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Friday, July 31, 2009

On the Crisis of Jewish Education in America



On the Crisis of Jewish Education in America


As I was walking up the street with Reb Shmiel Kalbasavuah this morning, I met Rebbetizin Golda Neigelvasser walking her five triplets to the school bus. I immediately noticed that she was, once again, very pregnant, Surprised, I asked her, “Nu, you are having another, KeNaina Harrah? How come you didn’t come before the block association for approval?”

“Rabbi,” she replied, “there is no such committee!”

“Of course there is!” I responded. “My bashert, Feigeh Breineh always insists on meeting with the association every time I ask to have Tashmish HaMitah. And they always seem to reject my request!”

Mamesh, to be perfectly honest, I should have seen this coming. I recall that in the days before my Chassanah, all the meidelach who were friends with my Bashert made her a bachelorette party. Frayndee have her a set of kosher lingerie. Channileh gave her a crotchless Shabbos robe. Rivky gave her a vibrating Sefer Tehillim. But my mother-in-law gave her a jockstrap.

That should have been my warning.

I share this story because we live in an environment of confusion around the entire notion of kinderlach. The Toirah commands us: “VaShinantem LiVanecha VaDibartah Bum,” – “you shall teach your children the words of Toirah, and speak of them.” So, I ask you: where in the Toirah does it discuss yeshiva tuition? Where does it discuss yeshiva dinners and fundraising breakfasts, application fees and other costs? Rabboisai, if Klal Yisroel, standing on Har Sinai, understood the price of “VeShinantem LiVanecha”, would they have ever said “Na’aseh V’Nishmah”? Or would they have said “Thanks, Reboinoisheloilum, but I’ll take bacon, Saturday morning cartoons, and public school. Why don’t you instead offer the Toirah to the Palestinians? Just tell them it belongs to us – then they’d be happy to take it off your hands.”

Something akin to this shailah was first alluded to by Rabbi Akiva, in a Braisah brought down in Gemarrah Pesachim. According to the Braisah, Rabbi Akiva was once cleaning his house for Pesach when his Talmidim showed up at his door. As they walked in, they were immediately alarmed to see Rabbi Akiva, the Gadol of his generation, the man who organized the Shishah Sidrei Mishah and who invented bubble gum, on his hands and knees cleaning the chometz that had fallen between his washing machine and dryer. Shocked, one of his Talmidim asked, “Rebbe, why are you on the floor? Why can’t your cleaning woman prepare for Pesach, so you can spend your time teaching us your pearls of wisdom?”

From his position on the floor Rabbi Akiva looked up and responded: “Schmuck, I pay yeshiva tuition for my children. Do you think I can afford a cleaning woman? I can barely afford paper towels!”

So, as identified as early as the time of the Mishnah, there are definite costs associated with maintaining a Jewish lifestyle and tradition. It was for this reason that Rabbi Akiva had only five Talmidim: Rabbi Meir, Reb Nosson, Reb Yehudah Bar Ilai, Reb Yoisie Ben Chalafta, and Rabbi Shimoin Bar Yoichai. All of the other potential students went to the free Roman School, which had an excellent secular education, free gym, and all the Mishkav Zachor you could ever want.

As we look at our communities today, and specifically the Golus in America, we are confronted by a similar set of challenges that are fundamentally impacting the health of our communities. It has long been said that yeshiva tuition is the most effective source of birth control in the Yiddesheh community. It is also well known that the cost of a traditional Jewish education has been rising at four times the rate of GDP. (Actually, that’s healthcare in America, you Mechutziff, but it certainly sounds impressive.) But in particular, in our current era of economic upheaval, Jewish families are being pushed to the brink. Some are talking about establishing Jewish Charter Schools. Some are aspiring to set up afterschool Jewish studies programs to supplement a public school alternative. Many are even considering accepting Christ, sending their children to Catholic School, and being mezaneh with a hot red headed shiksa mom who has more children than a fertile Belzer Chassid in Bnei Brak.

Many of my Talmidim have privately asked me how they should address this challenge. Before suggesting a solution, it is important that we examine the causes of this phenomenon. As I lay out an intellectual, logical and rational analysis, you Minuval, please try not to hurt yourself.

Fact: There are genuine costs associated with a private school. In America, due to separation of church and state, at least outside of the south, there are no federal funds diverted to support Jewish private schools. This is not in itself a bad thing. But the burden of Jewish education rests solely on the Jewish communities themselves. Meanwhile, the Goyim, and their allies the Reform, take all our money and spend it on traifus in the public schools, teaching materials on evolution Chass V’Sholom, and condoms, which they hand out to first graders.

Fact: It is quite natural that there is a spectrum of economic distribution across the many families sending their children to yeshiva. Some can afford to pay full tuition. Others are supplemented by scholarships and other funds. Access to traditional Jewish education is viewed, at least in the Orthodox world of today, as a basic need, somewhat on par with koisher, mikvah, and Metzitzah BiPeh on your birthday.

Fact: The Jewish community in general, and the Orthodox community in particular, has been spending money like a bunch of drunken sailors on shore leave. There is no cause that they will not support: Museums, community organizations in America, community organizations in Israel, groups that fight Antisemitism, groups that support Antisemitism, foundations, hospitals, Israeli settlements, political action committees, film festivals, synagogues and synagogue expansions, publications, and myriads of charities, including the schnorrers who come to my door every Sunday. By the way – and this is true – I have given my Bashert, Faigeh Breinah, full permission to flash her… umm… double daled tzitz at any schnorrer who comes to our door if that will help discourage him. And if it encourages him, she is allowed to be mezaneh with him in lieu of writing a check. (Think of this as a contribution “in kind”.)

