I'm Haaretz, Ph.D.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Still Pooped from Pesach

No words today- still recouping- but pictures always please. So here are a few that came via spam, so no credit can be given. Enjoy.

Holding the Sun
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Edge of the Storm
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Fiery Feathers
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Cloud Formation
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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Correction issued to DovBear

I had no idea how contentious the JIBs were when I commented last week on my preference for the old system. Since then, I'd been busy offline, but when I opened my email this morning, I discovered that I'd been MIA in a serious war. You'll have to believe me that it was never my intention to get involved--I don't even know what the issues are.

But since I opened my big mouth once, I have to at least be true to that, and it turns out I wasn't. I indirectly accused DovBear of trying to change the format of the JIBs (here). It turns out I misread his post. His words:
Mister, as I wrote to you by email, you somehow managed to miss the most important part of that post. Here it is in its entirety:

Note: I'm not suggesting the JIbs be replaced nor am I attempting to impugn them in any way. The JIBs serve an important purpose, and should be continued. This post is a proposal for something new, something that can coexist quite happily with the JIBs.

Please issue a correction.

Ezzie, none of the big bloggers took me up on it, but lots and lots and lots of small bloggers thught it was an excellent idea.
In other words, no one suggested changing the format.
Now that we got that out of the way, Dovbear and I can be friends... again? Actually, I don't think he knew I existed until yesterday, as evidenced by him calling me "mister". Talk about big bloggers overlooking the little guys (or girls in this case). I did my part, and now it's up to Dovbear to issue an apology to me on his blog for not treating me like a lady, and then we can all go back to fighting like children about the JIBs. Seriously kids, what is up with that?!?!?

Friday, March 16, 2007

JIB Confession

I have a soft spot for the JIB awards. They're the way I discovered blogging! It's true...

Once upon a time, long long ago, I came across the JIB's on one of my late night web surfs. If I recall correctly, they were hosted by Aussie Dave and featured on the Jerusalem Post website. I went through almost all of the categories, reading and voting diligently. I was not yet a blogger or a regular reader, but that's when I got really into it. There was so much quality writing and interesting information written by my peers and targeted towards people exactly like me. What a revelation! And it was really enjoyable and easy to navigate, having an organized way to be introduced to new blogs, each one in its appropriate category and rank. I think what happened to me epitomized the goal of the JIBs--to provide organized exposure to the world of j-blogs.

I now hear that some people are trying to change the format this year, and that instead of public voting, a small committee of mega bloggers will read the nominees and choose the winners. That makes me sad. The point isn't to find a winner but to have the public reading good posts! Nobody wants other bloggers reading their work, that's redundant and lame. I don't say this because I expect to even be in the race, but I hope that the process stays democratic. It's more fun and dynamic. So keep up the good work organizers - you've got my vote- and good luck to everyone!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Blogiversary Reminder

In case you missed it, and I'm sure it was accidental, I recently celebrated my 1 year blogiversary. It's buried somewhere in all that manic ranting :)

Lubavitcher Rebbe and Women

Rebecca Honig Friedman at Jewess posted a clip of the Lubavitcher Rebbe talking about women's rights. The post title is, “The Lubavitcher Rebbe Was a Feminist?” followed by "Who knew?"

She quotes the Rebbe saying: “In the final analysis, the saving of the Jewish home, of the Jewish family, depends on the self-sacrifice of the Jewish woman.” and says, "Gee, thanks, Rebbe.But maybe obligation is empowering."

I wrote a long response, which I can't seem to post, so I'll put it here. (Fix your site folks. Or if you have a delay or a moderator approving comment, say so, so I don't hit submit 5 times!)

I find this video a little cheesy. The stock footage is awful and the clips of the Rebbe are given without any context. But technical quality aside, the message is that the Rebbe cared a whole lot for the comfort and also advancement of women. He also assigned a lot of the responsibility of sustaining Judaism to the women.

You say, Gee thanks, but take a careful look at that clip again. You'll notice the rebbe is speaking to a room full of men- Rabbis and important people included. He would often spend hours speaking to men about the importance and value and power of women. That's revolutionary because while it's easy to preach to women how important they are, here he was forcing the men to change their attitudes toward women.

About the meetings shown (incidentally, they're not on the East Side, they're in 770, the main shul), the rebbe often met with women in private meetings (yechidus) sometimes for hours discussing their needs and challenges; he gave equal time to seeing women as men on the Sunday dollar lines; he corresponded with women in letters; he always made eye contact and listened to the woman, etc., etc. These things may sound so obvious to you, but they aren't for an ultra-orthodox rabbi let alone a Chassidic rebbe! Where I went to school (RW UO but non-chassidic) our male teachers would not call us by our first names, or make eye contact, or take anything we said seriously. So it isn't a small deal.

As a result, Lubavitch women are a totally different breed than the rest of the ultra-orthodox female world. They are not feminist, don't get me wrong- their primary mission is still the old fashioned child rearing and home running- but they have the opportunity and are encouraged to do more. They are raised with the notion that the 'stay at home' era is over and that women have the same responsibility as men to change the world and make it a better place. They have equal access to learning all the same chasidic texts as men (not to be taken for granted in the chareidi world where many people still believe that women shouldn't be allowed near a gemora). They are encouraged to lead active public lives, be it running a Chabad House or school or in public speaking, writing, whatever... the point is, they aren't overlooked the way many chareidi groups women are and they aren't taught to be submissive or feeble under the pretense of tzniut.

I must be said though that you won't find chabad female Rabbis or minyanim or anything questionable. The rebbe was a strictly hallakhic feminist. It seems like a bit of a contradictory position to take, but the fact is that among ultra-orthodox women, the lubavitch ones are the ones most comfortable in their skin, most at ease with their place and power in the community, and also most outspoken, productive, and also hip and fun. So there must be something right...

