Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dont Move On



Behind some doors.
People are waiting.
People are waiting to sparkle


Kind of sad that I am quoting teenybopper lyrics. Seems to be common amongst us OTD'ers. I guess music gives voice to the tremendous emotions around the religous detox program. Even the philosophic XGH breaks into song on occasion of despair.

What does "Dont Move On" mean to me? It sort of captures the paradox we are in. We are at a new level of understanding of our past, our years of learning and upbringing. We have committed years of our life to trying to understand what is god and religon. And we have reached conclusions that go up against all of the things that we have believed to be true for so many years.

But we cannot move on. We are still in the OJ world.

We are stuck. We can replay our greatest hits (See http://classikefira.blogspot.com/) and spend our days going on the same feedback loop debate processes with the fundies. But:

Behind some doors
People are waiting
People are waiting to sparkle

Living a lie, behind a door, is not living. It is not being who we really want to be. For an atheist or agnostic, who dont put much purchase in the world to come, this is a really bad move. But for a man who loves his wife ...

Dont Move On

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Power of Prayer

Recently I listened to an interview with Larry Dossey author of "Healing Words" http://www.dosseydossey.com/larry/book.html

"In this groundbreaking classic linking prayer and health, physician Larry Dossey shares the latest evidence connecting prayer, healing, and medicine. Using real-life examples and personal anecdotes, Dossey proves how prayer can be as valid a healing tool as drugs or surgery.

Dossey explores which methods of prayer show the greatest potential for healing; presents compelling evidence that patients' and doctors' belief in a treatment increases its efficacy; explains that discoveries in modern physics allow us to integrate the spiritual and the scientific and make the power of prayer provable in the lab; and much more. "

Dr Dossey claims scientific evidence for the power of prayer, he cites research studies and claims that there is conclusive evidence that prayer works. While I have not read the book, but hearing him preach as a MD on prayer as a scientific phenomena was interesting, more for his conviction and emphasis on scientific backing.

Recently we had an illness in the family, as a skeptic I have a hard time praying. I hear all the various arguments for and against God, religon, judaism etc. Every word is an intellectual struggle. I guess this is why they say prayer should come from the heart, because once you engage the brain its becomes difficult. (I didnt pray, and everything turned out ok) .

Yeshayuahu Leibowitz, describes prayer as a Avodah, an obligation. It is not meant to be satisfying or spiritually fulfilling, or a wish list, it is a mitzvah, a command, which we are not to have expectations. We pray because we are Jewish, and if it help me as a person, its a side benefit, if it somehow cause some cosmic change and bring about a medical recovery or financial gain, it is incidental. There is no implied promises or guarantees in prayer, it is a simple master-servant relationship.

In contrast, Dossey states categorically, prayer works as a healing device, similar to drugs or procedures, and we are only just beginning to understand its power.

Unfortunately Jewish history, provides many examples of prayers not working or perhaps as the religously devout might say, God can say no. This was most powerfully stated by the parents of Nachshon Wachsman, who was murdered despite the pleas of the entire Jewish nation - a father can say no. As the Rabbis are well aware that prayer is not a sure thing, prayer is relegated to a routine obligation, with a loosely believed in faith that our prayers are somehow connected to and have a direct effect on the world we live in, but no one is really 100% sure.

Should we test this by analyzing the effects of a "Mi sheberech" on shabbat? As a child in school, we had a mi sheberech board with the list of names of ill people, who we would say tehilim for . At one point, as they say, "they were dropping like flies", our teacher scolded the class for lack of kavana when saying tehilim, and indeed the proof was staring at us in the face.

So , although Dossey is interesting to listen to, I am skeptic of prayer and those who view it as a mechanistic process which will yield a specific outcome. And more to the point, this is part and parcel of Judaism, there is an undercurrent of knowing that prayers can be for nought. You can say that God can say no, or that it is our own fault, we are not deserving, or its God testing us by making faith challenging, or the miracle quota for the year gets filled up very quickly.

Every year we pray for rain, yet some years are good , some bad. Every year we pray for health, wealth, yet some years are good, some bad. Our prayerbooks are filled with direct petitions.