Fact: Traditional Jewish residential neighborhoods tend to have higher costs of living, due to higher real estate values and basic laws of supply and demand. The costs are also influenced by a sociological phenomenon that is an inherent Jewish trait, which is that Yidden MUST do construction and MUST send their kids to sleep-away-camps and MUST drive large cars and MUST have a silver Atarah on their Taleysim and MUST have the biggest Lulav in the shul, etc. (Well, I sort of always have the beggest Lulav in my Kehillah, if you know what I mean.) It is this fundamental materialism that drove Yishayahu HaNavi to quote the Reboinoisheloilum as saying, “Loi Soiseephu Havee Minchas Shav Ketoiress Toiyayvah Hee Lee…Limdu Haytayv Dirshu Mishpat Ashru Chamoitz Shiftu Yassoim Reevu Almanah.” "Do not bring your worthless offerings any more, Incense is an abomination to Me...Learn to do good; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Yishayahu 1:13, 17).

So, fundamentally, Jewish communities have been living beyond their means, dissipating community funds, and placing an undue burden on families: the source of our next generation. Too often, the decision makers on such policies are either the very well-off, who do not feel everyday economic pressures, and my heilikah Rabbinic colleagues, who are frequently too far removed from the economic burdens of the laity. In fact, the only time some of our Rabbis ever feel the pressures of the laity is when their underage targets reject their sexual advances (see Toirah Temimah, Hilchois Kolko).

As a result, the Jewish communities in America, AS COMMUNITIES, have viewed their relative wealth as a bottomless pit. And they have been flattered to be viewed by others, including our brethren in Eretz Yisroel, as sources of funding and “sugar daddies” for every cause, large or small. They have been blinded by their relative affluence, and have believed themselves immune to the need to make difficult decisions rooted in a fundamental truth: Every dollar that is spent outside of the community is a dollar taken away from the community. Every tzedakah outside of the school system and the community, righteous or ridiculous, comes at the expense of the Jewish Child in America.

So what is to do? There is a famous maiseh shehoya about Reb Yisroel Salanter. He was once travelling in the villages surrounding Kovno, peddling dry goods door-to-door, as well as selling shares in a non-existent company. It was Friday, and as he saw the sun setting, he realized that he would not make it home in time for Shabbos, so he rented a room at a local inn.

That evening, after davening Mairiv, Reb Yisroel asked the front desk to send two prostitutes up to his room. They quickly settled into their Oineg Shabbos activity, with one woman focusing on the raisha and the other focusing on the sayfa. As Reb Yisroel was about to complete his Makkah BaPatish, the women suddenly stopped. “Rabbi,” the leader said, “we need to charge you twenty percent extra for your Makkah BaPatish, the economy being what it is today.”

Reb Yisroel thought for a moment, and then responded. “Meidelach, you can leave now. I am not happy about it, but I will exercise my self-service option and take the discount.”

I am also reminded of an obscure machloikess between Reb Chaim Berlin and Reb Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor about a very similar dilemma to our own. In 1894 there was a shortage of funds in Byelorussia to support yeshiva education, and the regional Bais Din was convened. Reb Chaim, citing the lack of funds, suggested that all the yeshivas close down, and that the sizable Jewish community band together to overthrow the bourgeoisie, and, in his words, “purge our people’s commitment to the opiate of the masses once and for all.” Reb Yitzchak Elchanan, on the other hand, advocated the raising of additional funds for the community by selling advertising space on the noses of all the Jews of Byelorussia. In the end, Reb Yitzchak won out, and the region was able to keep all its yeshivas open. The community also made quite a hefty profit.

If we consider these two positions for our current dilemma, I personally favor Reb Chaim’s approach. However, we learn out from both Reb Yisroel Salanter and Reb Yitzchak Elchanan the most basic rules of finance: There are only two ways to address a budgetary challenge: By raising funding (revenues) or decreasing spending (costs). Or by doing both. There are no other alternatives or magic solutions.

Consequently, I believe that we must address our crisis as communities, and make difficult decisions together. Communities must build for their futures by investing for their futures. And there is no greater investment than education. Every other expense in America and elsewhere should be made a subordinate priority. And let me be perfectly clear: I am not speaking exclusively about Orthodox education. I am speaking of universally accessible, heavily subsidized, Jewish education available to all streams of Judaism for whoever wants it – Orthodox, Conservative, and, Rachmana Letzlan, Reform. Think of it as my “No Talmid left Behind” proposal.

I am also not speaking about afternoon programs, but community days schools that provide both secular and Jewish studies. We have the economic means to create this opportunity. But it will require the greatest degree of personal and community discipline because it requires us to decide what we WILL spend our money on AND what we WILL NOT spend our money on.

Rabboisai, tuition should never be a reason not to send a child for a good Jewish education. It should also never be a reason for couples not to have additional children. And, most importantly, it should never be reason for me not to get some hot adult action from my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah. Chass Ve’Chalilah my request for Tashmish HaMitah should ever be dismissed because of community concerns, and I have to go up to my bedroom alone to exercise my self-service option.

Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tisha Ba'Av Drasha




Tisha Ba'Av Drasha


I would like to share with you some thoughts I developed on the topic of Tisha Ba’av.

Last year, as I sat on the floor in shul on Tisha Ba’av, inhaling the stench of the guy in front of me who took the whole no-bathing thing during the Nine Days a bit too literally, I began to contemplate the relevance of Tisha Ba’Av to our daily lives. Later in the week, I pondered a parallel question: what is the relevance of Shabbos Nachamu, especially for those of us who are not single and have no plans to go up to the Catskills to play sample-the-gefilte-fish with some desperately unmarried third grade social studies teacher from the Bais Yankif of Sheytel Park.

At face value, Tisha Ba’Av is a simple concept. Klal Yisroel marks a period of national mourning by engaging in outward rituals designed to prove to the Reboinoisheloilum how sad we are, while we meanwhile pass our many post shul hours surfing porn to distract us from the growls of our empty bellies.

