Jan 30, 2010

"At Risk" - Definition

I read the following definition in the book "Off the Derech": "kids at risk" usually refers to a population marked not only by abandonment of observance but also by engagement in socially delinquent activities such as vandalism, theft, substance abuse, promiscuity, and running away from home

This definition is absurd because if a kid is doing that, then the kid is NOT AT RISK any longer, but has crossed the line!

If a person is at risk of, let's say, an allergic reaction to certain foods, he will avoid peanuts, dairy products and fish (or whatever triggers the reaction). You wouldn't describe someone allergic to nuts who ate nuts, turned red, blew up, was gasping for air, as AT RISK of an allergic reaction!

Then there's the line, "ALL teenagers are at risk," which some people favor.  Somehow it makes them feel better because it's democratic, it puts us all in the same boat.  However, the phrase is meaningless and useless.

Those who work with kids in trouble can enumerate for you specific risk factors.

Think of risk factors in connection with health - those who are overweight, smoke, never exercise, and have a family history of heart disease, are at great risk of heart disease.  If a person is slim, eats well, exercises, has no family history of heart disease, they are not at risk of heart disease.

Or a person might have SOME factors that put them at a lower or high risk level.

But does it make sense to say that all human beings are at risk of heart disease? It's true that anybody, even someone with no risk factors, can drop dead of a heart attack, but there is no point in talking about "risk" or "risk factors" if we are going to say that everybody is at risk!

Jan 20, 2010

Ban by Israeli Rabbis on Frum Internet Sites

Frum sites have been discontinued because rabbis in Israel said there should be no "chareidi" (an Israeli term for frum) presence on the Internet.  The reason given is that so-called frum sites promote lies, lashon hara, defame talmidei chachamim and foment machlokes and even if these sites would have no garbage on them, they inevitably lead the readers to use the rest of the Internet which has caused many people to fall spiritually.

1) The Kol Haloshon website (over 200,000 shiurim), based in Eretz Yisroel, has ceased operation in compliance with the ban by Gedolei Eretz Yisroel against chareidi websites. Kol Haloshon is seeking permission from these Gedolim to reopen its website.

2) The Command, and the Retreat

In light of the comments recently made by Gedolei Yisrael, shlita, "Etrog" – a site that is completely free of lashon hara – has decided to discontinue its services on the internet. From this moment on, there will be no news or other informative postings on the portal

Chaim Twerski 16/12/2009 16:00

Dear friends and site visitors,
 The letter signed by Gedolei Yisrael regarding chareidi internet sites, which was posted at the end of last week, is familiar to all of us.

We are confident that any of you who have visited the "Etrog" portal during the last year, by chance or on a regular basis, will testify to the fact that our wide variety of news and Jewish postings have met all of even the most stringent criteria set by the Gedolei Yisrael in their letter.

We are all familiar with the damage caused by the internet in the last few years. But we honestly believe that you will all agree with us, that this site was a home of Torah and Jewish knowledge, and that our portal only presented the true facts of the news, clean of any slander or sensationalism.

With the publication of the rabbis' letter, we must take action to verify the exact details and limits of the issur. This morning, we were personally informed that all chareidi internet activity must immediately cease. From the moment we began planning, and then eventually established the site, we decided to accept any guidance and halachic ruling received from Gedolei Yisrael. Therefore, just as we have adhered to the psakim of our Torah leaders thus far, we must continue to maintain that standard today.
 This is not an easy step for us to take. Much thought and effort was invested in this project, and we have endeavored to fulfill a self-assigned mission of providing a clean, respectable site. A source of light in the terrible darkness. There have been occasions when we chose not to report on individuals and events that made very interesting stories, and lifted the "ratings" of other sites. If the material was not appropriate, we did not publish it.

