Mar 31, 2015

Narrow Focus or Broad when it comes to Kashrus

In a panel Q and A session, the question was asked: Why is a hechsher given to unhealthy food? Meaning, if we are supposed to take care of our health (and that's a mitzvah) why would a kosher stamp of approval be given to products that are unhealthy just because the ingredients are kosher?

The response didn't answer the question; rather it was about a person having the choice of what to eat and making good choices.

So what is the answer? Is it that it's not the hechsher's function to make decisions about the nutritional content of food and if a company seeks certification and complies with requirements, the hechsher can provide the certification? That was basically the answer that was given, though the emphasis was not on what a certifying agency's function is.

But is that proper? If the item in question is marketed to children, some kind of candy which consists solely of sugar, food coloring and chemicals, should there be a hechsher on it?

This question has come up in the past in connection with certifying restaurants that have objectionable entertainment.  It's not a simple question.  By giving the hechsher to the food, is the hechsher also sanctioning the entertainment? On the one hand, of course not, a hechsher is just on food, but by certifying the food as kosher, people who might otherwise not partake of unsuitable entertainment would not be there.  On the other hand, those who go there will eat kosher, and they might not otherwise do so. 

Mar 30, 2015

Warning - Danger!

I was given a booklet with excerpts from the lectures of Rabbi Shaul Yitzchak Rabinowitz of Satmar.  The booklet is in Yiddish with English translation.

The gist of his message is, treif phones - which are phones that enable you to do anything but make and receive calls - are a danger for the Jewish family.  And they are dangerous even if you don't own it but people in your circles own them.  The fact that other people in your community own them, and that your children's classmates either have these phones or their parents do, means exposure to danger.

Even if a person does everything right and has a filter and it's used only for business, experience has shown that that it is impossible to control the people around you.  Children are drawn to these phones, even if they only have the ability to text, and all the more so if they enable images. 

Parents might think it's nice to show their children Lag B'Omer at Meron on their phone or other innocuous or even wonderful things.  What the booklet says is this teaches children that nowadays, the prohibition against viewing images is no longer in force.  Your children will likely be less careful than you are.  (Perhaps these are the people seen in the public libraries looking like ultra-Orthodox Jews and checking out CD's of movies and TV shows).

He claims 30% of children own treif phones and are going downhill and taking others down with them.  He says that even for business purposes it's not worthwhile to have these phones because the benefits of the phone cannot compensate for the damage it causes.

He sounds very serious and is raising the alarm about how our children are being ruined while many other frum Jews who are serious about chinuch are focused more on filters and safeguards like Web Chaver.  It's certainly something to think about.

Mar 29, 2015

What Message Do You Want to Convey?

I came across this question: What message should our children or guests or ourselves leave the seder with?

That's a good one to ponder before Pesach.  The one that stands out for me is Hashem's involvement in the world, Hashem caring about what people do as we see with the deeds of both the Egyptians and the Jewish people.

Avi Shulman asked this question to R' Noach Orlowek and R' Avraham Fishman and both said the same thing: We should want our children to leave the seder feeling proud, joyous and privileged to be members of Klal Yisrael.

Mr. Shulman goes on to say that this should be the objective of every teacher and parent all year round, but it is highlighted Pesach night when there is the mitzvah of "v'higadita l'bincha."

Mar 28, 2015

Connections to Fire

For those looking for areas to focus on that relate directly to fire, here are some ideas:

Yechiel Spero points out, fire and Shabbos are connected in several places in the Torah. We welcome Shabbos with Shabbos candles. We conclude Shabbos with the Havdalah candle.  And the only melacha of the 39 that is mentioned in the Torah is, “Lo sevaaru aish bechol moshvoseichem b'yom ha'Shabbos - You shall not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbos day” (Shemos 35:3).

Torah is compared to fire.

Anger is compared to fire.
And, in My jealousy, in the fire of My anger, I have spoken ... "(Yechezkel 38:18-20)

Machlokes is compared to fire.

The Bais Hamikdash was destroyed by fire and will be rebuilt with fire.

And Hashem is like an eish ochla - a consuming flame.

Mar 27, 2015

We Forget

“Who ever heard of such a thing? It is like one family’s Holocaust!” Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to find a calamity of such proportion in recent memory.
This is from an article in a frum newspaper.  My, how quickly we forget!
An even worse calamity than the Sassoons' took place on March 26, 2012, almost exactly two years before the Sassoon fire, when a freak electrical fire burned down the home of 34-year-old high-school teacher Avivit Shear of Rechovot, killing all 6 of her family members: husband Shai (36), Eliav (11), Evyatar (8), Amitai (7), Shira (3), and Itamar (2), leaving the wife-mother as the sole survivor. 
The investigation that followed found that a laptop computer had been placed on a bed's mattress, causing it to overheat and set the mattress on fire.  The burning mattress emitted great heat and a large amount of smoke and soot in a short time.
In the picture are some of her children. 
Two years later, she remarried.

Mar 26, 2015

On Being a Good Guest

The following is a direct quote from a very hospitable person who shared this fascinating observation about a special person:

When M. is around, if your kids misbehave ... she just pretends she doesn't see.
She acts as if she's very busy doing something and she doesn't notice.
She makes no comments and doesn't notice anything that doesn't involve her.
She doesn't even say, "Wow you handled that in an amazing way," because she didn't see anything, so she has nothing to comment on!
It's hard to have people around noticing things and making comments; trust me, I have lots of company and everyone has comments to make on something.
Except M.  She is of the "see no evil, hear no evil" type, and it's so comfortable to have her around.

