Monday, February 27, 2012

Support Tamar Epstein, An Agunah, Become Free

Tania at Thinking Jewish Girl started an online campaign to help an unfortunate young Jewish woman, Tamar Epstein, become free from her agunah status. Her secularly divorced husband, Aharon Friedman, has withheld presenting Tamar a get (document of Jewish divorce) for 2 years.

The news media is beginning to report on the subject - and I can only hope Congressional Representative Dave Camp, Aharon's employer, will make an effort to motivate Aharon into giving Tamar a get.

In the conclusion of her post, "When You Marry a Creep," Tania asks several important questions:

1) Is it the communities' fault for encouraging marriage so badly that people compromise when choose their spouses?
2) How much should one factor someone's family when deciding to date them?
Is it fair to discard someone based on family history?
3) What to do with red flags? What are red flags and what are just things people do because they are human?
4) How does one move on after this?

I hope to dedicate a future post to my views on these topics, since I feel that they touch upon very significant concepts intricately related to dating, engagement, and marriage. I initially wanted to have one post which supported Tamar's cause and included my response to those questions posed by Tania, but for lack of time over the weekend, I don't want to delay posting my support for Tamar and Tania's efforts to publicize Tamar's ongoing, painful situation.

May Tamar and all the other modern agunos out there soon find release from their chains, and may all men out there who unfortunately get divorced do the right thing and give the get at the right time. For the unmarried - sign a halachic prenup!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Queen You Thought You Knew

I always do my best to make an attempt to prepare myself - mentally, emotionally, and spiritually - for any upcoming Jewish holiday. Typically this involves attending shiurim and reading sefarim on topics related to matters of the chag, and this year I chose to read "The Queen You Thought You Knew: Unmasking Esther's Hidden Story" by Rabbi David Fohrman to get myself into the Purim spirit.

While Rabbi Fohrman's book was released last year, I neglected to add it to my Seforim Sale purchases, and thus read other things. But after hearing positive from Chana at Curious Jew and from other sources, I checked it out and bought it at this year's sale.

Here's a dramatic preview video that was featured on Youtube prior to the book's release:

Pretty cool eh?

Overall, I found the Rabbi Fohrman's approach to be very engaging. His style of writing is not one of a typical work of this sort - a commentary/analysis of the events and workings of Megillas Esther. He speaks to the reader, almost as though he were delivering a lecture instead of composing a written text. Some more academic minded individuals might be put off by this stylistic choice, but I think the majority of regular lay readers will find it interesting and thought-provoking.

I enjoyed his "chiddushim" that expanded the political and socio-cultural aspects of what occurred during the the Purim Story. I had heard some of these ideas before from either the Malbim's commentary on Megillas Esther or in a far more in-depth and mind-blowing fashion that I experienced in Rabbi Hayyim Angel's shiur at YU.

Nevertheless, his insights were novel, fresh, and added another dimension to my appreciation of what is contained in Megillas Esther and Purim - which is what I wanted when I decided to buy and read the book.

My one critique, and it is somewhat substantial, is Rabbi Forhman's emphasis on treating the end portion of this book as a teaser for his next book - a sequel of sorts that will explore a particular element of his analysis in a deeper, broader fashion. What was first a mere footnote on p.134 referencing what will be seen in his forthcoming sequel book, expands into a multi-chapter, cross-Tanach examination of Yehuda/Binyamin relationships and a 4-page epilogue that serves as a "preview" of what will be contained in his promised continuation.

Also, the last page of the book with written text advertises "For exclusive bonus material relating to this book, please visit:" I attempted to access this material to add to my review, but it turns out the entire website is nonfunctional and merely "coming soon!" I'm not sure if this was supposed to be a further bridge between this book and the next, or merely expanded/cut material that was not in the print version. Either way, it seems like it would be appropriate for Rabbi Forhman to have gotten this material together and made available online almost a year after the initial publication and promise of more.

