Friday, October 29, 2004

Shabbat Shalom

Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom, Sabbatical felicitations. Hope it is full of davening, study, relaxation, zemirot, and enjoyment of family and friends, a little bit of olam haba as it should be. And don't forget to set the clocks Motzei Shabbat.

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Thursday, October 28, 2004

better too early than too late

@#$%%$@#! My previous post was too early. However, this brings out an interesting problem which crosses ages and continents. Usually in conflicts between nations, the leaders are not specifically targeted. Look at the uproar when Khadaffi's palace was bombed. Look at the first gulf war, it was not a problem to kill all the Iraqi soldiers, but we didn't go after Saddam. Its perfectly fine to kill all the poor soldiers following orders, but you cant go after the criminal who is sitting in the armchair masterminding it. That is why Israel gets flack when they get a Hamas leader. I guess I have to read some history of diplomacy and war to find out how this peculiar "gentleman's agreement" has evolved. Probably from when kings sent the peasants out to massacre each other and then the two got together and went fox hunting afterwards. It helps the people at the top, not at the bottom. Time for a change. And yes, I know that the CIA is prohibited by law from assasinating other heads of state, another "kings agreement."

On the same theme, you know that if Yasser needed emergency medical treatment and didn't make it to Paris, but had to be rushed to .. say, Haddassah, he would have been treated. Odd, most Israelis would have been happy to see him dead, but if he is sick, we have to treat him. If I was the doctor there though.......hmmmm, some things probably shouldn't be said in public.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

good riddance?

The news is that Arafat is sick and possibly dying. If he passes, and before we are inundated with the leaders of the world recalling him as a freedom fighter and man of peace and all that other garbage, let us remember him as the man who planned the PLO operation at Ma'alot, where innocent school children were targeted and massacred, among all the other hundreds of heinous acts he committed. Mittat rishayim noach lahem v'noach la'olam. the death of the wicked is good for them and good for the world. I hope I am not too premature with this post.

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boy bands, ob'm

Blog in Dm has details of the Eli Gerstner-Chevra brouhaha

Eli Gerstner got together with the Chevra boys. " Let there be peace" he said. They shook their heads. " Listen to us" they said, " we think you were ripping us off and owe us money." Eli started to eat some pizza but accidentally started to say boreh pri ha'adama. "oops. baruch shem..." well, we have a wedding to go sing at, at least make the chuppah nice. The boys sang mi bon siach so beautifully, every one cried. After the wedding Eli told the boys " I will instruct a messenger to send you a new contract, maybe even give you a new song." The boys looked at him, "remember" they said, " we have to make a living too." Eli shook his head " it will be ok with you, I am doing this with a pure heart."

If you are scratching your head, take a look at the back of your newly corrected , Chevra album thanks for update. Volume 2 should be used as a frisbee, and if you clicked on the link before it was corrected, the Chevra album referred to there is pretty good from the sound clips. Thanks to a for noting I linked the wrong Chevra album

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Rabbi Frand, the blogger's chavrusa

Oh, all the juicy stuff going on about the Chevra, but I am going to stick to Torah(for a change.) I heard this from the above mentioned Rabbi Frand, on one of his Torah tapes.

3 people in the Torah have their names changed. Avram-Avraham, Sarai- Sarah, and Hoshea-yehoshua. Obviously, Avraham and Sarah had the letter heh added, the heh symbolizing Hashem(no, not because it is the first letter of the word Hashem, but I digress.) Yehoshua had a yud added. What does the yud add? if you believe in some sort of law of conservation of letters, where did the yud come from. Well, Sarai had a yud removed when heh was added. What is implied by the transfer of the letter from Sarah to Yehoshua?

Yehoshua gets his name changed as he is appointed the heir apparent to Moshe and is going to lead B'nai Yisrael into the land. One of his prime responsibilities is to battle the people there, Canaanites etc. Sarah, in one of her disagreements with Avraham says(in reference to Yishmael) "Lo yirash ben ha'ama ha'zot, im b'nei, im yitzchak". The son of this maid will not inherit with my son. The land of Israel is the inheritance of the Jewish people. The transfer of the letter from Sarah to Yehoshua was to reinforce to Yehoshua and to the people that the land, their inheritance, was not to be shared with others, and to give them the strength and courage to comletely inherit the land, to the exclusion of others.

(note: as I was typing this, I truely meant it as a word of Torah, and not as a political statement vis a vis the present situation in Israel.)

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Keys to the House

As most of you know, I am guest blogging here at the House of Hock at the kind invite of Nisht(sort of like Charlie, except I never hear from him either). I do not have access to the House email, and limited power except to post. When I post comments on other blogs, I wonder if the blog master ever read my incredible insight, or laser sharp reply, even though it came weeks after the initial post. I do go back and see if there are new comments, but not all the time, and not all the way back. Sometimes I dont reply to comments because I have not had the chance to look up the references or sources I need to back up my words. However, I do read the comments and(most of the time) consider them. For any questions, comments, unrequited witticisms, please feel free to email me at:

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Bush buys a summer home in Kiryas Yoel

Like most(I hope), I have been trying to figure out who to vote for. I posted previously about how I agree with Bush/Cheney on Israel and disagree vehemently with Kerry/Edwards on tort reform, although I am a lifelong democrat. Having digested endless ads, speeches, articles, and opinions, I am going to vote for Kerry.

Society depends on the inhabitants following the rules. It can tolerate a few people who dont, and we call these people criminals, and find and prosecute them. However, for the society to work, the vast majority have to respect the rules and abide by them(for the most part, speeding doesn't count). Look to the PA, or Iraq, for examples of areas where the people do not follow the law. Russia, where most people avoid income tax and the govt. has lost billions because of that. The leaders, also have to respect the laws, not only in letter, but in spirit. The Bush administration(not alone in the history of the presidency, to be sure), has shown a lack of respect for the principles of equality, fairness, division of power, not to mention a lack of respect for the facts. They have pushed the borders of the law, and proclaim that the ends justify the means. Some may admire this as being certain, confident, focused, and brush aside transgressions as a small price to pay for the end achieved. I do not agree.

