Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Is Disgusting - Sikrikim Victory Over Manny's

I can't believe that it's come to this.

Manny's, a wonderful seforim/Judaica store in Mea She'arim, has finally given in to the ridiculous demands of the unintelligent, chilul-HaShem-ridden vagrants known as the Sikrikim.

Now, the store will have a "machgiach" who will decide what seforim (Hebrew only, thankfully) can be sold in the store and a sign requiring modesty will be placed in their window display.

This is sick.

I remember going to Manny's frequently during my time in Israel. It's a great store, and I managed to buy a few titles that were out of print. I also ran into many old friends I hadn't seen in a long time or fallen out of touch and were attending different yeshivos/seminaries. There are also very few good, large bookstores that sell English seforim for decent prices (the Feldheim stores are okay, but limited for obvious reasons). The staff there are also quite friendly and very helpful if you can't find something or want some directions around their multitude of shelves.

While I don't think Manny's has quite the pull of the YU Seforim Sale, I'm sure a number of people met nice members of the opposite gender while they were browsing. I wouldn't necessarily bet money on it, but I imagine potential shidduchim could have come about through this sort of casual kosher socializing. Maybe that's what these hooligans are so violently protesting against. If true, that's another reason this foolishness needs to stop.

Just to remind readers, these are the very same ruffians who have been causing a ruckus over the religious Dati girls school in Bet Shemesh.

In short, they are perverts for staring at modestly dressed little girls, and gangsters who vandalize property with human excrement.

Certainly the Rabbonim should vehemently speak out against them, if that will even have any effect at all. On top of that, the Israeli police need to round them up and forcibly end their reign of terror. There is no question their tactics are entirely illegal. Perhaps the government is reluctant to get involved because they figure this is an intracommunal problem and let the chareidim handle it themselves - which we've seen by now with persistent, damaging issues like child abuse - is nigh impossible.

This sort of false zealotry is the real machalah plaguing Torah Observant Judaism these days, and contributes to many other factors that have been detrimental to the world's view of us, not to mention the perspective of the secular Israelis within Israel, and has harmed the cause of achdus in Klal Yisrael.

Enough is enough. If they only understand force, then the government should respond in kind, enforce the law, and put them in their place.

UPDATE: Hat tip to Emes Ve-Emunah, who linked an Arutz Sheva article that reports the police are beginning to crack down on these guys. Baruch HaShem.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Any Bilha's And Zilpa's Out There?

In this week's parsha, Yaakov marries not only Leah and Rachel, but also their maid-servants Zilpah and Bilhah (who may or may not have been their half-sisters).

I used to not be bothered by the fact that most of our liturgy and other Torah-related writings have much of any reference to the maid-servant foremothers, but a particularly feisty tour guide in the Old City of Yerushalayim started railing about it one day.

She wondered why no one seems to care where Bilhah and Zilpah are buried. We know where Rachel and Leah are - in a roadside grave/memorial and Ma'aras Hamachpelah respectively. What about the other half of Yaakov's wives, who produced 1/3rd of the shevatim, Klal Yisrael's ancestors?

One could venture to say that nowadays, since the exile of the 10 "Lost Tribes," Bnei Yisrael consists of members from the tribes of Levi and Yehuda who were born to Leah along with Binyamin who was born to Rachel. As such, we don't really have any connection to Yaakov's 3rd and 4th wives.

However, we also know that, to a degree, many of the members of the "Lost Tribes" may have been found and returned through the various groups from far away locations that have proudly identified themselves and begun the process of moving to the State of Israel. Of note is Israel's Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar recognizing the Bnei Menashe of India as one of the 10 lost tribes back in 2005.

On a less recent note, I recall hearing/learning that a number of our exiled brethren did indeed join up with the remaining community either in Israel or in Babylonia before the time of the 2nd Commonwealth and the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash. I think the same source remarked that not every last member of these 10 tribes actually left when the vast majority of the Northern Tribes were exiled, which means we never totally misplaced them in the first place.

I'm not going to discuss the Talmudic references here, since that's not really the point of this post.

Back to our near-forgotten foremothers.

Thinking to myself, I didn't think I had ever met anyone named after Bilhah and Zilpah, nor had I seen a memorial/dedication plaque of any sort that listed such a name. Then one day, ASoG mentioned the name of a family friend's mother who was ill and needed tefillos said on her behalf, and lo and behold her mother's first name was Bilhah! Sufficed to say, I was a bit flabbergasted, but in a good way.

Before completing this post, I decided to Google "Bilhah" and "Zilpah" to see what I could find.

First, it seems I was mechaven to a 2004 post by A Simple Jew who also wondered "Whatever happened to Bilhah and Zilpah?"

I also found an "Ask the Rabbi" question on which discusses why we don't mention Bilhah and Zilpah as matriarchs like Rochel and Leah.

Lastly, a comment on A Simple Jew's blog led me to check Wikipedia, which informed me that Bilhah and Zilpah are buried at the "Tomb of the Matriarchs" in Tiberias, which would seem to indicate that we indeed treat them as full-fledged Imahos. I had not heard about this particular grave site before, and find the list of women who are buried there to be a fascinating collection of important Biblical figures.

Do you know anyone named Bilhah or Zilpah?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Imahos Didn't Cover Their Hair?!

Two thoughts that occurred to me during Shnaim Mikra v'Echad Targum this week:

Why do we need to say when Rivkah "inquired of HaShem" as the Midrash in Bereishis Rabba says: that she went and talked to Shem to hear from HaShem? Rashi, Ibn Ezra, Rashbam, all say this. Even the Ba'al HaTurim, with his renowned penchant for gematria adds "Lidrosh - it's gematria = min Shem ben Noach (from Shem the son of Noach)."

Upon reading the psukim, the pshat would seem to me that Rivkah simply went and asked HaShem herself. Sarah was a prophetess, and was even greater in this are than Avraham. HaShem had conversations with the Avos, so why not the Imahos also? We can certainly extrapolate that if Sarah was a greater prophetess than Avraham was, she must have had some "off-screen" dialogue with G-d.