We felt that we were continuing the legacy of those who followed the psak of the holy Admor of Gur, the "Imrei Emes", ztz"l, who one hundred years ago battled against the influence of the "Enlightenment" and assimilation movements in newspapers. But that same devotion to truth and purity forces us now to stop everything, and follow orders, without questioning their legitimacy.

This is something that must be done, dear friends. The Yetzer Ra has invaded every corner of the internet, but will now be left alone on the battlefield. We hope that the strength of Gedolei Yisrael will empower you as well, and we are confidant that you will be able to overcome the temptations of the internet, even without the help that we extended to you all for the past year.

I will say this - kol ha'kavod to this individual for submitting, even though he did his best to have his site conform with halacha and had noble goals.

Sizzling Chinuch

I don't know who originated the following idea so I can't attribute it to anyone. I've read it and heard it in a lecture.
If you want to heat something up, the thing you heat up will never become as hot as the flame from which it gets its warmth. It will get warm, for sure, but rarely will the object get as warm as the source of the heat.
If parents are zealous and burning with their commitment to Yiddishkeit, their children will, at the very least, be warm and devoted to Torah. But if the parents are only lukewarm about Yiddishkeit, then their children may have a cool attitude to Torah or even worse, be cold and totally disenchanted.
Our commitment is reflected in our children. The stronger our observance and the example we provide, the stronger and warmer will be their observance.
What do you think of this? Do you see this in life? I asked someone what about the children who are more commited than their parents. Then the analogy doesn't apply, or does it? The answer I got was it's because the children themselves "got on fire!"
I've heard it said that nowadays, children are not the same as their parents in their commitment to Torah, because either they are MORE commited or they are LESS commited, as opposed to generations ago when children were often like their parents in their religious observance.

Jan 19, 2010

Being Real

Sometimes, I'm talking to someone or watching someone speak, and noticing that their way of talking and their body language is like something out of a play, like they're playing their role. I see exaggerated facial expressions so that it looks like someone being told by the drama teacher to display concern, for example.  

I've noticed this in speech, where people have a "persona," a pattern of speech they use. Maybe (in rare cases, I hope) it's picked up from TV. But even among yeshivish/Chasidish people I hear it in the exaggerated speech, or maybe exaggerated is not the right word ... the only way I can describe it is by saying it's like they're a character in the play. Does anybody know what I mean?

Even little children sometimes don't seem real, they seem to be copying someone.

And another thing. I wonder about authentic responses, i.e. we read so many stories, for ex. the Baal Shem Tov stories. The simple Jews or the Chasidim in those stories, were living real life. They weren't a story! What happened to them, later became told as a story, but it wasn't a story when they were going through it!

But what about us? When faced with a challenge in life, or some situation, do we sort of stand outside ourselves in order to assess the response we should make. Are we mentally reviewing all the stories we've read, to see which role we'll take? Now this can be a good thing! If we learn from good role models, that's wonderful! That is why we tell these stories. Yet, ... are we real?

And for those who think - what difference does it make, as long as we do and say the right thing, I say that's true up to a point.  Yes, we need to do and say the right thing.  But where is the emes?

Jan 17, 2010

Double Standard

I read an article about language in which a Chassidishe woman was asked why there seems to be a greater emphasis on men speaking Yiddish than women.  Her answer was, "I think it's the feeling that we should keep the men purer, that it's more important for them to be less exposed to the outside world."

She's not alone in this feeling.  There are many homes in which the women do the shopping and deal with government agencies, banks, insurance companies etc. so as to spare the men the exposure.  This is not about sparing them bittul Torah which is another issue.  One woman I know drives the family car and does the errands so that her husband shouldn't have to look at the people around him.  There are communities where girls are taught English and English subjects in a serious way while the boys are not, and the reason is not about bittul Torah (at least not in some communities) but about chinuch al taharas ha'kodesh which applies to girls as well as to boys!