The previous post notes that the civil suit between the Satmar princes was marred by unprecedented threats, falsifications and possible criminal activity. The motivation behind these activities was obviously to achieve a certain outcome. The desired end justified the means, criminal and wrong though the means were. Unfortunately, with most ideologically driven groups, as you get more extreme, the more the end justifies the means. Not only on the right, but on the left. Look at the eco-terrorists, PETA, abortion rightists who bomb clinics.

I am not accusing Bush of criminal activity. However, he and his administration are too willing to use any legal or quasi legal route to achieve their ends. They also are all too willing to bend the facts to fit their agenda. I am not sure it will be different with Kerry, but I am willing to give him the chance.

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Sunday, October 24, 2004

Chillul Hashem B'farhesia

The New York Times had an article yesterday announcing the decision in the civil case involving the dispute between heirs of the Satmar throne. For the curious, the judge came out in favor of the younger brother. However, in an epilogue, the judge called on the attorney general to investigate the unprecedented threats, falsification of documents, and other possible illegal activity that surrounded the case. Makes you proud to be a member of the tribe.

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Friday, October 22, 2004


Its been two weeks since Simchat Torah, and my son is on the floor playing with his trains(he has a few new ones, courtesy of MVLW), and he is still singing,"aneinu, aneinu, b'yom koreinu." Simchat Torah lives on, anywhere Thomas the Tank Engine can go. Hopefully he will wear his new Tzitzit(for the first time) on Shabbat.(See post Oct. 10 for previous story)

(see post Oct 12 on health care for background)
On another note, I got a call from a patient who wanted to see me in the office and my scheduler had told him it would be another month and a half before my next opening. I'm busy, but not that busy. Seems the new rules have gone into effect. This patient has very poor insurance, and our group is limiting the number of people with that insurance that we are seeing. One a week per physician or something like that. I considered not seeing him, seeing as it would be of essentially no monetary benefit to me. Then I remembered my father(ad meah v'esrim, and more), talking to everyone who called, being the last out of shul after kiddush because so many people wanted medical advice. It was a no brainer, I fit him in the next day.

A hospital called and wanted to transfer a patient to my care. I happen to know that that place has people in my specialty. Turns out the specialists there didn't want to take care of the patient because he had no insurance. Shmucks. He was already in the hospital. I told them I would take the guy, but my hospital told them no, they would not agree to take the transfer. I arranged for him to go to the local charity hospital. Unbelievable

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Thursday, October 21, 2004

Haskama from beyond the grave

As noted previously, when a meshulach comes to visit, I usually buy his book, if he is selling one. I now have a small, but quite eclectic library of sefarim obtained in this fashion. I try to read them all, or at least enough to find out if I want to read it cover to cover, or if it will be useful for reference. As usual, most have Haskamot(affirmations, letters of approval) from various Gedolim. I was a bit surprised, however, to find this(my translation): (names and details have been removed so as not to embarrass anyone)

I wanted to bring the Haskama of (a certain gadol, o'bm), that I recieved on (a different sefer that I wrote). I did not get his haskama on this book, because by the time I finished it, he had gone to Gan Eden. However, if he was alive, I certainly would have asked him for his Haskama on this book, and it is very likely he would have given it to me, as he wrote and hinted at in his previous Haskama "and I bless him that he should succeed in this book, and will merit to write more important books." Therefore, I would ask that it would be in the eyes of the reader, as if I recieved a haskama from (this gadol, o'bm), also on this book.

He then goes on to print the haskama on the previous book, from that gadol.

question. I guess it is like the blurbs on the dust cover, but does anyone pay a lot of attention to the haskamot of a sefer?

btw, on another sefer, the author(much more respectfully) just listed the gedolim who had given him haskamot on previous sefarim(but did not print them).

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

May I have your liver?

Organ donation has been in the news again. There is a web site that lets people post their stories and requests for organs. Obviously, there is a fee involved($250/month). One person responded to the web site ad and offered to donate his kidney to the rich guy who needed it. The transplant surgeon refused to do it because of ethical issues.

Background info: a nationwide network exists to coordinate transplants. It is a private corporation, with govt. funding. The nation is divided into regions, and each region has its own list of needy patients, listed by who is the sickest on down. Most never get an organ, because the need is greater than the supply. Obviously for heart and lungs(and usually liver) the donor is dead. The family can request that the organs go to a certain person, but not to a certain group(no discrimination). Kidneys can be donated by living people, because we only need one. It is not unusual for a relative to donate a kidney, and in fact is usually preferable(the closer the better) because of rejection issues.

Question: is it ethical(moral, right, pick your word, Halachic) for the rich guy to be able to advertise and get his kidney before the other folks on the list, in other words, get preferential treatment because he can pay for it? or should the person donating the kidney be informed that he should give it to the person(who matches) at the top of the list.

Other facts:In the USA, you cannot be paid to donate an organ, but your expenses are covered. You cannot be paid to donate the organs of your loved one if they are brain dead. Kidney donation at the present is encouraged by most major poskim that I have read(a very interesting study in how the psak, but not the principles involved, changed over time in response to changes in the safety of the procedure).

My approach: The bottom line is whether it is better to have a fair and equitable distribution system, or whether it is better to have more people get organs. As long as it can be shown that the advertising is not taking away from the usual supply(in otherwords, the ads are bringing in new organs, not just redistributing what is already around), I think the ads are ok. Although I always favor the underdog, and oppose letting the rich have additional priveledges, in this case, the greater good of having more people live, out weighs the ideal of equality. In fact, the burden of proof would be to show that the ads are taking organs away from the usual supply. Feel free to vent your spleen

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wonders of modern technology

I have been on this blog for a while now, and today put in my first hyperlink. My computer, cell phone, PDA all are operated on a need to know basis. I only know what I need, and no more. Probably time to read some manuals. And no, I am not a luddite.

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Women's Tefilla Group

At work I sometimes have to make conflict of interest statements, so here is one for this post: The author is married to a woman who was threatened with cherem for her participation in a Woman's Tefilla Group.

