Monday, August 20, 2012

Yet Another

It is a common occurrence that an individual believes that he is somehow lacking in his area of expertise. Though is he fully committed to the pursuit of success (he is not a dilettante, someone with an amateurish and superficial interest in a topic) he has a phobia that he is really inadequate. In fact, this attitude only assists in one's success. Studies have shown that successful people tend to think that they are somehow inferior, thus motivating them to try harder. Since they are (in reality) in fact equal in competence and ability, this extra dose of motivation pushes them over the edge. Many people think that it is exigent (urgent) to take care of inferior self images, as though it is a mental illness and can handicap them. I would posit that in some sense it is beneficial to believe that one is lacking for this is an effective motivator. However, both people with much self confidence and those severely lacking tend to be voluble (talkative). I wonder why. I would grovel at the knee of a psychologist if he would be able to assist me in understanding these areas. As I sit here, I am filled with vim, though my grandfather is tired. Is it an effrontery to talk honestly about one's family? Is there a moral obligation to one's family more than other human beings? My intent is not to abase family members, rather simply to understand the crucial ethical components of life. These remarks seems acidulous; that I am cold and stolid. However, the accretion of question can buildup and cause frustration. Someone recently told me about the position of Peter Singer that one has no more an obligation to his family than to any other human being. But check out what was written in the New Yorker:
"When Singer's mother became too ill to live alone, Singer and his sister hired a team of home health-care aides to look after her. Singer's mother has lost her ability to reason, to be a person, as he defines the term. So I asked him how a man who has written that we ought to do what is morally right without regard to proximity or family relationships could possibly spend tens of thousands of dollars a year on private care for his mother. He replied that it was "probably not the best use you could make of my money. That is true. But it does provide employment for a number of people who find something worthwhile in what they're doing.''
Sometimes, I may wish for analgesia. To be able to be awake is the moment of living. Sleeping is the closest we get to death, so extra sleep is comparable to suicide. Why do we view smoking as terrible? It diminishes lifespan. So does sleep. Can we not husband our living hours economically? Though this would lead me to believe that to spend time gamboling in the park or swimming on the beech should have the same taboo! From the moment of conception throughout the period of gestation to death, we have a mission, a goal, a responsibility. These ideas all have fetid smells. They reek of western ethics and pragmatism. I don’t care. I have debt on life, and I will amortize this with essays.   

Friday, July 27, 2012

Part Four

I feel challenged. There are simply too many words to memorize. And that is merely the first step. But I must start with a word like abstemious, which means moderate in appetite. I guess this would have to do with a diet. The lack of food would be painful. I would speculate that an anodyne, something that sooths pain, would not be effective to combat hunger pains. It may very well be that there is a collusion of sorts, a conspiracy, by all the doctors to make a ton of money on dieting programs. But bear in mind that most people use dilatory measures, they intend to delay, and thus postpone their dieting to later dates. Ah, here is a word I am having difficulty with. Diffident, which means lacking self confidence, is sort of ironic since perhaps if I had some more diffidence, or self confidence, I would be able to remember this crazy word. This yet but a droll, an amusing in a wry and subtle way, of a paragraph, but it is still crucial to read and write. One thing I am certain, there will be no deleterious effects of writing this. It is merely enhancing my vocabulary. Diaphanous, is another weird one. It means to allow light into something, or to be delicate. I have no clue why this means either of these but suffice it to say that the window to my right is allowing the same sun (is diaphanous) that is shining through your window on the other side of the world. Pretty cool. And the sun cannot be fake; it cannot be ersatz. Go figure. Most naturally occurring phenomenon cannot be replicated. Or we would make another big bang. Cool. What is still funny is that I constantly am bothered by the complex that I am I bit furtive in this blog. I am secret and wish to remain so, though the pangs of guilt constantly badger me. I do not wish to pursue guile, nor deceit, but simply study for this test. And I shall do well. I don't have a history of hapless efforts, one's that are totally unlucky or unfortunate. I am indolent, lazy, and enjoy remaining idle. Thought the feeling after studying for hours is much better than the feeling after watching a marathon of TV shows. I will impugn the motives of entertainers and athletes who wish to distract us from the important things in life and have us focus on trivial things. I, like so many others, are intransigent in my beliefs. I am unwavering and uncompromising.

I have wished to be an itinerant my whole life, roaming from place to place. However, I feel that the future holds myself giving largess to others, the generous offering of money to inferiors and focus more on them than myself. Life is an onerous task, burdensome and troublesome, to those who make it be that way. For most, there is no choice, they are presented the reality, not given the chance to choose. Now for the pith of the complex, the main and central point. Life can end at any moment. Yet we all approach it with a phlegmatic attitude, the calm and unemotional grace of waking ever morn should invigorate and encourage. Yet we continue with our perfunctory smiles and hellos, not enjoying the company of others. I applaud that man is not pusillanimous, not a coward and does not lack courage. But facing reality does not mean cowardice, but rather pragmatic realizations.