Yes, these were our ancestors who suffered horrible consequences many centuries ago. And in the great Yiddeshe tradition of compounding suffering, we somewhat arbitrarily link the date with other national tragedies. The destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash, the destruction of the second Bais Hamikdash, the Hadrianic Persecutions, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, etc. In other words, every bad thing that could possibly happen to the Jewish people.

But how can we feel personal linkages to the various national tragedies that happened long ago and did not impact us in our own lifetimes? And what EXACTLY are we supposed to feel? Empathy with our ancestors? Affinity with Jewish brethren and sistren? Or, as I sometimes feel, sheer panic and a sense that I ought to sign up with another religion as soon as possible, so long as I can avoid future persecution and have access to hot shiksas?

This question is at the center of a famous Machloikess Rishoinim between the RAMBAN and the RASHBA on the topic of Soitah. According to the RAMBAN, the Koihan administer the Mei Soitah to a married woman as potential punishment for her sleeping with other men in the past. But according to the RASHBA, the Kohain administers the Mei Soitah the woman as punishment for her not having slept with him.

As Jews, we are instructed to sanctify the Reboinoisheloilum through time: On Pesach, we re-enact the exodus from Mitzrayim be eating Matzoh until we are hospitalized for intestinal blockage. On Sukkois, we re-enact our sojourning in the desert by making last minute trips to Home Depot for electrical tape. And on Shavuois, we re-enact receiving the Toirah by doing shots with our friends and talking about who has the hottest wives in shul while our own wives are home putting the children to sleep and probably stroking the schmaltz herring to help them fall asleep, if you know what I mean.

But what are the rational limits of our behavior as we relate to Jewish history? And where do we draw the line between symbolism and reality when we worship Hakadoshboruchhu through time?

It is told of Reb Akiva Eiger that he was very diligent about not using numbers to count people, lest it echo the Avoidah, the ritual Practice, of the Bais Hamikdash, and wrongfully re-enact the past. Every morning in the Great Synagogue of Posen, he would check to see if there was a minyan by counting heads, “Hoshiya, Ess, Amecha, U’Varech, Ess, Nachlasecha, Uraim, Ve’Nasaim, Ad, Oilum.” At a count of Oilum, signaling the number ten, he would begin to say Birchas Ha’Shachar, as well as start whipping the Baal Tefilla with his Tfillin.

But he would not stop there. One Shabbos morning before Kriyas HaToirah, a young boy came up to him and asked, “Rabbi, do you know what the Yankees did last night.”

Reb Akiva smiled reassuringly and replied, “Shimee, great news! The Yankees beat the Red Sox Uraim to Hoshiya. Jones had Ve’Nasaim strikeouts, and Jackson had Ess home runs.”

This practice was not a universally held position. Many of Chazal actually counted using numbers, holding that concern for replicating the historical Avoidah was not relevant in their day – that there were indeed limits to how the history of Klal Yisroel should impact religious practice in their own lives.

The Baal Shem Tov is recorded by numerous of his Chassidim as having counted using actual numbers. As he traveled from town to town, raising money for his new movement, he would often go the front of a shul and say aloud, “Which of you would like to buy a chelek of Oilum Habah for eighteen zloties?” He would then look out towards the Kehillah and start counting the raised hands. “I see one Yid, two Yidden, three, four… Wow! There are fifteen of you suckers… err… I mean tzaddikim out there.”

But this practice was not unique to the Chassidic movement. Reb Moishe himself writes in the Igrois Moishe how he once traveled to Florida with his talmidim for spring break, and after being appointed as a competition judge, used real numbers to keep score in a wet tzitzis contest.

More to the point, the Maharal MiPrague himself addresses these issues directly in his lesser known sefer, Be’er HaGalus. According to the Maharal, Klal Yisroel is distinct from the pagans in that Oivday Avoidah Zorah seek the favor of their deities through the celebration of the forces of nature, which are largely seen as behaving randomly and are fundamentally distant from the work of humanity. But Klal Yisroel worships the Aimishteh, who we view as fundamentally involved in our fate and the workings of our own reality. And since the Reboinoisheloilum acts through history, such as in Yetzias Mitzrayim 3,400 years ago, and through the notion of time, such as through the unique covenantal pillar of celebrating the Shabbos Koidesh, the seventh day, so we must in turn use practices in time, such as practicing commemorative holidays fixed upon the calendar, to worship Hakkadoshboruchhu.

However, the Maharal goes on to discuss the limits of this principle. Writes the Maharal, “When I was a young bocherul in the Yeshiva, I prayed to the Aimishteh for two things: One, that I would learn Kol HaToirah Kooloh. And Two, that I would win the Prague Pick-Finnif Lottery so I could buy myself a new shtender. I studied day and night, night and day, and mastered the Toirah by the age of nine. I also davened three times a day. And I very strictly kept the Shabbos Koidesh. Plus I never tried to look up my next door neighbor Shayndel’s dress. But did I ever win the lottery? No! Which taught me one thing: No matter what we do, even when we worship the Reboinoisheloilum through time, He has His own master plan. And if our world does not align with His plan, we may as well start praying to Yushka or Buddha or to a giant head of lettuce, because Hakadoshboruchhu is certainly not going to help.”

Continues the Maharal, “So, conversely, if you are trying to worship the Aimishteh, and the form of worship does not make sense – say, by fasting three days and three nights after a bad dream, or not showering for a week before Tisha Ba’Av, you should probably stop. The Reboinoisheloilum created the world to be peopled by human beings and not angels, and also endowed them with common sense. So if you do something silly, like wear a $400 hat over a $3,000 shaytel, or get filters built into your water system, or only eat uncut fruit that has a Hashgacha, the only thing you have accomplished is convince Hakadoshboruchhu that you are indeed an idiot.”

So when it comes to Tisha Ba’Av, we must have appreciation for our history because marking time is inherent to our faith. Fast a little bit. Be a bit somber. Think about the suffering of our ancestors. Get under the bed and hide, so the Goyim cannot find you and persecute you. Try not to knead the flanken for one day, if you know what I mean. It won’t kill you.

