Monday, March 29, 2010

Overheard During Last-Minute Pesach-Prep Frenzy

Exclaimed by my slightly exasperated mother, shouted from the kitchen while we were busy setting the tables for our Seder in an adjacent room:

"One of y'all better be married by next Pesach!"

To which a younger sibling (also of potentially marriageable age) replied loudly:


Kein Yehi Ratzon...

Have A Chag Kasher V'Sameach!

If anyone has yet to hear Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' shiur titled "A Seder Night That Changed History" - and still has time to invest in listening to shiurim today - don't pass up the chance! It puts a whole new perspective on the story from the haggadah about the chachomim staying up all night in Bnei Brak.

I hope everyone has a Chag Kasher V'Seameach (and/or Gut Yontif) and enjoys the time spent with family in friends during the sedarim (or seder for those residing in Israel).

Catching Some Zzz... Or Not

Ah, the comforts of being back in my own room! I’ve only just begun the Pesach break and I already feel spoiled compared to my dorm conditions at YU. In particular, I am really enjoying having my own room again. I have always found the necessity of sharing living space to be a bit of a challenge, especially since I grew up as the sole inhabitant of my bedroom for the first 18 years of my life before I shipped out for my Yeshiva in Israel.

I’ve already written a rather extensive post about what can be learned from the experience of having roommates of all different sorts, so please read that if you haven’t seen it already.

Anyway, the sudden presence of serenity, silence, and proper darkness (I’m a little sensitive to light) while sleeping in my own bed – undisturbed by the potential commotions, however slight, caused by a roommate – has gotten me thinking. How do people (male and female) handle this transition of sleeping in the presence/along with another person when married?

For those readers who may have their minds located in the nearest sewage canal, I’m literally talking about sleeping, and not the more intimate side of the married relationship.

One particular former roommate was a very light sleeper (as I mention in the earlier post), and was actually woken up by the mere action of me rolling over (I’m a side-sleeper). I always wondered what would happen to him when he got married, and presumed that the dictum of chazal that say “ishto k’gufo” – “a wife is like his own body” would apply. Hence any potential disturbance caused by future wife would be negated by her united marital status with him, and whatever action/sound she might produce would be as though he himself were the source and thus ignored.

I actually had the chutzpah to ask him about this in a nonchalant fashion not too long ago (he’s been married for over a year now) and he answered that my theory was correct!

As a caveat, and based on my reputation as a man of empirical evidence in regard to such matters, I won’t guarantee similar results for everyone.

One issue that has consistently bothered me, though it has only manifested itself more recently than in years past, is snoring.

I simply can’t stand the sound of someone snoring in my near vicinity when I’m trying to sleep, regardless of the intensity and decibel level of their noise production. I’ve tried earplugs, which either work too well and make me miss my alarm in the morning, or don’t work well enough and my alarm wakes me up, but I can still detect the snoring.

Ladies take note, I have discovered through my own experiences (and via the testimony of some of my friends’ mother’s/aunts) that larger or heavier men tend to snore as a given. It seems the Wikipedia entry corroborates my observation since “Fat gathering in and around the throat” is a cause while one treatment is “to lose weight (to stop fat from pressing on the throat).” One remedy that is much more easily attained is simply to stop sleeping on one’s back – which Chazal/halacha proscribes for men based on other reasons (v’hamayvin yavin). One roommate in Israel, who happened to be a little heavy, would cease snoring after I prodded and beckoned him enough to simply “roll over” onto his side.

However, from the complaints I’ve heard from married women, it seems that men who snore aren’t cured quite so easily. One aunt, who was visiting for a bit, grumbled that she had gotten no sleep the previous night because she forgot her earplugs back home, and my uncle’s snoring nearly shook the walls of their bedroom.

On the other hand, slender guys (a variety which I belong to) seem to have very little tendency to snore. I’ve shared rooms with three, four, and five guys who are within a healthy weight range for their height, and I cannot recall any of them sounding like a hacksaw during the night. That doesn’t rule out the possibility, because there could be other anatomical deviations that create unwanted sound.

Take note any female readers who may intend to date/marry me: I don’t snore, and I have former roommates who can testify to this fact. Not that I ever expect to get a date from this gig, I just had to mention that for the record.

Anyway, I tend to wonder for my own future sleep prognosis – do girls snore, (the Wikipedia article seems to indicate some do), and in general, do people (guys or girls) try to find out this little tidbit of information about the people they date? I’ve honestly had a large degree of difficulty coping with snoring roommates – to the point of sleep deprivation that has negatively impacted on my learning and secular studies in a major fashion. I would really hate to marry a wonderful woman and discover, to my abject horror that I will have to employ earplugs for the entirety of my married life (which will hopefully be the rest of my life).

A related issue is the tendency for some people to flail their limbs while sleeping, which could be quite disturbing for someone sharing the same sleeping space. Interestingly enough, the BBC published an article last year that mentions the historical reality that married couples never used to sleep in the same bed, and that sleeping in separate beds (which is part of our halachic married reality) is actually healthier for both parties involved. As romantic as the idea is of falling asleep in your beloved’s arms, I really wonder how comfortable this arrangement can be.

Any comments, readers?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Official Maccabeats Music Video For "One Day."

I have to say these guys are unbelievably talented! The concert was amazing, and the album is equally fantastic! If you haven't bought it yet, make sure you get a copy in time for Sefira!

Since I'm on Pesach break now, expect more posts soon (maybe one later tonight).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks' Shiurim Are Online!

I totally got it right: they waited until the week was over to post the recordings.

First, his fantastic acceptance speech for the Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm Prize - titled "The Synthesis of Torah and Chochma."

Next, to get you in the mood for Pesach: "A Seder Night That Changed History."

Enjoy listening to these wonderfully engaging, entertaining, and enlightening shiurim!

In addition, Happy Medium has been gracious enough to fill us in on the part of the recent Rabbi Sacks Shabbaton at Stern that I left out of my own summary (since I was focusing on the Chief specifically) - the Q & A session with Lady Elaine Sacks and Dr. Esther Joel. Make sure to check it out as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Maccabeats Album Release Concert!

A quick public service announcement:

Join the Yeshiva University Maccabeats in Lamport Auditorium for a

FREE CONCERT celebrating the release of their debut album:

"Voices from the Heights."

***Be the first to buy their new CD!***

The concert starts at 10:15 pm on Tuesday, March 23rd

(Buses from Beren will be available)

FOOD will be served!

This concert is tomorrow night/tonight (depending on when you're reading this. I've had the privilege of getting a sneak preview of the album - it's FANTASTIC and will definitely be the #1 A Cappella CD this upcoming Sefiras HaOmer. Don't miss out on this great event - the concert is free, and I think the album will be slightly discounted (but don't hold me to that if it isn't).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Why Can't America Have A Chief Rabbi This Cool!?

For those who aren't in the know, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Lord Jonathan Sacks and his wife, Lady Elaine, have been visiting YU all week. On Tuesday he received the first-ever Lamm Prize, which is a new award that YU will be giving out to those outstanding individuals who represent the hashkafic values of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm and Yeshiva University (think outstanding Torah Umadda personality). If anyone deserved to be the first recipient, it is the Chief Rabbi.