IMHO, ultimately, any attempt to simplify or create causal relationships between prayer and outcome is destined for failure, and I think Judaism recognizes this at a theology level, yet our daily tefilos continue to imply a simple cause/effect relationship.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Money




It arrived in the mail today, yeshiva tuition bills for the upcoming year. Where is the money going to come from? Why does a religon have to cost so much money? Is it normal to be getting a tuition bill that is more than the annual income of most Americans?

This topic also came to mind after reading ekvetchers discussion on parenting http://search-for-emes.blogspot.com/. The orthodox parent spends a fortune on raising his kids. In addition, the orthodox parent strives to be a role model of how a frum person should live, which is no less of a sacrifice and is often done only because the kids are watching; it might be by going all out to make that minyan, higher kashrut levels, learning, or give tzedaka etc. But my focus in on money, and why does it have to be so friggin expensive to be part of the orthodox community.



As a skeptic this is a very trying time. I think of how my children will be relegated to having to live in grossly expensive neighborhoods within the eruv, needing large cars to carry their brood, 4 sets of dishes and appliances, exorbitant tuition fees for their kids, overpriced kosher food in shops and restaurants, sheitels/hats/shtreimels?, shabbat clothing, cost of PESACH our holiday of freedom and redemption etc.

By paying their yeshiva tuition, not only am I taking a big financial hit today, I am condemning my children to an expensive future existence on this earth. Its like I can say that the future expenses of my child on this planet will be millions of dollars more now that I have brainwashed him to live as an OJ. Whereby at best they will be forced to pursue lucrative professions or businesses, while at worst will marry for the wrong reasons, or engage in fraudulent activities.


As you all know, for me the jig is up, I dont believe, please see archive posts. However, my spouse remains in the fold and yeshiva education for kids was never a question until this past year. Further, grandparents would be shocked not to see grandchildren in orthodox school system. I could even say that I would like my kids to know how to learn pshat in tosfos and know their heritage as well as I do.

I think all the $$$ living in the OJ world is about socialization and separation. You are basically paying to be part of the club. Its not about spirituality or learning midos or how to be a happy or effective person. Why does a religon, which is meant to be about God and spirituality, end up being a huge financial millstone for its adherents. God knows.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mixed Dancing


When I read this interesting post from Jewish Atheist http://jewishatheist.blogspot.com/, he touches on alot of issues. It really takes a momentous occasion like a wedding to bring out all the conflicts between the frum and no longer frum.
JA and his fiancee, want mixed dancing, and I thought I would share the following experience .


I have went to countless simchas with separate dancing, doing the male shuffle. Either Type 1 where you hold hands and circle at varying speeds, Type 2 you put hands on shoulders and circle at varying speeds, Type 3 you just mesh in clashes of body and sweat. Of course this was all done with great happines and ruach. While At the same time on the other side of the mechitza, the women were doing their orderly circles and neat straight lines. And of course you have all the shtick (party tricks/accessories) to add some color to the occassion.

Anyway, my family and I were invited to a conservadox simcha recently, where they had mixed dancing! And you know what for the first time ever at a simcha I danced in a circle while holding my wife's hand and my child's in the other, now that was simcha!! We never as a family have danced together in a circle holding hands. It was a special experience and I feel compelled to let people know that yes, there is something missing from separate dancing, which you lose out at frum affairs. Families dancing together is an expression of love, closeness and sharing.
And I dont care how many 18 year old yeshiva bochurim show to dance up a storm, for the members of the family, what they really want is to dance together.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The conversation

It was inevitable. The jig is up. The old friend "Yaakov", who I spent time in shiur with has directly confronted me and wants to know what is going on with me. We used to get up early to learn gemara, spent time socially, and were members of the same shul.

We sat down for the one-on-one conversation to find out why or where have I strayed. I must admit I am a coward and have hid my orthopraxy for many years from him, but I finally came clean, cold turkey.

Yaakov knows his stuff, smart guy, years in yeshiva, and has a successful business of his own making. Now he want answers. Unfortunately after many years on this journey, my answers come so fast and convincing that there really is no contest. Yaakov afterall is not a kiruv professional, and has never really spent that much time pondering these questions. I kind of regret the conversation because Yaakov is my friend and showing the extent of my disbelief might have been hurtful, sometimes honesty isnt the best policy.