To substantiate this point: Later on in the parsha, Rivkah is told about Esav's declaration to take revenge on Yaakov, which the meforshim say means she was told this information prophetically - from HaShem Himself, I presume. Shem certainly isn't there in this instance, and there are no other people around who could have served as an intermediary to deliver the message - it certainly wasn't Yitzchak or Yaakov.

While looking into the commentaries on this verse to see if anyone far more reputable than I also had thought similarly about this issue, I discovered - Baruch Shekivanti - that the Ramban says the same thing, in direct contrast with Rashi. "I only found the language of 'drisha' regarding praying to HaShem" and he cites Tehillim 34:5"Derashti es HaShem va'aneni" - "I inquired of the L-rd, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears," Amos 5:4 "For thus saith the L-rd unto the house of Israel: inquire of Me, and live;" and Yechezkel 20:3 "'Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them: Thus saith the L-rd G-d: Are ye come to inquire of Me? As I live, saith the L-rd G-d, I will not be inquired of by you."

So there you have it, a less midrashically-inclined understanding that Rivkah did have conservation with HaShem herself.

Now, onto the title of this blog post.

We see in this week's parsha, along with two separate incidences with Avraham and Sarah, that where our forefather disguises his relationship with his wife by claiming that they are brother and sister, in the hopes that he will not be killed so that a foreign ruler can marry her.

Upon reading the psukim describing this incident, a question struck me.

How did the whole she's my sister thing work?

Somehow, both Sarah and Rivkah had to be visibly similar to an unmarried woman, otherwise the whole ruse wouldn't work. I considered a few different possibilities:

1) Women at that time, married or not, did not wear hair coverings at all. Hence, looking at Rivkah's hair for a cover wouldn't confirm anything about their relationship.

2) All women wore hair coverings, but married women's hair coverings were not distinguishable from those of single women.

In either case, there must have been no specific garment/item of dress that indicated she was married, otherwise it'd be pretty silly to tell Avimelech that Rivkah was Yitzchak's sister when she wore their equivalent of a wedding band and diamond ring.

I know this is a bit of a stretch, but perhaps married women back then wore nose rings! Eliezer gives Rivkah one in anticipation of her forthcoming marriage to Yitzchak. Perhaps she simply took it off, and then you'd have the modern equivalent of removing a wedding ring, which is by no means immodest.

Has anyone out there heard/learned anything to shed more light on these topics?

No Jewish Music Fridays This Week

I apologize, but I haven't had the time to put together a Jewish Music Fridays post this week because of the Thanksgiving break. Tune in next week!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and Steve Jobs

Inspired by a post by Garnel Ironheart as well as my response there, I've decided to expand on the issue of the Chief Rabbi's remarks about consumerism and how they may have been misinterpreted, which caused Rabbi Sacks' office to issue a statement of clarification.

Please read those posts before continuing on here.

Rabbi Sacks is entirely correct in criticizing the plague of consumerism that threatens our society today. In fact, he has done so already when he wrote about the riots in London and how they also indicated that the world has some deeply ingrained issues revolving around our consumerism sickness:

"But what we have witnessed is a real, deep-seated and frightening failure of morality. These were not rebels with or without a cause. They were mostly bored teenagers, setting fire to cars for fun and looting shops for clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets and flat screen televisions. If that is not an indictment of the consumer society, what is?"

Rabbi Sack's most recent remarks are entirely leshitaso (according to his previously established views). I think he has written other pieces about this devastating trend as well - and he is right to do so!

Here are a few of his sharpest remarks from the address that has come under scrutiny:

"The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.

"When you're an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about 'i', you don't do terribly well."

He went on: "What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don't have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have.

"If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you've got an iPhone but you haven't got a fourth-generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness."

This is Emes, pure and simple.

I once heard a recorded shiur from Rabbi Dr. Johnny Krug in which he talked about how our consumerism has gone so far that we take the "use it and throw it away" approach to our relationships as well, especially marriage. He said that we're so used to the idea of disposable products, which are there for our convenience but have none of the responsibility of maintenance and upkeep as real glass or metal utensils, that we think we can do that to spouses as well. If he/she doesn't do exactly what I want, doesn't please me the way I want, or if someone tells me something better is out there - out he/she goes, and I'm on to the next spouse.

It's a disturbing, sickening way to think and live, no "if"s, "and"s, or "but"s.

Don't get me wrong, Steve Jobs was a revolutionary designer and businessman. We certainly owe him gratitude for the wonderful products he helped create, produce and market. He had a unique creative genius that won't soon be replaced.

However, as I began to read all the news reports, articles, and quotations that came out after his recent death, I came to the conclusion that all Steve Jobs was could be encapsulated by his accomplishments in the business world. As a moral person, he was no role model whatsoever, as a number of prominent events from his life attest to, such as cheating his friend and future partner Steve Wozniak out of a bonus at work, or leaving his pregnant girlfriend after she refused to have an abortion.

When ASoG and I were in an airport recently waiting for our connecting flight, I walked over to the nearby bookstore and flipped through a few of the prominently displayed books about Jobs. One book was a large listing of quotes on various subjects. I was struck by a particular quote that talked about the production of Toy Story 2 by Pixar, which he owned at the time. Jobs spoke about working his employees to the bone, making them miss family occasions/celebrations, holidays, and weekends for an extended period of time to make sure the movie was released on schedule. Jobs said it was grueling and difficult at the time, but the product was entirely worth it and he thinks his employees would agree.

I enjoyed the movie, but my perception of it now is a bit tainted by the fact that Jobs forced people to slave away and miss parts of their lives for the sake of a product, work of art, or whatever you want to call it. I don't think that's right - and Jobs did this a lot in his Apple product design and development as well. I read numerous pieces that talked about how much of an unforgiving task master he was in controlling his employees. None of that is something to be proud of or worth emulating. A true leader can and should inspire greatness in those in his charge without resorting to the tactics that Steve Jobs did.

A real model of leadership worth emulating can be found in Rabbi Sacks' essay on the concept of Jewish leadership based in the parshiyos Nitzavim-Vayelech here.