Now that that is out of the way, I will make this short. The benefits of WTG are that women get to daven, and learn, feel close to HKBH, there is no problem with kol isha, or mechitza. They do not say barchu, chazarat hashatz, or kaddish The women I know who attend are learned, dedicated, and serious, and they are not there out of some sort of "feminist agenda" or egalitarian aspirations. They actually feel they can daven better, learn better in that environment.

The cons, basically are the prohibitions of imitating non-Jews, imitating heterodox practices, and, most commonly cited, innovating, and dressing up and not going to be part of a minyan(incomplete mitzvah).

The main arguement seems to be the incomplete mitzva issue, that women are passing up the greater mitzvah of t'filla b'tzibbur, and settling for what is t'filla b'yachid. There are a number of halachic issues with this opinion, but the bottom line is this: If those authorities are so concerned with women attending t'filla b'tzibbur, I expect swift and certain exception taken to Rabbi Nissim Karelitz and Rabbi Michel Lefkowitz for telling women to leave shul at aleinu, and miss davening shir hakavod and at least one more kaddish b'tzibbur. QED

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Halacha, Minhag, and change

Baynonim posted last week about minhag and Simchat Torah. Shira Salamone(On the Fringe) has been posting about why women cant have aliyot, and today, I found R. Simcha's comment section on Hirhurim overflowing with debate on the minhag/Halacha of wearing hats(the lack of derech eretz is unbelievable). Of course, I need to put my 2 agorot in(not sure it is shave pruta, you get to decide.) The following is borrowed, but reflects my approach. With many apologies to the author for the paraphrasing.

Halacha is fully authoritative for Jews, and is subject to change. One can easily show that the phenomenon of Halacha has not been the same in every age, so one cannot deny change by any reference to experience. The question is, not whether Halacha changes, but what that change is judged to be.

Fundamentalists assert that change is secondary in a deductive sense, namely that the general priciples of Halacha remain constant, and the particular applications change in the course of ruling for a new situation arising in history. Thus, all change qua subsequent application is potentially within the system already. Is this judgement of the deductive character of all halachic change correct?

In looking at how the laws relating to women being exempt from time bound mitzvot(shofar in particular) It appears that in most cases of halachic reasoning, a process of selective prioritization(of principles) precedes the actual deduction of a particular ruling and is presupposed by it. This process of selective prioritization applies any time a difficult new cases calls for the emplyment of more than one principle.

Furthermore, even after the completion of the Talmud, when Halachic principles were supposed to have been premanently set, new factors were introduced into Halacha, which changed the meaning of these principles, for example, Rashi and Rabbenu Tam allowing women to make a bracha on mitvot sh'hazman grama. Also, the rules set down in the Talmud and in the post Talmudic sources are selective, for example, it was admitted that Shammai and R. Meir had more logically compelling arguements on the whole, but we pasken by Hillel and R. Yehudah.

The denial of any change other than deductive application is assumed to be dogma, based on the Rambam. He states "all the commandments were given to Moshe at Sinai along with their interpretations., quoting Shemot "And I will give to you tablets of stone, and the Torah and the commandments. Torah means the written Torah, haMitzvah means the Oral Torah..even though the Oral Torah was not written down. Moshe...taught all of it in his court to the elders."

This quote from Rambam paraphrases the gemara in Brachot "R. Levi bar Hama... said Torah means Scripture, haMitzvah means Mishnah, le-horatam means gemara."

Rambam left out gemara. In another part of of Mishnei Torah, he defines gemara as "understanding and discerning the end of a matter from its beginning, and deriving one thing from another, and comparing one thing and another... and how one lears the forbidden and the permitted and similar things from revealed tradition. "

A clear distinction between the actual data of revelation and the various methods for understanding it and practically applying it. Elsewhere, Rambam criticizes the bracha ha-melamed Torah l'amo yisrael" because, "God does not teach it to us, but commanded us to study it and teach it. "

Thus, for Rambam, revelation includes Written Torah, and those prescriptions of the Oral TOrah refered back to Moshe because no other historical source can be found for them. The whole process of interpretation, including judgement and generalizations, is not revealed, but the ongoing work of reasoned human input. Therefore, it is the fundamental data, and not the general principles of Jewish law which must be taken to be unchanging and unchangeable.

However, the authority of Halacha cannot be maintained if the principle of change is elevated from descriptive to prescriptive, as some liberals would like to do. Although one cannot deny the factual observation of halachic change, one can ceertainly dispute the assertion that change is a halachic value. Because Halacha has changed does not mandate any further changes, unless there is an explicit intersystemic reason for such change. One can not cite any halachic source where cahnge is mandated or defended. However, there are many examples where the rabbis regarded change as a necessary, lamentable evil, rather than an exemplary good.

The burden of proof is on those who advocate change. It is they who have to show convincingly that the changes advocated are required, lest more radical changes come about willy-nilly, for example Hillel and the prosbul.

Change as itself normative is objectionable philisophically as well. To affirm a changeable source of authority is to affirm the ontological absurdity of an infinite regress. Even change requires at least one unchanging point of reference. Worse, to affirm a changeable source of authority is to commit the moral outrage of making those who change the law the final authorities. To do this is to affirm the principle of tyranny, namely, the most powerful will now make the law based on their own interersts and opinions.. Thus, if Halacha is to remain law, the unchanging element must be primary, and the changing element must be secondary. If not, then either there will be no objective source of authority in Jewish religious life, or the authority of Halacha will be preempted by something else. That something else is usually presented as "ethics."

If ethics is to be prior to Halacha, but one cant find a source for it in classic Jewish sources, then such ethics must come from outside Judaism itself. Then Judaism becomes epiphenomenal, reducible to something external. Judaism is elitist, particularistic, and heternomous, and cannot be justified on ethical grounds.

How about ethics from Aggadah? The Aggadists themselves affirmed the normative priority of Halacha.

All too often, what is meant by "ethics" is nothing more than the currently popular opinions held in the community, at which point ethics becomes sociology.