Yaakov - you dont believe in the torah, that it was given by god?
me- i launch into documentary hypothesis, text does not work, see parshas noach etc. i dont see how we can be doresh halachos from slight changes in the text , its all man-made.

Yaakov - but everyone acknowledges that it is given by god, not only jews
me- but on that premise, everyone, those 2 bn people, believe in christianity or islam not judaism,

Yaakov - but you dont think there is something unique about the Jews, look at the state of Israel and our role in history? I agree we are special, and we have lots of talent, the same way Kenyans are with running, but Einstein wasnt Einstein because he shteiged gemara, and my journey is actually very Jewish, a guy named Spinoza said the same things as me 300 years ago and so do the majority of jews in the world

Yaakov concedes to me that a rav is just someone who is expert in shulchan aruch, and is an ordinary mortal, no metaphysical powers or insights.

I tell him people are tribal and need the authority figure to follow and be beholden to, autonomy, or rather halachic autonomy is a four letter word in OJ.

Yaakov then tells me that I should know there are a few others like me, who he has noticed that despite going to shul on shabbos, dont really seem to be all that frum to him. I dont say, "you religous people are really so judgemental." but in truth wonder who are the perpetrators.

I remember the days when i felt like i was punching a clock upon entering the shul, the days when i was given "the look" for walking in unreasonably late to davening, or the rising tension from irritable men who want to get their daily ablutions over with asap.

I tell him its all about faith, there is no proof of god or what happens after we die, all of the worlds religons are just ways of addressing this human need for an answer to these questions. Everyone is just guessing. There is no objective proof. But as Jews we must be familiar with the ways of our tradition in this quest, and recognize the wealth and wisdom of our mesora, or our approach, but it is no way, by definition truer than other religons.

So orthopraxers', you might try the "kugel " arguments - the kugel is warm and crispy (OJ lifestyle is attractive) or james kugel http://www.jameskugel.com/critic.php fluffy version, but many of us have a problems with the mitzvas or deeds of OJ and do not find spirituality anymore from it. This leads us to search for spirituality in many places outside of the shul/beis midrash and less tolerance for fundies.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Aish and me


Now I must admit that I have alot of good things to say about Aish. I even attended a few shiurim from Aish superstars and was suitably impressed and entertained. I enjoyed reading their websites for many years. I even donated money online regularly as I realized that their stories were much more inspirational than anything going on at my local orthodox shul. I know many former BT's have isssues with Aish and its missionary tactics. Well it has an agenda and it is kind of clear to anyone who spends time with them, but at least their material is well marketed and presented.

That being said I came across this video by a Rabbi whom I highly respect(ed), and I guess am just concerned about how flimsy his arguments were.
Did I become more intelligent?

http://www.aish.com/literacy/concepts/Why_Investigate_Judaism_First0.asp

His arguments started as follows:
Why choose Judaism?
First using Occams' razor, monotheism beats out all polytheism, so lets filter out all polytheistic religons
Second, once we are narrowed down to monothiestic religons, Judaism is the oldest, older than Christianity and Islam. But both believe Christians and Muslims believe in Jewish bible and their scriptures refer to it, therefore we have the general agreement of the world's 2-3bn other monotheists.
Third, Judaism is very accessible, not secretive, lots of publications in all languages and encourages study.
Fourth, Judaism does not ask its adherents to give up their minds, rather its based on reason and logic
Fifth, your soul is Jewish, which will most be finely tuned to Judaism
Sixth, Judaism makes a claim to absolute truth as opposed to a lifestyle or nirvana

I wont insult my readers by rebutting this, you are welcome to do so in aish comments.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

XGH or XXX


As a continuation of my conversation with my newly orthoprax friend, I made the following comment to him

" your wife would probably prefer you spend your time on porn sites than on apikorus sites "

And I think this is very true.

You can do the quick comparison of XXX versus XGH (being used here as a catchall phrase to include skeptic blogging, reading, and commenting).


XXX is for fantasy, XGH is real

XXX takes a few minutes of your time, XGH can be an hour a day, hundreds of hours yearly

XXX leaves you relaxed and of clear mind, XGH leaves you more confused or conflicted in perpetual angst

XXX can be easily forgiven as a sin of human weakness, XGH is deliberate, ( Yehuda versus this weeks villain Korach!)

