Wednesday, February 27, 2013

On Language

Good evening all.

I have no right to use that title for this blog entry.  "On Language" was a column by the late William Safire that appeared in the New York Times Magazine every Sunday.  It was a wonderful column.  His wisdom on language, and on most matters, is sorely missed.

After I wrote my entry on "Casablanca" being a 'chick flick,' I received a very cheeky response from one of my readers.  I chuckled at the way she made her point.  Her point was remarkably well said.

It was from the avian society commenting on birds and movies.

I decided to look up the term chick flick.  I deliberately came home to do it, as I had no clue what the websites would yield.  I did not want to risk something rather questionable showing up on my work computer.

One item from the first page of the search was a link to Oprah Winfrey's magazine.  Another was to an article on Squidoo by a female attorney.  Yet a third was to Cosmo.  I did not even leave the first page of the websearch.

Which yields the following question:

If an offensive term (chick=woman) becomes utterly common, to the point of being used even by those labelled with the offensive term, does it lose its offensiveness?

Today, the National Museum in Ottawa announced that it was going to stop using CE and BCE to refer to the turn of the millennium.  Instead, it will return to the old terms BC and AD.  BC and AD are clearly, unquestionably Christian.  On the one hand, the number is important.  If the year is 2013, whether we call it CE or AD does not take anything away from the fact that it is 2013 years since the birth of Jesus.  On the other hand, BC and AD are Christian terms in a world the mosaic of which is becoming more and more pronounced every day.  Maybe the letters do matter.

It has been a couple of weeks since I got the response.  I am still deciding whether or not to pull the one  blog entry.  I am also still deciding whether or not to change the wording.

What are your thoughts?


P.S.  Thank you to A.S. at the avian society for pointing this out.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Blessings of Life

Top of the evening all...

Note to all: my most popular entry has been my rules of marriage.  The rules of marriage have been accumulating over the 15 years of my rabbinate.  To my chagrin, there are not always happy stories associated with the development of each rule.  Anyway, as of this evening, that entry alone has received over 800 hits.  Only 750 of those hits are mine.  I recommend going back and checking the newest rule.  It has a lot to do with marital communication.

One of my newer readers has commented to one of my recent blog posts.  He suggests that I have many blessings in my life.

I do.

What are those blessings?  I have a job.  This is important, especially in this world.

I have a wife who loves me, or at least puts up with me.  We have been married almost 20 years.

I have three kids...same thing.

I have two cats.  One is on a diet.  I am not sure he likes me.

Jennifer and I are both in our 40's...well...she is in her 20's, and has been for as long as I have known her.  Both sets of parents are alive and well.

I take these blessings very seriously.

I smile when I see my wife.  I smile when I see my kids.  I smile when the cat sits on my shoulder (should have purchased a parrot).  I smile when I see my congregants.  It is both an internal smile, as well as a sign to all that I am happy to see them.

I drive carpool so that my kids can go to school and to karate.  I make dinner several nights a week.  I go in to shul a little late sometimes so that my wife can go in a little early.  I work hard when I am at the office.  I play ping pong and build with trains with the kids.

Folks...stop and look around you.  You have blessings in your life.  Realize what they are.  Acknowledge them from time to time.  Work hard at cultivating those blessings.  Do not take them for granted.  Today's blessings easily become tomorrow's absences, whether by our own blundering or by the cards we are all dealt.

I thank UserDand for making me think about this.

Good night all.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Next Steps of Growing Up

Good morning everyone.

Many of you are aware that my first-born is a wonderful Megillah reader.  For those who are unaware of what that means, it means that he is able to open an unmarked Hebrew text and chant it with the proper cantillation.  This is no small feat.  We read this every year at the holiday of Purim.

Over the years, he has done more than read it in shul.  Last year, he read for his school.  He also went downtown to read for a colleague of mine who was in physical therapy after a significant stroke.  He understands the idea of mitzvah (commandment) and of helping others to fulfill their obligations.

I did not get to hear him read this year.  A friend of mine has assumed the pulpit out in Kingston, ON, about two hours east of Toronto by train.  The congregation out in Kingston has no reader.  They paid Jesse's train fare.  I dropped him off on Friday at Union Station.  He got on the train and went his merry way.  He was a little nervous about his first train ride solo.

I will assume that he read brilliantly.  He always does.

He has taken some of the next steps of growing up.  It is a very mature decision to travel to a far-off land on your own for this.  It is very mature to be able to do it.

