The war

The weather in Jerusalem that night in April was cool, some might say chilly. To anyone watching our hero walking quickly through the narrow corridors of the old city he seemed unaffected by the cold, when in fact he wished that he’d put on a sweater. And while approximately 1.6% of his brain was occupied with the question, “why didn’t I remember to put on my sweater before going outside?” the other 62.7% of his brain that was freed from the tedium of respiration and bodily function was occupied with one question:”what’s my purpose?”
That night, that nippy spring night, there was a war in our hero’s head. On one side, the army of transcendence: An army composed of the holy, the G-dly, and the righteous. On the other: the soldiers of practicality: stubborn, tough, battle hardened and ready to slog out the inevitable war of attrition. And so it went that night each side proposing a new road forward, a grand plan, a unified theory or some other such phrase that properly answered the all consuming question… It is a war that that every yeshiva boy, hippie, starving artist and Canadian football player is ultimately drafted into; either by choice, by economic cataclysm, or some other event that forces a period of introspection and self doubt.
On that night our hero had grown weary of bouncing around like a pinball through life... Settling in one place only long enough to leave a groove but never long enough to settle into it, he was beginning anew the very first process that we ever learn: choice. The first step of making that choice is to whittle down the competing theories until Ockham’s bloody razor is revealed and only then, when it is at its sharpest, slice away with its singularly sharp blade. That night, the war of attrition raging between our hero’s ears was favoring the stalwart and practical side; for each possibility cast aside as too base and spiritually bankrupt, the side of “reasonableness” leveled whole cities of theological pursuit… That is, until our hero touched the cold stone wall and remembered.

Shabbos songs #2

I honor of this year's shomtov this weeks shabbos songs is a double edition.

When I first started becoming religious two of my friends tried to describe "Jewish Music", I think they said something like, "it's similar to broadway... just different". And after I had a listen myself I don't remember thinking to myself, "One day I'll like this." But that day seems to have arrived. I'm coming out of the closet:

I like the newest Chevra album! With the usual overproduced instrumentation I can't stand these guys, but a-cappella they're good stuff.

V'Hayu Limshisah

והיו למשסה שאסיך
ורחקו כל מבלעיך
ישיש עליך אלהיך
כמשוש חתן על כלה

The other song for the pesach edition of Shabbos Songs is the massively popular Idan Rachel's Mi Maamakim. This song is almost the polar opposite of the usual drek that frum and secular Israeli groups put out. It achieves depth and a distinctly "middle eastern" feel by overlapping a few simple themes rather than the usual approach where they throw in as many synthesized instruments playing stereotyped "mizrachi" themes. Beautiful


ממעמקים קראתי אליך
בואי אלי
בשובך יחזור שוב האור בעיני
לא גמור לא עוזב המגע בידיך
שיבוא ויאיר למשמע קול צחוקך
ממעמקים קראתי אליך
בואי אלי
מול ירח מאיר את דרכך שוב אלי
נפרשו ונמסו מול מגע של ידיך
באוזנייך לוחש, שואל
מי זה קורא לך הלילה הקשיבי
מי שר בקול אליך אל חלונך
מי שם נפשו שתהיי מאושרת
מי ישים יד ויבנה את ביתך
מי יתן חייו, ישימם מתחתיך
מי כעפר לרגליך יחיה
מי יאהבך עוד מכל אוהביך
מי מכל רוח חיה יצילך.
ממעמקים קראתי אליך
בואי אלי
מול ירח מאיר את דרכך שוב אלי
נפרשו ונמסו מול מגע של ידיך
באוזנייך לוחש, שואל.

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hilarity of hilarities, the cross cultural edition

How can you not find this cute...

If only all of life was "Arranged" this way...

I actually liked the movie, not the best acting or production I've ever seen but it was restrained enough that it didn't come off as preachy.

Which lead me to this test. Take it, even if you're married, take it! I'm not quite sure what the purpose of the site is, but I'm glad it's there. I had a longer post about the shidduch "crisis" but upon further review I'm gonna hold off on that...