One of my favorite Rebbe stories with regard to women is this:

Many years agos, the women's learning institute Machon Chana in Crown Heights had bought a building and set it up with dorms and classrooms and everything needed to run a complete program. They of course invited the Rebbe for a tour and hoped to receive a blessing for success. The Rebbe's comment after the tour was, "Why are there no mirrors in the dorm rooms? You must hang up mirrors- this is a school for women and a woman's appearance is very important."

This story says so much about the Rebbe's sensitivity and thoughtfulness to a woman's needs- not only spiritual but physical as well.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wolfish Musings celebrates and other reasons to cry

The Wolf is celebrating his 2 year blogiversary. He's a good blogger and a good man (I assume, since he calls his wife 'dear') so best wishes to the Wolf from over here! The reason that I like his blog is because it's information based. His content is informative and interesting instead of the usual non-stop editorializing that so many blogs engage in (myself included). Which isn't to say that a good opinion or original take on an important issue isn't interesting, but it's tedious when that's all there is. Last night my normally classy and articulate husband provided me with this nugget of wisdom that summed up his opinion of blogs: "Opinions are like butts- everyone's got 'em, but they stink." (Thanks dear.) Sorry to take the analogy so far Wolf, but you're one of the few bloggers whos, um blog, doesn't stink. So cheers to that!


This all reminds me that I recently passed my 1 year blogiversary. It all started a year ago, here. Alot's changed since then. The biggest change for me is that I used to be funny and now I can't for the life of me figure out what it is I want to say. Does that make sense? I mean, read this or this or even this silly tidbit... I was funny darn it, or at least I was having a good time. Now I'm mostly ticked off or bored so I don't write at all. Hmmm... maybe that's why I wasn't so keen on celebrating my blogiversary.

The other revelation is that while I used to think it was a big deal to have many readers, (a la Sally Fields- "you like me, you really like me") and while I did at one time have many more readers than I do now, I'm beginning to realize that you reading me can't possibly be more interesting than me writing for me. My primary motivation in writing is to let ideas out and more importantly, to procrastinate doing laundry. I can't expect anyone but myself to appreciate that. So now I blog so scarcely that the few people who do read my blog are other bloggers who want to see if I've said anything about them. (Hey guys, you're the best, keep coming back.)

The other bummer is that I'm no longer anonymous. Well, I haven't actually printed my name, but too many readers know who I am. I can no longer pretend to be the silly ignoramus that I used to be. I also can't tell the weird and hilarious tales that I once told, of family, friends and work, because now they're real people. This isn't fun to read if not perceived as fiction. In fact, it isn't fun to write if not produced as fiction (even though it's all true). On the other hand, I should be really glad I never said anything embarrassing or defamatory now that my identity is known. [Attention new bloggers: there is no such thing as true anonymity- act accordingly.]

Before I totally depress you, I should let it be known that some of this existential angst is due to some major life overhauls that I just went through. For one, I left my job. Yeah, the job that I bet my entire future career on. I left because of the most annoying and petty reasons, but I had to leave, and now I feel like a total loser. Don't worry, I found another job I'll be starting after pesach so I'm not in trouble, but it isn't in my field, it isn't interesting, it isn't anything I can learn from and it's a total compromise on my dreams (though it pays much more, as selling your soul to the corporate giant usually does). I wasn't fired, and I didn't leave on bad terms, but for some reason I just feel like a completely and total loser. Oh, and then there's a whole bunch of other stuff, but I'm not anonymous anymore so I've got to stay mum. [Time to start a new blog with a new pseudonym where I can actually vent, eh?]

Now that I've got your rapt attention, let me mention that I thought the purim podcast was fun. Jameel turns out not to be some crazy ayrab but probably an ex-Flatbush guy. Whaddya know! R'Gil Student's voice surprised me- I expected it to have a much lower Rabbinic range (I also get surprised with the pitch on my voice every time I hear the answering machine message). Holy Hyrax and wife are funny! Hmmm... the whole shpeil was cute.

In better news, abc.com airs full episodes of Ugly Betty online. What better way to spend an unemployed afternoon than watching Ugly Betty and gorging on ice cream and taco chips (all true). I should have listened to the Rabbis who outlawed the internet, because now that almost every show can be watched in full online, I can have a TV at home without "having a TV," if you know what I mean (how sinister), and I specifically don't want that. You gotta give it to the Rabbis for consistency at least- they know a time waster when they see one.

One year down and who knows how many to go. But the journey's fun and always better in good company. So mucho gracias to all. And finally [in hysterically manic voice] "I hope you like me, I hope you really like me," SOB SOB SOB. [I wish I could find a video for that Sally Fields Oscar clip. It's too much, really!]

Kul HaKavod to Occasional Violence

Neturei Karta mascot gets socked, and as Ezzie Holy Hyrax says, he deserved it!

Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, chairman of ZAKA and former operations officer for the Ultra-Orthodox community, hit the Jewish man who kissed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it was reported on Monday.

The violent incident occurred last Friday in Poland during a mass visit of Orthodox Jews to the country in order to honor Hassidic Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk.

When the visitors arrived at Lizhensk on Friday morning, they heard that Moshe Arye Freedman, a member of the fanatic anti-Israel group Neturei Karta, was present as well. Freedman recently made headlines when he was photographed kissing Ahmadinejad during the Holocaust denial conference in Teheran three months ago.

Meshi-Zahav, along with another ZAKA member, quickly located Freedman and set upon him, punching the man, kicking him and breaking his glasses.

The fight was dispersed when local police arrived at the scene.