But at the same time, we needn’t instill upon ourselves an intolerable level of suffering. Our ancestors did not seek their own torment – we should therefore limit our own. In fact, given the choice, I can assure you that our ancestors would have much preferred to skip the suffering commemorated by Tisha Ba’Av altogether, and go straight for the cute, zaftig, single third grade teacher at the singles weekend on Shabbos Nachamu.

Have an easy fast, you minuval

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Parshas Devarim




Parshas Devarim

This week we begin Sefer Devarim -- the Book of Deuteronomy, as the goyim and the Reform call it. With this, we officially begin the countdown to a day a few months from now when men will dance with other men, hand in hand, to celebrate the completion of the cycle of the reading of the Toirah. (I can't wait; I have a date with a talmid named Yerachmiel. I hope I get lucky.)

Saadia Goyn, a menuval in his own time, asks why we even bother with Sefer Devarim, which is largely a restatement of the preceding books of the Toirah. Why not jump straight into Beraishis?

According to the RAN, the repetitive nature of Devarim is directly related to its being read in the summer months, during which we customarily are relegated to repeat episodes of all of our favorite shows. Indeed, the RAMBAM, in his famous introduction to Hilchois Depreciation, suggests that to keep the Toirah fresh, we should pre-empt the entire Sefer Devarim and replace it with an original dramatic anthology series on famous Jewish tax evaders. We don't hold like the RAMBAM, however, because even if we had new episodes every five minutes, we wouldn't have enough time over the summer to do justice to the topic.

The RASHBA agreed completely. In his shtetl one year he preempted the entire Sefer Devarim with a new reality series entitled "Who Wants To Marry a Sheitelmacher." The series was cancelled after one season, however, as there was little interest in marrying a woman with the hair of a hot shiksa and the body of Moby Dick.

So we do read Sefer Devarim. In it, we are witness to Moishe Rabbeinu standing before Klal Yisroel in the desert as he is about to exit the stage of history, summarizing Klal Yisroel's achievements, reviewing rules and regulations, and basically reminding the Bnei Yisroel that they are a bunch of rebellious good for nothing minuvals.

A Gemarra in Pesachim asks why Moishe didn't simply distribute a pamphlet in order to save time and the expense of organizing a large gathering of all of Klal Yisroel.

According to Rav Yehuda, Moishe simply liked the power of the stage, and relished the opportunity to lead one last political rally.

But according to Rav Ashi, Moishe really milked this thing into a big money maker: He charged for attendance, got a piece of the food concessions (five dollars for a kosher hot dog in the desert), and sold licensed products such as Moishe Rabbeinu golf shirts, stuffed Toirahs for the kids, and big orange sponge hands saying "We're Number One". He also set up a website and internal satellite network and charged for pay-per-view access.

This week, in the first Parsha of Devarim, we focus on the soujourning, the travels, and the battles of the previous forty years.

According to Rabbeinu Tam, of all his achievements, Moishe rabbeinu was most proud of his beating Oig Melech Habashan, which is why there is so much detail of their encounters in this week's Parsha.

According to a famous medrish, Moishe was twenty amois high, he held a stick twenty amois high, and he jumped twenty amois high, and he only reached Oig's ankle. Yet he was able to knock Oig down to the ground, and then proceeded to cut off Oig's private parts, which he used as a tent on family camping trips.

But a different medrish tells us that Moishe and Oig really settled their disputes through arm wrestling. After much struggle, Moishe won the match, and in turn received all of the land east of the Jordan River on behalf of Klal Yisroel. While Oig, upon losing his kingdom, was forced to work as a telemarketer and sell Amway products in his spare time.

The MAHARAL has a beautiful interpretation of this event. He suggests that Moishe Rabbeinu never actually fought Oig. Indeed, he never met him, though did read an article about him once. Rather, Moishe created this legend to build excitement about the prospects of entering the Eretz Yisroel, to unify the people, and to make people forget about the whole "Babylon has weapons of mass destruction" debacle.

Indeed, just as the Jews stood on that mountain overlooking the Promised Land, we too, in our generation, stand at a critical juncture in our history. Do we push forward, or step backward? Do we move into the future, or recede into the past? Our wives are relying on us to make the right decisions, as are our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

So you owe it to them: Stop having children, for Reboinoisheloilum's sake! Get that vasectomy already! The last thing you need to do is to start with those midnight feedings again. And more yeshiva tuition? No -- save some money for the strip clubs and traifus. You're not getting any younger, you know. Moishe knew that the only choice was to move into the future. We should all embrace his wisdom.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Boinus Drasha: On Financial Scandals and Klal Yisrael





In honor of the sentencing of Bernie Madoff, I am re-posting this award winning Tshuva.



On Financial Scandals and Klal Yisrael

Dear Rav Pinky,

I am deeply troubled that a Jew would not only steal from Goyim, but also from fellow Yeeden such as Steven Spielberg, Elie Weisel, Yeshiva University, and Mort Zuckerman (OK, maybe Zuckerman is a stretch). I don't want to name names, chas v'shalom, but how can we continue living in the spirit of "Chaveyrim Kol Yisroyel" when we are faced with such deception and a Jew "made off" with other Jews’ money?

I am also concerned about the finances of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess. Are the Yeshiva's endowment funds in good hands? Can you assure your donors that there is nothing to worry about?

-Bewildered in Bergenfield

Dear Reb Bewildered,

What kind of Self-Hating-Anti-Semite are you anyway? Are you possibly suggesting that a Jew is involved in a terrible Shanda? Have you been seduced by the liberal media to believe that a member of Klal Yisroel has ANYTHING to do with the greatest Ponzi scheme in history, or, for that matter, that even ONE JEW was involved in the broader financial crisis which has brought all the Goyim… err… global economies… to their knees? Minuval!