In the end, I think that "The Queen You Thought You Knew" is a worthwhile read, especially for those interested in understanding the layers of the Purim story. I particularly liked the "Mother Persia" theme that Rabbi Fohrman develops, particularly since I had never heard of it before and it fits so well with the pshat of the text. I wouldn't rank it as more essential than the Malbim's Megillas Esther commentary, which is a must read - but for those who have already read that, those looking for something new and different, and someone who enjoys lecture-style books, "The Queen You Thought You Knew" is certainly worth a look.

For further Purim reading suggestions, check out last year's post.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nose Job = Shidduch?

The Groggers have released their newest single / music video "Jewcan Sam (A Nose Job Love Song)." I like the music, though the lyrics/theme may be a bit much for me. The ending of the story is a little too borderline sketchy for me... but The Groggers' style tends to push the envelope.

Parenthetically, I think the video is funny for presenting the storyline that the guy is the one who needs a nose job, when I typically associate nose jobs being more popular with female folk.

This video brings to mind an interesting and not-often discussed topic: plastic surgery for the sake of getting married.

There ARE stories out there of people "fixing" one little thing about their appearance that then facilitated a successful shidduch. In "The Art of the Date," the section referring to maintaining physical fitness and upkeep of one's looks mentions the story of a girl who asked a guy to have his ears pinned back and a nose job as well (I think - I need to dig up my copy to confirm). After he agreed to her request, they got married and lived "happily ever after."

I once went out with someone who had an element of her facial appearance that I simply could not get over. Every time I went out on a date, I did my best not to focus on that aspect of her visage, but I kept finding myself indadvertendly staring/looking away. I honestly was repulsed enough to consider ending the shidduch because of it. My friend, who was serving as my shadchan talked me out of my hysteria, and after being apart from the girl for a few days due to a school vacation, I decided to give it one more shot.

I mustered up my courage, cleared my mind of all preconceived prejudices against her looks - after all, most everything else, like hashkafa, life goals, etc matched up well - and went on another date.

But in the end, I couldn't keep going out with her. I kept imagining what it would be like to wake up and feel that sense of revulsion boiling up from within the repressed recesses of my mind. I agonized over the decision, but I ended the shidduch.

As many readers know, I was not obsessed with looks when I was dating. I understand, rationally, with the appropriate degree of seriousness, the physical appearances DO matter. You can't try to be a tzadik/tzadaikess and marry someone you feel repulsed by when you think about their looks. No matter how many other things match up on paper or in person, if their appearance continuously turns you off, there's nothing you can really do about it.

Or is there?

Setting aside ridiculous suggestions such as a plethora of plastic surgery operations that would totally reconfigure the look of a person's face, would you ever consider suggesting a more minor cosmetic procedure to a person who you otherwise find fit to marry?

How about a nose job? Eyelid lift? Ears pinned back? Chin reduction? Scar/birthmark removal? Neck wattle removal? What about braces for someone with crooked teeth?

Yes, all these things cost money, time, and are accompanied by a measurement of suffering to one degree or another - but if you're sure this person is the one with the exception of this small physical "imperfection," would you have the guts to talk about it?

Or is it better to be able to fully accept him/her for who they are, warts and all as they say?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shirei Halevi'im Preview!

After I posted my initial Jewish Music Friday covering Shirei Levi'im, I was contacted by none other than Rabbi Benjy Epstein himself thanking me for the review and the publicity.

I mentioned that I usually link to youtube videos for people to sample the album and asked if he could do so. He replied that he couldn't do it at the present time, but I could!

Presenting "Friday" and "Shabbos" From Shirei Levi'im to get you in the mood for Shabbos!



Absolutely beautiful, aren't they? I am particularly fond of the repetition of the words "Mikolos Mayim Rabim" from "Friday" which is simply magical, to say the least.

