Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Police Mashal

Around the time of the Yomim Noraim, and even throughout the rest of the year, people constantly condemn us for not feeling the same fear on Yom Kippur as we do when we're pulled over for a ticket, or we see a police car. (Depending on your level of paranoia)

A while ago, a cop car was behind me for 5 blocks, which felt like an eternity. Suddenly, my heart was racing, my vision almost blurred, and my judgement impaired. In other words, I was shaking in my pants. So, of course, that ubiquitous Mashal entered my mind.

According to that mashal, I should feel that way all day, every day, knowing that G-d's spirit is with me always. So I condemned myself for not living fearfully, constantly trembling, and nervous. Surely, the same way I wouldn't dream of plugging in my headset and calling a friend at that moment, I'd never come close to a TV, I'd never read a newspaper, I wouldn't talk to anyone out of fear of Lashon Hora. I wouldn't walk in the street lest I see or hear something inappropriate.

Do the Gedolei HaDor seem to live this way? They seem to be at peace. They're not shivering with sweaty palms, and talking fast, and all that stuff.

The difference is, also with G-d, it's Avinu Malkeinu, He is our Father, and our G-d. We have to love Him, and have an awe of Him all the same. L'HAvdil-do I love the police? When they're doing what they should: preventing REAL crimes, protecting citizens from criminals, drug busts, and on Shabbos.

You can't live panicked. Certainly there are people who are more relaxed in the presence of police, which would completely eliminate the use of this Mashal.

Certainly people could say that the Yomim Nora'im are like the 5 blocks. But G-d is everywhere, and there is no human error involved. Like I got a traffic ticket for doing nothing wrong. That doesn't happen in the "real world." If someone was too lazy to Daven, G-d knows it. And if someone did his best to do a Mitzvah, but wasn't successful, G-d knows that too.

So what's the merit in this Mashal?


Sunday, November 26, 2006

"How Are You"

I remember writing something about people always asking about the well-being of others and not sticking around to hear the response. That's old news.

But I think people have sunk to a new low.

I've heard answering machine messages that said, "Hi, ___, it's ___ how are you...I wanted to know..." and the first time I heard it, I thought the person made a mistake. Ay, some of you will argue, "What if the person is really wondering?" Most of the time, they are calling to ask a favor and couldn't care less. If they do care, they'd ask like this: "Hi _____, it's ________, I was just wondering how you're doing, and if you'd like to...." If you want something from me, tell me. I know you don't care how I am, unless you wait for a response. Many people ask, and I say, "Hi," instead of, "good, bad, busy, bored..." and they say, "Greeeaat...." and continue.

I'm sorry, but asking how one is on a freakin answering machine further proves my point that nobody really gives a crap. I've gotten phone calls, "Hi, how are you, I wanted to tell you..."

This is not like meeting me on Avenue J and running past me saying, "How are you?" where I can technincally chase you down, or give you an obnoxious answer, like, "I'm ready to kill myself, and you?" and hear them answer, "OH, great. So glad to hear." No. It's not like that.

So these yutz-faces defend this practice, and say it's an expression. Well, it doesn't have to be. When I see someone I know, I say, "hi," or, "Hey," and "Have a good one." Because most of the time, call me selfish, I don't think, "Hey, gee, I wonder how this person is," and it all happens so fast, that it ends up a "hi" and "bye," which is fine by me.

Today, I saw a girl I knew from 9th grade who I was friendly with, but don't see too often. I wanted to know how she is. And I wanted to tell her how I knew her husband and sister-in-law but didn't realize until I saw her bencher in someone else's house and all. So anyway, I wanted to know how she is. So I asked. And I listened. Was that too hard?

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Shake Your Body Like A Bellydancer...

I wrote this before I posted Mr. Katz's piece on Spirit of the Law, and I feel it's still relevant:

In Bais Yaakovs, one of their arguments against listening to goyish music was that it makes you "move your body in a non-Tzniusdik manner," and blah, blah, blah.

So, there I was talking to a young woman and she was telling me about this bellydancing class she attends. "Do a lot of frum women stay for that?" I asked, what I thought was non-chalantly.

"Yeah, they're all Israeli.." (another story)

"Why? Do you think it's inappropriate?" Someone else at the table asked.

"Would I do it myself?" I hedged. "No, but..."

What it comes down to is-it's not Tzniusdik. Obviously, they're not doing against halacha. Supposedly, there are no men there, so they're not turning on any men, which is the whole point, right?

But to me, that defense is weak. The girl tried to justify it by saying that G-d wants us to be in shape and healthy, and that's good exercise. Hey, ever heard of a treadmill? An elliptical? A Bowflex? An Ab Roller? I mean, there are many ways to burn calories without behaving inappropriately.

Why do I deem that inappropriate? It just is. Not everything has to be so black and white, so cut-in-stone, [insert your cliche here].