First, I want to stress how serious this situation is. It is no joking matter. As I write this I am sitting at a table in the Yeshiva surrounded by various Shailois Ve’Tshuvois from the Middle Ages that debate how Klal Yisroel should react to a broad economic downturn. I have been doing my research here for weeks, sleeves rolled up, in the Bernie Madoff Bais Medrish, taking an occasional walk to pick up a Sefer in the Ivan Boesky Library, and from time to time finding a bit of respite over a cup of coffee in the Milken Cafeteria. Sadly, we have not yet completed construction of the Spitzer Family Recreation Lounge, or I would certainly be spending quite a bit of time there as well.

Your Shaila brings up some painful questions: What is the status of a member of Klal Yisroel who brings shame and dishonor to his entire nation? Is he still a Jew? What’s Pshat?

There is a Gemara in Baba Kamma that discusses a curious story about Mar Zutra, who, when he was not learning in Pumbedisa, owned a hat store in downtown Basra. One day a disheveled beggar came in and said to Mar Zutra, “Rebbe, can you spare a Pruta for a poor man?”

Mar Zutra responded, “What do you think I look like, a bank?”

To which the man replied, “Well you do have a big Jewish nose and just did construction on your house, so I just assumed you were a banker.”

“Your are wise, my friend,” Mar Zutra answered. “I will tell you what I will do. If YOU give ME one Pruta today, I promise to return two Prutois to you next week.”

The poor man thought silently for a moment, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a big wad of Zuzim. “Rabbi”, he said, “what kind of schmuck do you take me for?”

RASHI, commenting on this story, notes that the poor man was actually Yishayahu HaNavi, and that by asking people for money, he was really gauging which souls were committed to the Reboinoisheloilum and which were obsessed with materialism.

TOISFOIS, however, disagrees, and suggests that the poor man was really Yirmiyahu HaNavi, and that he was carrying a big wad of singles because he was on his way to a strip club in the seedy part of Az Zubayr.

Elsewhere, in a Gemara in Masechess Gittin, there is a debate how a community should respond when a man refuses to give a Get (grant a divorce) to his wife. According to Rav, the man is considered evil since he is causing his wife to be an Agunah (trapped in unmarriageable limbo), and the community should pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, beat the Gehennim out of him, and then leave him lying naked in front of the local Shul.

Rava holds farkhert: A man like this is considered to be a Tzaddik, since he is taking concrete steps to preserve Shalom Bayis. Rava suggests that we pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, and take him to a local motel for some hot Pilegesh action.

However, the most interesting Shittah for our discussion is the position given by Rabbah. According to Rabbah, a man who refuses to grant a Get is considered to be “Hoitzee Ess Etzmoi Min HaKlal” – he removes himself from the collective of Am Yisroel, and for that reason we no longer consider him to be a Jew. Therefore, Rabbah suggests that we pick up the man while he is walking down the street, toss him in the back of a pickup truck, and take him to a local market where we force him to pay retail and eat oysters on the half shell.

This Shittah of Rabbah is reminiscent of the famous case in the mid-Twentieth Century regarding Brother Daniel, the Meshumid. Brother Daniel was born a Jew in Poland, had saved many Jewish lives during the Shoah in Mir and elsewhere, and later converted to Christianity. However, his application to become a citizen of the State of Israel under the Right of Return was denied because it was determined by the Israeli government and the Israeli Supreme Court that you cannot be both a Catholic priest and a Jew. They are mutually exclusive. In other words, there is a recognition of certain circumstances under which one may lose his status as a Jew.

So when you raise the issue of Bernie Madoff and his Ponzi scheme, it is A LIE to suggest that Bernie Madoff is a Jew. Who told you that? Sure, Bernie Madoff was a member of the Board of Trustees of Yeshiva University and the Chairman of the Board of YU’s Sy Syms School of Business. But those of us who lead a Toirah-True lifestyle know that YU is no more a Yeshiva than Britney Spears is a virgin. Yes, many Jewish organizations invested with Bernie Madoff due to personal connections though Jewish financiers, and lost millions in the process, but clearly Hakkadoshboruchhu was punishing them for investing money with a Goy. And of course many Jewish investors gave their money to Bernie Madoff in the belief that they could trust a “fellow Jew”. But let’s face it: the guy had a 55 foot yacht! Plus he played golf! That should have been a tip-off that he is really a Shaygitz.

So the bottom line here is that Bernie Madoff is NOT a Jew! He may have been one once, Ich Vais, but now he is Hitler’s younger brother. And to suggest otherwise makes you a Minuval Am Ha’aretz, you Ignoramus.

And I make this Halachic pronouncement with great conviction because, as everyone knows, there is absolutely nothing in our grand tradition that would offer even the slightest hint of support for the kind of immoral behavior exhibited by Madoff towards his fellow Jews. Sure, Yankif Avinu steals the birthright from his older brother. But Eisuv Harusha was a Schmendrick, so he got what he deserved. Sure, Yoisaiph Hatzadick aspired to and ultimately ruled over his older brothers. But he was simply fulfilling the will of the Aimishteh. Sure, Klal Yisroel settled Eretz Yisroel by occupying the land, expelling or putting under Cheyrem the indigenous Canaanite peoples. But they were Goyim, so who cares? Sure, the Shulchan Aruch, supported by the Mishnah Berurah and many contemporary Poiskim, forbids a Jewish Doctor from being Mechallel Shabbos to offer medical attention to a non-Jew. BUT HE’S A SHAYGITZ – There are lots of them!

No, there is absolutely NOTHING in our tradition that would sanction or even suggest that one may have license to steal and cheat, at least not from fellow members of Klal Yisroel, So Bernie Madoff is clearly a Goy. Unless, of course, his family is willing to make a major gift. In which case I would be happy to officiate at the Bar Mitzvah of his grandson in his medium security penitentiary.

