition.  It’s also incredibly wasteful.  Oddly enough however, it reminded me of an incident in the Talmud (Berachot pg. 30) where both Mar bar Ravina and Rav Ashi both used the smashing of expensive glassware to sober the excessive levity at their sons’ weddings.   While the point was lost on most of the audience, it was not on my wife and her face showed as such.

Thinking about this got me to reflect on a few things that happened that evening that were mentioned by Paul Stanley during the course of the concert:

  1. A truck carrying a bunch of the lighting for the show flipped over.  The driver survived but the equipment did not.  It’s a sobering point to think the people providing entertainment, or anyone just doing their job for that matter, might be risking their life to do so.
  2. Paul mentioned all of the chaos in the world and how we all deserved one night to just get away from it because it will all be there tomorrow waiting for us.   Anyone following the news certainly knows this is true.  And yet how many of us spend more time in the escape than in the real world.   I spend quite a bit of time plugged in but with TV, internet, game consoles, people are spending more time escaping life than confronting it.  Everyone has the ability to positively contribute to fixing the world’s problems, but how many of us actually do?
  3. He also asked the audience if they pray and stated publicly that he did.  I was told by my diehard KISS fan compatriot that Paul has never said anything like this on stage.  Perhaps he was getting the audience to realize something.  They can do something to change the world; they can pray.  The end of the book of Leviticus describes a whole bunch of curses that will befall the Jews for not keeping the Torah, but if you look closely they are not curses at all.  G-d tells the Jews that he will treat them with keri, indifference.  G-d is telling us that the world is a naturally brutal hard place.  However, G-d can and will change nature in a second, if only we pursue a relationship with Him.  The Mishnah of Avot (2:4) tells us that if we make our will His, He will make His will ours.  It’s all about relationship, and Paul Stanley in the Torah spirit encouraged his fans to partake in that relationship through prayer.

On the idea that smashing the guitar is wasteful, smashing things is not always wasteful.  We smash a glass at Jewish weddings to diminish our joy a bit and to remind us of the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem and in being in exile.  So what might be the value added of destroying a guitar, a Biblical prohibition if there is no purpose (Dt. 20:19-20)?  Not that I’m saying it would qualify, but if I did want to give the rock world a pass on this issue I would it is for the entertainment value.  The Talmud in Taanit 22a says that there were two jesters who were worthy to enter Heaven because they brought joy to the depressed.  In a world where Tisha B’Av* has just ended, it doesn’t look like things will be much better next year.  While we do need to focus on making the world a better place, maybe a distraction isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Even if that distraction has fake blood coming from its mouth and pyrotechnics? Hmm. Maybe.

*Tisha B’Av is the Jewish day of communal mourning.  The destruction of both Temples, the fall of Beitar, the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290 and Spain in 1492, and the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto all happened on the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av.

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