I'm puzzled by this.  In Jewish life, it used to be the men who "went out" of the home, often traveling to do business.  Women were sequestered to a greater or lesser extent, depending on the society they lived in with Jewish women in Moslem countries much more protected and isolated from the world around them.  In Eastern European countries women sold goods in the marketplace and shopped but this wasn't to spiritually protect the men who were also "out there" working.  There was always the idea of men protecting their women and girls, not only from outright danger but also in the sense of sheltering them and preserving their modesty.  I think it was in a book about Shvester Selma that it described how she traveled with a male chaperone because women in her society did not travel unaccompanied.

Yet there is a feeling that women need to spiritually protect their menfolk while they can read certain things and look at certain things.  Now they are probably right about the men not reading and looking at those things but that doesn't mean that the women should! There seems to be an attitude that women won't be affected, that it doesn't matter if they read and look, that women can go to non-Jewish supermarkets and see people in immodest attire and see the magazines at the check-out counter and nisht geferlech (it's not terrible).  They may not be affected in the same way but to say there is no effect?!

Something seems to be askew in our reasoning.

Jan 14, 2010

Entitled to Speak?

Everyone is entitled to say whatever they want.

People show an overwhelming need to express themselves and hear others express themselves

Everything can be said ...

These are very recent sentiments in our secular and Jewish societies.

Up until very recently the world (including Jews) raised children on the principle of "children should be seen and not heard." Even when children grew up, they knew that their opinions were not to be voiced, that parents and authority figures had the final word, sometimes the only word.

People had a more of a sense of knowing their place and wouldn't dream that their opinion was on a par with that of a learned person and that they had any sort of "right" to speak up before their elders.

Today, online, everybody can comment about anything they please.  Not that long ago, your only recourse was to write a letter to the editor and it might be printed.  If you called a radio program, you might be heard.
What does the Torah have to say about this?

- Lavan is called a rasha for speaking up before his father Besuel.

- Regarding the sale of Yosef, Rashi 49:4 says that Yissocher and Zevulun, the children of Leah, would not speak up before their older brothers.

- The laws of Kibud Av V'Eim including an older brother because the mitzva is for the purpose of instilling us with respect for authority which ultimately leads us to respect G-d's authority.

- When the judges of the Sanhedrin stated an opinion they did so from the least important to the most important so that it didn't end up with the least important among them rubberstamping the leader's psak.

Who am I to bring up this topic when I started this blog to express my view and I welcome your input? Good question!

Jan 12, 2010

What can we do to cultivate Yiras Shomayim?

yiras shomayim=fear of heaven

If you were/are looking for a shidduch for yourself or your child, how would you determine whether a candidate has yiras shomayim?

If you were a principal of a school and needed to hire melamdim or moros, how would you know if the interviewees have yiras shomayim?

I think that there are two categories of yiras shomayim. "Real" yiras shomayim is something between you and G-d. Yira is an emotion of the heart and only Hashem knows what's doing in your heart. Yira is fear, fear of sin and awe of Hashem. How do we behave when alone? Is it with the feeling that "shevisi Hashem l'negdi samid" (I place Hashem before me constantly)? How about when away on business, out in the boondocks, on vacation when there are challenges with kashrus, observance of Shabbos, tefilla etc. Do we cut corners when no one is looking?

What I'll call "practical" yiras shomayim is seen in a person's actions, and it is this that we are told to look for in a sofer, shochet, melamed, shidduch. And this entails adherence to Shulchan Aruch and even beyond.  But we are complex people and sometimes (oftentimes?) some of our actions demonstrate yiras shomayim while other things we do, show the opposite.  As the Gemara says, even a thief as he is going about his sinful activities, prays to Hashem for success! And there are also things that we do that are motivated less by yiras shomayim than by habit and doing whatever other people do.

As far as how to instill yiras shomayim in children, in Gemara Shabbos, Rabbi Nahman ben Yitzchok's mother was told by astrologers -your son will be a thief. So she made sure he covered his head, saying to him, 'Cover your head so that the fear of heaven may be upon you, and pray [for mercy]'. In fact, the word "Yarmulka" is comprised of two words: Yareh Malka-the fear of the King.