As an act of appreciation, Meshi-Zahav was called up to read the Torah in synagogue. (Jerusalem Post)

Already there are those around the j-blogsphere who "don't condone violence" (said in a very self-important voice) and condemn the brutality of breaking a guy's glasses. Sheesh, when did the j-blogsphere become so politically correct? And how can any feeling Jew say with certainty that they wouldn't react the same way? If someone spit at your mother, would you not strike back? If someone defiled the name of someone dear to you, would your emotions not cloud your otherwise civil and diplomatic response? Moshe Aryeh Freidman is the lowest of the low, a bastard in every sense of the word, and a personal enemy of any person who loves the Jews. Of course hitting a guy is a barbaric way to disagree with his politics, but nevertheless, it's refreshing, because it means somebody cares. It's good to know that some peoples are more than talking heads who spew opinions and agendas without the honesty and bravery that it takes to act on it.

This story is a classic example of a kanai (zealot). I can picture the scenario in my mind: Meshi-Zahav heard that the scumbag was in town and his blood started to boil. He didn't organize a protest, he didn't issue a press release condemning NK, he just found the man and pounded him. What can I say, it makes me smile. For the record, I am the opposite of a violent or physical person--I couldn't even watch a boxing match if you paid me. But I still smile.

That the shul would give him an aliyah in appreciation is indeed funny, but if you think about it, the Torah named an entire parsha in appreciation of Pinchas. We all know Judaism isn't violent, but it also isn't pacifist, and sometimes it's necessary to do things the old fashioned way. You beat a guy who doesn't give his wife a get, for example. Somebody try and tell me that's too harsh! When confronted with absolute rishus, as is the case with NK, we have no obligation to be civilized. When I hear that someone out there is strong enough to act on his feelings of love for the Jews and hate for its true enemies, I think 'kul hakavod'.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Have the "Rabbanim abandoned us" or have they lost faith?

Hirhurim has a post up titled "Abandoned by the Rabbis". It's about a book he found called, Nine to Five: A Guide to Modest Conduct for Today's Workplace, that gives mostly impractical and unfortunately laughable advice on how to behave in the workplace. According to Nine to Five, making small talk with opposite-sex coworkers borders on giluy arayos, where one should rather die than transgress. Calling a woman by her first name is also inadvisable as it leads to familiarity, which inevitably leads to transgression, etc. My favorite excerpts is:
When conversing with female employees or co-workers, one must be careful not to us the word "we," so that the man and woman are not referred to as one unit. For example, one should not say, "We must talk with the editor," or "We must purchase that software program." Rather, he should say, "The editor must be consulted," or "Please purchase that program." (pp. 10-11)
Hirhurim writes,
When I read a book like this, I feel profoundly sad. It makes me think that the rabbis have abandoned us. There was once a time when rabbis recognized that people struggle to feed and clothe their families. They considered working to be a devar mitzvah and struggled to find leniencies to allow people to earn a living. And what do we get? Don't shake hands.* Don't make small talk. Don't compliment a woman. Etc. etc. Unrealistic advice does not help us get through our challenges. It just leaves us abandoned, trying to figure it out on our own.
It's interesting that when I recently wrote about why I think this generation is disappointed and feels disconnected with it's leaders, I also came up with the reason that it's because of their total lack of understanding of the challenges and requirements of our life, mainly with regard to making a living. An excerpt of my post:
Jewish life is not easy, b’gashmius. It never was. In the past, though, the feeling was that the Rabbanim were in place to alleviate the difficulty. The function of the Rav or Gadol was to use his expertise in hallakha to be able to find leniencies and allowances for people who had every intention of being shomer Torah and mitzvos but also needed to live. [...] Today the situation has flipped on its head... the leaders of the community not only give the impression that they fail to appreciate the great financial disadvantage that their followers willingly take on, but actually do things that make it even more difficult (more here).
In retrospect, it seems that the teachers in my kollel-wife geared high school were huge fans of the book Nine to Five. They often told us horror stories about women who did not heed the words of the gedolim while working. The stories included sexual assault in an elevator, rape in a stock room, an affair with a boss, etc. Our teachers wanted to have us believe that because the woman had said a few more words than just a curt good morning to her male coworker, she in essence extended him the invitation to assault in her in an elevator. Likewise with the woman who was raped by a maintenance worker--she had been lax with yichud laws and did not take enough care to never be alone with a man in a closed off space. The scare tactics didn't stop there. We were repeatedly told that these seemingly ridiculous guidelines, of never making small talk or addressing people by their first names, were for our own good and are only to protect us.

But like anyone who reads the books or hears these threatening stories, we laughed. We laughed at our old-fashioned teachers who thought that every man is a sexual predator, we laughed at the authors of the guidelines who could be so out of touch with the realities of the modern world. Not only were we uninspired, we were totally turned off.

I once confronted a teacher in private and told her that by exaggerating the horrors of the world and being so totally impractical, she is turning a class of otherwise well-meaning girls into cynics. Her response was this, "I know what I say to you girls often sounds like too much, but I think that if I give you 100 you might take 25. If I tell you a lot you might hear a little. I want you to develop a sensitivity and be aware of the issue." This once, I couldn't disagree. Being a good Jew isn't only about cut and dry hallakha; there are many areas that are grey and require that elusive concept of sensitivity. But this was a case of a teacher speaking to teenagers. Why are adults being given the same treatment?

It makes me think that the book that Hirhurim cites is intended as a sensitivity primer, not an actual book of guidelines. The introduction would never tell you so, and the text uses extreme language such as giluy arayos and more, but I'd bet that the Rabbanim who wrote it probably thought that they were safer being extreme and overboard if only to have the reader do a fraction of what they say.