One point shared by the fundamentalist and liberal community is confusion of the unchangeable core of Halacha with the most immediately manifest behavior of the community in customary usage(minhag). They differ in that the liberals look for standards more lenient than classical Halacha, and the fundamentalist seem to look for standards stricter than classical Halacha. In both communities, sociological ideology seems all too often to be the norm. If the law is always according to the latest authorities(halacha k'batra'i) then halacha is always what is manifest here and now. This principle(by no means the view of all halachists) explains the power of gedolim. They reflect and enforce the current state of opinion in the community.

A more historically oriented approach to Halacha sees minhag as part of a changing and changeable process of understand and particular application of the primary prescriptions of the Written and Oral Torahs as commandments. For this reason, the very commitment of the authority of the Halacha should stimulate us in our enterprises of textual and historical criticism, to see beneath thecustomary usage, and discover its historical contingency. This is especially important today when customary usage can be seen at times as impeding the operation and intent of the primary prescriptiosn of the Orah and Written Torahs.

The halachic process stands between the revelation of Sinai and the full redemption in the days of the Mashiach. Affirmation of revelation means that the Halacha is in substance the commandments of God as men and women attempt to fulfill them. Change then, is called for when the status quo prevents us from doing a mitzvah as fully and devotedly as we might. This often calls not only for new practical appications, but for new theories as well. The substance is everlasting, the form changes. TO EQUATE THE STATUS QUO, WHICH IS CUSTOMARY USAGE, WITH THE COMMANDMENTS THEMSELVES IS TO DEIFY MINHAG. This is Theologically unjustifiable.

Our incomplete doing of the commandments of God is not only because we are lazy or obstinate. It is also because the world in which we live is not the kingdom of God, and social survival often requires compromises which are necessary, but not desired. Our recognition of this is not a cause for triumphalist rejoicing, but a sober recognition of the as yet unredeemed character of this world. Halacha is a self contained system, but is not self-sufficient existentially. Without the affirmation of mediated revelation, we reduce Halacha to minhag, and ill prepare our people for their confrontation with western culture. Faith must be more than antiquarianism. Revelation presents a source of authirity which transcends the minhag of any generation. However, without the affirmation of messianic redemtion, we become utopians, convinced that with our halachic ingenuity, we can solve our human problems with human solutions.

I deliberately did not give the author, as I did not want the message to be influenced by the perceptions of the writer. I am sure some of you know, and I would not be surprised if it shows up in the comments section. However, if it doesnt, and you want the source, please email me:

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Monday, October 18, 2004

Food Dilemmas

Psychotodler notes a problem he had when his neighbor brought him bagels from New York that Psycho did not know if they were from a kosher bakery or not. This sort of balancing problem, finding the right path of keeping kosher and not offending friends and relatives is quite common.

Yesterday, my munchkin had another soccer game. It was the duty of the parents of one of the other kids(not Jewish) to bring the snacks. They know that there are 3 kids on the team who keep kosher, and they are very nice and try to accomodate. Unfortunately, the drink clearly did not have a hechsher(and likely contained grape juice). The somewhat distraught mother, thought that this drink was kosher, and then assured me that the donuts were from the kosher dunkin donuts on a certain street, where the nearest D/D is indeed under Hashgacha. Just to make life interesting, there are a few D/D shops on this street, obviously some very far from us. So, the likelihood was that the donuts were indeed kosher. I could have asked her more questions to find out exactly which D/D they came from, but, under the circumstances, I thought the best way was let my kid(she scored a goal, by the way) munch away on the munchkins.

I dont remember enough halacha of mixtures and finding stuff to know if this was, from a strictly kashrut point of view, the right approach. However, I think it struck the right balance of kashrut, and avoiding embarrassing the poor mom further.(I did show her how to look for Hashgacha on stuff). I am sure that those to the right would have asked more, to be absolutely certain, and some on the very left would have drunk the juice(especially if it probably didn't have grape juice in it). This illustrates how our Hashkafa affects our pesak, and actions.

All of which reminds me of Mitch Hedberg(sic) who did a bit on why D/D made a big deal about giving a reciept($3 if the counter person didn't give you a reciept).

friend " hey Mitch, you didnt have a donut today"
Mitch " yes I did"
friend "no you didn't"
Mitch "Of course I did, I have the reciept, I filed it here, under D, for donut"

probably was much better seen on TV.

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I'm afraid this pizza is not long for this world

In our little slice of heaven, a new pizzaria opened up. Always up for a new culinary experience, we went for dinner last night. The food was better than average, with some things(fried cauliflower) very good. However, the kitchen and counter people, while very nice, cleary were not well organized people, nor did they seem able to multitask and run the operation efficiently. MVLW(my very learned wife(yes MoC, she is also holy, but I didn't want it to seem that MHW was married to more than one person, so I emphasized another one of her many excellent attributes)) and I have taken bets as to how long it will last. The over/under is two months. Meanwhile, those who know what I am referring to, please try to patronize the joint, the food is good, prices reasonable, and the people seem to be nice.

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Uzi Hitman

Thanks to Blog in Dm for pointing out that Uzi Hitman died, and providing the link to Haaretz. He not only had great songs, but put out children's videos, with lots of great songs. I remember the first song of his that I heard "ma chashoov ha yom" why is this day important, a song that wonders what is the purpose of things, Hashem is in the sky, and I am down here looking for the right direction. The last verse starts, "Lo Nada Gam Pachad..." according to my poor memory and probably worse translation," we wont know fear, we wont have pain, we will continue to go fowards to the good end... " Baruch Dayan emet.

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Parsha thoughts, Noach

For those who lean towards the letter of the law, and ignore the spirit, a chilling warning. The midrash states that one of the sins that brought the flood was that people were stealing, but less than the amount that would be considered worth something, so that technically they could not be convicted of stealing. (obviously when a lot of people steal a small amount, it adds up). So, something can be within the technical limits of the law, and still be punishable by HKBH.

in the lead-up to Noach getting on the ark, there are a bunch of pesukim that say similar things, about Noach's age, about the animals, about Noach getting on the ark. Some are repeated 3 times in slightly different ways. Those who believe in such things would point to this as poor editing. I prefer to keep in mind what is pointed out nicely by Rabbi Liebtag at, that Torah(and Nach) are not meant as history(obviously, there is history contained in it), but are meant to be God's communication with us, and we can learn from each and every letter and sentence.