Those knowledgable in Z100 music will realize the title of this post was taken from lyrics of a song about a bellydancer. Trust me, not one of the cleaner songs on the air.
It teaches you to thrust your hips and do all those things that are not proper for frum people. That can really influence how you behave. This is like Carmen Electra's striptease classes, just your clothes stay on. We hope.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Spirit of the Law

Here's the deal. I got into a conversation with a guy named Burry Katz about Bellydancing. We concluded that I felt it was inappropriate regardless of the presence of men. I told him that although it isn't against Halacha, I think it should be avoided.He and his friend Moshe Dov decided to try to get me to define sprituality. I conceded, and told Mr. Katz that if he writes me an article about it, I'd post it and give him credit for it, and even link all you guys to his blog. So here it is:

Is there such a thing as the Spirit of the Law?

This question comes up time and again. For instance, you are part of a women’s gym and they offer a belly dancing class. Belly dancing is not against the halachah but perhaps is not within the Spirit of the Law and therefore should not be done. Is this a valid contention?

In a word, no. There is no such thing as the Spirit of the Law. God gave us a set of laws. Throughout the generations our rabbis added restrictions that have essentially become laws as well. Those are the laws we must follow. To add even more restrictions is unnecessary at best and foolhardy at worst.

OBJECTION: So Judaism to you is a cut-and-dry religion with rituals we just follow without emotion?

ANSWER: Says who? The emotional element of Judaism is included in the mitzvos themselves. Take Shabbos for example. You can use the day to feel closer to God or you could treat it like a Tuesday night dinner. This goes for anything. It is possible to shake a lulav and have improper intentions. One could even think that he is doing something stupid. That is the individual’s fault, not the mitzvah’s fault, so to speak. Having improper intentions (or no intentions) is a misuse of the mitzvah. If one were to drive with reckless abandon and end up in a fatal crash, no one in his right mind would say that cars are evil because they lead to death. Rather, the correct attitude is that cars are a fantastic invention – which only a fool would deny – but the individual’s misuse of the car is what led to his death.

OBJECTION: But you see so many people just going through the motions without much spirituality!

ANSWER: Irrelevant. Many people do the mitzvos with the proper emotions. Additionally, we have no way of knowing what one is thinking as he is performing mitzvos. But even to agree to this premise, the above answer about the misuse of mitzvos would apply. And even if you will argue that the majority of people pack it in, so to speak, the solution is not to reinvent the religion. The answer is to educate the people how to perform mitzvos properly. One is better off working on having the proper intentions while doing mitzvos rather than create his own commandments. Besides, if one regularly does mitzvos by rote, is he better off doing 17 acts by rote instead of 15? I heard an argument that hiring others to build your sukkah is not within the Spirit of the Law. Although the mitzvah is to eat in the sukkah and not to build the sukkah, one who hires others to build his sukkah deprives himself and his children of spirituality. To which I say, why? If a person is not handy and would have great difficulty building a sukkah, he will be angry and bitter throughout the building process. Sitting in the sukkah may not be enjoyable. He might even come to resent sukkos. Whereas if he hires others and the sukkah is built well, and he will enter his sukkah with a positive attitude and enjoy his time there more so than had he built it himself, is he not better off hiring others? Getting caught up in the Spirit of the Law at the expense of the law itself is ridiculous.

OBJECTION: Are you telling me that all these filthy rich people with their fancy cars and ostentatious houses are truly spiritual?

ANSWER: That depends on how you define spirituality. Without a proper definition the entire argument is a slippery slope of where-do-you-draw-the-line. The Torah never states that one may not enjoy his riches. If you make the argument that one cannot be spiritual in a mansion, then one must define a mansion. By that logic, one who lives in a shack is more spiritual than one who lives in an apartment, and the apartment dweller has more spirituality than one who lives in a house, and so on. If one enjoys eating chicken, should he refrain from eating it because his pleasure makes him less spiritual? The Talmud mentions great rabbis who were wealthy, and nowhere does the Talmud decry their material possessions. On the contrary, the Torah prohibits one from giving away all his money. People can be spiritual or unspiritual regardless of their financial status. Money does not cause a lack of spirituality. (This is akin to the argument that TV causes people to leave Judaism. Based on that logic, people with less exposure would almost never leave Judaism, while people who grow up with TVs in their homes would leave Judaism in droves. This is clearly not the case. Mental health experts explain that TV does not cause people to leave. People who leave use TV as a vehicle by which to go off.) Unspiritual people perhaps have more ways to act unspiritual, but the money was not the cause. Otherwise all rich people would be unspiritual and all paupers would be very spiritual. I guess I won't be posting my "Can Spirituality and Materialism coexist?" How about the people who are wealthy but only their closest friends and relatives know about it? Nobody was told to live in a shack, but driving around two Lexuses, and agonizing over minutiae of your decor 24/7 is NOT spirtual. But if you're wealthy, recognize it's a gift, and provide your family with what they need and want without trying to outdo the Schwartzes...there's nothing wrong with that.