I suppose that I too have taken the next steps in growing up.  There was never any question in my mind that he would go once asked.  There was never any question in my mind that Jennifer and I would send him.  When one deals with the idea of commandment, certain decisions are made much easier very quickly.  Still, I was sad to see my kid go.  Jennifer and I will need to come to terms with the fact that he will likely do this for others, and far away from us, for many years to come.  Our pride in him knows no limits.  The ability to let him go on to bigger and better things knows a couple of limits, particularly in realizing that he might not always live in his lair in the basement, ready to play a midnight game of ping pong.  He might not always empty the refrigerator at inopportune moments.

Jesse - well done to you.  Your mother and I are always exceptionally proud of you, especially as we watch you travel outside your comfort zone to be there for others.


Happy Purim to All...

Good morning everyone.

It is a tradition at Purim to poke fun at most things.  In that regard, I have written a Purim teshuva.  A teshuva is the answer to a Jewish legal question.  Please note two things: it is a time-honoured tradition to give the great rabbis of history abbreviations based on either their names or their books.  Also, the family of ibn Jikatilia is a real family of exegetes.  I believe that they are from Spain around the 12th century.  I apologize that some of the Hebrew just will not be helped by translation.


Performance Enhancers in Jewish Law: From Proceedings of the CJLS, as recorded by Rav Sean Gorman 

With the recent controversy in sports swirling around Andy not-so Petite, Lance artificially Armstrong, and A-Roid on their use of performance enhancers, rumours have also surrounded several Rabbis.  The Rabbinical Assembly is thus concerned that a sizable number of our sizable colleagues, who shall remain nameless, have taken performance-enhancing substances before working with congregations. Questions pertaining to the permissibility of such substances have come before the CJLS (Committee of Jewish Law and Substances). Arguments have been strong, and a number of our colleagues have clobbered each other with the tenacity of their legal positions.

Rav Boaz Gershom ben Gamliel v'Yehudit, the BiG GuY, has commented that even though there are health implications to the use of such performance enhancers, they have not yet been deemed illegal according to Jewish Law. As such, their use in Rabbinics is available to all. It is unfair, he argues, to penalize those who use them because of the wimpy ones who choose not to partake. Furthermore, many of our colleagues have used them for more than three Shabbatot. As such, they have a Hazakah to use them.

Rav Ditza Meira bat Gal v'Dina, the DeMiGaD, argues that there may even be a hiyyuv (obligation) to use performance enhancers. The Shulchan Arukh (OH 1:1) states clearly that we are to "gain strength like a lion to stand in the morning." What else could help a person to gain strength more quickly than a performance enhancer? Is this any different from our morning cup of coffee?  The DeMiGaD even suggests that the proper blessing over one of these substances should be “ozer Yisrael bigvura - who girds us with strength.” Furthermore, she argues, for a Rabbi to use such performance enhancers is actually bringing his/her hopes for the congregation to the office every morning. It is stating that the congregation should gain strength like a lion.   Beyond only being a hiyyuv then, harei zeh mesubach.

Rav Dov Menachem ben Jokitilia, the DuM Jok, argues from a kal vachomer. Samson, the judge and part-time hair stylist, used his hair (actually, it was a toupe) as a performance enhancer. Surely, had he been alive in our day, he would have used something stronger.  If Samson used a performance enhancer, how much the more so the Rabbis of today can do the same. Interestingly, the DuM Jok, a graduate of 3080 Mulholland, was rather unimpressive as a beginning student. Over time, his teachers and classmates became rather impressed by the substance of his learning, and were amazed at how quickly he became a gadol.

A very weak argument opposing the use of performance enhancers was brought by Rav Vofsi ben Menachem Perach, the ViMP. He argues unconvincingly, stating that performance enhancers are for performers. Rabbis are not performers. As such, they should remain off limits to members of the RA.  However, he recommends strongly that the Cantors’ Assembly consider this issue immediately, and try not to give it a song and dance. 

Our colleague R. Chaim Menashe ben Pruta, also known as the CHuMP, concurred with the ViMP.  He held that there is no evidence that Moshe Rabbeinu took performance enhancers, and yet managed to maintain his strength up until his dying day.  No one really cared about this argument though, as the Torah is not a primary source.  A vote was taken amongst the members of the committee, and it was quickly concluded that the CHuMP should clean the room at the end of the deliberations.

Ruv Binyamin ben Ilan v’Shifra, the RuBISH, added a throwaway comment that all of the opinions lacked strength.  He did say why, but since the comment of the RuBISH was a throwaway comment, the secretary did not deem it worth adding into the record of deliberations.

