Tuesday, December 18, 2012

YU-Connects To-Go 5773 - Divrei Torah About Dating and Marriage

After a delay due to hurricane Sandy, the YUConnects along with Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future have published a collection of Divrei Torah and professional insights about dating and marriage that are authored by numerous well-respected Roshei Yeshiva, rabbeim, teachers, doctors and professionals.

I am a big of the To-Go booklets of Divrei Torah, and always make sure a batch gets delivered to our shul. If you're lucky, your congregation will have these available shortly, but if they run out or happened to not have ordered any, all the articles are available online to download for free. 

Here are the various different articles and their authors:

Enjoy! I hope the insights contained in these Divrei Torah and articles will inspire daters and shadchanim alike.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Shanda of "Chrismukkah"


This article on CNN, which is titled "Celebrating Chrismukkah: Shalom Stockings and Hanukkah Bushes," showcases a deeply troublesome trend that is growing in America, and perhaps elsewhere in the world. Interfaith couples, seemingly more male-Jewish, female-Christian have found a way to circumvent their cognitive dissonance by "blending" their two traditions together into a mish-mash of trees with Jewish stars and other Judaica-related ornaments.

To me, this whole phenomenon is a shanda - or in English, a total embarrassment.

Seriously?! Does any Jewish person in their right mind NOT find this offensive?
In an attempt to cover up and ignore the blatant incompatibility of the two vastly different, contradictory, and historically belligerent (more so in the direction of Christian --> Judaism) religious perspectives, these couples have watered down the essence of their distinct beliefs and mushed them together into an incomprehensible facade of a holiday.

It's a poorly designed artifice that consists of a bright, shiny, and attractive gilded coating that disguises the sheer worthlessness of rot within.

While attending a recent family Chanukah party, I spoke with a female cousin who is married to a Christian man. Their son, now 6-years old, is living a lift of total conflict of identity. His mother and grandmother (his maternal grandfather is no longer living) strongly encourage him to partake in Jewish activities, celebrate the holidays with our family, attend their local Jewish day school, and go to shul on occasion. However, with the lack of a Jewish father figure of any sort, along with contemptuous and contradictory opinions being espoused by his father, the boy doesn't have a source of Jewish instruction like he should at his age.

He is stifled. He has expressed on his own that he desires to come to shul every Shabbos and do other things with his more observant friends and classmates (who have a complete set of Jewish parents), but he is often prevented from doing so either because his father overtly objects, or there simply isn't anyone to guide him, teach him, or accompany him to shul.

My cousin summed it up quite poignantly by admitting with a sigh, "It's actually a very bad thing to marry outside the faith."

I've never heard another intermarried person ever admit that aloud. I hope she somehow figures out to raise her son in an appropriate Jewish way... but for now I weep for the boy.

I have another relative on the other side of the family, this one male, who married a Christian woman, and after many years of marriage, she not only has exerted her domineering influence over their halachically non-Jewish children, but brainwashed this relative into following her whole-heartedly into her world of religious observance. He now detests the rest of us - his Jewish relatives, even those who aren't observant, and doesn't come to any family functions (to which my parents invite everyone, regardless of level of religious observance or marital status), because she has warped him into finding our religious beliefs distasteful. To me, this is a horrifying example of what the Torah tells us; that marrying daughters of other religions will lead us astray after their religion.

To be clear: I have nothing against non-Jewish people. I am more than happy that they celebrate and observe their holidays and beliefs/traditions. They have their role to play in our world, contribute to the growth and productivity of society, have every right to exist, and even merit a portion in the World to Come as long as they keep the 7 Mitzvos of the Bnei Noach. We all exist together b'tzelem Elokim, all fulfilling our distinct jobs in this physical existence.

What irks me to no end are the self-deluding Jewish people (and their significant others) who think they can inter-date and intermarry and end up okay. It simply won't happen. They'll be lost to us, and their children after them will be lost to us.