The Chief (as my British friends from yeshiva call him) gave an outstanding acceptance speech on Tuesday night. While the recording has not yet been made available on yet, (though you can a handful of other shiurim by him here), Chana at The Curious Jew has a great, near-complete transcript. Make sure you hear the recorded version, whenever that gets posted. I imagine that they're waiting until after tomorrow's Kollel Yom Rishon lecture to post all his shiurim he gave this week.

I also was lucky enough to attend the Rabbi Sacks Bonanza Shabbaton at Stern on Friday/Shabbos, where I was priviledged to hear many more fascinating, inspiring words from the Chief Rabbi.

As a side note, before anyone starts criticizing me for going to a shabbaton on the women's campus - I did NOT go to meet girls, and am in fact "busy" as they say. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I couldn't pass up, and I am quite glad I went.

Before davening Friday night, Rabbi Sacks asked (repeated and broadcast by President Joel) to make sure the davening was lively. The five Maccabeats (don't forget their free concert/album release party this upcoming Tuesday!) on hand definitely delivered with a very rousing Carlebach-style Kabbalos Shabbos. It was an amazing sight to see Rabbi Sacks grab the hands of the few guys standing nearest him and start dancing up and down the aisle of the theater (the shul is the Stern theater where they have their play and where the annual Battle of the Bands takes place). He's definitely a very cool guy, if I may say so.

I can't possibly repeat everything that Rabbi Sacks said over Shabbos, so a few short snippets will have to suffice.

Shabbos night after dinner, Rabbi Sacks had an "informal conversation" with President Richard Joel, which consisted of a set of predetermined questions, which were embellished a little by President Joel in humorous ways.

When asked in he always intended to be a Chief Rabbi and a lord, Rabbi Sacks replied that he actually had no intention to be a rabbi at all. He initially wanted to be a professor of economics, a tenured fellow at his university (Cambridge), or a barrister, and only began officially learning for rabbanus at 25. However, as it turns out, he has been able to achieve each of those goals despite his choice of profession and appointment as Chief Rabbi. Cambridge made him an honorary professor (and he has lectured in economics), and he was also made an honorary barrister and has lectured in the English courts.

Rabbi Sacks then quoted a line from one of his books (he didn't mention the title, and I'm going to paraphrase at any rate) that spoke about how G-d has a specific role/job in mind for every person in life. How do we know that we've found our tachlis in life? "When your passion coincides with a task that needs to be done" - and that combination lets you fulfill a necessary, personally meaningful role in the world.

As for becoming a lord, he said that was up to the decision of someone higher up, and not something you can aspire toward.

When asked how he met his wife, Rabbi Sacks replied that he and a friend had seen his future wife and another young woman while they were in university, approached them and invited them for dinner (which he prepared) back at their apartment.

At this point, President Joel interrupted Rabbi Sacks and asked him if he meant to say he was introduced by a shadchan. Rabbi Sacks said that this was before shadchanim arrived in Cambridge - "back when the world was sane." That comment drew a huge applause from the Stern students (and presumably some of the YU guys as well) in the crowd.

When asked how he knew Lady Elaine was going to be his wife, Rabbi Sacks said he knew because the woman who could eat the chicken that he prepared must have been one he'd spend the rest of his life with (that drew some laughs from the crowd).

Another side note: Rabbi Sacks mentioned that he and Lady Elaine would be celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary this year!

Rabbi Sacks remarked that we can never know what impact we have in our lifetime - since we aren't around to read our own complete biography. He told us about his experience sitting shiva for his father, and how seemingly random people came from near and far to visit him and his brothers to tell them stories of kidnesses their father had performed 50-60 years ago. Despite his impression that his father had been a fairly unsuccessful schmatta seller in England's equivalent of the Lower East Side, these acts of chesed stuck in these visitor's minds for over half a century. Rabbi Sacks wondered to himself why these people couldn't have told his father how much gratitude they had for him during his lifetime! Then he realized that such is the way of life - you simply can't know the extent of the good that you have done, even how much the little things matter, while you're alive. As such, we should never underestimate any little thing we do, and always consider every act and opportunity to help someone out with the greatest importance. You never know what might come of it.

On Shabbos day Rabbi Sacks gave the drasha after davening. He started off be saying this was a Pesach thought that we could take with us to use on the upcoming Yom Tov. A number of years ago when he and his wife were visiting a community in Hong Kong, they returned to their hotel after a long day and turned on the TV. They happened to be watching a show on the Discovery Channel about the palaces built during the era of Ramses II in Pi-Ramesses (IE Pisom and Ramses from Shemos). Rabbi Sacks was fascinated by the descriptions the narrator gave of the near-pristine condition of these vast, impressive structures.

After a few minutes, he stopped himself and thought: who built these anyway? Bnei Yisrael! Ramses II was supposedly the Pharoah during the Exodus. He imagined himself going back to that time 3300 years ago and introducing himself to Ramses the Great. He would say that he was a visitor from the distant future and wanted to share with him some good and bad news. The good news was that a certain people that exist now will still be well known the world over 33 centuries in the future. The bad news: it's those slaves that are working away constructing his magnificent monuments.

Rabbi Sacks went on to explain that the story of Yetzias Mitzayim does not relate just to Bnei Yisrael, but rather all of humanity, with Bnei Yisrael as the crowning jewel. He referenced the fact Martin Luther King Jr. referenced Moshe Rabbeinu's final speech to Bnei Yisrael in what was (tragically) his own final speech, regarding having seen the promised land, etc. It goes to show the influence that we've had across the people of the world, including spawning two other monotheistic religions. There is no doubt (and he spoke about this a bit more at Shalosh Seudos as well) that the Jewish people have been the inspiration and cause for so many world changing movements - it's impossible to deny the central significance of our existence.

At Shalosh Seudos Rabbi Sacks told us two amazing stories, both seemingly minor, but extremely impactful private moments from his career as as Chief Rabbi. He told us how Natan Sharansky once called him up on a Friday, asking for Rabbi Sacks to arrange a meeting between him and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams the following Sunday. Despite the difficulties of setting up a meeting on such short notice (Rabbi Sacks joked that this was an example of Israeli bitachon), that Sunday is the Archbishop's shabbos, it was the busiest Sunday ever for the Archbishop (the scandal of the orgination of a gay bishop in America had just taken place), the Archbishop agreed after a quick phone call.

Instead of discussing politics, Rabbi Sacks suggested that Sharansky talk about his little volume of Tehillim that he, as a secular Jew, had smuggled into prison at the suggestion of his wife when he was incarcerated by the Russian government. Rabbi Sacks said that his wife new that the little Tehillim "had some power to it," hence her suggestion. Unfortunately, the prison guards realized this as well and promptly confiscated it. After three years of protesting for its return, he received his little Tehillim back. However, Sharansky didn't know Hebrew. He was, however, a brilliant mathemetician and chess genius, so he treated Hebrew as a code to decifer, and slowly began to figure out what words and phrases meant.

