Saturday, January 27, 2007

My Angel is a Centerfold

Or at least, an exhibit at the Jewish Museum.

We had been told by others, but we didn't see it for ourselves until last week. In their series on Diaspora Jewry, the small Talmud section (a few antique and not-so-antique Talmuds, and two photographs of adults (women at Drisha) and children learning Talmud) has a picture of my lovely wife Debbie.

If you can't pick her out, she's the one on the left, as well as the one in color.

A photographer came around one day and took pictures. They appeared a week later in a local paper. We thought that was the end of it, until a neighbor said "We went to the Jewish Museum, turned a corner, and there was your wife!"

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Star Trek is Part of the Culture

At Arisia, my wife was on a panel discussing Star Trek's presence in the wider culture, after 40 years on and off the air.

I can think of no clearer example of this than Representative David Wu's (D-OR) recent speech in the House criticizing the "Vulcans" (a group of mid-level foreign policy advisers in the Bush White House) on Iraq. I quote from the Congressional Record:

(House of Representatives - January 10, 2007)

[Page: H258] GPO's PDF 


(Mr. WU asked and was given permission to address the House for 1 minute.)

Mr. WU. Mr. Speaker, 4 years ago, this administration took America to war in Iraq without adequate evidence. Since that time, the administration has not listened to the American people, it hasn't listened to our professional military, and it certainly hasn't listened to this Congress.

It was said of a prominent businessman in downtown Portland that he never listened to anybody and that if he was ever drawn in a cartoon he would be drawn without ears.

Now, this President has listened to some people, the so-called Vulcans in the White House, the ideologues. But unlike the Vulcans of Star Trek, who made the decisions based on logic and fact, these guys make it on ideology. These aren't Vulcans. There are Klingons in the White House. But unlike the real Klingons of Star Trek, these Klingons have never fought a battle of their own.

Don't led faux Klingons send real Americans to war. It is wrong.

(Hat tip: The Daily Show)

See also Jon Stewart's analysis, with commentary by Leonard Nimoy and George Takei.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Women, Kiddush and Havdalah: You Go Girl!

Some sources to back up an argument currently roiling an Orthodox Feminist mailing list in which I participate.

Courtesy the Bar-Ilan databases, via the Spertus College Feinberg E-Collection:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת ברכות דף כ עמוד ב

אמר רב אדא בר אהבה: נשים חייבות בקדוש היום דבר תורה. - אמאי? מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא הוא, וכל מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא נשים פטורות! - אמר אביי: מדרבנן. - אמר ליה רבא: והא דבר תורה קאמר! ועוד, כל מצות עשה נחייבינהו מדרבנן! - אלא אמר רבא: אמר קרא +שמות כ'+ זכור +דברים ה'+ ושמור - כל שישנו בשמירה ישנו בזכירה, והני נשי, הואיל ואיתנהו בשמירה - איתנהו בזכירה.

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן רעא

סעיף ב

נשים חייבות בקידוש אע"פ שהוא מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא (פי' מצות עשה התלויה בזמן), משום דאיתקש זכור (שמות יט, ח) לשמור (דברים ה, יב) והני נשי הואיל ואיתנהו בשמירה איתנהו בזכירה ומוציאות את האנשים הואיל וחייבות מן התורה כמותם.

בית יוסף אורח חיים סימן רעא אות [ב] ד"ה ואחד אנשים

[ב] ואחד אנשים ונשים חייבים בקידוש היום. כלומר ואע"פ שהוא מצות עשה שהזמן גרמא וטעמא מפורש בפרק מי שמתו (ברכות כ:) משום דאיתקש זכור לשמור והני נשי הואיל ואיתנהי בשמירה איתנהי בזכירה: וכתוב בכל בו (סי' לא, לד ע"ג) שמוציאות את האנשים הואיל וחייבות מן התורה כמותם:

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן רצו

סעיף ח

נשים חייבות בהבדלה כשם שחייבות בקידוש, ויש מי שחולק. הגה: ע"כ לא יבדילו לעצמן רק ישמעו הבדלה מן האנשים.

בית יוסף אורח חיים סימן רצו אות ח ד"ה כתוב בארחות

ח כתוב בארחות חיים (הל' הבדלה סי' יח) נשים אין מבדילות לעצמן דאין הבדלה תלויה בשמירת שבת אלא רבנן אסמכוה (פסחים קו.) אקרא (שמות כ ח) וה"ר יונה כתב דכשם שחייבות בקידוש חייבות בהבדלה:

מגיד משנה הלכות שבת פרק כט הלכה א

מצות עשה מן התורה וכו'. מדברי רבינו נראה בביאור שהוא סובר שההבדלה ג"כ דבר תורה והכל בכלל זכור. וראיתי המפרשים ז"ל חלוקים בזה יש סוברים כדברי רבינו ואע"ג דבגמרא פ' ערבי פסחים (דף ק"ו) אין שם אלא זכרהו על היין בכניסתו אין לי אלא בלילה וכו' מ"מ ילפינן ליה מדכתיב ולהבדיל כמ"ש פרק ידיעות הטומאה (שבועות י"ח:) ולשון מכילתא זכור את יום השבת קדשהו בברכה ובביאור אמר זכרהו על היין ואמרו גם כן קדשהו בכניסתו וקדשהו ביציאתו. וי"א שההבדלה אינה אלא מד"ס אבל הקידוש הוא דבר תורה. ודע שלדברי הכל אחד אנשים ואחד נשים חייבין הם בקידוש היום ומימרא מפורשת היא נשים חייבות בקידוש היום דבר תורה. ונפקא לן מזכור ושמור והבדלה נמי אם היא דבר תורה נפקא לן חיובא דנשים מהתם ואם היא מדבריהם דומיא דקידוש תקנוה ורבינו ז"ל סתם כאן וכיון שלא הזכיר בהן פטור מכלל שהן חייבות ופרק י"ב מהלכות עבודת כוכבים ומזלות וחקותיהם כתב רבינו וכל מצות עשה שהיא מזמן לזמן ואינה תדירה נשים פטורות חוץ מקידוש היום ואכילת מצה בלילי פסחים ואכילת פסח והקהל ושמחה שאף הנשים חייבות ע"כ ונסח הקידוש ידוע הוא. ונוסח ההבדלה נחלקו בו שם פ' ערבי פסחים (דף ק"ג ק"ד) והעלו בגמרא כדברי רבינו. וזה מוסכם:

ביאור הגר"א אורח חיים סימן רצו סעיף ח

נשים. דהבדלה למדוה מזכור דקידוש וע"ל סי' רעא ס"ב:

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Rav Kook on Mysticism and Secular Studies

I just came across a fascinating letter on Chardal blog (tr. Bezalel Naor). In it he emphasizes that one should spend the majority of one's time (assuming one has the inclination) learning to know one's Creator, as R' Chaim Vital says in the beginning of the Etz Chaim. Towards that end, secular studies may also be useful. See there for the full letter, it's well worth reading

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Chabad territorial conflict in Prospect Heights

R' Shimon Hecht, long-time rav in Park Slope, has come to the negative attention of the mainstream media. He and another rav in a neighboring area have unfortunately gotten into a territory fight.

It's a shame that it's happening, but I really can't blame him for feeling threatened. He and his wife have almost singlehandedly built up Orthodoxy in Park Slope. From its beginnings as the splinter mechitza minyan from Park Slope Jewish Center in 1984, Congregation Bnai Jacob is now well over 100 families, with a Hebrew School, adult education almost every day, a daily minyan, etc. I suppose the time was ripe for a splinter group.

We left the area just as the shul was beginning to grow a lot. I suppose it was synchronicity that precipitated this conflict. As real estate in the central Slope grew more expensive, more people moved to the fringes (South Slope, Prospect Heights). Meanwhile, for many years, R' Hecht and his nephew R' Raskin in Brooklyn Heights, through their Rabbinical Committee of Brownstone Brooklyn, were the Orthodox presence west of Prospect Park and south of the Manhattan Bridge.

As more religious Jews moved into the Grand Army Plaza area, there were also some odd political rumblings at Bnai Jacob. They coalesced into the UTJ-sponsored Montauk Minyan. When the Montauk Minyan broke up, R' Kirschenbaum, a younger, more dynamic Chabad rabbi, had become assistant rabbi at the dying Orthodox synagogue on St. Johns Place near Underhill Avenue (my great-uncle had been chazan there 50-60 years ago). So the crowd that had become disaffected with R' Hecht gravitated there, especially as it was closer to home for many. Meanwhile, more Jews were moving into converted industrialized buildings in Prospect Heights, who found a home in Kol Israel.

Chabad is territorial. Shluchim are sent to bring people to Judaism in a particular geographic area. In Bangkok, well, you don't have a lot of competition. In Brooklyn, competition for Jews is all but inevitable. In fact, it's just what happened at the inception of Chassidus. Much Misnagdic opposition was economic - the Chasidim recruited from the membership of the established synagogues, which reduced the income of those synagogues. R' Hecht is now on the back end of that competition.

So in a very real way, the Hechts must feel threatened. The area that they have built up over the past 20 years, is suddenly losing people to a nearby area. It's sad that it has to come to a suit in Beis Din, but not completely unexpected, as the Hecht family has long had disputes with the Chabad leadership in Crown Heights; that R' Kirschenbaum appears to be exploting that dispute, hmm. They have, however, had good relations with other Chabad rabbis in the area, e.g. R' Dovber Pinson, who bought a loft near Atlantic Avenue, and has built a yeshiva in DUMBO. R' Pinson collaborates with both R' Hecht and R' Raskin, teaching in both shuls as well as other places.

Full disclosure: my wife & I lived in Park Slope for 10 years, where we belonged to Cong. Bnai Jacob. It was a great place to grow into observant Jews. The Hechts' great strength is with beginners, and they have helped many to grow, even to outgrow them and move on. Even if R' Hecht and I were opposed on many issues, I have tried to maintain a positive connection with them since leaving the area in 2001 (we left mostly due to real estate issues).

YH"R that the Hechts and R' Kirschenbaum find an amicable modus vivendi. The Gemara in Megillah tells us that the blessing of God is peace (as we see in the Priestly Blessing). May G0d bring peace to the Heights, עושה שלום במרומיו, may He bring peace to us and to all Israel.

See also mentalblog and orthomom for parallel threads.