I claim not to be a the prescient one, to know the future and other events. But I wish to be filled with probity, and thus demand honest and integrity. The one thing I know about the future is that I have no clue what the major event will be. What is destined for humanity is something which retrospect shows that foresight is elusive. Which profligate politician shall be raised from deprecation and who will be lowered into the abyss. Who will live and who will die. Who by fire, who by sword. Who by famine, who by wild beast. The pungent smell of the aftermath of burning tires shall dissipate and the aroma of fire of the unity of the Olympic flame shall rouse everyone. Quotidian and commonplace concerns should be replaced with the grandiose vision that will erupt and glow before all.

Man will grow restive, uneasy and impatient, with the petty concerns of life and focus on others. The reticent man's actions will speak volumes, the raconteur will tell tales of goodness. Above the stentorian cacophony of tears will rise the laughs and shouts of jubilant joy. Seditious way, of rebellion will fall aside and be replaced with loyalty. The surfeit of nourishment now in the warehouses of wealthy farmers will be disbursed willing to the malnourished. The sycophant will now pursue admirable pursuits, those in sinecure positions, the well paid but poorly worked will be rejuvenated and emboldened. Everyone will be in a salubrious state and the healthy will reign. Let the present hell be but transitory, with goodness everlasting.
I recognize the turgid prose of mediocrity are offensive, but for those who are vexed by this, the sun is rising beyond the horizon.         

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Iran is a Problem

There are moments in life which are so revealing. They shed light unto unbeknown nuances, realities, and frailties.
I read about Iran. I am scared. I am nervous. I am in terror. I fear the safety of relatives and friends. I fear the welfare of Israeli soldiers; of innocent women and children. I am filled with horror when I hear the rhetoric of Iranian leaders.
But then I take a step back.
I talk. I theorize. I argue and a pontificate. Should we attack or not. Should we wait or not. Should we pursue espionage or sanctions, offensive or appeasement.
But then I take a step back.
Do we have the ear of Israeli politicians? Are military strategists waiting to listen to our sagacious advice? Are our conversations constructive?    
The maturation process entails realizing that you are not in control of everything in the world. Realizing that everything is not about you. It is the acknowledgment that man is limited. What is there for man to do but pray and hope for the best.   

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Lure of Literature

For the benefits of being an objective observer, I will not reveal who I am. But suffice it to say I have read a wide range of religious and secular literature and here are my musings.
There are several issues that arise while reading any texts that may seem to conflict with traditional Jewish values.
A)        The explicit and implicit sexual references.
B)        Behaviors and words that are base and inappropriate (i.e. sadism and swear words).
C)        Ideas that run contrary to basic Jewish beliefs.
I will try to dissect each reason and ascertain whether they are legitimate concerns.

When one argues the perils secular of literature one of the first problems raised is "the explicit and implicit sexual references". What exactly is the problem? Most probably the advocate will note that reading these sort of fantasies and scenes will cause the casual reader to start having forming images in his mind which are deemed forbidden. This is a valid argument that one cannot avoid. It would be audacious to think that one can read "Fifty Shades of Gray" and not picture in his mind these debased scenes. However, it is important to note that the mere mention of certain anatomical areas of a male or female does not categorically bar the permissibility to read. Is there not an entire tractate in the Bavli which discusses the rules of a Menstruant? Is not the Song of Songs replete with references to passion, love, and romance? It is clear that the issue is not the mere mention which is problematic, but rather the author's goal to elicit sexual arousing feelings which exclude the reading of a book. Therefore, a distinction should be made between reading a James Patterson mass fiction novel (which is probably a problem) and a Herman Wouk masterpiece.

I now turn to the second reason "behaviors and words that are base and inappropriate (i.e. sadism and swear words)". This is usually more applicable to what we allow our children to read. Simply put, the more one is exposed to violence and decadence the more one becomes desensitized to its horrors. While the mature adult will be able to discern evil from good, the younger reader is vulnerable to become accustomed, and even tolerant, to depravity. Additionally, exposure affects the viewer/ reader. We may want to deny this, but it is clear that the more one reads literature filled with curse words and degeneracy the more the reader themselves adopts these practices. Therefore, a distinction should be made between reading Shalom Auslander (which is probably a problem) and reading a Holocaust memoir (filled with violence but productive).