Eventually, he taught himself enough to be able to read and understand a full sentence, which made him feel as though G-d Himself were speaking directly to him. The first sentence that Natan Sharansky understood was Tehillin 23:4 (from Mizmor L'David, which we sang right afterward) - "Gam ki elech bigei tzalmaves, lo irah ra ki ata imadi" - "though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I fear no evil, because You are with me." This was the story that Natan Sharansky shared with the Archbishop. Rabbi Sacks marvelled at how this basically secular Jew was teaching a lesson in faith to the Archbishop of Canterbury!

The second story was from 1995 when he was part of the official British delegation to the funeral of the late Yitzchak Rabin. Flying back on the plane in the ambassador section was Rabbi Sacks, then Prime Minister John Major, soon-to-be-the-next Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Prince Charles. Rabbi Sacks was supposed to sit next to Tony Blair (I think) but instead switched seats so that he could sit next to John Major - since the two political rivals had never shared such close quarters before. The seating was 2 pairs facing on another and another pair on the ends facing inward - so Rabbi Sacks was now sitting on the end, facing Prince Charles, and learning the weekly parsha from a mikraos gedolos.

Tony Blair noticed the sefer and asked him what it was, and remarked that he was fascinated by the format of the page layout - he had never seen a book with all sorts of different sections on a single page like that (not even the annotated Shakespeare which has 4 'perushim,' Rabbi Sacks joked). After explaining what it was and who all the commentators were, Tony Blair asked him (from the perspective of a good Christian) why is it that our book (the "Old Testament") is so much more interesting than their book (the "New Testament"). Rabbi Sacks replied it was because there is much more politics in ours (haha). Blair then requested that Rabbi Sacks teach them all something from what he was learning, and he proceeded to do so. Prince Charles rose from his seat and stood in the aisle for an hour listening to the impromptu shiur!

Rabbi Sacks was amazed at the power and influence that Jews have in the world, and quietly said to himself after he concluded: "Va'adabeira v'eidosecha neged malachim, v'lo eivosh" - "I will speak of Your testimonies before kings and not be ashamed" (Tehillim 119:46). He proceeded to tell us that we must be proud of who we are as frum Jews. In living our lives as examples of the Torah-observant lifestyle, we can truly influence the world at large.

As an interesting side-note, Rabbi Sacks also mentioned to Prince Charles that he was the first member of the royal family to visit Israel in an official capacity. Charle's father has visited the grave of Charle's paternal grandmother several times - she was a Greek Orthodox Christian who saved a number of Jews during the holocaust, and thus merited a special burial in Yerushalayim. So while they had been to her grave in the past, that was private and unrelated to their official position.

Anyway, it was such a pleasure to be around Rabbi Sacks and hear words of Torah from him. I greatly encourage anyone who has the opportunity to go to the Kollel Yom Rishon tomorrow (you'll need to register here) starting at 9:30 AM. Rabbi Sacks will actually be speaking at 10:30 AM on the topic of "A Seder Night That Changed History." I'm sure it will be fascinating!

Have a great week!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Awkward Dating Moment #1

I’ve seen other bloggers write posts on awkward moments that occur during dates, so I won’t try to replicate and explicate on what has already been said. I also don’t think I can write anything comprehensive enough to cover the gamut of embarrassing, gauche moments that crop up from time to time while out on the town with your young lady/man companion. Instead, I will post short snippets of specific events that I have experienced or heard about from friends. I hope to cover topics that have not been mentioned before, but there may be some retreading of issues discussed elsewhere.

So consider this a new “feature” or “series” if you will.

Anyway, onto Awkward Dating Moment (ADM) #1: Walking into the turnstile in the subway.

Picture this: the guy has met his date and they are heading to the subway to travel to the previously determined activity/location. When they reach the turnstile, the guy can either:

a) swipe his card and go through first, then pass the card back for his date to swipe.


b) he could swipe for her, let her proceed through, and then swipe for himself.

In either situation, imagine the impossible happening: the guy attempts to pass through the turnstile, having inconveniently forgotten to swipe the card, which may or may not be in his hand at that moment. So instead of gracefully passing through to join his date on the other side, or quickly entering the subway and handing his card back to her to swipe, he repeatedly and unsuccessfully bangs into the non-moving turnstile.

Clunk. Clunk. Clunk.

Eventually he figures out the dilemma himself through some miracle/revelation, or he gets the hint from the angry mutterings of other subway goers behind him. Once clued in, he sheepishly corrects his mistake and the date continues on.

I have done this once or twice. For some reason it seems most likely to occur when I have just refilled my metro card moments before, after which I accidentally tucked it back in my wallet with my credit card, which was then returned to my pocket. I have also bumped into the turnstile while literally holding the metro card, but that, thankfully, wasn’t on a date. Not once has my date pointed out my error to me while I’m actively embarrassing myself, though I will often make some self deprecating remark afterward (in spite of the fact that they are greatly discouraged). This gives me a chance to laugh at the incident and move on with the evening’s proceedings, which will hopefully provide my date with good reasons to forget my blunder.

P.S. While the recent link on Bad For Shidduchim’s blog to my newest story has generated a large increase in hits (we've passed the 10,000 mark, huzza!), my counter indicates that the vast majority (63.8%) of the “readers” spend less than 5 seconds on this blog. I find that a bit depressing, especially when the percentage of people who used to spend larger amounts of time on the blog composed the larger total of overall hits (for example, the 1 hour+ category was around 34-40%, and has now dropped to 17.3% with other categories also decreasing a lot).

This ties into another pet-peeve of mine: comments. Prior to the recent explosion of hits (thanks Bad4!) there were large numbers of people spending significant amounts of time (20 minutes or more) reading the blog. But very few seem to take the time to comment. Just to clarify, I’m definitely not looking for ego boosters of a bajillion comments that say “Ur post is da bom!” or “Great post!” But I would like to know if the things that I write make people think generate discussion of the issues I raise. I am very appreciative of those who DO comment and as questions/engage in dialogue (keep 'em coming!), I just wish more of y’all would do so.

[Edit as of 3:53 PM = ESPECIALLY the stories! How can a story get over 200 hits, mostly from being directly linked, and not a single comment!?]

In conclusion, if you have the time (and I know we’re all busy these days) please leave a comment every now and then – let’s get some meaningful discussion going. I’ll take all the constructive feedback I can get.

Have a great Shabbos!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The State Of The Union Address

After four or five dates, it is usually time to have “the conversation,” or as I like to call it, the “State of the Union Address.” By that I mean that things are going well and some sort of reciprocal liking of one another has been established (though perhaps not openly discussed). The desire to drop the shadchan/go between has risen to the forefront of each dater’s mind, with the intention of moving forward on their own mutually negotiated terms.