Another huge critique I discovered of Steve Jobs following his death was the fact that despite all the enormous sums of money he earned for his products, he never became a philanthropist of any sort. A short time before Jobs' death, reporters wrote about the breaking news that Apple had more cash than the US Government. These writers joked about President Obama looking to Jobs for a loan to help with the debt crisis. It was funny then, but not so funny to me now when I think about the fact that Jobs never did anything charitable with all his money. In my mind, anyone with a significant amount of wealth should use it wise to give and benefit others in need, as Jobs' rival, Bill Gates has done in co-founding The Giving Pledge.

In many ways, Steve Jobs was a big jerk. Yes, he revolutionized the way we compute, listen to music, and browse the internet/media with the Apple/Mac computer, iPod/iTunes, and iPad. But when it comes down to it, his lasting legacy is giving the world a bunch of fancy toys to play with.

As we say in Tehillim 49:17, which is recited at funerals - "When he dies, he shall take nothing with him. His wealth/honor will not descend after him."

I'm not writing this post to besmirch the name of Steve Jobs - I think he did that well enough himself while he was living. I want to support Rabbi Sacks' remarks, because I believe he is correct in his criticism. His message is one that we all need to hear - and that Steve Jobs may have benefited from, had he been given the chance.

Let us enjoy the gifts we have, and recognize their source as Koheles says 3:13 "And also every man should eat and drink and enjoy pleasure (or I might translate: see good) in his labor - it is a gift from G-d." I hope that we can all learn to lead lives that are charitable and full of caring for others. No one said that we should live austere lives without pleasure, rather, we should live comfortably within our means - and make sure to give to and do chesed for others less fortunate than we.

And in doing so, let's focus on what's really important, as the penultimate posuk in Koheles (12:13) says: "The end of the matter, all having been heard: fear G-d, and keep His mitzvos; for this is the whole of man."

Friday, November 18, 2011

Jewish Music Fridays: Judablue

This week's Jewish Music Fridays features a band that some readers may already be familiar with from a post I wrote a few months ago that enthusiastically promoted their music video called "Falling."

Judablue has knocked my socks off since I first discovered them via a friend (who happens to be related to one of the band members) who was promoting their music by linking them on Facebook. For months I listened to their in-progress tracks on Myspace and was later delighted to find their EP "Forty Days," at the YU Seforim Sale.

What made their music so engaging for me was their fresh take on selecting lyrics from psukim not typically used, along with songs about subjects such as Avraham Avinu and Noach with original lyrics that were really heartfelt and creative. What truly amazed me was that these guys recorded their songs while in high school, or the summer prior to heading off to Shana Aleph/college. Even before they released their EP, they had already performed at a number of venues and had a fairly impressive following for their live shows (see videos below).

Shlomo Ari Gaisen, Judablue's vocalist and younger brother of Jewish musician Jeremy Gaisen, has a very mature, powerful voice that sounds as though it belonged to an older performer who has many years of experience under his belt. The combination of his natural talent along with the soulful expression of Judablue's meaningful lyrics provides an incredible listening experience. Shlomo also plays the saxophone and piano.

I can't forget to mention the rest of the band as well - Yaniv Hoffman (guitar), Ravi Brooks (drums), Moti Schnapp (Guitar) and Danny Feinberg (Bass) since they are also incredibly talented. The band's story is unique; all the guys in the group come from different religious backgrounds, and unlike what many might expect in our increasingly divisive world, they all get along great and create music that inspires, touches the soul, and truly rocks!

Fun factoid from an informative though unintentionally amusing (at least the questions) interview on Arutz 7/Israel National News: The outdoor field scenes was shot in the "eye" of a tornado/storm! If any of the Judablue members are out there reading this, I'd love to hear more about that experience, and would definitely write a post about it (free publicity!).

I think their mission statement is quite accurate, in which they characterize their music as:
"An epic attempt to bring heaven down to earth."

"Im Lo Aleh" from "Forty Days"

"Forty Days"


Here are some videos from a live show at Mexicali Live in Teaneck, New Jersey from 2009, featuring some of my favorite songs:

"Modeh Ani"

"Lech Lecha"

"Hiney Keyl"


I really can't wait for more music from these very talented guys! Very rarely do I like every song on an album, but their EP "Forty Days" is worth every penny, and if "Falling" is any indication, Judablue is only getting better and better as time goes by.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Things I Don't Understand: Meta-Bathrooms

See this lovely picture on the left? No, it is not a photograph of the bathroom set up in our new apartment. In fact, it is a painting of a bathroom - a nicely decorated and organized bathroom, to be sure.

In fact, this picture, purchased at Homegoods by ASoG, is hanging IN the bathroom of our new apartment.

I don't get it. Why have we, and by we I mean Orthodox Jews, adopted a standard practice of

displaying art of bathrooms IN bathrooms?
I didn't grow up with this practice. My parents never had pictures of any sort hanging up in any of the bathrooms in their home, whether in any of our personal bathrooms or the guest bathrooms. Instead, we always had interesting wall paper which usually featured some sort of intricate design, or little artistic portrayals of scenes of a particular theme.

Since I have become more well-traveled, particularly in the New York area once I began attending YU, I saw art of bathrooms in almost every home I visited. For example, the bathrooms in President Richard Joel's presidential estate feature art of bathrooms in the bathrooms.

In truth, I did see this phenomenon in one place in my hometown - inside the local mikvah which I saw on my pre-Yomim Noraim visits. For some reason, this makes more sense to me than having bathroom paintings in a regular bathroom. But the point still remains:

Why do we do this?

What is the reason why we have this strange obsession with being meta-expressive by having bathrooms in bathrooms? It would be ridiculous if there were pictures of bathrooms in the pictures of bathrooms that we have in our bathrooms.

Per ASoG's insistence - and not that I really object, since I didn't have a better suggestion anyway - we've joined the bathroom art in bathroom club. She couldn't quite explain why this was the most appropriate form of art to display in out bathroom, but it is something that everyone else seems to do. I remain confused.