XXX is anonymous, XGH puts you in danger of being outed

However both have the same core chracteristic of trying to revolve around the same old central subject from every angle possible (!) while trying to keep readers titillated by fresh and new perspectives on it לא ראי זה כראי זה ולא ראי זה כראי זה; הצד השוה שבהן

Feel free to add more in comments...


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Advice to the newly orthoprax


My journey began many years ago and was greatly assisted by veteran bloggers listed on the sidebar. I am humbled by their analysis, insights, wit and prose. I barely have time to read all of the blogs, especially XGH's ups and downs. Likewise to find a private place to write is also not so simple.


I can only share what is personal to me in hope of helping others out there who are on the road less taken.


I think the biggest myth of orthopraxy is that it can be a steady state or a way of life, on similar footing to orthodoxy. Orthopraxy is living the frum lifestyle for convenience purposes while not having belief in the underlying theology. It means following rituals and halacha for other peoples sake. In my case it is for my spouse and children who are frum. The question is, is orthopraxy an option? is it sustainable?


Of course it depends on circumstances.



The idea for the post stems from a friend who is also married with kids, and has picked up on my orthopraxy. He asked to borrow a very not-kosher book from me, and I was hesitant. Why, because it is clear to me that after you have read a few of these books your life can change dramatically.



Orthopraxy is difficult. You are living by other peoples approval. You are scared to act or behave the way you believe. You are forced to sit hours of your life through rituals which are meaningless to you. Your social circle will only be people like you. You condemn your children to follow the same heavily proscribed lifestyle, while your hard earned money goes to pay for th indoctrination of the minutuae of halacha and perpetuation of the lifestyle. This is just the externalities.
Internally you are the new marrano, attending synagouge under the watchful eye of the Rabbi, who dutily registers you timeliness and attendance. You must keep your headcovering in place, ensure your daughters are modest, your sons pious.
But, late at night, on your own, behind closed doors, you bask in the dark to worship the blue light of the computer screen, dwelling in forbidden texts and conversatins, seeking kindred sprits, who are on the same journey, exploring the mystery of their born-into-religons, the universe and the complexity of human nature.


So my answer to my friend is, I do not want to become the cause of your divorce and your children's pain.


Piss off.



And in the words of Jethro Tull

And as you cross the circle line, the ice-wall creaks behind ---Youre a rabbit on the run


Run, man, run.



Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Where it all goes wrong


At around this time in the yearly parsha cycle, the torah begins to get very messy. All through Berishis everything flows in a somewhat choronological order, with the story centering on Avraham and his decendents and culminating with Yetzias Mitzrayim.


When we get to parshas Yisro, Mishpatim, everything goes a bit hairy. Now I have learned chumash for many years with mifarshim and somehow I accepted that אין מוקדם או מאוחר בתורה and of course the various intricate pshatim. While I am not a big Documentary Hypothesis person, (see Little Foxling's blog http://littlefoxling.blogspot.com/ for an extensive study of DH) probably because I do Gemara, not tanach, but the big picture issues are very much a problem. Last shabbas, for example at the end of mishpatim, all of sudden the commandments are given again. And how or when were the laws of mishpatim given? Were the Jews already having Jewish slaves so soon after slavery? I get alot of these bigger picture questions every time I look at the parsha from a macro perspective, and avoid the rashi/textual analysis. I am well aware that a good parsha shiur can link everything together in beautiful tapestry interweaving different themes and p'sukim. And I can appreciate and enjoy that. But it is not sufficient. It is just human artistry.