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New definition of treif recipes?

The word apikorus(heretic) comes from the greek, epicurean, those whose motto was "eat live and be merry for tomorrow we die".(thanks to Menachem Kellner's review article of Marc Shapiro's book in the Edah journal for reminding me). Does this have any Halachic implications for recipes found on that excellent resource for cooking,

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Men, cant pray with them, can you pray without them?

The point of my previous post was that people generally live and pasken their Hashkafa. I appreciate the comments regarding changes in Hashkafa at different times, and in looking at it, they certainly are valid. What I wanted to highlight was that someone who practices MO, is likely to pasken so that the answer is consistant with what he believes and practices, just like someone who is chareidi or right anyone else on the spectrum.

Hashakafa can influnce Halacha in 3 ways. The first is the most authoritarian. You may come to the conclusion that al pi Halacha something is muttar, but then say that it shouldn't be done,for reasons of Hashkafa(Halacha cach aval ain morin cayn). In this case, the only reason for people to follow your opinion is regard and respect for you as a posek(I am not going to get into da'at Torah today). There is no specific Halachic oomph backing you up. Although this is a very intellectually honest approach, it is seldom seen, because all you are saying is that the issue in question is not in keeping with your view of what halachic Judaism should be.

R. Jeremy Kalmonofsky(yes, he is a Conservative rabbi- good article in Judaism March 2002) notes that decisions in halacha are sometimes made by empasizing one value, and putting less emphasis on another. An example, pikuach nefesh and shabbat. Obviously, we violate Shabbat to save lives(a friend of mine holds that if we are saving lives, we are not violating Shabbat, but actually keeping it the way Hashem wanted us to). The question arises as to how much danger a person has to be in, and to what lengths one can do work on Shabbat. There are those that limit the Shabbat violation to the bare minimum neccessary to save life, and those that allow more, and expand the definition of what is endagered life.(it seems to me that the more to the right you go, the more weight is given to dichotomous values(like Shabbat, either you are michallel Shabbat, or not, it is a plus/minus value), and less value to values that are less quantifiable or more continuous(there is a range of what pikuach nefesh is, other examples are kavvanah, not embarassing your neighbor, etc). The Hashkafa informs which values are given more weight.

The third way Hashkafa influences Halachic decisions is interpretation of the sources. One striking example is in the discussion between Judith Hauptman and R. Michael Broyde in Judaism(Sept. 22 1993, available online through Dr. Hauptman(teaches Talmud at JTS) reads that men are obligated to provide a minyan(not neccessarily to be there for each and every minyan) and comes to the conclusion that men are not much more obligated for a minyan than women. This is a conclusion that is obviously rejected by R. Broyde, and as far as I know, has no backing in any of the Halachic literature. However, it is in keeping with Dr. Hauptman's haskafa.

Another facinating example of different readings and different weightings is in the Edah journal(vol 1 issue 2, available on line ). Here R. Mendel Shapiro and R. Yehuda Herzl Henkin disagree about women reading the torah and having aliyot. They cite the same sources, and come up with different conclusions. Which brings me to the topic of the post. R. Simcha, at his excellent blog hirhurim, discusses at great length the issue of women's tefilla groups. A number of eminent Rabbis are quoted, most against the issue. However, when the reasons are examined(from my point of view, as objectively as I can, take it for what it is worth), they seem to be quite weak, and involve selective application of values to this issue, but not to similar(but not as contraversial) subjects. I would have been more swayed, if they had just come out and said that they did not agree with it on a Hashakafa level, rather than put forth weak halachic arguements(I am planning to detail point by point my review, but this post is long enough as it is).

Recently in my community, a new minya started, with a mechitzah, with women taking turns reading the Torah(shira hadasha type). My first reaction was "this is not Orthodoxy." I reviewed the articles in the Edah journal, and as much other information as I could, and I honestly can say that on a Halachic level, it does not seem to make much sense either. Whether this is just my Hashkafa influencing my halachic views(which I guess I am accusing others of allowing to happen), or if it just so happens that halacha should always be according to me, I don't know. But I do have more empathy for those who see something and say, " this just isn't the way it should be." May we continue to strive for the Truth.

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Friday, October 15, 2004

The electromagnetic Jewish spectrum

R. Emmanuel Rackman defines Jews as a legal order, a group of people who have the same obligations. What exactly are those obligations? There is obviously a wide spectrum of beliefs. And, because it is religion, each person has the serene certainty that God agrees with him.

I think most people settle into a relatively permanent position vis a vis religion somewhere between the end of schooling and soon after marriage(early 30's for those not planning on marriage). Obviously, there are tremendous influences from family, schools, community, spouse, life experiences, etc. but once those influences have had their effect, most people settle into a little niche and there is relatively little movement across the spectrum after that time.

So, we believe our beliefs, practice our beliefs, and pasken our beliefs. Some one who lives in a chareidi community, goes to a chareidi shul, probably has chareidi beliefs, and, if you ask him about an issue like wearing pants, teaching a woman torah, etc, he will probably give you a answer in keeping with chareidi beliefs. It is unreasonable to think otherwise. No matter how many arguments you make, or sources you quote, he is not going to change, because his actions, and halachic path is tied directly to his beliefs. The same is true for the center, the left, conservative, reform, all the way up and down the spectrum. Rarely have I seen, either in r/l, articles, blogs, books, anyone look at someone else's arguments and say "you know, you are right. How wrong I was to think or pasken the way I did." Even when new information surfaces(like the full version of the Meiri) or mistakes in texts that were in the hands of Rishonim are found, it rarely changes how people pasken.