Can someone explain it to me?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy First Wedding Anniversary To Us!


I can't believe it's already been a whole year since ASoG and I stood under the chuppah together.

Ever since my time spent at my yeshiva in Israel, I've perceived how fast time moves. I remember in high school

Not only was it our anniversary, but we were honored to be the kvatters (baby carrying couple) at the bris of a friend of ours on the same day! For those not in know, being a kvatter is a segulah to have children. I guess that as soon as Shana Rishona is over and there are no children or known pregnancies, the pressure is on that we're next on the expected-to-be-parents list. That in and of itself is a whole different discussion, though one that I probably wouldn't have on this blog.


The first wedding anniversary is known as the "Paper Anniversary" according to social ettiquete, and the modern equivalent of the present one is "chayiv" to give to one's spouse is apparently a clock of some sort. This is supposed to be symbolic of the cherished time that has passed by, which although possibly romantic from a certain point of view, makes for one rather boring gift in my opinion.

As a side point, it should be noted that one of the reasons a chosson is given a watch is related to this concept, to value the time spend with his fiancee/wife.

My personal perspective is that a couple's 1-year wedding anniversary only occurs once in a lifetime (G-d willing that no one has a need for a second one for any reason), and that it is an occasion worth a bit more celebration than exchanging clocks. I started planning a series of surprises and gifts about a week and a half beforehand, all of which were designed to punctuate the date with moments and items that were special and would always put a smile on ASoG's face.
I started off by gently waking ASoG up shortly after midnight (she had gone to bed and I was studying for grad school) and presented her with a card and a pair of pearl earrings - ASoG loves pearls.

The next day was a bit crazy with grad school class, a bris, and running around to prepare the additional surprises I had in store.

I left school at 12 and ran to a local store to buy a bouquet of a dozen red roses, which I gave to ASoG upon my return home, along with another anniversary card that had red roses on the front (all of which recalled the red roses I gave her when we got engaged, and several times afterward).

As it turned out, I wasn't informed that we were scheduled to be the kvatters, though ASoG DID know (thanks for telling me, ;) ) and I ran over to shul in my regular clothing and without my davening jacket, which I typically wear to a bris to dress up a bit. We walked into the hallway and stood near the sanctuary, casually chatting together, when our Rav suddenly runs over and tells us to get ready to carry the baby into the sanctuary (ASoG) and to the bima (me).
Aside from being caught unawares (and feeling underdressed), I was really, really nervous about the whole thing. I don't have much experience holding or carrying infants, especially ones that are so young, and particularly walking down, then later up, a lengthy incline while holding the baby horizontally outward in a pillow on my arms, instead of clutched closer to my chest or on my shoulder.

Once ASoG handed me the baby boy with a smile and a warning to hold his head up, I very carefully and very nervously plodded forward with measured steps, eyes focused on the little innocent face in my arms as well as the floor in front of me. I was deathly afraid of tripping, dropping or otherwise harming the poor kid. I was confused by ASoG's admonition, especially once I saw the next man I passed the baby not worry about that at all. She later told me that just as the mother was about to hand her the child that he began spitting up, so his mother quickly took him back, cleaned him up and returned him to ASoG.

After the baby was brought to the bima and settled down into the sandak's lap, everything suddenly ground to a halt and the father ran back down the aisle and into the hallway. Everyone was a little alarmed, and our Rav turned to us, saying "Don't worry, we double-checked and it's still a boy!" He then announced that there was a last minute diaper change required. A few minutes after the little guy was refitted, the same thing happened again! After the father returned the second time, he announced that it's a good idea to bring a few spare diapers to a bris, which drew laughs from the crowd. One of our kollel rabbis standing nearby turned to me and said that the double diaper dirtying was a segulah that the baby will have healthy intestines!

The bris went on without any further concerns, and I carried little Yosef Simcha haKohen back to ASoG, still extremely nervous, but happier I was walking up and not down the incline of the aisle. Surprisingly, at least it was a surprise to me, he seemed rather chilled out, sucking on the wine-absorbed little cloth and not crying bloody murder in pain. It definitely felt a little strange carrying him and thinking about why we were asked to perform this honor, but the opportunity was eye opening and spurred a spiritual connection in me I didn't really know I had before for children...

All the while we were at shul people were wishing us Mazal Tov on our anniversary, some more positive than others. One man's father actually was nifter on our wedding day, and he told me that his parents were very much happy and in love for 56 years of marriage, and then wished us that we should have at least as many years together as they did. Another fellow told me that we should take it as a good sign that if we haven't killed each other yet after a year, we're going to be successful together.

After the bris I went back to school for a 2-hour lecture, picked up a book at the library and then went shopping for the last few things I needed for the next round of surprises for ASoG.

I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to buy candles for a romantic dinner I had planned thanks to our local kosher caterer. I also happened to find a nice wall-mounted clock to replace one that we accidentally broke and ASoG had wanted replaced (she liked my choice).

I ordered all of ASoG's favorite foods from the caterer, starting off with a salad with baby corn, cornbread muffins accompanied by sweet onion spread (which was made by my sister, Shades of Black), and fettuccini alfredo as the main course.

As icing on the cake (pardon the pun) I ordered a special icecream cake for dessert from our local Cold-Stone Creamery, which conveniently makes cakes sized for 2 people, along with the message "Happy 1st Anniversary ASoG" written across the top. I though about calling them back after I placed the order to tell them to add "Love, SoG" but there wouldn't have been enough room anyway, it turned out.

The key to this plan was getting SoBl to get ASoG out of the apartment so I could set up the dinner. Thankfully, she came up with a plan to take her shopping, and the timing worked out quite nicely. I had time to prepare the table, organize the food, shave and change clothes before they got back.

At dinner, after ASoG was every-so-pleasantly suprised by all the delicacies, I gave her the 3rd card in my planned trilogy, along with a pearl bracelet which ASoG loved. For those of you wondering how I can afford all this jewelry, I heartily recommend, which has some nice pearl pieces and other items that aren't too expensive.