The final reason is most taboo. To actually mention that something might be a problem because of the ideas and values it contains runs contrary to most truths we hold to be self evident. But how can one justify reading Atlas Shrugged or the Fountainhead? Are they to say that this is in line with traditional Jewish values? Can one claim that Infinite Jest would fall within the values of the mosaic tradition? Is possible to claim innocence after reading a Christopher Hitchens diatribe or a Richard Dawkins or a Sam Harris…. The list goes on!

The written word is a powerful tool, one that should be reckoned with and utilized. But one must remain loyal to traditional values and be honest with themselves. Or at least try.   

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Marketplace for Membership

A reaction to this interesting piece in the Forward

It is clear that the problem of synagogue membership is not one of religion but rather of economics. Meaning, from the perspective of Judaism, it is insignificant that most people are not members of synagogues. What is troublesome is that they do not attend synagogues. If the goal of the proposed solution is simply to make synagogue membership more affordable and therefore increase membership, it is a worthy economic endeavor but fails to address the real problem; the waning attendance and participation in synagogue events.

I guess the argument is that if we create a more competitive environment for membership dues, the product/ attractiveness of the synagogue will have to develop and enhance. But is there not already a competitive spirit? Is not every synagogue vying for the membership dues? I am not a maven in economic trends, but why would there be an increase in competition if there is one of small increments as opposed to an all or nothing system?

A compelling argument can be made that the entire institution of the synagogue is now void. The formality and lack of spirituality is not attractive to the average American Jew. The gigantic buildings centers do not cater to the modern age. Perhaps we should do away with the conventional structure of the synagogue and make it more online, more interactive, and more meaningful. Most seem to view the value of the synagogue as axiomatic and therefore must find ways to sustain them. Can't we look at things in a new perspective? If religious values and commitment has not waned but rather the synagogue attendance, maybe efforts to rejuvenate it are futile. Remember, Judaism is not about synagogue but about God.

Most social trends are intractable, difficult to control and manipulate. There are always new movements, new ideas, and new incendiaries (arousing strife and rebellion). I am not accusing anyone of being mendacious (lying and habitually dishonest). I just want a new perspective.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Less talking; More doing!

I worry that these words will be offensive. I worry that the contents of this essay will be misconstrued and misinterpreted. I worry that people will scoff, mock, and ridicule these attempts. But too many have worried and not enough has been done.
Change is not an easy and comfortable endeavor; but the time has come and it is now. Catalysts for social movements are not individuals who are nice and gentle; Ben Gurion was not nice, Lyndon B. Johnson was not nice, Churchill was not nice. Even the great torah "movers and shakers" were not known to be the pleasant type. Rabbis Kotler, Shach, and Yosef had their fair share of fights. Perhaps, pleasantness and amiability displace courage and ambition, and the only way around this it to avoid one or the other. I choose the latter.
In basic economics, one ascertains the assorted uses that one can obtain from an object and attempts to receive the most utility he can. In an economical perspective, do people use their time wisely? Who has decided that writing blogs about social issues is more important than collecting money for the poor? Who decided that reading academic journals and intellectual publications override the responsibilities to a community? For every several dollars we spend on a book and newspaper, we could have helped another child dying of starvation? Are we really so selfish? Can we fathom, can we understand and penetrate the meaning, of the cries of pain across the globe?
                        Please, someone tell me, that this logic has some fallacy. Albeit true that our first obligation is to ourselves; are our secondary and tertiary interests more important than another's primary? We create a fanciful value system in which we place intellectual pursuits on a lofty plane, and yet as we scour obscure academic sources the pangs of hunger resound in silence. We justify our pursuit as the path of the divine, yet the road of humanity lies flagging.
                        I agree, it is a bit gauche, a bit tactless and lack social grace, to admonish the very life and behavior I display. But since when does hypocrisy negate truth, fault negate merit. I am attempting to foment, incite, and stir up, a movement of "do gooders", an attitude in which reading sophisticated books, writing rigorous prose, and theorizing about the existential matters do not trump the basic needs of humanity.  
                        This does not mean living frugal, thrifty, and inexpensive. This does not mean to impede, hold back or obstruct, the pursuit of desirable pleasure. It does mean that inasmuch as one has this altruistic desire to do what is right, to improve oneself, and his relationship to G-d, the focus should not be on self development but rather the needy. It is not my wish to implicate anyone; if anything, the desire for social change is evidenced throughout much writings and arguments. It is merely a wish that we focus our efforts to the more practical as opposed to the theoretical.
                        We talk about whether yeshiva students should go to the army.  It is an important and critical juncture of our history. But so it the lonely widow down the street. Should we not focus on issues more germane, more relevant and appropriate! We sit and attempt to foreshadow the future of Iran, to suggest beforehand election results and Supreme Court decisions, while the poor go hungry and the depressed remain despondent. But is not the future of world Jewry of most intense concern, the vitality of Israel our focus? It is; but, really, really, how does all the talk and conversation affect the results.                 