Mar 25, 2015

A Caveat to Teachers and Parents

A child came home from school with the story about Avrohom Avinu but something went wrong in the transmission.  The child said that Avrohom was bad because he broke everything.  Somehow, in telling the preschoolers about how Avrohom had broken the idols, this child thought that if a boy breaks things and his father is upset about it, then the boy did something bad. 

To make it worse, the child had no idea what a "getchka" is.  How should he? (Getchka being the Yiddish word for idol.  The morah said that Avrohom broke all the getchkas).

Another incident:

A mother was saying goodnight to her little boy, and she said mommy loves you, daddy loves you, Hashem loves you ...

Her son said, "Hashem is bad."

The shocked mother asked: Why do you say that?

He said, "Because Yona ran away from Hashem."

And it was obvious to the child that if Yona ran away from Him, that He must have been bad.

What can parents and teachers do to make sure these misunderstandings are minimized? I suppose only by discussing things with children, getting feedback from them, will we know what's on their mind.  Other than that, we have to pray that what we say is understood properly!

Mar 24, 2015

How to Acquire New Taavos

The following is from a foodie's* article in Ami:

Fifteen years ago, as a restaurant owner, she wanted to introduce sushi to her clientele.  "I love sushi and so will everyone else. I just have to teach them."

Why do frum people need to be taught new taavos?

"Fifteen years ago, my restaurant was the first to bring sushi to Lakewood, with the calculated idea of luring in the 'men who lunch' crowd."

That's something to be proud of - being the first to bring a new maichel to a frum neighborhood? And to entice people with it?

"We created a must-try situation with our mixed traditional and innovative sushi menu."


"The kosher world is slightly lagging in the food trend race, typically being three years behind the nonkosher world."

We are lagging - failing to keep up and that's a bad thing?

"Yet, we are catching up and even influencing trends!"

That's a good thing?

"It is my job to identify food trends and seek out what the people of today want to eat tomorrow."

This is a job? For a nice frum woman? And she's not embarrassed to say so?

And this passes in a frum magazine as a normal way to talk about food.

* A foodie, someone with an ardent interest in food, is not someone we would associate with an ardent love for Torah and mitzvos.

Mar 22, 2015

The Format of the Haggada

How many frum people understand the format of Maggid in the Haggada, that it's an analysis of four pesukim? (Oh! That's why those words are in bold or in a different color!)

For those who know that, how many know what parsha it's from or that it was said by people who brought bikurim?

I suspect very few.

Maybe I'm wrong but I think even frum people think Maggid is a long essay about our history and life in Egypt.

Mar 11, 2015

Post Purim Costume Question

I read a question posed to Avi Shulman.  It was posed by a 6th grade rebbi who said that on Purim three of his students, ages 11-12, brought mishloach manos.  They were dressed as rebellious kids/hippies/bums complete with T shirts with inappropriate messages, gold chains, and earrings and they had a boom box which blared disgusting music.
The rebbi was taken aback by their appearance. His questions were: 1) what should he have said to them when they came to his house 2) what if anything should be said to the boys now, after Purim, either privately or to the class, 3) what could be said next year before Purim as guidelines for appropriate costumes, 4) is there any line that should not be crossed when it comes to Purim and if yes, what is it

Avi Shulman did not write his answer, he invited responses.
I saw a picture of two people who dressed up together as the Twin Towers with a plane crashed into them and fire.  It was cleverly made but I thought it lacked sensitivity.  I don't think most Jews would find dressing up as a concentration inmate with a fake number on their arm in good taste. Dressing up as Hitler wouldn't go over well either.
Yet lots of frum kids dress up as Arabs, even though they kill us.  Kids dress up as pirates even though they rob and kill.
It's interesting to think about what crosses the line of good taste.

Mar 8, 2015

Where's the Yiddish in the Yiddish?

I was in a Jewish library which is frequented by many Yiddish speaking people.  Not for the first time, I heard a mother tell her child to "choosen" a book.  Choosen? You mean kleiben? If you're supposedly speaking Yiddish, why not speak Yiddish!?

Soon after, a child told her mother "ich ken nisht reachen," - she couldn't reach, again, using an English word. 

This is a common phenomenon, most well-known in the child's request, "Ken mich crossen de street?" when they want assistance in crossing the street.

I once said to a parent, you know the proper Yiddish word but since you don't use it, your child does not know it.  Why don't you speak Yiddish if you're speaking Yiddish ... ?

(for related posts, see other listings under the label Yiddish)

Mar 1, 2015

It's About Having a Relationship. Oh!

I was reading a paragraph in a new Feldheim book which said, "He [Hashem] gave us the mitzvos in order to afford us the opportunity to ________________ ." Now how do you think the sentence ended?

I would have expected it to end with "earn the World to Come" or some similar way of putting getting a reward.  Instead, the sentence surprisingly ended, "develop a relationship with Him."

It seems to me that something has drastically changed.  It's hard to keep tabs on things like this, on how many times this comes up in books, articles, and speeches.  My impression is that I am reading a lot lately about cultivating a relationship with G-d, when previously, the emphasis was on reward in Olam Haba.