Bringing out the little cake was definitely the highlight of the evening for me, and a perfect way to top off my day of surprises for ASoG (or so she tells me :) ). It was also a very delicious way to conclude an already scrumptuous meal.

For those wondering what she got me for our anniversary: ASoG very expertly and carefully put together a photobook from pictures I had on my old computer spanning our first date, our engagement, the wedding, and more recent events in our lives together. Each page was very well arranged and accompanied by a poetic narrative that was very cute and heartwarming. Although ASoG tells me that I couldn't have made our anniversary any more special for her, I think her gift topped all of mine put together because of it's uniqueness, personal touch and memorable significance.

So for anyone out there planning 1st anniversary festivities, I highly recommend a staggered series of surprises/gifts/cards spread throughout the day that makes the entire 24-hour period feel special. It's not the money spent, but the creative and thoughtful effort as well as the presentation that really counts.

I hope that ASoG and I get to spend many, many more anniversaries together (until 120, at least) in good health, happiness and with lots of smiles and laughter.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jewish Music Fridays: Eden

Welcome back to a special 11-11-11 edition of Jewish Music Fridays!

Today we're featuring a Jewish rock band trio from Brooklyn called Eden.

Their original album "Break of Dawn" was released in 2005. I remember discovering it in a Judaica store when I was visiting cousins in Baltimore the summer after Shana Aleph. I thought the cover art was quirky, different and interesting, which helped convince me to buy the CD.

As someone who got into the modern Jewish rock scene with the advent of Blue Fringe after listening to a lot of early 2000's secular alternative rock in and around high school, I thought Eden's style was great. Their sound was very different from Blue Fringe, and had a great variety in the genres found throughout the album. The stark contrast between their fast-paced, rocking"Adon Olam" and their very beautiful rendition of "Od Yishama," the only song to feature a piano, demonstrates their knack for successfully utilizing a wide variety of styles of music.

I also particularly liked their English lyrics, which were meaningful and thought-provoking. One of the best examples that comes to mind is "V'ahavta," which describes our requirement to love our fellow as ourselves. That song in particular really speaks to me.

Another unique aspect about these guys is their vocalist, David Ben-Yshay (great name, right?) who is Sephardic. As such, I have always felt his pronunciation of Hebrew (with taf instead of saf, etc) sounds more natural and authentic than when non-Israeli Ashkenazim pronounce Hebrew this way. I think this is best demonstrated in their new song "Kadish."

After a few years of not hearing much about them, they produced a 6-song EP called "Knock at the Door," which was released earlier this year. The sound of the songs here feature a harder rock vibe, a little more energetic and in-your-face, such as the song "Yigdal." Overall, I think the EP captures the essence of "Break of Dawn" which includes very impressive music accompanied by meaningful lyrics. Their "Lecha Dodi" is nothing short of masterful, in my opinion.

I also saw them perform recently, and I have to say their live performance really rocks. They're really nice, well-spoken guys who are dedicated to their music but also take the time to connect the music to ideas from their personal learning and how it all connects to their Judaism. Everyone in attendance, from the most yeshivish to the unaffiliated really enjoyed the concert.

They don't have too many Youtube videos to embed here, so check out a playlist of songs from "Break of Dawn" and "Knock at the Door" on their Myspace page.

I'm not sure why these guys aren't more well-known, but they have a lot of talent I am looking forward to their second full album, which I believe is currently in production.

Both "Break of Dawn" and "Knock at the Door" are absolutely worthy of purchase. You can also check them out on Facebook.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Happy Belated 2nd Blogoversary!

Last year I completely forgot to go back and write a reflective 1st Blogoversary post. This year, I forgot when my Blogoversary was, primarily because I remember starting the blog around Yom Kippur, not realizing that since this year was a leap year that Yom Kippur fell out much later in the secular calendar than it did the year I began this blogging adventure. I continued to fall behind as grad school took up most of my free time, along with other more timely post ideas popped into my head.

Truthfully, I've also been a bit stuck in making an attempt to write something profound and meaningful. It's pretty hard to achieve that on demand, and I've always found inspiration to strike at unexpected moments that cannot be summoned or controlled.

Nevertheless, I think I owe it to myself, more so than the readers, to at least make an attempt to take a step back and ruminate a bit about where I came from, where I am now, and where I'm going with this blog.

I, like many other single bloggers out there, started the blog during a time of introspection following a series of unproductive shidduchim. My goal wasn't to create a dating/shidduchim themed blog per se, and initially was inspired to share my own hashkafic musings about events in the world and things I learned and experienced at YU. I drew my primary inspiration from Chana's Curious Jew for the hashkafic concept, and Bad For Shidduchim (to a degree) for what soon became the dating heavy theme of many posts. I greatly enjoyed both of their blogs, but felt there was an unfulfilled niche in these arenas from the male perspective - particularly when it came to dating. I won't make any sort of egotistical statement claiming I had any measure of success compared to either of these two bloggers, especially Bad4 in the realm of shidduchim, but I like to think I have made some positive impact in both areas.

The blogging started out somewhat sporadic and unfocused, sometimes correlating to my dating experiences, though altered and timed in such a way that they were not akin to the bloggers who run home to post about every (un)successful date they take part in. I didn't want this blog to become a sort of journal of my daily/weekly trials and tribulations, but rather a reflection on moments and experiences that made an impact on me and my thoughts, which I hoped to translate into a readable presentation for others to benefit from. I also managed to write a few posts about hashkafic matters, but soon that gave way to a greater focus on shidduchim...

I always wanted (and still want) to generate discussion, rather than simply throwing up posts and ideas for the sake of spitting out everything that comes into my head. Some posts certainly succeeded in doing that, such as the post that began the rise of readership in which I wrote about the intelligence of a shidduch prospect.

I wrote a lot about different aspects of dating.