This is the official turning point. The relationship undergoes a transition from the touch-and-go, overwhelmingly nerve-wracking sense of the tenuous nature of a shidduch, into the firmer footing of realizing that the two people actually have a relationship on their hands. No longer do the daters have to anxiously await confirmation of their hopes (another date) or fears (rejection) in what could easily be an abrupt, and unexpected conclusion to the budding connection between the guy and girl.

True, this doesn’t create a foregone conclusion that the relationship is the one, but there is certainly a shift in focus from “do I like this person?” to “could I marry this person?” Conversation topics become more serious, and you can actually talk about things such as how you envision your future family will look like or deeper nuances of your hashkafa that may have been a little too biased/extreme (not in a bad way, just not run-of-the-mill political correctness, such as being very passionate about) that might have initially scared off the other person.

This is also the time where people begin to reveal the not so peachy-keen aspects of their past, whether that involves a personal or family-related illness/condition/crises, past conduct that may not have been so appropriate, or some not-so-perfect relationship between relatives that has impacted their lives.

For me, this has always been a test to see how well my research people did their job. Yes, I have “research people.” As a ba’al teshuva, my parents are not so intrinsically involved in checking out girls before I go out with them, since their vision of what dating means is a bit different from the social circles I travel in. So I have a friend and his wife who volunteered to help me out in this area (though I have begun more recently to make phone calls and inquiries on my own, granted that my research people are much better than I am). I will admit that they’re quite good, so I very often have little to worry about, despite a few details here and there have slipped through. At any rate, I owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude for the countless hours they’ve spent helping me in my dating process these past two years. Anyway, for more people, who are first hearing information that could potentially be a deal breaker for them, I’m usually aware of anything my date is going to say, and it’s up to me to react in a proper fashion.

When I first started dating, I made the mistake on one or two occasions of waving off significant personal revelations as being “not a big deal” – which as you can probably tell, was a BIG MISTAKE. No person who is opening herself up, voluntarily making herself vulnerable in the hopes of reaching understanding and greater mutual bonding wants to hear “Oh, I know that already.” Since then, I’ve honed my acting skills to be able to properly receive potentially unexpected information as though I’m hearing it for the first time. The person who is sharing their insecurities or negative information is looking for a caring response, not a flippant “duh.”

In general, the person on the receiving end of these revelations should be patient, upbeat (as appropriate) and non-judgmental. Even if the person is telling you something that is in actuality a legitimate red flag/deal breaker/cause for concern, there is absolutely no reason to display any of those thoughts that may be running through your head. Be quiet, listen, and respond where prompted, such as my response with the date who told me about the illness of an immediate family member. In that instance, I didn’t freak out (the fact that she told me this information on a first date wasn’t the best idea either), and instead, I relied on my background knowledge of the condition and honestly expressed an observation of how lucky their family was to have detected the condition early enough to successfully and completely treat it.

In the back of my mind, I was quite concerned, particularly since the illness could be genetically included in my then-date’s future. Thankfully, even these concerns were put to rest by a Rabbi/Doctor mentor (intro paragraph here). At any rate, that was the correct way to respond – take in all the information and fully process it later. Don’t make snap decisions and risk being insensitive/offensive to the person’s face – which is just plain rude. The time to mull things over and emote your gut reactions are after the date possibly with a dating mentor or rebbi, especially if you are very concerned about what was revealed.

One of my older friends who I turned to advice when I started dating explained this crucial moment of the State of the Union Address in terms of an adventure video games, like the Legend of Zelda series (forgive me for those who don’t know what that is, though I think the metaphor will still be understood). In this particular game, you, playing as the main character/hero often get an opportunity to explore a specific town setting, checking out the shops, talking to townspeople, dig through the nearby foliage for treasure, and in general get a pretty good general sense of what the town is about.

However, you can’t stay there forever, because the game would never progress. The next part of the adventure usually involves going to a dungeon where you will face a mighty enemy (aka a boss battle). The catch is, once you enter the dungeon, you will never be able to return to the little homey town anymore. If the town is still accessible afterward, some major event will usually have happened, the people there will be different and you can’t relive the previous experience.

So it is with the State of the Union Address. Once you have this sit-down, let’s open up and see where we’re going conversation, the “innocence” (for lack of a better term) that characterizes those opening few dates where all you talk about is general fun topics and Jewish geography are gone forever. That isn’t to say you can never discuss lighter topics like Jewish music and who knows who from which camp, but there is a very different spin on the relationship. You and your date have basically, or actually, admitted to one another that you do indeed like one another, and that takes some guts. It also breaks down some façades that have previously been erected as part of the introductory phase self-protection. Vulnerability, at the right time, is a very good thing, and is entirely necessary for a relationship to progress toward marriage, and is absolutely essential in marriage.

This “so where do we go from here” conversation is the first moment that cements the relationship as being real. You don’t have to beat around the bush anymore about there not quite being an “us.” Having said that, the fact that this conversation has taken place doesn’t mean that it’s a free for all in terms of information flow and sharing – far from it. This is merely a beginning (one of many) on the road to a potential marriage. The give and take between the guy and girl, the exchange of personal stories and information previously left unmentioned, still must progress on a natural level, b’nachas, without either party rushing into throwing everything out there. If things go well, one of two results will be reached after you’ve had some time to properly evaluate one another in a closer context:

1) You’ll determine the other person is great, but not for you, and amicably end things.
2) The person is actually not so great at all and it’s time to end things before they become problematic.
3) You’ll discover you’ve found the right one!

I’ve only experienced the first two (quite obviously), but look forward to one day having the realization dawn on me that the woman sitting across from me is the one and only person I want to spend the rest of my life with. May that day come soon – for us all!

P.S. I’ve never been sure what to refer to myself and my date after this turning point (for the handful of times this has occurred). Boyfriend/girlfriend sounds wrong and isn’t really appropriate, but she’s more than just my “date.” Do the readers have any ideas?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Something A Little Different, Or, One Flew Over The Mushroom Kingdom

It was a beautiful spring day at the botanical gardens. An absorbing, verdant world literally blossoming with the exuberance of life surrounded Josh and Tova while they walked side by side down the visitors' trail.

Tova was in the best, most upbeat mood she had felt in a long time. Things were going really well with her and Josh. They recently passed the two month mark, and Tova had an unexpressed gut-feeling that Josh could be the one. He was charming, sensitive, and really seemed to understand her views and dreams in life. Josh always asked her opinion instead of trying to run their developing relationship as a heavy-handed dictator, quite unlike a number of guys she had dated in the past. Even when they argued, Josh respectfully disagreed without becoming angry or remaining spiteful if she ended up being correct.

Josh admired Tova as she bent forward to smell a striking red rose that matched the color of her lipstick. Without a doubt, Tova was very pretty. However, her exterior was only a precursor to her inner beauty, which was reflected in her charitable nature, her bountiful kindness, and how she treated everyone around her with paramount respect. Josh had certainly taken a strong liking to Tova. He had been through a couple of semi-serious relationships before, but Tova was different. He did not feel as though either of them was rushing the progress of their growing bond and everything seemed to be moving forward in its proper time. He was not quite thinking of engagement just yet, though the thought had popped into his mind on occasion. The possibilities of a more serious future usually occured to him when he returned from a date, collapsed on his living room couch and reviewed that evening’s proceedings in his mind.