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Ramifications of a search

In my search for the sources for the various issurim and heterim of music I got sidetracked and started to read about tznius… Which then lead to my wondering about the halachos of tznius for men… Which then lead to my just sitting reading Rambam. I haven’t been keeping up with my reading of the father of all sages, but just today’s reading has reawakened my respect for the man and his torah.

I have endeavored, over the last month, to get back into the best shape of my life. Each month since the end of high school I have become flabbier and weaker. I used to eat vegetarian and watch my fat/simple sugar intake… But then I became religious. First to go was exercising, which might have been ok, except arguing with people about not eating meat killed my vegetarianism too; then the final nail in the health coffin dropped, yeshiva: I sit 12 hours a day, eat mediocre food and sleep less than I probably should. But here comes Rambam to tell me what to do:

Hilchos De'ot 4:4-15

The day and night [together] are twenty-four hours long. It is sufficient to sleep for a third of this, i.e. eight hours, which should be at the end of the night, so that there will be eight hours from when one goes to sleep to sunrise. One should get up before sunrise… Anyone who does not exercise, or holds back from relieving himself, or who has hard bowels, will have a painful life and his strength will weaken, even if he eats good foods and looks after himself medicinally. Overeating is like poison to the body, and is the cause of many illnesses. Most illnesses are cause by bad foods and overeating, even if one over-eats good foods. Solomon said in his wisdom, "He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps his soul from troubles", that is to say that one should guard one's mouth from eating either bad foods or unnecessarily, and one's tongue from speaking except when necessary.

So I’ve been eating my veggies, cutting out the carbs, doing cardio and weight training every day for about an hour. I’m most of the way there, I’ve dropped 10 pounds and can do more pushups that I could a month ago. I’ll never look like Brad Pitt, but I’ll try to be yotzei shitas Rambam on exercising and living well.

But here’s what got me on the Rambam kick first:

H.D. 5:9
The clothing of a learned sage should be pleasant and clean, and it is forbidden for him to [be able to] find a stain or fattiness. He should not wear the clothing of royalty, such as gold or purple [colors], and similar things, for the reason that everyone looks at them, and nor should he dress like a poor person, for the reason that this disgraces his dress, but he should wear clothes of an average fineness. One's flesh should not be visible through or seen from under one's clothing, as is possible with the clothes of very thin linen made in Egypt, and nor should one's clothes trail on the ground like the clothes of those with haughty airs, but one's clothes should reach one's ankles, and one's sleeves should reach one's knuckles. One should not let down one's cloak for the reason that this would appear haughty, but one may do so on the Sabbath if one does not have a change of cloak. One should not put on patched shoes which have patches on top of patches in the summer, but in the winter one may if one is a poor person. One should not go to the market wearing perfume, and nor with perfumed clothes. One should not put spices in one's hair, but it is permitted to rub spices into one's skin as a method of cleaning. Similarly, one should not go out alone at night unless one had a fixed time at which one goes out to one's students. All of these matters are a precaution against suspicion.

The question I have is this:
Are we all talmudei chachamim? Even if not, the Rambam seems to be pointing out aspects of male tznius, that men are also supposed to be pleasant and attractive, but not attracting of attention. I have heard, numerous times, that written somewhere is an injunction against men wearing sleeves shorter than halfway down their upper arm; but I haven’t found it. So if you’ve got any ideas, write me a comment.

Whatever I find out in relation to my tznius studies, when I start my own sect of Chassidim we’ll dress in regency style. While I realize that the frocks worn by Chassidim probably have little to do with polish noblewear I think that a sect that wore riding jackets and waistcoats (all very clean and well taken care of) would be awesome.

PS, I stole the translation of Mishneh Torah from here, because I'm lazy and they did a better job than what I had started writing.