If you don't already own this album yet, please do yourself a favor, head to CD Baby and buy it! This is one Jewish Music purchase you won't ever regret.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Are Profiles - On And Offline - Hurting Our Dating? recently posted another very interesting article about what some psychologists have to say about the pitfalls of using online dating - and specifically the issues that arise from relying too much on written dating profiles.

Sound familiar anyone?

I recall times in my dating life where I put too much into what I saw on the computer screen, whether on YUConnects or in a word document sent to me by a friend. I can also remember later points in my dating career wherein I would read a profile, without any real depth, making a brief phone call or two, and going out on a date. In fact, that was how I ended up meeting ASoG.

It seems like the process of trying to make the dating/shidduchim system very rigid and ordered, requiring certain things to be done in terms of the profile, massive investigation, etc make people more focused on the itty bitty details and not on the whole picture of who the person is and how he/she might fit into one's life.

We were recently working with a single friend, acting as her research people for a guy attending YU. After speaking with a friend of his and a Rosh Yeshiva who made some calls on our behalf, we had a good report. The guy has a great family, is very dedicated to his learning, serious about life and has healthy goals for what he wants to accomplish. The "problem" was that he came from a more yeshivish background and ultimately ended up at YU. She couldn't understand why someone would want to do that, given the "greater" opportunities he had had for Torah study when he attended a different yeshiva.

In an effort to spend too much time focusing on specifics in the profile, wondering why this was and why that was - and these were not real red flags of any sort - she almost turned down a great guy simply because he had matured and become his own person hashkafically. The YU Rosh Yeshiva who I spoke to was familiar with both people, said the match was certainly "ballpark" and worthy of at least a first date. I mentioned the concerns our friend had, and he replied that it's best to learn more about those details on a date and not through continued investigation. If, in fact something didn't quite check out after speaking to the person, THEN he said we should do further research.

I think that is a very healthy approach to the whole process. The problem that has arisen, mostly for men, but increasingly for women as well, is that no one seems to have a realistic standard in mind when accepting what's on paper as a potential worthwhile suggestion. Yes, guys are certainly guilty of maintaining lists of girls and their profiles (though I never had such a plethora of suggestions to deal with in the first place), but it's the "traditional" shadchanim who started and encourage this sort of unbecoming behavior. As the system has worsened, the profiles have become less truthful, more standardized, and frankly unreliable at times. This, of course, perpetuates the problem, rather than making things easier.

Do I personally believe in profiles? Yes. I think people should still use them, but only as a barometer for a general sense of who the person is and if he/she passes the threshold for what they are looking for.

An interesting point that the CNN article mentioned was that people often don't even know exactly what they want in a spouse. This is certainly true for beginning daters, because the more you go out and get exposure with different sorts of people and personalities, you begin to learn what does and doesn't work for you - and that includes physical appearances. I know that my own view of what I was looking for changed over the course of my dating career. From recent shadchan related experiences, it seems like there are a number of people out there who have had their needs/wants dictated to them by rabbeim/friends/teachers/family/mentors - and that's horribly wrong. It's one thing to say you need someone who has good middos and is caring, which I think everyone can agree on - but getting specific in suggesting/requiring a particular lifestyle (IE kollel) or certain criteria beyond the general need for religious observance and regular Torah study is rather unhelpful.

This sort of thing only prevents young, impressionable finds from discovering themselves and forging their own identities. Relying too much on profiles can exacerbate this problem, preventing free thinking and replacing that with a cookie cutter image that fails to live up to reasonable, realistic life.

How much substance do you put into profiles? Does dating work better by paying close attention to what's written on the page, or by investing more in the actual experience of meeting the person?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Maccabeat Mazal Tov

Just when I think that I can wait a whole year and finally update the graphic, I get the pleasant surprise of hearing that another Maccabeat got engaged.

I've updated the picture in the post and present it here as well.

This means that just over half of the Maccabeats are engaged/married!

For those ladies interested, better hurry up before they're all taken...