Our halacha and observances will be subsumed under the general wishy-washy conglomeration that has characterized Christianity from the start, as it absorbed and adopted the multitude of local pagan practices from the peoples it engulfed as it spread around the world.

Lighting a Chanukiah next to a Christmas tree is a complete and utter contradiction and slap-in-the-face to what the Maccabees risked and gave their lives to achieve in recapturing and purifying the Beis Hamikdash. They shed their blood to remove the foreign influences from the central physical manifestation of our connection to G-d, and we light the Chanukiah to remember their sacrifice, bravery, and commitment to Torah and Mitzvos above assimilation and adoption of beliefs incongruent to our own.

The mere fact that these individuals in the CNN article can find meaning in a blended tradition shows how weak and inane their own Judaism is. If you have no foundation, then there is nothing to build on. Even if you do have a foundation - say significant Jewish day school through Bar/Bat Mitzvah age - unless you continue to build on top of that with further Jewish education, all you have is a big cement block embedded in the ground, upon which almost anything can be placed - even if it is contradictory to that which you began life with.

I've seen it happen to several of my own peers who attended the same Orthodox day school as I did, from the 2-year-olds through the 8th grade. It's as though they simply chucked everything they had learned out the window the last time they left the building. High school was a period of freedom and exploration, without any meaningful connection to Judaism, college was no better, and now a few of them have actually intermarried. One, thank G-d, got divorced recently, but another has already had a child with his non-Jewish wife.

All this makes me very frustrated and sad. I wish these wayward Jews would see the error of their ways. This is not a post about kiruv on the whole, but the crossing (no pun intended) of a line that should never, ever be crossed in the first place. In my view, these individuals can be as non-observant as they want to be (though of course being observant of Torah and Mitzvos is the ideal and should be encouraged), but they can't date and marry gentiles. If someone isn't shomer Shabbos and kashrus, but generally still cares about Judaism, even nominally, then their is hope to engage him or her and help them return to the fold. For someone who has made that treacherous decision to choose a life partner who isn't from our people, I don't know what to say or do with him/her other than say I feel betrayed.

They have betrayed their G-d, their people, their families and friends, their parents, and most of all, themselves.

No amount of newfangled, kitschy Chrismukkah traditions will ever make up for that. Fluff remains fluff - utter nonsense - without real, meaningful connection to that which we know to be absolute Truth.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Just A Maccabee, Looking For A Victory, Lifting Up My Eyes To The Sky-y-y-y Above!

I had to share this particular Chanukah parody music video in its own post since a good friend of mine was the driving force behind it and put it all together for San Diego NCSY. It's also a particularly fun song since they've finally used a different secular song as the basis instead of the umpteen "Gangnam Style" or "Some Nights" parodies that are out there.

I present: "Am Yisrael Chai," a parody of Train's "Drive By."

I must say, it's quite catchy and stands out among the other songs out there this year. The flip-book animations are also particularly neat and unique.

Great job guys!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Christmas Lights = Attempt To One-Up The Chanukiah?

As I was driving home last night after a quick trip to Walgreens, I passed by several gentile homes with decorative displays of lights all around the exterior of their homes, along with well-lit Christmas trees displayed prominently in a central window.

A bit further on my return trip, I passed by our Jewish neighbors and saw their Chanukiot still burning in a front window on display for all to see.

Then an idea hit me.

Akin to many of their religious rituals and beliefs, are the Christmas lights meant to be another Christian attempt to replace/outdo our own religious practice of lighting the Chanukiah in a window, or back in the day, on a doorstep?

I was fascinated to discover that the original "minhag" for these lights was to have candles decorating Christmas trees in upper class homes. Of course, this was before electricity, but nevertheless, the parallel imagery struck me.