When they reached the end of the pathway, Josh noticed an arrangement of quaint wooden tables in an open clearing surrounded by various brilliant tropical displays and suggested they take a break from exploring the gardens and rest for a bit. They settled down at one of the small tables, facing one another. They sat in peaceful silence, uninterrupted by any other guests, and observed the wondrous botanical exhibits that encircled them on all sides.

After a few seconds, Tova’s ear picked up a buzzing sound that drifted from one side of her head to the other. Tilting her gaze slightly, she caught sight of a large yellow-and-black insect hovering over her shoulder. She swallowed hard, hoping that the bee wouldn’t land on her and deliver what she imagined would be a rather painful sting. In a flash of movement, Josh’s hand shot out past her ear, almost touching her cheek, which made Tova hold her breath in a mix of excitement and worry. He was so close to making contact that she could feel the heat radiating from his forearm on her face. He slowly retracted his arm and turned over his closed fist so that his clasped fingers faced skyward. Josh gradually opened his hand, and Tova saw that the troublesome bee resting on his palm, seemingly content to enjoy the softness of his skin. For a brief moment, Tova was jealous that she could not enjoy the pleasing sensation of clasping her hand to Josh’s own.

Tova watched Josh gently put the bee on a nearby flower, which began to buzz happily as it went about inspecting the pollen of its new perch. Tova swooned at Josh’s gallant act of kindness. She had contemplated swatting the troublesome insect, yet Josh had the decency and compassion to risk receiving a sting to protect his date and simultaneously save the poor, misdirected creature. This was a man she could marry.

Josh breathed deeply, reveling in the serenity of the scene. Neither he nor Tova needed to make conversation; merely basking in one another’s presence was enough to satisfy their need for companionship. The tranquility of the moment was interrupted by a buzzing sound that whisked past him and centered around Tova’s beautiful face. Josh saw the bee moments before Tova recognized what was going on, and watched the little insect dart about, analyzing its flight patterns.

Just as Tova was about to cry out in alarm, he quickly struck out with his hand, neatly bisecting the creature from feeding proboscis to thorax. The two halves fell to the table and twitched for a moment before Josh deftly swept them into the nearby bushes with the back of his hand. Tova clasped her hands together and held them close to her cheek in adulation, wordlessly proclaiming “my hero!” Josh grinned broadly, baring his white, impeccably straight teeth. Tova let out a long sigh, and stars filling her field of vision. Josh jutted out his manly chin to accentuate his handsome smile, basking in Tova’s adoration.

Things could not have been more perfect. The semi-seclusion of their table provided an atmosphere conducive for meaningful, heart-to-heart conversation. Tova anticipated a soul-stirring discussion about their shared hashkafic ideologies, which would probably segue into how each envisioned their future home, followed by the children they imagined having, and the cute little puppy that would complete the tidy picture of marital bliss.

Tova watched with delight as Josh shifted over in his seat, extended a well-muscled arm, and daintily plucked a nearby peony. He proceeded to present the fragrant gift with a flourish of hand motions. Tova gladly accepted her somewhat unethically procured gift; the caution sign that warned any passerby against picking any flowers was projecting from the ground right next to Josh. The big bold writing clearly spelled out the prohibition, and warned any violator that a hefty fine would be charged for their botanical foray. Yet, Josh’s dashing gesture impressed her enough to restrain her general goody-two-shoed nature, and the slight infraction was quickly forgiven.

The perfumed scent of the peony was enticing, and Tova became absorbed in the aroma wafting from the pink blossom. She inhaled deeply and floated on its sweet smell. The world around her ceased to exist and all that mattered was the fact that Josh was sitting across from her.

Without warning, her dreamy euphoria was disturbed by a tap on her ankle. Snapping back into reality with a frustrated sigh, she realized it was probably Josh accidentally bumping into her leg under the table. Tova briefly shook her head from side to side, as though shaking the residue of reality from her mind. She drew in another breath of the aromatic flower and went back to her cloud of happiness.

Reality once again intruded upon her mental bliss when the sensation of something bounced off her shin, then rested against her calf. Tova paused, trying to detect the texture of the object through her tights. It felt rubbery, but she was not entirely sure what it could be. If it was Josh, the first time seemed accidental, but this second contact was definitely intentional. She wondered if he was playing footsy with her, in clear violation of the laws proscribing inter-gender touching. The thought occurred to her that Josh might actually be playing footsy, which must have been a sign of how much he liked her and felt uncontrollably attracted to her.

Tova soon came to her senses. The flower-grab was clever and suave, but this crossed the line of her comfort zone. She definitely did not want to breach the laws of shemirat negiah while dating, and her straight-laced mentality kicked in.

“All right, it’s not funny anymore,” Tova lowered the flower and looked Josh in the eye.

“What’s not funny?” He raised an eyebrow.

“You’re playing footsy with me,” she narrowed her gaze, intent on displaying a serious face.

“What kind of guy do you think I am? I wouldn’t do that,” Josh replied, a wounded tone in his voice. Underneath the table, the thing started slowly rubbing up and down Tova’s lower leg.

“Stop it, I mean it!” Tova’s voice became shrill.

“Stop what, Tova?” Josh sounded genuinely indignant. Tova was not in the mood for non-kosher games.

“Seriously, Josh, it was cute the first few times, but this is a little much. Please move your foot.”

“I really don’t know what you’re talking about,” he emphasized his point by spreading his feet to either side of the table’s base, placing them in plain sight. Tova’s eyes widened in fright, and she swallowed hard with an audible gulp. Josh appeared confused by Tova’s reaction.

“What’s wrong?” he leaned forward slightly, a look of concern on his face.

Tova’s reply transformed into a scream as the table suddenly upended, sending Josh flipping backward over his chair. He found himself sprawled out on the ground, and began gingerly rubbing his temple to dispel the haze of pain enveloping his head. Tova’s renewed shrieking shook him from his stupor, and he lifted himself onto his side to peer over the toppled table.

Tova hung suspended in the air, a bright green vine wound around her from midsection to just above the ankle, pinning her skirt to her legs. Her hands flopped around in space and she had a look of pure terror engraved into her face. Josh sat up and put his hands over his ears to muffle the noise of Tova’s cries and visually followed the path of the leafy appendage back to its source. Josh strained his eyes, but could only detect that the tentacle vanished into the nearby brush. He cautiously got to his feet, and massaged the back of his head as he tiptoed toward his helpless date. A vicious roar split the air, sending Josh recoiling behind the disarrayed table.

The bushes concealing the cause of the ruckus shook violently, and a low rumble emanated from within the tangled mass of plants. All of a sudden, the foremost collection of shrubs burst apart and landed near Josh’s feet. He glanced downward for a moment then quickly looked up toward Tova. Josh gasped.