So this is why we live in a generation of cynics, skeptics, and chutzpinyaks. We're simply not being treated with honesty and we're not being given credit for our intellectual capacity to make decisions when confronted with the plain facts of hallakha. Is it so hard for our leaders to believe that we are genuine in our desire to do what's right? Is it so hard to them to have faith in us, enough at least not to resort to bullying or manipulation as a means of teaching? I see no alternative explanation for the things that we hear from Rabbanim these days (e.g. this book, the multiple bans, the closing of women's learning programs, etc). We live in difficult and confusing times, to say the least, but the fact that the Rabbanim have lost faith in us is perhaps the most devastating of all.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Real Case of Libel against Anonymous Internet Users

Wikipedia entry causes pro-golfer Fuzzy Zoeller to sue
February 26, 2007
By Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Prevented by law from suing Wikipedia, pro-golfer Fuzzy Zoeller is suing the owner of an IP address from where allegedly defamatory remarks were posted onto Wikipedia alleging that he abused drugs, alcohol and his family in what could set a precedent for online defamation cases

The offending paragraphs allegedly slandering Zoeller’s name were posted on December 20 2006, and have now been removed, but not before they were discovered, with Fuzzy Zoeller being named as ‘John Doe’ in the legal action that has subsequently been initiated to clear his name.

The IP address of the posts was traced back to education consulting firm Josef Silny & Associates of Miami, although Mr Silny says he is surprised that the complaint originated from his computer systems and doesn’t know who at his company might have made the offending Wikipedia posts.

Wikipedia is the encyclopedia that anyone can edit, although following previous instances where Wikipedia entries were defaced and edited with potentially defamatory information, with people previously affected by inaccurate Wikipedia entries including John Seigenthaler, a former assistant to Robert Kennedy, who was falsely accused of being a suspected participant in the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, along with US politicians who have had their Wikipedia entries besmirched.

Following these incidents, security was beefed up to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future. However despite the security upgrades which see some pages locked completely, users who earn the right to access files are still able to change pages that have remained unlocked, making the Wikipedia encyclopedia vulnerable to such defamation attacks or other inaccurate information.

According to the Associated Press, the following statement comes from paragraph 11 of the lawsuit and includes the alleged remarks: “Later (Mr. Doe) went public with his alcoholism and prescription drug addiction, explaining that at the time he made those statements, he was ‘in the process of polishing off a fifth of Jack (Daniels) after popping a handful of Vicodin pills’.”

The statement continues that: “He further detailed the violent nature of his disease, recalling how he’d viciously beat his wife Dianne and their four children while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. He also admitted feigning a ruptured spinal disc in 1985 so as to be prescribed a multitude of prescription medication. He has since sought professional help and mended his fractured familial relationships. In May 2006, (Mr. Doe) said in a interview with Golf Digest magazine that he hadn’t beaten his wife in nearly five years.”

These paragraphs have now been removed from Zoeller’s Wikipedia entry, with Silny mystified and engaging a computer consultant to conduct an internal investigation, while Wikipedia claim not to have been informed of the case until it hit the media.

Zoeller was previously the subject of embarrassment over remarks towards Tiger Woods, which cost him endorsement deals at the time, with Wikipedia listing the reported comments from the 1997 Masters regarding the championship dinner as:“Tell him not to serve fried chicken next year. Got it? ... or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve”, which was reported to have the potential of being construed as racially discriminatory.

Our Very Own Media Darling

Shmuel Tennenhaus, creator of the popular Ask a Jew series on YouTube,
says he has been contacted by other video sites.

Shmuely Tenenhaus has done it again- he's the first name in today's NYTimes e-commerce article on YouTube and its competition: "Hot New Properties: You Tube Celebrities." How does he do it?

Here are the first four paragraphs:
No one would mistake the Ask a Jew guy for Lonelygirl15, but these days YouTube contributor Shmuel Tennenhaus is feeling like a hot commodity.

Mr. Tennenhaus, an aspiring comedy writer who gained a modest following on YouTube for his droll question-and-answer clips and other spots featuring his grandmother “Bubby,” is being wooed by the site’s competitors, including Metacafe, ManiaTV and others, with promises of guaranteed exposure, a share of advertising money, or both.

“It’s all very odd,” said Mr. Tennenhaus, speaking from Hallandale, Fla. His YouTube channel, Oneparkave, has logged roughly 32,000 visits and a few hundred subscribers since last fall. “My parents say I’m special, but I can’t imagine I’m the only guy they’re contacting.”

He has that right. The most popular YouTubers, who have generated millions of visits and tens of thousands of subscribers, say they have received overtures from multiple sites. And YouTube, meanwhile, appears ready to respond to the challenge...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Google lets Orthomom (and the rest of us) down

Yesterday's hearing in Greenbaum v. Google did not turn out the way we all expected. Earlier in the week (link), I explained that the document Pamela Greenbaum produced, an order to show cause, is basically a request from the court to require the opposing party to show up in court. The judge decides, based on the liklehood of the petitioner's claim prevailing in a lawsuit, whether to grant the request or not. We all predicted that because the defamation claim is without merit, the judge would dismiss the case at the very start.

But yesterday, Judge Marcy S. Friedman ordered Orthomom to appear in court and present her case, or she'll face having a default judgment entered against her (documents here). I find it surprising that the judge would rule as such without even considering the merits of the case. Whoever keeps saying, in Orthomom's comments and elsewhere, that this hearing was purely procedural and too premature to consider the facts of the case, is wrong. Not every request for relief is granted; it's entirely in the judge's discretion to decide whether said request is worthy of continuance. This would have been the place to dismiss the case outright. But given that a judge's power is completely discretionary (within the letter-of-the-law, of course), it translates into oftentimes unpredictable scenarios .