I also found this blog to be a fun form of expression for me to share my somewhat zany sense of humor, often intellectual but sometimes just for fun, in the form of short stories. The vast majority of my stories centered around dating, often with the intention of making a critical point about some aspect of the overall dating/shidduch process I feel is not quite right or needs correction. I am a sci-fi fan, and a theme found within science fiction is often taking things to extremes, beyond where they stand now, to demonstrate where we might be heading if we don't examine our deeds/society. For example: focusing too much on personal traits in an excessive fashion or demanding that a potential date match our list of requirements in every possible way to even qualify for consideration. I also explored a re-imagined Exodus story, mixing modern technology with the Biblical story in a dark/humorous narrative told from the Egyptians' perspective. I hope to finish that some day (sooner, rather than later).

In year 2 of this blog, the unthinkable happened and I got engaged, and no, it didn't happen like the story portrays. I frantically tried to compose as many blog posts as I could about dating from a single person's perspective before I forgot anything. I still have a number of incomplete pieces from that time which I may go back and finish, though I admit they will be different since they will be written from a retrospective viewpoint.

Then I got married and wrote all about the in-and-outs of what happened. However, I was now left with a major dilemma: What is a "shidduch" blogger supposed to do once he finds the right one, gets engaged and stands under the chuppah with her?

Write about the Maccabeats, of course ;)

Honestly, I loved these guys when they were just the wannabe nerdy A Capella group of my undergrad university. I enjoyed the novelty of finally having our own group of singers to be proud of - just like "real" colleges. Of course, the turning point that made this blog into an unofficial fan site/source for Maccabeats info was the infamous picture I made as a joke that labelled which Maccabeats were single, engaged and married. Suddenly, I had a multiple thousands of visitors popping in, largely in part to a link on the Jerusalem Post and everywhere else on the internet. I still continue(d) to follow their career, and am very, very proud of their accomplishments on behalf of Yeshiva University and Judaism as a whole. I also poked fun at them a bit on Purim, which seems to get a few random Google hits every now and then. I personally think it's a sharper article than the Taio Cruz lawsuit article.

Then my lovely wife ASoG and I became connectors/shadchanim for YU Connects, which led to an ongoing series talking about how to properly use the YU Connects system. It's been an interesting experience writing about shidduchim from the "other side," though I have to admit ASoG's been doing far more active shadchanus work than I have in recent times because of my heavy workload with grad school. However, I do field questions from friends and step in to make a phone call or two when a particular guy isn't being cooperative for some reason.

I've also attempted to pass on lessons I've learned over the course of my shana rishona. This feature will definitely continue into the future. As much as I can hope to inform readers about what lies ahead in the final stages of dating leading to engagement, my experiences as a husband are something that I hope to always learn from and translate into lessons worth sharing.

With regard to the future of this blog, though I was once concerned about maintaining a steady rate of updates or finding material to write about, I think I've begun to figure things out. Since I am not in the active dating scene any more, I hope I can continue to share my musings on matters pertaining to Torah learning and hashkafa in addition to posts about being married and acting as a shadchan. I also have a bunch of stories that are in-progress and waiting for me to give them the time for proper thought and composition. I definitely look forward to sharing those with everyone.

I'm also going to continue to indulge my love of Jewish Music, which encompasses far more than my interest in the Maccabeats. Be sure to come back every Friday to explore new or under-publicized Jewish musical artists and their albums.

In conclusion, I want to thank all the readers out there for visiting, reading, sharing this blog with your friends, posting links on Facebook, and leaving comments(!!!) that add to the atmosphere of meaningful discussion and dialogue I've tried to create throughout this humble venture.

Life moves very fast, whether we want it to or not, and things can change - bringing both good things and challenges - before we know it. The key is to be flexible, open minded enough to think about the goings-on around you, and have respect when interacting with others. I think I've learned a lot about these things over the course of my time writing on this blog, and I hope I've had some positive influence on others, in addition to making you guys laugh and think.

May we all continue to move forward in this journey together, and may I soon have the opportunity to write a blog post about the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, Bimheira Biyameinu - Amen.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sarah, You've Got Some 'Splainin' To Do!

The episode of Sarah's laughter at overhearing the prophecy that she and Avraham will have a child in one year's time has always been perplexing. I'm sure many of the readers have heard numerous shiurim or read divrei Torah on the incident. While reviewing the second aliyah of this week's parsha Vayera for Shnaim Mikra v'Echad Targum, I noticed a few more wrinkles that doen't make sense to me.

Here's the scene. HaShem is visiting Avraham, who is recovering from his recent circumcision. Avraham looks up, sees three men, leaves HaShem to go greet them and arrange for food to be prepared for his unexpected guests. They ask him where Sarah his wife is (I guess he told them her name already, or they knew beforehand because Avraham and Sarah were famous), and Avraham replies, "Behold! In the tent!"

The man talking to Avraham informs him that he's going to return again in a year and Sarah will have given birth to a son. The next posuk tells us that Sarah is eavesdropping in on the conversation at the entrance of the tent, which is located behind "him," which I guess means Avraham, who had been going in and out to bring the dishes of food. In a narrative verse, the Torah tells us that Avraham and Sarah were old, Sarah had entered menopause.

Sarah apparently thinks this well-wisher and his blessing are funny, and laughs at herself/within herself/at her insides (depending on the translation) and wonders aloud if it's possible that though she has withered, she'll once again have "smooth skin," or resume menstruating (both per Rashi) and thus be able to conceive and bear a son. She also mentions her husband/lord is old.

Out of nowhere, HaShem, Who had seemingly been "absent" from the ongoing discussion (is G-d ever not there?) joins the conversation and asks Avraham why Sarah laughed, and famously alters what she actually said, omitting her seemingly slightly offensive remark about her husband to "Is it even true that I shall give birth, though I have aged?" HaShem proclaims that nothing is beyond His abilities, and says now that He will return in a year and Sarah will have a son.

Parenthetically, did you notice the sudden change from what the visitor said to HaShem saying the same thing? I think it's at this point that we can infer that the men who happened to stop by are implied to be angels. Though some commentators claim they were normal men - and according to Rashi, perhaps Avraham still thought so too - by combining this interjection by HaShem, along with their foreboding gaze toward Sodom (18:16) and departure for Sodom (18:22) following HaShem's revelation of His plan to Avraham, it seems to be somewhat overtly indicated that they are more than what they appear to be.

