Sunday, December 30, 2007

Bad approach

From Rabbi Shmuely Boteach's book "The Private Adam" - discussing why even though in general it is important to avoid trying to get revenge on people or engage in fights, when we are dealing with actual evil it is a responsibility to say something. He describes how he has engaged in debates with people such as Larry Flynt and been criticized for doing so because it "gives them legitimacy". He disagrees with this perspective and feels that it is when you don't challenge the other views that you are giving them legitimacy. However, there's an appropriate way to go about it. He goes on to say:

It is becoming typical for religion to recuse itself from the great debates of the age. We're afraid of unpopularity, so we opt out of the debate completely. I believe that this is a tragic error - that we are contributing to our own irrelevance. Rather than engage with the great issues of the day and demonstrate to the young that a strong, logical, and compelling case can be made for the spiritual way of life, what believers now do instead is denounce the nonbelievers. "They're wrong because they're sinners." case closed....But there's one major problem with this tactic. It doesn't work. When people see that religion ducks the great debates of the modern age, preferring instead to engage in character assassination, the conclusion they draw is that religion is unable to make its case rationally. They see right through the moral condescension and interpret it as moral cowardice....Modern religion is denying one of its most important functions, which is to inject a moral counterpoint into the society at large.

The Socialization argument

No Thank You, We Don't Believe in Socialization - Homeschooling Information from the National Home Education Network

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Frustration with Christmas in the workplace

From Brazen Careerist: Five Things People Say about Christmas that Drive Me Nuts

I actually did have people ask me if I was taking a day off for Chanukah. Of course, I had to use all my days off for all the other holidays this year...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Inconsistent argument

I have great respect for Rabbi Yitzchak Adlerstein - although I never met him personally when we were in L.A., I understand him to be a moderate person who, among other things, continues to be a supporter of Rabbi Slifkin. He is one of the regular bloggers on Cross-Currents, and usually shares very interesting ideas.

His post yesterday dealt with the question of whether there are areas which, while not being "forbidden" or "heretical", are really not appropriate to Jewish life, and therefore someone who holds these ideas or engages in certan practices would be, in his words, "beyond the pale" of normative Orthodox Judaism.

I understand his point and don't completely disagree. There's certain things that just don't have a Jewish feel to them, although generally the people involved in those things don't expect or want to be considered part of the Orthodox community. The main problem with this idea is that it is obviously subjective - who is to decide what doesn't "feel" authentically Jewish?

As someone pointed out in the comments, the answer is always going to be that the Chareidi (whoever is the strictest in practice) will always be the ones to label who will be considered Orthodox. And the areas that they label as "not authentic" will continue to be based on the increasingly strict practices that they have decided to practice.

BUT - the Torah teaches that it is forbidden to deviate from halacha "to the right or to the left." That means that just as it is fair to say that there are modern innovations or lenient practices that are against the spirit of the Torah, the same applies to adding strictures. Rabbi Adlerstein's examples in this post are women taking on roles that are not forbidden but are not traditional - community leadership positions. But my counter-example is the role of women in the right-wing world, which are certainly not traditional, of being expected to leave their children with non-Jewish baby-sitters and become the primary breadwinners?

I wrote a very respectful comment to Rabbi Adlerstein asking for his explanation. Today I was thrilled to see that my comment to Rabbi Adlerstein made its way onto Dov Bear's blog!

If Rabbi Adlerstein responds to my question I will post it here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jewish Identity

In Professor Jonathan Sarna's "American Judaism" course at Brandeis, we would often be asked to look at advertisements, bar mitzvah invitations, and other "artifacts" to see what we could learn about Jewish identity during that time period. One of the most interesting papers I ever wrote for college came out of being asked to write about a comedy routine by Lenny Bruce. The piece looked at things that one thinks of as Jewish or goyish - so rye bread is Jewish, white bread is goyish, etc. (There are links to this routine online but since some of it is a bit raunchy I'm not linking.) For my paper, I compared this routine to Adam Sandler's Chanukah song. (Side note: the "new" live version that they play on the radio was recorded at Brandeis while I was a student there!) I lost the paper when my computer crashed, so here's the basic idea (and yes, I turned this into a 3 page paper):

The earlier comedy routine is looking at Jewish identity through qualities. There are certain people, items, foods, ideas that are "Jewish." There's just something about them - and same for things that are "goyish."

Adam Sandler looks at Jewish identity as something you are born with. In fact, part of the fun of the song is being surprised to hear that someone is Jewish because you never would have guessed. There's also the idea of being proud that someone famous is Jewish, or glad that people in the news that you hate are not.

Something that has bothered me a lot recently is people who don't feel good about meeting someone Jewish. Here's what I mean: when I started my previous job, I was introduced to someone with a Jewish last name. I thought, "Cool, she's Jewish!" Or when you see an Orthodox family at Disneyland or on the same plane flight. Or you're watching TV and a character is Jewish. There's just a certain feeling you should get of "That's my fellow Jew." I think that innate feeling is an essential part of the mitzvah to love your fellow Jew.

What frustrates me is people who, upon seeing other Jews, immediately label why the person is different from them. And usually, along with this, they only feel positively if the person is in their "group." Otherwise they actually feel negatively toward the person without even knowing anything about them. And when it comes to celebrities, they are more interested in pointing out why they are horrible people than in feeling any connection to them at all as a Jewish person.

P.S. The latest post from Orthonomics looks at people labelling retirement as "goyish."

Monday, December 10, 2007


The real history of Chanukah is something that I have been very interested in since I first read about these ideas last year.

Two nice articles from

Unsung Heroes

Glass of Gratitude

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Success Story about Being Proactive

I just read this inspiring post at Ask a Manager.

I think the message can apply to both job situations and life in general. If you feel you are being treated with disrespect, especially in a situation when you know you have given 110%, you need to speak up - and then if your concerns are dismissed (as was the case for this person), you need to proactively make changes.

Note that the boss was very unhappy when she quit, and tried to confuse her and talk her out of it, but without offering any solutions to her concerns. She took the right approach to ignore everything that was said instead of engaging in a fruitless conversation or giving in. She did all this is a respectful manner, with no yelling or storming out of the office - just calmly stating that things were going to change, and that if her boss and company were not participating in making that change happen, she would no longer be giving them her energy and effort - she would spend that energy and effort where it was appreciated and adequately compensated.