Teaching children brachos and to answer amen, to kiss sefarim when they fall or when they have finished using them, to behave in shul, not to enter Shabbos at the last second (or later).  What else?

Jan 6, 2010

A Jew-Centric View of History and Current Events

The Baal Shem Tov explained that sometimes mighty things take place in the world even for one Jew.  There was once a bloody war between two nations which lasted seven years [perhaps the Seven Years’ War 1756-1763] and the Baal Shem Tov said that the war was orchestrated in Heaven so that a tzaddik would hear the sound of the trumpeting warring armies and learn from them to compose a niggun “to serve Hashem with this niggun!”

Is this not incredible? Upheavals take place in the world, a military infrastructure is built, armies battle, people are killed and wounded and any sensible person would understand this as happening because of political reasons, historical reasons, jealousy, imperialism, etc. Says the Baal Shem Tov – no! This war took place just so that one Jew could improve in an aspect of his avodas Hashem, a niggun in the service of Hashem.

The Rambam writes similarly in his introduction to his commentary on Mishnayos about a wealthy fool who commanded his servants to build a beautiful palace and to plant a magnificent vineyard as kings do. Perhaps this palace  was made ready so that one day, when a pious man would be passing by, he would find shade and rest in the shadow of the mighty walls and be saved from death (from the heat of the sun or from bandits). Or one day, a cup of wine will be taken from the vineyard and a medicine concocted out of it which will save the life of a fine person who was bitten by a snake.  This is how Hashem runs things, says the Rambam.

The Medrash (Yalkut Shimoni Yeshaya, perek 60, remez 499) says, “Rabbi Yitzchok said: The year that Melech Ha’Moshiach will be revealed, all the kings [leaders] of the nations will be struggling against each other… All the nations of the world will be trembling and shaking and falling on their faces… The Jewish people will be trembling and quaking and saying: ‘Where can we go? Where can we go?’ And [Hashem] will say to them: My children do not fear! Everything I did, I did only for you! Why are you frightened? Don’t be afraid - the time of your redemption has arrived! (The final Geula will be unlike the first Geula because the first Geula was followed by exiles while the final Geula will not be followed by any servitude to the nations).”

All the events taking place in the world are only for our sakes, for the Jewish people.

Is this how frum children are taught history and current events in school?

Jan 4, 2010

It's Not Always the Effort that Counts

On the one hand the mishna in Avos says, "it's not for you to finish the work, nor are you free to desist from it," which would support the position that effort is what counts, not results.

We also know that a good thought is reckoned like an action.

On the other hand, if a person tries to obtain matza for Pesach and doesn't manage to get any, although Heaven will give him credit for trying, he didn't do the mitzva and did not bring about the spiritual results of a mitzva! This supports the position that results are what count, and effort, though laudable, is not good enough.

Lately, the emphasis on results is looked at askance as though only effort matters, which is a prevalent attitude about schoolwork.  I disagree with this view. I think that's what tests are for, to see if you have mastered the material. Some master it more easily than others, but the point of tests is to measure mastery of the material. How much effort someone puts into mastering it, is something else. Maybe it's no longer considered politically correct, but years ago you got marked for your mastery of a subject and there was a separate grade for effort or shekida.

On tests, yes, either you pass your driving test or you fail, right? Effort doesn't get you a license.

When it comes to tests in school, teachers may use discretion and give a higher grade to someone who truly puts in the effort and doesn't do that great anyway, but that should be the exception rather than the rule.

It's an important lesson to learn, that certain things you just have to get right.

Trying to watch the kids but getting into a phone conversation with a friend doesn't hack it when a child gets hurt because you were irresponsible (even though that too was Divine Providence).

Dropping the baby (G-d forbid) and saying oops really doesn't work either ...

Some things you just gotta get right.