Anyway, after HaShem tells Avraham of Sarah's laughter and alters her words for the sake of Shalom Bayis (as Rashi says in 18:13), Sarah appears in the main tent, no longer hiding and denies laughing, which the narrative posuk tells us was because she was afraid.

Finally, the Torah writes, "וַיֹּאמֶר לֹא, כִּי צָחָקְתְּ" - "and he said, 'No, but you laughed'" (18:15).

WHO said that? According to the Artscroll translation, the pronoun "he" from "and he said" is lowercase, implying Avraham (which makes more sense than the speaking male visitor).

Is it just me, or does this whole scene sound like an episode of, l'havdil, "I Love Lucy?" Sarah/Lucy gets caught red handed, so-to-speak as HaShem / l'havdil Fred tells Avraham/Ricky. Avraham/Ricky turns to his wife as she vehemently denies it, knowing that she really did it, despite her denial and affirms that she did, indeed laugh.

Cue the audience laugh-track.

Did Avraham hear Sarah laugh because her laughter was quite loud and unique? Or is he saying that, "Well, if G-d says you laughed, sweetheart, and you deny it, I'm going with G-d on this one"?

It all seems strange to read the flow of the conversation that way,.

The JPS translation has the English version of the posuk written with a capital "He," meaning HaShem addresses Sarah and replies that she did, in fact, laugh. This makes a little more sense to me, since HaShem certainly did "hear" her laugh (how could He not, being G-d and everything?) and had just informed Avraham of that occurrence.

Now back in our crazy sitcom version, HaShem / l'havdil Fred turns to the embarrassed Sarah/Lucy and wags a finger at her saying, "Oh, yes you did!" Again, cue the laugh-track as Sarah/Lucy makes that famous grimace we all know and love.

It all seems a little strange. Even without the Nick-at-Nite references, HaShem "appears" out of nowhere, Sarah gets admonished, and we cut back to Avraham with his guests. Did Sarah just slink away, happy that she will have a baby but a bit embarrassed at the scene that just transpired?

Another thought, somewhat related thought.

At the end of last week's parsha of Lech Lecha, when HaShem first tells Avraham that he will have a child with Sarah, Avraham himself falls on his face laughing. He says "Will a hundred year old have a child? And Sarah, who is ninety, give birth?"

Avraham's response seems very similar to Sarah's. Each wonders with incredulity that he/she could possibly sire/give birth to a child because of their advanced age, and then remarks that his/her wife/husband is elderly. Granted, the terminology is not exactly the same. Avraham just uses their ages, while Sarah mentions her menopausal state and that Avraham is old. But is that really so much more offensive? Especially given HaShem's critique of Sarah, when He proclaims that nothing is beyond His abilities.

The Artscroll Stone Chumash quotes the Kotzker Rebbe who says that though Sarah truly believed her laughter was in good spirit, there was some real subconscious doubt deep within her mind. There's also the vort I heard Rav Goldvicht quote from the a Sefas Emes that viewed Sarah's denial in a better light. However, I can't recall anyone ever saying that Avraham's response was negative in any way.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to besmirch the reputation of our holy forefather, I just don't quite understand the inherent difference regarding the level of laughing disbelief expressed by Avraham and Sarah.

Any thoughts, comments, or suggestions on these parsha musings?

P.S. As many readers know, I am quite fond of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks and his writings. His "Covenant and Conversation" from last week on Lech Lecha is simply fantastic. His essay the week before that on Noach also discussed a fascinating interpretation of the Tower of Bavel and the languages getting mixed up that I had never heard before.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Jewish Music Fridays: Except Saturday

Welcome back to Jewish Music Fridays! Kick back, relax, and enjoy the music.

This week, we're featuring a Jewish rock group from Brooklyn called Except Saturday. I first discovered these guys my first year at YU, when they won the Battle of the Bands and went on to open the annual Chanukah Concert. They had a really great sound, and a tremendously powerful vocalist, Erez Cohen, whose range and energy was very much unlike any I'd seen/heard in other Jewish bands. I really enjoyed their Shabbos-focused songs, and was particularly enthralled with "Lecha Dodi," "Mizmor Shir," and "Show Me the Way."

I had hoped for them to release an album, and they had some personal recordings of a few of their songs available on Myspace. However, their professional recording debut didn't materialize. Erez became ill with a debilitating physical ailment that knocked him out for some time, forcing the band to a halt while he could recover. Read the full story on that saga here.

To my delight, the band reappeared somewhat suddenly last year on Facebook, with news that their album was finally coming together. When I actually purchased it off of Amazon, listening to the tracks felt like an old friend reappearing after a long absence. The songs I was familiar with from their live performances were all there, and sounded much better and more developed, and the songs I had not yet had the pleasure of hearing, such as "Yedid Nefesh" as well as the title track from their much anticipated album "To New Beginnings" were great, too.

Incidentally, "To New Beginnings" includes the words "Shades of Grey," though I doubt it's even an indirect reference to this humble blog ;) You can also download this track from their website.

Check out a few of their songs below, and be sure to buy their album!

"Lecha Dodi"

"Yedid Nefesh"

"To New Beginnings"

"Everyone's Alone"

"Mizmor Shir" live (not the best quality, I know, but I had to post it since it's one of my favorite songs of theirs).

I hope this "New Beginning" is the start of a long, and fruitful career!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Shidduchim? There's An App For That!

Imagine if all it took to get a date would be opening an app on your phone, checking to see which guys/girls were available in the nearby vicinity, a few quick texts/first phone call, and you're off!

Apparently, this is a new thing that's catching on in the secular world. Check out this NY Times article called "With an App, Your Next Date Could Be Just Around the Corner."

Sounds interesting, right?

Of course, there are some potential issues which the article, and the makers of these apps, try to address, such as personal safety when you're meeting up with someone you've had next-to-no contact with. Users of the app seem to think highly of it, though they have some difficulty attempting to move past a mental/societal stigma that this sort of thing is geared toward hook-ups and one night stands.