Since no one is going to change their beliefs, what we need is more acceptance that we all are trying to serve Hashem in the way we believe He wants to be served. The problem is that viewed from the left, the right is ignoring things that they feel are right, and ethical, like egalitarianism, and from the right, the left is leaving the true path of God and distorting His teachings. I am not sure what the answer is, and it may be somewhat unsolvable. However, we are all still part of the same family

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Thursday, October 14, 2004

I'm the cousin who eats treif

I went to a Yossi Piamenta concert this summer. It was a summer festival, at the local JCC, sponsored by Lubavitch. I sat on the lawn with my kids, with about 200 others. Just as he was about to start, the announcer asked that all the men and boys move to one side, and the women and girls to the other. The request made me incredibly mad, and I did not move. Most of the people did, and I got funny looks from some. I wound up somwhere in the middle, with my kids(some of whom are girls, none of the girls over 12). My first thought was, I am not moving and seperating from my kids in this balagan. The next was, how dare he ask us to sit seperately. Now, I now for a fact that Yossi played the night before at a goyish jazz club, and I doubt there was seperate seating(have to ask Velvel about that). The JCC doesn't impose seperate seating. Obviously, the request was by the sponsoring group. There I was, the cousin who eats treif.

Its one thing to go to an event at a shul, or a wedding, and you know that you will be following the minhagim of the baalei simcha, or of the shul. I know I will sit seperate from my wife at the kollel dinner. That doesn't bother me, even though I don't hold by that hanhaga. Somehow, this guy asking everyone at what essentially was a picnic to sit seperately bothered me a whole lot. The reason I was angry was that, I was being forced to do something that I did not think was neccessary, in a situation in which I was not expecting it. And that what I held(sitting seperately wasn't neccessary for under bar/bat mitzvah age, for an outdoor concert)was considered not valid.
I guess I understand now how those who are not totally observant feel, when asked to observe kashrut, mechitza, etc. when they go to orthodox functions. HOWEVER, the difference is that I felt that I was on solid halachic ground in my situation. Obviously, and unfortunately, the definition of solid halachic ground is sometimes different for different people(there are those in the conservative movement, including women rabbis who feel they are on solid halachic ground, while those of us to the right obviously think not)
I got my revenge by not allowing my kids to sing along for the obligitory "we want mashiach now" refrain. small solace

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Think for yourself(if you can)

Rav Avigdor HaLevi Nebenzahl, in his most excellent book Thoughts for the Month of Elul(Ani L'Dodi ve Dodi Le), writes about a very important issue for me. To papraphrase:

He addresses the conception that observant pilots drop out of fighter pilot training because they are trained from childhood to follow orders, and a pilot must improvise.

" .. there is no doubt that this situation is forbidden. We must not nullify our independaent intellectual capabilities even when seeking the direction of others, great as they may be. We must always bear in mind that it is our own intellectual capacity which guides us to seek out these great men, and to believe in the Geatest Guide of All, HaShem. Man may think that he fulfills his obligation in this world by adhering to the specific advice of our Sages to "Accept a teacher upon yourself"(pirkei Avot). In reality, however, if one considers this a permanent state of affairs, to a certain extent he is not fully discharging his obligation to submit to the yoke of Heaven; for we are obliged to accept only God, and no other , as the Supreme Being. We must realize that it is only because we have not yet reached perfection that we seek the aid of the more advanced knowledge of our Sages.
It is forbidden to accept such a perverse situation as permanent. On the contrary, we must strive to minimize our dependence on others by becoming great scholars ourselves, so that we will be able to rule on halachic issues through our own wisdom. .....we must also recognize that our ultimate aspiration is independent thought.

R. Nebenzahl is the chief Rabbi of the old city of Yerushalayim and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat ha Kotel(for those that didn't know)

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The State of American Medicine

I usually would rather blog about Torah, or philosophy, but the blog on the ethical dilemma of American Medicine has sparked sharp words in the comment section. So, here it is, the status of medicine in America

We have the best medical system in the world. No question about it. No country has in aggregate the quality and quantity of doctors, hospitals, and equipment. Certainly other western european, japanese and canadian systems are quite good, and on the top level have similar expertise and equipment, but that top level is thinner than it is here in the usa, where there is an abundance of qualified personnel and equipment. The reason we have poor longevity ratings, bad infant mortality percentages, and a lot of sick people is because..... they are poor, and either dont have access, or dont care to have access to health care. The uninsured, and underinsured are the losers in our health care system. Their diabetes goes undiagnosed and untreated, hypertension poorly controlled, and they sometimes dont even go to the hospital if they are having a heart attack, for fear of the large medical bills. If they had care, or were convinced to go have care, the mortality would be less, babies healthier, etc. Its hard to have low infant mortality when many mothers dont get prenatal care. The system is great for people who use it, and who have insurance or can pay for it.

Malpractice. Whatever the cause, rates have been going through the roof, tripling in the last few years. Some hold that it is because of many lawsuits, and there is some merit to that. Some hold that rates have increased so that insurance companies can recoup what they have had to pay out for disasters, floods, 9/11, you name it. The reality is that in states with caps on non-economic damages(limits on money paid for pain, suffering and things like that, but not on lost wages, recouping hospital bills, etc.) malpractice rates are lower. Also, rates are higher in states that have a history of high jury awards(jury awards vary considerably from place to place, county to county, state to state). In some states, doctors are leaving because it is a lot cheaper to practice in a neighboring state, getting away from higher premiums. We are talking about numbers like $300,000 a year down to $50,000 a year for the same coverage. I will try to blog about malpractice issues another time, you may be surprised by my view.