Our lights serve to publicize the Chanukah miracle, the miraculous victory of the Chashmona'im and the miracle of the oil remaining lit for 8 days and nights in the Menorah of the Beis Hamikdash. By lighting our Chanukiot, we are adding a bit of spiritual light to the darkness of the general world... but are they trying to copy us?

In a way, this idea seems quite strange. Instead of darkness trying to swallow our Chanukah lights, as has been the image found in many mussar schmoozes, there are now many, many more lights of all different kinds out there that are usually more grandiose, public, and eye-catching than our Chanukiot sitting on the windowsill.

And yet, that seems to be precisely the point.

For all the elaborate set ups, intricate details, pretty colors and high electric bills, there is no substance or soul to the practice of setting up strings of lights on a tree or on the outside of one's home. It's nice, it gives the family something to do together, it's tradition... but is there any depth or spirituality to it?

My answer is no.

Whereas the gentile world puts up their holiday lights for fun, for sport, or for ego inflation, we light the Chanukiah and recite blessings that acknowledge the past events and miracles that demonstrate our continued sense of gratitude to HaShem, as well as the continuity and meaning of the Maccabee's struggle against the assimilation and Hellenization of the Greek culture and values.

We don't need an ostentatious display that has a "wow" factor to achieve our purpose. Sometimes simplicity is elegance in and of itself. By lighting the Chanukiah, we connect back to our forefathers before us, going all the way back to the original establishment of the holiday following the re-dedication of the Beis Hamikdash and our renewed spiritual connection, relationship and service of HaShem.

The other lights that appear during this time of year are nothing more than distractions, background "noise" that attracts the eye but gives no substance in return.

In Haneiros Hallalu, we say that the Chanukah lights are not to be benefited from, but only to be looked upon. In doing so, we can reflect on their origin, think back to the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, and realize how much we've lost in its absence. However, we can also contemplate what we need to do to merit its return. We can open our minds to spiritual revitalization that the Maccabees spear-headed, and tap into the spiritual energy that permeates this time of year. Just as we say in Al Hanissim, we recognize the past events and miracles, right along their continued residual energy that reappears every year when the cycle of Jewish holidays turns once again and we arrive at this point in time

I hope we can all take the time to stop whatever we're doing and gaze at the Chanukah lights and take the time to think to ourselves about our spiritual well-being and what we can do to improve it. How can we take our own internal light, the pintele Yid, and cultivate it to become a brilliant flame that will light up our spiritual light, and even provide light for others whose internal sparks may be dim or partially smothered by spiritually harmful influences.

Just as Chazal mention that a fire can be shared without diminishing its original source, may we all merit to share our own spirituality, the Torah we've learned, and our yearning for a closer relationship and service to HaShem. By spreading the light, may we reach an illumination great enough to enlighten the world at large, and bring the ultimate source of light back to Earth with the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash, bimheira biyameinu.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fantastic Musical Proposal Video

Eric, the fellow starring in this cute music video that details his proposal to his fiancee whom he met on J-date, is quite the talented guy. I'm very impressed with the overall quality and creativity shown in the arrangement, choreography and seemingly random bits of humor thrown in (the male ballet dancer?).

I think he's got the Maccabeats and Y-Studs proposals beat.

Maybe we should have an annual competition for Jewish musical proposal videos? The winner could get an appearance by the Maccabeats (or someone else of their choice) at their wedding or chuppah.

So, female readers - what would you think if your gentleman caller and hoping to be fiance made a production such as this for you?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Another Maccabeats Marriage Update

My last post on the subject of the marriage availability of the members of the Maccabeats was this past January, with a new image that was subsequently updated in February - and is now outdated.

The updated graphic, as well as its original version, are the most (and basically only) downloaded files from my blog. I wanted to set the record straight so people, probably eager female fans, will stop downloading the  old picture.

Not only have several Maccabeats gotten married, there is also a NEW Maccabeat (and former Y-Stud) who has joined the group.

Click to enlarge.
The Members of The Maccabeats
Also, We will now have a separate availability graphic for the members of Standfour.