By this point, Rav Kish ben Tarfon, the RoKeT, testified, I mean reasoned, before the committee that the ability to deliver a sermon in less than 20 minutes, or to say Musaf in less than 30 minutes, is critical to the success of the Klei Kodesh.  Performance enhancers provide the edge for those Rabbis and Cantors who cannot get the congregation out by noon.  The RoKeT’s barely-concealed rage exploded as he made his pitch.  He launched himself out of the room in a huff, punching two of our colleagues, and then jumping through a closed window.  He was last seen doing his daily five-minute, five-kilometre run at Earl Bales Park.  His behaviour is even now before the Va’ad Kavod (Ethics Committee) due to violation of displacement procedures.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pastoral Halakha

Top of the evening all...

A friend of mine, and a reader on this site, forwarded an article to me recently.  It was an article on some of the halakhic (Jewish Law) challenges in making sure that those with significant physical challenges retain a meaningful connection to their Jewish lives.  Here is a link to the article:

Thank you to DMS for sending it to me.

I am going to avoid commenting on the specific halakhic issues.  They are complicated.  I want to point out instead that sometimes, the leniency is not the answer.  Why do I say that?  Good question!

One of the people in the article was having problems putting on his tefillin due to cerebral palsy.  Two rabbis gave him permission not to do so.  That was the wrong answer.  The right answer was to help him find a way to do it.  That was the answer the man was seeking.  He did not want to be allowed a leniency.  He wanted and needed to be held to the mitzvot (commandments) that guided his life.

Folks, your rabbis (and other clergy) should have some level of sophistication.  That level of sophistication must go beyond the basic question.  Is it kosher?  Is it treif (not kosher)?  That is important, but is not the entire question.  People come to us with their questions for reasons that often go beyond that basic level.  Before answering, it is necessary to figure out what the true issue is.  It has an effect on the answer, and lets the asker know that we, your trusted rabbis, are worthy of the trust you have placed in us.  That worthiness should necessarily contain extensive knowledge.  It should also contain an ability to say "I don't know."  Last, it should contain an understanding of the people who place that trust in us.

Leniency is not the answer.  Reminding the asker that s/he has a place not just in the Jewish community, but also in the unfolding epic that is Jewish history, is at the beginning of the answer.  The answer may be a leniency.  It may be a stringency.  It must serve to connect.

Have a good night everyone.


It Still Gives Me Chills

Hi all...

Jennifer and the kids are in New Jersey right now.  I took some time today to watch a couple of movies.  I first watched "Quantum of Solace," one of the recent James Bond movies.

Right now, I am watching "Casablanca."  I have seen this movie numerous times.  The scene in which everyone in the bar starts singing "La Marseillaise" still gives me chills.  It is a wonderful statement of resistance against encroaching evil.  After they finished filming the movie, they called Humphrey Bogart back in to shoot one tiny piece.  It is the part in that scene when he nods, telling the band to follow Lazlo's orders.

A debate developed out of the fact that it is known that I am watching this particular movie.  Your input is welcome.  Is this movie a "chick flick?"  What are your thoughts?

Have a good night.


Saturday, February 9, 2013

With Great Apologies to the Bard

Top of the evening all...

On the off chance you missed it, Toronto got snow.  Toronto got a great deal of snow.  I sent a nice note to the city because the man who was ploughing my street did the lower half of my driveway.  The note perhaps was premature.  On the second run ploughing the street, it all got pushed back in.  Then the other person ploughed the sidewalk, leaving me right back where I started.

For those who do not
like this cold weather,
you are not alone.
You might think that with
all the snow we got,
now is the discontent of our winter, made torturous bummer by this snow of North York.

Gandalf wanted out.
I let him depart.
That lasted seconds.
He returned with snow
up to his belly,
snowflakes on his back,
and snow in his beard.
I let him back in.
He still wanted out.
He sat by the door,
looked out longingly,
and meowed, so full of sound and furry.

I tried to do that in iambic pentameter.  I could not get the accents to shift back and forth.  I did get five syllables to the line though.  One out of two should count for something.  Anyway...

So I went out and cleared the driveway this evening.  I still feel it.  Alas, the shovel that men do lives after them.  I looked in the mirror.  I look beat.  Clearly, the better part of pallor is discretion.

It is at times like this that I remember the warmth of Hawaii.  All I can think is once more unto the beach.

That I shall say goodnight til it be morrow.