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Matzoh matzoh man

Someone once said to me, “I wish I was one of those people that felt fulfilled by just putting my nose in a gemara and never coming out… but I’m not”. I plan on becoming a man who lives in a house made of books, but I’m definitely drawn to the parts of Torah/Torah-lifestyle that provide an opportunity to create “real” things. My response to reading commentaries on the construction of the mishkan was to try (impossible without nes-dik materials) and construct a diorama; my favorite holiday is succos, it’s the most “architectural” of the chagim. So when it comes to making my pesach meaningful activities like baking my own “bread of affliction” help make the chag more significant.

Here’s where a geshmak piece of shmurah begins:
Months ago we went out and harvested the grain using the same instruments that people have used to harvest since wheat was first domesticated. This year was particularly hard because we needed to harvest 2 years of wheat since it’s shmittah. I don’t have a picture of the next step, but the harvested wheat is put through a combine to separate the wheat from the chaff, and bagged for the next step.

Quite often there are aspects of non-Jewish life that create advantages for the frum world; from chapters in the Torah, or shas-pods. So B”H that there are survivalists and back to nature groups (read: nutjobs) who keep the hand-powered food preparation industry in business.

So at a rate of 8 cups every 5 minutes we used hand powered mills to grind the wheat down in two steps, first something resembling bulgur then into whole grain.

The recipe for matzoh is REALLY REALLY COMPLEX… in that it’s the simplest recipe ever.
Water+wheat in less than 18 minutes.
The first step is to mix the water and wheat together:

Then a shaggy ball is handed to one of three guys who slowly turn the mixture into a dough ball

Then it’s handed off to a series of “gomrim” who flatten the dough ball out in stages till it’s a thin disc.

The last step before the cooking is the “reidler” the guy who puts all the little holes into the matzoh.

Then it’s shoved into the oven.

Matzoh tastes best when it’s cooked until the very last moment before it’s about to burst into flames. Unfortunately even I, in my perfection, screw up occasionally and leave the matzoh in the oven past that last second… When that happened I yanked out the burning dough and flipped it into the air in the hope that the rushing air would put out the fire.

And the result is this:

The best parts of doing this is the feeling that I’m a small part of seders all over Yerushalayim, I learn a few more phrases in yiddish, and I'm sure that during the baking hours I'm doing ratzon H' ; the worst part is that the hair on my right arm is burned off.

Chag kasher v’sameach!

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The permissibility of music and dancing

I went to a show.
It was my friend Anders' show, so it was a couple stam songs and lots of Jewy stuff.
But I'm not sure if it was right.
I have questions:
When is it mutar to dance?
What types of music are "ok"?
What are the dividing lines?
What are the sources?
I'm sure that the answer is "machloches" as usual but I've never looked into it independently. I aim to find some answers by the end of the day, brb!


This is one way to get it done



There is a theory in the study of hebrew that accepts that there is a relationship between the roots of words based on two letters of the roots. Tochacha is rebuke, koach is strength or power. The Webster's dictionary says about rebuke:

1 a: to criticize sharply : reprimand b: to serve as a rebuke to2: to turn back or keep down : check

I am not a chassid or a kabbalist but the connection I draw between the two is that power when applied correctly is produces a valuable benefit. Both digging a ditch and painting are applications of the power in our arms applied in a fitting way to the situation. In the same way, tochacha, the power of rebuke, must be applied in a way that produces a positive appreciable positive result, not just expression of disapproval for disapproval sake. As Rambam says in Hilchos Dayos (6:8), "It is prohibited to rebuke another person if it cannot be done without embarrassing, insulting or hurting his feelings, such as doing it in public or with harsh words." To use the power of rebuke in a way that damages a person is akin to what would happen if one used the strength required to dig a ditch when painting a canvas.