The members of StandFour
So for all those girls and potential mothers-in-law out there hoping for a Maccabeat Marriage - time is running out! 

...Unless there are more new (single) Maccabeats added in the future.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Yosef: A True Role Model For Today

Whenever we are reading the parshiyos that discuss the lives and actions of the patriarchs and the fathers of the twelve tribes, I often here people talking about their exalted, holy level of existence, far above our own imperfect way of living. This is usually a result of over reliance on viewing them through a Midrashic lens, interpreting anything potentially problematic in their behavior in a starkly positive light.

However, approaching the Avos and their offspring in this way, in my view, puts too much of a distance between us and our progenitors. By doing this, we place them on a pedestal of spirituality, far our of our reach, and without any realistic models to inspire us to embody their very earthly, though also very spiritual, deeds, characteristics, and beliefs.

I don't mean any disrespect to our admittedly holy and spiritually elevated ancestors, but rather that we should do our best to understand pshat and figure out what we can learn from to apply in a practical fashion to our modern-day lives.

Case in point, Yosef, son of Yaakov and Rachel. He has come to be known in rabbinic writings as Yosef HaTzadik - the righteous - because of an incident in this week's parsha, Vayeishev.

Yosef, a mere teenager of 17 (maybe slightly older, 18, 19) is alone in the morally depraved Egyptian society, a servant to the head of Pharaoh's guards, Potiphar. He enjoys Potiphar's favor, who trusts him implicitly because of his good conduct, and is a model man-servant in his service of his master.

Then his master's wife sets her eye on him.

She begs him to sleep with her. And he refuses - though not without effort. The trop or cantillation on the word "and he refused" - "Vay'ma'ein" is a shalsheles, which undulates up and down 3 times, indicates, per numerous commentators, a great measure of self-doubt and struggle on Yosef's part.

Yet, despite the situation - in which no one would observe them sinning - or the biological fact that he probably had the typical late-teenager's boatload of hormones coursing through his veins, as well as the general immoral atmosphere which pervaded the Egyptian society at large, Yosef turns her down. Not once, not twice, but over and over, and to the point where he flees, as though for his very life, leaving his outer garment in her hand and running outside improperly dressed.

Most of us are aware of the famous reason for his refusal, as cited in Chagiga 36B, that Yaakov's image appeared in the window of Potiphar's house and disapprovingly spoke with Yosef about the consequences of his actions - not unlike Obi-Wan Kenobi in The Empire Strikes Back.

Don't do it, Yosef!
However, this is an Aggadic Gemara, and not indicated in the pshat. As we just learned in Daf Yomi on Shabbos 63A, "the verse never departs from the pshat," even if there is a metaphorical or deeper level of understanding in the Torah's words.

So how does that benefit us in this situation?

Because Yosef was a 17 year old teenager who resisted the often overpowering urge to indulge in physical gratification and defeated the attractive temptation that was repeatedly shoved in his face.

How many of us, as teenagers, let alone now as older, more mature adults, could say that when faced with this sort of "perfect" opportunity to sin, would not give in? Potiphar would never find out, Yosef's family would never find out, it'd be so easy to "get away with it."

And yet, Yosef didn't go down that path. Not only did he refuse to cave, he endured a public scandal that his would-be adulteress lover falsely instigated, initiating a smear campaign that landed him in a dungeon.

How many men of note, famous and well respected, have we heard of in recent years that have failed this test of temptation time and again? If it's not our president, it's the head of the CIA, governors, senators, celebrities, musicians, sports stars, and even some respected religious leaders.

None of these men (and women as well) can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with a 17-year-old Hebrew slave, kidnapped and alone in a foreign country.

Think about that.