For the sin which we have committed....

"I can forgive you for killing my sons, but I cannot forgive you for forcing me to kill your sons"

I can forgive those writers whose passions lead them astray, yet I cannot forgive them lowering me into this hellish abyss. But yet, she fought the war in 1973 as a valiant leader and courageous tactician. And I, with the help of the almighty, will attempt to salvage the remnants of sanity, of honesty, and of truth.

I know, we all know, that those who dare gainsay the mighty Harry, those who audaciously oppose and deny the wisdom of Gil and now David, are of course men of limited scope and perception. We are naïve and foolish. We are uneducated and primitive.

For the sin which we have committed before You for giving safe haven for child molesters.

For we care less about our children. For we value adult dignity over the youth's. We harbor and find refuge for these perpetrators because our Rabbis tell us to. We watch movies against the Rabbis wishes, go places against the Rabbis wishes, read blogs (yes we do) against the Rabbis wishes, yet we forgo the welfare of our children to obey their wishes. Maybe, perhaps, possibly, here their wishes make sense. Perhaps, maybe, possibly, we should think twice before destroying an individual's reputation. Maybe.

For the sin which we have committed before You for not attending the heterogeneous Siyum Hashas
For they backed out of the event in Shearith Israel because they don't speak at modern orthodox events. For they believe that the modern orthodox is heretical and anyone involved "Can no longer trust their Kashrus? …or drink from their wine? …or intermarry with them without a Yichus check? …or accept their children into our schools? …or even allow our children to play with theirs?" ( Are you kidding? Did Rabbi Scherman not write in publication together with Dr. Marc Shapiro and Rabbi Adam Mintz ( Did Rabbi Weinreb not defend the poster boy of modern day heretical accusations, Rabbi Natan Slifkin? Perhaps Rabbis Weinreb and Scherman were misled or given misinformation? Maybe.

For the sin which we have committed before You for having fidelity to the irrational observances
For keeping קטניות, and for wearing black hats. For not cutting children's hair before three and not keeping our TV's on for shabbos. For "because of our traditions, we've kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything... how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl... This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I'll tell you - I don't know. But it's a tradition... Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do." Maybe, perhaps, possibly, this is what has fortified our continuity, invigorated the future with connections to the past, and encouraged the weary that they are living something greater than they perceive. Maybe.

For the sin which we have committed before You for becoming accustomed to modernity in gradations
For not having a live twitter feed of the Rosh Yeshiva's every move, where he is eating dinner, and with whom. For not liking on Facebook the most recent Billboards #1 hit, and, possibly never having heard it. For not attending the Metropolitan Opera ( or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Perhaps we prefer to shelter our children from promiscuity, maybe avoid seeing things we shouldn't see or hear things we shouldn't hear. Maybe we worry that though modernity has value, it "comes in a package that includes Yahoo!, The Matrix and MTV. In most cases, it’s the latter set, and not the former, which most compellingly attracts attention."( Maybe.

For the sin which we have committed before You for making Torah learning so hackneyed
For not spending hours in undergrad courses in pursuit of an education. For mass producing thoughtless zombies who live in Lakewood and Jerusalem and spend all day muttering unintelligible phrases. For focusing on torah study at the expense of the soul of Judaism and wasting time on "lomdus" at the expense of practical Halakhah. Perhaps, we believe that we must "orient ourselves to the entire cosmos and try to understand it by utilizing an ideal world which we bear in our Halakhic consciousness…. We are not aggrieved by the fact that many ideal constructions have never been and will never be actualized… that the foundation of foundations and the pillar of Halakhic thought is not the practical ruling but the determination of the theoretical." (Halakhic Man pgs. 23 -24). Maybe we understand the words והגית בו ימים ולילה and the statements of the Rabbis "תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם" literally. Maybe.

For the sin which we have committed before You for not being gregarious in mixed gender settings
For referring to others' wives as Mrs. and not by their first name. For feeling uncomfortable at mixed kiddushim. For not seating singles together at weddings as they used to meet in the good old days. For building this terrible shidduch system which stereotypes and impedes, obstructs, and holds back, true relationships to flourish. Can it be that there is less inappropriate behavior in my community? Can there that there is less infidelity, less premarital sex, that Touro would never have a Beacon article? Maybe it is feasible, possible or logical, to have a normative relationship with a spouse, a loving and caring relationship, although they may have met through a shadchan. Maybe.

For all these, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us.