Now, with regard to the economic status and solvency of Yeshivas Chipas Emmess, lest you worry, my young Talmud. Our endowment is fully under control. I personally oversee the Yeshiva’s portfolio strategy, using a diversified investment approach that I learned while sitting in the Bais Ha Keesay (much the same way as the RAMBAM learned medicine): Twice a year my Bashert Feige Breinah and I travel with the Yeshiva’s endowment to invest in multiple financial instruments in Las Vegas. And if there is extra time, we also take in a few shows.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval

Parshas Matois




Parshas Matois

In this week's Parsha, Matois, Klal Yisroel strives to emulate the benevolent, merciful, forgiving nature of the Reboinoisheloilum by slaughtering all the nations of Midian.

Like last week, we are faced with a question regarding Klal Yisroel's relationship with Midian: How is it that the nation of Yisro, the man who helped develop Am Yisroel's legal system, so soon became a mortal enemy to be pillaged and plundered, killed to the last man, with all its wealth taken away? According to the Mei Menuchois, the Toirah here is coming to teach an important lesson to lawyers: they are to pledge allegiance to the legal system, but are then encouraged to exploit it, abuse it and devour it like locusts, so long as they are not disbarred.

However, the Sifsey Chachomim focuses on an even more fundamental question on the Parsha: Why, after Klal Yisroel killed all the adult males of Midian, did Moishe Rabbeinu insist that they kill all the adult females as well?

According to the Baal Haturim, Moishe's motivation was that he was a mysogonist. Indeed, a Gemarra in Nedarim attributes to Moishe the Halacha that women can never enter the inner areas of the Bais Hamikdash, not because they were banned from bringing sacrifices, but because of the strict MEN ONLY rules in the Temple's health club.

But the RAN disagrees, referring in his commentary to the Baal Haturim as "Shvantz for Brains." The RAN holds that Moishe Rabbeinu actually loved women, perhaps a little too much. He cites a medrish that says that the reason it took Moishe so long to return to Klal Yisroel from Sinai was that he went three blocks out of his way, where no one he knew would see him, to buy "marital aids." Indeed, the RAN holds that Moishe had the adult women of Midian killed because they "lacked passion", and he didn't dare risk making the Israelite wives any more frigid than they already were, chass v'sholom.

But according to the MAHARAL, Moishe ordered the killing of the Midianite women for as grand a reason as to help Klal Yisroel finally reach the Promised Land.

Klal Yisroel was originally supposed to enter Eretz Yisroel in a matter of weeks after receiving the Toirah on Sinai. However, every time the Jews had a spare moment to make some progress toward reaching The Land, their wives always came up with new chores for them to do. "Moishe, fold the laundry, the Aimishteh can wait." "Aron, go next door to borrow the lawn mower. I don't care if we are moving our tent tomorrow. TODAY the place looks a mess." "Kulayv, watch the children for the next three hours while I get my nails done." "Yehoishua, you can't meet Moisheh to discuss conquest strategy this afternoon; we have a guy coming in to give us an estimate on redoing the kitchen."

Since Moishe didn't want the males of Am Yisroel to become any more whipped than they already were, he had all the Midianite women put to death.

I am reminded of a famous story told of the ARI ZAHL. He was once addressing his students in Tzfas, expounding on new, insightful interpretations of the Zohar, and using his deep understanding of the interrelationships of ten Sefirot to bring about the coming of the Moshiach and end Israel's state of exile.

Suddenly, the back door of the Bais Medrish opened, and his eight year old son Pesachya stuck his head in. "Tahti, come home quickly, Mommy needs you right away!" Fearing some horrible disaster, the ARI ended his treatise mid-sentence and ran home. His wife anxiously greeted him at the door. "I need you to do car pool. Shayndl next door is sick, and I have an appointment with the Shaytelmacher." The ARI held his temper and faithfully picked up his daughter Fruma from day camp.

That night the Reboinoisheloilum came to him in a dream. "ARI, you were about to crack the code and bring about Israel's redemption. Why did you choose your wife over the Moshiach?"

"Aimishteh," the ARI answered, "if the Moshiach doesn't come now, he'll come soon. Maybe in ten years, maybe in one hundred, maybe in one thousand. And then we will sit at Your throne and joyfully worship You. But if I piss off my wife, she'll make me miserable for all eternity." The Aimishteh praised the ARI's wisdom and rewarded him by bringing a plague that ended the ARI's life.

In our day we too are confronted by a similar choice: Lifelong dedication to the Reboinoisheloilum, or splitting loyalty between Him and a wife. Many spiritual groups have different approaches to managing this challenge. The Moslems marry many women in order to counter the aggregation of power by a single wife. The Episcopalians and the Reform allow their wives to become clergy and manage the family's relationship with the Aimishteh, thereby freeing up time for the husbands to play golf. And the Catholics don't marry, but take matters into their own hands, or into the hands of their alter boys, if you know what I mean.

But a true Ben Torah accepts his fate, secure in the fact that while his wife wastes her time on such insignificant tasks as supporting the family, paying the rent, filling out school registration forms, planning carpool, packing school lunches, cooking, cleaning, and worrying about birth control, he is off doing the Aimishteh's work by learning in Kolel and contemplating his reward in the World to Come.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval

Friday, July 10, 2009

Parshas Pinchass




Parshas Pinchass

This week's Parsha, Parshas Pinchass, is named after me. After all, Moishe Rabbeinu certainly had Ruach Hakoidesh and could easily foresee the day, 3500 years in the future, that a full bearded white man wearing a long black coat and big, black felt hat would use electronic pulses to share deep insights on the words of the Reboinoisheloilum with people like you – minuvals who need an occasional five minute break from surfing porn. Isn’t it obvious? No wonder Moishe Rabbeinu was always so optimistic about the future of Klal Yisroel!

Ironically, this week’s Parsha also opens with the celebration of Pinchass Ben Elazar -- the grandson of Aron Hakoihain, the minuval -- who at the end of last week's episode emulated the rich, warm, personal connection of the Aimishteh and Klal Yisroel by slaughtering an Israelite man and his Midianite girlfriend with a spear, initiating a plague in which 24,000 people died.