They say the services allow them to skip the more elaborate mating rituals of standard online dating, which seems to move glacially in an era of text messaging and social networking.
“It can take a month to actually meet up with someone that you’re messaging online,” Ms. Wang said. Mobile services allow for a “quicker jump from virtual meetings to actually meeting.”
In my time as a shadchan, and as a dater, I know that it can take a long time to "officially" set up a date, and there is indeed a rush, because people frankly have limited time to devote to dating, especially in the fast-paced existence that we live in.

So is this sort of thing the way of the future for Jewish Orthodox dating, perhaps in more Modern/YU circles?

I tend to think we won't adopt this technology in the immediate future, particularly with our culture's obsession with resumes, fact finding, and research. Granted, everyone should try to find out something about the person who has been suggested to them, because no one wants to end up going out with a psycho who either wastes their time or puts them in danger of some sort.

However, I can see this catching on eventually, especially if it becomes more standard in secular society. We adapted the online dating model with J-Date and Future Simchas, then customized it further to be in-line with our shidduch values system with Saw You at Sinai and YU Connects - so if near-instant app dating becomes an accepted norm, I think it could happen.

Sure, you may say: "You're certifiably crazy Shades of Grey! Who in their right mind would try this or even find someone they would want to date or marry using an app that locates the nearest available singles of the opposite gender?"

I'll answer that question/exclamation with a story of my friend, who randomly met his wife while going on Yeshiva University's Torah Tours for Simchas Torah a few years ago, back when non-YU/Stern students could participate. In order to save time/gas, the CJF people running Torah Tours asked all the volunteers to coordinate rides with one another so that they could meet up and get to their communities together. My friend, along with another mutual friend, were told to pick up a girl who was assigned to their group and give her a ride to their destination. Of course, they gladly obliged - and she in fact lived one block over from his parents apartment.

I'm sure you can see where this is going. Over the course of Yom Tov they hit it off, began dating, and are now happily married with a young daughter. Too good to be true? They grew up within one block of one another and never encountered each other before! To make things spookier, upon showing his wife some old videos of us all hanging out together in Israel while we were in yeshiva, his not-yet-wife walked through the frame of one shot. Yes, they were in the exact same place, within 10-15 feet of one another and never even exchanged glances. Now they're married.

Yes, yes, you can tell me this is one more example of those crazy hashgacha pratis stories we all know and love (or hate), but hey, it happened! Imagine if we could input our own hishtadlus by making those nearby, but currently unnoticed connections sooner? Ultimately, how it works out will be in the hands of HaShem anyway, but why not "help" in anyway we can, k'v'yachol? Chazal tell us that even HaShem finds making shidduchim as hard as it was to split the Reed Sea when our ancestors left Mitzrayim, so why shouldn't we find every means of putting in our own effort?

For those who are scared of the idea of going on a date without sufficient research being conducted beforehand, I have a few ideas.

1) The dates necessarily won't be as instantaneous , but let's give a short window of opportunity, say an 1-2 hours, for the interested person, should he/she desire, to make a phone call or two.

2) If the system catches on, and we can create a network of references who "approve" the person, all you would have to do is check the list of registered references and see if there was anyone you know. The dater would have had to contact the person, invite them, we'll say, when they set up their mini-profile, and that individual has to reply and potentially be available for contact. Instead of having a few references, you could end up having a very long list - each categorized differently based on their personal connection to the dater - and odds are, you'll know someone on it, given how Jewish Geography works, especially if both of the daters live in close proximity.

3) For anyone who still wants a shadchan available - and ASoG and I have seen fewer people actually use us at all as intermediaries - those people could also be attached to the profile, "on call" as it were, for post-date follow ups and anything else that may need to be communicated, even a 1 and done reply.

I'll admit, the idea isn't perfect and would certainly require further thought and planning before YU Connects makes an app of their own like this. But with the increasingly fast-paced, time-crunched daily schedules we all deal with, perhaps this could be a new tool to be used in the never-ending quest to match up all the singles out there.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Yesh Mussar Bagoyim

Chazal tell us that there is chochma, but not Torah amongst the nations of the world. I would like to include that they also have mussar as well.

During class recently, I accidentally interrupted another student during their presentation, a time we weren't supposed to be asking questions or making interjections of any sort. I guess my brain was on auto-pilot as I tried listening to what she said while simultaneously taking notes. To put it mildly, I was immediately mortified when she turned to me with a confused expression and the rest of the class also looked in my direction in silence. I quietly apologized and wished I could crawl into a hole in the wall and disappear.

During the break, I profusely apologized to her, explaining what I just wrote and admitted how rude my behavior was, even if it was entirely unintentional.

Later in class, during a group discussion, I also spoke too soon while another student was commenting on a diagram. The same student I had interrupted earlier turned to me and said rather bluntly, "You know, you have a tendency to interrupt people. It's really not nice."

This time, however, I simply said "You're right, thank you." After her remark, I made sure that I was very aware of who was speaking and made sure not to say anything when another person was talking. I honestly hadn't realized that my fast-talking, and often interrupting manner of speech was a big problem in my current academic setting. I guess I've become too used to the format of a quick give-and-take in casual conversation among my friends at YU or in learning. Regardless of the scenario, not being mindful of my tongue and when I should express myself does not behoove me whatsoever.

After we concluded for the day, I went over to the girl who mussared me out and apologized again while also thanking her for the rebuke. I told her about the concept of "mussar," which I couldn't really think of a good translation for, and explained that I appreciated her remonstrance for my interruptions. She smiled and said she can relate since she has a tendency to do that when she's talking with her family at home. Thankfully, we smoothed things over.

Since then, I've learned to be more conscious of when/how I say things, particularly in settings where people from non-Jewish backgrounds may not be familiar with the rapid conversation/exchanges that I have grown accustomed to. I certain never expected to receive mussar from a gentile classmate, but I am glad the opportunity presented itself, not only for my own self-correction, but also to allow me to learn from everyone around me in my daily life.