Health insurance- premiums going up, covered services going down, payments for services staying the same, or going down a bit, despite increases in inflation, costs of doing business(malpractice insurance for instance).

to be continued, I'YH

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Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Medical Care

Its a long story, but I am an accidental physician. It wasn't my burning ambition since I was a tot. However, I do love it, and my job is to help people, which is an awesome joy, as well as an awesome responsibility. My policy, even as a member of a large group, has been to see anyone who comes, insurance, no insurance, good insurance, barter for goats, whatever. In the past few years, our malpractice insurance rates have tripled, and the reimbursment for public aid patients(those who are poor or sick and get insurance from the state, as opposed to medicare, which is federal and for people over 65) averages 7%. In otherwords, if the bill is for $100, we get $7. So, doctors in my speciality all over this great state are refusing to see patients with public aid. And, those of us who are willing to see patients with this insurance, see more and more, as there are less and less doctors serving the population. At our last partners meeting, it was proposed that we limit the number of patients seen with this public aid insurance. Not that we will refuse, but limit the number per day seen, so that more patients with good insurance can be seen. We calculated that if we reach a certain percentage of public aid patients, we would not even be able to cover the office expenses and the malpractice, to say nothing of taking somthing home. Now, for those cynics and liberals out there(and btw, I am one of the only democrats in the group), please dont send me the "rich doctor" comments. I am not pleading poverty, and thank God that is not an issue. However, I know personally at least 5 doctors who have relocated or stopped practicing, because it wasn't worth it to them. What is worse, we are getting a two tier system of healthcare, and people who care(hopefully I am one of those), get squeezed in the middle. More later

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Regretful God, from the comments section

Previously(see Better to have lived post below), I mentioned the paradox between God's creation of man, and statements in the gemara that it is better not to have been born at all, than to have been born, and in Kohelet that the day of death is better than the day of birth. J.I. pointed out that at the end of parshat B'reisheit, God himself says "nechamti ki asitiv" I regret making him(referring to man, and probably all of creation, given what it says in the previous pasuk). The Ohr Hachayim there explains that Hashem sometimes rules with middat ha din(strict justice), and sometimes with middat ha rachamim(mercy). When the overall actions of man tilt to the good, then Hashem rules with rachamim, and the midda of din has to acquiece. When the overall actions tilt bad, Hashem rules with din, and the midda of rachamim has to give in. In this case, the regret expressed is by the midda of rachamim, in having to accept Hashem's ruling with din, and that the punishment will be the upcoming flood. This construct doesn't exactly fit the wording in the Torah.
The Ohr Hachayim also explains how Hashem didn't 'know' how man's actions were going to turn out. He says that Hashem allowed himself to see the future good deeds of man, but did not look to see the future bad deeds. The purpose is not only to allow man to have free choice, but also to deny evil doers the excuse that "you knew I was going to do bad, so its not my fault." This concept would also explain how Hashem could have regret, since he did not "look" to see how much evil would be done(the previous pesukim indicate that a lot of evil was going on).

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Monday, October 11, 2004

Carrying the Yamim Noraim into the year

I like Yom Kippur. Somehow, I am not sure exactly how, I wind up feeling close to HK"BH(God). Obvioiusly it has to do with all the davening, the al cheit's, fasting, the nusach, spending so much time in shul, but there is something else. By midway through Neilah time, I usually get the feeling that Hashem has understood me, and accepted my teshuvah. It may be hubris on my part, but it is a very comforting feeling. I can daven through Sukkot(my favorite holiday) with incredible kavannah, keeping all the promises I made to Hashem and to myself. Usually all these good intentions have totally unravelled by Hannukah, if not Rosh Chodesh Mar Cheshvan. How to keep that incredible feeling of closeness, Devekut, with HK"BH through the year? I've tried spending more time davening(lack of sleep catches up), learning, and I think each year I am doing more than in the past year. But it never fails that by the time Elul rolls around again, and I look back at what I wanted to do, and compare it to what I did, I come up way short. Soooo,,,, how do we carry the Yamim Noraim feeling into the year? the floor is yours.(yes, I know all the comparisons to new years eve resolutions, 12 step programs, etc, but this should be different, it is HK"BH we are talking about, not losing 5 lbs.)

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

My 3 year old saves Simchat Torah

Paul Shaviv at bloghead noted that Simchat Torah had been ruined for him because of too much talking, not enough ruach, and a general move away from the way he remembered the holiday as a youngster. As I read his post, I agreed totally. In my shul, the ruach and singing comes from a small group of teens and parents with small children. Most of the younger teens socialize outside, and the middle aged people talk inside. A lot of the older people dont even come. Sometimes you cant even hear when the Hakafot start of finish. It really gets depressing.

This year, my 3 year old was old enough to have some understanding of what when on. He insisted on kissing every Torah, sang as loud as he could, and everytime the singing stopped(new Hakafah, new song) he looked at me and said, "more music? more singing?". On Shabbat and today you can hear him playing with his toys, singing "aneinu, aneinu, be'yom koreinu". Of course, he doesn't get the words exactly right, but you know what he means, and the tune is right on. I saw Simchat Torah through his eyes, and all of a sudden, all the people talking, not paying attention, leaving early, eating early, it didn't matter and didn't bother me. It was the best Simchat Torah for me in years.

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Better to have lived and lost, than to have ever lived at all?

Kohelet states, "the day of death is better than the day of birth." This has echos in the gemara(Eruvin 14b) where Hillel and Shamai debate whether it is better to be born, or to never have been born. They debate for a few years, and come to the agreement that it would have been better not to have been born. They then add, with the help of Rashi, that since one has been born, he should be careful with his deeds. From a Mitzva/avera point of view, I guess this makes sense, because the premise is that all of us are contaminated with averot(averas), Ain Tzadik asher ya'ase tov v'lo yechita. However, if you think about Creation(this coming Parasha) and how man(and woman) is the culmination of Creation, how is it theologically acceptable to state that it is better for this pinnacle of creation(man), not to have been born? doesn't this cast a giant shadow on the Divine Plan? The only reaonable sounding explaination I have found is the above mentioned strict accounting of good and bad deeds, contamination of the pure soul with worldy affairs type of answers. The floor is open. And on that note, Chag Sameach, Good Yontif, G'mar Chatimah Tovah to everyone.(btw, Sunday is the first day of the MoC biking post yontif diet.)

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Hoshana Rabba

In Hoshannot we say "ani v'hoi hoshea na". When I was a kid I always wondered who hoi was. It refers to G-d.(I did not make it koi, because it already was transliterated and anyway might be confused for some sort of Japanese carp.) The implication is that Hashem is in galut with us, and in redeeming us, Hashem redeems Himself as well. This does not imply that Hashem is in need of redemption, only that He is imposing on Himself what He has imposed on us. For some, this is the what has kept our faith intact through two exiles, the concept that Hashem goes with us, even if we are not on our land. We are not alone in this galut, may it end b'mehera b'yamenu.