An immense red flower with big white spots reared into view. Yellow-orange petals framed the massive bulb, which had what appeared to be a large, oval shaped, mottled green growth on one side. The flower spread the verdant lips, revealing a set of pointed, rather sharp looking teeth-like growths that lined a cavernous maw. Yes, Josh decided, it had a mouth. Two fan-like leaves undulated into view, one of them gripping a plastic display sign. The plant creature proceeded to hurl it at Josh. It knocked the wind out of him as it connected with his gut. Clutching his stomach, Josh bent down and picked up the signpost.

Dionaea Serrasalmus – Piranha Plant. ‘Petey.’” Josh read aloud. The thing growled as though it recognized Josh pronouncing its name. Tova stopped screaming for a moment to catch her breath. After hyperventilating for a bit, she mustered up the strength to find her voice.

“Uh, Josh!? Little help!?!” She stammered. As soon as Josh took one step forward, Petey shifted Tova up and away from him, holding her behind its enormous bulk. Josh stood still, eyes darting back and forth across the scenery for some kind of implement to use as a makeshift weapon. He spotted a shovel stuck into a patch of loose dirt and quickly pulled it free with both hands. He held the shovel’s blade outward like a spear and cautiously approached the monstrosity.

Petey sensed the oncoming threat and snapped at the extended gardening tool. Josh pulled back slightly, making sure to keep his only means of defense just out of reach of the toothy jaws. He swiveled the shovel in his grip, and swung it like a baseball bat, sinking the edge of the blade into the red speckled bulb. Petey let out an inhuman screech and almost dropped Tova from where she was suspended nearly ten feet above the ground.

Petey hastily tried to wrap one of its grasper leaves around the wooden handle. With a squelching sound, the plant yanked the shovel free. It promptly whacked Josh on the side of the head, producing a metallic clunk sound, and sent him spinning into a heap of jumbled limbs on the previously uprooted shrubbery.

“Josh!!! Are you all right!?” Tova called out, still dangling upside down.

“Mommy, I don’t want to go to school today,” Josh replied groggily from his cushion of scattered greenery.

“Josh, wake up! Don’t go to sleep!” Tova worried the shovel-strike might have given him a concussion.

“Five more minutes... I’ll still make the school bus...” Josh murmured.

“No, get up! Help me!”

Josh’s eyes fluttered open and he slowly regained his senses. Petey, thinking its opponent was disposed of, wasted no time in bringing Tova around toward its gaping maw. Josh watched in horror as the plant-creature flipped Tova into the air. Tova’s scream was stifled as Petey swallowed her in one gulp. It rotated its colossal ‘head’ toward Josh and defiantly unleashed a belch of satisfaction.

Josh knew he had one chance to save Tova before the creature began digesting her. With a look of grim determination in his eyes, he charged the botanical monstrosity. Wrenching the shovel from Petey’s leafy grasp, he struck at the exposed stalk that supported the gargantuan, carnivorous flower. The first swing sank deep into the thick stem and Petey shrieked as lime-green goop oozed from the cut. Josh quickly pulled the shovel’s blade free and continued chopping away at the piranha flower’s bared weak spot, and Petey began to convulse while squealing from the pain. Josh ignored the deafening sound and cut through the majority of the trunk, which caused Petey to slump over.

With one final stroke, Josh severed the remainder of the shoot. Petey’s vocalizations suddenly stopped and the gigantic bulb fell free of its base and crashed to the ground with a wet splat. Unaware of the momentum behind his last attack, Josh was caught unprepared as the immense bulb rolled back toward him, up the shovel, and flattened him. He disappeared under its bulk with a loud whump before he could cry out. The garden was suddenly quiet.

The jingle of keys startled Josh, almost making him fall off his chair. Tova jerked awake, and her face thumped lightly on the table as her forearm shifted from its supportive position under her chin.

“Closin’ time, folks. I’m gonna have to ask you to start makin’ your way to the exit,” the security guard drawled, gesturing toward the entrance with his flashlight. Josh stole a glance at his wristwatch. It was well past his anticipated concluding time for the date, and the sun was already beginning to set. Embarrassed, Tova quickly slipped the strap of her purse over her shoulder and stood up shakily, still sleepy. Josh rubbed his eyes briefly and rose to his feet as well.

Josh and Tova wobbled toward the exit. Josh stumbled over something and bent down to pick it up. It was a display sign for “Dionaea Serrasalmus.” He turned it over in his hands, quite puzzled. Looking upward, he saw a damaged section of a nearby display with yellow caution tape surrounding it. Frowning, Josh turned to the security guard.

“What used to be here? Where did they take it… Louie?” Josh inquired after quickly reading the guard’s name tag.

“Oh that?” The guard ambled over and poked at the tape with his flashlight. “Used to be some exotic import or somethin’. One day it bit a kid, and he had to go to the hospital to reattach a finger. He was a lucky one, that youngster,” he held up his left hand. Josh noticed the pinky was missing from the middle joint to the fingertip. Tova grimaced and looked away while Josh shuddered slightly. “They had to move them flowers into a special case so they couldn’t hurt no one anymore.”

“Sorry about your finger,” Tova said, embarrassed.

“Oh this?” He held up his shortened digit. “That’s from a firecracker accident from when I was nine. T’ain’t nothin’ really. It’s been all healed up and stuff for years now.” Tova and Josh exchanged looks.

“Well, y’all best be moseyin’ along now,” Louie broke the awkward silence. “Don’t make me call the cops on ya,” he tapped the radio on his belt. “Y’all come visit us again, just make sure it’s durin’ operashunal hours.”

“Thank you... uh... sir,” Josh replied, a measure of uncertainty in his voice. “Let’s go,” he suggested and turned to Tova. She nodded without a word and they began walking toward the exit.

When they were out of earshot, the security guard started chuckling.

“Hee hee!” He wiggled his abbreviated finger in front of his mustached face. “Get’s ‘em every time!” He exclaimed to no one in particular. Louie started walking back to his post, stopped for a moment, and threw a look over his shoulder.

“Ain’t that right, Petey?”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wearing A Hat And Jacket During Davening

Rabbi Ari Enkin over at Hirhurrim has a very educational post regarding the practice of wearing a hat and jacket during davening. His fairly comprehensive halachic survey of the topic is very on target, and is definitely worth reading.

My own practice during the week seems to conform with the position Rabbi Enkin explains regarding how davening attire should conform to the way a person (as an individual, though not as a community) would dress when making a public appearance, which for me would include a blazer/jacket.

Rabbi Enkin also makes an interesting observation that never crossed my mind before: wearing a tie during davening. Certainly, the standard protocol for "dressing up" these days would include a jacket and tie (but not a hat), but no halachic persona seems to indicate the need to do so. That's definitely a very sharp point that can be used against the nit-picky people who say a hat is necessary, evn when it is no longer part of the standard formal outfit.

However, the post does not mention the particular practice of wearing a hat only on Shabbos/Yom Tov, which I addressed in one of my earlier posts. This isn't to say that Rabbi Enken missed this practice, since it seems to be part of a hashkafic, rather than halachic, notion at any rate.