My real question is one posed by XGH more eloquently (could not find it in archives) about why didnt God give us a user manual to ourselves and the world around us. Why is the torah missing explanations for the universe, olam habaa, suffering, etc. Many big theological topics are totally left out of the torah, while extensive detail is given to others. For the next few weeks we will read in exhaustive detail the bits and pieces of the mishkan. I am sorry but most of this is totally useless information for the Jewish people, it is not timeless. One might argue that by focusing on irrelevant knowledge it might have given us the ability to think theoretically and prepared us for the knowledge economy. Or perhaps this helped us fight persecutions and assimilation. If you believe that the torah is the be all and end all, so why is it missing so many important topics and lacking in editorial control?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Modernity and Orthodoxy

One of the books that I have read at the beginning of my journey was "As a Driven Leaf" by Milton Steinberg. If you have not read it, then read it. In the meantime have a peruse through some of the reviews at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/As-Driven-Leaf-Milton-Steinberg/dp/189307904X to give you an idea.
"As a Driven Leaf", is a sourcebook for Reconstructionist Judasim (Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan). As a FFB I was brought up to believe that the Reform and Conservative are evil and they have caused a spiritual annhilation of the Jewish people. We were taught that it is forbidden to enter their temples, and of course to attend their services. Having dabbled a bit, I think their theology is far more convincing, but in practice, their communities and lifestyles are just not comparable to an FFB "Jewish" experience.
One issue that Steinberg brings up is what happens when formerly frum raise their children as skeptics. The protagonist of the novel wanted to make sure that his child was free of jewish guilt and psychosis and was able to be a true Greek, albeit at a steep price.
The conflict with modernity is the eternal problem of Judaism. MO claims it is possible to achieve synthesis. Torah and Madah, yadda, yadda. There is a tremendous amount of literature explaining how it is possible to maintain the delicate balancing act. The apologetics rival the Christian trinity logic. On the other hand, my chareidi Rabbi once told me that if you stand in the middle of the road you get run over. As a frum skeptic it is in some ways easy to be able to cross to either side of the road, as you have the strong Jewish background, but are also a free thinker, and can feel comfortable in both worlds. Who cares if it makes you bi-polar.
But how about the next generation. If you raise your children as skeptic non believers then you have basically stopped the Jewish line, for better or worse. I am not sure how much I believe in the guilt argument about how our forefathers sacrificed so much just to see you throw it all away. An interesting case study is Alan Dershowitz, who is FFB, went to YU, and is the champion of Jewish causes yet has numerous non-Jewish grandchildren. Alternatively, raise children frum, let them be able to know their heritage, master jewish texts, and let them live in a life of blissful faith. If they become skeptic, so be it, at least they know how to shake a lulav.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A few good men

Many times frum people think that people go OTD because the individual is seeking a gashmius/hedonistic life filled with physical pleasure. They think that the person is weak or lazy and just does not feel liking keeping mitzvos and halacha. If only he would put more effort into his learning or davening, then he would be able to fight the yetzer haraa (evil inclination).

But I would like to add a different reason. It is is not always the cute girl in the miniskirt or the cheeseburger. A major challenge is the encounter with people who are of good character and morals, yet are not Jewish, religous, and sometimes even agnostic or atheistic. The world is filled with many good people. People who have positive outlooks on life, help others around them, and prove to be honest and decent human beings. Meeting these people and learning from them shows that it is possible to grow as a person without being shomer torah and mitzvos.
Of course in OJ there are many great people, baalei chesed, tzadikkim and others who we can gain inspiration and wisdom from. But these special people are not unique to OJ. True they are one of our own, and we should connect with them. But they exist in other communities, and other faiths, or non-faiths as well. Take Warren Buffet for example. A vocal atheist who is well known for his integrity and fairness in business dealing. He has given all of his wealth to charity, much of to fellow non-believer Bill Gate's foundation. http://atheism.about.com/b/a/257812.htm All I am arguing is that OJ is not the only way to improve ones midos or even find spirituality (but that is a subject for another post).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Membership has its privileges


Sometimes I am amazed by how many privileges one gets access to by putting a small piece of cloth on their head. Once you have a kippah on your head you automatically become a member of a worldwide exclusive club which entitles you to innumerable benefits, much more so than lets say American Express. If you are stranded in a strange city, all you need to do is find another yid, and you automatically get a hot meal and a place to sleep. If you are looking for employment, the network will give you lots of contacts. But most importantly because you have shared beliefs,values, experiences, family, friends etc. you are on the same side, and you become connected to the person in a matter of minutes. This transcends geographical boundaries and languages, OJ's just have so much in common and they instantly recognize and look after their own.