OBJECTION: So how do you define spirituality?

ANSWER: Spirituality is the way one relates to God and to others. Person A hauls garbage to support his family. He may not love his job, but he does it because he is fulfilling his obligation. He shows up to work on time, gets along with his coworkers, and tells his friends how fortunate his is to have a job. Person B learns in kollel. He does not particularly enjoy learning, complains that he wanted to become a doctor but was discouraged from doing so, so he stayed in yeshiva and wastes a lot of his day. In the end, though, he has learned several gemaras. In my mind Person A is the more spiritual person. After all, the Torah does say that for six days one should work. One who works is following the Torah. Likewise when someone pulls over to the side of the road to not double park and block others, he is acting spiritually, while a fellow who learns 16 hours a day but is rude to others is unspiritual. Some people think the epitome of spirituality is the fellow with the long white beard who never smiles. To assume that this is what all should aspire to goes against what Shelomoh Hamelech said, “Educate all children according to their temperaments and personalities.” I agree, but does that mean that Belly Dancing is okay, as long as you're not a biatch?? And if you ARE a biatch?

OBJECTION: What about the Pirkei Avos’s statement about building a fence around the Torah, Ramban in the beginning of Parashas Kedoshim, or the Ramchal in Chapter 13 of Messilas Yesharim, where they talk about refraining from doing things that are not against halacha because they are not proper?

ANSWER: Indeed, the famous example of gorging oneself, vomiting, and repeating the process is what Ramban says in his commentary. Granted, he admits, it is permissible, but one should not do this because it is improper. Many like to point this out when making their argument for the Spirit of the Law, but one must realize the context in which these statements were made. These “extras” are meant for people who have attained a high spiritual level in both Torah learning and mitzvah observance. For the vast majority, however, just following the basic laws is enough to keep us busy. A student decided he wanted to become more spiritual, so he donned tefillin all day, as the halacha states, even though almost nobody does so these days. His rosh yeshiva admonished him, saying that at his level, he has no right to think that he is capable of doing something done by only the most spiritual people. One who has mastered the basic laws may consider adding extras, but even then it is often done only after consulting one’s rabbi. This also applies to the fence mentioned in Pirkei Avos. How does one define a fence? Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes that one’s free will depends on one’s level of observance. A newcomer to Judaism cannot be expected to keep all the laws, and on the contrary, should not be told that he must keep everything immediately. Likewise, a gadol’s decision to not turn on a light on Shabbos is not considered his exercising free will. Considering that most people struggle daily to observe the basic laws, adding extras makes little sense.

To conclude, I have not seen a compelling argument for something called the Spirit of the Law. Besides, how do you define the law? And what is the spirit of each law? In the example stated in the beginning of the article, is dancing against the law? If a woman feels uncomfortable belly dancing, or that doing so may lead to prohibited acts, she is welcome to sit out. No one can force her to do something she does not want to do. But to say that people who do so are doing the wrong thing, or to criticize those who follow the laws but not the extras, is unfair.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"IY"H By You"--When is it okay?

I have a cousin who just got back from seminary, and was "next in line"after me to get engaged, but beat me to it.
So I've been demoted to hanging with the 15 year-olds, commiserating about braces. Not like I enjoy hearing childbirth stories.

At the L'Chaim, I was politely accepting "IY"H by you"s and thanking them, and smiling.

There have been letters to Yated about this whole deal. All these drama queens getting all offended when people tell them IY"H by you, and how insensitive it is, and all that. So, what I've come to conclude is, when it's someone my age or thereabouts, it's appropriate. But when you're three years older than the Kallah, it kinda makes you wanna crawl into a hole. (Also, if the person saying it is normal, not one of those yentas who get a sick pleasure out of these things, and they're sincere, then I don't mind.)

Perhaps it's because it's my first cousin, whose age difference with me was significant until recently. I know the kid as a five year old in pigtails, and here she is, engaged before I am.

I show up the L'Chaim and one woman tells me, "Don't worry. Your time will come." It's like when my friend's younger brother got his driver's license before she did. She didn't choose to fail the road test. Ya think she was happy about it? She was 19, and her brother was 17. That's not what she wanted to hear! Anyway, slightly offended, I replied, "Thank G-d I'm alive and well." Sounds cheesy. But I mean it. Thank G-d. So she tells me, "Oh, that's such a good attitude." LADY! She made it sound like I told her a crazy tragic story Chas V'Shalom.

Then again, maybe I did.

P.S. My sister blog has officially re-opened, so keep your eyes peeled for intriguing pieces like the one you just read.