What's most surprising is the way that Google responded. Google is not a party in this lawsuit, in that they are not being held liable for defamation or damages. They are only being asked to hand over identifying information of the people who will subsequently be sued. Technically speaking, Google is considered an "interactive computer service" (or ISP- internet service provider) and is not responsible for "information provided by another content provider," namely its users (link to The Telecommunications Act of 1996). It is therefore legally understandable that Google has agreed to "produce responsive documents... unless a third party objects to such production". But doesn't Google have an interest in protecting its users? By handing over the entire defense to the individual blogger, who most likely has less resources, Google is making itself extremely vulnerable. Why would Google destroy its reputation as a secure provider only to avoid some time in court? They had the power yesterday to counter Greenbaum's request with an argument that would convince the judge how baseless this lawsuit would be and the frivolousness of ordering Orthomom's appearance. Instead, they readily stipulated to handing over identifying information unless Orthomom was willing to defend herself and her blog's users. It's a surprising position for Google to take; I wish I understood more about the law so that I could tease out the possible reasons for this. What I do know is that ISP's typically do not fight subpoenas (allowing the responsible party to do the work) when the subpoenas are for criminal activity, such as leaking confidential information or trade secrets, etc., but in this case, when the claim is so obviously insufficient, Google should have quashed it right away.

If Orthomom responds on time, Google will then file a motion to dismiss the order. At that point, the court will examine the facts and decide whether there is good reason to reveal Orthomom's identity. That's where we're all hoping the judge sees how baseless Greenbaums claims really are, given that there was no defamation (bigot and anti-Semite are unpleasant opinions, not false and damaging facts) and given that Greenbaum is a public official, making any libel claim more difficult to substantiate. Still, at this point, it's too early to tell how this will play out.

Interesting reading on the topic:
  • February, 2007 article from the New York Law Journal on online libel (link).
  • List of all Libel and Related Lawsuits against Bloggers up until August, 2006 (link).

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Why can't I be more like Jack?

That is, Jack Shack (it's his real name you know). He decides that any random day is Link to Jack day and a kazillion people comply. Everyone who read that post linked to him. I didn't- but that's because I came across the post a little late and felt stupid being so behind. Bad excuse, I know, so I guess I deserve this-- it's karma.

When I declared yesterday that it's Shuckle Day and that I will link to anyone who so much as says the word (this isn't shamelessly asking for links like, ahem, someone else did), I get no response. Nada. Zilch. *Sigh* I feel very alone. So Jack, what's your secret?


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Shucklers in Love

I wrote about these guys last week, in my piece about Shuckle music. Then I came across this wonderful quote in an article on Lubavitch.com about Chasidic tunes that inspire rockers (though, now we can more correctly say, Shucklers).
One of the great accomplishments of niggunim is tying people together, a sentiment that Seliger emphasized in his interview with Lubavitch.com. "I love all Jews," he said, and paused for a moment. "And mainly because of their music."
This quote sums up the attitude of Shuckle music perfectly--the goal of real achdus and open mindedness. It's a good thing folks, so let's make it happen. Here's my challenge: use the word Shuckle and I will link to you. I don't expect any links to me, this isn't about my hits or popularity; I want everyone getting into the Shuckle groove. Together, we can spread the word. If you're not convinced, read this again, and then get back to me.

The first two musical revolutionaries are:

I know you want to be on this list. So get with the program and email me a link. Let the craze begin...

Update: Mottel starts a shuckle meme. Way to go!
Update: Jack at Teruah eloquently summarizes my fondness for Shuckle. "Names are important. They categorize (not this, but that) and they establish presence (it exists but once didn't)."

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Letter of the Rebbe: Applying R' S.R. Hirsch's approach in U.S. does not serve interest of Orthodoxy in the U.S.

This fascinating letter of the Lubavitcher Rebbe came from an email list. This letter is not included in the collections of letters that are published and circulated, and the name of the recipient and date are missing-- this looks like a section of a draft. If anyone knows how to date a manuscript like this or if anyone knows who this letter may have gone to, please share. I typed up the interesting parts, because the scan quality is very poor. Click on image to read the original with what looks like the Rebbe's handwritten markings and edits to R'Nissan Mindel's text.

Excerpts from the Rebbe's letter:

"I must touch upon another, even more delicate, matter concerning the teachings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch whom you mention in your letter. There has been a tendency lately to apply his approach in totality, here and now [added: for Americans born and ~?~] in America! While it is understandable that the direct descendants of Rabbi Hirsch or those who were brought up in that philosophy, should want to disseminate his teachings, I must say emphatically that to apply his approach to the American scene will not serve the interest of Orthodoxy in America, with all due respect to his philosophy and approach which were very forceful and effective in his time and in his milieu. R. Hirsch wrote for an audience and youth which was brought up on philosophical studies, and which were permeated with all sorts of doctrines and schools of thought, and disciplined in the art of intellectual research, etc. Thus it was necessary to enter into long philosophical discussions to point out the fallacy of each and every thought and theory, which is incompatible with Torah and Mitzvoth. There was no harm in using this approach, inasmuch as the harms had already been there, and if it could strengthen Jewish thought and practice, it was useful and to that extent, effective.However, here in the United States we have a different audience and a youth which radically differs from the type whom R. Hirsch had addressed originally. American youth is not of the philosophical turn of mind. They have neither the patience nor the training to delve into philosophical discussions, and to evaluate different system and theories when they are [added: induced to go to college and] introduced to all sorts of ideas, including those that are diametrically opposed to the Torah and Mitzvoth, and there are many of then, since there are many falsehoods but only one truth. This approach can only bring them to a greater measure of confusion. Whether or not the final analysis and conclusions will be accepted by them, one thing is certain, that the seeds of doubt will have multiplied in their minds, since each theory has its prominent proponent bearing impressive titles of professors, PhD’s, etc.

Besides the essential point and approach is “Thou shalt be wholehearted with G-d, they G-d.” The surest way to remaining a faithful Jew is not through philosophy but through the actual experience of the Jewish way of life in the daily life, fully and wholeheartedly. As for the [?] “Know what to answer the heretic,” this is surely only one particular aspect, and certain does not apply to everyone. Why introduce every Jewish boy and girl to the various heretics that ever lived?