Reb Hai Goyn asks the question: Who were these 24,000 people? Was inter-dating such a widespread activity for the holy Dor Mattan Toirah? What’s pshat?

According to Rabbeinu Tam, the 24,000 included not only people who dated Midianite women, but also various cross-dressers, insurance salesmen, fundraisers, lawyers, and telemarketers.

But the Mordechai disagrees. He holds that none of the group who died in the plague were dating Midianite women. Rather, all were all members of Klal Yisroel who were also Amway representatives.

Yet the question about the centrality of Midianite women to this Parsha does fall away that easily. A Gemarrah in Chulin asks the question: Why was Moishe Rabbeinu immune to the plague targeted at all members of Klal Yisroel involved with Midianite women? Indeed, Moishe’s wife was the daughter of a Midianite priest!

Rav Ashi points out that we learn from this the halacha that while interdating is banned, intermarriage is acceptable, as long as the marriage represents a step up in social class. He goes on to point out that Midian was considered to be the creme de la creme of Late Bronze Age Near Eastern society. According to Rav Moishe Feinstein, in our age this ruling would apply to Episcopalians, Lutherans, and wealthy Republicans.

But Rish Lakish holds farkhert. He holds that interdating is not only acceptable, it is encouraged. And it is intermarriage that is not permitted, even when the woman converts. However, Rish Lakish notes, chazzal tell us that Mrs. Moishe was exempt from this restriction since even after her conversion she maintained several of her…err…goyisha practices, in particular one that I cannot get my bashert to do no matter how much I beg.

There is a medrish, however, which tells us that the plague did not really kill 24,000. Rather, only 4,000 people died. However, the Toirah improperly counted an extra 20,000 people who were projected to die during the remainder of the year. This, however, resulted in an accounting scandal and a significant decline in Market Value for which Moishe Rabbeinu was held responsible. And, according to this medrish, the real reason that Moishe was not able to enter the Promised Land was that as a result of this episode, he had to spend 25 years in a minimum security penitentiary for white collar crimes and pay $2 million shekels in fines and back taxes. Shoyn.

The M'EERIE asks a question on a different part of this Parsha: Why is the story of Pinchas juxtaposed with a listing of the clans of the tribes of Israel, followed by a discussion of property and inheritance rights highlighted in the story of the Bnois Tzeluphchud. In this story, the daughters of Tzeluphchud request the right to inherit their father's property, given that he had no sons to receive the inheritance. After consulting with the Aimishteh and several leading estate lawyers, Moishe Rabbeinu accepts their argument. So, what does one story have to do with another?

The Bais Yoiseph suggests that the Toirah put the stories together to teach us that if a parent dies and you argue over the inheritance with your siblings, you are allowed to drive a spear through their stomachs, as Pinchass did.

But the Nair Havdalah (born 1938; died 1969 at Woodstock of a heroin overdose) suggests that farkhert, the reason that Klal Yisroel, still in the desert at this point, were even focused on property and inheritance, even before entering Eretz Yisroel, is that they were beginning to process their mortgage applications. And the story of Pinchass tells us that whenever you prepare to purchase real estate, you should always show up to the closing prepared for the worst.

I, the RAPAS (Rav Pinky Schmeckelstein), would like to suggest an alternative explanation for the episodes being presented together. If we contemplate the logical result of the petition of the Bnois Tzeluphchud -- these young Bas Yisroels, Bais Yaakov girls I imagine, were instantly considered desirable. Even if they had one eye and seven arms between them, they were women who owned property, and that made them nice catches. This Parsha comes to teach us that this applies to Midianite women as well: A Midianite woman who eats pork, worships idols and is regularly mezaneh with farm animals is also desirable, as long as she owns property.

So if you are going to marry out, at least marry rich.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, you minuval

Friday, July 03, 2009

On Communing With The Reboinoisheloilum




On Communing With The Reboinoisheloilum


This week I respond to a shailah from a chazer-eating-minuval who wants to know what Kavvannah to have when he is Davening:

Lichvoid Harav Hagoyn Moreinu Harav Reb Pinky Schmeckelstein Shlitah:

I have a very disturbing dilemma concerning my new status. As you know everyday in Davening we Daven (pray) three times a day that all the Apikursim and their friends the Modernisheh Mentchen should go to Gehenoim Bo'Uilm Hazeh UBo'Uilom Haboh. Since I am now an Apikuiros Lechatchiluh Lechol Hadeios (even according to the Briskers, Men Ken Mechaven Zein Of Mir), I was wondering if I have to pray for my own demise.

I cannot give peace to myself without knowing the correct Daas Toiroh. In the meantime I thought that Shev V'al Taiseh Odif, and I haven't Davened any weekday Tefilois that have the aforementioned Brachah. I only Daven on Shabbos.

Please Harav Hagoyn let me know what the true Das Toiroh is in this matter so I should be able to Daven all 5 (or is it 3, sorry my mistake) times a day.

Your Talmid, Acher Hakotoyn

Dearest Acher H.,

I answer you with the greatest pride and joy in my heart that you should ask such a gevaldikkah shailah. After all, your mother and I have been worried that you would grow up to be a shtickel Vilde Chaya, but now we see that you are a COMPLETE MINUVAL.

Let me ask YOU a shailah: Do you really think that Hakadoshboruchhu, the Almighty Creator of the Universe, who rescued His people from Mitzrayim with a long hand, an outstretched arm, a terrific curveball, and a mighty change up, cares a bit about the Davening of an Apikoiress? He doesn’t have other things to worry about? What, with the economy the way it is! Do you know how many millions He lost with Madoff? Did you know that a significant portion of His retirement portfolio was in banking and automotive stocks? I’ll tell you this: I would not want to be His financial advisor right now…

So, what kind of Mechutziff are you anyway?