Tov and Rah

As I mentioned, I enjoy helping make my own matzos for any Pesach when I’m in Israel. Today’s activity was to transform the grain, harvested long ago, from something resembling bulgur into regular old flour. We do this with a one of these, a small manual grist. So another volunteer and I did our best imitation of the motor that ordinarily could be used to drive one of these things. The work is slow, and really tiring, think of a rowing machine but with an opposite direction of work, one person pulling while the other pushes. Teamwork is the key to not making the grinding process unbelievably hard, but getting into a rhythm can be slow at first…

The solution is wisdom from the goyim:
Work Songs

If I sang "Po' Lazarus" the chassids that hired me would probably have me killed, so I had to do a little “outside the slave spiritual” box thinking. My first try was “Am Israel Chai”; but that didn’t really take and if a work song isn’t sung enthusiastically it’s useless… After trying a few songs I found one that worked, “Boruch elokeini avosaini…” And to the rhythm of blessing our G-d we ground out almost 20 kilos of flour in about 3 hours.

I’m sad right now. I’m sitting in Coffeebean, on the corner of Yaffo two, maybe three, blocks from the old city and who is sitting next to me: Jews, who were born that way, who (at least half) are Israeli discussing tactics for evangelizing in Israel. A few weeks ago a large evangelical organization took out a full page ad in the NYTimes, apologizing for what the church did in the past while affirming their right to preach to the unconverted. I have no real beef with them, other than the fact that they are completely wrong about everything and can only lead our people into spiritual galus, they are practicing what they preach… Except for the last two points of their “apology”:

• We recognize that it is good and right for those with specialized knowledge, history and skills to use these gifts to introduce individuals to the Messiah, and that includes those ministries specifically directed to the Jewish people (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).
• We deplore the use of deception or coercion in evangelism; however, we reject the notion that it is deceptive for followers of Jesus Christ who were born Jewish to continue to identify as Jews (Romans 11:1).

I ask this question to the Christians, “if what you believe is ‘the way the truth and the life’, why must you use deceptive practices to encourage people to come into your ‘life’?” If you can make the argument based on the strength of your faith, the correctness of your doctrine, why must you come like wolves in sheep’s clothing under the guise of “messianic Judaism”. You are correct, a Jew is a Jew until he dies, but when he/she is missionizing, he/she is a lost Jew, a sad manifestation of the calamities that have befallen our people from time immemorial. And a Jew that is lost in this way is not acting as a Jew when he/she represents Christ, he/she is a Christian. If your beliefs are correct, then shout proudly the convictions of your faith and identify yourselves as such. It is a war crime for soldiers to dress as civilians and fight the wars of man; why are you committing those same crimes to fight this far more essential one?

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It begins

The season of matzoh is upon us!
Each year that I've been lucky enough to be in Yerushalayim I help a chaburah make matzoh. This year shall be no exception. Pictures to follow

In other news:
Everything that has ever been posted on this blog applies to me... Probably surprises no one at all.

What's more surprising is that I actually match up with a lot of these too. Especially this one. I have a friend who grew of frum, yet still uses lil' C's name as an exclamation... I don't really get where he got it, it's not like church was ever a part of his life. There was a guy here at yeshiva from (or has family from, I can't remember) Ireland; when he got really excited I'd hear him yelling down the halls, "Jesus, Mary and Joseph!" OK, I'm done

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Shabbos songs #1

Every friday I'm gonna try to post up something that I'm listening to. Sometimes it'll be Jewish, sometimes it'll be... Something. I'll keep the mp3 up for a week so get it while you can!
Anyway the first entry is by Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent. This version of the song was ripped from her performance on Fair Game, and I think that it kills the album version, even though the quality is a bit sketchy. I DARE you to listen to this song and not like it. Sing along, but don't listen after shkiah. Good Shabbos

St.Vincent - Marry Me
Marry me, John
Marry me, John I'll be so good to you
You won't realize I'm gone

Marry me, John
Marry me, John I'll be so sweet to you
You won't realize I'm gone
You won't realize I'm gone

Many people wanna make money make love
make friends make peace with death
But most mainly want to win the game they came to win
they want to come out ahead
But you you're a rock with a heart like a socket I can plug into at will
And will you guess when I come around next
I hope your open sign is blinking still