Nowadays, the perpetrators of the these immoral sexual dalliances have first and foremost on their mind, "How can I not get caught?" "What's the best way to accomplish my personal physical gratification without causing fallout among my family, friends and supporters?" "What's the best excuse or cover story?" And none of them think about getting caught, or what that will mean, the relationships it will rip apart and the hard-earned trust it will destroy.

Yosef didn't need to worry about that, because it wasn't on his mind. He didn't contemplate how to best achieve his sin - he fought the thoughts that arose in his mind while his seductive master's wife offered her charms again and again. He fought, and won - and when he knew he couldn't fight in the same way he had before - she DID grab his garment, but who knows what else she was doing to him physically at the time - he fled as though his life was in danger.

Though perhaps not in mortal danger, he was in spiritual peril, an immortal danger, if you will, and he had to escape however he could. Though not intact in attire, he was intact spiritually. He won the war, even if was ended up damaging his public image. No matter what the people thought of him, even if Potiphar believed internally that Yosef was innocent (and hence didn't have him executed), it was better for Yosef to have his name tarnished by lies than to tarnish his soul by lying with his master's wife.

If only we could internalize Yosef's strength, pay attention more closely to that internal shalsheles of trepidation at the moment we are tempted to do an aveirah - and like Yosef, listen to it, rather than give in to the suggestions of the Yetzer Hara. Without a doubt, the world would be a better, more moral place.

I think this is a very human, relatable story that helps us connect to Yosef and our forefathers in a realistic fashion. It is possible to resist temptation, no matter what the situation is, especially in matters pertaining to sexuality - one of the most problematic arenas nowadays - and come out stronger, more resilient, and spiritually elevated by our proper choices.

Perhaps we can then also merit the title of tzadik, and better serve HaShem in a renewed, more focused, and dedicated fashion.

New Maccabeats Chanukah Video / Original Song - "Shine"

The Maccabeats have taken things to the next level as they release their newest song/video "Shine," their very first original song. Known for the past two years as one of the best, some may argue the best, Jewish A Capella and Parody groups out there, I welcome this change and think they've done a great job. Same Maccabeats quality, professionalism and where appropriate, humor, all wrapped up in a new, catchy song that we've never heard performed before. I like the use of continuity with "Miracle" and the reappearance of the Greeks from "Candlelight."

"Shine" can be purchased online at CDBaby

I hope this is just the beginning of their original releases, and they have much continued blessing and success in reaching out to the world and providing inspiration for us all.

For those who are wondering what the deal is with the "break off" group StandFour, these four former Maccabeats now have lives that are too busy to allow them to travel across the country, or to Australia, as readily as their fellow singers. However, even though they won't be touring, they still want to produce quality, engaging Jewish music and videos, hence StandFour.

I say the more Jewish Music out there, the merrier, and   look forward to what both The Maccabeats and Standfour will create in the future.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

So, Who's Getting Married on 12/12/12?

Assuming the Mayans were wrong and the world isn't coming to an end next Wednesday, is anyone planning on getting married? This'll be the last time for 100 years that the invitation and bentschers will have triple double-digits.

I know of a few couples who got married on 10/10/10, though I didn't hear of any 11/11/11 weddings (now THAT's a cool wedding date) because it unfortunately fell on a Friday. Any of these triple numerical wedding dates definitely makes remembering anniversaries easier - at least for the couple. 

One of my friends, who got married on 10/10/10, told me that a family friend called his parents to get their phone number so she could call the couple and wish them a happy first anniversary the year after they got married. His parents told her she already missed it by a month - and she looked at the calendar to discover to her embarrassment that that day was actually 11/11/11.

Next Wednesday is also the 4th day of Chanukah, and 4 x 3 = 12!  I had to find a Jewish connection somehow. 

So, is anyone you know, perhaps you yourself, jumping on the 12/12/12 let's get hitched bandwagon?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Chanukah Music Videos 5773 / 2012

A full 2 years after the stunning, unexpected success of The Maccabeats' Candlelight, we are now back in the month of Kislev and Chanukah music videos are beginning to appear on Youtube.