No. Your shailah is proof that everyone can learn Toiras Moishe… just that most people don’t understand it. Indeed, your question is in essence about the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum’s interaction with our world, and, frankly, would have been insightful if I had asked it. But you – you are an Apikoress who CANNOT possibly have any Toirah insight, because ONLY a Toirah true Jew can have wisdom. How can someone who turned away from the gift of Toirah have any valuable insights whatsoever? Einstein – He learned everything he knew from his boyhood Rebbe, and never had the decency to give credit. Sir Yitzchak Newton stole the Vilna Goyn’s notes without Reshuss and published them as his own. Mozart – He copied all of his music from the long forgotten Chassidic sect led by the Groisseschvantze Rebbe.

But before I answer your shailah, I must address a key underlying issue. You identify yourself as an “Apikoress.” What’s pshat Apikoiress? Do you not believe in the Aimishteh? Do you have fundamental doubts about the Toirah, about creation, or about our Mesoirah being handed down directly from Har Sinai in Moishe Rebbeinu’s time to ArtScroll (R) in our day?

Or is your Apikorsus more about your dietary habits? Do you eat non-kosher pizza, chass v’sholom? Do you eat chazer mamesh with shellfish on the side? Or do you go out to Peter Lugers on occasion, order the steak on the bone, very rare, dripping with Lugers’ own special steak sauce, and accompanied by the house potatoes and creamed spinach on the side? Who ever heard of such a thing?

Or do you engage in other offensive practices? Do you not put on Tefillin every morning? Or, farkhert, do you put on both RASHI and Rabbeinu Tam Tefillin, but embezzle money from old ladies? Do you satisfy your own needs, but deny your wife her Makkeh BaPatish, if you know what I mean? Do you spill your seed while thinking of Mel Gibson? Or are you Mezaneh with underage goats while reading the Daily Znuss?

Or, worst of all, do you use a tea bag on Shabbos Koidesh without using a Klee Shanee, or did you vote Democratic in the last election, chass v’sholom??!!

It kind of makes a difference.

With regard to the nature of prayer, your Shailah is Mechavayn to a four way Machloikess that has bored…errr…enriched the lives of Talmidim for centuries. Reb Hai Goyn asks in the introduction to his Musar Haskel, “What is the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum’s engagement in the world? Does He listen to our prayers, or is He too busy smoking a Hookah?”

This question was first addressed by Reb Moishe Ben Yankif of Coucy, better known as the SMAG. In his lesser known work Toisfois Yeshainim, he suggests, “There is no Hakkadoshoruchhu. Meileh, how can I believe in some old man in the sky? It’s like believing in Santa Clause or Aunt Jemima.” The SMAG of course was subsequently banished from Coucy and was exiled to Argentina.

Rabbi Meir MiRothenberg (the MAHARAM), however, believes wholeheartedly in the existence of the Reboinoisheloilum, and in fact believes in the Aimishteh’s direct involvement in the affairs of the world. The MAHARAM is best know in Jewish history for his refusal to be ransomed from his prison tower in Alsace. But in his own day, he was held in high regard by the men of Lorraine for his Talmudic scholarship and his knowledge of card tricks, and was lauded by the women of Lorraine for his “disappearing snake” magic act.

The ROSH, like his Rebbe, the MAHARAM, believes in the existence of Hakadoshboruchhu. However, he views the Reboinoisheloilum as aware of the world, but distant from its everyday workings. Says the ROISH, “Who can blame Him? If I could choose between engaging in all the world’s problems or surfing the Internet, I would choose porn every time.”

Finally, The ROISH’s son, the Baal HaTurim, believes in the existence of the Aimishteh, but views Him as not involved, or even aware, of world affairs. Referring to the Crusades, the Baal HaTurim once noted that “Hakadoshboruchhu is either not at all aware of the supreme suffering of His chosen people in this world, or he is one very sadistic dude with some serious freaking issues.” Shoyn.

Now, my beloved Talmid, if we look at these four positions, we can almost equate the position of the SMAG (no Reboinoisheloilum) and the position of the Baal HaTurim (yes Reboinoisheloilum, but unaware of our world or our existence). In either of these views, your prayers are not heard, and can never be heard, unless you are one of those guys who Davens really loud and makes it difficult for the rest of us to talk to each other. So it is only according to the positions of the ROISH and the MAHARAM where your shailah is even relevant.

I am reminded of a Maiseh Shehoya. The Chernobler Rebbe was once traveling in Poland on a trip to raise money for the local Museum of Jewish Fundraising. One Friday evening he settled in the village of Mogilov at an inn run by an old widow. Shabbos morning, after Shacharis, the Rebbe came down to the dining room. The old woman came out of the kitchen to serve him and asked him what he wanted. “I’ll take the creamed herring”, said the Rebbe.

“I’m sorry Rabbi, “ the woman responded. We are fresh out of creamed herring. But I can bring you shmaltz herring.”The Rebbe signaled that he would take the schmaltz herring instead. Moments later the old woman came out of the kitchen with a plate heaping with schmaltz herring.

Two hours later, the old lady came to the Rebbe’s room to clean. The Rebbe was sitting at a small table, reading the newspaper. Then the old lady noticed on the table that plate that she had given the Rebbe earlier, only now it was filled with creamed herring. “Rabbi,” she exclaimed, “it must be some kind of miracle!”

The Rebbe looked up from his paper. “No. It’s not a miracle. I creamed my own herring. And you would be amazed at what I can do with an ear of corn.”

So, my Talmid, you can choose to Daven for your own demise. Or not. The Reboinoisheloilum may or may not be listening. And if He is listening, He may not really care. However, by asking such a question, you reveal that you are not an Apikoress, but a Talmid Chacham who likes to eat chazer, which is about as conflicted as a Rebbe who creams his own herring.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.

Rabbi Pinky Schmeckelstein
Yeshiva Chipas Emmess