So Marry me, John
Marry me, John I'll be so good to you
You won't realize I'm gone
You won't realize I'm gone

As for me I have to agree I'm as fickle as a paper doll
being kicked by the wind when I touch down again I'll be in someone elses arms

Oh, John c'mon we'll do what married people do
Oh, John c'mon we'll do what Mary and Joseph did without the kid

So Marry me, John
Marry me, John I'll be so good to you
You won't realize I'm gone
You won't realize I'm gone

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The confessional

I don't believe or advocate Catholicism, let me state that at the outset, but I am jealous of the confessional booth.
My jealousy stems from my own weaknesses... let me explain. Each Catholic has a tangible visible address for the confession, reception and resolution of sin. When a Catholic does something wrong, even a "minor" sin, they can go to a booth sit in the darkness and confess and audibly absolved from sin. Of course, the idea of injecting anyone into the connection between H' and every Jew is antithetical to our religion, and we have an even more powerful (if done properly) concept of teshuva... But I never hear a voice say, "it's ok NafNaf".
So if I may indulge in a little confession of my own:
I find the challenge of teshuva, at a time when H' seems so hidden, to be... challenging.

"…Every person should view himself all year as if he were half innocent and half guilty. And that is the way he should look at the world as well, as if it were half innocent and half guilty. If he would do just one sin, he would thereby tip both himself and the entire world towards the "guilty" side, and cause it great destruction. And If he would do just one "Mitzvah," he would tip both himself and the entire world towards the "innocent" side and cause for himself and for them salvation, as it says "The Righteous Person is the Foundation of the World" - because his being righteous tipped the world for good, and saved it." "Hilchot Teshuvah" (3:4)

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What the Avos have to say about genius

Pirkei Avos פרקי אבוֹת
משנה כא

הוּא היה אוֹמר בן חמש שנים למקרא בן עשר שנים למשנה בן שלש עשרה למצות בן חמש עשרה לתלמוּד בן שמוֹנה עשרה לחוּפה בן עשרים לרדוֹף בן שלשים לכח בן ארבעים לבינה בן חמישים לעצה בן ששים לזקנה בן שבעים לשיבה בן שמוֹנים לגבוּרה בן תשעים לשוּח בן מאה כאילוּ מת וּבטל מן העוֹלם

I grew up with a genius. My brother, while not the smartest person I’ve ever met, was by far the smartest person on the block when we were children. His particular genius was focused on the arts and it’s no wonder that he has grown up to become a successful animator. But the recent trends in educational philosophy have made me wonder if my brother or his less blessed brother, that would be me, received the best education possible. The attack on gifted and talented programming has come from many angles; gifted and talented programs are labeled elitist, racist, and unhealthy for the children involved. To quote Alexandra Robbins's website, “our high-stakes educational culture has spiraled out of control”. The underlying theme of all the detractors is that the average American middle (more often upper-middle) class child is often unfairly pushed and pigeon-holed for dubious reasons or by self-absorbed parents and/or schools.

Unfortunately our world, the orthodox one (no matter the stream), is similarly afflicted. The manifestations on this obsession with “keeping up with the Joneses children” are evident throughout the community; whether it is frum from birth and baal-teshuva children growing up feeling somehow “less-than” for disappointing the communal or parental standards, or the scores of 18 year old yeshiva boys who can “learn” a daf of gemara but only really sat and learned chumash when they were being bar mitzvah’d… We also far too often push our children (and adults) too fast, too far and too soon; burning them out or even worse pushing adolescents completely out of our community and off the derech. Faranak Margolese examines this phenomenon in her book “Off the Derech” and rather than repeat the work that she did there, I will add that I have seen the phenomenon myself and have made many friends, both here and in America, that have suffered under our own “high-stakes” culture. Sadly, in both the secular world and the Jewish one, the consequences of growing up as either a genius under pressure to perform or as a dunce doomed to failure do not disappear with the end of childhood; many adults are unable to sample from the orchard of Torah, not because of their own inability, but rather because our world never catered to their needs.

