Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Letter to an Imaginary Friend 1

Dear Ploni

I want to thank you for the wide ranging discussions we have been having on women and Orthodoxy. It is good to know two people can passionately disagree and yet retain respect for one another, at least as long as one of them is imaginary.

I was thinking about the argument you made about women taking on optional time bound mitzvot. You suggested it was inappropriate for women who were not yet fully proficient in all the mitzvot they were obligated in. It would be better for their spiritual lives to strengthen their Shabbat observance or take on extra chumrot in kashrut.

I wondered about how this would apply to my own life. I did a chesbon hanefesh to see where my practice was deficient. Presently, I do not daven mincha b'tzibur very often on weekdays, and if I totaled up all my tzedakah it might not reach the required minimum for tzedakah plus ma'aser. So I considered what optional practices I should give up until I corrected these flaws.

Some renunciations would have benefits that fall directly to the bottom line, as it were. By giving up chalav yisrael, pat yisrael, yoshon, and chassidishe and beit yossef glatt shechita I can take my monetary savings and reallocate them to tzedakah. I can't take the time savings from the reduced travel and apply them against mincha, but there is still a clear benefit to renouncing these practices.

I'm less sure of the benefits of smaller practices. For example, it is my custom to read the '6 remembrances' after shacharit. Following the general rule, since this is in no way obligatory I should drop it, even though I don't see it helping me correct my deficiencies. Similarly dropping my custom to leave my tallit in shul until motzei Shabbat seems to have no real benefit. What about peripheral examples of Talmud Torah, such as mussar, kabala or physics? Should I forgo those as well?

It seems to me a better rule is to drop those optional practices that interfere in keeping required ones, although even then I would say that if dropping them doesn't actually result in improved performance of the required mitzvot the situation should be re-evaluated. After all, the performance of an optional mitzvah is still a mitzvah.

Another interesting point you made was that halacha appears to designate separate roles for men and women. You suggested that by systematically searching out the leniencies available people were giving the impression that they disagreed with the underlying assumption of the halacha. You suggested such people might be 'naval b'reshut haTorah' - immoral within the bounds of the Torah.

Once again, I applied the test of applying the general principle to my own life. What things would give the appearance of defying an underlying principle of halacha while simultaneously remaining within its bounds?

One obvious thing (that my wife suggested) was the consumption of kosher l'pesach foodstuffs such as pizza, tacos, cakes, and so forth. While they may use potato starch or other acceptable chametz substitutes, they subvert the goal of having the lack of chametz for this one week impact our lives. Another example is the heter iska. While once again the legal device is perfectly sound, the fact remains we are subverting the Torah's desire for us not to give nor receive interest, despite the fact that legally the money we receive is nothing of the sort. A third, extreme example is the use of community eruvin. Admittedly Chazal legislated both the prohibition on carrying in a carmelit and the exemption to that prohibition, but it seems clear that our implementation of the laws today basically allow us to almost completely ignore the prohibition on carrying.

I'd be interested in feedback from you or other interested observers.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Two Simchat Torah Vignettes

10PM Simchat Torah night: The 7th Hakafa is finished and the gabbai is trying to get the Torah reading started. One cluster of people are still trying to keep the singing going. The gabbai's voice rises to operatic volume and clarity, singing L'KAVOD HATORAAAAAAAH and the singers finally hush. I look over towards them - 8 Yeshivah Bochurs and the shul's Rabbi, all flushed and grinning.

Simchat Torah day. I'm holding the sefer Torah in my arms while I dance, and suddenly I just lean my cheek against it and close my eyes. I get exactly the same fierce protective feeling I get when I hold a baby - knowing that something that will outlive me nevertheless needs me for it to survive to do so.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Very busy

Shalom All

I have a very tight deadline at work, which along with all the preparations for Sukkot means I have no real time to write blog posts. Bli Neder, I should resume writing during Chol Hamoed. I have several topics in mind. Meanwhile, please talk amongst yourselves.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sukkot and Bashert

I went shopping for my etrog today, and noticed something. When I compared two etrogs, quite often the one which was
labeled as 'more beautiful' by the halachot of etrogim was in fact less pretty in my eyes. The thought crossed my mind that perhaps this was deliberate - that chazal were warning us to look deeper than the surface in order to determine if someone was truly beautiful or not. Of course, it is always possible chazal and I just have different taste in etrogim. :>)