The whole problem is a delicate one, and I have written the above only in the hope that you may be able to use your influence with certain circles in Washington Heights, that they should again re-examine the whole question and see if the R. Hirsch approach should be applied to the American scene. My decided opinion is, of course, that it should not, and I hope that whatever measure of restraint you may accomplish through your influence will be all to the good. I hope to hear good news from you also in regard to this.


I want to take this opportunity to mention another point which we touched upon during our conversation, and which I followed up in writing. I refer to the movement of “Torah v’Derech Eretz,” alluding to the saying of our Sages that Derech Eretz comes before Torah. However the term “Derech Eretz” is interpreted as a college education, and it is claimed to be the doctrine Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch of blessed memory.

As you will recall, I made the point in my previous letter on this subject that in my opinion, with all due respect to this policy and school of thought which had their time and place, ‘they are not at all suitable for American Jewish youth and for present times and conditions, especially in the United States. I even made so bold a move as to try to enlist your cooperation to use your influence to discourage the reintroduction of this movement on the American Jewish scene, since it is my belief that your work carries a great deal of weight in these circles here.

I want to note with gratification that on the basis of unofficial and behind the scenes information which has reached me from the circles in question, the point which I made with regard to the school of thought that has been gaining evermore adherents. It is becoming increasingly recognized that a college education is not a vital necessity and is not even of secondary importance. Many begin to recognize that the Torah, Toras Chaim, is, after all, the best s’chorah, even as a “career.” In the light of this now reappraisal, attendance at college is being recognized as something negative and interfering and with detracting from the study of Torah. So much for the younger generation..."


Orthomom, Greenbaum and Google (my thoughts)

If you've been under a rock since before the weekend, as I have, you'll just be learning about Pamela Greenbaum's attack on Orthomom (full coverage there and on Canonist). From what I've read, it seems that Greenbaum is asking Google to reveal the ID of Orthmom and her commentators because of alleged defamation and libelous comments against her, calling her a bigot and an anti-Semite. Canonist links to the the court documents, and they provide a fuller picture. The document is not a complaint (as in party A suing party B and bringing a complaint against them). Rather, it is an order to show cause, which has different legal ramifications. What Greenbaum is doing is asking a judge to subpoena Google for Orthomom's identity based on even a small chance of having a case against Orthmom. On her blog, Orthomom beats down the claims set forth one by one (here), but this document is not where Greenbaum needs to state her case or prove her allegations. All she needs to do is convince a judge that she has some chance at bringing a reasonable charge, and that without injunctive relief, in this case having the court force Google to turn over identifying information, she has no other way of pursuing her case. At this stage, the judge isn't being asked to decide whether there was defamation or libel- the judge only decides whether the claims made are considerable enough to require the other party to show up in court and present their side. So while it's easy to say that the libel charge has no standing, Greenbaum is probably hoping that the judge will decide that Orthomom needs to show up in court and present her side. I highly doubt that will happen though, because again, the libel charge is baseless so the judge will probably toss it out without involving Orthomom at all.

What I really want to know in all this is what exactly Pamela Greenbaum is thinking. Surely her lawyers have advised her that as a 'public figure' she has to be nuts to sue anyone for defamation. That's why I personally doubt that Greenbaum has any plans at all to sue Orthomom and seek damages. She's hinging everything on having Orthomom's identity revealed before the lawsuit, because she must know that her case is a loser. But having Orthomom's identity made public will unfortunately be victory enough.

The third party, Google, makes this saga even more interesting. Even though this lawsuit doesn't target Google, they have as much interesting in protecting Orthomom's privacy as she herself does. It occurred to me that when signing up for blogger, there is no privacy clause or user agreement that ensures any degree of privacy. In other words, Google has no legal requirement to protect identifying information of its users and makes no promise to do as much. But in terms of business sense, they'd lose a lot of popularity if they don't fight this subpoena.

I wish Orthomom the best in all of this and hope she comes out unscathed. Frankly, I'm amazed that she's been able to hold on to her anonymity thus far. I think that being totally anonymous on the internet is no longer possible. At least in my experience, our identities are much more transparent than we think. If Greenbaum is really so malicious and wanted to slander Orthomom in return, she could have saved face and gone about it a little more quietly, for example by sending her an email and then getting an IP address on the returned mail. From there she could have probably gotten a name quicker and without making herself out to be a total fool. But then who am I to advise a paranoid official who can't handle the slightest criticism without getting litigious?


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Move Over "Shiny Shoe Music"- it's Time for "Shuckle" .

The Forward ran an article in December that described the new wave in Jewish music-- the hip hop, reggae, rap inspired Jewish music that its creators are calling Shuckle. I’m surprised that this article went more or less unnoticed by other music blogs because it really does a great service to the Jewish music discussion. There's a lot of importance in defining a genre with an exact term; the term "Jewish music" is too general to be useful. A few years ago, MOChossid brilliantly coined a new name for the MBD-Avraham Fried-Shwekey brand of Jewish music. He wrote, "I... was mifarseim the term "Shiny Shoe Music" which is now almost universally accepted, even in the shiny shoe music world. (Chaim Dovid coined the term. We were talking and he referred to the "musicians with the shiny black shoes"; I took it from there). If I do nothing else in my blogging career, dayeinu." Indeed, the term shiny shoe music is the perfect way to talk about that specific genre. BloginDM and others were quick to use and publicize shiny shoe terminology. I think that Shuckle can be the next Shiny Shoe.