So why I am I stating all of this rather obvious state of affairs, because this is a main reason for orthopraxy. The cost or downside of going OTD is losing many of the fringe benefits. Playing the game allows you to get the numerous privileges and benefits of OJ. Why rock the boat. The kugel is warm, kids are safe and happy. This is also kind of where XGH gets a bit fuzzy, because he enjoys the lifestyle too much.

But by dressing and acting frum, you are implicitly communicating to your coreligionists that you actively believe in TMS, that is the divinity of the torah and oral torah. There is no ifs, ands, or buts. You are a walking advertisement for OJ, despite your neo-OJ philosophy.

I once heard Rabbi Sherwin Wine
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherwin_Wine say in a lecture "Life is too short to sacrifice your integrity." Is this true? Maybe its better to just shut up and enjoy the kugel.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

working on shabbos

Shabbos is a time of rest and relaxation. It is a time for family, friends, sleep, and taking a break from the always connected, everywhere, all the time, modern world. So on a conceptual level it is hard to find fault with the idea of shabbos and it does have its good points. For more on this train of thought, go to http://www.aish.com/ or your local kiruv website. But for the sketpics out there, come aboard the S train.

I would like to discuss the common complaint of the nitty gritty halachos of shabbos, the contradiction of halacha with shabbos, and the difficulties of living as a frum skeptic/orthoprax.

My general belief is that halacha has robbed people of individual autonomy. In effect rabbinic Judaism has removed the responsibility and or ability of the individual to interact with God in what David Hartman calls a "covenant relationship" (http://www.hartmaninstitute.com/ShowContent.asp?id=78) , a mature adultlike relationship between two parties. Again, this is is not my chidush, many greater and smarter people than me have analyzed this issue. My more practical but of course, petty issue is when halacha observance causes shabbos to be not a day of rest.


From 39 malachos of shabbos, there are thousands of laws covering anything and everything; have a read through "shemiras shabbos chilchoso". Now lots of people get all excited about the intricacies of how to clear the table on shabbos, or how to change a diaper on shabbos, and it works for them. The definition of works and relaxation is mandated by halacha, with absolutely no room for individual autonomy or reason. But let me show you a few cases where this does not work.



  1. House alarm goes off repeatedly on shabbos in the middle of night; scaring everyone out of bed throughout Friday night. Halacha prevent you from manually overiding the system to shut it down to allow you and your family much needed sleep. You are beyond tired.

  2. The mother of young children who is housebound on shabbos , because there is no eruv (the family does not hold by it), while her husband get to shmooze in shul 3 times during shabbos . She is a prisoner.

  3. Staying at a hotel on shabbos, walking up 20 flights of stairs because you are not allowed to push a little button. Your back and legs hurt for days.

The list is endless. The mentality instilled in our children is that the smallest infraction is grounds for stoning. We have the hero stories of those who refused to destroy the sanctity of shabbos by calling the fire department while their house burned down. Shabbos is taken way to seriously and reduces smart intelligent, mature adults into mindless slaves.

There is also the forest/trees situation going on, where people have lost the big picture of what shabbos should be. In my old shul there was a popular caterer who used to cater shabboses for family simchas in the shul social hall. Many of the yeshiva guys would work as waiters for him over shabbos. Now waitering is hard work, these guys would setup, serve and clean up for 3 meals for the extended family, not to mention the large kiddush for the "olam". And this is all over a 24-hour period, which probably means they have probably violated state laws regarding maximum hours worked by a minor. But more importantly these guys are working on shabbos. Nobody seems to have a problem with this. Everyone is happy eating the chulent, the Rabbi doesn't see the contradiction (I asked). I have to shout now - These guys are WORKING on shabbos for MONEY (and only on shabbos I might add, I dont buy the "they are only being paid for the preparation before shabbos"argument). I am not looking to start a public campaign, I am just trying to show how gross the contradiction is. The shul hall is filled with hundreds of people, and frum jews are working their guts out on shabbos for money, but no one seems capable of recognizing the fact that a frum jew is working on shabbos, and it is staring at them in their faces stuffed with kugel. Someone out there tell me 1+1=2 not 3.