Here's a listing of this year's releases - new videos are posted at the bottom as they appear.

To check out last year's videos, click here.

San Diego NCSY presents "Am Yisrael Chai" - a parody of Train's song "Drive By." It's very catchy (as is the original) and stands out for not being another "Gangnam Style" or "Some Nights" parody. The flip-book animations are also rather neat.

Six13 has a new song "Hanerot Halalu," which features appearances by many viewers who submitted their own clips of them singing.

The Shira Chadasha boys' choir has a preview video of their new song/album: "Chanukah"

Matisyahu has a new song called "Happy Hanukkah."

StandFour - a new A Capella group composed of 4 former Maccabeats is fun and pop-y mash-up.

The B-Boyz are at it again, this time parodying a classic song by the Jewish rap group Beastie Boys in their somewhat awkward and presumptuously named: "Top Hanukkah Song 2012 : (You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To DREIDEL)." Word to your Torah!

"The Chanukah Miracle" by ShoobyDoobShloimy

Here are some children singing "Sivivon" with underwear on their heads in "It's an underwear Chanukah!"

Here's "Gangnam Chanukkah" by  Mar Ḥeshván

...and here's some "Hannukah Lights" that play along to the real "Gangnam Style"

Technion Israel made a Rube Goldberg Machine Chanukiah!

The Yeshiva Boys' Choir - "Daddy Come Home." A bit of a tear-jerker.

Here's "Chanukah Time" by Josh & The Jamtones.

"Chanukah Medley" - a "medley of American Satirical song which feature the festival of lights," performed by the London Jewish Male Choir.

Here's a cute musical Chanukah greeting from Rabbi David Sirull

"WE'RE LIGHTING THE MENORAH" by students from Yeshivat Reishit Yerushalayim. These guys have moves that put the Lions of Zion from the Aish videos to shame. This seems to be an original song.

Pella is back, and now apparently coed - women are featured singing and dancing(ish) in this video.
they've made their own A Capella mash-up called "8 Nights of Hanukkah." They use the same song as StandFour as the primary basis of the song.

The What's Up Band aka The Shlomones have released "Pass It On."


The Maccabeats have now joined the Chanukah music party with their fantastic original song, "Shine."

Aish.com has eschewed their typical holiday music video parody in favor of a sketch video about a pregnant lady and her roller-blading, acrobatic husband - all accompanied by instrumental electric guitar. It's called "Racing Home - A Hanukkah Surprise."

12/8/12 - these two videos feature women singing and dancing.

The Ein Porat Fountainheads have finally posted their video/Apple parody sketch, which is quite the departure from their usual music videos. It's called "iHannukah - Apple Style."

Yet another "Some Nights" to "Eight Nights" parody, this time by the coed  Israeli group, Shirat Machar, called "Eight Nights the Miracle of Light."


Here's "Hanukkah - World on Fire" by Shir Soul.

Now this is really cool and quite lyrically creative: "Hanukkah Hip Hop" by Ari Lesser.

A.K.A. Pella is joining the parody bandwagon with perhaps the best Gangnam Style Chanukah parody of them all, called "Chanukah Style."

Shmaya Silverman, with producer Ari Goldwag has released "Chanukah."

Yeshiva Day School of Las Vegas made their own music video to Shlock Rock's classic "My Menorah," starring their students.


Chanukah music on BAGPIPES!!! Very cool.

"The Simple Chanukah Story" starring wine corks! The music is kinda catchy and reminds me of a Wii start up menu theme.

The Hebrew School of Bal Harbor produced a pretty nifty Chanukah Style - Gangnam Style parody starring its students.

Not to be left out, Glee included "Hanukkah Oh, Hanukkah" in their recently released 3rd Christmas album. This features a male vocalist, for anyone wondering.

If you know of any more videos/songs - post them in the comments and I'll add them!