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Welcome Back Kotter

MoChassid, a true mentch on the web(if he isn't, he sure does a good job faking it) will be back blogging, after doing his Lance Armstrong impersonation. Makes me want to learn how to make words light up in blue letters so you could click and get to his blog.

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Soap Box

The Jewish Week had an article about a rabbi who is getting more popular in the Jewish renewal movement. According to the article, there are allegations that as an adult he had relations with a 14 year old. I am not mentioning names, to avoid spreading lashon hara, but it is all there in black and white. What bothered me was that his supporters wrote in this week to complain about the paper's spreading lashon hara, and there being a conspiracy of those who oppose his views. Rabbi Arthur Green who is apoplectic about the article notes in his letter that "... history includes some genuinely bad deeds done when he was quite young, some 20 years ago."

WHAT CHUTZPA. Just because he got away with it 20 years ago doesn't mean you can ignore what he did. Saying he is sorry or has made peace with G-d(for Simcha) doesn't make it right, except in the heavenly books, to which we are not privy. Admitting your crime, going to the victim, grovelling on the ground, begging forgivness, and paying every cent you make to cover her psychotherapy seems to me the proper way to start to repent. Loud public announcements of repentence and forgiveness only remind me of Jimmy Swaggert or Tammy Faye Baker's husband.


What do you think is going to happen when, after laying low for many years, you start to put yourself out as a leader of the people, a teacher, an example for others to follow? You cant just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. And, no, I don't think that sexual assault on children is one of those things that you can just ignore, just an adolescent mistake, and its worse that people who know make excuses for him. IF you think otherwise, put yourself in the position of the kids mother, or father. Kinda hard not to reach for the .357 Magnum.

carefully stowing away the soapbox, hopefully not to be used for a while.

Addendum: Protocols has a letter put out by Bayit Hadash regarding this person, and it contains a letter of support from a number of rabbis, including Saul Berman. The Awareness Center website has additional information regarding the allegations.

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A number of people who I respect are of the opinion that the last few sentences of Kohelet were tacked on at a later time. I am not sure of the proof. For me, I don't believe it, and even if true, doesn't matter. The message of Kohelet, that the world doesn't make sense unless Hashem is involved, resonates with me. I find Kohelet uplifting, while others find it depressing. To paraphrase, Go, eat your bread in happiness, and drink with a good heart your wine(enjoy Sukkot), because Hashem has accepted your service(teshuvah). what could be better than that?

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New Fast Day

I propose that the first day of chol hamoed be a fast day. after all, if we can have a day after Rosh Hashana to get back to normal waistlines, why not Sukkot?

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Monday, October 04, 2004

Election conundrum

Who to vote for ? I feel like not voting at all. Details to follow, when the technical difficulties are solved

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Election conundrum

Who to vote for? I feel like not voting at all. Details to follow

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Election conundrum

I grew up with a Hubert Humphrey sign on my parents lawn.(for those of you under 40, he was a senator and presidential candidate, Democratic, back when dinasours roamed the earth). Now however, I am faced with the tall indecisive one, with the trial lawyer sidekick, versus the blithering idiot with the foul mouthed tonto. Everytime I see W, I feel the need to kick the TV screen. Everytime he misquotes statistics, my screen comes ever closer to oblivion via the thrown shoe... and yet, on the one issue that I care about most, and the one that affects me most financially, he is the better candidate...

Israel- never had a better(though poorer spoken) friend, for whatever reason you might want to give.

tort reform- seeing that I am one of those health care providers, paying sky high insurance and living in fear of huge lawsuits, old John Edwards being on the Democratic ticket is a huge turn off.

Somehow, I root for John Kerry in the debates, but I have a feeling I might be pulling the lever for Bush in November. I may have to vote for the major issues, andwrite off the economy, the poor, the environment, corporate welfare, tax reform, schools, and my whole liberal approach.
Makes me not even want to vote.

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Random light thought

When do Sukkah lights cease being Christmas lights, when they get to be $15 a box(instead of $1.99 in January)? Or when they are encased in little fish, fruit, or other seasonally appropriate plastic?

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Guest Blogger?

Thanks to Nisht, I will be guest blogging a bit while he is away. I don't know how long this gig will last, but I appreciate the opportunity. Please do not ask me questions about Nisht, as, I know Nisht about Nisht. Except, of course, that he is an uncommonly kind to allow me to blog on his site. I hope to be able to live up to his expectations(although, I have no idea what they are). Due to professional hours, posts will be somewhat irregular. Now that all is clear as mud, lets get down to business.

Who am I? A somewhat computer illiterate professional, with a wonderful family, did not grow up in the usual Orthodox cities(or circles), have trouble naming the five towns, but care tremendously about Yiddishkeit, Israel, middot, and all the usual stuff. Feel free to comment .....PLEASE?

First Issue. Tzedakkah

I am visited yearly by a Meshulach from a well know out of town Yeshiva, and in previous years I gave generously. In the past 2 years there appeared in print articles written by the Rosh Yeshiva disparaging women's learning gemara. Please dont send me marei mekommot, I know them. However, this is not my Hashkafa, and having a few kids of the female kind, it bothered me to be supporting an institution where their gemara learning was belittled by the Rosh Yeshiva. So, last year, I avoided the Meshulach(I did teshuva for it, don't worry). This year, I discussed the issue with him. He told me the Hashkafa of the Rosh Yeshiva wasn't neccessarily what was being taught to the 'boys', and they 'boys' would not neccessarily graduate with the same hashkafa. I felt a bit guilty for questioning a Rav and talmid chacham, and gave him about half what I usually did. (last year I took the money that would have gone to the Yeshiva and sent it to Nishmat).

Question: should we suport causes that teach a Hashkafa that we dont agree with? and more, that says specifically that what we are doing is wrong?

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