Standard shidduch dating mandates that the guy and girl go out together to some venue or participate in an activity, but without any other person involved. True, the shadchan is involved (at least at the beginning) to function as the communications field officer in coordinating battle plans and exchanging emotional sentiments, but he or she does not actually go on the date with the couple.

However, are there alternative combinations of the principle participants on a date?

I’ve heard of cases where parents accompany their respective children to the date, and sit off to the side talking amongst themselves while their kids, sitting within eyeshot, do their best to act normal. But that’s just incredibly awkward, and certainly does not make the situation/decision any easier for the guy and girl involved.

I am also not referring to a case of a third-wheel-date (if it can be called such a thing) between a guy and two girls, or a girl and two guys (this scenario is too much like a terrible reality-esque dating game show on MTV that I’ve heard about).

Consider, if you will, the idea of a double date. Though entirely standard fare in our parents’ generation (at least for some of our parents), and perhaps somewhat common amongst married couples looking for a fun night on the town with friends and away from the kids, does this ever happen with our generation? Regardless of what Orthodox social circle(s) you may travel in (with the exception of the more liberal modern types), I bet anyone reading this would be hard pressed to recall an example of such dating behavior.

As I see it, there are two problems with this idea (from the standard approach).First, it destroys the cardinal rule of privacy on a date. Heaven forbid that you should bump into your neighbor/aunt and uncle/roommate/chevrusa/mother’s yenta-friend on a date, not to mention the acknowledged though tactfully side-stepped encounter with a friend who is also on a date. Why would anyone ever think about purposefully infringing upon the sanctity of the “it takes two to tango” rule? (I just made that up, by the way, so feel free to make is a new lingo-term if you’d like).

Second, at what point in the dating process do you take part in such double-dates? Once you’re engaged or married, I see little point in participating in such an endeavor, since the exercise becomes a mere social activity. Certainly, attempting such a feat during the earlier stage of dating, where the shadchan is still active in the proceedings, would be inadvisable. But what about the stage after the go-between has been dropped and there is some substance to the relationship? Chana Levitan, in her recently released I Only Want To Get Married Once (expect a review of this wonderful book soon) has a whole chapter (#5) titled “What do people you are close to have to say about the person you are dating?” She writes there that friends’ opinions can be really enlightening, to either confirm how great your date is, or to yank the rose-colored glasses from your starry-eyes to alert you to problems/red flags you choose to ignore.

One friend did this with a girl he was semi-seriously dating. A friend and his wife were in town, so he took them out to lunch with his date. Afterward, he asked his friends what they thought, and they didn’t really seem to get a real impression at all. Shortly thereafter, he invited her over for a family get together, and asked his parents what their impression was. They also replied that they couldn’t really read anything from her, good or bad. Turns out she was hiding a lot of issues and was shielding them behind a façade – which lead to a painful break-up a while later.

Related to that, I don’t think double dating with any just other couple (even friends) would be a good idea. I would suggest that the other couple involved should be married (as in my friend’s case) or engaged – otherwise you might end up with one of those awkward, illicit TV drama stories where they switch dating partners or whatever. This venture, in my mind, is meant to give a little sampling of a greater experience as a couple, to see what things could theoretically be like down the road. For better or worse, I presume the guy and girl would learn something about themselves and their relationship.

One friend almost had an n-tuple date (n standing in for any particular positive, whole number) with his fiancée and her friends. The plan was to meet at Starbucks so he could be introduced to her many BFFs who had heard so much about him from her happy-go-lucky engaged babblings (this was before their vort). After some consideration, he gracefully declined, which I think was the smart thing to do. I imagine that would have been incredibly awkward.

One last idea, courtesy of my younger sister: She once found out I was dating the older sister of a friend of hers from her year in Israel (if that was confusing, the two older siblings of friends were going out). She suggested that we all go on a “double date” so that each of the younger sisters could meet/get to know the older sibling’s significant other. It was a cute and novel idea, but I flatly turned down the offer. Mind you, my date and I were not anywhere near engagement and had only been going out for one month. True, my sister probably just loves me and wanted to know all the ins-and-outs of my dating life (she still does), but I think that would have been rather awkward. Maybe if things were a bit more serious…

Anyway, would any of the readers seriously consider something like this (or the other double-date idea)?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Genetic Testing: A Layman's Summary

The topic of genetic testing within the realm of dating/marriage came up in a series of comments on one of Bad For Shidduchim’s posts a short while ago (I forget which one, sorry). Most people who replied knew some things but not much. The focus was discussion of Dor Yeshorim, and open testing was barely mentioned. Having had some experience planning and running genetic screening events at YU, I will now attempt to give my non-professional break-down of the issues involved and why this is such an important part of the overall shidduchim process.

I also highly recommend listening to this lecture/shiur that just took place at YU which features a presentation by a licensed genetic counselor followed by Rav Willig speaking about the moral/halachic imperative to get tested before marriage.

Why is genetic screening significant? Children are produced within marriage by a fusion of a pair of genes, one side from their mother and one from their father. Every ethnic group has some sort of genetic mutation in their group’s overall DNA spectrum that features certain genes that don’t work and thus can cause problems. Generally, genetic testing deals with recessive disorders, which means that you need a copy of the defected gene from both parents to display the symptoms of the disease (as opposed to a dominant disorder, wherein one copy of the gene will make child affected by the disease). Someone who only has one of these mutated genes along with a healthy copy of that gene (one from each parent) is called a carrier – meaning that they are unaffected by the disease/syndrome coded for in that aberrant gene.

Percentage wise, for two parents that are carriers of the same disease, 50% of their children will be carriers (but unaffected), 25% will be totally free of the affected gene, and 25% will be born with the disease. So basically, with a couple wherein both the husband and wife are carriers for a particular disease, they run the risk of a combination of their egg and sperm that will produce a child that suffers from a potentially or actually fatal genetic disease. Back in the day, before we had advanced our level of scientific study to the point where it stands now, the children that result from a marital union were really the luck of the draw. As such, there were unfortunate couples that had a number of children who died (often early in life) due to the manifestations of these diseases.

Clearly, this is an extremely serious matter (listen to the shiur for the full halachic perspective from Rav Willig).

At present time, we now have the technology and scientific knowhow to check the genetic code of a particular individual and identify whether or not they “carry” genetic coding for these recessive genetic diseases (such as Tay-Sachs or Gaucher’s). As such, young men and women can be equipped (and I’ll explain the two different means of testing in a moment) to avoid heartbreak and personal tragedy by not dating and marrying a spouse who would (if they married) greatly increase the statistic likelihood of having children that suffer and die from these diseases.

Now for the two means of testing: closed testing (Dor Yeshorim) and open testing (like NYU or a number of other institutions).

Most people are aware of the history that led to the creation and perpetuation of Dor Yeshorim, so I won’t attempt to retell that here. Dor Yeshorim utilizes closed testing, which means that they collect 4-5 vials of blood from a young man or woman looking to date for marriage and perform a genetic characterization of their DNA.