So, what is Shuckle? The article interviews Daniel Seliger and Alon Cohen of 12 Tribe Sound, "a production company
they founded in order to cultivate and promote Orthodox hip-hop acts". They explain,
You have grunge. You have punk rock. You have shuckle… You shuckle when you daven, and you shuckle when you listen to reggae… it’s shuckle music.
Who is Shuckle? The article lists 12 Tribe Sound's biggest names starting with "Reggae’s reigning Semitic royal, Matisyahu" and goes on to include:
[A] Hasidic-heavy roster... Y-Love, a black convert who raps about God; Ta’Shma, a hip-hop twosome whose name means “Come, listen” in Aramaic; Merkavah, a Phish for the phylactery crowd, and The Admor, an honest-to-goodness Jamaican-born Breslov Hasid, dancehall emcee and martial arts master.
You may be wondering, why not refer to it as Jewish hip-hop or Jewish reggae? Seliger explains:
We’re not trying to take any of the cultural elements of hip-hop — the violence… We’re more interested in the raw elemental music sound. The medium of poetry over beats lends itself to communicating ideas more so than that with a singer/songwriter. Music should be about the boom of that bass drum, the kick of that snare. There shouldn’t be any negativity associated with it.
I would also add that describing, for example, Matisyahu as Jewish Reggae is inaccurate- he's no longer pure reggae and putting Jewish in front of the label doesn't do justice to his mainstream audience. Similarly, just as shiny-shoe music isn't adequately described with "contemporary ultra-orthodox music", Shuckle music isn't adequately defined as a Jewish version of some other musical genre. We're talking about a revolution, a totally new wave in Jewish music.

The author, Leah Hochbaum, made a few curious mistakes in the article. First, she titles the piece, "Shuckle Rock Puts the Pray". There is nothing Rock about Shuckle, so I don't know where that came from, and it's a little misleading. Second, Hochbaum incorrectly labels Alon Cohen "not observant," based on his comment "I have my own relationship with God.” (Halivay more frum people could say the same...) Besides for the obvious poor taste in judging people's religiosity based on an impression, it undermines the whole mission of Shuckle to claim its founders are not religious. Shuckle music is the unique combination of hip-hop and other urban (admittedly goyish) sounds with a heimish lifestyle and Torah-based ideas. It's a concept rooted deep in chassidic philosophy, of elevating the mundane and using everything the world has to offer for our purpose. My interpretation might be a bit over the top, but nonetheless, there needs to be a truly Jewish motivation for creating this kind of music, or it will be no different than the original. Obviously there are many producers and musicians who are not religious, and it's mostly irrelevant to the music; but the pioneers and people behind the innovation have to be for any of it to work.

Of course Shuckle doesn't come without controversy, which leads me to the next reason why using the term Shuckle vs. terms like Jewish hip-hop is so important.
Most Jewish music is rooted in non-Jewish music. The reason parents and teachers don't ban early MBD records while they resist the likes of Matisyahu is that other types of music are better at hiding their questionable roots and insist on being referred to straight up as Jewish music. Many don't want kids listening to hip-hop or reggae, even after it's been modified to be Jewish; but if it were Shuckle, a distinctly Yiddishe genre of music that only incidentally shares musical elements with morally questionable sources, a genre that was created by frum Jews for frum Jews- maybe then it won't be seen as such a threat.

Shuckle is here to stay- it's the sound of the future- so let's start talking about it in the right terms. Spread the word. The word is Shuckle.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pregnancy Scare

Yesterday I walked in to my office to see that someone had brought a baby in to work with them. Not just anyone, but one of the high school interns. As the youngest paid member of the workforce and one of the very few parents, I should not be one to judge, but I couldn't help and take a second look. Sure enough, there was no baby- it was actually an incredibly life like doll. My curiosity was piqued; why was a high-school senior carrying around a doll in a real infant-seat? I couldn't think of any explanation that didn't involve a prank, so I gave it up and went about my own business.

Less than an hour later the doll began to cry. Really cry. A recording of an actual baby's cry projected from a speaker in the doll's insides! Next thing I know, the high-school girl was scrambling to soothe the doll. She first "changed" the diaper, but when that didn't help, she rocked the doll back and forth, finally getting the thing to stop whimpering only when she sat down and fed it a bottle. This feeding lasted a good 15 minutes, after which I heard a very audible burp. Finally the doll was wrapped up and put for an afternoon nap in the infant seat. I kid you not.

It turns out this high-school girl was fulfilling her senior Health Class requirement of caring for a 'baby' for 48 hours. The particular baby in question was in fact a robot, with a computer chip inside of it that is programmed to cry at certain intervals to signal that it needs sleep, food, a diaper change or just some attention in the form of rocking or walking. If the wrong need is met, the doll will continue crying. If the doll is not changed or fed for too long, it will get "sick". If the doll is beaten or shaken, it will "die" and the student will fail the course. Needless to say, the doll does not coo or smile or giggle; the only positive response it can show to good care is an hour or so of peace and quiet.

The stated purpose of this experiment is to prevent teen pregnancy by having teens experience firsthand the difficult reality of caring for a child. Apparently, somebody in health administration thinks that 48 hours with an infant is terrible enough to discourage anyone from being irresponsible when it comes to pregnancy. Aside from all the obvious work involved in keeping the doll satisfied, it's rigged with sensors and a recording device so the care-taking kid loses all sense of independence and privacy. The hysterical crying especially and continuous whimpering would make any real parent frustrated, let alone a high-schooler. There's no question that this doll was designed to be a torture device-- something that is unequivocally undesirable.

Obviously teen pregnancy is a problem that should be addressed in public high-schools, but I would think the discussion would be relevant to the younger set. I can't understand why these dolls were used on this particular group of students: mostly rich, white Upper East Side prep school over achievers, interning in their free time, who are in no way at risk for teen pregnancy! If I saw this exercise done on 15 year old urban kids, I'd see the point, even if I disagree with the tactic. But upper class seniors who are graduating in a few months and are almost through with adolescence? What total propaganda! This exercise was intended to implicitly teach the students that having children while young is a burden-- an all around tiresome, torturous mistake.