So what are the solutions? Chazal gave us clear instructions (above) for how we are to educate our children. To quote mishna above, “Bible at the age five, Mishna at age ten and Talmud at age fifteen”. Chazal never intended that we push children to begin Talmud study upon entering high school, and certainly not without a strong background in tanakh and mishnios. Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman, zt"l began efforts to address what he found lacking in the education of our children. The “Zilberman Method” (and the similar Barkai Method) now taught in many institutions in Eretz Israel and abroad uses chazal’s education formula as its template for instruction. Anecdotally, the children that I have met who learn under this method possess a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips that children educated under the “regular” yeshiva system lack. I’d go as far as to say that the recall of biblical events and specific pasukim is can only be found in the generations previous to our own. But embedded in a recent report on the Barkai method is that it is just as susceptible to the elitism of our current system; to quote a teacher “(the method is) not geared for heterogeneous population, only the most talented students are capable of integrating the enormous about of material at the pace that is covered daily”.

So what are we to do? I think the answer for both the secular world and the religious one lies in accepting all children as they come, and developing a system that is able to morph itself for the needs of more children (Montessori?). In addition, I think that our society has to grow broader definitions of success that embrace the many talents H’ has given us. Most families hope to have sons who will grow to become chachamim, but there is an avodah in playing an instrument or being an artist. And perhaps that's the deeper lesson in the mishna, that we must have patience with our children, and only give them tasks that are appropriate for their age and ability. To quote another article, “…the solution isn't to mark fewer students as gifted and talented. It's to challenge all our kids, all the time”. Or as "Hillel used to say: A brutish man cannot fear sin; an ignorant man cannot be pious, nor can the shy man learn, or the impatient man teach."

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The Adventures of NafNaf

Welcome to the new/old adventures of NafNaf… I used to post as “the goywonder” which was a good name at the time… but I’m a Jew now and I’m on a different derech… Oh, wait, I already did that.

So you might be asking, “Why are you forever changing blogs?” The answer lies in my personality. Up until now I’ve been a bit of a butterfly; I flit from flower to flower pausing for only a moment, and leaving with nary a trace. And that aspect was reflected in changing my public/private diary every ten minutes. Every time I “rebooted” my life I started from scratch, in 'real-life' and in 'virtual-life'. But life has finally forced my hand; I have to be real and hoe the road that I’m on. After all, how many times can I really “start over”?

This blog will be, I hope, about my experiences here in the ‘city of gold’ and whatever comes after that. I pledge to be as interesting, funny and occasionally thought-provoking as possible while speaking as little lashon hara as I can.

Enough with the introduction…

At the moment I’m digging out of under a mountain of personal drama so instead of writing about that (honor, pledge, lashon...) I’ll dig up three quotes of the week. Make of them what you will.

“My affection for you is clear in my eyes. If it remains cloudy in yours, let it be said finally, “I have loved you all these years. Without exception you remained closest to my heart.” But for you I am not made. Your testimony of my recent greatness bears witness to how far I have come. And though I have traversed many miles, I still think like the man I was, a small scared man, a sheep. And now I am but a sheep in lion’s clothing; without the true majesty that one such as yourself truly deserves."

“These profound alterations in the self and in relationships inevitably result in the questioning of basic tenets of faith. There are people with strong and secure belief systems who can endure the ordeals of imprisonment and emerge with their faith intact or strengthened. But these are the extraordinary few.”

'You have conquered, my friends,' he said in broken accents. 'It was, to be sure, but a small thing that I asked--merely leave to blossom and expand for yet one more evening, to let myself go and hear the tumultuous applause that always seems to me--somehow--to bring out my best qualities. However, you are right, I know, and I am wrong. Hence forth I will be a very different Toad. My friends, you shall never have occasion to blush for me again. But, O dear, O dear, this is a hard world!'

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