The donor is assigned a serial number, which they must record for perpetuity (or at least until they get married) – and this is all they ever know. Dor Yeshorim does not assign a name to their file, nor do they ever release the results of their DNA characterization to anyone (potential shidduch and the actual person as well). You will never know what, if anything at all, you may have within your genes (see this article for why this has been seen as controversial). The stated reasoning behind this is to prevent any possible social stigmas (IE it’s “Bad For Shidduchim”), or personal neuroses stemming from the knowledge that you’re a carrier.

At some point in the dating process, the guy and girl exchange numbers, call up Dor Yeshorim, type in their numbers (both people have to do this, or Dor Yeshorim thinks someone is just being nosy – I made this mistake once early on, thinking that I would be trusted to tell the girl – they ended up calling the number she had registered with, which was her home number, and her mother answered the phone, unaware that she was dating!). They check their database and call back within the day (usually an hour or so later) to tell you to go ahead with the shidduch, which means there are no genetic incompatibilities, or that there is a problem. In that case, they tell you what it is since some potential conditions can, indeed, be worked with using modern medical technology such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVH) along with Pre-Implantation Diagnosis (PGD) – but at great financial cost and emotional turmoil (just ask any couple you know who is, rachmana latzlan, experiencing fertility issues).

Open testing, as done by NYU and a few other genetic testing organizations also requires obtaining several vials of blood, and similar tests are performed to characterize potential genes for potential genetic diseases. However, this method if often more comprehensive than Dor Yeshorim, which only checks for a select list (9 or 11 I think) of genetic, recessive (as opposed to dominant), fatal diseases. In a few weeks you receive a full print out of your results, telling you what you are a carrier for (if anything at all).

In the process of open testing, it is up to you to match notes with your shidduch to see if there are any incompatibilities. While some may be bothered by knowing what they have in their genes, it really isn’t a big deal at all, and literally has no affect on your life other than making sure that you don’t meet/date people with whom you would potentially have children affected by a fatal disease. A friend of mine asked Rav Tendler asked him what he should do in choosing Dor Yeshorim or NYU, and Rav Tendler replied, “Aren’t you a big boy now, can’t you handle knowing about your genes?”

Truthfully, the Dor Yeshorim system really is designed for communities that are not well-versed in secular knowledge (like sciences such as biology) and thus don’t understand that being a carrier isn’t a big deal. In very finicky shidduch systems, like in the more right-winged or Chassidic communities, where people do freak out over every little thing, this can be an issue that is troublesome for carriers. Whatever some more “modern” people might say about this, the fact is that incidences of Tay-Sachs have been virtually eliminated from these communities for a number of years now.

Dor Yeshorim has basically become a standard of sorts, since the vast majority of Orthodox girls get tested through them by their senior year of high school, or while in Israel. Thus, for guys who don’t get tested so early (which is seemingly stemming from a teshuva in Igros Moshe which recommended specific ages for young men and women to get tested – back in the day when open testing for Tay-Sachs was all that was available – listen to Rav Willig for more info). Thus is makes sense for a lot of people to do Dor Yeshorim just to be able to match up their status with girls they’re going out, since 99.9% of them (which is a guesstimation on my part) of the girls they are set up with have already done Dor Yeshorim.

However, Dor Yeshorim a policy that they will not test someone who has already had open testing, since they are philosophically opposed to the idea of open testing. Rav Willig has poskined that if one wishes to do both, he/she should do Dor Yeshorim first (thus preventing any genaivas da’as when they ask you to sign the form stating you’ve not been tested openly beforehand), and then do NYU afterward. That’s what I did – so I use Dor Yeshorim when I need to check my status with a girl I’ve been going out with but I also know exactly what my status is.

Rav Goldvicht recommends within the YU community that the guy and girl should check with Dor Yeshorim after the 4th or 5th date where the relationship seems to progressing towards more serious territory, but not so serious that breaking up, if need be, would be such a big deal. He says that in America it has become a big “thing” to compare Dor Yeshorim much later, as a precursor to engagement, which is generally a bad idea – what if you think you’ve found the love of your life and suddenly you are confronted with the reality that you may not be able to properly have children in the normal way?

Rav Willig strongly recommends that if this happens to people they should end the relationship, regardless of attachment. There are plenty of other people to get married to, why put yourself in a potentially tragic situation of G-d forbid losing children, never having natural conception, and going through the emotionally draining (and financially costly) process of IVF and PGD – or even living with playing “Russian roulette” and the possibility of terminating a pregnancy? The halachic difficulties, not to mention that the psychological traumas involved in these situations are not easily dealt with.

Genetic screening is not 100% accurate, but the vast majority of tests (for the most common and major genetic recessive diseases) have a predictive success rate of 95% or higher. While not perfect (since the labs are not going through your entire genome), it’s much better than flying blind. Major poskim across the hashkafic spectrum strongly advise, or require their constituents to take advantage of genetic testing (in whichever variety they recommend).

So if you have been tested, great! If you’ve only done Dor Yeshorim, perhaps consider getting tested through NYU as well (they have a number of opportunities to get open tested at no cost to you, and insurance usually covers all, if not most of the cost – and NYU will pick up the rest of the tab, if need be). EVERYONE should do open testing once they’ve gotten engaged (having previously found out their proper compatibility with Dor Yeshorim) – the reasoning being that if you and your wife know exactly what you carry (and at best you might not carry anything at all) you will have a heads up regarding your children. If you both find out you’re clean of such genetic mutations, then your kids will never have to worry about getting tested (Rav Willig and his wife did/do this – “do,” because every few years a new test for a different disorder is finally released for use by labs, so it’s worth it to expand your knowledge base).

This is the end of my very unprofessional run-down of genetic screening for marriage. PLEASE take time to listen to this lecture/shiur to get the full picture of the process from both the scientific and halachic perspectives.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Most Important Test You'll Ever Take - Genetic Screening Lecture

I was asked by a friend to announce this very important event that will be taking place on the Wilf Campus at YU tonight (sorry for the small flyer picture, I wasn't given the actual image, so I stole this off of Facebook):

TONIGHT: March 2nd at 9 PM in room 307 of the Jacob and Dreizel Glueck Center for Jewish Study:

The Yeshiva University Student Medical Ethics Society and the Center for the Jewish Future present

Genetic Screening:

The Most Important Test You'll Ever Take

Learn about the importance of genetic testing, the different screening programs, and the halachic issues pertaining to genetic screening.


Rav Mordechai Willig

Rosh Yeshiva at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS)

Rosh Yeshiva at the Mazer School of Talmudic Studies

Rabbi of Young Israel of Riverdale


Rachel T. Klein, MS, CGC

ABGC Certified Genetic Counselor

Holy Name Hospital

Member: New York Presbyterian Healthcare System

Affiliate: Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons


Tuesday, March 2nd

9:00 PM

Glueck Center Room 307

Refreshments will be served!

Co-sponsored by SOY and YSU

Blogger's Lament Haiku #s 2 & 3

Purim came and went
Yet, schoolwork load piles higher
Oh, where is Pesach?

Free time is absent
I stare at my books, hoping
To finish, then blog