I'm the conspicuous young mother in my office, so I had to stand my ground. I quickly flipped through my online albums and printed out, in color for full effect, the cutest possible shot I could find of my daughter with her cousins, all kids who's parents are under 25. They're pictured huddled in a group hug, each one smiling cuter than the next. I showed the picture to the high school girl and in my most casual and unassuming tone I mentioned that "you would never guess, but having babies while young can be fun and very rewarding, despite the frustrations and dirty diapers, etc..." The conversation didn't go too well. All I sensed from her was overwhelming pity, no matter how hard I tried to convince her that I'm not delusional for thinking about young mothering in positive terms and no matter how much I insisted that my child was not an accident at 22.

After spending a few more hours in the same vicitinity as that baby, listening to the cries, the annoyingly looped sobbing and the insatiable gulping and burping, I began to buy in to the brainwashing. I started having evil thoughts involving the doll and a baseball bat (a la office space). Even those life-like elbow dimples and thigh curls, which I had previously thought amazing in their uncanny resemblance to the real thing, started looking freakish. Never have I seen a device so effective in eliciting a negative emotional response from everyone around it. And the device was not a dental drill-- it was a baby doll! To think that this is mandatory experience for high schoolers makes me sad. And to think that this exercise was intended to transmit "values"...

Update: Thanks to a link from orthomom on Jewess, you can check out this doll, called "Baby Think It Over" here and here.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Wearing a Beard to Work When You're not Abraham Lincoln

From The NY Times Magazine's Ethicist:

Too Hairy to Teach?

My husband, an excellent and experienced preschool teacher — he is the best at what he does — applied for a job at a local public school. The interview went great. The principal was impressed by his résumé, recommendations and abilities, but feared that his beard would alienate community parents. Would he shave it? He politely declined. She said she would not hire him unless he did. Legal? Ethical? — name withheld, Georgia

I’ve no doubt that despite being his wife, you provide an unbiased account of your husband’s merits, but sadly his whiskers do not define a legally protected class in regard to job discrimination — as do sex, age and race, for example. (A beard worn as a religious obligation could enjoy legal protection, but that’s not the case here.)

While the principal behaved legally, she acted unethically and unprofessionally by basing a hiring decision on your husband’s facial foliage (if that is actually what she did). She mistreated your husband by denying him a job for which he is qualified, she failed her school by depriving it of a capable teacher and she besmirched the honor of our nation’s barbers who valiantly provide the neatly trimmed beards so vital to our way of life. Or something. Further, the principal let her students down by setting them an example of pusillanimous conformity, and she insulted their parents by assuming they are as superficial as she is. (But, in her defense, I get the feeling that she was neatly dressed.)

Your husband might consider resubmitting his application accompanied by a picture of Abraham Lincoln. Or many such pictures on a wad of five dollar bills. No, no — bribery is a bad idea here. Or anywhere.

UPDATE: Both the principal and the job-seeker remain obdurate. He continues to teach at his current school.

This amusing anecdote happened to someone with a presumably trimmed, neat beard while applying for a job at a preschool. Now, consider the chasidic guys who have wildly untrimmed beard that apply for jobs in corporate, white-shoe offices. Unlike this interviewer who explicitly named the beard as reason for not hiring, no corporation would ever make themselves liable for religious discrimination by so much as implying that a beard (or yarmulka, but less so) is the reason for passing over a job applicant--so while there theoretically is legal protection, it's virtually impossible to prove.

That being said, unruly facial hair should not be reason for despair (or unemployment for that matter). Rest assured that our schools would hire a bearded doctor, lawyer, accountant or defeated political candidate without a moment's hesitation--well, as long as you don't forget to include a wad of bills in the application.

Thursday, February 01, 2007


My friend directed me to the website ImaMother.com, and I'm so excited. It's the ultimate frum girly-talk site, and who can get enough of that! Think of it as a hashkafa.com for women-- brilliant! Here is a blurb from the 'about us' page so you can get a better idea of the purpose of this site:
Welcome to our website. I, Yael, together with my husband, developed Imamother.com because we felt that there was a need for a website geared to frum Jewish women and mothers.

This website was born after I went searching in the vast expanses of the internet for some advice about raising my kids. I looked at the Jewish forums of numerous parenting websites, but there just wasn’t anything relevant to me, as a frum, Lubavitch woman. Again I left my computer feeling like there was just a blank area where there should have been a place where I could share my thoughts and worries. I was looking for a place where I could meet more women just like me. I wanted a spot where my friends and I could go to share stories about our day. I wanted a website just like all the others but with a very important difference. I wanted it to be relevant to me as a married woman and as a frum mother. I wanted a place where there would be information about topics that are important to me. And where I could get advice from other frum mothers about whatever issue was bothering me at the moment.

I searched and searched for this website, and when I found none, I decided to meet that need myself. I felt frum mothers all across the world deserved a place to connect, chat, share advice about raising kids and dealing with our husbands, and talk about issues that are important to us. Since my husband knows how to develop websites and enjoys doing it, we agreed to start this website together. He would take care of the technical aspects and I would moderate Imamother.com. Since we started we have undergone many changes. We even had a name change. We accepted advice from friends and family. We added links and removed others when we saw people didn’t use them.

Slowly, slowly, with a lot of hard work, we made this website into what it is today. And we are still looking to improve our site. We want women to feel that there is a place online where we can connect and unite, give and receive advice from other frum Jewish mothers, and learn new things. I hope this website will unite all Jewish mothers across the world. Let us all be part of one online community.

The shame is that you can't just browse their forums to satisfy your inner voyeur. First they require all readers to sign up and register by filling out a questionnaire that includes questions such as, what are the side effects of having your period, what is the brocha for mikvah, and what shul are you affiliated with. The purpose of the questionnaire is to weed out any applicants that are not frum married women, though I'm sure most men could easily answer the exclusively female questions. But I dutifully filled out the form and now I await word back from their moderator who will let me know if I'm female enough and frum enough to join their site. Oh gosh, I hope I pass.


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