An Israel BT story

Years ago I spent some time in Israel in a yeshiva. During the summer they had a kiruv type program for students from campuses around the US. As part of the program one night they had a speaker come in to talk about the Israel-Arab situation. There were about 100 or so guys in the room, who were happy for the change of pace from the normal learning day. The speaker was a presented as an academic from somewhere, but did not appear Jewish, possibly even Arab. Well for the next hour or so he presented a very pro-palestinian/leftist diatribe against zionism and Israel. The students began to question him, a fierce debate ensued regarding all the hot issues of the middle east. The academic continued with his propoganda, meeting all challengers. Then... in the midst of it all, he pulls out his tzitzit, and puts on a kippah. It was a sham. The whole speech/show was to show students what is happening on campuses around the world. His dramatic subterfuge was brilliant and everyone including myself was totally fooled; hook, line and sinker. He gave some tips about dealing with propogandists and fighting for Israel on campus. All was fine and good.

But, after the talk, a few of us gather around him for questions. One student made the following statement. "I am a law student and a month ago I came onto this program. During this time I have learned alot about Judaism. I have spent 10-12 hours a day on the course, spent shabbat at wonderful families, davened, kept kosher etc., to the extent that I have already decided to become more observant when I get back to the US . But now, having seen that even as a law student at an ivy league, I can be fooled by your presentation, so easily and quickly, I realize that the past month is just as much a sham. Now I see how easily I have been had, and how easy I can be led along without question. The speaker did not have an answer, and I am sure he never expected this type of outcome.

I have always had a similar complaint regarding the "torah codes"- at the time they were the "slam dunk" proof that the torah is true. The kiruv clowns went to town with the codes (good rhyme). Now it has been proven that Moby Dick has the same level of prophecy.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

I needher



"For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh."
Genesis 2:24



I have a hard time with the laws of niddah. Now I know as a man this is a common complaint, and yes this is a rant and I might be exaggerating, but I really cant stand niddah time.

Some might adopt the holier-than-thou attitude and say you must curb your animal instincts and rise above them by immersing yourself in holiness. The kiruv clowns would say the niddah time is when you develop your communication with your spouse and open up your relationship to new dimensions beyond the physical. But that was not biblical intent, the torah did not say abstain from your spouse because you will be a more loving attentive person to your spouse or promise a long and happy marriage to those who do the dip. There are millions of happy marriages that have lasted for life without the joy of nidah. The biblical intent is a law of ritual purity, concerned with a physical discharge, and absolutely nothing to do with marital happiness.

Before you think that I am totally against niddah, I will qualify my opinion. I think my beef is more with the chumra of bnos yisrael that made a 5-7 day break into a 14 day+ unhappy time for many couples, with absolutely no physical contact whatsoever. This is not normal. Two people who love each other should not spend half their lives in physical islands. Yes, there is the absence makes the heart grow fonder argument, and you can, and most probably will have great sex after 2 weeks apart. But again this is not the reason for niddah laws and is only a nice tantra-marital psychology style reason. More to the point bibically, men did not have this problem, as numerous wives, pilagshot and prostitutes were available.

Having learned hilchos niddah very well before my marriage, I (and my wife) know all the specific halachos about having a siman on the table, not sitting on the same bench, not handing things to one another (including babies), avoiding intimacy etc. After many years of keeping to these stringencies, in my personal opinion, these do not enhance communication or help marital relationships. Now as a skeptic, who understands that it is all man-made, why on earth should I follow such silly rules which have tremendous bearing on my and my spouses daily life and happiness.

I think I can also add that many women are stressed out by mikvah night preparations, where no matter how busy that specific day is, they have to come prepared to face the mikvah lady.

How about an erev shabbat rule. For example lets say a women is scheduled to go to the mikvah on Monday night. Current halacha says the follows: the preceding shabbas and weekend when both husband and wife are not at work, relaxed, well fed, and have plenty of time, they have to sit on their hands. But come Monday, kids back to school, commutes, deadlines and meetings at work, back to life, this Monday night is the night. I would argue that consenting adults could agree that that mikveh night should be before shabbes, and it can be brought forward a few days without guilt.

Obviously this is my opinion and my blog rant, my wife is still committed to the cause, and out of respect for her wishes, I obey. But sometime life is too short to live your life around these seemingly minor rules which are by no means minor, once you add them up.